Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Adventurer's Son




My book about raising our son, then losing and finding him, is done. William Morrow, an "imprint" of Harper Collins, is releasing it Feb 18, 2020 a few days before Cody Roman would have turned 33.

It is an important (to me) book that I needed to write and took great care in writing.

If you look at this blog, you might consider reading this book. It's a memoir along one thin line leading to my son.

If you can't wait until then, you can take your chances with a free early version, a so-called "Advanced Reader's Edition" given away by lottery at Good Reads.

They already gave 100 away, and they will be giving 100 more. If you win one and read it, then let me know what you think here, in the comments.




Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Sun is a Compass

Caroline van Hemert and her husband Pat made an epic journey from Bellingham to Kotzebue in 2012. Pat made their boats that they rowed Jill Fredston-style up the Inside Passage to Haines, where they have a cabin Pat built. From there they skied and packrafted across the boundary ranges then hiked and packrafted some more to the Arctic Ocean where they headed inland and traversed the Brooks Range to Kotzebue.

Now, I don't read much adventure, but through good fortune of mine I got an advanced copy of Caroline's memoir of this trip: The Sun is a Compass. It's an amazing book, great stories and neat scientific tidbits, too—she's a bird biologist.

If you liked Erin McKitrick's A Long Trek Home and the biography of Dick Griffith, Canyons and Ice, then you'll like this book, too.

The book comes out officially on March 19 and there's an event at the Anchorage Museum on March 20 at 7 PM where Caroline will sign books and tell stories, I hope.

Maybe we'll see each other there.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Academic Job at Alaska Pacific University

Hard to believe but after about 25 years, Carl Tobin is retiring from APU, and the school is looking to hire a PhD ecologist to fill his position.

So if you, or anybody you know, would like to live and work in Anchorage, teaching at a very small, private liberal arts school, then check this out.

While the posting says "Completed applications should be received by February 18th, 2019, for full consideration," please submit a CV and a letter of intent to APU if you are interested by Feb. 18, and send in the other materials later....

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Ten Years and Thirty

Last week I went to Revelate Designs' Ten year anniversary party. Revelate is to bikepacking what Alpacka is to packrafting: the tool-maker for the sport.

Anyway, thirty years ago this year (2018) Carl Tobin, Jon Underwood, and I did a trip (1988) I wrote up as "Live to Ride, Ride to Die, Mountain Bikes from Hell!"

That route, Nabesna to McCarthy has been repeated three times now, by Revelate's founder Eric Parsons and his protege Dylan Kentch, and by Mike Curiak, Doom Fishfinder, Bret Davis, and John Bailey as well as some Euros.

But how did that ride inspire Underwood, Tobin and me? Well, it sent us off to pedal, paddle and push 250 miles from Mentasta to Healy, Alaska the following summer.

I couldn't sell the story to a national magazine for four years, but eventually it came out in the February 1994 issue of Mountain Bike. You can see it mentioned down in the lower left next to other "Incredible Adventures!" like beginner night riding.


Here is that story in the form it was published. It also came out in the Anchorage Daily News' Sunday insert, We Alaskans, as a chapter in an adventure cycling book nobody ever bought, and as a bunch of Patagonia Catalog photos, ads, and garment hang-tags.

In many ways that trip was a proof of concept trip, one that allowed me to pitch riding the entire length of the Alaska Range from Canada to Lake Clark in 1996 as a story for National Geographic Magazine ("A Wild Ride", May 1997), a trip that in some small way may have helped get bikepacking and packrafting started.

For me, this trip below was the most amazing adventure of my life to that point, maybe ever, even if nobody but Carl and Jon could appreciate it at the time: 1989.

But maybe now, more can and it might even get somebody out to repeat what could be called, tongue-in-cheek, "The Sliprock Trail".





Thursday, June 14, 2018

Next Gen


Watching these makes me think I was born 30 years too soon.

He has many many more, too. Go check out his channel on You tube.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Golden Age Nostalgia

After reading Luc Mehl's guest blog at the Alpacka web site I indulged in some nostalgia from 2009-2010.

If you're reading this, then you really should go read Luc's post. I found it flattering and a bit of a vignette of what I, self-centeredly, consider the Golden Age of packrafting.

Golden in that it was a big leap forward. Golden in that Brad Meiklejohn urged us into Embick's  Class IV and V creeks. Golden in that real boaters Tim Johnson, Paul Schauer, and Thai Verzone led us down and plucked us out. Golden in that I started hitting whitewater centers beyond Alaska with the boat born in Alaska and now ready for the world: NZ, Grand Canyon, Australia's Franklin, Appalachians.

But the world was not ready. Haters were everywhere and even Alpacka wanted nothing to do with thigh straps.

"Why would a packrafter being going down a class 3/4 river like this, ever? Not only that, these guys are wearing drysuits because the water is cold - and I can't imagine a lightweight hiker wanting to bring one along on his trip. 
Seriously, I think you've missed the point of this video completely. It's about paddling in big groups that have sufficient resources to perform a rescue and using the skills that are taught in whitewater rescue classes properly. It's not about boat design.
I've kayaked big water for years and backpack/hike and the combination of packrafts and big water is a bozo no-no in my opinion. It seems like the packraft community is rediscovering everything the ww kayak community has known for years about the dangers of ww kayaking. Please stick to class 1 rivers and ponds for your own safety, and don't paddle in cold water without the proper thermal protection."

And a kayaker's response to thigh straps and packrafts in 2009. 

 ‘In a packraft, at least IMO, they seem like more than is necessary even at the upper end of whitewater. IMHO if you feel you need thigh straps you should probably think about improving your technique or further developing your skills. Weather it be reading the water better and seeing the clean lines and hitting them or simply spending more time in the raft, one needs to have skills. Given their design, there are just certain things that will be difficult no matter what you do. eg big holes on big water. These things are already about as idiot proof as it gets. Don't get me wrong, there are probably a hand full of people that could really push what is possible in a packraft with thigh straps, but for most it will simply be a substitute for skill and ultimately not help them in the long run. In fact I'd be willing to bet that most packrafters would not be able to roll a raft even if they were glued into the thing. It is certainly more difficult than a kayak by a long shot. Not to mention much harder on one's shoulders as well.’
But maybe like bad brush and cold water, some of us just felt that these nasty-grams were challenges to overcome and now that they are overcome, I find myself sitting back, older, and trying to just get out of the way.

  1. My Packrafting! book is out of print.
  2. Falcon Guidebooks sells a new book about packrafting.
  3. Thor and Sarah Tingey have transformed Alpacka with a boat for every kind of water and even a mountain bike boat.
  4. There are maybe even a dozen other packraft manufacturers.
  5. My testosterone has drained away leaving me somewhat flacid when it comes to whitewater.
  6. But it doesn't matter because there are plenty of bad-asses out there, 
    • including former kayakers and
    • hard-core packrafters-first who now use kayaks to improve their packrafting.
It's been great to watch and even greater to be part of it.

My own history with whitewater in packrafts can be covered in six videos. The first couple of videos are sort of accidental. But starting at the end of  2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 I posted on You Tube the greatest hits I'd been involved with each year. 

2008 was the year of whitewater discovery. 
2009 was the year of whitewater exploration.
2010 was the year of thigh straps that made us feel like real boaters.
2011 was the year of extended sterns that felt like cheating.

(January 2000) Taking a Sherpa Packraft down a stream in Pumalin Park, Chile before I'd actually got my butt in an Alpacka.




(January 2008)  Hermit to Havasu with Gordy and Cody Roman in the Grand Canyon. Up to say 2008, Cody Roman and I going down Ship Creek's canyon repeatedly and sniffing out some other runs elsewhere, was about it for whitewater. Then I started paddling with Brad.




(2008)  was the year I finally found someone other than Cody Roman who wanted to do Ship Creek more than once. The music was Radiohead's National Anthem, a song and band Roman introduced to me and the song captured the hectic feel of the early days of whitewater in packrafts. But YouTube stripped the song....so now it's the canned version of what they offer.









(2009) By the Fall of  2009 the packrafting revolution was getting started with Brad, Thai, Luc, Gordy, Tony, Becky, JT and others hitting it hard in Southcentral AK. It was when Tim Johnson and Paul Schauer and Thai Verzone, Class V kayakers all, joined us.

These guys, as Mike Curiak recently wrote, made me feel as though they were "participating in an entirely different sport -- one filled with grace and control and poise, where by comparison I feel like I just bludgeon and hack my way through while trying to survive."


This one doesn't play on phones, I guess because nobody's made enough money yet off the half-century old Beatles classic, Revolution (although it plays on computers in the US). It's worth watching on a 'puter, by the way, with the sound track.




(2010) Ah yes, the struggle with Alpacka over thigh straps. We were the Devil:  dangerous, reckless, a real pain in the butt-boats of Alpacka, but in the end we were right. Maybe, just maybe, our devilish ways got the "Witchcraft" started, a black boat you might catch a glimpse of in this next video somewhere, and that is the ancestral boat of Alpacka's Lips and Gnarwall boats. Or maybe it was really the handful of "Media Feliz" paddlers down in CO that motivated the development. Still, I like to think it was us, the 20 or 30 people in Alaska packraft-paddling Six Mile and Little Su and Ship Creek and Bird that pushed whitewater boat development at Alpacka. But again, probably just my narcissism playing tricks on my ego!




(2011) With the new long stern boats of 2011 it was almost a new sport. It was like in the 1980s when sticky rubber (particularly the Fires) hit rock or when foot fangs and plastic boots hit ice, or when leashless tools hit both rock and ice, whenever that happened. We had the new longer stern boats that erased bandersnatching as a concept and instead launched us out of sticky holes, leaning forward into the modern boats we've known for years. It also ended my year-end video making recaps, as then Luc Mehl and Mike Curiak were there to pick up my stringy end of the tapestry and weave it with finer artistry.





And there we have it. Six footnotes to "Show up and Blow up: Alaska"!

Friday, March 23, 2018

What color should glacier algae be?

This is an article that came out this month in an international journal on microbial ecology. My co-authors include Ganey who did the experiment with chalk dust and McKenzie Skiles of the University of Utah.

I am psyched about it because it was the "Editor's Choice" for their March issue and because it mixes a bunch of science that I like: mathematical modeling, simple experiments, and organisms that live on glaciers.

If I tweeted, I'd tweet this. It's extra neat because it's free to read and the Oxford University Press asked me to post on their blog about glacier algae. That post comes out on Sunday, March 25.

Strangely, perhaps, I have been more absorbed in the statistical analysis of scientific data than outdoor adventures of late, perhaps because.....
 
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