Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Brewster Academy Training

Brewster Academy is a private boarding school in the Wolfeboro, New Hampshire area and sits on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, the biggest freshwater body of water in the state.  In the summer months Brewster Academy offers adventure programming to their visiting students.  In addition to sailing and backpacking, they also do a great bit of canoeing and kayaking in their programs.  Seven Rivers Paddling trains the summer program providers for skills & leadership on the water in canoes & kayaks.  Peter asked me to help run the program with him and I could not resist.  He has a true love for paddling and is easy to work with.

On Day One we worked out of touring canoes and ran some basic skill sessions to get everyone up to speed.  Strangely, some of the teachers joined us on the water and in my mind, brought down the program some.  It was a surprise to me, but I didn't question it since they often join and were taking pictures.  However, it did become distracting to students and undermining to Peter and myself.  I just reminded myself that it's their program and they're eager to see their new summer staff succeed.

I try to coach at a slow pace whenever I can.  I think a solid foundation is really important for all paddle sports, but large groups like this sometimes means you need to go faster, because they need to follow a curriculum.  It's tough to deliver, but I think Peter and I trimmed enough out of their list to leave a good focus on the most important stuff.

Day Two we worked in sea kayaks until lunch, just about the same time the rain started falling.  Luckily, Brewster Academy has a world class boat house on the water's edge and we could seamlessly cap off our program with some serious on-land teaching sessions and trip planning problems.  Interestingly, these forced indoor sessions turned out to be my two favorite sessions of the whole weekend.

I look forward to returning next year.  Here are some pics.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

ACA SUP ICW - Portland Maine

This marks my 3rd course in Portland Maine and my sixteenth course overall.  Not bad considering I usually offer only 2-3 courses per season.  Last year this course was full with 8.  This year we struggled to get only 3 and ended up dropping it to a 2-day Level One course, which turned out to be the right move because the candidates weren't ready for Level Two just yet.  Cathy, Caitlin & Emma all did awesome and Portland Paddle is lucky to have all of them as instructors and guides.  Big thanks to Portland Paddle for hosting me again this year!

East End of Casco Bay is a tough venue when looking for Level One conditions.  Turned out that we had to make our way into Portland Harbor each day to work in a small pocket of perfectly flat water, quite nice spot to teach actually.  I enjoyed this because it gave me a real good look into each candidates skills while paddling in wind on the way to the harbor and back.  What was only a 5-10 minute paddle gave me tons of insight into their experience and comfort level on a board. 

The course was awesome.  Super fun, beautiful weather and some great progression.

What really stands out though, is that I realized Level One courses are way more appropriate these days.  Most courses I've run in the past have been combined L1 & L2, which is great when you have paddlers filling out the spectrum.  What often happens though, which I dislike, is that some paddlers assume they're paddling at L2 standards just because we're covering it.  They don't always understand where they fit on the L1/L2 spectrum and it's hard to tell them they're not as skilled as they think they are.  The other thing I really don't like that has happened over the years with combined courses is that some people are meeting L1 standards, not quite L2, but might be close enough to send them home with a workplan to meet those standards quickly.  Typically we call this a continuation.  Sounds great right?  It can be, but most often what happens is people go away with a continuation and never really put the work in to meet the standard, and my time gets wasted.  What's the takeaway?  I'm not offering combined levels anymore. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

ACA SUP ICW - Cape Cod

I returned to Cape Cod this year to train SUP Instructors for Mike Morrison at Rideaway Adventures.  Rideaway is an awesome paddle sports outfitter in the Cape with multiple locations, serving paddlers and bikers with classes, tours and rentals.  All of their sup and kayak instructors are ACA certified.  This year Chris, Kara, Katie & Jase wer going through the program in a combined Level One/Two Instructor Certification Workshop. 

It was a fun course, as usual and as expected.  If these courses aren't fun, I'm not doing my job.  In my experience, learning comes easier when a group of people get comfortable with each other quickly, and fun is a way to do that.  I felt a bit off at times, but it's early season and it takes a bit to warm up again, right? 

I'm happy to have been joined by Adam Mayer of Go Paddleboard CT.  Adam is a past student and a highly skilled teacher and paddler.  He is a teacher by trade and has a knack for helping people understand things quickly, which is one of the biggest challenges coaches have.  I hope to work with him again soon, because he's incredibly easy to work with and has great ideas about the sport.  If you're in Northwest Connecticut, take a class with him. 

We spent three full days on Peter's Pond in Sandwich, going over a huge range of paddling strokes & skills, working on leadership and practicing teaching skills.  The candidates were fairly diverse in terms of experience and skill level coming into the course.  All improved a vast amount during the course, which makes me so happy to see.  I love to watch people improve their paddling, and these courses are the best way to do it.  When you're on the water and focused on paddling for two to three days at a time, you have enough time to progress slowly & build skills steadily and build a strong set of foundation skills to pull from. 

After hours we spent a little time visiting Naukabout & Lambert's Farm Market - I will return to Lamberts at some point in my life.  It's a must in that area.  Then, I even got in a quick visit with my parents, who happened to be visiting the Cape that weekend, staying at their friends family cottage. 

Anyways, CONGRATULATIONS to Katie, Kara, Chris and Jase! 

The crew, from the left: Katie, Jase, Adam, Kara, Me (Matt), Chris 

Peter's Pond.  Perfect Day.

Playing with fins.

Adam Mayer is so comfortable on a board.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Lamprey River Source to Sea Paddle & Fundraiser

50 mile scout trip - complete!
On Tuesday May 14th, Peter Sawtell and myself parked our truck at Northwood Meadows State Park in Northwood, New Hampshire, unloaded gear and headed out with the intent of following the Lamprey River all the way to saltwater. This was a 50-mile scout trip and fundraiser to ensure proper planning on an upcoming Lamprey River Source to Sea program that will take 12 kids onto the river for a 5-day program teaching paddling skills, river knowledge and outdoor education.  Peter is with Seven Rivers Paddling out of Newmarket, NH and Rivers for Change is partnering with his business to offer this program. 

Talking with Tim of Newmarket Channel 13

Getting a late start, we made our first portage around 2pm – a 1/2 mile stroll through the woods to find the official source of the Lamprey River, a small pond in the state park.  We quickly found the pond and within ten minutes had made the short paddle across the pond, perhaps the easiest section of paddling for the next three days.
On the far shore, a small stream flowed from the pond, under the trail and into the meadow, full from all the rain in the past couple weeks. Knowing that this was the official source of the Lamprey River, the trip had begun in earnest and once we floated the boats, we were committed.
The next 5.5 miles took every minute of five and a half hours of walking, pushing, pulling and paddling the boats downriver. Not being large enough to actually paddle yet, the goal was simply to follow the flow and explore the upper stretches of this river as it changed from meadow to swamp to pond to creek to river. It was truly exciting but took much effort and positive energy to continue, knowing that eventually the river would increase in volume enough to paddle our way towards sea. 
Floating boats at the source of the Lamprey

Slowly and carefully following the river downstream

Lots of beaver activity to contend with

Miles of walking the upper stretches of river, still just a creek

beautiful surroundings on our walk

By 7:30pm, about twenty minutes before sunset, we reached Freese’s Pond and the first dam on the trip. It’s about six miles downstream from the source and is a fairly large expanse of water considering the river had been so tiny until now. Finding a good camp spot, we setup, ate dinner and settled in for a cold 39 degree night, opting to go without a tent since the seasonal black flys had not shown up yet.
Hitting the river at 7:00am the next morning fueled with strong coffee and granola, day two would hold twelve hours of paddling at a much faster pace. Luckily, volume continued to increase, even below the first dam and sections became easier to negotiate. To our surprise, the Lamprey holds much more whitewater than we had anticipated. Small drops, modest gorges and dozens of riffles awaited our day as we followed the river, reading and running the entire time.
Lamprey flow was great during our three days, 5/14-5/16

Snack breaks, map checks, portages, strainers and social media posts all broke up the day slightly, and before long we were making true mileage while experiencing the transformation of this mighty river from little to big. The most beautiful sections of river were deep in the woods with nothing around but rocks, trees and the feeling of history with the odd piece of metal or human made rock structure. It was cool, to say the least. A number of weeks earlier, we spent a day scouting river crossings in the snow, peeking at rapids, drops and stretches that became familiar while paddling.

One of dozens of strainers we climbed over or under

By nightfall, we covered a respectable thirty three miles of river, feeling every bit of it with bangs, bruises & scratches to our bodies and equipment. Finishing the day at Wadleigh Falls, a dangerous set of falls where a historic dam had broken, we portaged and called it a day, opting to finish out the last 11-12 miles in the early morning. The entire day had been spent analyzing the river to decide what sections were safe enough and interesting enough to paddle during the July Source to Sea Camp with 12 kids from the local area. Feeling good about many sections, we developed a rough plan by nightfall.

Way more fun whitewater than we expected

A significant portion of the Lamprey is federally dedicated Wild & Scenic river

The next morning we had only three stretches of river left to paddle – Wadleigh falls to Wiswall Dam, Wiswall Dam to Packers Falls and Packers Falls to Newmarket, the sight of the last dam on the river and the barrier between freshwater and saltwater. Past that dam lay three miles of the Lamprey River and fourteen more miles of Great Bay and Piscataqua River before flowing into the Atlantic. Before we  reached that location, we still had to portage Wiswall dam and run Packers Falls, the biggest stretch of whitewater on the trip, a section of Class III with a decent drop and a substantial volume of water. 
Peter threading the needle on some small whitewater barely big enough to run

Leading the way, I dropped into the falls with my 16′ Esquif Avalon, a far cry from a whitewater canoe. I swamped in the first drop but paddled through the rest of the rapid without incident, clearing the water in the eddy below the rapids. Peter steered his 15′ P&H Delphin straight into the steepest part of the drop, got slightly worked by water but recovered control quickly to make it through the rest of the falls unscathed and hooting. 
After three days of paddling and only 3 miles from our destination, we made it through the crux. After a quick break onshore to change into board shorts and sandals, we cruised the last three miles of flatwater in warm sunshine, feeling good about the trip and the planning. We are definitely ready to guide kids down the river in July and are much better off knowing the route intimately.  
Day One: 6 miles in 6 hours
Day Two: 33 miles in 12 hours
Day Three: 11 miles in 4 hours
To learn more about the Lamprey River Source to Sea Program, visit riversforchange.org/lampreyriver.
To learn more about Seven Rivers Paddling, visit sevenriverspaddling.com
To make a tax-deductible donation to the program, visit grouprev.com/lampreyriver-mattpalmariello

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tufts University Training

This spring is shaping up to be a busy season on the water and I'm really excited to be working with Peter Sawtell of Seven Rivers Padding.  Today we partnered up and led a canoeing skills & leadership workshop for students in the Tufts University adventure program.  Later this semester they'll be leading other students on canoe trips in the Maine wilderness and need some vital training to get ready. 

Making our way up to the Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire, we met the students on a small lake perfect for this training.  We spent the morning working on hard skills in tandem canoes and all did well.  After lunch we moved onto trip planning, more advanced paddling skills and saved our rescue practice for last, since the pond was cold, the air was cold and the students were not as prepared as they should've been.  Once in the water, they would be cold since they were not equipped with wetsuits or drysuits.  I have to give them lots of credit because they all dug in and completed rescues really well and rather quickly. 

This was a good opener for me this season.  I absolutely love paddling canoes and did not even mind keeping the bow seat warm for awhile today. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Allagash Wilderness Waterway

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a 92-mile stretch of lakes, ponds and rivers flowing North through the Maine woods.  It was established back in 1970 as one of the countries first Wild & Scenic Rivers and remains as Maine's only federally designated Wild & Scenic river today.

I've been dreaming of a trip here since I learned about it twenty years ago.  I wanted to make the trip on a standup paddleboard, but the management office maintains that only 'traditional' watercraft are allowed in the region.  That means that crafts must fall into strict physical dimensions as well as construction methods.  Sups are not allowed, so I opted for a good ole' traditional open canoe.  

I've been working with an awesome crew all summer and we've been planning this trip slowly throughout the last couple months.  Well, last week we finally had the weather window and the time to make the 5-day trip.  Water was still very low this year, so we had to modify our trip a bit and excluded running the river.  Quite the bummer, but there just wasn't enough water to make a smooth trip down the whitewater sections, so we opted for a lake trip instead, with a focus on lake tripping, fishing and camping.  It was a pretty solid Plan B and none of us regretted it one bit.

After a long drive north to the area in two vehicles, we unloaded at the put-in and then immediately ran a shuttle further North to the take-out.  It was only about 45-50 miles away, but we were traversing logging roads the entire time.  Granted, they're in awesome shape, but they're narrow, filled with ruts and have some crazy logging truck traffic.  About four hours later we finally made it back to the put-in and launched.

The next four days we explored some incredible campsites, caught and released dozens of healthy fish, spotted moose and black bear and just had an incredible & relaxing Allagash experience.  Now that I'm home, I can begin planning my return trip in order to finish traversing the entire waterway, which means running that section of river we missed.  If you ever get a chance to visit, it's worth every bit of travel and planning to get the experience of a remote and pristine water-filled wilderness.

Enjoy the pics..

West branch of the Penobscot was flowing
Running shuttle.  Waiting for logging trucks to load up and clear the road.  Logging companies own this land and the roads, so we're at their mercy.

First nights campsite.  

Exploring the famous Allagash Trains.  Long story short, these trains moved lumber between two lakes.  They pretty much portaged full trees and when they were no longer needed, it was much cheaper to leave them there than to dismantle and move them.  Today, they draw many visitors.

One of our shuttle vehicles.  Little thing did pretty awesome on the logging roads.  

Close to prime foliage season.  

Love is in the water.. 

Looking up lake from Chamberlain Dam.

Gorgeous weather for the entire trip.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Untamed New England

Recently I had the pleasure of working with Peter Sawtell of Seven Rivers Paddling to manage risk and safety on the paddling sections of Untamed New England, an iconic adventure race that took place on the New Hampshire Seacoast this year.

Untamed New England describes themselves as a non-stop race across 250+ miles of New England's wilderness and I can assure you, it's just that.  Teams have no idea where they're racing until they show up.  Teams have 4 days to complete the rugged courses, which changes each year.  Historically, only about 20% of teams actually complete the full course.

This year, teams did some canoeing in the upper stretches of the race.  Then, by the time they reached the Seacoast, they had two more major paddling sections, in kayaks on tidal waters.  Our team used vehicles, kayaks, paddleboards and power boats to keep track of paddlers on the water 24/7 as well as give assistance in particularly 'tricky' areas due to currents.  As hard as the course was, mother nature increased the difficulty level with thunder storms all weekend.  Each night as we camped on islands in Great Bay, we could track teams at all hours of the evening while being barraged with rain and winds ourselves.

For those of you that know me, I work on events like this all the time and absolutely love it!  Long hours, tricky logistics and good people keep it fun and rewarding.  Check out the pics for some highlights!

we provided all the equipment for racers..

tracking teams on Great Bay

tracking teams online

moving up river

waiting for teams to cross Great Bay.  This skiff was our home for three days.