Monday, October 29, 2018

Paper vs. Plastic.

The dilemma of our time. We are standing in line at the market, with our fresh organic produce. And we need to decide paper or plastic. About a decade ago I did some research. Here is what I found.

I found that they were about the same. That while plastic is made from oil, it biodegrades pretty quickly, and that paper, while killing trees to make them, the trees are harvested specifically for that purpose -- it's not like they are cutting down virgin forests for them - and the too are designed to biodegrade pretty quickly.

Proof that you can find data to support anything you want, I just found out that all of this is wrong. This started for me in a small privately owned market down the street. This place was transformed a few years ago, it was a dingy 1950's supermarket that had grey meat and dusty canned goods. It still looks like it could use a new floors and fixtures, but they got smart. They lined an entire wall with open front refrigerators and filled them with craft beer. It is now the go to place for the local students. My town has a large university and five colleges. The bulk of our residents are students, faculty and administrators. They now do very well and have a good selection of produce, and a handful of other things. It is a great place when you realize you are out of dog food on a Sunday night at 8:00, and really just want to run in and run out. So I heard the young woman at the register - tattoos, face piercings, blue hair, talking with a customer buying a six of craft beer that she thought it was about the same, paper or plastic. I decided to go home and check my research. I was wrong. way wrong.

Yes, the paper for bags is from carefully controlled and harvested trees. They are left un-dyed so when they biodegrade they don't pollute. But here is the problem. First, they take up a lot of space in the landfills. Second, they take thousands of years to biodegrade, because they are packed so tightly into a landfill, they don't get any oxygen. Which is needed for them to break down. It also takes a lot of water, and power to make them, so they are impacting the environment that way. Though it should be stated that more people recycle their paper bags than plastic. which usually ends up in the garbage.

On the other hand, plastic bags were designed in the 1970's to replace the environmental impact of paper bags. They take very little power, and no water to produce. They are made out of ethane which is a by product of natural gas production. It is usually just burned off, but they figured out a way to make bags out of it. Plastic bags weigh nothing, and they are made to biodegrade very quickly, even in a landfill. They really are brilliant engineering.

So if you have those two choices, plastic is by far the winner.

But you don't have just those two choices do you? No, you have a third. Frankly, I think if you want a bag at a store you should have to pay for it. This would be the single biggest thing we could do to minimize their use. Well, maybe the second biggest thing, we could make them illegal like California.

No, what you should be doing is keeping a reusable bag or two in your car. Let's just eliminate the problem completely. I bought a couple of bags, for each of our cars. They cost me about $5 a piece. Sometimes I forget to grab them, but I have drastically reduced the amount of plastic I use. You can do this too. Give it a shot.

Hey! Do me a favor.

If you are one of the many people who have bought my book GO! on either Amazon or iBooks. Please take a moment to review it. It is the single biggest thing you can do to support a self published author. Even more than buying my book. It takes just a few minutes, and you would be doing something nice for another person. It would be greatly appreciated.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Got a lot of Gear?

I have a lot of gear. There is no denying it. Even though I work hard to have a minimalist lifestyle, I teach a lot of topics and all of them have associated gear. I do try and minimize how much I have, but facts are facts. I have a lot of gear. It has always been something I struggled with as a minimalist, here is how I handle it and how I organize my gear which is something a lot of people active in the outdoors struggle with. 

I teach kayaking, and have for a long time. I have what I need for teaching and expeditioning, and that equals a large duffel bag, two kayaks and two paddles. 

I teach sup as well, and a lot of my kayak gear crosses over. I use the same PFD for both instead of a more sup designed life vest. A lot of sup instructors use inflatable PFD’s and I choose not to. But I have two boards, two leashes and two paddles. 

I teach navigation, and have a plastic lidded bin that houses all the things I need for those classes. Maps, compasses, and accessories. I would probably thin out my map selection if I wasn’t teaching this, but it is good for me to have a lot of resources for my classes. For the same reason I have three different compasses, to show variations on a compass theme. I also keep things in the bin that I consider as falling into the realm of ‘signal’. This is strobe lights, chemical light sticks, personal locator beacon and such. I also keep headlamps in there. 

Another bin I keep is ‘med’, which includes first aid supplies that I am always using and resupplying my many first aid kits. I have a separate canvas bag that goes on WFA courses with me. But if it doesn’t fit in that bag it doesn’t go on a course. This includes teaching materials as well props, prizes for students, note books for me, and reference materials for when I need to look something up. 

I have two more bins that get a lot of use. ‘Stoves’ and ‘H20’. The first is self explanatory, everything stove related is in this bin. Both canister and liquid fuel. I own 6 stoves. This is a little excessive and Ill be selling one of them soon. I don’t generally accept free gear, but two of the stoves I got for free, specifically so I could use them when I teach. The third is a backup solely for expedition use. H20 Is everything water filter related. I own four water filters and again, two of them were free for teaching. 

The beauty of this system is when I am going to teach a class I just grab the appropriate bin, and whatever expendables I need. I never waste time digging for gear. Some things stay in my truck for months at a time. The entire summer all my sup gear and kayak gear is in the truck. I use it all most weekends. All I do is replace expendables and ‘surprise and delight’ - leave a comment if you don’t know what that is! - and maybe wash something or change something out. 

When I speak of expendables I mean things that get used up and have to be replaced before the next class. In my map and compass class everyone gets a printed map of where we are working so they can learn on a very specific map. They get to take notes on it, and do things like plotting a bearing. It also refers to stove fuel - I use a lot of stove fuel in the course of a year - as well as things I give away like water additives and power food. 

As fall approaches and I transition to land based classes I keep a backpack loaded with the gear I always carry. Rain layers, extra warmth layers for students - they frequently under dress -  a hydration reservoir and other things I have to bring along. This keeps it easy to grab my gear and go. 

What about my big stuff? Well, in my office I have what we refer to as the gear monolith. A large divided structure for storing gear. I has a small cubby for anything that needs to be charged and storage for batteries. There is a power strip in the cubby, and all my chargers are ready to go. Just plug it in and let it charge. When I need it, it will be ready to go. Another, larger cubby has all my tents and sleeping pads. Self inflating pads are stored unrolled with the valves open so that they are inflated all the time. The more a self inflating pad is inflated the faster it will inflate when you use it. Tents and other pads are stored in their bags in this cubby. 

There is a large bin that contains a lot of my camp kitchen gear, and some specific food related gear that I only use when I teach cooking classes. There is a large central cubby that holds my large paddling duffel in the off season. Dry bags are stored in a large dry bag, as is my dry suit. 

For most people I say store your sleeping bags in large bags so they can be loose, but my sleeping bags are sort of always in use. Several are in my sprinter which is my rolling office a lot of the time. Another is always on my bed. But if you are a normal person store them in the big cotton or mesh storage bags. 

I have another large bin that is just water bottles and water reservoirs that aren’t in use.

I was never a particularly organized person, but forcing myself to get organized has made a huge difference. I refuse to spend time looking for gear, and to combat that I spend a little time organizing my gear. 

I never store gear in an environment that isn’t temperature and humidity controlled. No attics, basements or crawl spaces. Never. 

The final part of my office organization is the three large dry erase boards on the walls. I use them for organization of projects I am working on, as well as things I need to do, both for teaching or other projects. These help keep me on track. 

The important thing is to find systems that help keep you organized, so you can spend more time playing in the outdoors. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Next steps - sailing

The last chapter of my book is called Next Steps.

It is a common phrase in the outdoor education world, and we use it to talk about what students should do next to advance their knowledge in a certain area. With the long term goal to be proficiency in an outdoor skill.

I am usually the person giving people their next steps, but today I am thinking about my next steps, in particular when it comes to sailing. Despite growing up on my fathers power boat, and spending most of my adult life working on the water in kayaks and for the last five years, stand up paddle boards, I am a complete novice when it comes to sailing.

I have already done a fair amount of reading, but I need to get out there, and spend time in boats. The amazing thing that has been occurring since my last post about sailing is the number of people who have offered up their time, experience and excitement to help me.

My friend Lisa - who I consider my SUP mentor - divulged that she got her start on the water as a sailor, I would very much like to sail with her, she is a great educator, and an amazing person.

My employer just hired a young woman who is a competitive sailor and US Sailing Instructor, I have already hit her up for some information, and hope to convince her to take me out on the water.

Beth, who you may know from the training chapter in my book as well as taking part in the AGAP trip, just brought a Laser sailboat back from he mountains, it needs some work but I am excited to help her get it on the water.

Finally, I hear through the grapevine that another friend, Ron, who moved away but is now coming back, learned to sail while he was gone.

These are all great opportunities and will make for fun experiences, and will be a boon to learning how to do this.

Part of this is my network of friends, most are interested in the outdoors, and jump at the chance to help people learn a new skill. The joy that I get out of this is new skills. Something I love.

On my last check in with my boss on the outdoor education side of things, he asked why I continue to teach. I told him a big part of it was selfishness. I love learning new things in the outdoors, and no matter how many times I have taught something, I always learn something new from new students. That is what I get out of it. This is a whole new world that I get to play in, and bring my experience from many other venues to play in this arena. Super exciting.

So, hey, follow along on this journey. I plan on doing more video through this process, and want to share it with you. Subscribe to the Adventure Otaku youtube channel, content is coming. In the meantime, Instagram is the pest place to follow this next adventure.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hurricane Michael

About a month ago, central North Carolina went a little crazy preparing for Hurricane Florence. While Florence did severe damage tot he coast, it never really found its way to where I live in central North Carolina.

But this week we got hit - with little warning! - by Hurricane Michael. We got hit on Thursday around 11 am. We lost our power around 2:30pm. The storm was gone by 6:00pm, but the damage still remains. We got our power back on Saturday night around 9pm, which was surprising. We expected it to take longer. We were just getting into the grove of the silence. The AC and Fan kicking on and off. The sound of our ceiling fan when we are trying to go to sleep. And the never ending sound of our commercial refrigerator - you don't realize how loud a commercial refrigerator is until you put one in your kitchen. Comment below if you want to know why we went that route.

While it was inconvenient to not have power, it also wasn't that bad. We got lucky, as we are surrounded by large trees, and many fell, but nothing hit our house. I posted video of the storm at its worst on instagram.

Two things struck me during this exercise of no electricity.

First, as I mentioned, the silence. People have a hard time with silence. It is the reason your friend calls you when they are driving home from work. A lot of people have a hard time embracing the quiet, because when it is quiet, when there are no distractions, you hear the voice in your head. As a culture, we are bad at quieting that voice in our head and it makes people very uncomfortable. Part of why I like long kayak trips is there is plenty of time to quiet that voice in your head. It takes practice, and you can call it meditation, or deep breathing exercises or whatever you want. But it is a good skill to have, the ability to keep your wits when all is quiet. We have so many distractions to day that keep us from practicing that skill, and it really does scare people. Try this, go to have lunch with a friend, and put your phone on the table, face down. Don't look at it or pick it up during the meal. Just connect with the person across from you. You may find this difficult, but give it a shot, and invite the person opposite you to do the same.

I am really enjoying the new screen time app that is included with iOS 12. It gives me the ability to see where I am spending my time on my phone or my tablet. It is sort of a device separation detector. As I look at screen time now, I can see on Friday my usage ballooned, because I couldn't use my iPad or desktop. But when I look at the app on my iPad it was way down. I average about 45 minutes a day on my phone - which sounds like a lot, but I think it probably isn't. But on Friday it was right at around 2 hours.

Okay, the second thing that struck me was the storm itself. On Monday I looked at the weather radar and the Michael was a tropical storm and a poorly organized one at that. Meaning it didn't have a very pronounced circular motion. It just looked like a large storm, and I didn't think it would be that bad. On Tuesday I wasn't too surprised to see it was a Category 1 hurricane, but when it made land fall the next day it was a powerful category 4 hurricane. So how did a poorly formed tropical storm become a powerful cat 4 in two days? How did it do this in a location where storms rarely form, the Gulf of Mexico (most hurricanes form off the coast of Africa, and take their time moving slowly across the Atlantic picking up strength.) It is also surprising that the storm did this in October, the end of the hurricane season?

Well, the answer to all these questions is abnormally warm water. Warm water is what feeds hurricanes. The warmer the water, the more evaporation there is, the more moisture they carry. And while the wind from a hurricane is bad, it is the water that does the damage. As bad as the damage was it would have been far worse if it hadn't been going so fast. If this storm had lingered the way Florence did, thousands would be dead. They are actually thinking of changing the saffir-simpson hurricane scale, to reflect water content as well as wind. Because wind levels only tell part of the story. Honestly, we dodged a bullet with Michael. It could have been much worse.

But, abnormally warm water? Why? Simple. Take a guess? Climate change. The only way for a storm to form that fast, in October is the abnormally warm water from the changes to our climate.
Hurricane Michael, was the exclamation point added to last weeks IPCC report. Unless we take dramatic action to curtail greenhouses gases in the next 12 years, by 2040, storms like Michael will seem small. Ask someone who lives on the coast of Florida what they think of storms like Michael being small.

Climate change isn't a hoax, or a Chinese scam, or a ploy by money hungry scientists. It is a dire warning that this planet is done with us. If we don't make dramatic changes now, life as you know it will be very different in 20 years. Cities will be underwater, food shortages will be common - because  it will be harder to grow crops. (oh, and Michael killed millions of pigs, and hundreds of millions of chickens. it is starting already) Both of which will lead to devastating wars.

So when you put your phone down over breakfast, talk to your friend about climate change and what they are going to do about it. Because it is going to come down to all of us doing something. We can all do a little today, or a lot tomorrow. It is your call.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A big Weekend, both good and bad.

It was a big weekend, that took a long time to make happen. I spent Saturday taking an introduction to sailing course in Oriental, NC. My wife and myself spent four hours sailing a beautiful Catalina 42 with a highly experienced captain.

We had been trying to make this happen since last April, and the plan changed dramatically over that course of time. If you have read my latest book you know the dramatic plan I laid out in it. A new challenge for myself, and my wife that would take years to make happen. I am still not sure we can pull it off, but I am at least confident in the next steps. We both enjoyed our time on the boat, and with the process of sailing, and now want to start learning the finer details of moving a boat with nothing more than wind.

I was amazed how much of my kayaking experience translated to a sailing environment. Things like reading and understanding wind. The feel of a boat in a following sea, and the effects of the shape of the keep on tracking. All had direct comparisons in the sailing world.

Unfortunately I wasn't surprised with the people of the sailing community. I have to stress, everyone was very nice and welcoming, but it is a community with very little diversity, and it is a sport that - at least in my small exposure to it - seems designed to be exclusionary. Besides the entry cost of sailing - though if you look at youtube you will see that there are ways around that - the thing that struck me the most was the amount of jargon that was thrown around and that people - even novices - are expected to know it. Keep in mind that I have worked the past 20 years (almost) in the outdoors. I was a skilled climber and mountaineer. I teach navigation and stand up paddling. I am a very skilled and highly experienced kayaker, having paddled thousands of miles in remote locations and extreme conditions. None of that prepared me for the amount of vocabulary and terminology that is used even amongst people who have admitted that they know nothing, which was how we described ourselves.

As an outdoor educator I can say that isn't a good way to welcome people to a sport. Now, admittedly, if you are teaching myself (a long time outdoor educator) and my wife (a tenured professor in higher ed) we are harsh critics of people who teach. To a point where it may be unfair. Our captain was a highly skilled sailor, there is no question. But having a great deal of skill is not my first criteria when I am hiring an educator. It is having the ability to break down concepts, simply, and make them easy to understand. With this, I was not impressed.

But enough of my complaining, I had a great time, and look forward to taking my next steps into sailing. I was super excited that after posting video on instagram I had a number of close friends who work in the outdoors fess up that they got started in sailing and would love to take me out, and were happy to help pass on knowledge. I am excited to have something new to learn.

Now here is the bad. We were in Oriental, NC about 30 miles north of where Hurricane Florence made landfall a bit less than 3 weeks ago. The coast of North Carolina is still in pretty bad shape. Though spirits are high, and peoples energy is positive. All the campgrounds were closed due to damage and what hotels were open were full of displaced people and people working to repair the damage. We got to spend our second night in a Wal-mart parking lot, which is really no fun. We planned on spending Saturday night at the coast again, but couldn't find place to stay, and started back early. We were almost in Raleigh before we found a place to stay.

Then, Sunday morning we were greeted by the IPCC report that the environment is getting worse more rapidly than the worst estimates and we have a mere 12 years to make dramatic changes across all parts of our society - power, fuel, housing, farming - to keep our temperature rise below 1.5 degrees centigrade. We have already risen a full degree. I was not surprised to see this story fall off the front page of CNN less than 24 hours later. It seems with all the chaos in the world, no one cares that we are destroying our world. The current US administration simply doesn't care, which leaves it up to us to either change the administration or make the changes to our society ourselves. The whole thing is pretty depressing.

So, that is where I am. Excited for new challenges and dreading the next 5 years, waiting to see the impact of our neglect coming home to bite us. Head over to instagram to see the video and the most amazing photo of storm damage imaginable.

Stick around here to see what else happens! A lot is brewing!