Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Gear that didn't survive

The Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project was the second major expedition for a lot of my gear. Most of it was purchased years before the Inside Passage trip, but with the expectation that it was for expeditions. Which is why I did things like, buy a four season tent when my three season tent died. So this post, I want to talk about the gear that either needs to be replaced, or upgraded after this trip.

My sleeping pad, the Thermarest Prolite Plus didn't even go on this trip. The last two overnight trips I did, I didn't sleep well on it. It is an inch and a half thick, and that just wasn't enough for my shoulder and hip bones. Oddly, I have used this pad for a long time and never and a problem, so clearly the comfort issue is changes in my body, not the pad. Instead of this trusty pad I brought along a borrowed Big Agnes Q-core SL. For a long time I have stayed away from the new generation of blow up pads, primarily because I think after a day of paddling or hiking, having to blowing up your pad is akin to punishment. But my friend loaned me not only the pad, but this. The NeoAir Mini Pump uses triple A batteries to inflate a pad, and despite the fact that it is made by thermarest it works well with this Big Agnes Pad. It is very "Glamour Camping" or as some prefer "glamping" but I really like it. I will be purchasing both of these products at some point. Unless REI makes a version of the incamp pad that is closer to a regular size (it is 25 x77 and I would like one that is 20 x 72). That pad has a built in hand pump, that works really well.

My beloved tent had a couple of problems. I use an REI four season tent that isn't made anymore, it is essentially a North Face Mountain 25. The first problem was that the shock cords in the poles have lost a lot of their stretch. This is not surprising, and is easy to replace. The bigger problem is that in certain places the fly is leaking. This is confusing because the material is still beading up water like it should. I will re-coat it with DWR and try and figure it out. But I need to keep an eye on it. Particularly before the next rainy trip. Speaking of Shock Cord I need to replace the cords on the deck of my kayak. But that is for another post.

I think my Kelty Noahs Tarp is dead. This leaked like a sieve the entire trip. The material also feels like it has gotten papery thin. I am pretty sure it just needs to be replaced. Which makes me sad, because it is only 4 or 5 years old.

My Immersion Research Shockwave is pretty close to dead. It has been re-taped once by IR, and needs to be done again. The taping on the tunnel came off pretty much right away, and leaks from a couple of places. This is a skirt I got for free, and it has been amazing. It really sold me on the idea of, if you want a great skirt that doesn't pop off, get a whitewater skirt.

My back up paddle, a Werner Camano carbon/carbon is dead. The wiggle in the joint was just too bad, and I have in fact already sold it. I am going to buy a new Camano and drop my Kalliste down to backup status. I like my Kalliste, but I want the lower weight of the Camano as my daily paddle.

I really thought that my sleeping bag, an REI Lumen was going to make its last trip this time, but it keeps chugging along - unfortunately because I would really like a Sierra Designs backcountry bed. But my Sea to Summit Compression dry sack has already gone in the garbage. It got a hole that I repaired on the Inside Passage - it is amazing what you can do with duct tape and aqua seal - but this time it got a tear that was about two inches long. Not the fault of the dry bag, it got stuck on a bare screw under my deck compass, I need to get acorn nuts for them. But it will be replaced with a similar bag. I am using almost exclusively Sea to summit dry bags now. After years of swearing by seal line, it just sort of happened, a bag at a time.

The Spot Connect worked fine, but I hated it. It will not be doing another trip if I can help it. If I do another big trip I will either use an ACR plb, or a Sat Phone. Time will tell...

The fact is, that gear doesn't last as long as you would like to think. For instance, working fro NOLS one summer I did two courses almost back to back. I used my own North Face sleeping bag that was new. I could have rented a bag from NOLS for free, but I really like having my own trusted bag to sleep in every night. The problem with that was, at the end of the summer, it was really and truly dead. Which means it had a life of around 90 days. Now if you use a sleeping bag 4 times a year for a four day trip, that is a long life. But do a couple of 30 day trips, and gear just breaks down.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gecko Paddler Asks....

"Hey PO which of the three is the fastest? Love my load monster 15.5 but might try a demo 17 to compare it to."

This is a great question, but unfortunately a very subjective one. Having spent a fair amount of time in all three of these Deltas I have a pretty good feel for them, so which one is "the fastest"? To determine that we need to understand what "fast" means in a kayak.  A big part of how fast something is, is determined by the motor, and in this case, the paddler is the motor. 

I know from paddling my Seventeen with a GPS that I can cruise at 3.5 or 4 knots, and sprint to 5.5. A couple of times I have hit 6, but I can't keep it up for long, and everything needs to be perfect for me to hit that speed. I am actually not a very fast paddler. So that is the first part of the equation, The speed of the boats will of course vary with the ability of the paddler, and I wouldn't be surprised if Gecko paddles faster than me. 

The boat of course plays a role, The longer a boat is, the faster it will travel. The reason for this is pressure. Pressure on the hull. You have to propel the boat through the water, and to do that you have to physically push the water aside, as it moves down the hull. The front half of the boat is pushing the water ever further apart until it reaches the midpoint. So at the midpoint of the boat - where it is the widest - is the point where pressure starts to decrease.  So the longer the boat is, the more hull you have from the narrowest point - the bow - to the widest point, at the midpoint. So if that distance is longer, the pressure on the hull is less because it is distributed over a larger area. And of course, the wider the boat is, the more you have to press the water apart. Which is why a long, narrow boat is faster than a short wide boat. 

So the Delta 15.5 is of course fifteen feet, six inches long, and 24.5 inches wide. The Sixteen is longer and narrower, sixteen feet long, and 22 inches wide. When you are talking about kayaks width, 2.5 inches is a lot. Then you have the seventeen. Longer at 17 feet, but 22.5 inches wide. So if we are talking about absolute speed, my guess is that the Sixteen and the seventeen are pretty close to identical, with the 15 being slower.  But we are probably talking about a total difference between the 15 and the 17 of half a knot. 

But if you have ever driven a high performance car, you learn that top speed isn't really that important. It is getting to that speed that is the fun part, and if we are only talking about half a knot speed difference, then that just proves that top speed isn't that important. What is important is acceleration. And without a real way to measure acceleration in a kayak, it is all about feel. 

When someone gets into a boat, and does a handful of strokes, and says "wow, this feels fast" what they are really saying is, wow, this accelerates fast. And I will say right now, the Delta Sixteen accelerates fast. It is a nimble, responsive boat. I think the fifteen is pretty fast, but definitely accelerates slower than the other two. And the Seventeen is right in the middle. 

The Fifteen has been pretty consistently referred to as "the minivan" of the Delta line. It hauls a lot of gear, and for a boat of its width is a lot of fun to paddle. The Seventeen is the classic touring kayak. Seventeen feet is a great length for touring, it holds a lot of gear, accelerates fast, and cruises all day long. the Sixteen is like getting in a corvette. Fast off the line, responsive, with a slightly smaller payload. 

So, Gecko, I would definitely demo a seventeen. 

Delta Sixteen - In Depth Review.

We received a Delta 16, as our third boat, for AGAP about a month before departure. Beth Spent a lot of time in it, during prep, both paddling it and packing it. We did self and assisted rescues with it, and then in Alaska, spent a lot of time in it, in all sorts of conditions. I didn't paddle it until recently, so much of what I am going to tell you, is from Beth's perspective.

Straight out, it is a beautiful boat, with clean lines, and the amazing Delta attention to detail. The boat we received is a year old, and has been slightly updated in the product line, but I believe the changes are pretty minimal. Sixteen feet long and 22 inches wide, with spacious bow and stern hatches, as well as a small deck hatching front of the cockpit.

Beth immediately found the boat comfortable and responsive. She found the cockpit outfitting comfortable - I found the seat back a little high, not surprising since I replaced the seat back on my Seventeen. The rudder pedals were easy to adjust, and she found them to be in a good location. We both had room in front of our feet for more storage. The seat bottom is adjustable, and is the standard Delta seat, which is very good.

Packing the boat was easy with her large hatch covers, that utilize hooks inside the compartment to hold it closed. No neoprene internal covers, which we both liked. It took Beth a couple of days to get the hang of the locking mechanism, but I found them easy to use, and very secure. This boat is surprisingly spacious in terms of storage. Beth loved the day hatch in front of the cockpit on day paddles, but didn't use it on the actual expedition. There tended to be gear on top of it, like a deck bag, and it made it a little more difficult to get a pelican case with a camera into the cockpit. I don't use day hatches, but this one is nicely designed and built, I am just glad it isn't behind the cockpit like most.

The boat we received was the skegged version, which has a small skegbox in the center of the rear compartment. While this wouldn't let me use my large tapered bag, Beth had no problems packing. Speaking of the skeg, it too is well designed and we had no trouble with it, with the one exception being the cord that holds the skeg in place needs a refined mechanism, it sometimes slipped out of the cleat, and the skeg would fully deploy when she only wanted it to deploy halfway.

When I paddled it first I was immediately impressed. Its rounded chines don't hold an edge quite as well as the hard chines on my seventeen, but is very easy to get on edge. The boat is very quick to accelerate, and carries speed well. It is a very fast little boat. I say little, but it is only a foot shorter than mine.

I think this is the perfect boat for the smaller paddler - just like the eighteen is great for the really big guys, my friend who is 6' 6" fit in it perfectly - it gives you the ability to easily do multi day trips, but is still fun, and agile for day trips. I would highly recommend this boat.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Black Belt Kayakers

I paddled today, actually for the first time since Alaska. It was lovely. In part because it was just nice to paddle, and even better that the boat didn't have 150 pounds of gear in it. In part because it was a beautiful day. But in part because I was paddling with family. Particularly my wife, who doesn't love paddling, it has been at least a couple of years since she has paddled with me.

As I was paddling something occurred to me. Everyone in the kayaks, from my 10 year old nephew, to his 13 year old sister, Their mother, my wife, son and myself are all trained in martial arts. Most of the people in the group were black belts. Here is something most people don't realize about the term Black Belt. When people hear that term, they immediately think expert. Something I found very interesting in the Dojo, was that isn't really what it means at all. It means you have learned the basic movements in whatever art you are studying, and now, with this knowledge you can really start to learn.

My wife is a 3rd degree black belt - A Sandan in GoJu Karate. I think she would have been higher, but she stopped testing for belts, which I will explain more about later. My niece is a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and my Nephew a 1st. AJ, my stepson, is a Brown Belt, also in GoJu Karate, but was literally raised in a Dojo. He lost interest in his early teens, and stopped attending. My sister-in-law is a 4th degree black belt in Goju Karate and a 2nd degree in Tae Kwon Do. I am a lowly blue belt - two steps below black. I didn't lose interest. I still practice, and occasionally do Kata. I love to spar, and hit the bag. But I stopped because I was disenchanted with my Dojo. The teachers had great skill, but weren't great teachers, and as an educator that really bothered me. For years I have been saying (jokingly) that my wife, a psychologist, generally knows what I am thinking before I think it, and then, because she is also a martial artist can kick the crap out of me for thinking it. It is even more humbling to think my 13 year old niece could as well.

But here is the thing. They never would. If you spend enough time in a Dojo, you begin to realize that fights in the real world are to be avoided. You always lose, even if you are the victor. When some people reach brown belt they get an illness sometimes called 'brown belt-itis' A swelling of the ego, as they are starting to get fluent in their skills, and they start looking for fights. My son is at his core, a pacifist. He is very gentle, extremely loving, and will back down from any real fight. I weep for the person who backs him into a corner and forces him to act. It will not end well for that person. I know this from experience, when he was 10, on a beach in the Outer Banks, he knocked me on my ass with a punch to the chest. He is now 24. His lifetime in a Dojo inoculated him from brown belt-itis.

Today as I was paddling I was thinking about martial arts because of the group I was with. I have trained many martial artists to paddle, and I have known for quite some time that they make great paddlers. Many of the movements are the same, for example power comes from the core and the legs, the key is torso rotation. Martial artists are both comfortable translating their skills to the boats, and they are also skilled at following instructions to learn something physical. I of course, teach paddling as a martial art, and that technique came to me while in the Dojo, probably while doing my one millionth reverse punch.

Paddling, of course doesn't have a belt system of ranks, but we do have ranks of sorts. Certified by either ACA, BCU or Paddle Canada, we take classes and tests to illustrate and demonstrate our skill level. Some people wear these rankings as a matter of pride. I have never done a course like this, because I never had to. I was trained by the National Outdoor Leadership School to teach, and for everyone who has hired me, that has been enough. Most of the time, when talking to these people I am underwhelmed. Not so much with their skill level, but with the experience level, for example, these are the Prerequisites for the BCU Level 5 star sea kayak assessment, the highest offered.

Assessment Prerequisites:
Previous experience -
The candidate must provide documented logged evidence of a minimum of 24 varied,
quality, advanced sea kayak days in 3 different sea areas. This should include at least
one multi-day trip.
  • Recognised First aid award (minimum 16 hrs training including CPR) within the last 3 years
  • Relevant Leadership Training - 5 Star Leader Sea training within the last 3 years or ‘old’ style
    5 Star Sea Training within the last 3 years. Due to the nature of this award and its important remit for leadership it is required that candidates show 3 days (2 days and 2 nights) logged experience of training in leadership and personal skills, safety and rescue, and must include an overnight camp. It is also strongly recommended that further endorsed training be undertaken based on the candidates action plan in different sea areas and a variety of environmental conditions.
  • Relevant Safety Training: BCU Open Water Navigation & Tidal Planning Training or 2 days specific training on open water navigation tidal planning from a registered BCU 5 Star Leader Sea Provider.
  • Home Nation Registration (LR Form)
  • Aged 18 years or above. 
Now, when I look at this compared to myself, I have 24 days in 3 different sea areas all in one multi day trip, in just the last two months. Everything else on that list, not only have I done, but I teach them as well. It is important to understand, I am not knocking BCU at all. I think it is the premier program in the world - though I have very little exposure to Paddle Canada, but from what I have seen looks like a great program! - for kayak certification. I guess I never got BCU five star-itis. At some point, I won't get a job because I lack a certification, and then I will go get it, though I can't go right to 5 of course, I will have to work my way through the ranks. Part of the reason I don't like "certification hunting" is because when I was a Paramedic, it is all about certifications. ACLS, PALS, PHTLS, CPR, AED, etc, etc. I had a stack of cards saying I had passed tests, but none of them said how good of a medic I was.

I think that was why my wife stopped taking tests to advance her rank. She realized there was no point. She didn't need the rank for work - some actually do - She had no need to impress people. She continued to work out, and perfect her skill, but had no need to have her skill denoted by a stripe on a belt. My problem is that an ACA or BCU 1 star won't be enough. I will have no choice but to work my way up the ranks, in essence to match my experience. It will be time consuming, and expensive. I know I will learn things, we never stop learning, and for a couple of years I have been saying I want to take paddling instruction to push my skills. There are few people I want to work with though, and the two I do want to work with are both pretty far away. One, four hours, and the other in Scotland.

I like to think of certifications the way my Sensei described his black belt. He said to me once, "at the end of the day, it just holds up your pants"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Delta Seventeen is the Best Expedition Kayak on the planet. Period.

I know.

That is a bold statement. But I have now put a ridiculous amount of miles under the hull of my seventeen. And it is true. I have paddled the Seawards, I have paddled the NDK's, and the Wilderness Systems boats. The P&H Cetus is a beautiful boat too. I came close to buying a Necky Looksha, but at the end of the day, I will stick with my Delta.

After literally thousands of miles, I still love this boat. Let us start with build quality. Beautifully finished, glossy and sexy. With great finishing touches - I would like some more outfitting options. Like a choice of seats, and such. I have made one repair to this boat, and it took me literally seconds - I replaced the hatch cover seals which Delta sent me at no cost. High quality gas pedal style foot braces,  have given me literally zero trouble. After six years and thousands of miles, I have yet to make a repair to my rudder, or rudder cables (and people say they are more prone to problems than skegs, but in the same amount of time I have repaired four skegs for friends or employers) and if you want it with a skeg you can have that too.

Thermoform plastic is a 21st century material, Fiberglass is very 20th century. Sorry folks, but that is how I see it. (the theme of this week at Paddling Otaku is 'drop the dogma' so lets just throw out the notion that fiberglass is the only way to go, because people say it is) Thermoform - when done right, like Delta does - gives me a stronger, lighter, and more forgiving material than fiberglass. Now someone will say "Oh, but you can't fix thermoform like you can fiberglass!" Nonsense. I repaired The Delta 15 after it got damaged from a forklift - yes, that is what it takes to crack one of these boats - and then it did the AGAP trip without issue.  I have done things to this boat where I was sure I had cracked it, and gotten nothing but scratches. I have slid this boat down rocky beaches to get away from bears - yes, a massive coastal brown bear in Alaska, literally had his front paws on my stern hatch, it did no damage - I have loaded it and unloaded it on rocks because it was my only choice for a campsite. It has been on the roof of my car for two round trips to Alaska. Drive the Alaskan highway and you will get hit with debris, I have the cracked windshield to prove it, but no damage to the boat.

For long trips, this boat is exceptionally easy to pack. Large openings, that close easily. No neoprene to fight with over the hatch covers. No day hatch,  with a  tiny opening and adding a bulkhead to the stern. I can put a gallon can of fuel - standing upright! so I don't have to worry about it leaking - in the bow compartment. I don't know of another boat that can do that. Behind the cockpit I can fit three 15 liter dry bags of food, side by side.

A metal locking ring behind the cockpit can also be used as a tie point for towing, and they put supports in the hull where the boat will be sitting in a roof rack. That is the kind of attention to detail I like.

You don't fit well in the seventeen? Well there is a very similar eighteen and sixteen. The sixteen performed amazingly in Alaska, and I will have a review coming up soon.

I think the only real competition for this boat is the NDK explorer, which is a great boat, is beautifully made, and has some incredible attention to detail. The angled rear bulkhead to help empty water out of the cockpit is genius. But it is heavy, and over $1000 more, but neither of those problems  is the deal killer for me. I need to do one thing on an expedition. Move a lot of gear and food. The bow of the Explorer holds 58 liters versus The Seventeens 83 liters. On the explorer add the day hatch to the stern compartment, and you have a total of 99 liters behind the cockpit. The Delta has 135 liters behind the cockpit. We won't even get into the fact that the Day hatch on the Explorer makes it more difficult to pack.

If you have a touring boat you think is better, lets go paddling. Prove me wrong.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Shokunin Mindset.

The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning.  The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people.  This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” – Tasio Odate

Kayaking is too frequently taught as dogma. I don't believe this is the best way to learn something. I work very hard at two things. Being the best teacher I can be, and doing the best forward stroke I can do. I don't think it can be taught by one method. I have used many over time, and I have learned to tailor lessons to the people in front of me. Not everyone learns the same way. Why should we teach them the same way, particularly something as difficult to teach as the forward stroke. 

Bruce Lee knew that fighting styles shouldn't be taught as dogma. He took this, and he took that and he combined them to create his on style of 'no style'. 

It is that combination of things teaching, and the forward stroke, that I feel is my Shokunin. It is my obligation, to not only continually refine my forward stroke, but to refine how I teach it. Don't get me wrong. I think I am a good paddler, but there are many who are better. I am great at expeditions, but there are many that are better. By I am obsessed by the forward stroke, and appalled by the little bit of attention it gets. 

I am continually drawn back to the film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" because it is at once so inspiring and so humbling. Today I was struck by a sentence, spoken by the man who sells eel and octopus. That is all he does, is sell eel and octopus. Jiro's son goes to him - as he does all his fish vendors - because they are experts at their craft. Jiro is an expert at making Sushi, but he goes to people who are experts in fish. He knows he can't possibly know as much as they do, because they specialize in just one thing. The eel man said, "even at my age I am learning new techniques. even when you think you know it all, you are just fooling yourself, and you feel foolish."

I haven't held kayak paddle as long as this man has held octopus. I think I am at the point, after 20 years, where I am starting to get good. 

When you choose to do something, you have to choose to do it well. You have to say, Today I am going to be the best I can be. And you have to say it everyday. If you don't you are letting yourself down. But if you do this, you will excel, in whatever you do. If you are a brick layer, strive to be the best bricklayer.

too often I see people who fail, because they don't want to try. I work hard to be as good as I can be. If I know I can't compete I move onto something else, I am not saying I have to be the best, because I am certainly not, But I have to be MY best. Which is why I am no longer a paramedic.

every time I get into the cockpit, I am thinking about all the minutia. The feel of the boat, the feel of the water. The feel of the paddle. I am working to be the best paddler I can be, particularly as it relates to the forward stroke.

You may think that this level of attention is a little crazy. It's just paddling after all, but it makes a difference, at least to me. And the pay off is when I see a student start to get it. Or when I have that perfect day, and the paddle glides effortlessly through the water. That is when it is worth it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Practical Minimalist.

For me, my minimalism started out of divorce. Shortly after I found myself alone in an apartment in lower manhattan - before I owned a kayak - While Desperate for an end to sadness, I discovered Feng Shui. I read that my environs affected my emotions, and the first step to happiness was an organized space. And the first step to an organized space, was decluttering. I threw out a lot. Honestly, I threw out, gave away, or sold most of what I owned, and it was freeing. I don't know if it was Feng Shui or not, but I definitely felt better.

Today - nearly 20 years later - I consider myself a practical minimalist. I have made up that term so let me explain what that is. The past year or so I have spent a lot of time at a couple of specific subreddits at the website reddit. Particularly r/minimalism and r/tinyhouses. I enjoy both because they both align with more simplified life. There is r/simpleliving as well, which I like, but it doesn't grab me as much. Here is the problem with r/minimalism. probably 50% of the posts relate to a lifestyle that isn't practical. I love the photos of the desks with just a macbook air on it claiming to be a 'workspace', but that isn't going to be me. I do too much video work to edit on a little screen, and my desk is always covered with a) the piece of gear I need to fix b)the piece of gear I just fixed c) the Gopro camera that is charging d)the materials from the class I am about to teach, or did just teach. Another popular post subject on r/minimalism is "everything I own fits in this 30 liter backpack". Which is invariably posted by someone who writes code for a living, and can do it with a macbook air at a cafe in Paris for his client in wherever. He doesn't need a desk, he sleeps in hostels and has one change of clothes and two pairs of underwear. This is a great lifestyle, and I wish I had it, but I love my wife and my dog, and I am not getting rid of them because my entire life doesn't fit in a back pack. And apparently to be a minimalist you really have to have a macbook air, apple should use this in marketing. But despite the fact that I don't live my life on a 13 inch screen most of my friends and acquaintances are fascinated by my lifestyle. A month ago if you came to my house and wanted to sit in the living room, you were either on the floor or a piece of folding camp furniture.

I recently moved, and everything my wife and I own fit in half a 14 foot U-Haul. I don't have a TV. I don't have a DVD collection. I didn't move a bed - I got a new Tuft & Needle discovered on r/minimalism - and I didn't have a couch.  I own about 20 books. I am constantly giving away gear, and books. If I am done with a book, and I think you might enjoy it, I am giving it to you. I am regularly selling old gear when I need to upgrade. I don't buy a piece of new gear unless I need it - not want it. If I have no use for a piece of gear, to me, it has no value. If you would enjoy it, I get pleasure out of giving it to you! I actually own dishes (okay, only 8 dishes and 6 bowls) and cook wear, but I am not buying a unitasker kitchen item.  I have a very small wardrobe and three pairs of shoes. I do one load of laundry per week - As a side note, if you live your life in the outdoors and most of your clothes are wicking/quick dry, your 'drier time' is very short.

I moved recently because I bought a house (This kicks me immediately out of the minimalist club!). My wife and I have been renting for years. Burned in the housing bubble we were hesitant to make the investment again. But we realized that we are going to be in our present location for at least 6 or 7 years, and a mortgage would be a few dollars more than our rent. Literally a few dollars. So we found a house we liked, in a neighborhood we liked and I moved the kayaks. We didn't move into a tiny house, even though I love the idea. We did move to a house that was smaller than our rental. My rental landlord, was flabbergasted to hear we were moving to something smaller. This smaller home will be easier to heat, and cool. And because we don't own much, it still looks and feels  roomy. At the moment we think we may retire to a tiny house. It would really only be about 700 Square feet smaller then what we are in now. My friends are amazed because we actually bought a couch. The living room in the rental was mostly empty.

This is what I consider a practical minimalist lifestyle. I have the things I need. If I don't need it, I don't own it. The important distinction here is need versus want. Most Americans buy what they want. I am not purging absolutely everything I own so that my life fits in a 40 liter backpack or dry bag, but I am also not buying things I don't need. When we moved I realized that for some reason we had 18 spoons. I got rid of 8 of them. If there are four people in my house for dinner, and we have dessert, I could need 10 spoons. Twice a year I have six people for dinner. I may end up washing a couple of spoons, but that's okay.

My house has a very uncluttered feel. In fact it feels very open. It is soothing. It is lovely.

This is one of the reasons I like expedition kayaking. Everything I need is in the boat. If it isn't there, I am living without. But even this is open to change. Because we were making the film on the last trip I had a lot of gear I didn't have before. Solar panels and Sherpa Batteries, and multiple cameras, and tiny tripods. I felt like I had more gear than I needed. But after thinking back through the trip, there are only a couple of things I had in my boat that didn't get used. The first is my first aid kit. I carry a large one on expeditions. I am not getting rid of that. The other was my fire starting kit. Despite the fact that AJ really got into making fires on this last trip, he only used one thing from my fire starting kit. The whole thing can be made much simpler. Certainly smaller than the pelican case it is in now.

Also on this trip Beth used my backup paddle as her primary paddle. The wiggle in the joint got noticeably worse, so when I got home, I put it on craigslist and sold it. I  decided on the trip to make my Kalliste my back up paddle, and I want to downgrade my primary paddle to the Werner Camano.

I am downgrading for a couple of reasons. The biggest, is weight. The Camano weighs less than the Killiste (and costs less). The other reason is, I am not sure the foam core in the blade is actually benefiting my paddling. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but if it isn't helping me, it is hurting me. So why not go back a step. It is simplifying, plain and simple. Much like the reason I don't use a bent shaft. It weighs more, costs more, and I don't think it is actually providing a benefit. I don't have to have it, just to prove I am a great kayaker. (and for the record, I have a long way to go before I consider myself a great kayaker)

For a long time I felt like people didn't take me seriously as an instructor because I didn't use a fiberglass boat. I came to learn my gear isn't dictating my skill level. It may however be dictating your perception of my skill level. And that is a level of crazy I am not interested in dealing with.

Similarly, when I go back to New York - where I am from - I am very self conscious that my peers will think I am a failure because I don't have a high power job, making a lot of money. I have a friend who is a successful chef. I have a friend who is a photographer for the NY Times - and does many books. I always wonder what they think of my job teaching kayaking, and map & compass and things like that. The last time I was there, I met an old friend for lunch. She is a judge. An actual NYC Judge, and she makes a very good living. She asked if I was going back to Alaska this summer, I said I was. Then added that I wasn't making any money - projecting my own concerns on what I thought she was thinking - Her response was "You are living the dream!" So while I was concerned she was judging me for my simple job and lifestyle. She was actually envious of me and the things my lifestyle allows me to do. There is no way a chef, or a judge, can take off 5 weeks to go kayaking. I stopped worrying about it then.

So what do I want? Well, I am practical, and I am a minimalist. So my wants are both of those things. There is a list of places I want to paddle that I haven't. Cape Cod. Newfoundland. Norway and Patagonia. I do want to continue to shrink my personal possessions but it is getting more and more difficult. I simply don't own that much.

My goal, as a practical minimalist is a simple lifestyle. With very few worries and stressors. I want to enjoy my life, while having a minimal impact on the world around me. I want to have the time to enjoy little things. The swell rolling under my boat. The sound of rain hitting the water as I paddle through the ice. A good cup of coffee on a cold morning. Of course, I only have one coffee cup. So I won't stress over which one to use.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

From the Craftsman Series

A nice short film about a bread maker. Well, really a pizza maker, that makes bread. This appeals to me, for a couple of reasons. Someone who is passionate about what he does, and does it better than anyone. It also appeals to my minimalist side. there are few things as simple as bread and butter,  and yet this man is elevating it to an art form.

As an apprentice says to Jiro (in Jiro Dreams Of Sushi) - Always strive to elevate your craft. This man has done just that, and look at the results.

The 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' of Bread & Butter: Razza Pizza Artiginale from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I want an iPad, and a mini drone.

Wait, I already have one. An iPad mini with retina display, and I love it. Having grown up watching star trek it really is something out of Science Fiction. But when I say I want an iPad, what I really mean is an iPad for kayaking. 

On the Inside Passage we had several rolled charts that we folded up to use every day, we also had a spiral bound book of maps - topo maps - also in a chart case. Then we had GPS with maps loaded. If I did it today I would have the GPS preloaded with satellite imagery. We also had a guidebook, in a ziplock bag. 

In Prince William Sound, we had charts and another spiral bound book. We had a GPS but I didn't preload it with waypoints or maps - because I am very familiar with PWS. But a life using an iPad has spoiled me. In my previous two posts I have talked about the encroachment of technology where I don't want it, and the spread of easy communication when I don't need it. To prove that I am a complex person, this is where I would be okay with technology encroaching a little. 

I want a tablet that is highly water resistant - I am okay putting it in a case for both complete water protection and impact resistance. No bigger than a standard iPad, so I can use it easily in the cockpit, or perched on top of my spray skirt. It should be miserly with power usage so that I don't have to worry about charging it. Maybe it has solar on the back, so every time I turn it over it charges. But what I really want is digital, zoomable mapping like on an electronic chart table on a ship. There is nothing like having to remove a map from a chart case, and refold it - because you have paddled over the fold - in rain and high wind in the cockpit of a kayak. I want to scroll with my fingers and zoom as need be. I want both Nautical information (like a chart) and Topographical information (like a map) on display at all times. But I would also like to be able switch to satellite imagery quickly and easily. 

It should have sensors for Barometric pressure, and temperature, and keep me alerted to localized weather - like the Dark Sky app. 

On the inside passage, Sarah and I got forced off the water one day by high winds. We found a camp site, but as we were checking it out, it had a huge, fresh, bear print on it. So we were forced back out onto the water. We knew we had to go around a point of land but had no idea really what was on the other side. Here I would have liked a mini drone. I would like to pull something out of a pocket no bigger than my hand, unfold it, and throw it into the air like a frisbee. Once in the air it flies autonomously. Sending live video to my mapping tablet. I can control its path from the tablet as well. But this would give me the ability to look around corners to see what is there. Or view the coast for a couple of miles ahead to see if there is a good beach. 

This may sound unreal, but I think it is only a few years away. For under a thousand dollars I could buy a drone today for my GoPro. A little more money and I could have an image steadying gimbal on it as well. 

So while I am against the idea of communication encroaching on the wilderness world, there are areas that I think could use improvement. It is time for digital mapping to go from ships, to kayaks. You know kayak fisherman - the largest segment of the paddling world now - would love all these features. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gear Review: Spot Connect

On this trip we chose to use a SPOT Connect personal locator beacon. On the inside Passage Sarah had an original spot device. The connect was a little different. The reason I chose it, was that I didn’t choose it. It was given to me by someone who didn’t need it. I spent a couple of hours buying a usage plan, and setting it up. 

When you get your new spot connect, you need to go their website to register the device and then pick out a plan. I chose the most basic plan, which was $99. I then downloaded the spot software to my iPhone 5c. The original spot that we used on the IP has three buttons, okay, help, and sos - The Spot connect has only a power button and an SOS button. To do everything else you need to use an App on your phone. Our primary usage was the “okay” feature. Essentially telling our friends and family that we were all right, and where we were. When you go to their website, you create a contact list of people, and then you create message groups, then you apply contacts from your list to the message groups. Then when it is time to send an okay message, on the app you select the message you want to send - okay - and the message group you want to get the message to. Then hit send. 

The spot connect then gets a GPS fix and sends the message along with location info to satellites, which relay the message to SPOT, who then send out the message. It sends the message to the satellites 3 times - it only sends the actual message once, but sends it to the satellites three times to ensure delivery. It waits 500 seconds between sending the messages, which if you can do math is over 8 minutes. Spot recommends allowing the device to run through the three message cycle, which can take up to 20 minutes. 

The real beauty of the connect is also the real reason it pairs with your smart phone. It has the ability to send custom text messages - one way - to the people on your list. This is a nice feature, but I chose not to use it, primarily because I didn’t want to spend more money. The more text messages you prepay the cheaper they get. And if you don’t prepay you can send 5 text messages for free, before being charged one dollar per. 

I didn’t like that I had to keep two devices handy in case of emergencies- though in a real life or death emergency all i needed was the spot connect and I could hit the SOS button. I took to keeping them both in a small pelican case along with a pair of extra batteries for the SPOT. The Spot is waterproof, but my phone is not, so that was always a concern. I also think the spot connect should have all three buttons - okay, help, and SOS - so that if I am not sending text messages I don’t need to worry about my phone. 

In general the spot connect worked fine, but I didn’t like having to use my phone, that paired with the long wait time to send all three messages make this device one of my least favorite tools we used on the trip. If I have a choice in the future, I won’t be using this product. 

It seems that every outdoor company, over time, makes their gear more complicated, with more features - so they can then charge more money. I used the Spot Gen 1 and Gen 2 in the past and they worked really well, but I don't need this ever more complex product line in something that I am only using in case something bad happens. I like the idea of one of the ACR PLB's that just does one thing really well. I wish spot would make something similar. A smaller device, with one or two buttons, that when something really bad happens will get word to the appropriate people quickly and reliably. That is what I want in a Personal Locator Beacon. 

Which brings us to something else that I want. If you are a cyclist you probably know Planet Bike. They make Bike Lights, like this one. Since both Beth and AJ are avid cyclist - both having ridden cross country - they had these bike lights. I asked them to bring them along as emergency signaling devices. AJ chose to connect his to the back of his PFD. These little lights are tiny, ridiculously bright, and inexpensive. They also have several flashing modes, and the battery lasts 50 to 100 hours. 

It is time for Planet Bike to get into the kayak business, because there is no light in the paddling world that works as well as this. With the exception of the C - strobe - which I have used and is a great product! but the battery last 4 to 10 hours is double the size and weight of the planet bike light. I stopped using my C - strobe when it leaked and corroded. - Here are the changes Planet Bike should make. Make it more rounded. Make it water proof instead of water resistant. And what I really want, which even the C - strobe doesn't do, is to have it automatically turn on when submerged. This is what EPIRB's do, so it isn't hard. 

The paddling world is severely under served, and this would be a great first step.