I got an email from my buddy, Bryan Hansel who runs North Shore Expeditions out of Grand Marais, Minnesota. A couple weeks ago singer and songwriter, Jerry Vandiver joined Bryan on one of his day tours of Lake Superior.
You might be thinking to yourself who is Jerry Vandiver is and that's ok. While you might not have heard Jerry's voice in your ears before, if you are a country music fan you have most likely heard a song that he wrote. His music have been recorded by a huge number of country music legends including Tim McGraw, The Oak Ridge Boys and Barbara Mandrell to name a few. In fact his two most popular songs, "It Doesn't Get Any Countrier Than This" and "For a Little While" which were both recorded by Tim McGraw are among the gold and platinum records on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.
It's no surprise that Jerry decided to go kayaking whole on his vacation. He is a big fan of canoeing and even wrote an entire album of songs dedicated to paddling.
Keen Footwear has just rolled out a brand new program called "Build Your Own Keen" where you can order a completely customized pair of their classic Newport Sandals.
The new app on their website allows you to customize pretty much every single component of the shoe from the webbing pattern right down to the colour of the lace or the sole itself.
I did a quick count and there 14 different parts of the sandals that can be adjusted and some quick grade 2 math at my end tells me that there at least 62 billion and three combinations to choose from. With so with that many colour choices; you can pretty much guarantee that nobody will have your exact pair of shoes.
Keen says that they can get them made and on your feet in about 2-3 weeks which is pretty amazing. I haven’t confirmed it yet but my guess is that they are able to offer this service via the new manufacturing facility they recently opened up in Portland, Oregon. I just found out that that the Keen Custom shoes are manufactured for you in one of their factories in Asia.
The price for the shoes is $130 (US) which is only $30 more than regular Newports so it isn’t an exorbitant price to pay for custom footwear.
Ok kids, get designing. Just don’t walk up and shoe me the pair that you ordered with every option as black. That would be waste and you would feel my sarcasm. This is what I’m expecting next time I see you:
More info: Keen Footwear
The new SE is an update to the Delorme inReach and released to market this past spring and includes a pile of new features to make (what I feel) the best satellite communicator on the market today.
Before we get into the full review, let’s look back at the evolution of backcountry satellite messengers/communicators. First on the market in 2008 was the Spot Messenger powered by the Globalstar satellite network. At the time the technology was revolutionary in that it gave paddlers the ability to send home pre-configured messages with a link to a map of their current position. This type of technology was available before of course this but it was typically associated with a $1000 satellite phone purchase.
The biggest problem with messengers was that they were essentially one-way communication. That changed a couple of years ago when both Delorme and Spot both released units which allowed you to send and receive messages when paired to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The great advancement in technology now allowed people outside of cell phone coverage to communicate back and forth with home. Of course the new problem was that the while units themselves used very little power and would last a long time it was a different story with the paired smart phones request to type up the message. I don’t know about you but my Android phone seems to only last about 6 hours before it is begging me for a recharge.
This brings us up present day and I believe that the inReach SE solves a large number of problems in previous versions. The biggest improvement is the addition of a small LCD colour screen and built in virtual keyboard. Now, you can gossip with the family back home without needing to depend on the limited battery life of your smartphone (though you can still pair them if you wish).
Another very cool feature (that gladly I need to test) is if you need to trigger the SOS and summon help in the event of a life and death situation, you can interact back and forth with the search and rescue monitoring centre. The ability to tell them via text message the extent of the emergency or get an updated response ETA could be a huge benefit.
For the trip on Lake Superior I was guiding a small group of people in sea kayaks around Michipicoten Island and then paddled back to Wawa. The total distance was approximately 175km (108 miles) and included an 18 km (12 miles) crossing from the island to the north shore of Lake Superior.
Because of the extreme remoteness and high risk of the crossing itself, both the guiding company and participant family members back home were obviously anxious for our safety throughout. The inReach SE was a huge help in keeping everybody informed of our current location The text messages automatically posted to my Facebook wall as well as Delorme’s interactive allowed casual friends to follow along as well. Throughout the day I generally updated our position at lunch as well as our final stopping point for the day.
I was also able to take advantage of the two-way communication and check in with the guiding company itself and let them know how things were going. It ended up being a really good resource when I needed to get a more precise wind/weather forecast then what was available at the time via the marine radio. That type of information and near-instant communication was invaluable as it allowed us to make a more educated decision if we should cross that day or not.
Like many of the other satellite messengers on the market, you can set-up live tracking and automatic location posting of your route. Knowing that tracking does eat up battery life a touch faster we really only used that feature during our crossing. In the settings you can set the time between location updates from 10 minutes all the up to a couple of hours.
Free Earthmate App
A very cool side-feature is you get access to their free Earthmate App for both iPhone and Android Smartphones.
The app pairs via Bluetooth with the inReach SE and turns your phone or tablet into what’s described as a global satellite communication and navigation tool.
The app overlays your current tracks or messages over their own mapping software so you can see exactly where you are. Both topographic and NOAA (US) charts are available free of charge. It also allows you to send and receive messages directly within the app which is a very nice feature.
The unit is powered by an internal rechargeable lithium battery that is advertised to last up to 100 hours. In our case the unit was still going strong right up to the end of our eight day trip so I was pleased with that. Keep in mind that I turned the unit off in between sending and receiving messages to stretch batter life out as long as possible.
One of my few beefs with the unit is the fact that the battery is built-in and you are unable to exchange them out in the field. If you were on a long trip or planning on doing a lot of tracking, you are going to need to come up with a recharging system for the unit. The inReach SE recharges using a micro-usb port so there are plenty of options out there from solar powered chargers or external battery packs. Having the option to drop in extra batteries would be a killer feature.
The MSRP for the inReach SE is $299 (US) and requires a monthly subscription. The subscription pricing is different depending on if you live in Canada or the US. Since I’m in Canada I will speak to those plans. Pricing ranges between $14.95 to 49.95 a month depending on how many messages you plan on sending or receiving. You can switch between plans at any time so one advantage is that if you know you have a big trip coming up you can jump up to a higher plan for that month. Once the season is over you can also put the unit in a hibernation mode for only $3.95/month. Again, those are the Canadian plans so if you live in United States, Australia and New Zealand, the plans and prices could be different.
I was really blown away with the unit to be honest and exceeded by expectations. Like I said above, the integration of the built-in keyboard makes the unit a workable solution for two-way communication in the outdoors (also with good battery life). Before this, everything on the market has looked to me like some sort of cobbled together device that left me disappointed so this was a nice change.
I also really like the ability to change monthly plans compared to other companies where I’m required to pre-pay for a full year. That being said, if you are on a cheap plan, sending messages back and forth to your friends can add up quickly so figure out what you will realistically use on a trip since extra messages beyond your monthly allotment can be expensive.
If you are looking to increase your piece of mind in the wilderness (or your husband’s back home) I would say yes, check it out. It’s a good one.
More info: inReach Canada
MSRP: $299 ($US)
Tim Dyer and I have decided that we are going to take a year off organizing the 2013 Georgian Bay Storm Gathering and likely switch it over to running every two years.
The reason for the switch is pretty simple; we are both super busy want to spend this October going on other adventures. Also, the Gathering has been running for 7 years so taking a year off so you can attend the many other rough water paddling events in North America is a good thing. The closest one to us is the Gales Storm Gathering taking place in the Apostle Islands, Wisconsin, October 11-13.
When we first started the Georgian Bay Storm Gathering, we wanted to create an event that was focused first on community building with a little bit of instruction thrown in and I think that we have accomplished that. We are pretty proud of it but no need to panic; it will be back for 2014.
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