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.

Mo Paddles 2012

The Frozen Offseason

November usually marks the end of my portaging season, when I begin to dedicate my time more to indoor pursuits and, sadly, less about being out in the wilderness. Yep, this is the start of “The Frozen Offseason”. For one thing, I have a lot of writing to do. This year was a great one, and I’ll be telling you guys all about it. I’ve also got a few projects and changes coming up of the winter. Oh, and there’s still some fun activities to preoccupy the restless Portageur while the rivers are solid. Speaking of which, November also marks the most fun time of the year: Mo Paddles!

Sacrificing this baby face for charity

Once again, a group of Paddling and Outdoor companies have got together to raise funds and awareness for Men’s Health by growing some sweet, sweet mustaches. This is the second year in a row, so officially we can add the title “Annual” to Mo Paddles. That’s exciting! We had a lot of fun last year, so of course we were going to try to do it again.

Last year we put things together quite quickly. It was a relatively impromptu thing, an idea put together in only a few weeks. With extra time to plan, we got a few more participants, some even better prizes and we even have a website dedicated to the event. This year, 3 mustache sprouters have decided to compete their growing abilities against each other, and we’re letting people in on the fun by making them choose a winner. The best part is that every time you vote, your name gets entered into one of 4 prize draws. For more information on the contest, checkout the website: portaguer/mopaddles. Along with the prizes, we’ve added a bunch of fun jokes and features to the site. Vote, you’ll see what I mean.

Wait, what’s Movember?

If you’ve never heard of Movember, it’s a month long campaign to raise funds and awareness for Men’s Health. It’s a world-wide initiative where men grow mustaches for the entire month to raise funds and awareness for men’s health – in particular prostate and testicular cancer. The idea is to remind men to get themselves checked out. It’s not a fun experience to check for Men’s Health Issues – downright embarrassing and uncomfortable, really – but going through this will find these potentially fatal conditions early, when they can be perfectly preventable and treatable. Movember is fun, a celebration of being a man, and what better way to be silly and manly than to grow a mustache. And of course because of all the fun, it makes it much easier to talk about pretty serious issues that often we men shy away from.

2008 – My very first Mo

Challenge #1

This is my fifth mustache I’ve grown. In 2008 it was pretty tough. Not many people knew about Movember, and let’s just say the idea of sporting a mustache wasn’t a popular fashion choice. As I went about my day, I would run into people, some that I knew, some that I didn’t. I felt this strong need to explain that the weird decision to grow hair on my upper lip was for a good cause. I saw the look on the faces of friends you bump into, grocery store clerks, business contacts, family members… I wanted to tattoo my forehead with “I’m doing this for charity!” It was a challenge, to say the least. Every now and then, I’d hear “Nice mustache.” Never knowing whether they were being sarcastic – no safely assuming they were being sarcastic. Either way, I’d get a chance to explain what I was doing. Most of the feedback was the same. They thought it was an interesting idea to raise awareness. It certainly got people’s attention, to say the least. And it got us talking about Men’s Health issues. At the end of the month I happily shaved knowing I did my part.

2009 – Cropped Mo

The second time

After a successful first run, and based on the amount of support and expectations of those around me, I was up for another challenge. The “rules” for Movember state that you must shave on November 1st, starting with a “clean shaven face”, and grow and groom your mustache. This makes growing a mustache an overt, intentional act. If I’m being perfectly honest, the first year I did what a lot of people do, hiding behind an outrageously big, over the top, bushy mustache. It started out as a “handle-bar”, but it turned out to be just a short strip of skin away from a goatee (or more precisely a “Van Dyke”, which is the technical term for a goatee with a mustache – an example of specific knowledge you gain participating in Movember, but anyway…) This time I was going to make sure to grow something that would never be mistaken for anything other than a true mustache. In that sense, Year 2 was more of a challenge.

2010 – I dubbed this one “The Cop”

Even Challengier

For Year 3, I decided that I’d have to take the next step. Here’s the thing: Growing a bushy or outrageous mustache is easy (or at least easier). It’s over-the-top, camp and quite clear that you’re joking around with your facial hair, like putting on a costume. What would be more brave, at least I thought, would be to grow an authentic mustache. With Movember becoming popular, I wanted something that people might think twice about whether or not I was growing it for charity, or it was my normal look. I’d shave it down to just my upper lip, and even trim the hair towards the end of the month if it got too bushy. Turns out I didn’t need to trim too often, just a few times on the last couple of days. But I was happy with the results. Not happy with the look of the mustche – oh no, it looked horribly creepy – but with the fact that I had been able to test my social resolve, walking around in public with this thing on my face: an intentional, groomed, I’ll even say “real”, mustache.

I should probably mention that I’m not big on rules necessarily, but they’re made to make Movember a bit more focused and challenging. Often people have consulted me on the rules, as I follow them relatively strictly, but I don’t hold other people to them. There’s no “Movember Police”, I tell them. I think it’s more important people participate than follow the rules. If you need to get a head start, or shave down mid-month, or grow something outrageous, you do what you have to do. You’re doing it, that’s what’s important. Way more important than some mustache rules. 

2011 – “The Zappa”

Grooming Challenge

After the success of the previous year, I was looking for a bigger challenge. Normally I receive a lot of input on the style I should grow. Some suggestions require an unrealistic amount of hair – most men can’t grow a Salvador Dali in only 30 days. Other suggestions are impractical. For example, I have, and never will, grow a “Hitler Mustache”. There’s always a few people would tell me to do that, giggling when they do. Yes, if I was looking for a challenge, sporting that would certainly be difficult, obviously. But because of the negative and even offensive nature of that look, I wouldn’t want it to detract from what I was doing. So I guess what I’m saying is please stop asking.

That said, I found the previous year a little challenging with all the grooming. I don’t like to shave every day, and have no styling or artistic talent. No, seriously. Year 4’s challenge would be to sport something that had to be maintained. I went with what I was calling a “Frank Zappa”. It would be bigger, and require much more precision with the razor, on a daily basis. According to the Movember rules, you’re allowed a “soul patch” – a slight bit of facial hair under the bottom lip, so long as it didn’t touch the chin – so I decided I’d indulge for this year, adding to the mustache complexity. It was a challenge. I know this because I loathed managing the mustache every morning. But it worked, and some even recognized what I was doing. I’d say it was a success.

2011 – “The Pencil”

This year

Naturally, I decided to take it up another notch for Year 5. What was the creepiest, hard-to-maintain mustache I could grow? The “Pencil” mustache. Unlike the others, I’d have to keep it trimmed down regularly, require much more precise shaving, and I’d look like a complete idiot. Now this is an overt mustache. I have no idea how I’ve been able to walk around like this. It’s funny, because while it’s much smaller than all the other mustaches I’ve grown, it seems to stand out the most.

Why I do it

I took to Movember the way I take to most things, like I took to portaging. First, I needed to try it, to see if I could do it. Then I would challenge myself a bit more each time, but instead of going further or faster or to more exotic locations, for Movember I would find different ways to accept new challenges. Despite my public exposure, I’m actually a bit shy and anxious when it comes to standing out. You should see my wardrobe: everything is grey and black, t-shirts, jeans and shorts. The idea of walking around with a mustache a few years ago caused a lot of anxiety just thinking about it. That’s why I did it. You should do something that scares you every now and then. That, and I thought it would be funny.

But what really kept me going the next years were all the people who have since approached me and the feedback they’ve given. I am lucky enough not to have been affected by Prostate or Testicular Cancer or any other Men’s Health issues. Like most people, I didn’t know how many people were because sadly it’s not something we like to talk about – especially us men. The conversations I’ve had with a mustache on my face have been, to say the least, moving. They tell me about their father’s struggle or their grandfather’s preventable death, their uncle’s or brother’s or husband’s ordeal. Every now and then it’s their own story I hear. I’ve got to tell you, when someone thanks you for doing this, it’s a bit over-whelming. To find out that so many people around you have a story about Men’s Health Issues is shocking. The fact that it took some kooky facial hair to get us talking is a bit sad. But then again, it got us talking, and that’s really the point of all this.

So help me raise awareness. Talk about it, mention it to your friends, checkout my silly photos on Facebook and Twitter. I’d love to hear more comments on my progress – encouraging or funny, either/or. Checkout Movember Canada. Consider growing your own Mo, or supporting someone who does, or voting for the best mustache, and if you can spare it, donate.

Most importantly, get yourself checked out. Early detection makes for successful prevention.

… Now what should I grow for next year?