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.

My New Favourite Person

http://www.adanacpaddles.com

 

One of the best parts of doing what I do is the great people I meet. Sometimes it’s a old friends who I canoe and camp with often, other times it’s new people to which I get to introduce myself and the outdoors.  Other times, it’s   other outdoor industry professionals – often that I’ve never met in person. Some of them are especially awesome.

Pictured above is my paddle. Regular readers remember that I made this paddle in a course run by W. Bruce Smith Paddles (if not, you can read about it here). The last thing I wrote about the experience was that I wanted to have my logo burned onto it, and was actively seeking for someone to do it. After a few searches lead to dead ends, I wrote up that post the way it was. I’m so glad I did because shortly after that post, I got a message from my new favourite person: Jill Ellis of Adanac Paddles.

After reading the post, Jill sent me a simple message:

“I can burn your logo on your paddle…am a professional :-)…msg me.”

I can’t tell you how happy that made me. Finally, someone could and was willing to do it. She detailed what she needed to do and told me not to worry, she’d be gentle. (It was already oiled, which caused a bit of a problem, but nothing she couldn’t handle, obviously.) We quickly negotiated a price (she’s quite reasonable), and I shipped the paddle down to Chatham.

So who is this Jill Ellis? Well, aside from being a kick-ass paddle burner, she’s a maker of fine paddles, specializing in Greenland kayak paddles through her company Adanac Paddles. Have a look, they’re gorgeous. Interestingly, they’re being continuously tested Down Under by an avid/famous kayaker named the “Fat Paddler”. Check out his reviews and you’ll know instantly how good Jill’s paddles must be. She also makes canoe paddles, including a voyageur style “Henri La Pointe“, which I hear is currently being tested on the old trade routes from the Athabasca to Slave Lake (to help raise funds for the Not-For-Profit Watter-Matters.org). Adanac also makes some unique and pretty cool looking paddle booties. Obviously I was in great hands. And when she sent me the first picture of my logo burned onto my paddle I was ecstatic! But here’s the thing: This wasn’t even the best part.

Soon after she sent me the first picture, she asked me whether or not she could do something on the other side of the paddle, suggesting at first a loon. Of course it was, but I asked her not to go to too much trouble (I didn’t want to bother her too much). She must have changed her mind on the loon, as you can see from the picture above.

Yep, that’s Nancy. Jill decided she would immortalize Nancy on the back. Well you can imagine how much I I liked that! Everyone I’ve shown it to – and believe me, I’ve been showing it off a lot – has asked me whether I’m going to actually use it, thinking it’s too nice now to put up against the rigors of portaging trips. I mean, take a look at the detail! First off, that’s the beauty of burning instead of painting, it lasts a bit better that way. Second, I’ve put a lot of effort, not to mention Jill and Bruce, not to take this paddle out to great places. It’d be like keeping a Ferrari in the garage because you don’t want to get it dirty. Finally, they’ll come a day – one that I don’t really want to think about right now – when Nancy won’t be with me on these trips, and as Jill herself put it  “when she is gone, she will still be with him on every trip!”. (Talented and thoughtful, that Jill.)

The above picture is the one in which the back of the paddle is inspired. You can tell just how much work was done to get the fine details from this picture onto the paddle, especially capturing Nancy’s look. I found it particularly nice choice. At the risk of over-doing the sentimentality, this picture contains my old paddle and canoe, both of which were given to me by a dear friend, and are included in the engraving. The paddles needed replacing, and so I made a new one, but wasn’t without some irrational guilt for doing so (Steve would definitely have thought it silly to hang on to these things for no other reason). Now, in a way, the new one has at least a piece of the old.

So I just want to give a huge thanks to Jill for doing this for me. I’m very, very happy with the paddle and can’t wait to get out there and use it, and maybe show it off a little more. You’re going to make a lot of people very jealous this summer, Jill. Oh, and one last thing: Thanks for not including the toilet paper from the picture.

 

Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show 2012

Catching the show at the pool

I just got back from a pretty great weekend attending the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show. It was two full days of talking canoes,  camping and other paddling pursuits. I go mainly to see the presentations and demos in the pool, and to generally see what’s new in the camping world. Most years I go for a day, rush around and try to see everything, get caught up in some interesting conversations, then miss half the show. This year I just decided to take my time and just come back for a second day, and it really worked out.

A canoe so light even a child can lift it

Here’s the thing

So let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. The Outdoor Adventure show isn’t perfect. I’m not a real big fan of crowds, or randomly touching strangers. When the two are put together, you need more space. The Cottage Life and DIY weekend uses the same venue, and gives you much more space to walk down the isles, so I know this problem is fixable. Please, someone, charge us an extra quarter and open another room. (Having been before, I did get quite good at identifying the less popular isles for quick moving when necessary.) My second complaint is that the show seems to feature a lot of booths that have very little to do with the outdoors, but to be fair, it was much, much better than previous years (I was not harassed to subscribe to a newspaper or sign up for a retirement fund for the promise of a toaster) . I’d also like to see more unique items and specialty shops. Places that sell stuff you can’t just grab at your local big box store. In fact, I think what I’d really like to see is more – more shops, more exhibitors, more neat new stuff.

Route planning with Algonquin Outfitters

If that’s your only complaint

Now on to the good stuff. What I like best about these shows is talking to all the outdoor people. They’re the best people around. It’s really a great opportunity for you to get up and talk to the outdoor companies and talk to them about their products and services. The tourism booths are especially good because you can talk about the best places to go, what you can do there, and where you can get more information. I don’t know how many times I’ve started up a conversation with them and completely lost track of time trying to find out the best places to canoe and camp in the area they represent. If they don’t know, they usually know someone who does, and points me towards them. Outfitters being there, you can chat with them about planning your upcoming trips, getting real from-the-horse’s-mouth advice. Then there’s the paddling and/or canoe companies you get a chance to visit. Often located in relatively far off places, outdoor shows like these give you a chance to see their stuff up close and talk to the staff about it – and often there are some really great “show” deals going on. For example, I had a lot of questions for Swift Canoe and Kayaks, especially regarding the new Flax Fusion boats they’ve introduced this year. (I was actually planning on buying a solo canoe, and figured this show would be a good time to do it. Then they came out with a new model and laminate, but more on that in a another post.)

Mike's showing how to paddle without, well... a paddle

And now presenting

My favourite part of these shows are the presentation and demos, and this year’s didn’t disappoint. I saw a great presentation on bear safety from a very good story teller from Ontario Parks, learned about new camping programs and War of 1812 commemorations at Parks Canada, and took virtual trips down the Norwest Territories Trans Canada Trail and along Lake Superior, to name a few. There’s also a bunch of less formal presentations going on on building fires, camping tips, and cultural dances and music (even saw the Parks Canada Beaver gettin’ down at one point).

Kevin Callan showing us canoe routes of Northwestern Ontario

And then there’s Kevin Callan (aka the Happy Camper). It seems he works overtime at these things. He gave some presentations on camping at the Ontario Parks booth (where he hung out and talked to campers when not busy). In the theater, I caught both his presentation on Paddle Routes of Northwestern Ontario and the Quest for Wilderness film. The former was filled with good route advice and some funny stories. The latter was the “World Premiere” of his new DVD . This was truly entertaining. I’ll write more about this after I get my copy, but it is at times both very funny, but also introspective about what it is that we enjoy about travelling deep into the woods. (It is tough to put into words sometimes.)

Talking with the guys at Swift Canoe and Kayak about "Flax Fusion"

Friends in Outdoor places

For me personally, these shows are a great excuse to catch up with friends in the industry. Some are old friends, others new, and some I may have known a while, but I still hadn’t met face-to-face. I got a chance to talk to Mike Ormsby from Reflections on the Outdoors, Naturally, the boys at Swift Canoe and Kayak – including Mike from Badger Paddles, Jim from H20 Performance Paddles – my Movember partner in crime, along with my paddle making instructor Bruce Smith of W. Bruce Smith Paddles. Then there was the crew over at LearnToKayak.ca. They invited me out after the show and we had a great time. They were very welcoming even knowing I paddle the single blade (there was some talk about making me sit in the corner, but being such nice folk they let me stay put). Dympna, James, Heather, and of course Alan, you guys are awesome.

Alan being awesome: He rolled upside down, slowly raised his paddle on top of the kayak, then rolled back up with his spare.

You can checkout more photos here (Day 1) and here (day 2).

Some other great OAS2012 posts:

 

 

Paddle Making with Bruce Smith

Once again, with the paddling season nearing it’s completion, it’s time to talk about how us paddlers and campers can keep ourselves busy with activities while the rivers are still frozen.  What would be great is to do something productive and it be paddling related. How about making a paddle?

Making Paddles

As I wrote about in an earlier post, last year walking around at the Great Outdoors and DIY Weekend, friends and I walked past a paddle maker’s booth and were absolutely stopped in our tracks. These were some really beautiful paddles, made by Bruce W. Smith, and we found out that he offered a paddle making course. For $100 and a day’s work, we could walk away with a custom paddle, styled and sized as we choose. As you can imagine, me and my paddling buddies could not pass this up. We enthusiastically signed up and spent the next few months talking about how cool this was going to be, and discussing which blade styles we’d all choose, like the giddy little paddling nerds we were. (There’s a change it may have only been me.)

Bruce Smith's ShopAgonizing Decision

I had a major problem. I spent many hours pondering which paddle style I wanted. Seriously, to the annoyance of those around me, I could not stop thinking about it and so talking about it. I really wanted to make this paddle perfect for me. Two of us – Gavin and Bill – had decided on Bruce’s custom designed “Bruce Smith Classic” style, as it combined many advantages for general tripping. Brad and I finally decided on the Ottertail, a nice and long blade but tapered thinner towards the bottom. This would slice through the water smoothly for long distance and have plenty of control for solo paddling. Perfect for me. It also looks very, very cool. (Admittedly, part of my difficulty in deciding was worrying that I was choosing form over function. Brad didn’t have this problem. He told me later his decision was exactly that.)

The Shop

Bruce’s shop is in the Elora area (Arliss, ON), so we got up nice and early and headed out on an overcast but warm day. The shop is a barn on a big lot surrounded by farms. When we got there we met up with the other guys in the class, and it was neat to see the group’s different perspectives. We were all paddlers at different levels of enthusiasm, but some of us were trippers, others campers or cottage canoers while others still were wood-crafters. And so we were all here to make paddles, but our reasons and appreciation for them came from different places. No matter how often this happens – more and more so the further you get from school – I still really appreciate when a group of people get together wanting to learn about something. To a man, we all seemed to have mentioned what a unique opportunity and downright cool experience this was going to be.

Bruce Smith show's us how it's doneThe Paddle Maker

I’m not really sure how to describe Bruce. He’s very easy going, obviously loves his work, and loves to teach. As he went over the general plan for the day, the tools and the general concepts of working with wood, Bruce kept an atmosphere of a group of buddies getting together. He’s also pretty encouraging. Knowledge or confidence was never an issue with any of us, probably because he never let it be. We’d be fine, we’ll go through all that, we’d see. No problem. Except there was one, tiny, insignificant but hugely important one: I absolutely suck at wood-working.

Can I do this?

While Bruce was showing us our tools – our planes, spokeshaves, files and our rasps – I had a sudden and almost paralyzing thought. I don’t know how to do any of this stuff. I once made a napkin holder in shop, way back in the seventh grade, but that was pretty much it. And that napkin holder, it really sucked! My parents had very politely used it as a pencil holder for a while, but it was always falling over, at which point it became just a decoration, until it disintegrated into flat, non-matching pieces of wood. My plan to make the perfect beautiful kick ass paddle had a huge gaping flaw – and hopefully my paddle wouldn’t. I was used to chopping, snapping, cutting, splitting, chainsawing, or otherwise abusing wood. Carving it into a fine tool? Not so much.

As a testament to Bruce’s teaching methods, he assured me there was nothing to it, and if I followed his instruction I’d manage to get this thing done. We started with a “blank” – a pre-cut piece shaped and sized properly so we could get started carving right away. Rightly, Bruce felt most people get there ready to start at this stage, and it saved a bunch of time. It also had the added bonus of leaving me with one less thing I could screw up. (This is also why we needed to decide on size and shape a few weeks earlier.) We started by shaping the grip. Bruce showed us how to mark it with a pencil, and use that as a guide – a “no touch zone” – then rotate and repeat. The problem I had was that it didn’t seem to look like the crucial oval shape we were hoping for. I kept staring at it, certain I was doing it wrong, but trusted the instruction and worked away with my rasp. (Bill had the best line of the day, when he said that he would not have believed we could do so much with a cheese grater.)

Brad at workTeacher’s Pet

Of course what didn’t help was that I seemed to be the only one having a problem. Brad, for one, was really impressive. Bruce mentioned on a couple of occasions how quickly he took to paddle making. It didn’t surprise any of us though. He has the patience and eye for detail for this kind of thing. He probably made a great napkin holder when he was younger. As I moved on to shaping the blade, most of the others were past that, shaping their grips. It was clear I needed some help, and Bruce was quick to come over and help. We figured out my problem (one of them at least) was that I was way too tentative, afraid to make a mistake I couldn’t take back. (One thing I do remember from shop was that you can take more off, bet you can’t put back on.)

Shaping the blade is important to the the function for the paddle. It needed to be thin and rounded at the edges for a smooth catch of the water. But the great thing about these designs is that if you look at the bottom of one of Bruce’s paddles, it almost looks like a duck bill because the very tip is much thicker, but rounded. This makes the strength of the paddle much higher. I know none of us do this, but in the rare, rare occasions when you push on the tip of your paddle, it’s going to last a lot longer. I never, ever do this of course. Never. But if I did, it’s covered. (Turn your paddle upside down if you have to push off with your paddle. Do as I say, not as I do.)

Proud Paddle MakersThe Final Product

To carve the expected shape of the blade I finally started to get the hang of things, and even started to feel confident that this was going to happen. When the blade was done, I moved on to the grip feeling like a pro. Of course Bruce was there again to help out, as we were nearing the end of the day. It was kind of comical to see my tentative movements then to see Bruce show me how it’s done. He cut threw the wood with ease and confidence. I couldn’t help being a little impressed.

After a bunch of filing, some sanding, more sanding, a little more filing, I was looking down at a really nice looking paddle. I was also pretty happy with myself. There’s no way I could have done this on my own, but I was  proud with what I had done. Maybe amazed might be a little more appropriate. This is an experience I couldn’t recommend more highly. You get a custom paddle, size and style of your choosing, a great day of fun hanging out with other paddlers, and the added bonus of a sense of achievement.

If you’d like to give this a try, contact Bruce at BruceSmithPaddles.com

So how did it turn out?

Another great element of the custom paddle is moving to an oil finish. It’s much nicer than varnish, for example. I even got to use an environmentally friendly option provided by Badger Paddle’s oil. The oil makes it so much smoother and more comfortable, and I might be alone here, but it also gives your paddle a great smell. (I was also quick to get one of their paddle socks to protect my new beauty.)

My paddle turned out quite well, and I’m very happy with it, but I waited out practically the whole season to use it because I wanted to finish it by burning the Portageur logo on it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get anyone to do it for me. (Along with woodworking, I also lack in artistic talent, so I wasn’t about to try this myself. If you know someone who can do this, I’d be very appreciative if you could send me a contact.) I spent most of the summer paddling with the guys, quite jealous of how happy they were with their paddles. Of course once I got that bad boy wet I was more than thrilled. I had decent paddles before, but this was a whole different experience. Comfortable and solid, with smooth dips in and out of the water and fantastic pull and control. It’s almost like test driving a high end performance car. Thanks again Bruce.

The Final Product

I Think I May Have A New Paddle

Great Outdoors Show

I had a great time at the Great Outdoors and DIY show last weekend at the International Centre. I got to see a few neat new gadgets, see Kevin Callan’s presentations (wish I was there for this though), try out some products and of course speak with some of the best people out there: fellow paddlers. The highlight of the event though, was my visit to the Bruce Smith’s paddles.

When we passed the booth we were immediately struck by the beauty of the paddles on display. We had to stop for a look, because a friend of mine was interested in getting himself a good paddle. We began talking about them with a very nice lady – who as it turns out was Bruce’s sister Carol. When I picked one up I was very impressed. They were light but clearly solid, very well crafted and smooth. It was a very comfortable paddle, something you could definitely use all day, with the grip and shaft fitting my hand perfectly. These paddles were clearly made with an expert hand and an enthusiasts touch. Carol insisted we speak with the craftsman.

The Paddle Maker

A teacher for 30 years, Bruce has been an outdoorsman and wood crafter for longer than that. Also known for building and restoring beautiful canoes, his signature is a carved secondary grip which makes for a very unique look. Like all good functional art, this grip assists in one-handed and quick changing maneuvers, assisting solo paddling and prys (e.g. standing and running).  Bruce gave us a short demonstration, then talked to us about wood, his shop and how he builds his paddles. The reason the paddles felt so smooth is because of the oil he uses, as opposed to varnish. Equally as impressive was the extra thickness at the tip of the blade which allows for durability. You’d have a hard time cracking these paddles poking at things with the bottom of you paddle (not that we ever do that, of course). The way they’re carved though, you wouldn’t even notice without really examining the bottom of the paddle.

The paddles come in all shapes and sizes. Paddle shapes include all the standards (Beavertail, Ottertail etc.) as well as what’s called the “Bruce Smith Classic” – a style that combines the length of the Ottertail but wider and more rounded from the shaft. He also combines wood for some really pretty designs, though cherry is his preferred and base wood because of it’s strength and light weight.

Bruce is actually a pretty funny guy. As we spoke, the subject changed from his paddles to canoeing and tripping, exchanging portage stories. I got the impression he wasn’t really selling his paddles after a while. Carol eventually came over so he could speak with a couple more potential customers, so we had to let him get back to work.

Do I need a paddle?

We didn’t wind up buying a paddle. As much as I wanted one, I was a little torn about getting a new paddle. Like many paddlers, I may rent canoes but I  rarely use rented paddles, taking my own. I’ve used mine for a while now, going on several trips over the years. They’re getting some wear on them, with the wood getting exposed, so I think it might be time to retire them. In fact, these two paddles were my late father-in-law’s, and I’d really like to keep them as decoration because of the sentimental value – before they get ruined.

Then I found out about one of a few paddle making courses Bruce teaches at his shop in the Elora area (Ariss, Ontario). Perfect. I signed up immediately. I think I can get behind retiring my current paddles with ones I craft myself. I just hope Bruce can guide me well enough to make something close to the ones I saw on display. I’ll let you guys know how it goes of course.

It’s a small World Wide Web

Incidentally, one of the fellow paddling bloggers I follow is Reflections on the Outdoors Naturally. Turns out he’s a buddy of Bruce, and was even working at the show with him. I wish I knew that (or put 2 and 2 together) because I would have liked to meet him. You can find his write up on the event here.

Bruce Smith Paddles

More info on Bruce Smith Paddles

W. Bruce Smith Paddles

www.brucesmithpaddles.com

Gear To Bring Portaging: Paddles

What To Look For:

Having a paddle is just as important as having a canoe, and there are almost as many paddle options as there are for canoes. Don’t sweat the details though, you just need a good canoe paddle that will hold up through the trip. Ideally, your paddle should be the proper size for you height. Here’s the good news: Generally, paddles come with the cost of the canoe rental, and the outfitters will help you find the right size.

Why You Need It:

Paddling with your hands, while possible and certainly more of a workout, is not as efficient – to say the least.

How You Can Live Without It:

Don’t.

On The Cheap:

Use the ones included in the canoe rental. Usually, they’re lightweight aluminum shafts with plastic blades and “T” shaped grips.

What Will Make Them All Jealous:

I don’t like the standard rental paddles, myself, mainly because I prefer a pear shaped or fitted grip with a longer blade, because both make longer trips much more comfortable, so even when I rent a canoe I’ll bring my own paddles. You can get some really fancy paddles, custom made and sized to your personal preference. They can be pieces of art. But just like the canoe, the most impressive are those that have clearly been used to paddle to far off regions. When it doesn’t look like they’ll make it through another trip, they make great family room art.