Thursday, January 28, 2016

Goodbye Land Rover Defender.

January 28th 2016 marked the last day of production of the Land Rover Defender. Why does this warrant mention? Because it is the most adventure worthy vehicle in the history of adventure vehicles.

While inspired by the original U.S. army jeep they were far more simple. Their square bodies was due to a lack of tools to create curves. They had no real creature comforts - some of the Defender era rovers added more comfortable seats, and a stereo. But the early models "air conditioner" were flaps at the bottom of the windshield that could be opened. The early ones were extremely underpowered, topping out around 50 miles an hour. But when crossing Africa, that was just fine.

They have been under construction non-stop since 1947. Not sold as year models, they were originally produced with a series designator. Series I, Series II then IIA then III in the 1970's. Later models followed the more common model years, and they finally picked up the name Defender, to separate them from other models Land Rover was making. In 1996 Land Rover stopped importing the Land Rover Defender to the U.S. because they couldn't meet the safety standards - in particular, airbags.

This vehicle is so ubiquitous that it has been from war, to UN peace keeping missions. It has been driven by dictators to royalty - This is literally the Queens daily drive when she visits Scotland, though where the Queen drives I have no idea. I can't list the number of films that Land rovers have been in. In 1992 Land Rover estimated that 70% of all vehicles produced were still on the road (or off road as the case may be). Despite all this love, crash test limitations and emissions laws are bringing it to an end.

All I wanted was a Land Rover Series IIA - from around the year I was born - with a kayak under it. The best I could come up with was this.
My beloved Isuzu Trooper 2 had a similar boxy shape and simple engine. I bought that truck when I lived in Manhattan and had to get to my kayak on Long Island and then get to the water. It costs a little bit more than the boat under it. Someone once told me it looked like Africa - someone who had been to Africa - and it was my proudest moment. I cried a little when that truck died. I got no closer to a Rover than that Isuzu, and while I love my Yaris, I still dream of an old uncomfortable Series. Or maybe an early 90's Defender - which unremarkably sell for more now then they did when released.

Goodbye Land Rover. You will be missed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Instagram. I love you. And I hate you.

If you haven't been paying attention I am working a lot on instagram. As I have all but ditched Facebook (it is another post that you can read here) I have decided to focus my social media energy on Instagram.

And I love it.

I love the simplicity of the interface. I love that I can slide through photos and the occasional video and nothing ever pisses me off. I have full control over the feed, and there is very little advertising. It helps me see what people are up to, which is what I really used (or tried to use) Facebook for. I can now see a quick snapshot of what is happening in the lives of a handful of friends in distant states or countries. There are definitely people missing, who I wish were on Instagram, or who would post as frequently as they do on Facebook - and since you can link the two there is no reason not to post as often.

I spent a week just after Christmas posting videos clips from the last Alaska trip, and it was a fun way to show people some imagery from that trip. I have a lot of video, that will eventually make it's way to the web.

I have been having fun with hashtags, and in particular have been using #outdoorinstructorlife. If you seek out that hashtag it is mostly my work - though if you are an instructor feel free to use it.

I am really loving how quick it is, in terms of deciding to post something, and something being posted, it takes about 30 seconds. While I don't generally ask for features to be added to my GoPro I would like to be able to post to instagram from it. I know I can post to Facebook, but I will have to check on Instagram. Just thought of that....

In General, I am absolutely loving my time on Instagram. I have set the goal of posting 1000 images or videos by the close of 2016.

But the flip side is, I absolutely hate parts of Instagram, and most of them would be easily fixable. They are all bugs or design flaws within the App itself. First, can we bump the length of videos from 15 seconds to 30 seconds? It is hard to say something in 15 seconds, everything feels rushed. 30 seconds would be just fine. But why is there a limit at all?

I would also like to be able to schedule posts. Why can't I schedule an image or a video to post to my account at a desired time. It would make the professional aspect of instagram much better. And really there could be a "Pro" version of Instagram, I would gladly pay for it. Maybe also give me the ability to post from my computer - I know instagram, you want to stay a mobile platform.

A key interaction with mobile devices is pinch to zoom. This ability isn't supported in the instagram app. This is the sort of backwards thinking that drives me crazy. There is also no support for changing the orientation of the screen.

Finally, that there isn't an iPad specific version of the app is completely ridiculous. I do most of my viewing, and a lot of my posting from an iPad mini. Using an app designed for an iPhone. It simply blows up the size of the app to make it fill the screen. Can you imagine if I had an iPad Pro? Which I almost did! It would be ridiculous to waste all that real estate.

Fix these things for me, and I will be eternally grateful. But now, I have to post something to Instagram. 

Friday, January 22, 2016


As I write this, I am sitting at my desk with most of the lights off. It is warm and cozy in my house with a fire going in the other room,  the puppies are contentedly chewing bones. Out the window I can see the kayaks slowly getting covered with a North Carolina mix of snow and sleet. It is 3:15 in the afternoon, and I am contemplating a whiskey. It is that kind of day.

Dark Sky says 9 to 14 inches, and makes no mention of the sleet and freezing rain. It has been "snowing" since 5:30 am - I know this because I have a puppy that doesn't let me sleep in - and we have about 1.5 inches of snow, and a steady flow of sleet. I suspect when the sun drops the temperature will go with it, and it will become snow again. Here in the south this kind of weather is crippling. I think my little city of 250,000 has about 2 snow plows. People don't really know how to drive in bad weather. Everyone freaks out and buys milk, bread and eggs. I think they stay home and make french toast. This combination of weather, and what occurred yesterday is why I have no problem sitting here in front of a fire with a whiskey in hand. So here is what happened yesterday. 

I awoke at six to the above mentioned puppy, and made coffee. I kept the dogs occupied while I packed a backpack. I was going to a class, my first real class of the year and I wasn't teaching it. It was a wilderness survival class and I wanted to take it for a second time to experience it with a different instructor. When I took it the first time it was taught by a guy who taught survival for the military, so the class had a very military 'feel' to it. This time it was being taught by another instructor who wasn't former military. I wanted to see the difference. The problem was that they were calling for really cold weather, so I had to pile on the layers. I grabbed my pack and started pulling gear from the monolith. Matilda was a big help. 

I grabbed a 48 liter pack - the one I use when I am teaching, and first dropped in some extra layers. then a liter of water and a sawyer water filter. My fire starting kit (which should be a post unto itself) a headlamp, a compass, a GPS and a small first aid kit. A jet boil, and a freeze dried meal for lunch. A multi tool. A small Alite folding camp chair. The FIELD NOTES book I use to take notes in and a blackwing 602. 

I finished getting dressed. midweight base layer, windproof fleece pants, and rain pants over them - there is a good chance in this class I would end up lying on the ground. Up top I wore a midweight base layer top, primaloft jacket, and a rain shell. I added a wool hat, gloves and my buff. Finally I grabbed my go pro and three extra batteries which would be in an inside jacket pocket to keep them warm. The temp was hovering around 30 with a steady wind. When I arrived to class I saw that there was still a little snow on the ground. 

The class went really well, and I had a bunch of fun. I worked hard to keep my mouth shut - as I wasn't the instructor - but at the same time I wanted to take part and be engaged with the instructor and the other participants. It is a difficult balance at times. It was definitely a different class without the military angle, and even though it was a venue I had taught at many times, I ended up seeing some things I hadn't seen before, getting to experience a class through someone else's eyes. At the conclusion of class I headed home, and dutifully unpacked my bag. Putting everything back into the monolith, and stowing the pack. I changed into normal human clothes and cooked dinner. Just as we were sitting down to eat my wife's phone rang. You know how you can tell from the tone in someones voice that it is a bad phone call? Without even being able to hear the words? That is what I heard. I knew something was up. She sat down at the table and said we needed to eat quickly. A friend of hers was out trail running, and her dog got off leash and ran away, chasing a deer. She had been looking for an hour, the sun had already set and she was freaking out - just a little. She said we needed to eat and head out to help her find the dog. In the dark. 

There are two pieces of this story that make it slightly more interesting. The first, she had been running on the very trail I had been working on earlier in the day. A trail I have hiked for fun and for work around 500 times.  The second, we were hours away from what people were calling potentially the worst snow storm in the history of the state. My brain immediately said if we didn't find the dog in the next 5 hours it wouldn't survive the storm. 

I went back to the gear monolith and repacked almost exactly as I had that morning. I added a few things I hadn't brought for the morning class. Two headlamps with fresh batteries, a large maglight flashlight. Two chemical light sticks, ten feet of rope (for a makeshift leash, I was optimistic!) and a much larger first aid kit. We raced out the door to head back to my teaching venue. We got a surprise as soon as we arrived. The road approaches the lake from above, you head down a driveway to the lake. But there was a second parking lot just outside the park gates. I could see lights in the parking lot. A lot of lights. As we stopped driving, I started counting. I hadn't planned on other people being there, I figured the park would be closed and locked - it closes at dusk normally- we would walk in ( I know a way ) and get on the trail she had been running on. But as I said, as we arrived I started counting. I counted lights, lots of lights. 4 fire trucks, and a handful  of police cars. All had their lights spinning, and the sound of big diesel engines filled the air. If the fire department was there I knew they wouldn't let us on the trail. I made a quick phone call to the guy who runs the park and asked if he was there. He wasn't - home sick - but he told me who was. But without him there I knew the police wouldn't care that I knew the trail so well I could walk it blindfolded. He told me not to enter the park, and not to get on the trail. I said okay and hung up. Then I shouldered my pack and my wife and I walked into the woods in the dark. We used lights but never let them point towards the parking light (and as much light as the fire trucks were putting out I doubt they could have seen us) at one point where the trail switchbacked towards the parking lot I switched to a red light. Then back to white when we switched back to the other direction. What we did was walk in on a mountain biking trail that was closed due to bad weather, about a quarter mile down the trail I knew where we could cut through the woods and get on the hiking trail, the two trails ran vaguely parallel to each other. We made the switch without incident and as we got some distance from the parking lot the sound of diesel trucks faded, and the sounds of the forest came to life. Every now and then we would just stop and listen. I know how to look for missing hikers. Every time I get trained by a new company it is discussed. We had discussed in the class that very morning - on this very trail! - what to do if you get lost. Stop moving and make noise. But I had no idea what a lost dog would do. I figured he would circle the area looking for warmth or food or owner. At one point I am positive I heard a dog yelp, twice. I felt like he was in front of us and on our right side, somewhere between us - on the trail - and the lake on the right. Maybe he was near the water, drinking. That was when our sneaky little plan went south. I saw the lights first. Just one. Maybe it was our friend coming back down the trail. But then I saw two, three, four lights. It was some sort of group walking the trail. If it was the fire department there was a chance they would let us continue, but I knew if it was police they wouldn't allow it. It turned out it was four firefighters who walked the trail out and back. One of them recognized me as being an outdoor instructor - he knows the company I work for, and I know a number of firemen. They were actually an engine company that a friend of mine works on, but he was off duty. I asked If we could continue to walk the trail and he said he would need to check. As I chatted with the other fire fighters he walked a few steps away to talk who was in charge. I made small talk with the other firefighters. I noticed that why were very well equipped for a rescue, but not really for the environment, and I didn't think any of them had water. 

He came back a few minutes later saying the police department was in charge and they wanted everyone off the trail. They were concerned about someone getting hurt, and the pending storm. The six of us walked slowly back to the parking lot. They told us our friend was with three policemen who were walking the trail as well, and would be back to the parking lot soon. 

we waited an hour and a half, they must have walked very slowly. When they did get back there were many discussions, but all of them involved the park gates being locked and no one was allowed on the trails - sort of. The park would be locked, but the trails had other access points, and legally the trails never closed, except for when there was bad weather. At this point the weather was fine. It was supposed to start snowing in about 6 hours at about 4 am. But realistically I didn't think we would find the dog, in the dark. I was thinking it was probably huddled somewhere cold and scared. We could have probably walked right past it and not seen or heard it. 

We decided to call it a night, but our friend couldn't leave her dog out there, and I completely understood. I gave her a printed satellite map of the area - I teach map and compass on that trail, so I had a stack of maps printed on waterproof paper in my car - and offered her extra lights and layers. I showed her where we were, and she showed me where she had been when the dog got away, and what she had done to find him. Her plan was to  drive through the neighboring houses and into the school that bordered the park. We went home and I unloaded my pack for the second time that day. 

I took a hot shower, the kind of shower where as soon as you hit the water you realize you have been cold all day. I stood under the hot water and thought about the dog. If it had been my dog I wouldn't have stopped either. I would have gone all night. I laid in bed trying to fall asleep, thinking about the dog. Thinking about the snow. 

At 12:15, as I was staring at the ceiling trying to sleep, my wife's phone lit up. It cast blue light on the ceiling, and then went dark. I didn't think much about it, but I should have. The dog had been found. While we had been walking the trail in the dark, working to avoid the police the dog had been found by someone. Our friend somehow found this person and got the dog, the facts are still coming out. My guess is the dog chased the deer and just kept on running until it left the park. All is well that ends well I suppose. But it was a long day. 

Now, a whiskey awaits. I will sit in front of the fire, with my puppy. Promising myself to never let her off leash, and if she gets away and doesn't come back that I will never stop looking for her. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Plans for January


As the end of the year approached I got excited for a clean start. Time to put the things that occurred in 2015 that I didn't enjoy in the past and to look to the future (which as I read this I realize isn't being in the moment*). A new year. A clean start. I don't really like resolutions - they are always the same, eat better, go to the gym, etc. But what I do like are lists. And so I have made some lists of things to do or accomplish for 2016. Things to continue to do throughout the year. to be consistent. 

In 2016 I would like to get certified to be a mindfulness meditation instructor. I think it would be a good thing to add to the list of things I teach, and it would force me into a more regular meditation practice.

I would also like to make a short film for each month of the year, focusing on my work as an outdoor educator. Which means I am shooting a lot of things and just banking them for future use. 

In regards to filming, January is proving tough. Simply because I am not working a lot, and what I am working on is a lot of 'behind the scenes' stuff. I am in communication with the instructors I am working with on my upcoming WFA classes - and I am doing a lot of those. WFA classes are by far the hardest thing I teach. There is a lot of material to cover, a lot of gear, many students, not enough time and always involve travel. I am on track to do ten this year which would be a personal record. WFA's also mean prepping my gear, making schedules, and figuring out curriculum changes that occurred that I somehow missed. It also means making sure everyone who schedules my time to know when I am teaching WFA, so they don't schedule me to teach something else at the same time. 

Yesterday I met up with the senior instructor for the big program I work with. I teach out of a location that is separate from the main area - which gives us a little bit of a wild west feel compared to the main program. We have our own gear in a storage container and we needed to do an inventory. This is what it looks like. 

GearClean from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

January is a time when I practice my skills, and do it in bad weather. I spend a lot of time in my drysuit practicing skills with numb fingers. I am about 8 weeks away from teaching water courses and need to make sure my skills are as close to perfect on day 1 as possible.

If the weather would cooperate I would also be working on mountain bike skills and using my longboard - which is a new addition this year - But alas, rain, rain rain.

The year of teaching really begins January 29th when I head to my first WFA.

Also on my list this year is to build an audience on Instagram. I post at least once a day, and I have been posting a lot of short videos. Head on over and check it out. I just decided I would like to post 1000 images by the end of the year. That is something to work on, while keeping the quality standards high. No airplane wing photos... I promise.

That is where I am halfway through the month. Where are you?

*I have been watching (or listening) to a lot of Alan Watts

Monday, January 4, 2016

Death of the longboat.

It is a weird thing when a fear you have, but have never verbalized, is spoken by another. For quite some time I have thought that I was seeing declines in people who paddle long boats (with long boats being any boat over 12 feet in length). Now, it is quite possible that my perception if the decline is simply my location. I am in the center of North Carolina - fishing and rec boat central. I started feeling this way several years ago, every now and then something will occur to remind me of my fear.

It started several years ago (maybe as many as 5) with the Werner Paddles rep. I asked her if Whitewater was the bulk of sales for her company, she laughed and said no. She informed me that whitewater paddling was and had been on a steady decline.

I thought about it and realized that despite the fact that I live about two hours - give or take - from the North Carolina mountains, which could arguably be called the Yosemite of white water paddling, and an hour from the US National Whitewater Center - the training site for the Olympic paddlers - that I knew fewer and fewer whitewater paddlers. Certainly I still see people with whitewater boats, but the retail paddle shops are carrying less and less white water gear. I think the decline in white water is one of perception. I think to the laymen who wants to get into paddling, this is what they think white water is like.

Russell Davies 2015 from Rogue Specimens on Vimeo.

She went on to tell me that it was kayak touring either. She said that their biggest market was, by far, kayak fishing and rec paddlers. Of course, this was 5 or so years ago, it may have changed. Something else that changed was big box stores like Dicks, Sports Authority and even Walmart are now selling recreational kayaks.

It used to be that to buy a kayak you were looking at spending a minimum of $1000 to get a complete kit: kayak, paddle, and pfd. Now you can get a complete kit for $399. Companies like emotion kayaks created an explosion of low cost, competently built kayaks.

The next warning sign I saw - and continue to see - is over at Reddit's Kayaking subreddit. I regularly see people asking for opinions on a first kayak purchase. They are almost never long boats or touring boats. They are almost exclusively rec boats and fishing boats. Probably once a week I see a post like this.

I'm in the Finger Lakes area and travel to the ADK every summer, so I get out on the water quite frequently. I've been kayaking for about 2 years now, borrowing from friends. I've only ever used 2 types, and I'm not exactly sure what brands, but I think one was a Pelican (not sure what style), the other was an Otter. I'm 5'2 about 110lbs, so I'm not looking for anything too large, just a good standard Kayak. I'm going to check Craigslist first, but basically I'd like to get the names of a few reputable brands so I can narrow down my search. Any advice would be great, thanks! Edit: I went out to look at some local stores to see what was in stock, and everyone I talked to tried to push 12' options vs 10' there reason, besides extra footage=$$? Personally I think a 12' is just too big for me, but I could be wrong. Thoughts?

I am assuming that sales people were recommending longer boats and this person wasn't asking why.  This makes me a little sad. This person isn't in a position where they are comfortable asking for more information, and they don't fully understand what they are buying (if they don't understand that 12 is going to be better than 10 for lakes). 

But none of these things where what made me hear my internal voices become loud and clear. About a month and a half ago I was loading my kayak on the roof of my car, when I saw a beautiful Porsche drive into the parking lot at the lake I was working in. I made a joke to the person I was with, something along the lines of "well, there isn't a kayak inside that thing!" and as the car moved past me I made eye contact with the driver. We knew each other. It was Andy Zimmerman. 

For those of you who don't know, Andy was the founder of Wilderness Systems, which he started in a garage in the town I live in. After he sold Wilderness (and his no compete was expired) he founded Native watercraft and Liquid Logic. This is a man who is engrained into the DNA of paddling in North America. His fingers have had an impact on just about every boat made. I have met him 3 or 4 times, and each time we've met, we have ended up having a really nice conversation. 

This is Andy and me having  one of those conversation. He is a great guy and has a great insight into the world of paddling. I once asked him if he had a photo album of every boat he every produced. He said no, he had a garage. I would love to get into that garage. In passing he mentioned that no one buys long boats anymore. When he said it, someone as connected to the industry as he is, it made me shiver. (on a side note, I have long contended that the Wilderness systems Tempest is the most popular touring kayak in North America, I asked Andy that and he said "of all time? I don't think so. I think it is probably the sealoution simply because there were so few boats to choose from when it came out". That is the kind of insight I am talking about. 

Several days later I was on Facebook, and another acquaintance of mine, Mark Hall who I think currently works for Boreal designs (or he may just do distribution for them, I am not sure) mention that despite the death of the long boat, Boreal was committed to making them and was releasing 2 or 3 different long boat designs this year. 

While I applaud Boreal - and I have paddled their boats with NOLS and they are wonderful boats - It is saddening to hear from another source that long boats are dying. 

The death of the long boat is just so disheartening. It is like the death of Ferrari, or Mercedes. I am glad that so many people are paddling, I just wish they would do it in kayaks that would show them what a kayak is capable of. A boat that glides through the water, and rolls fluidly. A boat that fits like a glove instead of a bucket. My fear is that most people will never know what they are missing. They think that this is a kayak. 

And while technically it is a kayak, it is the worst possible representation of a kayak. But I am not going to give up. I am going to paddle a long kayak until they pry her from my grip. I am just going to keep paddling. 

* Note - A lot of my perception is probably regional. In the Pacific North West, I would bet that long boats are the norm. On a recent trip to Toronto I saw a rack of probably 200 longboats. Which I always like to see.