Sunday, November 23, 2014

The importance of good gear...

Good gear is important.  It lasts, it performs, it inspires.  It facilitates adventure & experience.  In most cases, it's worth every penny you spend on it.  One of the greatest pieces of gear I've purchased in the last ten years is a base model Subaru Legacy wagon.  I know, not everyone would consider a vehicle to be a piece of gear, but it is.  I rely on it.  It needs to function.  It needs to be efficient.  It needs to work in all conditions, it needs to carry gear inside and it needs to carry many boats and boards on the roof.  It needs to be durable and it needs to be big enough to sleep in.  This particular vehicle has far exceeded my expectations and has done so with less than adequate maintenance on my part.  It's taken me all around the Western US, Canada and Mexico.  Being a good piece of gear that I trust and rely on, I didn't think twice about taking it on a long drive this week.

Heading back East.

I'd been making plans to spend December & January in Maine.  California has been down on me lately and some change would be nice, especially if it involved spending time with loved ones.  I purchased a seasons pass to Sugarloaf and I was able to take all of my work with me.  I still had plenty of cold weather gear in storage and even though at first I was not excited to ski the East, the idea grew on me.  I remembered the last good season I had in Vermont, skiing was pretty damn good before I tasted Utah powder.  I could re-adapt.  The only problem was that I needed wheels in Maine.  Public transit there is a little different than the San Fran Bay Area and that prompted the idea to drive out there.

With 191k, an oil change & a new set of tires I set off from Berkeley on a Tuesday evening with ski gear and paddling gear.  I ignored the check engine light and disregarded the advice to have a mechanic look at it.  I was faithful that the Subaru would not let me down.  Poor planning - yes.  Did that poor planning add to the adventure - yes.  Did it work out - hell yes.  In paddling, we preach proper planning to avoid amiss adventures.  It's smart and it makes sense and in most cases it's necessary, especially when leading others, but I'm still a firm believer in learning from mistakes.  So once in awhile I like to take on adventures with poor planning, secretly hoping that something happens along the way and will have to be dealt with in the field.  To paraphrase Yvon Chouinard, "when everything goes wrong, that's when the adventure starts."

Sadly, I have no adventures to report.  I steered the car East upon leaving Berkeley and exactly 96 hours later I arrived in coastal Maine, feeling fresh.  I spent four nights sleeping in the backseat, completely warm in my nest waking to single digits and frozen waterbottles each morning.  I rocked out to top 40, I drank large amounts of coffee, I drove conservatively.  My weather window was absolutely perfect, the price of gasoline was at a 5-year low and I even arrived on a Saturday morning without traffic.  The old Subaru kicked ass the whole way getting the best mpg's of its life as it clicked a few more K's on the odometer.  3,257 miles of America.

When I return to California in February, I will have to replace this fantastic piece of gear.  But for now I'm happy she'll be able to live out the rest of her useful life in beautiful rural New England breathing in the cold salty air, racing up mountains and plowing through snowbanks, with skis and a bed in the backseat and paddleboards on the roof.

outside Bonneville Salt Flats, Western Utah.

 Another morning, another sunrise to drive into. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Alameda SUP Circumnavigation

I arrived in Oakland at 7am and we were to meet at 8.  I was co-leading an intro to SUP touring trip around Alameda Island for California Canoe & Kayak.  8 participants, 2 leaders and 15.5 miles of paddling in absolutely ideal conditions.  We hit the currents right, wind was next to nothing and the sun was shining warm.  Not until we passed the bottom of the island and began our return trip up the Oakland Estuary did we hit a bit of action as wind picked up some and sailboat traffic was moderate.

All the participants were well-skilled and ready for the challenge and did fantastic keeping pace and energy up until the end.  Nice paddle CCK.

Whitewater SUP Road Trip

It's 6am and I'm in the backseat of my station wagon, wrapped in a sleeping bag at a rest area in Weed, California.  I'm as happy as I've ever been in my life.  I'm on the road, traveling with paddling equipment with a very loose itinerary and it feels great.  I love traveling by car and I love roadtrips and this one will bring me to Portland for a 3-day American Canoe Association whitewater SUP course put on by Next Adventure.  I got a last minute notice for the course and quickly jumped on it, as these aren't offered too often in the West.

I was already scheduled to be in the Redding area on Nov 1st, so adding this to the trip seemed logical.  Monday morning I slowly got my act together, got a few hours of work done at the local Starbucks and drove a few hours north.  Without any rush, I stopped at just about every rest area to stretch and take in the views.  Lassen and Shasta were snow-covered and this beautiful day was coming to an end.  Wanting a sunrise view of Shasta in the morning, I opted to sleep close.  Unfortunately it didn't pan out and I woke to clouds and rain.  Shit.  May as well head north.

Without coffee or breakfast, I began driving north towards Portland with no particular destination in mind.  Again, stopping at most rest areas and taking my time, I enjoyed the drive probably more than any other time on this route.  Going slow is pretty rad and easier on the body.  After a few minutes on google I picked my stop, a state park just southwest of Portland on the Willamette River.  Arriving in the afternoon, I booked a yurt for two nights and made myself at home.  Now, as I sit here snacking on hard cider, cheese & bread I'm reflecting on my present life.  I'm happy.  A bit directionless, but happy.

At the very beginning of 2014 my twelve year relationship came to an end.  Five months ago I moved out of my apartment in the Bay Area, put everything I own in storage and have been living on the road ever since.  New Hampshire, Tomales Bay, Pebble Beach, Arizona, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Maine, Canada, Sacramento and now Portland.  Work and play have kept me busy.  I'm living out of three pieces of luggage - a duffel with paddleboard and full paddling kit, another duffel full of clothes and camping gear and a backpack that serves as my office with computer, internet, chargers, cameras and notebooks.  It's simple and I'm loving it.

Every couple weeks or months I make it back to the Bay Area to visit storage, re-pack for the next leg of my trip, check my mail, visit my cat and see some friends.  It's fun, but California isn't home anymore - it's just a place to keep my stuff.  I still find it incredibly beautiful, but I desire to live somewhere I belong and I don't belong in the bay any longer.

Fast forward to 11:30pm on Saturday.  I'm back at that same exact rest area in Weed, California. Quick stop for a stretch and a 2-hour nap in the backseat.  I wish I could've stayed in Oregon longer, but I'm committed to a course in Oakland and need to get back for it.  On the 10-hour overnight drive, I'm still buzzing from a fun weekend and a future filled with standup whitewater.  I passed the course and got certified to teach ww sup.  There is a whole new venue opening up for me and I'm excited to think about new places to go and new challenges to take on.  Standup paddling the river makes me feel like a kid and that's an awesome feeling.  I'm now thoroughly hooked and looking forward to more.  But first I need to make it to Oakland by 7am.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sacramento River SUP Weekend - Sunday

Sunday I joined up with Jason & Just Kayak More again for another day of Sacramento River Play.  We launched as a smaller group of 5 for a downriver paddle stopping at three really fun play spots along the way.  Sun was out, sky was blue and we were pumped.  The first spot is just downriver from the California 100 startline and the Sundial Bridge.  A small chute that offered really good ferrying practice and some surfing on the front wave.  We took turns playing, making sure to conserve some energy for the rest of the day.  The second spot was a good sized hole at the first bend below the Sundial Bridge.  We spent the most time here and I tried over and over to lock into the "bronco ride" but spent more time swimming than surfing.  The third spot was another chute draining out of Kutras Pond.  On my first attempt I dropped in from above but missed the green wave and fell off into the wave train.  Bummer.  Riding the eddies back up, I struggled to get into the wave and got spent recovering from each fall.  Over all, a really really fun day of paddling and I will be back to dial-in these features.  Redding is on the map as a fun & diverse paddling destination.

ferrying the chute.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.

Adrianna getting past her fears and charging.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.

Fun crew.  William, Tiffney, Adrianna, Jason and myself.

Trying to stay in the hole at the bend.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.
William Holley, surfing nicely.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.
Playing on the Escalator, an interesting feature on the Sacramento River.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.
another swimming opportunity.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.

Sacramento River SUP Weekend - Saturday

I had to be in Red Bluff Saturday night to promote the California 100 at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival.  Red Bluff is 175 miles from the Bay Area, so I felt I should take advantage of being up there and hit up the Sacramento River in Redding for some playtime.  I loaded the car with paddling gear and planned to get at least two river sessions in with Jason from Just Kayak More.  JKM is the local paddling club in the Redding area and are highly active river paddlers, preferring upriver paddles and playing on river features over traditional flatwater or downriver paddling.  Jason has been an incredible resource to Rivers for Change and a number of Cal 100 competitors.

I met up with him Saturday morning and we quickly met the rest of group at Lake Redding for an 8am launch.  Lake Redding is actually a body of water on the Sacramento river sandwiched between two dams.  It has current and we paddled up it until we got to this fun little constriction that offered a center channel and two good play spots on each side of the river.  We were with a small group of regulars and everyone showed up with great paddling skill and positive attitudes.  Nice group of people to paddle with and I had some good success surfing the uppermost wave on a 14' board.  It took me a number of tries before dialing it in, but once I got it I was able to stick in the wave and surf back and forth.  River surfing is such fun and great training and I was ear to ear smiles.  Plus, I had the treat of paddling in freshwater which is always a nice change.

To cool down after playing, we finished the upriver paddle by making our way all the way up to Keswick Dam, the furthest place we could legally paddle without a portage.  Nice day.

William Holley ferrying to the play wave.  photo by Jason Montelongo.

Riding the Red Paddle Co 14' Elite Inflatable.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.

Ferrying over.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.
Getting comfortable on the wave.  Photo by Jason Montelongo.

Jason Montelongo puts down the camera to have a turn.

Nice paddling spot