2014 Gift Giving Guide

With 12 more shopping days left until Christmas, there’s still some time to get something special for that special camping canoeist in your life. If you’re looking for some helpful ideas on coming up with a great gift, I wrote a post a couple of years ago to help you figure out a great gift. (I’ve often wondered if that helped anyone. If it helped you, I’d love to know.)

This year though, I’ll make it even easier with some examples. I’ve focused on things that won’t break the bank, specific to the outdoors,  and that you can buy online. In other words, something that will let you spend some more time outdoors by avoiding a mall. Bonus, most of these items support local shops and businesses, something we can all appreciate. So really, everything you want in a gift buying list. You’re welcome.

 

#1 The Gift of Choice – and a sweet paddle

Great stuff over at the Badger Paddle Shop

Great stuff over at the Badger Paddle Shop

The good folks over at Badger Paddles are once again offering their Badger Gift Card. I love this idea because it’s the perfect way for you to give the perfect paddle, exactly the way they want it – because they’re the ones choosing the paddle. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me for help choosing a paddle for their special someone. Once we get talking about it, they quickly realize how complicated it can get. Size, shape, style, wood type? And the more we talk, while I’m really trying to be helpful, it seems like I talk them out of it, now worried they might buy the wrong paddle. Another problem is if you want to customize a paddle in time for Christmas, you quickly run out of time because they’re hand-crafted.

So this gift card fixes both of these problems. When you buy one, you’ll receive a gift card to put under the tree, then they can contact the Badgers to have their paddle made just the way they want it. If they want to upgrade or change their options, they’re completely free to do so. And they’ll get it before the ice melts in spring! You can purchase them online, but if you want to allow for more customization or more options, just contact them directly. Take it from me, they’re super friendly and very accommodating. Oh, and once again they’re offering free hand-painted customization for Christmas.

 

#2 The Gift for the Outdoor Art Lover

In The Footsteps of the Group of Seven

In The Footsteps of the Group of Seven

Many of you know about the Waddingtons. They have spent the last 40 years searching for the real painting sites of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. They finally came out with a book last year, and I was pretty happy about it. Their work is amazing and I’m so glad everyone can see it for themselves. It’s very inspirational. Maybe after reading their book you’ll want to go find some of these sites for yourself.

Now you can order and get it quickly online at Indigo, or for a signed copy try the online shop at the Art Gallery of Sudbury. If you really need it right away and you live in the Hamilton area, you can contact Jim and Sue directly and they’ll help you out. To do that, check out their Facebook page. Or just check out the inspiring pictures of their work.

 

#3 The Gift for the Giver

Project Canoe

Project Canoe

Why not give the gift of change, especially to a youth who needs it the most?  There are a lot of great charities out there that promote canoeing, and one such organization is Project Canoe – “using the outdoors, including wilderness canoeing, to create a transformative environment in which youth develop life skills, social competencies and resiliency, thereby fostering their own personal success.”

This is a great option for the canoeist with everything (or just difficult to shop for), you can make a donation on behalf of that special someone.

(Thanks to Algonquin Basecamp and Sarah D for bringing this to my attention.)

 

#4 The Gift for the Adventurer

Jeff's Maps

Jeff’s Maps

The best Ontario portaging maps out there have to be those created by Jeff over at Jeff’s Maps. Why? Because of the amazing details, the ability to reference and plan your trip online (for free), and the compact waterproof versions you can order to carry with you on your trip. Also, Jeff is constantly revising his maps with new details and planning tools. They cover all the major (popular) canoe camping areas: Algonquin, Killarney and new this year is his Temagami map.

 

#5 The Gift for the Environmentalist Adventurer

Friends of Temagami Adventure Planning maps

Friends of Temagami Adventure Planning maps

And speaking of maps – what camping lover doesn’t love maps – the Friends of Temagami has some great ones. The planning map has incredible detail and looks beautiful on a wall (I know this first hand). This year they have added the Obabika Loop and Maple Mountain Trip Companion Map. It’s waterproof and tear-resistant and will take you to some of Temagami’s great canoeing destinations. The added bonus of buying anything from the Friends of Temagami is that you’re supporting the conservation of one of Ontario’s great wild places. So really, it’s two gifts.

 

#6 The Gift for the Art Loving, Environmentalist

pARTners For Wolf Lake

pARTners For Wolf Lake

And speaking of Temagami, another way to help conserve the most at-risk part of the area – Wolf Lake – the pARTners For Wolf Lake got together to make some art to raise awareness. For a very unique gift this Christmas, think about buying the “Spirit of the Red Pine”, a collection of works inspired by and created to help save Wolf Lake. Full disclosure: A couple of my photographs are featured in this book. Full truth: My pictures are not even my favourite images in the book. There’s some amazing work that was created.

And if you’re really into art, there are still pieces available for purchase, with proceeds going directly to save Wolf Lake – including my two prints. In fact, if you buy either one of my prints, let me know and I can throw in a Portageur Decal and Tshirt for extra incentive. (And if you’re in the Hamilton area, I can make sure to deliver them in time for Christmas.)

 

#7 The Gift of Summer in the Winter

 

KW Canoe Symposium

KW Canoe Symposium

 

A great gift for someone just trying to wait out the frozen season before the paddling can begin is tickets to the Kitchener Waterloo Canoe Symposium. There are always great speakers, and it’s a great chance to meet up with other canoeing enthusiasts. Check out Trail Swag’s report from 2013. I spoke at last year’s event and had a great time, and this year’s list of presenters looks just as interesting as always. In fact, if the pARTners For Wolf Lake art seemed intriguing to you, contributor and well renowned landscape artist E. Robert Ross will be presenting this year.

WARNING: There seems to be a weird pattern of the symposium happening on an unseasonably warm day – like a day when you can finally get the canoe in the water. That can’t possibly keep continuing though.

 

#8 The Gift of Summer in the Winter – Self Serving Edition

Great times at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show

Great times at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show

Another great event coming up over the winter is the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show. What better gift can there be than to spend a day hanging out with your special someone at a great event dedicated to being outdoors. If you’re reading this on December 12th or 13th, they even have a two day sale on tickets when ordered online. It’s always a great show, with some great exhibitors and guest presenters, and starting last year they have a dedicated space for the canoeist in the Paddler’s Paradise.

Combined with a promise to spend some time together this does make a great – and pretty cheap – gift idea. But I might be including this one for a little bit of a self-serving motive: I’ll be there. I may even be speaking again this year. The more friendly faces show up the better.

Full Disclosure: I cannot guarantee Nancy will be there this year. Better Full Disclosure: Nancy will probably not be there this year. Sorry for the misleading image.

 

#9 The Gift for the Parks Lover

Ontario Parks passes and certificates

Ontario Parks passes and certificates

If you know someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, why not help them get out there this winter in Ontario Parks with a Winter Day Use Pass? I personally love receiving this gift. Valid from December 1st to March 31st, you’d be giving that special outdoor person a pass to get into any Ontario Park. Actually, you know who really loves this gift? Nancy. With a free pass, there’s no reason not to get out there running around in the snow. (The leash-free area at Bronte Creek is her local favourite.) Another cheaper but just as nice option is to buy some gift certificates (pictured above).

 

#10 The Last Minute Gift, For the Gag-Gift Loving Outdoor Person

Yep. Toilet Paper.

Seriously.

Toilet paper. Yes. You can get it online, but it’s probably easier to just grab some somewhere. It’s practical, you know it’s going to be used, it sure helps improve your special someone’s outdoor experience, and it’s easy to wrap. Just tie a bow on the side and you’re good to go. Just take off the price sticker to make sure it doesn’t look like you picked it up on the way to your friend’s house. Pair it with some wipes and biodegradable soap, put it all inside a very large zip-lock bag and they’re ready to go on their next adventure. (See what I did there? Yeah, I know.) Your special someone might find it very funny, and we’ll keep your last-minute-shopping our little secret.

Oh, but if that “special someone” is particularly special to you, maybe don’t risk it and go with numbers 1 through 9.

 

Good luck, and Merry Christmas!

 

Nancy’s Adventure at the Outdoor Show

Nancy at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show

Nancy showing off her dog canoeing skills

Before I say anything else, I’d like to give a big, huge thanks to Swift Canoe & Kayak for setting up our canoe demo, including lending Nancy and I a sweet ride in the pool, as well as a special thanks to Fiona and Mike of Badger Paddles  for setting it all up.

And see below for details on our #OASToronto photo contest! 

The Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show is a favourite event for Ontario paddlers and campers, and I am by no means an exception to that. I always have a great time meeting new friends with similar interests and catching up with old friends with whom I’d otherwise not meet in person. It’s also a great way to check out the latest gear and services offered for getting out into the wild and see inspiring and informative presentations.


 

A Special Year

But this year was a little different – special, really. This year I was given a chance to present not only on the new “Adventures In Paddling Stage”, but – get this – Nancy and I were invited to give a pool demo on canoeing with your dog. This would be the first time Nancy would be doing anything like this, and I wanted to ensure it was going to be a very positive experience for her. In a way, this experience was kind of like the first time she went canoeing with me, and went together well with what we’d be talking about. So I followed my own advice on getting her to like canoeing as I did for getting her to the demo. Namely, I would introduce the activity without making it a big deal, reward her often for participating, keep it short and end on a positive note. To ensure this, but still make myself available to the rest of the event, I organized an entourage of sorts for Nancy. She got chauffeured to the event a short time before she was going on and got to leave shortly afterwards. She had a handler (let’s call it her “assistant”), a driver and even a personal photographer. (So yeah, a big thanks to you guys for helping out. It kept Nancy happy and me free to do the presenting and not having to worry about my paddling partner’s comfort.) But of course before she left, she had a few people she just had to meet.


 

So Much To Do

Of course just because Nancy’s adventure was over, didn’t mean mine was. I had a bunch of speakers and demos to check out myself, not to mention my own presentation on “Paddling the White Peaks of Killarney”.I have to admit that everything was a bit frantic for me, but I managed to figure out how to move through the crowd pretty good and get to see as much as I could. Some of the highlights included Hap Wilson speaking on his favourite canoe routes, Becky Mason on her trip to Woodland Caribou with Ray Mears, each teaching their expertise to a group of extremely lucky paddlers, and David Bain, who gave a great argument on the benefits and importance of getting back to paddling basics without the use of technology. One presentation I sadly missed was Kevin Callan, on his trip “Once Around Algonquin”. I’ve seen a few previews and I’d love to get a copy of the DVD. Looks awesome! Unfortunately, he was on at the same time Nancy and I were canoeing in the pool.

As far as my own presentation goes though, I am so glad I had a chance to do that. It was fun, but the best part for me was that afterwards I got a to visit with some people who I hadn’t met before, but had such nice things to say. It’s truly touching to know that you had even just a little bit of influence in helping people get outdoors and have some great experiences. I sincerely thank you guys for letting me know that I could do that for you. I was shocked – shocked! – to know how many people have been following our exploits. All the love was a bit overwhelming, but especially humbling. It’s sometimes tough to know how much you’re being paid attention, and I can tell you that my existing enthusiasm for what I do has been super-charged. (Now if only all this snow will hurry up and melt!)


 

The Pool

As a wannabe photographer, one of my favourite parts of the event are the water demos. I’m not much of a kayaker, but I like to get to the rolling demos. James and Heather of the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre didn’t disappoint. Later, we all got a fantastic opportunity to see Becky Mason show us all how it’s done. Her paddling skill creates an almost poetry to her seemingly (but obviously not) effortless motion through the water. It’s something to see. My niece, who was helping me with Nancy, was pretty thrilled to see her. But when I asked if she’d like to meet her, she shyly said “No”. I knew she’d probably regret that later, and I should have just taken her over there, but to be honest I was a bit star-struck myself. My least favourite moment? Yeah, that was when Wilderness Tours gave a chance to kids a simulation of going on a white-water rafting trip on the Ottawa River. That part was good – it looked like a lot of fun, and their guide spun the raft in circles and maintained the illusion of riding the waves for everyone. What I didn’t like was one of the kids thinking it would be funny to take his paddle and target a few in the audience with a nice cold splash of water. I can still see the cold, evil little grin he gave me just before I turned my head and covered my camera. (I should mention though, that the rafting guide got that quickly under control by re-directing the child’s involvement in the boat. Thanks for that.)


 

The Booths

But you really haven’t seen everything until you walk around to some of the exhibits and booths. I had nice long chats with so many people just wandering around one booth to the next. So glad I could get to speak with Lyn from Parks Canada (sad I missed her presentation as well), Boris and Alex from Parkbus, Andy from Treks In The Wild and also Jeff from Jeff’s Map who was hanging out with Marissa at the Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co booth. (How’s that for succinct shout-outs!)


 

It was a great event, and I feel so lucky to have been able to present this year. Thanks so much to all of you with whom I spoke at the event, those of you who showed up to my presentations, and of course thanks to the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show staff for letting me speak and helping the show run so smoothly!

Photo Contest Postcript

As promised, we were having a little photo contest for anyone who took pictures of Nancy at the event. If you have any, please send them to me (by email or just post them to Facebook). I’m going to choose and post the best 10, each to receive a Portageur.ca decal. The picture with the most likes will receive an additional prize of a t-shirt, BADGER® Paddle sock and a set of Keyak keychains provided by Kingdom Outdoor Products.

This may be a thinly disguised excuse for me to get more photos of Nancy. I really want to see them, so send me those photos!!!

Nancy Calendar for 2014

NancyCalendar_coverMed

Last year I created a calendar using pictures of Nancy, to hand out to a few friends and family. They all loved it, which I kind of expected. I mean, who wouldn’t want a Nancy calendar? But what was very unexpected was after showing a picture of it online, I got a whole lot of messages and emails asking if they too could get one. Unfortunately, I hadn’t really thought about that in time, so it was a little too late to offer for 2013.

But for this coming year, I’ve made one available for anyone who wants one! I received the first one earlier last week and it looks pretty awesome. I took 12 of my favourite Nancy photos during our adventures, and I still marvel at how great a model she is. This calendar will help keep you connected to wilderness tripping all year round. Plus, I’ve included a little biographical blurb for each month, telling a mini version of Nancy’s story. In fact, included in all the standard holidays, Nancy’s birthday is also listed. (Did I mention I’m working on a book about Nancy’s life story? If all goes well, look for it later in 2014.)

So have a look at a preview below (there’s a full-screen button for best results) , and if you’re interested a click on the preview will send you where you can buy yourself a copy. *Note: All proceeds will go to keeping Nancy portaging next year. So if you’re on the fence about purchasing one, think about how happy you’ll be making the best canoe dog in the world.

 

A couple of other notes about the calendar:

  • The calendar specs: 11″ x 8.5″, coil binding , white interior paper (100# weight) , full-colour interior ink.
  • I tried to keep the price as low as I could, and going through Lulu was my best option (they can ship it to you much cheaper than I can). I’ll look into bulk discounts next year, depending on how well these ones sell. 
  • There was some requests asking for an “autographed” copy, but I don’t think I can do it this year (for the above reason). If things go well, I’ll look into that for next year.
  • If calendars aren’t your thing, I’ll be having Portageur.ca decals and t-shirts (in black and pink) up for sale later in the month. This is can be a great, fashionable way to keep Nancy on the trails.

Top 10 Tips I Forget Not Everyone Knows

Quite regularly, I forget how much time I spend camping, canoeing and portaging compared to most other people. I want to say this in the least obnoxious way possible, but sometimes I don’t realize that certain things that are (by now) habit for me turns out to be a helpful tip to someone else. And it’s that very avoidance of being obnoxious that I don’t go around shouting all these things out at people. I mean, there’s some obvious knowledge to convey to beginners. I’m not talking about that kind of stuff. What I’m talking about is the stuff that makes some of your friends – the people with whom you’ve been on countless trips over the years – that say to you “Man that would have been helpful to know a lot sooner. Why are you holding out on us?” (While other friends might just respond with “Duh?”)

So here is a small list of random things that you may or may not know. But just in case, I’ll run them down anyway. Each of these things were realized by or conveyed to me at some point and I thought they were simple but brilliant, wondering why I hadn’t thought of that sooner. Some I’ve known for a long time, others not as long. (As much as I don’t want to be obnoxious, I don’t want to be embarrassed either, so I won’t tell you which I learned when.)

1 – Stabilize. Often.

See how the pack aligns along my back? Pull those stabilizing traps.

See how the pack aligns along my back? Pull those stabilizing traps. Most backpacks have them, not just packs with barrels.

Stabilizing straps are the little ones that are on your pack’s shoulder straps, sometimes called “load lifters”. When tightened, they pull the top of your pack closer to your back, making it vertical and so more properly able to distribute the weight on your waist and shoulders. Or to put it another way, they make your pack more comfortable to wear. These are not necessarily meant to be set once and forgotten. To allow taking your pack off and putting it back on more easily, loosen these straps before you take it off. As soon as you get it back on, connect your belt clip and whatever else you have do, then yank on those straps. (Ever wonder why they’re often a different colour than the other straps?) You’ll notice immediately that you’re much more comfortable, as most people who don’t (regularly) tighten them often hunch over, fighting the pack from pulling you from behind. Bonus tip: You know that strap that goes across your chest (on some packs)? It’s normally called a sternum strap. It’s there just to keep your shoulder straps in place. It’s not supposed to be pulled tight. That just makes it harder to breath, and so uncomfortable. (Also, if you’re helping a woman fit their pack, let them do the sternum strap themselves. Trust me, it avoids the risk of some rather awkward explanations.)

2 – Folding can stuff it!

Don't spend time folding. Stuff that sack instead.

Don’t spend time folding. Stuff that sack instead.

You can save a lot of time stuffing fabrics into bags rather than folding them neatly, especially when fighting larger items in the wind, or keeping them out of dirt. They’re called “stuff sacks” because you stuff, not because they hold stuff.* In fact, when you stuff, you’re not wasting any space in the sacks as everything will be pushed to all areas with no gaps that folding might cause. Larger items, like tents, flys and tarps can be folded once or twice for them to be manageable, then rolled. But don’t go crazy trying to be too neat in your folding. Often a good rule of thumb is to fold an item to the size of it’s bag, then roll it and stuff it. If these items don’t fit into their original bags, get a new bag that they’ll fit into properly. No sense wasting time, having sore hands from the dexterity involved, and more importantly, your losing your sanity. (Sorry to all those compulsive folders out there. If wrinkles are the worst hardship of camping, you’ve had a pretty great trip.)

*Actually, I don’t know that for sure. Maybe that was the original intended meaning, but not how we use it now.
 

3 – Pee downhill.

I don't have any pictures of me peeing, let alone downhill. You get the idea though.

I don’t have any pictures of me peeing, let alone downhill. You get the idea though.

Most people know not to pee into the wind. What’s not in songs or on t-shirts is that gravity does the same thing as wind. This advice is for keeping your shoes dry (and not gross) in the moment, but also other places. A steep hill, wet (saturated) soil and flat rocks can allow liquids to travel down enough of a distance for a surprise inconvenience. I remember once seeing a mini yellow river make it’s way right into the middle of camp that we had to deal with for the rest of our stay. Obviously, the culprit was well hydrated. There’s a chance that culprit may have been me. I don’t remember. But either way, I know not to do that now. Usually. (*Note: If you practice Leave No Trace, this shouldn’t be  much of a problem as you’re supposed to be “going” at least 200ft away from a water source, so perhaps the camp as well.)

4 – Pillows are anything soft.

There are always alternatives to bringing pillows. Save space by thinking "multiple uses".

There are always alternatives to bringing pillows. Save space by thinking “multiple uses”.

Sure a camping pillow might be ideally designed to hold your head up in comfort, and they make some really fancy ones now. But really, anything you can stuff something soft into and keep your head a few inches off the ground can be used as a pillow. The stuff sack that holds your extra clothes is perfect for this. I keep mine in a compression bag which keeps it small but tight. Before I go to sleep I simply loosen it a bit for better comfort. In fact, I find this even more comfortable and soft than a blow up pillow. If I could find a way to stuff something big and flat enough to use as a sleeping pad, I’d do that too. The bag your sleeping bag comes in is also good, especially if you want a bigger pillow. You have to take out the sleeping bag anyway, so throw everything you have that’s soft in there until it’s comfy for you – extra tarps, rain gear, clothes, even the TP. I almost forgot about PFDs! They’re very good pillows. Turn them inside out to avoid the buckles and zippers, or just throw it in a sack. Just remember, nothing smelly should go in the tent, so avoid using those items to stuff your pillow. (Other people can be soft enough to use as a pillow as well. Just make sure you know them well enough before you try it. Or that they’re sound sleepers.)

5 – Hang Your Food In The Open.

In a dense forest, find an opening in the canopy to hang your food bag.

In a dense forest, find an opening in the canopy to hang your food bag. (It’s on an elbow, and if you look real close you’ll notice it’s upside down, but nobody’s perfect. )

They just told you that your food needs to be hung from a tree. You wander away from camp, into the forest looking for a branch but you now realize there’s no branches within a reasonable height for you to throw a rope over. All the trees in there are tall, skinny, with branches way too far up. You wander around deeper and deeper into the woods, cursing whoever is making you do this, thinking why are all the good branches back at camp, but still nothing. (It’s weird and yet instinctive, but we almost feel like we have to hide the food bag further into the forest. But that’s where the critters come from.)

Yeah… here’s the thing: Under the canopy, trees drop their lower branches as they grow taller. They’re useless to them unless they can get sunlight. With all that tree competition for light, they’re all tall and skinny – and branchless except for at the very top. To find a suitable, reasonably low branch , you need to find an opening in the forest canopy. Those trees will have lower branches. Look closer to a shore or in gaps where trees can’t grow together densely so the ones that do can spread out a bit. Wandering further into the forest is just going to find you more skinny tall trees.

Note: Ontario Parks recommends hanging your food at least 6m (20ft) above the ground.

6 – Marketing Right Side Up.

The tent, its fly, the water filter and even the camp chair all hint which side is up by whether or not you can read the logo.

The tent, its fly, the water filter and even the camp chair all hint which side is up by whether or not you can read the logo.

Ever wonder whether something is upside down or backwards? A sure-fire tip is that if you can read the manufacturer’s logo, you’ve got it right. No need to roll it all out and check which side is up. It’s not a coincidence. The tent maker’s are going to want you to recognize their tent, so if you throw the fly on and you can read it clearly, it’s on right. Same goes for bags, clothes, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tarps, pots, or anything you have to put together or unravel.

7  – Pool the TP

With their friends off somewhere, it's safe to have some fun at their expense. With the TP in one spot, it's safe to assume their not at the privy.

With their friends off somewhere, it’s safe to have some fun at their expense. With the TP in one spot, it’s safe to assume their not at the privy.

They’re smaller and not as foolproof, but as a non-critical need or backup, ziplocs (or their generic brand equivalent) can keep things nice and dry like little, cheap dry bags. Just make sure you zip them up good. I often use double zip freezer bags, which give you a bit more reliability and are more durable so you can re-use them often. A perfect use for them: I use a big bag to hold all the group’s toilet paper. That way it’s waterproof but can be kept easily accessible. The real tip here is that in bigger or unfamiliar groups, for some people knowing whether someone’s already using the privy can be a little awkward. I’m asked about this quite a bit, and I’ve heard of several less than reliable ways of indicating “Occupied!” Think about it. You have to look, but you don’t want to see – or be seen. And some people might not want to have that conversation, especially shouting it from camp. (“Hey Dorothy! Are you putting up the bear rope or doing what bears do in the woods?”)

What’s easier is simply knowing that if the TP bag is missing, you know someone’s using it. The down side is when you walk away with the big bag, everyone knows what you’re doing with it. Then again, these are the kinds of things you kinda got to get over in the backcountry. Let’s call it the lesser awkward.

8 – Dry Bag = Water Bag.

A collapsible bucket is a great idea to carry water and save space. However to save even more space, use one of your dry bags.

A collapsible bucket is a great idea to carry water and save space. However to save even more space, use one of your dry bags.

And speaking of dry bags, did you know  the same premise that keeps water out of dry bags, water can also be kept in? (I know, genius stuff, right?) For example: Looking around for something to carry water to douse the campfire at the end of the night? Dry bag. Campsite pretty far away from water and don’t want to make to many trips? Dry bag. They usually even have handles to make carrying easier. (Warning: If your dry bag is made from rubbery or other smelly materiel, that will stink up your water, so don’t use it for drinking water.) I know what you’re saying: But if I’m trying to use it to keep things dry, won’t that wet the inside of the bag, defeating the purpose? Sure. But most bags are flexible enough to turn inside out. Do that before you fill it. Bonus related tip: How do you dry-out a dry bag if the insides get wet? Turn it inside out.

9 – Roll out the air.

Start from the bottom and roll your gear towards where the air comes in.

Start from the bottom and roll your gear towards where the air comes in.

I do this so often it’s second nature and forget it can be construed as a tip. If you need to get the air out of little bags, Ziplocs, airmattresses or other types of gear that might trap air, leave the seal open and roll it from the bottom towards the air opening and then seal it. This keeps air out of your gear, making them smaller and easier to pack, or fit back into their containers. (Another good reason not to fold, from point #2.) This also saves you from having to do that air-purge hug with the air mattress that we all do. For more fragile things like Ziploc bags, it also saves them from a potential pop when stuffed into your pack. Some tents can trap a little bit of air. If you roll from the back towards the door, all the air goes out. Another bonus, regarding tents in particular: If you roll from the back, holding it up with the door zipper open, often gravity can sweep some of the dirt, pine needles and leaves out.

10 – Rocks Rock.

The key to a food bag rope is bringing with you fancy rocks from home. Wait... That can't be right.

The key to a food bag rope is bringing with you fancy rocks from home. Wait… That can’t be right.

 

Another tip about hanging your food: You’re supposed to hang your food 6m high, which means throwing rope up at least that far. Being light weight, on its own, the rope rarely cooperates. You can fix that by tying a rock or stick (or something) to the end, which will give you enough momentum to get the rope over, and most importantly, back down.

I know, I know… You know that one already. Because of this, I’ll give you two bonus tips. First, when you tie your rock, criss-cross the rope around the rock before you tie it. This will keep the rock from slipping out after you’ve tossed it over the branch. This is even more important if you don’t get it over the branch on the first throw (I for one am horrible at that for some reason), and the rock rolls away out of sight.

Secondly, if you’re having a hard time finding a suitable rock, check the firepit and borrow one – just please put it back for the rest of us – and maybe not if you’ve already got the fire going. You could also use a suitable sized and weighted piece of gear as well. Just tie it well so it doesn’t go flying off where you can’t find it, and obviously choose something that is tough enough to survive the fall. (Sometimes several falls.)

Bonus bonus tip: Keep your rope away from the elbow of the branch, where it meets the trunk or where the branch splits in two. Often when you go to pull down your rope it will get caught there. Once your rope is up and over, you can move it back and forth on the branch by holding both ends of the rope rather than pulling the rope down and throwing it over again, or frustratingly trying to do that little rope flick thing with just one end (which usually pulls down the other end anyway).

Ther you have it. Some random tips that I forget that not everyone knows. Were there any surprises?

Moose Sightings

Last weekend, I rode the Parkbus up to Algonquin Park (more on that later) and was treated to quite a few moose sighting. For the most part, I did so from the comfort of the bus, but on one special occasion, I got a bit of a close encounter.

IMG_1513

This moose pic was taken from the Parkbus

They say that if you want to see a moose, check the highways in the spring. In fact, if you want to find them, don’t look for moose, look for the line of cars pulled over. (Thanks to Ian H. for coining the phrase for this:  “Post-modern tracking skills”.) After a long winter, they crave the salty vegetation that grows near highways because of all the salt used to clear ice and snow the previous season. Highway 60, where it crosses Algonquin Park is arguably the best place to spot a moose in the spring. With the high population of moose in the park, naturally your chances of seeing them increase. It’s super easy as well – they regularly come to you. As our bus drove along the highway, we were treated to 8 sightings in all. Each time of course came with an array of cars on each side, with tourists vying for the best place to take pictures of the great beasts. Because of this, and how nice our driver was, we slowed down and were able to snap quite a few photos.

IMG_1507

Nancy riding in the shuttle to Kearney Lake.

My route for the weekend involved a shuttle after the last Parkbus stop at Lake Opeongo. (I’d be portaging back to that spot for Monday to catch the bus back.) This gave me a chance for one more sighting, and again my driver was nice enough to slow down for more photos. I thought this was going to be the last chance until the ride back, so I took advantage. You see, I was able to bring Nancy on this trip, which I hadn’t done when riding the bus until now. I rarely see moose or deer (or wolves or bears for that matter) in the interior when Nancy’s with me. Or when I do, it’s brief. I thought the photos I got, not great having to take them through glass and while moving, were the best I’d get.

HighwayMooseSightings

A couple more shots taken from the shuttle.

However, when I got dropped off at the portage to Kearney Lake, a young male appeared. Nonchalant, he fed himself while I unpacked – and tied Nancy out of view. From a safe, respectable distance, I took the photo below (and like a hundred others), when the inevitable tourists were attracted by the site of my friend. They all started to pull over, get out of their cars and try to get closer. A little too close, actually. The moose started to retreat back into the foliage, and I expected the photographers to drive off. But the problem was, I started moving my gear off the shoulder and up the trail. They thought they’d follow my lead. I couldn’t believe how close some of them felt they could get. More importantly, at this point the lines of people coming up the trail was driving the moose towards me. I already annoyingly had to organize my gear in a crowd and awkwardly had to move through them to get to the lake. Needless to say if they weren’t giving the moose any distance-respect, they weren’t getting out of my way either.

As for Nancy, she could now see the moose, and was freaking out. I don’t know if you’ve ever had your pack on your back, canoe on your shoulders and a dog leashed around your waist who’s barking and lunging in another direction, but it’s quite a challenge to move through people.

Close encounter with this moose on the portage to Kearney Lake.

Close encounter with this moose on the portage to Kearney Lake.

No worries though. The moose moved into the woods as I made my way down the trail, each of us not succumbing to our base instincts to act against the crowd. (I may have made a sarcastic comment under my breath and the moose exhaled loudly, which I can only assume is moose-speak for the same thing.) The people were gone by the time I had come back for my second pack, with Nancy left to wait for me at the put in. As I made my way back to the lake, suddenly from behind the trees to my right, the moose snorted at me very loudly. I stopped and looked right at him. He looked at me. I can only imagine he was tired at being gawked at. I wondered just then if there must be an unwritten rule with moose. It’s okay to be watched by the road. After all, they come out knowing the privacy risks. But once back in the forest, that’s another story. I’m sure I’m projecting here, but I believe as he stared at me, checking me out, figuring out what I was doing, he was saying “Now watch it, buddy” in his own moose way. I laughed. “Oh now you’re annoyed,” I (actually) said out loud. He snorted again, raising his head slightly. I turned my shoulders towards the trail and moved on. After a few moments I heard some cracking branch sounds go off in the other direction.

Quite a beautiful moment, actually. But only so because everything turned out okay.

A Solo Trip Remembered

Some of the best moments are earned.

Some of the best moments are earned.

 

Recently I’ve been posting a lot of my photos on Flickr and when I got to this one I got a little caught up in describing the photo. So I thought I’d share the story here as well. It’s a brief story explaining what’s going on in the photo, but putting it up there was inspired by another photographer talking about how he rushed to get into the frame within the 10 second timer and how frantic that experience can be. The point I was originally trying to explain was that the urgency of doing that – setting up the camera, running to get into position – can itself make for a great photo. 

A Long Day

This self shot was taken at the end of a really, really long day, but the good kind of long day.

I was on a solo trip up through the west entrance to Killarney Provincial Park. In the weeks leading up to the trip, each person in the group that was going to be joining me had dropped out one by one. The weather was bad when I started out, some kind of crazy cold streak had arrived, and I forgot some of my rain gear. In short, I had every excuse to skip this trip. When set out into the park, the outfitter gave me one of those maternal, supportive smiles, telling me that the weather report she heard called for nicer weather tomorrow.

I accepted the cold temperatures, keeping an eye on my slowly blue-turning feet, ignored the drizzling rain coming down in an awkward horizontal direction and concentrated on navigating through the high waves and indecisive but strong winds. My route would be much longer as instead of a straight line, I had to zig-zag along the coast or hide behind islands to get out of the wind. Of course there were some spots where you just had to muscle through.

When I finally made it to camp, an hour or so before sunset, I was exhausted (and even managed to dunk my sleeping bag in the lake, but that’s another story). I cooked up some dinner and went to bed. Cold, tired and a little wet, I went to sleep crossing my fingers for better weather the next day, with the last thought before drifting off was that this had been the short day of the trip (distance wise).

Crossing my fingers worked. I woke to a completely different world outside. It was warm, sunny, with a gentle breeze. But I couldn’t stand around. I had a big day ahead, including a challenging 1700m portage just before another long 2200m. The second wasn’t particularly tough, but had a fun surprise at the end: a beaver dam to walk over like a balance beam, with your legs all rubbery from the long trail.

Great New Day

Now don’t get me wrong, I had a great day. I mentioned the weather, but the scenery I was passing through was fantastic, and I took my time to enjoy it. That’s kind of the point of these things. In fact, at one point, with a pack on my back and canoe on my shoulders, I looked to my right and saw a fantastic site: the top of the white tipped quartzite hills. If trail brought me this close, I just had to drop my gear and climb to the top. The view was amazing from up there. You might call it unnecessary energy spent, but I say it was an opportunity taken.

When I finally got back on the water on the finally stretch, the winds had arrived, and were funneling through the narrow lake, of course, in the wrong direction. All the head down, muscle through paddling distracted me from hitting a sandbar, which was tough to get the canoe back on course. When I got to camp I was once again exhausted, done.

So I found a tree to sit and lean against and made myself a tasty dinner, eating it watching the sun slowly move across the gorgeous surrounding hills. It was the most beautiful spot. Even the winds settled down a bit.

The Best Place I Could Be

I couldn’t even imagine a better place on the planet to be sitting. I was completely at peace, not to mention pretty proud of myself. I had put a lot of effort to get here, but it was worth it. This is when I took this picture. I set the camera on a rock, put the timer on and ran into place, arms raised. I’m not sure whether I had planned to do that gesture (though I repeated it for a couple more just-in-case shots), but it turned out to be my best picture of pure, spontaneous emotion. Running to get into place before the timer when off probably help create that urgency, but maybe only I can tell looking at it.

As you can imagine, this photo has a lot of meaning to me. I wish I had taken it after I bought a better camera, or after I had learned all that I have about taking better pictures since, or even if I had brought a tripod. While all of that might have led to a technically better photograph, it was what I needed to do to be there at that moment that made this picture possible.

A more detailed description of the whole trip, maps and more photos can be found here

If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong.

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

365 – Top 10 So Far

If you’ve been following me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know that I’ve been participating in a photography challenge called The 365. For those of you who have never heard of this, it’s an exercise where you take one picture a day, and usually post it up on Flikr. I learned about this from a friend who used to be a talented photographer, but now is an amazing photographer which she credits to her participation in this project. What she didn’t yet realize but came to really appreciate is that it’s not only a fun hobby or challenge, it’s a fantastic learning experience.

So here are the rules: You have to take one picture every day for a year (hence “365”). You can take as many photos as you like, and even post them all, but you have to take at least one, and you can only choose one for the project (in my case, adding one to the 365 group). Oh, and that photo had to be taken on that day. This is actually the toughest part, for two reasons. First, obviously you have to take a picture every day. This can itself be a hell of a challenge. It seems like a simple thing to do – click button, upload picture – once a day, but it’s strange how often your life gets in your way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve raced around looking for some kind of subject at 11:45PM. Second, and much more difficult is that you have to choose (only) one. Maybe you got into a groove and took a bunch of great ones today. Super, pick one and go again tomorrow. The point of the exercise is to practice. Practice practice practice. And then there are some days, the perfectionist in you starts to set in, and as your standards begin to rise (for me usually in a more delusional kind of way), you might have to choose some lesser-of-the-evils photo. Oh well. Post one, learn and move on.

If you want to do it right join a group. What starts as a gang of people with which to share pictures, seek advise and of course commiserate, turns very quickly into a community. The compliments, comments and support is unreal. They start to get to know each other’s styles, preferences, personalities – in both photography and sense of humour. I’m not sure you need to be a member to read this article, but it’s worth a read. (The friend I mentioned is “The Black and White Queen”.) It explains it all when it comes to the 365, including the culture. (As for me, I’m kind of a fringe member. If the group was a grade school dance, I’d be the new kid, hanging around the punch bowl. I’m there, I’m doing it, taking it all in, but without the social fortitude to really get in on the conversations. This is my thing though. Don’t do that. They’re all nice, gracious and very welcoming.)

For me, I really want the practice (and can use it), and really appreciate the feedback and advice I get on my photos. I really think it’ll make all my photos of trips much better. I’m trying to focus on outdoor subjects, but I can’t always do that. Once tripping season starts I think this is going to get a lot easier for me. No shortage of subjects there.

So, since I’m 1/4 of the way through, I thought I’d show off a couple of my personal favourite pictures from my 365Project. These aren’t necessarily the most popular (these two are: Light Trails on Trees, Birds are Jerks), but rather ones that are more meaningful to me, either because of how I got the picture, the subject or, more often, what I learned taking the picture. (Each of the pictures is linked to Flickr. Clicking on them will let you read more about the photo or the adventure I had while taking it.)

#10

Sore Paw

One really big challenge for me is not to have 365 pictures of Nancy. I try really hard not to do that. (I already know how to take her picture.) In fact, I’ve started a completely different set of pictures that I take of her during my attempts to take 365 photos called “3NanSixty5“. This one I found a way to really bring out her eyes. Totally intended and not incidental at all.

#9

Bureaucrats and Ferns

This one’s neither a landscape nor outdoors, but I took some advice and tried a different style for a change – growth moment – and so I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.

#8

Believe it or not

The first real snowstorm of the year I took the opportunity to try some action shots. Of course Nancy would be my subject and she was prefect. It’s hard because of her colours to take a good photo of her in the snow but after getting some advice on how to do that I’m happy with how this turned out.

#7

What did you say about Birds?

This is kind of a longer story, but I’ve been trying to capture birds quite a bit. After failing several times, this guy just flew up within meters of me, like he wanted his picture taken.

#6

Bayfront At Night

This photo was taken on a bit of a learning session my friend took me on. I learned so much that night. Can’t wait to get some low-light water photos on some back-country lakes this year. I think I’ve gotten a little cocky with my night shots since, as none have been as good as this one (in my opinion).

#5

Crime Scene

Also not an outdoor shot, I guess I was feeling a little silly when I walked by this “murdered” stuffed animal, so I went with it.

#4

Skyway Bridge

I really like this picture. It’s very clear and has a lot to it. I’m surprised I took it, quite frankly. I also broke into government facility to take it (though I didn’t know that at the time). I’m also pretty proud of the description I wrote for this one. Click on the picture to read it. (You may need a few minutes though.)

#3

Winter Falls

One technique I want to practice more is that style where the water is all smooth flowing. (Like what this guy does and is awesome at it. I’m a big fan of his stuff.) That said, I prefer the ragged impression of clear falling water, and I thought for this shot it was more appropriate.

#2

Grand Ice

I froze my butt off getting this picture. It was taken on the Grand River on a ridiculously cold day with an angry, painful wind. As proof to my commitment, I stayed out there until I took enough pictures, and took the time to take them as good as possible. On the ride home I began to question my enthusiasm, until I got home and checked the photos I took. (Then again, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have got the same shots on a warmer day.)

#1

Twilight Bridge

I drove all around Brantford on this particular night, trying to find somewhere near water but with a bit of light. I found this bridge looking at a map on my phone just before I was about to give up on the idea. This was another cold night which made things challenging, and I had an over-full belly stuffed with Chinese food. (You try taking pictures under those conditions!)

 

So far this has been a lot of fun, but also a really big challenge. If you do Flickr, feel free to keep track of my progress, or even send me some feedback. I always love constructive criticism, and especially like gratuitous compliments.

Canoecopia 2013 – Day 2

I woke up on Saturday morning – Day 2 of Canoecopia – to an emergency. Okay, not so much an emergency as an urgent request. Probably not urgent, actually, more of a request. No, let’s go with emergency. It’s makes for a better story. (To catch up on Day 1, see here.)

Kevin Callan behind a present given to him by Aluminum Chef competitor Marty Koch - a poster for what Marty assumed was Kevin's new cookbook, Camp Cooking for Dummies.

Kevin Callan behind a present given to him by Aluminum Chef competitor Marty Koch – a poster for what Marty assumed was Kevin’s new cookbook, Camp Cooking for Dummies.

Fiona, the “better half” of Badger Paddles sent me an urgent – I mean emergency – message saying she needed a picture of Kevin Callan wearing a blue scarf. With Mike (the “starving” other half) busy at the show, and Fiona holding the fort back home, she asked me to track down Kevin and get him to pose for a nice picture wearing the blue scarf of the Six Degree Project – an Autism awareness program that is trying to get celebrities to pose with the scarf to demonstrate that, based on the idea of six degrees of separation,  we all have someone close to us affected by Autism. Kevin had agreed to be one of the celebrities, had his scarf on, and it was now my job to track him down and get a nice picture.

The Badger Paddle booth was my rendezvous point, to check up on Mike in case he needed a break, but also in case anyone in the group got lost. Luckily, I had a label pinned on my lapel to tell anyone where I needed to be.

The Badger Paddle booth was my rendezvous point, to check up on Mike in case he needed a break, but also in case anyone in the group got lost. Luckily, I had a label pinned on my lapel to tell anyone where I needed to be.

Today would be the best day to track down Kevin. I was planning on attending a few presentations where he was involved. Seems a little strange to drive all the way to Madison to watch the Canadian presenter, but you’ll understand why I couldn’t miss his shows when I you see the pictures below.

First presentation of the day was Lake Michigan in a Dugout. These two ladies circumnavigated the longest of the Great Lakes in a dugout canoe they built.

First presentation of the day was Lake Michigan in a Dugout. These two ladies circumnavigated the longest of the Great Lakes in a dugout canoe they built.

But the first presentation I needed to be at was for Lake Michigan in a Dugout. I’m a big fan of stories about epic paddling adventures people go on, but especially when those adventures are particularly interesting and when the people aren’t the typical types to go on these adventures. Also, I like hearing about young ladies empowering themselves by taking on a challenge that seem reserved for the boys. Last year I got a chance to see the girls from Hudson Bay Bound, who traveled from Minnesota to Hudson’s Bay by canoe. (Incidentally, they have taken that experience and dedicated a new non-profit to share that same paddling/learning experience to young girls through the Wild River Academy. I stopped by their booth at the event but missed meeting Natalie.)

Jerry Vandiver did three shows over the weekend, but Saturday's performance was the place to be. Not only for the great camping and paddling songs, but the place was packed because of an upcoming special guest. Pictured is one of the canoe dogs they featured during the song Molly and Me about the bond created when we take our canine friends with us paddling.

Jerry Vandiver did three shows over the weekend, but Saturday’s performance was the place to be. Not only for the great camping and paddling songs, but the place was packed because of an upcoming special guest. Pictured is one of the canoe dogs they featured during the song Molly and Me about the bond created when we take our canine friends with us paddling.

Lake Michigan in a Dugout was a project undertaken by two ladies from Indiana, Mary Catterlin and Amy Lukas. They have lots of stories and fun videos at their website, including their post on Canoecopia – which if you look closely, you’ll even see a picture of yours truly in the audience. Basically, the project started when Mary brought home a huge piece of wood and told her father that she was planning on carving out a dugout canoe. I can only imagine what was going on in her father’s mind when he saw this happening. My poor father had to deal with a few of my “ideas” brought home, but none took up that much room (probably). When the boat was finished, it was named Makeba, and Mary and Amy set off to cover the entire shoreline of Lake Michigan. It took them 93 days, and from the stories told at their presentation, they had a lot of fun, and learned much more. Similar to Hudson Bay Bound, they seemed to discover friendly and helping people along the way, discovered some hidden beauty along with some ugly realities, and leaned on their mutual friendship to get through a difficult challenge. Check out their website. They’re quite funny.

More Cowbell! Kevin Callan takes his cowbell playing seriously. He dons a full length cow costume, complete with horns and udder. (I thought that should be one or the other, but I don't judge.) This man is a sport.

More Cowbell! Kevin Callan takes his cowbell playing seriously. He dons a full length cow costume, complete with horns and udder. (I thought that should be one or the other, but I don’t judge.) This man is a good sport.

Next I floated between getting more photos, checking up on Mike and tracking down Kevin Callan. I waited outside Kevin’s presentation on Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, and waited out the fans talking to him, getting autographs and posing for pictures. The difficult part about this blue scarf assignment is that Kevin, to me, is quite the celebrity. I’ve been around him quite a bit at shows and things, but never approach because I don’t want to bother him.  There’s plenty of people vying for his attention. Friends and I joke – as I’ve done here often – that I’m a little star struck. But having to get his picture wearing that scarf meant that I had to actually walk up to him, introduce myself and specifically ask him a favour. I hemmed and hawed about it for a good while, much to the amusement of my friends.

When he came out I approached him, and as it turned out, Fiona had already talked to him. We arranged to meet at his next show with the scarf. I really had worried over nothing. Of course I did. Kevin’s a great guy who is very approachable and accommodating to everyone. (I’m really glad this worked out, because I was about to introduce the idea by totally throwing Fiona under the bus by saying “Sorry to be a bother, but Fiona is making me get a picture of you and your scarf.”)

When it came time for Kevin Callan to participate, he was all in. Everyone loved the performance, and it was obvious all those on stage were having a great time.

When it came time for Kevin Callan to participate, he was all in. Everyone loved the performance, and it was obvious all those on stage were having a great time.

That next show was the second concert by Jerry Vandiver. As I mentioned yesterday, there was something special planned for this performance. You see, Jerry had come up with a fantastic fund-raising idea to pay for his whole band to make it to Canoecopia from Nashville. He started a Kickstarter campaign, offering up several fun options to supporters – CDs, autographs, VIP seating to a show, that kind of thing. The best idea was an option to get up and play with the band playing along with a cowbell (aptly titled “More Cowbell”). The bonus was that joining you on stage was non-other than Kevin Callan. (Jerry mentioned that Kevin was actually a drummer in high school. That makes sense, but I’m not really sure why.)

I had tried to buy that option, thinking it would make for some great (read: ridiculous) photos, but there were only three spots and got gobbled up too quickly. I never would have imagined what Kevin had planned, however. When he was called on stage, he jumped on stage with a full length cow costume. I mean, how appropriate! It was hilarious. The crowd loved it, and everyone on stage was having a great time. They all played cowbell to “Too Tired to Start the Fire“, an upbeat song that had everyone dancing.

The competition was fierce during the Aluminum Chef this year. Marty Koch and Kevin Callan continued their outdoor writer rivalry, looking to prove who was really the better camp cook.

The competition was fierce during the Aluminum Chef this year. Marty Koch and Kevin Callan continued their outdoor writer rivalry, looking to prove who was really the better camp cook.

Next up was again another Kevin Callan show. Without a doubt my favourite event at Canoecopia is the Aluminum Chef. Based on the television show Iron Chef, the competitors are given a secret ingredient that they have to use along with others you’d bring with you on a camping trip. In fact, they have to use camping stoves and cooking equipment to create an appetizer, main dish and a dessert. Each dish is judged by a group from the audience and points awarded to the winner of each course.

This year's secret ingredient was sardines. Wow. What a challenge it would be to make a great meal with that! Then again, I guess it is a fish, normally a staple of camp cooking.

This year’s secret ingredient was sardines. Wow. What a challenge it would be to make a great meal with that! Then again, I guess it is a fish, normally a staple of camp cooking. I’m a little suspicious of how much of this ingredient was actually used. Here Marty Koch is offering Kevin Callan some of his extra.

But it’s also kind of a show within a show. While cooking, the chefs offer advice, tell stories and crack jokes – usually at each other’s expense. Marty Koch is a writer and outdoorsman from Missouri, and Kevin’s friendly rival. Having found out Kevin has finally written a camping cookbook, Marty brought a poster that theorized what he thought a book by Kevin might look like – Camp Cooking for Dummies (see picture at the top of this post). That’s the kind of fun they have with each other. The third chef, Joey Dunscombe from the Weary Travel Freehouse restaurant, wasn’t immune, as his recent accident breaking his hip and forcing him to cook on crutches made for an easy target. (Neat side note: I checked Joey’s Twitter feed, and found a picture he posted from the stage. And again I was able to find myself in this photo.)

While Kevin Callan didn't win the competition, he did do as well as all the other participants. It was a draw, with Kevin winning the appetizer portion, Marty the main course and Joey the dessert.

While Kevin Callan didn’t win the Aluminum Chef, like he had the last two years, he did do as well as all the other participants. It was a draw, with Kevin winning the appetizer portion, Marty the main course and Joey the dessert.

The fun doesn’t stop there. Between all the jokes and stories, the crowd is offered up samples of the dishes being created and there are draws for some great MSR cooking gear. (I was really holding out for some free gear to use and review, but sadly missed out on the big prize by only a few numbers.)  But some of the best giveaways are of the impromptu variety. You see, Kevin likes to share the unused ingredients. Last year he had a lot of fun flinging pitas into the crowd, which he was told, in a faux-sternly fashion, that he was not permitted to do that this year. He secretly got a couple off though, and joked later he needed someone to toss him one back as he had run out.

That didn’t stop the chefs from walking into the crowd and sharing in a more civilized manner. Kevin brought out grapes (after feeding Marty some like a Roman emperor), and carrots (I got one, and it really hit the spot at that time of day), and at one point even jokingly offered up the remaining sardines. An enthusiastic young lady took him up on his offer to everyone’s amazement and amusement. Finally, when they noticed a big block of cheese unused on stage, it was given to one happy audience member.

Between the tips, the jokes, the samples and draws, I think the Aluminum Chef is worth the price of admission on its own and am surprised the place wasn’t packed. This year’s competition turned out to be a draw, so next year I’m sure the rivalry will be stepped up to break the tie.

I finally tracked down Kevin, appropriately at the Badger Paddle booth. Pictured here with Mike, Kevin agreed to wear the blue scarf of the 6 degree project for Autism awareness.

I finally tracked down Kevin, appropriately at the Badger Paddle booth. Pictured here with Mike, Kevin agreed to wear the blue scarf of the 6 degree project for Autism awareness.

Oh, and I did get that picture of Kevin in his blue scarf. In a happy coincidence, I found him passing by the Badger Paddle booth, so I had him pose with Mike. They both gave me big smiles and I got everyone in focus. (Have I complained about how hard it is to get clear pictures at these events yet?) Assignment complete. Whew!

Tomorrow - really this time - I'll show you what all those colours are about.

Tomorrow – really this time – I’ll show you what all those colours are about. (Hey look, another picture of me!)

Day 2 was another great day at Canoecopia. Exhausted, I got back to the hotel in time to start wandering around a cold, rainy downtown Madison looking for a restaurant that didn’t have an hour long wait for a table. (This is the point where you’re supposed to feel sorry for me.) Apparently there was kind of paddling event going on (and a basketball tournament). After we had given up and walked back to the hotel, we spotted an Indian food restaurant directly across the street. Tired from the long day, I’d have gone anywhere there wasn’t a wait, so this was a real bonus. The food was awesome – and of the “a lot” variety, which was what I needed. We took the short walk back and crashed. We had one more day to go, and one hour less to sleep because of daylight-savings time.

Finally, I should probably apologize. I meant to talk about those fancy coloured things today, but decided to re-organize how to write up the event. It was not my intention to tease you like that. But tomorrow, I promise, I’ll talk about all the cool gear and fancy gadgets we saw, and what I decided to spend my money on.

Canoecopia 2013 – Day 1

I just got back from Canoecopia 2013 and, typically, I turned a simple (road) trip into an adventure. (It’s what I do.) Sorry I couldn’t post as timely as I did last year (same day), but here’s my account from Day 1. Check back for Days 2 and 3 in the next couple of days.

 

Perception Kayaks demos how your furry friends can easily join you on your paddling adventures

Perception Kayaks demos how your furry friends can easily join you on your paddling adventures

I’ve learned one thing from my trip to Canoecopia: I’m too old for a good old fashioned overnight 12 hour road trip. I have to deal with this, and accept it. Monday, upon my return from my trip, I walked around like a zombie, basically just waiting for a time that was respectable enough to go to sleep for the night. (Is 8:00 too early?) On Tuesday, I’m still feeling a little dazed.

Lit up at night, the famous capitol building in downtown Madison is the center of a neat pedestrian-friendly street grid.

Lit up at night, the famous capitol building in downtown Madison is the center of a neat pedestrian-friendly street grid.

But of course it was all worth it. I love getting away, getting to talk to a large variety of paddlers, see the latest outdoor products and of course my favourite part, getting to see some great presentations. For those of you who don’t know, Canoecopia is the world’s largest paddling expo, a 3 day event filled with enough exhibitors and speakers to keep even the casual paddler interested and entertained. In fact, we were going to test that theory, as this year a group of friends decided to join me down to Madison, Wisconsin.

This is downtown Madison's ambassador squawking at visitors, and letting us get nice and close for a picture. I'm told he's not so nice to the local small bird population.

This is downtown Madison’s ambassador squawking at visitors, and letting us get nice and close for a picture. I’m told he’s not so nice to the local small bird population.

After reading my write up of the event from last year, one friend had asked whether it was worth it, travelling all that way, even though he wasn’t as hard-core a paddler as I. He decided that 2 days would probably be good enough, with the third he’d travel around visiting the local sites.

Presentations are my favourite attraction to Canoecopia. They have so many, often it's not a matter of finding one that interests you, so much as choosing which of the many going on to attend.

Presentations are my favourite attraction to Canoecopia. They have so many, often it’s not a matter of finding one that interests you, so much as choosing which of the many going on to attend.

Going in a small group meant we had to plan the trip around everyone’s schedules, and it was decided that in order to minimize the amount of vacation time required and the hit to the pocket book, but not miss anything at the show, we’d leave late Thursday, drive overnight, and arrive in time to be there when the doors open on Friday at 4:00. We’d drive and sleep in shifts. What could go wrong? Well, nothing did – and that might have been the problem. Without issues, we arrived at 9:00 AM which sadly was way too early to check into the hotel. We decided to grab a nice breakfast to kill some time. When that wasn’t enough, we walked around the beautiful Madison downtown grid. It’s a great spot, but we were tired, and again we were denied an early check-in (it was only 10:30 AM). Of course, this kind of thing wasn’t going to be a problem to a group of campers. We made camp in the car, napping until our rooms were ready. We totally didn’t look like homeless people, and the sleep was peaceful enough if you imagined the honking cars were loon calls. (The Hyatt was nice enough to give us an early check in by 1:00.)

Cliff Jacobson explains the best way to deal with bears.

Cliff Jacobson explains the best way to deal with bears.

By 4:00, we were napped, showered and ready to be shuttled off to the show. Sadly, because we were staying downtown, we had to rely on shuttles to get to the Alliance center, so we were a bit late and missed the first of my chosen presentations. (Don’t get me wrong, I was extremely pleased with having a shuttle back and forth to the event.) There are so many going on, in over a dozen rooms including a demo pool and workshop areas, all at the same time. As soon as the schedule came out I mapped out which speakers and topics I wanted to see. Some are repeated whereas others are not, so when two that you want to see are on at the same time, you really have some planning to do and choices to make. (I know. Tough life, right?)

David, one of my road trip partners, giving a presentation on Rescue technology

David, of Paddling Headquarters and one of my road trip partners, giving a presentation on Rescue technology

The first presentation I was able to get to was from Cliff Jacobson, noted outdoor writer and guide from Wisconsin. He discussed some of the proper methods and popular misconceptions for dealing with bears. His main points were that prevention and common sense are your best protection, and not the simplified versions usually conveyed by the usual sources. I’m not sure what his experiences are like with the American parks, but I’ve found Parks Canada and Ontario Parks staff seminars on bears quite good, but I completely understand his point on quick notes provided by the general media. His point on misunderstandings on the term “bear proof” is especially poignant. Through the rest of the weekend I noted at least a dozen times where someone called one of those blue food barrels a “Bear Barrel”. They’re not, and to show off just how clever bears can be, Cliff listed many examples of them getting into real bear resistant items – so you can imagine what short work they’d make of a plastic barrel.

I caught Jerry Vandiver meeting with fans after his Friday show. (Note the new Badger Paddles.) We'd see his Saturday show on Day 2 with some fun surprises.

I caught Jerry Vandiver, famous paddle singer/songwriter, meeting with fans after his Friday show. (Note the new Badger Paddles.) We’d see his Saturday show on Day 2 with some fun surprises.

I spent the next presentation segment running between different speakers/friends to get some photographs for them, including one of my road trip mates David Johnston of Paddling HQ. At the very least, I needed to give David a shout-out since he was nice enough to drive for and pay for a quarter of our trip. Ironically, while taking all those pictures I missed a seminar on photography that I meant to attend.

Ontario Parks booth was located in what was called the "Canada Zone". It's great to see how many Americans are planning to come and see our beautiful country.

Ontario Parks booth was located in what was called the “Canada Zone”. It’s great to see how many Americans are planning to come and see our beautiful country.

Like last year, I also offered to help out at the Badger Paddles booth. Basically, I’d give some time for Mike to take a break here and there. And just like last year, Mike needed few breaks – he’s a trooper, and loves to talk paddles with people.  But unlike last year, I challenged myself that since I was so close to selling a paddle at the previous show (my story), resolving that this year I’d finally convince someone to buy a paddle. Not that they need selling, mind you. They’re great paddles, and sold quickly, but the local trend is for wider, shorter bladed paddles, often with a bent shaft.

The freebies and swag were there for the taking, if you knew where to look - like maple syrup candies hidden in a birchbark canoe.

The freebies and swag were there for the taking, if you knew where to look – like maple syrup candies hidden in a birchbark canoe.

Badger paddles were referred to by most people as “Traditional” paddles, and most of the conversations I had were about the advantages of these versus the “regular” paddles. I still find this strange, and often I had to hold back from properly referring to the right style as “regular”. Of course, everyone agreed how great these long paddles looked.

After the success of some other kids paddle sales last year, I found many other paddle makers had special child size paddles, like this one from Sawyer Paddles - complete with places to write the things they see and places they've gone while using their paddles.

After the success of some other kids paddle sales last year, I found many other paddle makers had special child size paddles, like this one from Sawyer Paddles – complete with places to write the things they see and places they’ve gone while using their paddles.

Strangely, I didn’t remember any kids paddles being sold last year, but this year there were plenty. Some had paintings on them, and a really neat idea from Sawyer Paddles was to include places to write down the kid’s adventures they’ve had with the paddle, and even a ruler to measure progress (See picture above). I know some adults who’d want that on their paddle. I also saw a few cute smaller kayak paddles, made as fancy as the adult sized versions. Both ideas are great ones, helping get the next generation enthusiastic about paddling (something pretty necessary considering the electronic, indoor competition for children’s attention).

Rutabaga shows off it's pirate paddle logo on tshirts and water bottles.

Rutabaga shows off it’s pirate paddle logo on tshirts and water bottles. I might need one of these.

I’m not sure if it was just me or not, but I found a lot more in the exhibitor area this year. Maybe that’s because I made an effort to spend a little more time there than last year, when I saved most of that for the third and final day, when a lot of stuff had been sold out by the time I got there.

Icebreaker claims you can wear their shirts for 2 weeks without stinking. I'd be a good candidate to test that theory.

Icebreaker claims you can wear their shirts for 2 weeks without stinking. I’d be a good candidate to test that theory.

I wasn’t going to let that happen again. This time I made sure to grab things whenever I found something worthy of parting me with my money. I’ll talk more about what I bought in a later post, but needless to say I wish I could have got much more, as there was so many neat things on display. Turns out Canoecopia is not only the world’s largest paddling expo, it’s also an exercise in discipline.

What are these things? Tune in tomorrow (or check back for Canoecopia Day 2)

What are these things and why are they such a cool idea? Tune in tomorrow (or check back for Canoecopia Day 2).

After a long day of travel, sporadic sleep, wandering through the city, seminars and shopping, I was ready to get back to the hotel and grab a bite to eat. (We found a great fancy burger joint downtown, with reasonable prices and decadent shakes.) I crashed quickly, soon to dream about all that I’d see on Day 2.

Watch for posts for Day 2 and Day 3 at Canoecopia.

2013 Outdoor Adventure Show

 

James Roberts, from LearnToKayak.ca, demonstrates how to roll a canoe without spilling your coffee

James Roberts, from LearnToKayak.ca, demonstrates how to roll a canoe without spilling your coffee

For more photos of the event, see my Facebook albumsDay 1 | Day 2See bottom for some fun kayak rolling videos.

Another Outdoor Adventure Show is in the books. It’s one of my favourite events. It gives me a chance to meet up with other outdoor enthusiasts, see some neat new gear, watch some demos and of course see some presentations.

Kevin Callan was presenting on a few topics, and as always, he was entertaining.

Kevin Callan was presenting on a few topics, and as always, he was entertaining.

My first task when the event’s schedule comes out is to find when and where Kevin Callan (The Happy Camper) is presenting. His talks all always insightful and entertaining – not to mention funny – and as usual he didn’t disappoint. On Saturday morning it was “Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer”, showing us pictures of some of the adventures he’s been on. In the afternoon it was “How to be a Better Camp Cook”, talking about food and recipes around the campfire. In both, he combined tips with stories, and a lot of fun. I’m not sure how long this will continue, but apparently his new thing is to toss hats into the audience. If you get a chance to see him, I’d recommend getting there a little early and getting a seat close to the front, as the hats don’t seem to fly too far.

Performing Yoga on an SUP. I can barely do this on land.

Performing Yoga on an SUP. I can barely do this on land.

Of course the feature of these talks was to promote Kevin’s two new books. First was Dazed but Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer, a great new book that I loved reading and will review soon. Second was The New Trailside Cookbook, a recipe and tips book for making tasty and fun meals on a camping trip. Apparently Kevin had only one copy of this book, the first copy, which he decided to give it to an audience member who answered an intelligence test. He started by asking the crowd “Who has been on a canoe camping trip that didn’t require a portage?” When someone answered “Yes”, he gave the book to them, telling them “Smart.” Interestingly, this person was friend of mine, and Kevin later signed the copy of the book. I’m not jealous at all. I’d rather buy my own copy anyway. A new copy, without all that writing in the front cover. Not jealous at all.

Bill from Swift Canoe & Kayaks showing off how light their canoes are.

Bill from Swift Canoe & Kayaks showing off how light their canoes are.

Some of the best moments at the show are around the demo pool. First we watched Swift Canoe and Kayaks demonstrating their light weight canoes, offering tips on choosing your preferred self-propelled boat and a few paddling techniques. I like to keep up to date on all the latest models myself, so when I win the lottery I don’t have to waste any time figuring out how to fill the very large canoe rack I will have. (For me, a trip to the show is not complete until I stop by and visit the Swift guys and Mike from Badger Paddles. I’d drop by again on Sunday, but more on that below.)

Jeffrey McMurtrie of Jeff's Map hangs out with Chris Scerri of the Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co.

Jeffrey McMurtrie of Jeff’s Map hangs out with Chris Scerri of the Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co.

On Saturday we also got a chance to see some Paddle Canada kayak demos, which are always fun. I’m not a kayaker and I don’t normally feel the tug to get in there and join them, but I have to say, there isn’t much more impressive than seeing some kayak rolls. They might – might – have inspired me to consider learning to roll a kayak … maybe. Speaking of impressive, we also caught a SUP demo, but this time with a twist. The Complete Paddler teamed up with Osha Paddle Boarding and Yoga to show us how to do yoga while on a paddle board. I’ve done yoga. It’s hard. I can’t even imagine how difficult that would be while floating on a paddle board. But I bet it’s fun! I should try this, as of course they offer lessons – when it’s warm and no one’s looking, because I’m going to fall in. (They seem pretty reasonably priced too.)

Coming up from a roll at the Paddle Canada kayak demo.

Coming up from a roll at the Paddle Canada kayak demo.

Of course the highlight of all the demos is the show that LearnToKayak.ca puts on. If you haven’t seen these guys, look for it next year. They show all kinds of kayak skills, demonstrating what you’d learn on the different leveled Paddle Canada kayak courses, starting with the basic rescues to more and more complex rolls. Then they really start to show off. James Roberts, in particular, is quite talented. In the half hour demo, he must have rolled a hundred times. He rolled with and without a paddle, with someone clinging to the back of his kayak, with two people on his kayak, 11 times in a row, and the coup-de-grace, pictured at the top of this post, was rolling while keeping his coffee cup out of the water and not spilling a drop (talk about rolling up the rim). See the two videos at the bottom of this post to view the hitch-hiker and multiple rolls on video.

The LearnToKayak.ca crew were great once again when they got into the pool for a kayak skills demo.

The LearnToKayak.ca crew were great once again when they got into the pool for a kayak skills demo.

And now for the real unique thrill of the weekend: Meeting the legendary Hap Wilson. I’ve read his books – I mean, he literally wrote the book on Temagami canoe routes – and so was eager to take the opportunity to meet him. He’s an artist, author, photographer, guide, and trailbuilder and probably the person most recognized with the Temagami area. He was going to be visiting the Swift booth, but only on Sunday from 12:00 to 3:00. I got there early because I didn’t know what kind of line up there would be. I was absolutely shocked to find the booth relatively empty. (And a little embarrassed for having rushed into the show like a mad man. I apologize to anyone I knocked over. Pretty sure it was a garbage can, but it might have been an old lady for all I know. )

Hap Wilson and I chat about the outdoors, his trail building business and his guide books.

Hap Wilson and I chat about the outdoors, his trail building business and his guide books.

The guys at Swift later told me that it was kind of a last minute thing, so the word hadn’t really gotten out. Still, I question why fellow canoeists weren’t stopped in their tracks as they walked by. Nevertheless, even with the lack of a huge line, it took me a while to drum up the courage to go up and talk to him. But I’m sure glad I did. He was very nice and super interesting. We chatted about tripping, his eco-friendly trail building business,  and what he’s been up to lately. I probably took advantage a bit, because of the lack of people that were there at the time, just asking more questions so he’d keep talking. I even got a chance to pose for some photos with him.

Hap Wilson shows me some of his books.

Hap Wilson shows me some of his books.

Another reason to attend the event was to view the new gear the outdoor industry has to offer this season. A couple of things stood out to me. First were these bungee cords that attach to stand-up paddleboards by suction cups, allowing you to secure a good bit of gear with you for longer SUP excursions. I’ve been thinking I’d like to try tripping using a paddleboard, for the experience and the inevitable stories. I wonder how many of those would involve me falling off the board. The suction-cup-bungees would at least be an easy way to keep my stuff from floating away when I do take an involuntary swim.

Neat idea: suction cup bungies to hold your gear on extended SUP trips. (I have to try this one day.)

Neat idea: suction cup bungies to hold your gear on extended SUP trips. (I have to try this one day.)

I also saw something that I really think is going to make people’s lives a little easier (or at least mine): multi-coloured and patterned yoke pads by Hooligan Gear. Last year when on a trip up through Canoe Lake on a long weekend, it was busy. The first portage was packed full of canoes, with others cramming in as soon as there was room (or debatably even when there wasn’t). The canoes were all rented from the same place (The Portage Store) and so looked identical. A few, like mine, had the rather popular blue yoke pad. In fact, until Sunday, I’ve never seen them in any other colour than blue. Once I got my gear out of the canoe, I went over to grab my canoe but with all the traffic there were a bunch of identical empty canoes on the beach. With all the rushing to get out of people’s way, bumping into those who wouldn’t get out of your way, and all the canoes coming in, I honestly could not figure out which canoe was mine. “No problem,” I thought to myself, “Yours has the yoke pad.” Yeah… they all had blue yoke pads. So now I have to figure out which new colour will be the least popular.

How many times have you met at a popular portage where all the canoes look the same?

How many times have you met at a popular portage where all the canoes look the same?

Needless to say I had a great time, met some great people, and saw some really neat stuff. Speaking of neat stuff, as promised, here are those kayak roll videos of James Roberts of LearnToKayak.ca:

Videos:

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