Archive for the ‘Story, Muse & Rambles’ Category

Salt, Trip Prep and an Update

Monday, June 24th, 2013
Haida Gwaii aka the Queen Charlotte Islands in northern British Columbia 40 miles out from the mainland and just south of Alaska.

Haida Gwaii aka the Queen Charlotte Islands in northern British Columbia 40 miles out from the mainland and just south of Alaska.

As I ready for Haida Gwaii (click here), packing the laminated charts and maps used on previous trips, my fingers tell me that they are covered in salt. This tactile sense brings more memories: storm bound at this river mouth, a beautifully sunny rest day here, old growth trees on this island, Orcas off of this point, etc.  If the trip goes as planned, it will mark three trips and close to seventy days on the water there. This is a place that has grabbed me and pulled me into it’s waters in a way that only traveling by sea kayak does.

To get to this point on the calendar requires a loud phew! Previous summers my workload was overwhelmed with running the Y program. Stepping into a different role with less responsibility this season, life is still busy, but there is free time. How enjoyable instead of the constant scramble and having to triage so much of one’s life. With this change, is also a needed process happening to recovery from being overwhelmed for four seasons in a row. My respect to those who can live with such a schedule.

This year also marks a new direction for Nancy and I. ACA instructor workshops have been our primary activity this time of year outside of Bay Cliff and the Y. Given our experience including working as guides, running instructor workshops, doing staff training, and personal paddling, outfitters are turning to us to train their staff to a high standard.  In working with outfitters, it is one of the frontlines in keeping Great Lake’s paddlers safe. Best of all, this is fun with good people.

Arrival at Skidegate by ferry and time to pack the boat. 21 day trip in 2009.

Arrival at Skidegate by ferry and time to pack the boat. 21 day trip in 2009.

But back to trip packing/preparation. All my food is together except for a last minute buy of fresh food items. All equipment is packed together into a pile. A complex float plan is together and given to two trusted friends who will watch after me. Today is going over the needed tide tables, maps and charts ensuring they are all here & in order. Then there is the packing for the trip to Glacier National Park which includes three days of backpacking on the continental divide and several days of car camping to enable day trips on the divide in different areas. Details, details and more details are coming together so everything is in place when needed.

There is also several days of massage left. My clients, who I know I inconvenience by being gone so long, are understanding and coming in for one last massage before my return in a month. They all support my trips or at least, listen patiently as I talk about them. The photos on my office walls help to explain this part of my life.

Dugout canoes at the Haida Heritage Center in Skidegate.

Dugout canoes at the Haida Heritage Center in Skidegate.

In preparing for this trip, one thing I have been aware of is time. Previous years, working a crazy schedule with the Y, time was scarce and at times, an adversary. This year it is a friend. After returning from my last instructor workshop, I started the packing process. Tired and fatigued (three 12-14 hour days will do that), I had time to take a nap. Upon waking, my memory kicked in, I didn’t remember packing beef jerky. A sign that time has returned to being a friend and a helper. A welcomed sign…

With a checklist and a five day drive out to the ferry in Prince Rupert, the forgotten beef jerky would have been remembered. But remembering on my own and before leaving the house or using the checklist, sets up a different drive. A relaxed drive where the land tells its story and I can watch and listen: from the Northwoods, to the Northern Plains, to the Rockies to the Canadian Rockies to the BC coast and the Pacific. It is a trip that tells the story of the land as it transitions into the world where the paddling can begin. A trip that mirrors my transition into what will likely require some very committed paddling.

Gwaii Hanaas Logo

Now, back to getting salt on my hands again…


Being Busy

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

By the numbers since early april:

  • 7 ACA instructor workshops
  • 5 Y staff training sessions
  • 150+ hours of instruction
  • 75+ people

Add in phone calls, emails, planning/coordinating, event breakdown, paperwork and driving – it doesn’t include the classes with recreational paddlers – and it has been a busy two months. In comparison, 150 hours and 75 people was the seasonal total for all things kayaking 10-15 years ago.

This is a very good season so far with a lot of learning, fun and smiles all around. I consider myself fortunate to be able to do this work and be this busy.

Instructor workshops still remain challenging despite doing them for 12+ years. A recent drive home provided reflection time, there is still room to grow, lessons to learn and new areas to look into. There is a deep well here.

But this isn’t about numbers, it is about people. That is the best part. To me, it all boils down to engaging the student in learning and enabling them to succeed. Once they get there, they get busy…




The Green Hornet

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

” … and who may I say is calling?” asks the voice at the other end of the phone.

“The Green Hornet.”

“Pardon me?”

The Green Hornet is about to reappear on movie screens around the world but little known except to a few people, the Green Hornet has been around longer than thought.

Sam driving the Green Hornet with two NDK Explorer kayaks on top.

Now I know what you are thinking, a Ford Escort is not a super hero!

But don’t be fooled by looks, this is no wimpy car. This summer it carried five kayaks to a Y kayak event. It has carried Explorer kayaks to each of the coasts, crossed the Rocky Mountains several times and went over the Smokey Mountains last month where it rolled over 190,000 miles. It does all this carrying a couple of sea kayaks and getting 35-40 miles per gallon.

Sam's former Subaru getting its head gasket replaced in Mandan, ND.

Yep, I once owned a Subaru. Yep it broke down the first day driving out to the west coast for a paddling trip.

This gave me time over the day and a half waiting for the car to be repaired to think. What if it broke down elsewhere? Folks at the Mandan Subaru dealer were great in getting me out quickly but they also said, ‘wow you’re lucky, the next dealer is over 700 miles away in Montana’.

I won’t go much into the time I was stranded for a weekend in southern Illinois with a broke down Mitsubishi. One local mechanic insisted on calling it a Toyota despite my correcting him. This confused the head mechanic who gave long winded explanations on how it couldn’t be a Toyota because it doesn’t say Toyota on it. (I had faith then that one day this would be funny…)

Needless to say, I felt lucky not to be in some small town but I did think about it. What would be a vehicle that mechanics everywhere would know and have easy access to spare parts? The Ford Escort and the Ford F150 pickup truck were at the top of the list. The escort won because of better gas mileage. (I won’t say much about the brother that drove a 20 year old Ford F150 he named Captain America except to say that this took place in southern Illinois too.)

View from the Green Hornet's cockpit on the road approaching Jasper, Alberta with an NDK Explorer on top.

And that leads to life style. The Green Hornet is a life style enabler. Yes, just one of kayaks on top of the car is worth more than the car. This makes it inexpensive to insure and get work done. Pull into any garage with the Green Hornet and you will not be looked upon the same light as a BMW or an SUV. No mechanic would look to make a boat payment or fund their kid’s college education off the work done.

Oh sure, there are issues. Like the time it was parked at Port Hardy, British Columbia for 30 days while Carl and I paddled the Queen Charlottes. A leaky gasket was in the process of turning the car into an aquarium when we returned. Stopped at a rest stop in Montana, a giant puddle formed as the water drained and the yard sale of gear spread out to dry provided entertainment for bored travelers. Best of all though was the woman who said ‘it looks like you have a water problem’. In addition to instantly understanding me, she was starting in a graduate program studying, yes this isn’t made up, water.

The Green Hornet with three kayaks on top and packed up for a trip to Grand Island with Nancy and Jukka.

Super hero’s are known to the world through movies that glamorize only a narrow spectrum. This makes them and their powers of being simple, functional and commonplace invisible to most people.

Except to a person who gets the message that the Green Hornet is calling.



Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

First tracks out at Harlow Lake.

Winter has arrived and the snow machine has turned on here. Thanks to this, was able to get out onto skis this past weekend. We currently have 8-14″ on the ground with more coming. The Coast Guard is also noticing the season’s change as they are starting ice breaking operations (click here).

It is the change in environment that  is as noticeable as the change in season and sports. With sea kayaking, one is out in the open and exposed to any wind. With xc skiing, one is enveloped by the woods which protects from the wind.

Ahh, the joy of skiing…


Rip Tide’s Raging, Life Guard’s Away

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

One advantage of surfing in the late fall/early winter season is the waves generally have fewer people on them. Today with the air temp at 25-30 degrees, a north wind around 12 knots and passing snow squalls that dusted the ground white, there was definitely no competition for the waves.

In this type of weather, icing becomes a worry. Decks and sprayskirts get covered. Most worrying, grab loops get encased in ice. Heading out with Nancy, we both noticed the only icing was on our helmets… Click the photo to see the icicles that formed on the brim of her helmet.

Nancy and her icy helmet

Nancy and her icy helmet

The day had some really interesting waves. Steep, fast moving and with some of the longest faces seen recently. Typical waves were 4-6′ but there were sets of 3-5 waves that ran 5-8′. The steep wave faces provided the challenge. (There are few dumping waves in Middle Bay. There is a spot but wander there once and you’ll vow to stay away from ‘Jaws’.) The third wave I rode pitch poled me. This fast moving wave jacked up (went 90 degrees vertical) quickly and being on the face, my attempt at a pirouette was too little too late. After a few seconds in the washing machine, the wave let me go and I rolled up to see the next set rolling in. Interestingly, there was something in the water. The realization dawned it was my bivy bag and a small pelican box of lighters. Dangling off the back was my hydration bag. First time for a yard sale out of the rear pocket of my PFD. Must have been an extra clean setting on that wash cycle. Then there was a rear ender which I am still trying to figure out how that happened but suspect it was another time the wave’s speed surprised me. Nancy and I both noted the zippers – clapotis when waves coming off the beach break met the incoming waves – were present in most places and farther out than normal. Finally, the rip currents were especially active providing a pathway thru all but the larger of the incoming sets.

All in all, a different and unusual break. Gale force winds from the northwest overnight gave us these waves. With the long distances they traveled and the moderate local winds, there was a nice, clean setup with them. During the summer, this would have had the bay full of wave riders. Today there were board surfers nearby, but Nancy and I had this strange break all to ourselves. And our icy helmets


Thats a Long Shift

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

The thirty third Chilean miner, Don Lucho, emerged from the ground and commented “A shift of 70 days… that’s a long shift.”. It was his leadership of the trapped men that contributed so greatly to the success. Watching the rescue operation one kept hearing the term rebirth. A rebirth not only means something new but that something has ended. In the case of Don Lucho, it was his shift.

The 2010 paddling season has more or less come to an end. It appears this weekend the weather will enable a get away for me to Grand Island for a final camping trip. A report on the Y program is coming together. And of course, planning for next season has started. Paddling will continue but the frenzied pace has been replaced by a more subdued one.

Sometimes when one catches a wave, one realizes oh oh, this is a big one. That certainly reflects this season well. It started last fall pursuing grants for the Y program which eventually lead to a successful end, equipment that enabled programs to run up through mid september. Expanding the Y’s Staff training was rewarding given the people involved and challenging given the importance of getting it right. Instructor training and Instructor Trainer training regionally went well requiring as ever, an investment of time to listen, observe, reflect and give feedback. Then there is Bay Cliff this year with a personal record – over twenty one days were spent with four different programs. Something I was a part of planning, but I certainly don’t know how that much time was even available. Throw in a three week long solo paddling trip and as one surfing friend put it: ‘that isn’t a wall of water chasing you, its a flipping house!’

It was Frank Goodman, the man who started Valley Canoe Products, that has the longest surf ride that I know of – 45 minutes. On one of his expeditions round Cape Horn, he caught a wave and surfed away from the group. Nobody else caught the wave. On a big wave, the realization settles in that you are being carried along as your world shrinks to that waveface.

Click to enlarge

That’s been the feeling for me in surfing this season’s wave that didn’t stop. Well at least till tonight’s paddle with Stew. On an october night that was warmer than some july nights from past years, our bows crunched ashore as the horizon’s glow was dimming and the moon & star shine started taking over.

A rebirth in a way, but also the sense that it was a long shift.


Santa’s Arrival

Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Unloading the truck

Kayak delivery! Unloading the truck.

Here are 16 sea kayaks being delivered this morning after a phone call saying ‘santa has arrived’.

Thanks to a grant at the Y, I got to order over $20k of kayak gear including these 16 sea kayaks. Thanks to the folks at Down Wind for their support. Putting the order together for the Y’s kids kayak program was something else. Questions like how many wetsuits/wetshoes/paddling jackets/etc and in what sizes was an interesting and challenging puzzle with no answer sheet.

But that has been june, a busy time by any measure. Here are the numbers for kayak training/instructing: 2 Instructor Development Workshops with 11 people, 1 Instructor Certification Exam with 10 Instructor candidates and 2 Instructor Trainer candidates, YMCA staff training with 15 people, Bay Cliff staff training with 14 people, 4 Bay Cliff pool sessions with 15 campers and 2 lake sessions with 8 campers. Then there are the Y programs that other staff lead but are programed by myself, massage and time for sleeping, eating and traveling 1500 miles.

Note the cracked windshield, where is William Nealy now?

This has been one of the busiest months for me ever. This type of pace is not sustainable or even desirable. There are moments when it is like surfing, one needs intense focus. The other thing that happens is you are not really in control, just riding the face of a wave going where it is going and hoping it isn’t going to dump on you. When water is so involved in one’s life, there is inevitable water damage. The photo above is one of those moments. Yes a kayak did that, just like in a William Nealy cartoon. Fortunately the kayak wasn’t damaged… :)

Stacked kayaks

Kayaks stacked up and ready to be used.

Looking at all the boats stacked in storage, it certainly seems to make all the efforts worthwhile. Just imagine all the dreams these boats will produce and/or fulfill…

The other thing that makes it all worthwhile is the people. This year I’ve encountered some great folks. I must say that is typical though the previous years have been marked by a few people with very challenging attitudes.

A camper at Bay Cliff I’ll call Carl really exemplifies folks this year. I first met Carl two years ago through kayaking at Bay Cliff. Chatting with him, he is a very good young man and very determined to go kayaking. Campers there have disabilities, so we start in the pool and if they want to paddle on nearby Lake Independence, they need to do an independent wet exit. For some folks this is no problem, for others it can be a challenge. For Carl, this is challenging, you see he is not a swimmer. Just putting his face in the water, you can see fear displace his usual calm but he will not back off. He is determined to do whatever necessary to go kayaking on Lake Independence.

This was a unique situation for me. I’ve instructed kayaking, but never worked with someone to build comfort in the water at this level. With Carl, he would grab on anytime his feet got off the pools bottom, he would grab tighter anytime his face got near the water. Fortunately Carl’s determination and trust made building comfort easy. Whatever I asked he did. Watching if he grabbed stated his comfort level. Initially deep water was too much. But by the end of two hours in the pool he was floating by himself in the deep end. All on his own he could float on his back, pull his legs underneath to go vertical, dip his mouth in the water and then return to floating on his back.

There is more work to do and there is no promise that Carl will be able to do an independent wet exit. Just like there is no promise that the Y kayaking program will be a success. The only promise is more work, more water damage, more dreams and more visits by santa claus.


Signs of Spring

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

First launch from the beach on Middle Bay

This weekend saw two significant ice events. First, the ice foot opened up at Middle Bay so one can launch from the beach there. Second, the inland lakes opened up. Warm temps and high winds from the south melted and mashed up any ice that had survived the spring till now.

Up until now the winds have been slight and the weather stable, unusual for the time of year. This week there has been strong winds and this weekend there were very noticeable seiches occurring due to the winds or fast moving pressure systems.

Also noticed that the gulls appear to have started their nesting season. They are not aggressively protecting their nest sites yet, but there are numerous birds laying on the rocks while the majority are standing about.

All good signs of spring and more good paddling weather to come.


The Dude

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude

It all started one saturday night in the fall. I enjoyed a barbecue and went to bed around 10:30pm. I woke up hearing voices. Given I live in a place where college students live as well, that sometimes happens on weekends. When I open my eyes, my place is lit up as if a car is shining its lights on it. I get up to make sure my neighbors are behaving themselves and not standing on top of my car or some other harmless (to them) late night activity.

Well, imagine my surprise to see a person standing and gesturing in front of flames just outside my window. Time to hurry get clothes on and get outside.

Stepping out onto my porch I say ‘Thanks Dude!’ and look around. The table my grill was standing on is now a few charred pieces of wood. Leaves on the ground are burning in a 20-30 foot area, some within a few feet of my neighbors car. Worse, the stern of my kayak, Old Red, is on fire as it leans up against my house.

The Dude is incoherently babbling and gesturing wildly, kinda similar to someone dancing at a Grateful Dead concert.

Definitely time to act. I run inside to get a pot and fill it with water. Running outside, I pour it on my highest priority, my burning kayak. Another pot full put the flames out and then I started on the flames near my neighbors car. Within five trips, the flames are under control. Another five pots has everything shaken, stirred and out.

The table’s gone, the neighbor’s car unscathed, and the kayak? Well, not bad. The gel coat had burned off the rear 12 inches or so but the fiberglass is still intact.

There is an immense relief and thanks. I came close to climbing out of a window of a flaming house that night and worse, lost a kayak completely to fire.

And what of this person called the Dude?

The Dude abides. Once he did his job, he left never to be seen again. Gone to that fuzzy space between wake and dream. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. (click here)

Below are pictures of long suffering Old Red and the fire damage.



Thanks Dude,

Lake Superior Ice

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Its been a light year regarding ice on Lake Superior, here is a NASA satellite shot from 3-5-10:

LakeSuperior 3-5-10

Here is the view on 3-3-09:

LakeSuperior 3-3-09

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

I remember the late ’90s and early ’00s  after I moved here, spring came early. Some years I was out camping on Grand Island by mid march to late march. Recent years have seen blizzards dumping multiple feet of snow in mid april and cooler weather into late may. Needless to say, camping prior to may has been rare.

These recollections are matched by National Weather Service data. The last frost in spring/early summer is occurring later in recent years. Also the first frost in the late summer/early fall is occurring later. Climate change appears to be shifting the seasons locally.

With the light ice cover, there are some people optimistic about an early spring. Yeah right is the usual response I hear and for good reason. Living in the UP there is a storm sometime around St Patty’s Day, recent years it has been a big dump of snow.

Whatever comes, this weekend looks like a great weekend to be out doing some spring paddling. Of course, the skis are not being put away just yet.