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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

On Love and Paddling

It’s Valentines Day today. Now I’m not all that touchy-feely, and I’m one of those people who is torn on the idea of this “holiday”. But then again, it is a good excuse to show the ones you care about how you feel. So just like any holiday where you’re supposed to do something (i.e. buy something), if done with the right intentions, why not? (Incidentally, did your mom make you give Valentines to everyone in your class? As a kid I found that weird, and embarrassing. I mean, I did NOT want to give the wrong impression – especially to that girl who always wanted to sit beside me during reading time. But at least if everyone got one, the implication of something more isn’t there. That said, I do remember making sure a couple of girls got one just slightly bigger than the others. But I digress….)

Happy Valentines Day

Happy Valentines Day

This isn’t a website about holidays or love or candy, so I’m going to talk about love from a tripping perspective. Whether it’s romantic or parental or even just a strong bond with someone – or a furry friend for that matter – there are plenty of ways love is expressed out in the back-country. Here are just some of the ways I’ve experienced, witnessed or listened to in stories:

Love Is:

  • … Quietly keeping the canoe straight for a new paddler, telling them their doing just fine when asked.
  • … Letting someone think they’re doing a great job keeping you straight.
  • … Compliments, even when “it’s not a big deal”.
  • … Sneaking some of the heavier items into your own pack.
  • … Staying up late the night before a trip to prepare some special treat.
  • … Offering up the last bit of chocolate when the treats have been exhausted.
  • … “You first.”
  • … “I’ll go first.”
  • … Slaving over a campfire to make an elaborate meal.
  • … Telling someone you like it better burnt.
  • … Offering to do the dishes.
  • … Buying someone a piece of gear that makes their trip a little more comfortable – or even fashionable.
  • … Getting into the canoe from the muddy spot.
  • … Not laughing, no matter how hard that might be, and no matter how dirty/wet/ungraceful someone got.
  • … Smiling.
  • … Bringing some things you normally might not on a portage trip.
When you see something like this, you take a quick picture, don't look around for the owners, and quickly move on.

When you see something like this, you take a quick picture (if you must), but don’t look around for the owners. Most importantly, quickly move on.

  • … Lying about how your side of the tent is soft enough when one of the sleeping pads deflate.
  • … What I got, I said remember that. (Sorry, I hate that song too, but it got in my head writing this.)
  • … Taking an extra shift driving home.
  • … Resisting every urge to fall asleep so you can keep the driver company.
  • … Asking for directions, you know, just to be sure.
  • … Telling someone they’re even prettier dirty and natural.
  • … Telling someone they don’t smell that bad at all.
  • … Making sure someone’s little face is clean the whole trip, no matter how an uphill battle it seems to be.
  • … Being vocally impressed by how someone carried that little, but obviously quite heavy bag, almost the whole length of a portage.
  • … Bringing a lot more “Gummy” food items than you would normally.
  • … Being the one who steps up and says it’s time to rest.
  • … Sharing body heat with a plugged nose.
  • … Band aids with Spiderman on them.
  • … Standing guard but out of site of the privy.
  • … Watching a sunset with an arm around the shoulders and a head against a chest.
  • … Checking to see if it was a bear, when you are certain it was a squirrel.
  • … Not saying “I told you so” and packing an extra rain coat.
  • … That look across the campfire. It’s even better when light is flickering.
  • … A welcome home hug, even when it goes against every instinct.

… And of course,  love is, most of all, wanting to share great experiences together.

Paddles Together

Paddles Together

Nancy Postscript

One of the funniest experiences I’ve had with Nancy was on our very first portage trip, shortly after adopting her from the SPCA. We had known each other for less than 10 months by this point and I think finally at a point where she truly started to trust me. It was late September and on one of those really cold spells that happen – you know the kind, where you freeze your butt off for 2 days only to be sweating (off whatever you still have of that same butt) for the next 2 days from all the extra gear you had to bring for the cold. Anyway, Nancy and I had a problem the first day getting out on the water, so we instead drove out to our property in South River to camp out the night and try again in the morning. It was freezing (!) that night. As we lied in the tent, Nancy could not stop shivering, but strangely, kept herself curled in a little ball as far as she could possibly be from me. I took my sleeping bag and spread it out more, to give a second layer for her sleeping mat that was clearly not doing a good enough job keeping the cold ground from sucking up all her heat. I tapped it, telling her to get on but she shyly stood still, probably not knowing what I was asking of her. So I picked her up and put her down on the sleeping bag. She stayed about 30 seconds before getting up and moving back to the corner. (Talk about insulting. She’d rather freeze than sleep beside me? I was certain I had put on deodorant, but then again, it was a long drive.)

I picked her up again and put her back, then pet her so she wouldn’t move, hoping she’d get a little warm and understand it’s better over here. It worked, but she was still shivering. So I unzipped my sleeping bag, wrapped what I could over myself, then took the bit of fabric left over and draped it over her. After a little while she was still shivering, and so was I. Nuts to this. I re-worked the sleeping gear, putting her mat on my sleeping pad, covered it with the sleeping bag, got in and zipped it up half way. I then lied on my side so there would be room for Nancy, grabbed her and put her right beside me and covered us both with the sleeping bag.

Well! She gave me this look that I can only describe as what someone would do when a date was being a little too forward, as if to say “Um… Yeah… I don’t think we’re really there yet.” It was polite, but clear. At this point she got up and went back to the corner of the tent. Then of course, she quickly went back to shivering.

“Fine!” I said, “let’s go.” I opened the tent, grabbed all the sleeping gear and made a crazy-cold dash towards the car. I setup up a rather uncomfortable bed in the backseat, with a little spot made up for the cold dog. It would be cramped, but I couldn’t bear the thought of her freezing on the cold ground. I don’t know if you’ve ever slept in a car, but it always seems like a better idea until you try it. When I finally found a comfortable sleeping position (legs hanging up by the window, neck twisted against the door), and saw that Nancy was comfortable in her little spot near my feet (or where they should have been), I finally dozed off. When I woke, I was pretty sore. Not a fun sleep. I was also a little annoyed, because there was Nancy, no longer in her spot, but in the front seat alone. I wonder how long she’d been up there by herself. For my own sanity, or maybe pride, I’ve chosen to believe shortly before I woke, being too hot from her comfy spot, she decided to cool down in the front. Yeah, that must be what happened.

Little did I know that only a short while later I would be complaining about a certain spotted someone always pushing up against me in bed. (Quiet complaining, mind you. Save for a few moments here and there, I wouldn’t have it any other way.)


Where were you planning on sleeping?

Where were you planning on sleeping?

How My New Canoe Came to Be

Warning: I’m going to sound like I’m overly-gushing about Swift Canoe & Kayak, to the point where you might think I get paid by them. I don’t. I just they’ve been very nice to me and I really like their canoes. It also helps that they’re a Canadian company, built in a factory in one of my favourite little towns, South River, ON, where I spent much of my youth. Also, as I’ve come to learn during my long search for a new canoe last year, they employ some really great, helpful people. 

So your local pond or river is frozen. You’re stuck inside or have a bunch of white stuff to step through. You’re overly clothed, probably sporting one of those Christmas-present-sweaters to appease a loved one. You’re dreaming about being out on the water. You may even be pathetically sitting by a window, staring out like they do in the movies when the protagonist is conveying melancholic longing (in some kind of fuzzy, 3-D reindeer sweater). You flip through outdoor gear catalogs, and visit canoeing websites and skim through to pictures of warm sunny days. It’s all you can do to wait for the water to thaw so you can get back out there. What are you to do until spring?

Nancy, longing to go portaging.

Nancy, longing to go portaging.

Outdoor Shows!

Yeah, this time of year is hard on paddlers, for the most part. But, did you know this is the best time of year for gear shopping and outdoor shows? Yep. Coming up this weekend is the Toronto Boat show (Jan 12-20). I normally don’t attend that one as it mainly deals with non-man-powered watercraft, but there are some canoe and kayak companies there. Up next is the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show (Feb 22-24), which I’ll probably hang out at all weekend to meet up with outdoor friends and catch all the presentations.

Speaking of presentations, Canoecopia comes next in March, which is quickly becoming my favourite outdoor show. It’s in Wisconsin, but it’s a great chance to see all the different exhibitors that I normally don’t have access to, up hear north of the border. What  really makes it worth the travel to get down there is seeing all the great speakers and presentations. Incidentally, I’m organizing a bus trip there, so if you’ve ever wanted to go but the expense of traveling is holding you back, checkout for the details. Tell your friends too, because the more people go, the cheaper the trip becomes for everyone.

Canoecopia 2013 Road Trip

But if you can’t make it, there’s still the Outdoor + Adventure Travel Show in Ottawa (Mar 16-17), then the Spring Cottage Life Show (April 5-7).

Wait… I thought this was going to be about your canoe?

The other great reason to do the outdoor show circuit is that this is actually the best time for boat shopping. You get to see all the new models, talk to the manufacturers and even see some demos. Immersing yourself in canoes can do wonders to keep the Frozen Offseason Blues as bay. It was last year that I did exactly that, and took advantage of all the access to canoe building companies to find out what options were available to me.

The following pictures were sent to me by the good folks at Swift Canoe & Kayak, and I’ve been dying to find an excuse to share them. Turns out they are so nice over there that they sent me photos of my new canoe during the building process. As you go through these pictures, imagine for a moment, a little egg with something special inside about to emerge, while humming the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey. (Go with me on this; it’ll be better that way. You don’t want my lame attempt at typing the song out.)

The beginning: My canoe gets formed.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

It took a while for me to finally get my canoe, because I was picky. I wanted what I wanted. I suppose I could have saved some money and bought a canoe that was already made or taking advantage of the off-season deals at outdoor shows. When I’d see the sales guys and chat with them at a show or demo, they would constantly want to save me a little money reminding me of this. The Swift people even searched around for an available Osprey model (when I was finally settled on the model). But they were never  exactly what I wanted, and as tempted as I was to have my new canoe immediately, I continued to be particular (read: difficult), because as I mentioned, I wanted what I wanted.

The Osprey ready to come out of it’s shell
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

The whole Swift team was very accommodating. They were both patient with my demands, and of course listening to me prattle on about what I wanted in my new canoe, especially when I was torn between different options. Those poor guys – and they never once made me feel as if I was boring them. I’m sure I did. I’m sure Jon and Mike saw me coming up to the booth at one of the outdoor shows thinking “Uh-oh, this guy.” But as a testament to how great they are, they never once let me know it. (I kid. Who wouldn’t want to talk about canoes all day?)

The first crack out of the shell reveals the integrated Carbon Kevlar trim
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I must have babbled on to at least 3 or 4 sales guys about the material alone. I could save a couple of pounds here or there, or get a little bit more durability. Then there was the Flax Fusion Dilemma, a more ecologically responsible material, but that only came in the one colour. (I was told later that you can of course add a paint coat, but that would add weight.) Then again, this problem might actually help me decide on material. Do I like the yellowish brown of the Flax? Actually I do. But was I set on the very sleek looking blue over white (Kevlar Fusion)? Yeah… I don’t know. I even put it up for debate on Facebook at some point. (If I ever do buy a kayak – and I’m not saying this is something I’m even thinking of doing – but if I was in the market for a kayak, I would get it in the Flax Fusion. This is a seriously good looking kayak.)

The Osprey emerges…
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

The best advice I got from my impromptu Facebook market research, was that my logo would look best set against the dark blue, and the white bottom would not show scratches as much. Sold! Blue and white it is. As you can see from the pictures above and below, I made the right choice. I haven’t put a Portageur decal on the canoe just yet, but I can embarrassingly say that the scratches I put on the boat in mere hours after picking it up, do not, in fact, show (on the bottom).

There it is, all new and fresh. Next, they’ll put on thwarts, seats and all.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

Just look at that fresh and clean canoe shell (above). What they needed to do at this point is to install some of the neatest features I opted for. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the reasons for deciding on the Osprey was that you could get what they call a “Combi Seat”. As you can see the the pictures below, this is a kayak seat that can be switched back and forth with the standard canoe seat. This gives you the ability to use the canoe traditionally, but also as a Pack Canoe when you so desired. I even made sure to have them add foot braces for that reason.  To switch the seats, you simply unscrew the wing-nuts on the bottom of the seat frame, slide one of the seats out and the other back in. Even for me, a guy who likes to make things more complicated for some reason, and was all crazy excited to get the canoe in the water, this was pretty easy to do.

Thwarts and seat installed, now for the foot braces.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I like this idea because it gives me a little more freedom to have the speed using a kayak paddle to keep up with kayaking friends or tandem canoes, but still have the storage space and the portagability (totally a real word) of a canoe. I also made sure to get a molded removable yoke. Swift has great ones, by the way, and it’s important to get a good one. (Solo canoes require a yoke that is removable, because of where the seat is located.) Others I’ve used are flat, sitting on your shoulders painfully awkward, and often don’t attach to the canoe smoothly. I don’t know how many times I’ve given up on these things. Ironically, while it’s supposed to be helpful on the portage, it’s a hindrance, then becomes dead weight that you have to carry around with you. The last few times I’ve had the option, I’ve just left those thin, flat yokes at the outfitters.

There it is, pretty much done.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

When I took the canoe for it inaugural trip, I was confronted by a new delimma. Which seat should I put in for it’s first trip? It made sense to put in the kayak seat, as I found myself at Opeongo Lake – a big, open, potentially windy lake – on a quick overnight trip with no portages. This seemed perfectly appropriate for kayak-style canoeing. But in the end, I needed to canoe this boat, and I had waited all that time. I paddled out to a great camping spot (single bladed).

One last shot before they send it out.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I’m not saying you should go out and buy a boat right now, or even ever if it suits your needs more to simply rent. But if you’re going to buy, this is the time to start looking. Talk to someone at the outdoor shows, get all the information you can, and definitely take a test paddle. If it all works out, this time of year is when you’ll get the best discounts. And when you’re at the upcoming outdoor shows, stop by the Swift Canoe & Kayak booth. Tell them I sent you, but most importantly, that you won’t be as difficult as I was.

The Swift Factory Crew – Big thanks for making such a great canoe.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

Merry Christmas 2013

I just wanted to take a short moment and say thanks to everyone. It’s this time of year when it’s best to surround ourselves with loved ones and reflect on all the great things that we have, and especially the experiences we’ve had since the last time we got together.

Nancy running away from me trying to get her to wear Christmas antlers.

I tried to get Nancy to wear some Christmas antlers for a nice holiday picture.

2012 has been a great year, filled with some great memories for Nancy and myself. We’ve had the opportunity to have some great adventures and meet some really great people.

Nancy wearing Christmas Antlers

I managed to catch her. Now to grab the camera real quick.

All of your thoughts, comments, likes and retweets mean the world to us. We appreciate the validation and love the interaction with great paddling and portaging people.

Nancy throwing off her Christmas Antlers

Nancy would have none of this.

Nancy and I wish you and your families a sincere Merry Christmas. We hope Santa is good to you all, and maybe leaves you with some paddling and camping gear for next year’s trips!

I guess we know who is the Santa and who is the reindeer.

I guess we know who is the Santa and who is the reindeer.

So to all our old friends, new friends, even friends we haven’t yet met, cheers to a great 2012 and we know we’ll all have a great 2013!

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and we wish you all a great new portaging year!

Portageur Gift Buying Guide

tl;dr version: Gift Cards, Toilet Paper. (And repeating Tina Fey’s name enough in the hopes she’ll read it.)

You can’t go wrong with Toilet Paper or a Gift Card

Giving gifts to anyone can be a bit of a challenge. If a camper, canoeist or any type of outdoorsy person is on your list, it might seem a little more difficult, especially if you’re not one. Not to toot my own horn, but I have been known to get a few hits now and then, and I’m proud to say even the occasional home-run. The reason is that I use a few guidelines I’ve adapted over the years. While this has been written focusing on gifts for the outdoors person, I think you’ll find that these principals are universally applicable. I’ve also decided to focus on things you can get together relatively quickly and cheaply, assuming that if you wanted to buy something fancy you’d probably have an idea of what that is, and would have got it by now.

1 – Acceptance

Accept and remember this:

  • Giving gifts is about your intent and receiving gifts is about the thought behind it. What is given, no matter what it is, is the effort thinking about the gift’s receiver, not whatever the it actually turns out to be. In other words, if you’ve put in some thought to it, there’s no such thing as a bad gift.
  • GIFT CARDS are a totally under-rated gift, when used properly.
  • A hit might not mean your gift gets used, or displayed prominently or worn all the time. Leave it at that, and don’t be giving the person an obligation on top of your gift.
  • Learn from gifts. It’s an opportunity to find out more about the gifter and the receiver, but also what works and what doesn’t, present-wise.
  • Some people don’t accept gifts well. Whether there’s a materialistic reason or an appreciation standpoint, next time, get them a GIFT CARD – or quite frankly, nothing. Which reminds me….
  • Know to whom to give gifts. A pretty accurate rule of thumb is that if you feel you have to give a gift, reconsider. If you want to give a gift, you should.
  • The same thing I constantly say about portaging is the same for gift giving: If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Apply those lessons and you’ll be amazed at how stress free the process can be.

2 – Shared interests

I very strongly believe that your gift to someone should reflect a common interest. After all it’s coming from you. It’s like two gifts in one, or a power-up, making your gift a little bit better. So if you’re not an outdoors person, consider finding another shared interest (keep reading for when to break this rule). If you are an outdoor person, then giving gifts should be easy, as you know the kind of gear they’d want and need. If you know specifically what they want, then you don’t need to be reading this. Then again, you may not know what they already have.  An even better power-up to your gift would be to give the gift of doing something with them in the outdoors.

Create a postcard and plan a trip

Create a postcard and plan a trip

Some ideas:

  • You know some things that every outdoor person uses often. Create a care package for next year’s trips with stuff like TOILET PAPER, rope, carabiners, etc.
  • Maps of places you’d recommend, that you know they’d like, or that you’ve both spoke about visiting.
  • Get a card and write in a tentative date and place where the two of you will be going.
  • Instead of a Christmas card, print out a picture of that place and write the details on the back (like a postcard).
  • A coupon, or coupon book detailing what you guys can do together. (This one’s lower on the list because it’s a bit over-done lately and runs the risk of seeming unoriginal. Besides, all the coupons for hugs I’ve given away never seem to get redeemed – I’m talking to you Tina Fey.)
  • GIFT CARD to a store you know that they’ll get something nice. Since you’re in the know, try getting one from somewhere a little less popular and specific.

3 – Avoid getting in over your head

Even if you know the person well enough, you might not know as much as them about their gear interests and preferences. If you’re not into the outdoors, or not as hard-core as your friend, you may be tempted to get them something you think they might like. But the problem is that you might not know what they have already or what they prefer (you’d be amazed at how many different types of the same gear there is out there). Sure, it’s the intent, but if you’re looking to get something that will collect some goodwill and less dust, try to avoid specific gear.

A fun backcountry dessert. It's novel, probably not something they'd buy for themselves, but it'll get used.

A fun backcountry dessert. It’s novel, probably not something they’d buy for themselves, but it’ll get used.

Some ideas:

  • Since you’re not an outdoorsy person, here’s a list of some small stocking stuffers that support their outdoor pursuits: TOILET PAPER, first aid supplies, camp meals, batteries, waterproof matches, dry bags, stuff sacks, etc.
  • GIFT CARD – it turns into a gift from a knowledgable person, the receiver.
  • There are plenty of cross-over items that you can find that you might like or recommend that can be used camping. Think trail mix, granola bars, instant breakfast, instant coffee (though this would be the only stuff I’d personally recommend), or something else that isn’t food, like TOILET PAPER, for example.
  • Books are always a great idea. You can either find one on the outdoors, nature, instruction or how-to, travel guides, survival, anything really. In fact, most campers like to have a book or two on the trail, especially for those lazy, rainy days. Even an off-topic book will do in a pinch (like a biography for example), but in any case, look for small, light paperbacks as they’ll be carrying them into the woods.

4 – Make a statement

What does a gift really say? On face value, it says “I like you enough to buy you something”, or in the worst case “I’m related to you close enough that I feel I need to buy you something”. (I’m really not that cynical, seriously.) But you also have an opportunity to say something. If you buy some camping gear, you’re telling the receiver that you both acknowledge and support their pursuits. In other words, “I know you; I’m interested in your interests, and I want you to continue to have a great time doing them”. You’d be surprised at how good that makes people feel. Note however, that if you buy something that can or should be used by multiple people, the inference might be that you want to join them (and so if that’s not the case, be careful). If you really want to make an impression, don’t leave the receiver of your gift with the job of interpreting your gift. Get a card and write your statement.

"I support your love of camping, and I give you this because want to help you do it. Also, please use before coming back home."

“I support your love of camping, and I give you this because want to help you do it. Also, please use this before coming back home.”

Some ideas:

  • Once again, stuff some stockings with the little things that show your support: TOILET PAPER, zip-lock bags, soap…
  • A compass, with a card that reads something along the lines of “Have fun out there, just make sure to come back home.”
  • Gift Card, inside a card that reads something like:
    • “To keep you paddling – and taking those great pictures.”
    • “Love your stories from the wilderness. Hope this helps making new ones.”
    • “I have no idea why you’d want to sleep on the ground in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully this might help make the experience a little more comfortable.” (Optionally ending with “You Weirdo”, depending on your level of friendship.)
  • Here’s a real novel idea: Why not give the gift of participation? If you’re not into canoeing or camping or portaging, but think you might like to try it, why not let your gift be an offer to go with you? Personally, I’d love this. I’m not sure why no one has ever thought to give me this – I’m talking to you Tina Fey!.

5 – Tell a story 

Remember that time we all … Do you remember that crazy incident involving the … I was laughing the other day about the time we …

If you share a memory with someone from a trip or an experience with someone, why not make your gift a reminder of that great time you shared? Get yourself a card, write out something about that incident, and stick it to something you should have had on the trip, or that was used for something other than it’s original purpose, or that replaces something that broke, or even something that might prevent it from happening again. Don’t worry too much about the “thing” your giving, so much as the laughs and good memories (even if they weren’t so good at the time). Just think about that-thing-that-happened-but-you-can-laugh-about-it-now, and I’m sure something will come to you.

A favourite gift given to me is a framed set of pictures of one of Nancy's first trips

A favourite gift given to me is a framed set of pictures of one of Nancy’s first trips

Some ideas (to stimulate your memory, but inspired by my own experiences):

  • Map, compass, book on orienteering or even a water-proof map holder to that someone who gets you or themselves lost.  Another idea would be to get a topographical map of an exotic, far away location, insinuating that they (or in case they ever) get you or themselves really, really lost.
  • TOILET PAPER – for (or from) that guy who always leaves it at home, or worse, out in the rain.
  • Pepto Bismal – Maybe your friend isn’t a good cook. Maybe you weren’t on one eventful night
  • Aloe, balm, burn ointment, band aids – Someone get burned, cut or pass through (or misused) poison ivy?
  • Bug spray – You have to have a story about a bad bug trip.
  • Some kind of water-proof case – To remind you of that time you donated something to the lady of the lake.
  • Bear bell – Remember that time you spent a night huddled in the tent?
  • Squirrel bell – Same as a bear bell, but you have to re-label it (masking tape will do). Do you have a (or are you the) friend who thinks everything that makes a noise in the woods is a bear?
  • Gift Card – To replace something that broke at the worst time.
  • And for less funny and more sentimental, find a nice frame and put something (or a few things) in it:
    • Pictures of your trips together
    • Pictures of places you want to go
    • The permit from your last great trip
    • Make a story from a frame with a few spots (I don’t know the technical term for the frame spots. Photo holes?), in each tear off something flat from previous trips like a piece of a rain coat, used rope, that kind of thing.
  • Less outdoorsy and more of a novelty would be to print out a fake restraining order, like the one Tina Fey sent me. It looks pretty authentic too. She’s so funny.

Any of these things remind you of a little incident or funny story from last year’s trip? Get it, wrap it, then attach a card reminiscing.

7 – And finally, know when to throw out the rules

As you shop around to fulfill any of the guidelines listed  above, you might come across something and be suddenly hit with the realization that you’ve found the perfect gift. If there’s no doubt, just get it. When you know, you know. And don’t forget, if you find something but it’s too late to get it, you can always get a card and include a picture of what they’ll eventually be receiving. You might seem reluctant to do this because of the impression of giving an IOU, but if you write up your intentions, you’d be surprised at how much that makes up for it. People like to hear you’re thinking about and care for them, and the empty gift might be just the excuse you need to express that.

You know what Johnnie needs: A water proof toilet paper holder! ( )

You know what Johnnie needs: A water proof toilet paper holder! ( )

Some  other, random ideas:

  1. Buy a large can of beer (or any other beverage that would be appropriate for the receiver like those big ice tea things), attach a card with this link: – or choose from any other beer can stove instructions. Alternatively for a group gift, you can buy a six pack, attach a bow and a card that tells the recipients when to come over to help you empty and recycle the cans.
  2. Order up a box of Altoids and include a link in the card on creating a survival kit. Alternatively, if you have the time, purchase all the items in the kit, and wrap them all separately. Make sure they open the altoids first, then the contents of the kit, then finally give them the card with the link.
  3. For the Christmas theme: Get some Gold Duct TapeAction Wipes and Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. Given together, they’re getting something made with Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
  4. Get a paddle sock (here or here) and stuff it like a stocking (on the chimney with care) with a whistle, small compass.
  5. Get a dry bag, compression sack or a stuff sack and either wrap up little gifts in it or use it like a stocking.
  6. Get a paddle sock (here or here) and wrap it like a scarf around a stuffed animal or other similar gift.

GIFT CARD ideas:

  • Canadian Outdoor Equipment Co. – Neat, unique outdoor items. (This card will make you seem like an outdoor expert, and can even be sent electronically.)
  • MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) – Practically everything an outdoor person needs, plus they have a policy that donates “1% of gross sales to environmental causes”.
  • SAIL – They also have plenty of outdoor gear to choose from, constantly having sales, but it also has an in-store or electronic version that you can even customize.
  • Canadian Tire – For all those little things I mentioned above, in particular, they often have deals on TOILET PAPER.
  • Bass Pro – Not my favourite store, but if you’re in a bind and need a gift card quick, you can buy these all over the place, and you can even get one sent electronically.
  • For my American friends:
    • Consider Rutabaga. They sell great stuff and you’ll be supporting small business as well as a fun business. This gift card is promoting an added benefit: “the person you give it to can shop any time, anywhere (as long as they have an internet connection) and they can be wearing anything they want!”
    • REI, The North Face, Campsaver, and Campmor all have gift card options, most with in-store or electronic versions.

I hope you can use some of these ideas, or that they might spark some ideas of your own. Of course if you’ve got some better ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Bragging Postscript

A particular hit I had this year was for a birthday/Christmas gift for the Portaging Niece. I’ve been trying to get her set up with her own equipment the last couple of years and thought it time to she had her own paddle. I contacted Fiona, from Badger Paddles, in hopes we could create a custom paddle made for a 16 year old girl. I wanted her name on it, and something else, though I didn’t know really what that was. Her (properly spelled) name is Saffyre Peace, so we talked about a gem or something blue (to represent “Sapphire”) and a peace symbol, but I left it with her to come up with something. I trusted her as she’s done a bunch of neat things in the past. Also, I have no creative or artistic talent, so I was kind of leaning on her to come up with something. What she did was amazing. First, she came up with a water-styled blue peace symbol on one side, and an Ambigram spelling out her name. If you look at it one way it spells “Saffyr”, but turn it over and it says “Peace”. (It’s a long story, but I’ve been purposely mis-spelling her name since she was born, over a dispute over how to spell her name. It’s now an ongoing, inside joke. Just as all the nieces and nephews call me “Uncle Pest” because of how hard it is for young kids to pronounce my name. The name’s stuck, and I even get called that by many people, even older, unrelated people.)

Fiona is very talented. She even had a personal touch, having me sign the paddle before it was oiled (“From Uncle Pest”), which I sweated over when doing it, filled with anxiety that my poor handwriting and lack of artistic co-ordination would ruin an otherwise amazing work of art. Oh, and if that wasn’t special enough, Fiona included a blue paddle necklace. I knew the Portaging Niece would love it, so I decided to get her reaction on video. In order to keep it a surprise, I tricked her, telling her I needed to take a video of my new paddles, but needed to work the camera. Her reaction is priceless.

Here’s the video:

Take The Parkbus Thanksgiving Weekend

How would you like to spend this Thanksgiving in the Killarney back-country? You’ll experience the cool crisp air, the bright colours, the off-season solitude along with all the benefits that a fall trip offers, and get this: You don’t even have to drive. That’s what I’m doing this Thanksgiving Weekend – taking a ride on the Parkbus up to Killarney on its last trip of the season.

Checkout the sites of Killarney, full of fall colours, riding up in style

Benefits of Riding the Parkbus

I’ve been allowed to volunteer as a Parkbus Ambassador for the trip. I’ve ridden the Parkbus once before, and it was a great experience, something I think everyone should try. In a nutshell, the Parkbus provides both an eco-friendly way to get to Ontario Parks, and/or an opportunity for those without their own cars to still be able to access a great camping trip. With stops at campgrounds, outfitters and interior access points, you can have the same experience drivers would get, but without the worry of fatigue, traffic or gas bills. (I’ve written about the benefits in more detail here.)

The fun of riding the Parkbus

Parkbus began by taking passengers from Toronto into Algonquin Provincial Park, but after a couple of pilot trips, now offers the trips to the Bruce Peninsula (including Bruce Peninsula NP, Lion’s Head Beach Park Campground, Tobermory and the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry that can take you over to Manitoulan Island), and Killarney (with stops at the Grundy Lake PP, French River Supply Post, Bell Lake Access Point, the Town of Killarney, and of course the George Lake campground/access point). Like it did with Algonquin, Parkbus has designed stops to make sure you can access all the activities available in each area, and get you whatever equipment and gear you’d need to take advantage. Take a look at their map of all stops available, including the pickup locations.

Support the Bus

This is a service that I feel very strongly about, and want to support as much as I can, which is why I’ve been trying to volunteer for a while now. Scheduling conflicts prevented me up until just recently, when I reached out in the hopes they needed someone for Thanksgiving. Thankfully, there was a volunteer spot open and I grabbed it. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could fill this last trip of the season? So that’s why I’m writing this.

This is how I like to roll

Wanna go?

Why not join Portageur on a Thanksgiving Day trip to Killarney? What a great way to take advantage of me. I know it’s short notice, but that’s why I’m offering up to anyone with a ticket for the the October 5th-8th Parkbus trip to Killarney any advice and help with planning – at no cost of course – assuming time allows (so take advantage, and do so as early as possible). I can even offer to help with organizing gear and reservations if wanted/necessary at a minimal cost above the price of permits, rentals etc. – but again, only if time allows. In fact, to make this a bit more enticing, I may even offer up some neat extra raffle draw prizes. (If you’re reading this and want to get on board this prize giveaway, please feel free to contact me!)

Also, this will be a 7 hour trip up to the park with a group of campers and canoeists, offering up a great opportunity to chat about our favourite subjects on the way, and share our experiences on the way back. Best of all, I’ll be “on the clock”, working for Parkbus, so you might be able to boss me around a bit. (Note: I’m a very poor singer, and I only dance when the tips are large enough.)

If there’s enough interest, we can even organize some group activities while at the park. We could get together for some paddling, maybe take a hike or see some of Killarney’s sites.

So get your ticket while they’re still available!

Or you can nap. Napping’s good. I suppose I cant do that while working.

How to Join Us

  1. Figure out your preferred pickup location and time (York Mills, 30 Carlton St or Dufferin and Bloor).
  2. Get yourself a Parkbus ticket (Choose the October 5th trip, with October 8th for return, then click the “Reserve Ticket” button).
  3. Join the Facebook event to keep up with the latest information. Please feel free to post questions, comments, or suggestions.
  4. Figure out what you’d like to do while at the park.
  5. Either:
    1. Contact me or post within the Facebook event’s wall if you need any help organizing your trip or renting any gear.
    2. OR call the Park and Outfitters (here or here for George Lake and Bell Lake access) and make the necessary reservations.
  6. Get a good night sleep and get ready for a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend!

This should be fun. Hope to see you there!

Hiking up to The Crack might be a fun activity

5 Reasons Paddling Is Better In The Fall Than The Summer

I’ve had a few conversations with Fiona from Badger® Paddles… for those who dig the water, and I’ve found that we share a lot of the same opinions, whether it be about wolves, the need for your own paddle, and even camping in the fall. It definitely has it’s advantages over the cold, wet spring and the hot, busy summer – not to mention the really slow canoeing of the winter (I mean, along with the complete lack of a current, it can be really tough getting your paddle stroke right when it’s clanking off the ice all the time). On that note, Fiona was gracious enough to share with us her 5 Reasons Paddling In Algonquin Is Better In The Fall Than Summer.

If you have never thought of saving a few vacation days for a short September or October canoe trip in Algonquin Park, here are 5 reasons why you should:


You do not have to travel far or portage in to find a quiet secluded spot. Short distance trips are more private and enjoyable. The big crowds are gone, the line ups have disappeared, and all is quiet again.

Vibrant colours dazzle the eyes during the Fall season.


During the summer the best sites always go first. During the Fall season, the best sites are usually open/vacant.

We didn’t have to paddle far to find a secluded bay all to ourselves this September. View from our tent – Rock Lake, Algonquin Park.


The weather is perfect for travelling by canoe at this time of year. Not overly hot during the days, you are also treated to cool nights – for better sleeping – as the humid days of Summer are now fewer and farther between. Some may even find that swimming conditions are still quite tolerable (for those who don’t mind the cooler waters).

A nice chill in the air can be quite pleasant.


This time of the year there is usually enough rain so as to not have to worry about campfire legalities. Fire bans are not usually a problem in the Fall months. Also, there are very few biting insects left during this time of year.

Big, warm fires, without the bugs!


While the summer months give us lush and beautiful forests, the Autumn season brings us Nature in all of her glory. Breathtaking views come alive with colour – a true delight the eye and senses. Seeing the colours of Fall reflected like fire in the still waters of an Algonquin lake or northern river is a mesmerizing sight. One you will definitely be grateful to have witnessed in your life (for those Bucket List enthusiasts).

Fall colours.

Stanley Horowitz once wrote, “Winter is an etching, Spring a watercolor, Summer an oil painting and Autumn a mosaic of them all.”. And the north, by canoe, is definitely the means by which to experience the colourful magnificence of this annual Fall collage. Some may even say, the trip of a lifetime!


Campology About Fiona:

Fiona Westner-Ramsay is the proud mother of Makobe, the owner of Badger® Paddles… for those who dig the water along with her husband Mike Ramsay, and also the author of Practical Information about IBI/ABA for Ontario Families.

Read more about Fiona, her outdoor adventures and all things paddles at

Next Page »