Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Outdoor activity and decision making.

Do you consider yourself active in the outdoors? Do you care about the environment? Do you consider the outdoors when you are making a purchasing decision? I was thinking about this today, I was thinking about the actions of some people I know, and some decisions they made. Both are people who I would consider very active in the outdoors, but both made decisions that were extremely bad for the environment. I was curious if they considered the environment in their decision making? Which got me to thinking about, the gap between people who worry about the environment, and who also choose not to vote.

I learned in 2016 that there is a big disconnect between people who care about the environment and people who vote.

All these thoughts will eventually find there way into a blog post, but to help me get an idea as to what others think, take this quick 10 question survey. Thanks!

Outfitting for the Santa Cruz Trail in Peru

One of the things I enjoy having the opportunity to do is help people get outfitted for trips. If you follow my instagram you know that I recently consulted with Molly who is headed to Alaska. A week before that I consulted with Jim who is prepping for a thru hike in New Zealand on the Te Araroa. Jim and I were talking specifically about navigation and personal locator beacons.

But back in August I had a meeting with a guy named Jason who needed some help planning for something really special. Through a work situation he found himself in Peru with a day to kill. I should point out that Jason is an ultra-runner, but what he was planning was a little extreme.

His plan was to hike a the Santa Cruz Trail (also none as the Santa Cruz Trek) witch is a 30 mile stretch of trail that cuts through Peru's Cordillera Blanca. Thirty miles isn't that far, but this is a difficult trail, that tops out at 15,000 feet. People normally do the trail in 3 or 4 days, but Jason only had one. One day, to hike and run 30 miles, at altitude in an environment that offers some pretty extreme variation. He only had one day to complete it, but that wasn't - in my opinion - the biggest problem. The biggest problem was he had no time to acclimate to the altitude. The trek started at 11,200 feet, and he would only have one day at 10,000 feet prior to the run/hike.

Here are some things to know about altitude. It is the most researched aspect of wilderness medicine, and yet we don't know a whole lot about why people get altitude related illness. We used to think that there was a hydration factor, and while you should always make sure you are hydrated, particularly at elevation where there is far less moisture in the air, it doesn't seem that alone contributes to it.

The biggest problem is that you can go to altitude a dozen times with no problem, but then your next trip you can get Acute Mountain Sickness or worse, Hape (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or Hace (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). That is the part we can't really figure out.

So Jason and I talked about signs and symptoms of Altitude related illness, medications he could take to help him acclimate, and what to do if he felt issues coming on. Secretly I suspected that if he could in fact do the trip in one day, he could get up and down before his body had a chance to object to the altitude. Well, object more than make it difficult to breath.

We talked at some length about the gear he would be carrying, the goal was of course to keep the weight low, but still have everything he needed in case it went bad. Looking at Jasons final gear list, he ended up going lighter than I would have, but he still felt was a little too heavy.

And that right there is the difference between consulting on a trip like this, and actually doing a trip like this. I would love to do the route, but I could never run/hike it all in a day. But as a consultant for his gear, I have to give him a cushion in case things go poorly. But as the athlete, he is more willing to stick it out there, because he knows what he is capable of. I didn't doubt he could accomplish this, but my concern was uncooperative weather, mixed with an altitude problem.

This is something that I write about in the opening chapters of GO! Sometimes you have to stick it out, and really extend yourself to get things done. I did it on the Inside Passage. Andrew - who I profile in the book - did it with his Motorcycle ride across the country to Alaska. Jason was already an accomplished ultra-runner, but here is his description of the first morning.

I headed out at 4:25am with my Black Diamond spot headlamp fully blazing and set out for what would either be a total disaster or an epic, once In a lifetime event.  I remember thinking as I ran the half mile dirt road to the trailhead, how crazy it was that I was doing this solo, self supported in a foreign country with very limited Spanish and photo copies of a route map made by a British guy.  I had no choice but to follow through as I had a friend waiting for me on the other side in what I predicted would be a 12 hour traverse.  

So how did he do? He completed the route in 9 hours and 50 minutes, which I think is just incredible. I was excited to have helped out, even if just a little bit. The biggest hurdle in making big trips happen is our self doubt. Hats off to Jason, he may have had a little in the beginning, but he knew deep down he could do it. What an amazing trip!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Want to see what paddling the Inside Passage is like?

I thought it was time to dust these off.

Paddle North - Episode 3 from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

I was reminded by watching the @paddlingnorth women on Instagram what an amazing paddle this was. Even with the bears. And the flu... And the cruise ships.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who made it possible to predict storms and save lives.

As I write this hurricane Florence is dancing in a large circle around me. I am in central North Carolina and a few days ago it was predicted that this storm would race ashore and pass right over my head, dumping literally tons of water on the way. Then a couple of days ago meteorologists predicted a change. Florence would curve south, and head inland slowly, followed by a sweeping curve north. Her wind would also drop dramatically, causing less damage - though the slower movement meant she had more time to drop more water. Everything is a trade off. And guess what? That is exactly what happened. It looks like I won't see much more than her outer bands.

I spend a lot of time maligning meteorologists. I teach my students - unfairly - that meteorologist in English translates to liar. It always gets a laugh. I can't tell you how many times bad weather reports have ruined perfectly good plans. But the fact is, that particularly for events like a hurricane the predictions are better now than they have ever been, and ultimately it saves a lot of lives.

How does this happen? How do we have the ability to predict the actions of killer storms. There are three things that happen, to make this possible.

The first, is the advance of computer technology. Ever faster computers, make it possible to work with all the data sources and variables that make weather happen. Research in the 1960's and 1970's in chaos theory and supercomputers made it possible to figure out what was going on. Today we see the outcome of all this work with accurate weather system prediction and spaghetti models for how storms will move. This is chaos theory and supercomputers at their finest.

The other thing that occurs is people decide to dedicate their lives to scientific research. They go to work at research institutions, which are almost all publicly funded universities.

The by-product of all these things, studying an extremely abstract concept like chaos theory, working to make computers infinitely faster and more powerful, and students becoming scientists give us better understanding of weather, and how it effects us. Which means local governments have a better idea of what is going to happen and can better prepare themselves, their towns and their people for major weather events like a hurricane.

I want to apologize to every meteorologist I have used as a punchline. It won't happen again, and I appreciate the advances you have made in the field of weather prediction. The nature of my work - outdoor education - means that I rely on accurate weather information and tracking all of its changes. I have the ability - from my phone, while sitting in the cockpit of a kayak, or standing on a SUP - to see recent satellite photos, and predictions on wind and rain. The ability to do that is because of the hard work of the people mentioned above. I literally have in the palm of my hand significantly more computing power than was used to go to the moon, and I utilize it give people good, exciting (and safe) experiences in the outdoors.

Finally, the next time someone says to you they don't believe in global climate change, or global warming, explain to them that people have been working hard for decades to understand the incredibly complex system of weather and climate that we are surrounded by. We know, all too well, the effects of what we have done to our environment. All you have to do is open your eyes, and see those effects around you every day. If they don't listen, just walk away. They will understand when we run out of food, and their house is underwater. Just don't let them knock scientific research and publicly funded research. They do amazing work, and make the world a better place. We need more people taking up hard sciences like this, as a nation we are falling far behind other countries.

If you are interested, here are the apps I use for weather prediction. Dark Sky is a micro weather app that gives hyper-localized information. My Radar is just that, and while it is free I paid for the hurricane tracking update. Well worth it. Windy is an amazing weather app that gives a visual representation of direction and velocity of wind. I have started using Predict wind which is very popular in the sailing community but the free version of the app is rather limited.

Be safe out there people.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

I'm not your Billboard

Years ago, I was folding clean laundry when I made a startling realization. I had a pile of T-shirts, which is primarily what I wear, and I realized I hadn't paid for any of them. They were many different colors and all had garish logos or pithy sayings on the front or the back. All of them were shirts I had gotten from either my employer or product vendors for free. The unwritten understanding is this. You will give me a shirt to wear for free, and I will wear it. In doing so I am subtly implying an endorsement for your product. Over the years I have received many items for free from vendors. The company I work for has a policy that I can't receive a gift greater than $50. I have received a lifetime supply of stickers, key chains, beer cozies (and I don't drink beer!) and more bottle openers than I will ever need in a lifetime. (Seriously, the outdoor companies need to think outside the box. Bottle openers? Really? Yakima puts them on their car rack accessories. What does that say about the outdoor industry?) These days after a conversation with a vendor rep, when they dump out their bag of free goodies, I generally just walk away. There is rarely anything I would like in that bag. There is almost certainly nothing I need.

The agreement we are all making, is that you will give me a shirt (or some other giveaway) and I will be excited to use this free item. I will like it, because it makes me part of an exclusive club. But in reality I am unpaid marketing for you. I am a walking billboard, and I don't want to be a walking billboard. Particularly for free. In essence though, I am not doing it for free. I am getting paid, in the form of the free stuff I am receiving. The schwag is my payment. If you ask me, that is a lousy deal.

This was a big part of the reason I developed a "uniform" of a grey T-shirt and blue jeans for everyday wear. I started by recycling all those T-shirts. Some became rags, some went to good will. The old ones went right in the garbage. I simply don't want to be a billboard for your outdoor company. I wanted to get away from what I think of as an implied or "soft" product endorsement.

A big part of my job is recommending gear to people, and I am absolutely fine with that. I have no problem telling you what piece of gear works well and what piece of gear is a waste of time and money. It is one of the reasons I started doing product reviews on this website. None of those are sponsored by the manufacturer. If They are my sponsor, I am beholden to them. Gear Junkie used to give real reviews listing what worked and what didn't. Then they got popular and got a ton of sponsors and they could no longer be honest about products. I'm sorry Gear junkie but my dream truck isn't a diesel chevy pick up truck. Just because you got paid this month by chevy doesn't mean that is a piece of outdoor gear.  That said I still read GJ and understand what they do, and have to do. Business is business.

I understand how this happens in the outdoor industry, most of us who work in the outdoors don't make a lot of money and free clothes are awesome. What really upsets me is when I see this outside of the outdoor industry. I see yeti stickers on the back of cars and trucks. This makes my brain ache.  You just spent $30 on a coffee mug, and want to tell the world by putting the sticker on the back of your car? Or you decide to wear a Yeti hat? So after that purchase you feel you owe the company so you will wear their brand name? No coffee mug is that good. But that isn't actually what is happening though, is it? People put a yeti sticker on the back of their truck because it gets them entrance to a club. The cool outdoor club. I feel bad for these people because they desperately want entrance to a club that isn't that cool. You want to join a cool club? Go climb El Capitain. That's a cool club, and those people know how to party.

Here is another example. You spend $40K on a new car. On the back of that car is a sticker with the name of the dealer, and maybe even a license plate frame with the name of the dealer. So I spend all this money and I have to advertise for you? I just gave you $40K you should be advertising for me! I can also tell you from experience the stickers are supremely difficult to get off, without ruining the paint on your car.

To be honest though, I have to come clean. I have been sponsored in the past by gear companies. I was never asked to say anything specific about a product, but I have been given products for particular projects with the manufacturer fully aware that 10,000 people would see their product in a picture or a video. That I consider a fair trade. I am getting something I need - an actual piece of gear as opposed to a key chain or a T-shirt. They are getting something they need, exposure.

I also make exceptions if the product is the best option. I recently had to replace the long sleeve, sun protective shirt that I wear when I teach paddling. I grabbed every piece of clothing I could find that met my criteria and took them to a fitting room. I tried on 12 shirts from 5 brands, and was upset that the best option was actually made by Patagonia. Now, there is nothing wrong with Patagonia, they are a great company that make great products but the shirt that met my needs had a large Patagonia logo on the back. I would have rather a shirt without a big logo. The shirt is amazing though!

I have been saying for close to a decade, if you want to market a product, give it to the people who use it. If it is any good people will tell their friends. If you think outdoor instructors and guides don't sit around a campfire talking about products that work and products that don't you are crazy. GoPro exploded in 2008 because they offered a really good prodeal to outdoor professionals. They made a good product, everyone saw us using them, and we talked about how great the product was. I consider that a fair trade.

I still see a lot of people in my industry who will take anything if it is free. "if it's free, it's for me!" is a phrase I have heard in the past. By all means, go for it. But if you want me to represent your product, and tell people how great it is, Your going to have to give me more than a beer cozy.

Friday, September 7, 2018

GO! in paperback

For the first time I have written a book that doesn't require an E-reader. For the first time I have produced a physical book. I didn't think this would seem like a big deal, but it really seems like a big deal.

I am extremely excited to say that GO! Planning weekend trips to month long adventures is available on Amazon. Follow the kindle link on the right and there is an option to buy it in print.

I am extremely proud of this book, and hope you enjoy it. I hope it helps you bring outdoor trip plans to fruition. If you are one of the many people that have bought the book already it would be incredibly helpful if you could review it wherever you bought it.

Proof that I am getting somewhere, I have already found an illegal PDF version of it available online. Please don't buy it there. Thanks.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018


No, really.

I need three people who have a kindle (that can view color photos) and three people who have iPad's.

If you feel like helping me out with a project - some cash will be involved! - send me an email.