Last week I had the amazing privilege to guide an eight-day sea kayak expedition on Lake Superior for Naturally Superior Adventures. The route started with a boat shuttle out to Cozens Cover at the eastern end of the very remote Michipicoten Island. From there we worked around the island clockwise before making the 18km crossing to the north shore and back towards Wawa and Naturally Superior Adventures. Here is the full route map (new window).
This trip was different than a typical guided trip in that each participant was responsible for their own food, camping gear and boat. My role throughout the trip wasn’t to do the cooking (they would have starved to death if they did) but rather to get everybody back home safely.
Lets cut to the chase, Michipicoten Island is wicked awesome. If it isn’t already on your bucket list of trip destinations, you need to add it. Even if you just plan on circumnavigating the island as the vast majority of visitors do, you will die a happier person (hopefully long after the trip is done).
Here is what makes the island special:
The crossing from the island to the north shore of Lake Superior was something that was always a concern in the back of our head. We had a two day window to make the crossing so it came down to figuring out which day was better. We decided to make the jump on the trips third day and cross north from Bonner Head. This meant that we only made it around 3/4 of the island but if we kept going and crossed the next day (from the east end of the island) it would mean a very strong head wind and medium seas. I believe we made the better choice and was on the water at 7am with light tailwinds. Just over three hours later we were on the north shore patting each other on the back, happy with our accomplishment.
Michipicoten Island has a long history of failure over the years. Explorers to the island had dreams of striking it rich through mining or fishing but more times than not they were sent home bankrupt. It was a very tough place to try to make a living.
Talking to the owner of Naturally Superior Adventures, Dave Wells, we figure that less than 50 people visit the island each year and we were one of only two commercial trips that will visit this year. Also, the route that we took by crossing and paddling home has only been done by about 20-25 people in the past 15 years so as you can guess, Michipicoten Island is a pretty remote place.
Due to that remoteness, if you do go, you need to make sure that your paddling and rescue skills are rock solid. There are several sand and cobblestone beaches to camp on but they can be few and far between in certain points so plan your day out carefully. Finally don’t count 100% on your VHF radio being able to access the Canadian Coast Guard in the event of an emergency. Due to the high mineral count in the rocks, there were several places along the north shore where you will be in a radio shadow and unable to get a signal. On a trip I took out there in 2007 we had a difficult time reaching the Coast Guard and had to paddle offshore about a mile or so to report in one evening.
To help out with our risk management plan, inReach Canada sent me one of their newly released inReach SE to put through it’s paces. The inReach SE is a two-way satellite communicator that allows you to send short text messages to anybody in the world from anywhere. It has a built in keyboard similar to your old cell phone so it doesn’t require you to connect your smartphone via bluetooth (though that option is there if you want). I’m working on a more extensive review but the real short review is that I was blown away by the unit. The fact I could send a note to the NSA base (or my wife) letting them know where I we were located was amazing. Even better, a couple of days I sent them a request for a more precise weather report then what was on the radio and 15 minutes later we had the response. I did find a couple quirks with the unit but I will hold onto them until I publish the detailed review. Overall, I was very pleased with it.
Should you do the trip next year? Of course you should. I would tell perspective paddlers that they should be comfortable in medium seas with 2-3 foot swells and have a firm grasp on both rescue and camping skills.
Here is a very cool short documentary that I found while researching the island. It gives a very good idea of what you can expect when you visit next.
If you want to see more photos, stop by my flickr page and scroll through the collection or click through the slideshows below.
I have got to admit this was the funniest kayaking video I have seen in a very, very long time.
From the Youtube Description:
Join us as we follow the world's greatest kayaker, adventure icon Trip Deacon, while he pushes action sports to new limits and creates the concept of kayaking without a kayak. Follow Trip as he searches for life's meaning and attempts to conquer his dream of being the first person to ever kayak down Lombard Street in San Francisco... without a kayak.
Well I'm off to Lake Superior for the next two weeks to guide a sea kayak trip with Naturally Superior Adventures.
We are going to be circumnavigating Michipicoten Island then making the 18 kilometre crossing to the north shore before working our way back to Wawa. If you want more details, I wrote about the trip earlier.
The whole adventure should take eight days if everything goes well.
I'm really excited as inReach Canada sent me their new inReach SE to test while we are out there. The inReach SE is a two-way satellite messenger with a built-in keyboard to easily send and receive custom messages. It's a nice improvement from the older model as it doesn't require me to pair with a smart phone.
Have a great couple of weeks!
I was super excited today to get an email from Simon Willis letting me know about the upcoming release for Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown, Volume 3 DVD.
Picking up where Volume 2 left off, this version is made up of four separate films covering navigation, rolling, dealing with emergencies both on and off the water and finally, how to build a solid first aid kit.
I'm very interested in the emergency situations film which involves teams from the Coastguard using both helicopters and rescue boats. Let’s be honest, how cool would it be to be on the film shoot the day they brought out the helicopters?
The sea kayak navigation film also looks like it has a lot of promise as it is co-presented by Franco Ferrero. His book, Sea Kayak Navigation: A Practical Manual, Essential Knowledge for Finding Your Way at Sea is easily one of the best books navigation books out there.
For those who can’t wait until the end of October (when the DVD will be available), there will be four free short films filled with out-takes and behind the scenes clips available for download on September 1.
More info: seakayakwithgordonbrown.com
If you are one of those paddlers who have looked in envy at UK sea kayakers with those funny white stickers on their boat covered in chicken scratch writing then you will be pleased to know the Bryan Hansel from paddlinglight.com has developed his own set of kayak deck slates and is now selling them. If you have no idea what I’m talking about that's ok.
Kayak deck slates are basically two vinyl stickers that are positioned just ahead of your cockpit which provide a good writing surface for notes to yourself using a grease pencil. Paddlers on tidal waters can keep track of daily highs/lows or current on the left slate while the right one blank making a perfect location to keep track navigation, weather observations or if you are teaching, student names, notes or a rough lesson plan.
The deck slate is printed on 3.5 millimetre vinyl so you know it’s durable. It has also been coated for UV resistance so it shouldn’t fade for some time.
Bryan is offering the slates with a Listo grease marking pencil for $24.99 or $19.99 without. Take my advice and get the pencil version. It's one of the good plastic barrel versions and not the paper wrapped ones you see at your local Home Depot. I proved a couple of years ago that the paper wrapped grease pencils last about 1 hour into a typical rescue lesson on the water.
More info: paddlinglight.com
Photo credits: Bryan Hansel
US Secretary of State, John Kerry was on vacation during the 4th of July at his home on Nantucket Island when he decided to go out paddling in his kayak.
I'm going to pretend that he is reaching for his life jacket to put on while out on the water.
Photo credit: Ryan Hutton
We all know that the ocean is large. By large I mean huge. The reality is that the ocean is so big that it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around it.
To blow your mind this afternoon here is a short animation to help put everything into perspective.
Here is my favourite ocean fun-fact: The oceans of the world hold 99% of the world’s biosphere. That means that every single tree, bug, human and gopher you see on land is only 1% of what’s really out there.
Ok, kids it’s time to have a chat about making sure your canoe or kayak is properly secured on the roof of your car before you drive off down the road. It seems that a driver in Atlanta, Georgia didn’t properly tie down the kayak and it promptly blew off the roof of the car and onto the Interstate 75 causing a multi-vehicle accident and sending one woman to the hospital. It could have been a whole lot worse. According to reports, the owner of the kayak will be charged by the police for failing to secure the load.
By secure, I’m not talking about you reaching up through the car window trying to hold the boat down or even using two pieces of yellow rope around the boat. In a pinch the proper canoe or kayak tie-down kit with foam block and straps will work but I suggest spending the cash on a proper roof rack. The boat will be more secure and it’s less likely to shift around in the wind.
If you are at all nervous that you are not securing your boat properly, here is a quick primer to help get you going:
Since I teach kayaking, I find myself often talking to students about weather and science behind weather forecasting. I used to always be nervous talking about weather since it can be one confusing monster to understand (let alone explain) and even the best meteorologists can get it wrong (especially when predicting your upcoming weekend weather).
Over the past several years, one of my goals has been to figure out ways to explain the science without overloading students with extremely technical descriptions or complex lectures. With that in mind I’m always on the lookout for new resources.
The other day I stumbled upon this really good video published by PBS that explains where wind comes from. You should take a look.
Quick Teaching Tip: If you find yourself struggling to find resources or ways to communicate a particular theory topic (eg. navigation); focus on resources online that are aimed for teachers in elementary schools or kids themselves. The information is often presented in a more simplified style and the depth of knowledge is often just perfect for your students. For example, I found this amazing article that goes in a touch more depth about what causes wind and the influence temperature has on the weather machine.
Here's something that's pretty amazing: all of the tiny, invisible molecules that make up the air have weight. They don't weigh very much (you couldn't put one on your bathroom scale), but their weight adds up, because there are a LOT of molecules in the air that makes up our atmosphere.
All of that air is actually pretty heavy, so the air at the bottom of the atmosphere (like the air just above the ground) is getting pressed on by all of the air above it. That pressure pushes the air molecules at the bottom of the atmosphere a lot closer together than the air molecules at the top of the atmosphere.
And, because the air at the top of the atmosphere is pushing down on the air at the bottom of the atmosphere, the air molecules at the bottom REALLY want to spread out. So if there is an area where the air molecules are under high pressure (with a lot of weight pushing down), the air will spread out into areas that are under lower pressure (with less weight pushing down).
Don't forget that there is also a pile of free teaching resources available for your taking over in the resource area here at the Headquarters so start clicking!
Flickr Image Credit: Peter Mulligan
It looks like we are going to be seeing some major changes in the coming months at Canada’s largest outdoor co-operative retailer, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).
CEO, David Labistour announced this morning in the Co-op's blog that they will be undertaking a massive brand revitalization program. The announcement is a little vague but there are a couple clues scattered throughout:
What they said: Starting this summer, we’ll begin to roll out a revitalized brand platform. It begins with a new version of our logo on MEC products released in July. In September, you’ll see a shift in the style of photography and the design of store interiors, elements that will complement the freshness of our product lines.
What it likely means: The familiar mountain logo is gone and replaced with something less "rough and tumble mountainy". This will allow them to cut their ties with the past as the place to get only mountain gear and give them the ability expand into new outdoor sports down the road.
This also means that the old way of how they did things and the decisions behind types of gear they sell is finished. It’s clear at MEC is feeling the competition from big box stores like Bass Pro, Sail and some Canadian Tire stores that they need to change or become quickly irrelevant.
So what does that mean? My guess is that they are going to be making very hard choices to what they will focus on. Hard choices mean that money losing departments like the rock climbing section will probably be cut back drastically (or moved out of the store and available online only) making room for more urban activities like expanded cycling or running departments.
I think we are also going to see a subtle shift in the clothing line-up away from purely wilderness designed clothing (ugly but functional) over to more lightweight “outdoor lifestyle” clothing to compete with the clothing departments found at Sail and Marks (which is owned by Canadian Tire).
Are all these changes bad? Nobody likes change so the knee-jerk reaction is to think the sky is falling but I think this could be a good opportunity for MEC to get themselves out of the corner they have painted themselves into.
As much as we like to think that Canadians actually do stuff in the wilderness; we don’t. We have two weeks of vacation and typically too busy to do anything more than a quick weekend adventure somewhere. Canadians are interested in being active but not interested in being outside for long periods of time and our buying purchases reflect that in everything from yoga pants and running shoes to stand-up paddling and recreational kayaks. The problem is that if you only sell expensive gear aimed at the shrinking market of hard-core adventure kids you will be out of business quickly.