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.

Canoecopia 2012 – Day 3

There was a little something for all kinds of paddlers at Canoecopia. This is either a very small canoe or a really big hat.

The day before, I had made it through most of the exhibitor area at Canoecopia, and for the final day I figured I’d finish up seeing all the exhibitors, with couple of presentations to see in between. While I was eager to buy a bunch of stuff in the previous days, I figured the best plan was to save it all for the last day. Because I was going in and out of the show room, I figured there was no reason to carry stuff around with me the whole time. So today’s finale, for me, was a mad gear shopping spree. I’m very smart – too smart as it turns out. Another way to put it: I’m “smart“. My father and his cop buddies have a saying to dig each other that goes “Big boy… (short pause) … but not too bright.” It’s since been shortened to “Big boy….

Thick rounded blades, with bent shafts – very popular in Wisconsin

In order to explain my reasoning, let me describe how Canoecopia works. The Aliant Energy Center is a big convention center that is separated into to main areas, one for the presentations, the other for the exhibitors. You get a wrist band going in as proof of paying the price of admission. You can wander around, see a talk or a demo, or grab something to eat or drink. Then you have to cross through into the exhibitor area, where you have to show your wristband again. Funny thing, with all the walking in and out of the exhibition area, and often outside to tweet or post due to cell phone reception, I must have walked through the gates 100 times. I’d raise my arm showing my wristband with a big friendly (dopey) grin as if to suggest “Don’t worry about me, I’ve paid to get in.” When walking into the building I was waved in by smiling attendants, amused at my antics (or laughing at me, not sure). It was going into and out of the exhibitor area where they were a little more serious. (My little camera bag was checked a few times.) The reason for this is that unlike most of the shows to which I’ve been, there is only one single spot for you to pay for anything you buy at the show. This is both brilliant, and convenient. Want a paddle you see at a booth? Just grab it and pay for it on your way out of the show. (So glad I found this out in time or this would be a completely different type of story. One where I’d be telling you about the time I was banned from Canoecopia because I tackled some poor lady for “stealing” one of the Badger Paddles while I was visiting with owner Mike. She was so nonchalant about taking it, and Mike didn’t seem to mind, so I let it go and asked him about it instead.)

Anyway, it’s a great idea for a lot of reasons. Worried about carrying (enough) cash to buy from individual exhibitors, never knowing what kind of payment they might take? Don’t. The main checkout at the show handles all purchases in any way you prefer. Don’t want to carry things around while walking through the exhibits? Just go back and grab one of the provided shopping bags, stuff it with all the stuff you want and head to the checkout. I of course took this to the extreme and decided I wasn’t going to pick anything up until Sunday, just before the close of the show. This way I wouldn’t have to carry anything around, back and forth into the two areas, trying to explain to security that I paid for this stuff already. I found out later I had nothing to worry about because they had bag and coat checking services that I didn’t notice (“Big Boy…”).  Proof they’ve got everything covered at this event.

This kayak builder, along with making artistic kayaks, has patented a “surf wing” – www.surf-wing.com

Another secret to the success of the show: It’s got a lot of space. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of people walking through, but you rarely get involuntarily intimate, bumping into hundreds of people (huge pet peeve with me). This and the centralized checkout must be loved by the exhibitors as well. I know I’ve skipped quite a few purchases because of having to wait in a crowded, bumpy, unorganized line in a small booth. Oh and get this: everything – everything – is discounted for the show. When I did eventually bring my loot bag to the centralized checkout (which was also huge making the process quite quick), I questioned the total. The guy apologized about having to add tax. “Sorry,” I said laughing, “I expected it to be much more than that.” The guy double checked and finally laughed, reminding me about the discount. (“Big Boy….”) But more on that in a bit. I still had some presentations to see, and at the start of the day I still hadn’t made it through the entire exhibitor area. (I wouldn’t describe myself as “chatty”, but when it comes to being around outdoor/paddling exhibitors, turns out I’m downright gabby.)

David Morlock tells you the best pictures comes from being there

There were a couple of noteworthy presentations I attended, but while I indulged in a few for personal interest, there were just too many good shows to see. The first was a talk by David Morlock, who offered photography tips, showing us how to better frame our subjects, anticipate a good shot, and to not be afraid to tell a story. I found him to be a particularly good source of information for me personally, because he started out as a canoe tripper taking pictures and turned, got good at it and turned it into a business (and not the other way around). If you’d like to see his slideshow for the presentation, he was nice enough to put it up here (if you look at nothing else, check out the picture of the loon). I think what stayed with me the most was this bit of advice: The best way to get better photos is by being there. In other words, fancy cameras and lenses are nice, photo and lighting theory is also good, but the best way to get good at photography is to get out there and do it. It’s practice, first of all, but how can you take pictures of great spots without getting out to those great spots?

Becky Mason checking out a Badger Paddle. A canoe icon chooses a straight shaft. Just sayin’.

I skipped the only Kevin Callan one for example, because I had seen his DVD Wilderness Quest at a previous show, as well as other similar presentations that I can catch closer to home. (Apologies to Scott MacGregor, who made sure I was aware of the “Reel Paddling Film Fest”, but again, I’ll attend somewhere in Ontario. He gave a talk called “Good Dad, Bad Dad” that I really wanted to see, and should try to get him to do it again.) I did see one on Isle Royale, a place that fascinates me, but will probably not visit anytime soon (Too much I need to do on this side of the border first – and they won’t let me bring Nancy).

Becky Mason showing off her skills at Canoecopia

I’m going to upset a few people here, and maybe I’ll be a little gutless and cut it, but I also skipped Becky Mason‘s canoeing demo. Wait! Don’t click the close button. Let me explain. You see, I’ve seen a couple of her presentations recently, bought her DVD (had it autographed in fact), and will be writing about that soon. I also got a chance to speak with her. You see she came by the Badger Paddle booth, looking to borrow a paddle for her demo. She and owner Mike Ramsey chatted about paddle preferences and building techniques, while I just sat back soaking it in – and taking a bunch of pictures of course. Her demo was at 12:00, and I wanted to see another that started at 12:30. (I should also mention that the pool was a bit of a walk away, at the attached hotel.)

Very helpful way to remember how to pronounce “Pukaskwa”

Instead, I went and caught the beginning, Becky warming up, showing off her moves, but not wanting to be the guy who walked out while she spoke, I left before she began. What was so important to skip out on Becky Mason – Queen of canoeing, paddling icon? Well, I had heard that the talk on Pukaskwa was one you had to attend. I was also thinking of canoeing the park, and wanted to hear more about it. Adding to that were three tweets (here, here and here) intrigued me enough to make it something I had to see for myself. Turns out Lyn Elliot from Puksaskwa National Park is a great speaker. She showed us the park, blending in stories of trips down the rivers and paddling along the coast.  As you can imagine, I appreciate a story teller. There are two main stories that are interwoven into her presentation are heartwarming. I’m not going to spoil it for you, in case you can catch her presentation, but the one story especially, has obvious strong emotional meaning to her, and even after giving this presentation countless times, she is nearly overcome when telling it. I would imagine that quite a few people in the audience might be sympathetically moved.

Everyone loves a good story. This one was a good story.

It was a great way to end the weekend at Canoecopia. There was just one last thing I needed to do: Go buy stuff! Like I said, I was waiting for the last possible time to do this, so as to not have to carry stuff around the whole time – because I’m smart. I even had a shopping list of stuff I was going to pick up and mapped out where I needed to go to get it on my way out. I was so confident I even hung out with Mike at the Badger Paddles booth for a bit before taking off (probably talking about how smart I was). There were three main things I needed to do: Grab some Bungee Dealee Bobs, get a the perfect t-shirt for my portaging niece from theCanoeist.com  and a general raid of Sea to Summit gear. The plan was perfect, except for one little tiny flaw.

Many kinds of boat builders were present, including this easy to put together designed kit, using puzzle joints

Did I mention Canoecopia was popular? Busy? Convenient to buy things? Yeah, well it was. So popular that a lot of gear wasn’t there for the last day. I heard that a helmet dealer had only one left when they opened on Sunday. They were packed up and gone by the afternoon. So by an hour before the show closed, a few other places were either empty and gone, or packing up. Oops. (“Big Boy…“) Along with a couple of other things that were less important, no Bungee Dealee Bobs for me. thecanoist.com’s booth was also packed up, but I must have looked very sad to have lost out on my niece’s t-shirt because they were nice enough to go out to their truck and get me one. I’m very happy they did (so’s my niece. She loved it). Overall though, I managed to get a bunch of new camping toys, and have a lot more fun stuff I saw that I’ll investigate and look into getting later – having flown, I wasn’t going to buy anything I couldn’t stuff in my suitcase – and will update you guys on the specific stuff soon.

I found some really interesting stuff made by Cooke Custom Sewing (CCS). Too bad I didn’t have enough room in my suitcase. (Interesting note: this is David Morlock’s dad.)

When I was getting driven to the airport on my way out, the shuttle driver told me that Spring was now officially here, because to the locals of Madison, Canoecopia was the yearly event that marked the change into the warmer seasons. Maybe it will be for me as well, because I’ll definitely be back next year. I can’t think of a better new tradition.

Nova Craft canoes, known for their creative canoe related ideas, also offered a place to rest your tired feet. Too bad I didn’t find this until day 3.

Canoecopia 2012 – Day 2

Day 1 of Canoecopia was a blast, and a great introduction to what it would be like the rest of the weekend. But unlike the day before, I had all day at the show. I got a good night sleep, woke (relatively) early and ate a nice big breakfast to get myself ready for a full day of canoe related presentations and exhibitors. I had map in hand, and my plan was to get into the best talks, and in between see how much of the exhibitors as I can. Tomorrow, the last day, I’d see whatever I’d miss. The problem was that there are just so many great presentations, often at the same time. Three however, stood out as must sees. And it probably doesn’t surprise regular readers that Kevin Callan was involved in two of them.

Kevin and Cliff discuss their differences in camping philosophy

First presentation of the day for me was an absolutely great idea. Two expert outdoor authors and canoe camping enthusiasts, Kevin Callan and Cliff Jacobson, would go toe to toe, no holds barred, and debate their personal preferences and philosophies when it comes to camping. An American and a Canadian, the Boundary Waters vs. Quiteco, Duluth packs or barrel harnesses, one man’s “must-have” would be the other’s luxury, or even dead weight. To show their dedication to the spirit of the event, they both came out for their bout wearing boxer’s robes adorned with their fighting names. Well, not really. The robes were actually bath robes. Their fighting names? Kevlar Kevin and J-Stroke Jacobson. Then again, it was completely appropriate for the talk, as they would ham it up, teasing each other over their differences in opinion. A lot of people thought it would be a good show, as it was standing room only, packed full. I had to stand way in the back, and the fire marshall was even called. (For the rest of the event they would have staff outside each presentation to ensure fire codes wouldn’t be broken again.)

Waterproof pack liner: Necessity for Cliff. Potato bag race for Kevin.

Their biggest differences in opinions? Well Kevin doesn’t think an ax is too necessary, and brings a saw instead because of how often he’s found people who have injured themselves with them. Cliff believes you absolutely need one because to him it’s essential to ensure your ability to create a warm fire – something that when it’s needed, you absolutely have to be able to create. Cliff’s a big tumpline guy, Kevin not so much (though both agree you should learn to use a tumpline properly). And of course Cliff showed off his assortment of hats, each with a purpose, each essential in different situations. Kevin told us her prefers his baseball cap. He says his has soaked up the soul of each trip on which it has been. “What if it rains?” asked Cliff. “You get wet.” says Kevin. Would this point lose the crowd for him? No. Kevin knows how to convince people. He asked the crowd what they thought, whether they liked his hat. There was a few affirmative responses, so he asked, “Would you like my hat?”

Kevin knows how to convince a crowd

At this point Kevin proceeded to throw a few hats into the crowd. (Not just cheap throw away hats either. They were Outdoor Research Swift Caps.) The crowd went pretty crazy, and the hats just kept coming.

Kevin spread the hat love around pretty good.

Kevin reached into a big box and threw cap after cap to the outreaching arms of the crowd. It was quite the moment (note Cliff’s expression in the pictures above). I didn’t catch one though. As I said, it was packed, and there were plenty of hands in front of me and Kevin. I’m not sure who won the debate, but if it came down to an audience vote, you can imagine the results.

Natalie Warren (left) and Ann Raiho traveled 2,250 miles from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay by canoe

One presentation I absolutely, 100%, HAD to attend was the one given by the ladies from Hudson Bay Bound. Only 2 days after graduating from St. Olaf college, the set off on an 85 day, 2,250 mile trip up to Hudson Bay from Minnesota. Inspired by the “Canoeing with the Cree,” published in 1935, they followed the now famous route taken by the author, Eric Sevareid. In fact, they are believed to be the first woman to complete this arduous journey. When I heard about what they were doing I followed their journey through their website and the media attention they received during their travels. Why did they do it? Well partly it was to raise awareness of watershed issues and preservation. Having just taken environmental studies in school, they got a chance to see some of those problems first hand, seeing the erosion and waste runoff along the route.  Later, when learning of some of the economic and nutritional issues plaguing the local aboriginal population along the way, they want to make sure to emphasize this problem when they talk about the trip. As they mention, with so much unemployment, coupled with the remote location, the affordable foods are the cheap, over-process, unhealthy ones, adding many health issues. Pop is cheaper than milk, and they were shocked at the price of a little bit of cheese.

Their main reason for the trip was to support their local YMCA camp – Camp Menogyn – which they both attended. Obviously inspired by their time there, they wanted to bring those essential experiences to others, and make sure it would be available to other young girls and boys for years to come. This is yet another example of how inspiring these outdoor activities, and those that provide them, are to kids, getting them out there, enjoying nature and – most importantly – making them want to preserve it. The ladies came up with a budget for their trip and decided that anything more would be donated to Camp Menogyn – which amounted to $3000. Not bad at all.

Why I was so interested in their story was because I like hearing about people who just go out and do it. There’s plenty of excuses not to, and a canoe trip like this one (or even one much, much smaller) can feel overwhelming to someone who has never done it. But that did not stop Ann and Natalie. They picked up a bit of knowledge, figured out how to get what they needed and went. Not to generalize, but this seems pretty unique to younger people. (I re-wrote that 6 times to find a way not to sound old. Nope. Even without using the term “back when I” or “nowadays”, there’s just no way to do it.) Again, that’s why it’s so important for us, camps like their Menogyn, to introduce the outdoors to kids. And not to put to fine a point on it, being female would come with it’s own challenges for such a journey because of people’s perceptions (even their own) of what young woman can and can’t – or shouldn’t – do. What they were able to accomplish is clear and obvious proof against that.

I also followed Natalie and Ann’s travels because they seem very fun. Check out their website, in particular their blog from the trip. The sing, dance, make fun little videos – they even opened and closed their presentation with songs (and are quite good singers).

Werner Paddles display their wares

After a few presentations, I managed to see some of the exhibitor area. With a full schedule though, I barely made it through half. There was just so much stuff to see.

So much stuff to see!

As you can see by the picture above, the place was huge. (Everyone seemed to have those feather looking flags.)

Take a break from paddling on a windy day. The obvious joke: Great idea, but isn't the wind always in your face?

What I really wanted to see was stuff that you just can’t find at your local outdoor store, and to get a feel for new trends and what’s popular. Canoecopia did not disappoint. (I’ll be talking about some of the goodies I got and neat stuff to look out for this season in later posts.)

Mike Ramsey gets yet another buyer for a traditional style canoe paddle.

My home base was the Badger Paddles booth. They were nice enough to let me hang out and talk to show-goers about paddling. What amazed me was that locally (perhaps it’s an American thing), traditional style canoe paddles were a bit of a novelty. People were pretty amazed to see them, and wanted to know what were the advantages. Down there, the paddles are all wide and short blades, made of laminates, carbon fiber or even plastic/aluminum, and they really love them bent – at both the grip and the blade. Mike spent a lot of time discussing the benefits of the better different style.

For an authentic outdoor cooking experience, the chefs were limited to using only camping stoves.

Seeing all the exhibitors would have to wait though, because the finale for Day 2 of Canoecopia was an event called “The Aluminum Chef”, which of course I had to attend. Like it’s less outdoorsy TV show, the Iron Chef, the contestants had to make an appetizer, an entree and dessert using an ingredient that would only be announced when the competition began. (Garbanzo beans as it turned out. I wonder if they’re anything like chick peas.)  Unlike the other show, they were also limited to only tools and ingredients that you would realistically bring on a camping trip. The contestants were Wilderness expert Marty Koch,  local chef Joey Dunscombe (of Madison’s Weary Traveler), and of course the Canadian dark horse – even though he was the defending champion – Kevin Callan. Just like his earlier presentation, Kevin had a lot of fun, hamming it up with the crowd, providing tips as he cooked, and got ribbed pretty good by his fellow contestants. It was all in good fun of course, mainly poking fun at his country of origin and his penchant for camping wine. Judges were picked from the audience, and raffles for MSR camping gear were going on almost constantly. Some of us were even lucky enough to have been given samples of the food that was being prepared. It was the place to be at Canoecopia.

Kevin was downright giddy learning he had won again

Of course Kevin won, though it didn’t look to good for him in the beginning. How did he pull it off after a slow start? Obviously the judges must have really liked what he served them, including generous portions of wine. Of course it could have also had something to do with presentation, which they say is just as important as how it tastes in events like this. I don’t know what the plates looked like, but his presentation had more to do with his interaction with the crowd, fun with the judges (offering more wine regularly), and the cooking tips he offered throughout the event. (If you thought throwing hats into the crowd was fun, wait until you see him whip around pitas.) He provided us with a lot of entertainment, making the competition a lot of fun. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for in a camp chef?

It was a great way to end the day, after which I made my way back to the hotel to rest.  After a long day of walking around Canoecopia, running to and from presentations and talking with so many people, I was pretty done for the day. I had the same feeling I do after a great day of paddling and portaging – a happy tired from a lot of fun. And I still had one more day to go!

Canoecopia 2012 – Day 1

Flying from Buffalo to Chicago, then on to Madison

I woke up this morning at 3:00 am. Normally this would have been a cruel thing to do to myself, but I had no problems waking even before the alarm went off because of the same adrenaline that gets kids up at Christmas. Today I was finally going to Canoecopia.

A cornucopia of paddlesports!

Canoecopia claims to be the largest paddlesports exposition in the world, and there is no reason not to believe them. I’ve looked online for these types of shows, I’ve been to them in Ontario, and now that I’ve walked through (part) of the show, I’ll give them the world title. It’s organized by Rutabaga, an outdoor and paddlesports store located in Madison, Wisconsin (technically Minona). Based on their organization of this event and reading the Rutabaga story, these guys are obviously very passionate about paddling. Based on their website, their facebook account and a few communications I’ve had with them, they also seem like a fun group of people. Put that together, and you’re bound to have a great event.

The presentations, demos and workshops make this event - and there are a lot of them

Not being rich and famous, I was reluctant to go to Canoecopia in years past because it seemed like a lot of money to get down here. I asked everyone I knew who had been whether or not it was worth it, and the answer kept coming back “Yes”. So this morning I was on a plane to Wisconsin after an early morning drive to the Buffalo Airport – it’s ridiculously cheaper than from Toronto – to see the show for myself.

The Best Laid Plans

My plan was to get a room at a hotel right across from the show, saving money not having to rent a car. Even better was the fact that Canoecopia has a group rate (information found on their helpful website), so more saving. Everything was working out, except that I found out that there is nothing within (reasonable) walking distance of my hotel.  I found this out the hard way, when I needed to replace some toiletries kindly taken from me by the airport security people (I totally think they’re all brushing their teeth and coating themselves in deodorant right now, laughing at me). I walked and walked and walked – on some not-so-pedestrian-safe roads to find nothing to help me.

Strange and wonderful sites at Canoecopia - like a cedar laminate kayak paddle with a plastic shaft.

When I finally got into Canoecopia, I started to take a few pictures when disaster struck – disaster for a blogger at least – my camera didn’t have a memory card. Until I get home and find it sticking out of my computer there, I’m going to blame the TSA people again, who are of course looking at all my pictures as we speak, laughing at me.

Seriously Nice

I frantically made my way back to my hotel, and upon asking advise as to getting a taxi to somewhere that would take me to get a new memory card (internal grumble about how much all this is going to cost), it solidified a thought I’ve been having: People in Wisconsin are very, very nice. From the airport staff, to the shuttle driver, to the hotel staff, they’re all super, super nice. (American readers may wonder why us Canadians are surprised by that when we visit. Unfair generalities, Sorry.) They put me on a shuttle, taxied me to the nearest Walgreens (whose staff was again super, super nice) where I got a new memory card and everything I needed to keep from stinking walking around at the show. Oh, and get this, the guy waited for me and drove me right back to the show.

Lots of Canadians in attendance, not to mention Ontarians - including the folks from the Wabakimi Project

At this point you might be saying to yourself that a lot of hotels have shuttle service, what’s the big deal? Fair enough, but it wasn’t that they helped me, but how nicely they did so. Imagine a smiling face uttering “No Prahblem” with a mid-west accent. This was my day.

What about the Show?

Oh yes, the show. It’s big. Today’s hours were from 4 to 9, and having missed an hour, I could only do so much. What makes these shows great are the presentations and guest speakers, and Canoecopia has a lot of great topics and outdoor experts. So many, in fact, that I barely got a chance to see many exhibitors yet, and it’s like that all weekend. I did get a few peaks, and will discuss that more tomorrow.

Pam and Andy from Upnorthica.com

One presentation that stands out was by UpNorthica‘s Andy and Pam Wright, titled “Fun with Smoke ‘n’ Ash”. They recalled their trip through Wabakimi Provincial Park when a forest fire was burning and they had a lot of decisions to make to keep one step ahead of the smoke and flames. They wrote up this adventure in a series of posts which I had followed, and really enjoyed hearing about the adventure first hand (with some pretty impressive slide show tools). Appropriately, they ended with some safety tips when dealing with fire during a trip.

Anyway, I’m having a great time, talking with all kinds of people about my favourite subject – paddling the outdoors. Exhausted from a long day, I’m off to bed. (Between all the airport terminals, the fruitless walkabout around the hotel and the show, I’ve worn quite a bit off my shoes today.) I’ll have a bit more to talk about tomorrow, hopefully including pictures.

Off to dream of TSA agents with allergic reactions to Canadian toothpaste.

Nancy Postscript

For those of you worried about how Nancy’s doing without me. She’s fine. I’m getting regular picture updates, and it appears that she’s having a great time with her other dog friends.

Special thanks to Badger Paddles, who let me hang out at their booth and talk paddles with people passing by.