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.

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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.


 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Making the most of the Ontario Outdoor Adventure Show

My favourite photo from last year’s Outdoor Adventure Show. Alan from LearnToKayak.ca demonstrating the benefits of carrying a spare paddle.

This upcoming weekend one of my favourite outdoor events is taking place: The Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show. (Read last year’s report here.) This year looks like it’s going to be an even better event than years past. If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to miss the best stuff, and so you might want to go in with a game-plan. Since I’ve done the research already, I might as well share with you what I’ve learned to expect at this year’s event. See below for coupons to save a bit of money and ways you can keep up with the event remotely.

What to look for:

  • Legendary Hap Wilson will be visiting the  Swift Canoe and Kayak booth on Sunday from 12-3 pm signing books, talking about tripping and the Path of the Paddle project as well. This is definitely something you don’t want to miss.
  • Kevin Callan – As usual, the Happy Camper will be presenting twice in the Ontario Outdoor Adventures Theatre: “Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer” (Sat 12:30, Sun 12:00) and “How to be a Better Camp Cook” (Sat 3:30).
  • Kevin will also be hanging out at the Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co. and Ontario Tourism booths as well. (Andy from Treks in the Wild will be helping out at the Ontario Tourism booth, so if you want expert advice when Kevin’s not around, ask for him.)
  • Speaking of Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co., they’re also hosting Sticks and Stones Wilderness School as well as Jeffrey McMurtrie (Saturday), creator of Jeff’s Map (formerly Algonquin Online Map).
  • Demos at the pool including favourites Swift Canoe and Kayak, LearnToKayak.ca, The Muskoka Paddle Shack and the Complete Paddler.
  • Henry’s School of Imaging booth is offering free 30 minute photography seminars throughout the weekend.
  • Mud Hero mini obstacle course (sans the mud, probably a good choice). If this is for big people too, I may have to try it. Someone needs to get my picture (unless I fall, of course).
  • Sat 1:30 – Les Stroud, aka Survivorman in the G Adventures Theatre
  • Sun 2:00 – Olympic silver medalist and adventurer Adam van Koeverden in the G Adventures Theatre. See Adam kayaking around with Rick Mercer here.

Some resources:

Can’t be there? You can keep up to date from tweets and Facebook updates from a few of the people and companies I know will be active (or at least have something to say):

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