New Adventure, New Paddle!

About to paddle out onto the lake for a practive session with my new paddle. Photo by Dave Barnes

About to paddle out onto the lake for a practice session with my new paddle.
Photo by Dave Barnes

007Last night I had a dream inspired by the arrival of my Yukon River map book from Yukon Books in Whitehorse. It is a surprise to me that my sleep has not been invaded more frequently by river paddling themed dreams as the clock is not ticking away month by month towards a nutty adventure of paddling my wooden kayak in the Yukon River Quest. It is a constant in the back of my mind these days and an hour or so browsing the many pages of river map between Whitehorse and Dawson City, the terminus of the marathon must have implanted a nugget. The dream however, was abstract and for some reason the Yukon River was sucked nearly dry. Much of the paddling I did in the dream was replaced with dragging my kayak behind me as I waded over smooth round and rather slippery river stones. At one point, for reasons I can’t recall I was sent back to the beginning to restart as some sort of penalty.

I am no stranger to strange dreamscapes in my head as I sleep. Nor am I likely to ever escape those pesky anxiety dreams. I class last night’s river musings in that category and moved on with my day. This race is unlike anything I have paddled before. I am not a racer, nor a marathon junkie looking to suffer for the fun of it. It is a milestone adventure and one I will take on as best I can. There are bound to be dreams such as these in the coming months. And a few sleepless nights as well I am sure. You can train and get stronger for an endurance level of paddling. It is another thing all together to train a mental attitude in such a way that all that matters is the finishing.

Another likely contributor was my hour or so on the lake last evening. Only the second such outing with my latest addition to the gear closet, a hand carved western red cedar Greenland style paddle. When it arrived on my doorstep and pulling it from the bubblepack, it was love at first sight and last night on the lake things between myself and the paddle began to click. As this paddle will be, I hope my secret weapon against the fatigue and joint strain that paddling a mere 715 kms might incur. I wanted to avoid that let-down feeling if things did not click and just let it loose.

The second hour-long session was much more revealing and I am becoming accustomed to its need to dive upon each catch. A slightly disconcerting sensation at first stroke, which is something I am getting used to. My speed is better as well and can only improve with better technique. I still have time. It is exciting to me to relive the learning curve of kayaking and this paddle is teaching me a few things. I just hope that one of them is how to avoid being sent back to the start line!


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148 1Water, water everywhere but not a drip to drink!

Seen here on a log at my lovely beachside camp near Port Renfrew BC is my water bottle. “Life is Crap” makes me laugh as a touch of outdoorsy snark in the face that no matter where I am with my kayak, it is anything but crappy. That said, today I would like to mention something we take for granted, as the news from Detroit worsens and the memory of not having running water at home for a time still fresh as a mountain stream to my mind.

It is suddenly summer here after a noncommittal beginning and long spring. The heat and humidity of the past week has been a challenge. A morning paddle the other day began with the idea that if I got out on the water early enough I could beat the heat. How wrong I was as it met me clearly as I unloaded the kayak and gear. My only saviour was my Life is Crap buddy who along with two more one litre bottles of water rolled around between my legs as I paddled against the tide for an hour in the heat.

We tend to forget about it. I get lazy with taking in enough water while kayaking. I towed a paddle boarder home to shore once after she ran out of gas on a late summer evening that was too warm not to remember water. She had none! I gave her the last of mine, hooked her up and dragged her across to safety. I am waiting for a new drinking tube kit to attach to the dromedary bag I keep filled with fresh water behind my seat. This removed the issue of cumbersome water bottles and sipping sun-heated liquid from the bottle on the deck and I am more likely to sip on the fly instead of stopping to take in water.

My outdoorsy tip for this week which will be closing in on the 30 celsius out here in the rain belt is the bring more water than you think you will need. Likely, you will want it. Stay hydrated, stay cool. Try not to paddle during the peek heat hours of the day. Dunk your sun hat in the water to cool your head and remember to drink, sipping small amounts every half hour or so and your life will remain heat stroke and crap free.

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Madness Under a Midnight Sun

I have a year! There is no turning back now, the team is coming together. The kayak is kited out, and fitted out, and tweaked to perfection in preparation of something I have been pondering as a kayaking trip for a few years, the Yukon River Quest. All that is left to do is get myself into racing shape. Yikes!

YRQ 2015When did this madness begin?

In 2011, I was part of a support crew for a tandem kayaking team entered in that marathon paddle event starting in Whitehorse at the blowing of the paddlewheeler SS Klondike’s horn and ending, for most paddlers a few days later in the historical gold rush township of Dawson City some 715 km later. Our team scratched at the midway rest stop at Carmacks due to injury, but by that point I had the bug. The combined comeraderie among the teams, support crews and race volunteers created a community of like-minded nutters with a common goal, to get that boat and paddler to the finishline before the cut-off time.

By Dawson, the tremedous explosion of paddles and boats that left the riverside at Whitehorse became a trickling of pooped but elated paddlers arriving one at a time to the finishline greeted one and all by the crowds watching on shore and loved ones. How awesome it would feel to land there after kayaking both day and night virtually non-stop and earning a place in that club, the club of nutters willing to endure long hours in the seat, cold, sleep depravation induced halucinations and fatigue just to get to the gold rush after the bars close.To finish is the goal and for now I am not concerning myself about my personal best time, just to have a good time just me and my kayak and many hours to consider all those things left at home.
The consoling thought when I lay awake doubting my sanity at this decision is that while I am fighting the sleepiness and sore muscles at 3am someplace between Whitehorse and that first rest stop 300+ kms away at Carmacks is I won’t have to do the dishes!





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Gear Review: Smart Track Rudder System

Installation of a new Smart Track Rudder system on my Pygmy Coho.

Installation of a new Smart Track Rudder system on my Pygmy Coho.

Gear Review: The Smart Track Rudder System


To rudder, or not to rudder? That was the burning question for many years. When I built my Pygmy Boats Coho in my living room (I was not married then) it was quickly apparent that the lines of the kayak were such that even in a partly finished state it would float in an un-aided straight line. Once finished and in the water that assumption was proved to be true. The Coho glides like a razor in melted butter. Turns with only minor body movements and paddle skills. For nearly ten years I have paddled without a rudder. I am a believer that in many ways the use of a kayak rudder is a handicap to paddling, not an assistance. It causes lazy paddling skill sets, or in many cases the complete lack there of. A rudder should only be an extra aid for when those certain situations occur that an aid to navigation is needed. They are not a substitute for gaining good paddle skills but should be partnered with them.

An example of this situation was when I spent months restoring a wooden kayak to new glory and attempted to sell it. The boat was rudderless and did not need one as it handled easily for anyone who could use a paddle. On more than one occasion I had to talk someone through how to turn the kayak around as they had only used ruddered kayaks and had no clue what to do without one. Selling the kayak proved to be a difficult task and re-enforced my opinion of a rudder.

I installed a rudder last week to my kayak. A decision based on many needs and factors. I am not as young as I once was, the sad fact of tendonitis have arisen, and looking towards the next stages in my paddling career it seemed a good idea. Most of the time the rudder will be up but I see those days when the winds gather against me, or crossing open stretches of current with the voice in my head repeating with every one-sided paddle stroke “do I want to work that hard?” No! Been there, done that  and if I can take some strain off my arms all the better. As a photographer I have had to lose great shots due to the awkward nature of navigating a kayak while focusing a shot. The paddle under the armpit method getting rather old. Then there is the underlying subconscious idea of entering the Yukon River Quest in 2015 and to navigate the river without a rudder would be exhausting if impossible. So there you have it, after some research and sampling of different systems I buy a rudder and last weekend I took her out for a couple of afternoon trips to get accustomed to the new addition. I have to say it is tough to turn off the brain and switching off the need to steer the kayak via the paddle. The first half hour was a struggle to stop myself from this, and just let my feet do the thinking while I concentrate on forward strokes. It will take a while to flip that switch on and off without thinking, but I will get the hang of it eventually.

The Smart Track Rudder works! In a word, it is the most polished rudder system as compared to the more basic pulley controlled rudders with sliding rail foot controls. The foil rudder mimics the design of world cup boats to achieve as little resistance and drag as possible. An adjustment knob allows the user to make easy changes for better performance depending on conditions. The two features of the rudder set up that made my day on the water were the foot controls and the single cord to raise and lower the blade. The foot controls are unlike anything I have used before. My argument with sliding foot peg rudder controls, the standard is that you lose optimum paddler positioning with your feet moving back and forth. Losing that fixed, locked in feeling that gives the paddler the most efficient strokes. The Smart Track foot controls put an end to that loss of stability and give the paddler what they want the most. The foot pegs are perminently in two modes. A set mount for your foot with a separate lever toe control for the rudder’s direction. This keeps you locked in place, braced well while the slightest touch to the toe pedal moves the blade.

Installation of the system was fairly simple and retrofitting it to my wooden kayak was easy with the addition of a mounting bracket from Chesapeake Light Craft (I purchased the rudder system from them as well) that allowed me to avoid drilling a pivot hole in the stern of the kayak. Using a long-pin version of the Smart Track rudder housing with that bracket offered only minor adjustments to the boat itself was done in an afternoon. To anyone considering the addition of an after-market rudder system the Smart Track is the way to go. Priced competitively to the old standard systems makes the decision even easier and the set up gives a paddler what they desire. Ease of use, and zero compromise to efficient paddling and comfort.


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Paddling the Summer Away

I declare it to be summer.

I base that statement on the very real fact that if you can do the same outdoor activity two days in a row without uncomfortable weather conditions, it is summer. The lack thereof of any kinds of weather. Rain, high winds, coldness, big seas, and combinations of such make it unsummer. This chain of not-so-great June-uary weather took a long weekend over the past few days allowing me to get out in my kayak not just once, but two afternoons in a row! The only weather-ish item to greet me on my second outing was a slight northerly breeze that was actually welcomed as it was overly warm, another hint that summer has finally arrived.

I was keen to get out there. Not just because of the desire to sit in my boat, but I had spent a week retrofitting the stern end to accommodate a Smart Track Rudder System. The kayak really doesn’t need a rudder. It tracks like a razor through the water. I decided, if reluctantly to add one simply because I am tired of working so hard to ferry across currents and wind the old-fashioned way. I am not as young as I once was. The rudder will not get much in the water time usually, but for those above reasons and the fact that focusing a camera while the paddle is tucked under my armpit to attempt to steer…not easy. new rudder 2

I am a believer in paddle skills and after many years without a rudder, I have good skill sets so I don’t owe anything and will not rely on the rudder much, unless conditions require. Wind, currents, combinations of both and perhaps in the next year the flow of the Yukon River at my back. This leads to the subconscious decision-making while I explored the local islands over this lovely sunny beginning of summer weekend. As I worked hard against the tide cursing the fact that the kelp leaves indicated my opposing course against the forces of nature mt mind wandered to fanciful visualizations of paddling the 714km Yukon River Quest Paddling Marathon. I must be nuts! But the addition of a rudder makes any last excuses based on navigation on a river fade away. I find myself thinking more about logistics. Borrowing an extra tent so my wife has a place to sleep at the midway rest stop at Carmacks. What type of food will I have on the route? Making a list of gear I will need and checking it against what I already have on hand. I’m doomed! If I can muster the funds to enter the race next year, I’ll be on the river. Can I finish? Well that is the real question isn’t it. I’d like to think I have what it takes mentally to get from Whitehorse to Dawson City in the require time. I do have a year to prepare and a good friend offering his knowledge and assistance as my crew who has already paddled it, (2 1/2 times) finishing twice and last year winning his class. The list of reasons not to enter are shortening.

The Yukon River Quest 2014 edition begins in two days and I see in the roster of paddlers a few familiar names. I wish them well. As for me, I will paddle the summer away. Occasionally checking my speed to see if there is improvements and staying fit.

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She’ll Make Point 5 Past Light Speed!

In four days one of the longest, toughest paddling marathons begins. The Yukon River Quest draws the lunatics of paddling together for a 700km+ *about 444 miles* up the winding river from Whitehourse to the Gold Rush Mecca of Dawson City for more than two full days of non-stop kayaking or canoeing. new rudder 2I was up there in 2011 assisting as support crew for tow friends attempting the task. Sadly, the mission ended at the mid-way point of Carmacks due to injury. Being support for a team was truly difficult. Managing logistics, food, kayak, tents, and then there was personalities…need I say more? By the end of the week I realized that it was possibly easier to paddler the race than to support a team. Erase all of the above responsibilities and all that is left is “just keep paddling”.

A couple of weeks ago I took the plunge and ordered a rudder system for my kayak. I had paddle for nearly a decade in this Pygmy Coho, which I cannot say enough about as far as it’s over all performance and comfort. It tracks like a dream, so why add a rudder? Two reasons, I am a photographer and steadying a kayak while attempting to shoot is next to impossible, two, I am tired of working out so hard to ferry against the elements, and sure there are really three reasons. Somewhere in the back of my mind the idea of running the YRQ has been rumbling in my soul. Subconsciously, the addition of a rudder simply means I am committing to the idea of racing the marathon from Whitehore to Dawson. Can you tell I am talking myself into this mania?

New RudderToday, the first day of summer, the longest day turned out to be warm, sunny and virtually windless. What better opportunity to hit the local waters and drop that rudder to see how it performed and more importantly, how it changed the handling of my kayak. I can say as far as official review of the Smart Track Rudder System it is hands down the most polished rudder set up ever. A single cord controls the up and down and the set pegs allow for firm bracing while the sensitive toe controls work the rudder easily. Five stars for that, and gosh golly darn it that means not having a rudder was my only out for putting myself through the ordeal.

My thoughts were that if I deleted the paddle control and added a rudder I would be able to focus fulling on forward motion, and even though I am out of shape today, I did manage to add a bit of speed to my average flat water pace. Maybe the old girl will get me to Dawson next year? Time to start conditioning, training, paddling and maybe I can get the woodie past point 5 at light speed after all.


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Kayaking for a Good Cause, Paddle For Health

A few years ago I stumbled upon a grass-roots fundraising team dedicated to the support of those facing cancer. The ring-leader of the group as I discovered during a few emails back and forth had very similar experiences with the disease to that of my own. In fact, the parallels were astonishing between our lives. I began to invest in that year’s fundraising paddling event on the waters near Victoria BC, but alas the weekend of the event landed on my first wedding anniversary. As relaxed as she is about my needs to be on the water, skipping our event for a fundraiser seemed inappropriate.

My story begins on a late August weekend at my mother’s home in Qualicum Beach. I visited her often but on this sunny afternoon she dropped a bomb. The cancer was terminal. She had dealt with the illness for many years, and by Christmas of that year there was little anyone could do. By Easter she was dying in the Nanaimo Hospital and I literally postponed my own life and became a live-in caregiver at the palliative ward. She was stubborn in her leaving and after over seven weeks of steady decline she passed away. Spent, probably unemployed by now and in a haze I returned to my island home, dizzy. It was not long after her passing that I was in my kayak paddling with friends on the outer coast of Vargas and Flores Islands in Clayoquot Sound. In my dry bag at my feet was a small glass jar containing some of her ashes. I had planned a scattering at the right moment some time during the week-long paddle trip, but no idea until rounding the point before the beach that would be our first camp.

As the guys landed one at a time in the shelter behind an islet facing the now setting sun, I turned the opposite direction and paddled out towards it. I drifted, admittedly struggling to reach the handle of the bag with my now cramping big toe and free it from the gear surrounding it. In time for the last flash of sunlight I held the jar firmly, said a few words to the horizon and the sea she and I both loved, and tossed the ashes. I recapped the jar now holding a message and tossed it as well. The note had my contact information. But my message in a bottle bobbed twice and sank to the bottom. Such is life.

My weeks in the hospital were revealing and an awakening to the difference even just a bit of outside support can bring to a family, or a patient. At times, too stressful for words, and at others moving beyond anything I could imagine. To go through something so intimate and astonishing as that and not be changed is impossible. As an advocate, son and paddler the organizer of Paddle For Health, Don Lowther and I are one in the same. I scattered her ashes to the sea and Don honours his mother with an annual fundraising event bringing laughter, love of paddling and much-needed cash to those who need it most.

This year is a different story and thankfully the paddle fundraiser benefitting the new Vancouver Island Family Support Program and to aid in expanding the levels of support to Island-based families who have children with cancer is on a different weekend than my anniversary! And I am glad to be taking part, raising some funds with a goal of a mere $500 and of course, recruiting a few more paddlers to do so as well for this September’s day on the water.

Below are a couple of links. One is my secure fundraising page. The next link is to Paddle For Health’s website so you can learn more and hopefully, sign up and join the fun.


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