Winter in New Hampshire isn’t exactly a paddler’s paradise, but we’ve been getting enough days when the Mercury approaches (and sometimes breaks) 30 degrees that I’ve been getting out on the water a few times a week. With things a bit slow around the the shop this time of year, I’ve been heading to the Winni for mid-day mid-week runs. It can be tough to find people to join on these, so I’ve been jogging shuttle and attaining upstream from the put in as far as I can. It’s mostly moving flatwater and a good way to put in some extra forward strokes to try to stay in shape for spring paddling, and I’ve been seeing a lot of wildlife- mink and muskrats and various waterfowl. It also gives me a lot of time to think about whatever has been on my mind. This week it has been an article from Rapid Media that has been popping up on my social media lately entitled “Moving Forward: Why The Most Important Solo Whitewater Canoeing Stroke Is Dead.” The article was written by Andy Covenry, the man behind Echo paddles and a long time canoe instructor. I think this same article made the rounds a couple years ago, and then and now, I think a lot of people are mis-interpreting or misunderstanding the author’s point, so I figured I’d give my take on it.
Winter has arrived in earnest here in New Hampshire, and that’s got me looking ahead to spring. I’ve started taking preorders for deliveries to Ain’t Louie Fest (ALF), so I while it’s on my mind, I figured I’d write up a few answers to the questions that come up commonly.
- What the heck is ALF? ALF isn’t what we usually think about as a boating festival. There’s no organization to speak of. The dates are a little fuzzy (if it has official dates, it’s March 8-17th this year, but some some people start earlier). There’s not necessarily a central location. Think of it more as a gathering, or better yet a pilgrimage. It’s like the Hajj for open boaters (er… something like that.) You have to do it at least once. Basically people show up in east Tennessee, meet up, and go boating for a week or so.
- If there’s no central location, where do people stay and meet up? The two most popular options for accommodations are 1) hotels in Lenoir City, or 2) Cherohala Mountain Trails campground near the Tellico. CMT has become increasingly popular as the base for ALFers, and that’s where Blackfly bases out of, at least for the first weekend. The Lenoir City crew usually meets up at the Shoney’s in Lenoir city to make plans for the day, and there’s communication between the two groups as to where people are planning on paddling.
- Am I ready for ALF? What about skill levels? One of the greatest things about this “event” is it’s accessible to paddlers of all skill levels. Groups break up to head to rivers of various difficultly, so even if you’re only comfortable on Class II, there will be something for you to do. Many of the rivers also offer different sections of varying degrees of difficulty, so it’s possible for someone to join you part way down the river if they aren’t feeling up to a particular section.
- How to I know where to paddle? The best advice I can give is to be honest about your skill level and follow the locals. They know what’s running, where the rain hit, what won’t be running tomorrow, etc. And they’re very happy to point you in the right direction. Pretty much all the runs are rainfall dependent so don’t try to plan too far in advance: go with the flow and follow the local knowledge.
- What about the weather? March in eastern Tennessee can be a crap shoot. I’ve seen everything from snow to 75 degree sun. Maybe you should just bring all your gear, I usually do.
- What else should I do? Make new friends, get pointers from paddlers who are better than you, and try out a new boat! We’ll have a fleet (or fleets) of demo boats available, so it’s a chance to try out a new ride.
I also need to mention that if do order a boat for delivery to ALF before Feb 18th, I’ll waive the delivery charge ($40). Just use the discount code ALFPREORDER when you check out. Getting orders in early helps me plan and get boats assembled ahead of time…and ensures your boat has a spot on the trailer.
I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions. My usual one is “To not make a New Year’s Resolution.” (Turns out, it’s easy to keep.) I’m making one this year though. It’s a simple one, but I think it’s important, and I’m inviting you to do it too. In fact, three days into the year, I’ve already achieved it. This year, I resolve to take more plastic out of the river than I put into it.
As paddlers, we like to think of ourselves as stewards of the river and the environment. And yet, every time we paddle, we leave little tiny bits of plastic behind on the rocks. Those boofs and rock spins and splats are contributing to microplastic pollution. Those low water runs are leaving behind tiny traces of plastic that will slow work their way down the river and end up in the ocean. It turns out I make and market a product, that if “used as directed,” puts plastic directly into the aquatic ecosystem. Does that thought bother you? Because it sure bothers me. The impact of micro plastic pollution is just beginning to be understood. How am I supposed to be an advocate for rivers when I’m contributing the the problem and encouraging other people to do the same?
One way would be to stick my head in the sand and say “the impact of whitewater recreation is a minuscule fraction of a percentage of the problem.” Given that the US contributes about 242 million pounds of plastics to the oceans a year (or approximately the equivalent of 5 million canoes and/or kayaks), it’s actually a reasonable statement. But that still doesn’t change that fact that we’re still leaving colorful curly-cues of polyethylene behind that will remain in the ecosystem for hundreds or thousands of years.
Since we’re probably not going to change our behavior- those boofs and splats and rock spins and seal launches are too much fun, and the “we thought the river would be higher but we ran it anyway” days aren’t going away, I propose another solution: Take more plastic out of the river than you put into it. A net positive for the river. I started off my effort for the year yesterday, and immediately hit the motherlode: half of a plastic pallet weighing several pounds (plus several soda bottles, bits of styrofoam, a piece of plastic pipe, two shoes, a change jar, a kid’s floaty toy, etc.) I’m pretty sure I’ve made up for all my boofs for the year, but I’m going to keep going.
I can’t tell you exactly how much plastic we scrape off our boats on an “average” river trip. It’s something I’ve wondered about, but I haven’t yet tracked runs and boat weight over the life of a boat to find out. I don’t imagine it’s much, probably less than that soda bottle floating in the eddy. To be on the safe side, I’m going to shoot for two soda bottles each trip. And if I’m on a pristine mountain river and can’t find anything, I’ll make it up on a less pristine river another day. It’s actually a pretty low bar and as i found out yesterday, it’s easy to overachieve- which is great. It’s easy, and it’s something you might already be doing. It’s certainly something we should be doing already, but I know I’m guilty of turning a blind eye to trash in the eddy sometimes.
And so, I invite you to come along with me on this quest. I’m realistic that whitewater paddlers plucking one Mountain Dew bottle at a time from the river isn’t the solution to our plastic pollution problem, but at the same time, I believe that we can have a net positive impact; we can more than offset our negative impact.
This week I was digging around in my desk, and came across a couple of test pieces I made up a couple years ago. One is a one foot long section of gunwale I cut off a scrap Option, the other is a 1-foot section of similar dimensions of Ash gunwale. I made these to compare weights between them, and being reminded of this test, I figured this week I’d discuss the advantages of plastic gunwales and why I use them rather than wood.
Chapter 19 of Seth Godin’s excellent new book, “This Is Marketing” is titled, “The Funnel.” He explains it this way:
“Visualize a funnel, one with a bunch of leaks and holes in it.
At the top of the funnel, you pour attention.
At the bottom of the funnel, committed loyal customers come out.
Between the top and the bottom, most people leak out.”
I’ve now experienced this first hand, and can quantify it. More
We’re excited to have released the second episode of “Where We Canoe.” Blackfly Team paddler takes us to his local run, Tohickon Creek in eastern Pennsylvania.
I consider myself somewhat of an expert on cold weather paddling. I’ve paddled year round- at least once every month- for the past 19 years. Living in New Hampshire and paddling in the winter might seem like things that don’t go together. Our coldest day on the water last winter was 3 degrees. But it’s taught me a few things about staying warm and happy on the water. As winter is setting in, I figured I’d share a few tips, and favorite pieces of gear that might make it on your holiday wishlist.
Facebook reminded me this week, as it does, that nine years ago this week, I molded the first Blackfly boats. That first boat, Blackfly #001, still hangs in a place of honor, along with Option #001, in the Blackfly shop. Looking at those early boats now, it’s pretty obvious that I’ve gotten slightly better at making boats after nine years and a few hundred boats.
I hope and imagine that most people who read this over the long weekend following Thanksgiving do so before or after an adventure in the outdoors. I’m a fan of the #optoutside idea over the mark-down fueled spectacle is that is Black Friday. But this cultural event has given me pause to think about my pricing structure, and Thanksgiving has given me reason to reflect on what I’m grateful for in my business life. More
After seeing the response to last week’s blog post about the the idea of doing a kid’s boat, this week I started taking pre-orders for the Mosquito Burrito. There are two competing factors leading me to take this approach. 1) I really, really want to make this boat. The more I think about it, the more I want to do it. 2) I’m not in a position to do another “I’ll eventually break even” project. If I get enough support for the project, I’ll make the boat. If not, everyone gets their money back and it gets shelved indefinitely. So that makes it my first attempt at “crowdfunding” a project. That’s gotten me to pondering the basic notion of crowdfunding, and I’ve come to the conclusion that crowdfunding is weird.