Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Epic Eric Rules!

Prepping for an international adventure demands much.

First there’s the big wad of cash you drop on air travel. Not to mention the guilt that comes with unloading a year’s worth of car travel in fossil carbon into the atmosphere on one self-indulgent trip.

Second there’s the planning with limited resources. If you’ve been there before, then you’re at least partially calibrated and know what to expect, what you can do and more importantly what you can get away with -- but still you need to read guidebooks standing around at Barnes and Nobles as well as other people’s blogs. You have to search on-line images and Google Earth. Then you have to pore over your old maps covered in notes and numbers from last time, skim your journals for insights forgotten. Most importantly you must balance ambition with real-time and real-life, prepare yourself for not actually doing even half of what you plan/hope/dream – unless you’re Andrew Skurka, who somehow plans exactly what he’s going to do a year in advance and then actually does what’s never been done before!

Next, you have to prep your gear and pick the best of many piles sifted and tested and weighed piece-by-piece, since there’s a weight limit on baggage set by the airlines and by practicality. I like the adage, “Bring half the clothes and twice the money that you think you’ll need.” But there’s nothing in that adage about gear. Maybe a new one: leave all your climbing gear but take all the butt-boats?

I want to bring three packrafts equipped with thigh straps (one for me, two to share) and maybe three paddles (one to share, one for steep creeking, one for a traverse); a helmet and a PFD (maybe two?); lots of straps and dry bags (one 65 L, 4 15 L, one 5 L); a dry suit and rain gear; a pack; a sleeping bag (down or synthetic?); and which shelter? There are those pesky West Coast sand flies, but there I’ll be running short creeks with huts, so maybe a shelter for an east side, Alaska-style packrafting traverse would be better suited? And all these decisions in our little East side house crowded by the holidays and me being so very self-indulgent, packing and prepping in a little corner so as not to remind everyone that I’ll be leaving on my own in two weeks.

But I am very excited to be heading out with my new pimped out ride. Very excited.

For me, new outdoor sports are exciting both for the sense of discovery in traversing new landscapes in novel ways and for realizng the imagination of equipment to make those trips happen.

In the 80s in Fairbanks it was Dick Flaharty of Apocalypse Design and Clem Rawert of Clem’’s backpacking who made me the superlight clothes and "glacier sandals" I used in the early Wilderness Classics with lots of good ideas from notorious Doug Buchanan of the Sandvik House.

In the 90s it was Dana Designs making gear for adventure races and a couple year period when I worked with Patagonia as a fabric tester for the R1, R2, R3 fabrics, new Capilene, and waterproof/breathable fabrics.

Most exciting, though, was working with Tom Ness of New Tribe and Steve Sillett in the early ought’s when we were designing and testing “magic missiles” for “canopy trekking” across redwood, giant sequoia, Eucalyptus regnans, and lowland tropical rainforests. Crossing from tree to tree with no help from the ground in the most magnificent forests in the world, -- using gear and techniques that we invented -- was so very satisfying that it still breaks my adventurer's heart that Sillett and I had a falling out, one you will not find in Richard Preston’s The Wild Trees, a biography of canopy scientist Steve Sillett.

So now at the brink of the teens there’s a handful of us developing packrafts for whitewater, dreaming up mods and enlisting skilled gear folk to realize them. It truly is the Golden Age of packrafting.

Yesterday Epic Eric Parsons added some really awesome design modifications to my boat. We spent hours in the beating heart of the Conaway Industrial Center where Eric turned my imagination into reality with rapid and repeated buzzes through his sewing machine. It was so impressive to see him cut and sew and smile in the chilliness that prevents his workspace from becoming just another sweat-shop.

Dylan Kentch dropped by to pick up a bomber triangle-fame pack for his upcoming hemis-tour from Seattle to Argentina. Dylan and Eric have been doing some really grand mountain bike rides in the wilds of Alaska on totally contrasting bikes: one a simple, stripped down fixy and the other a fat tired low geared tractor.

Eric’s dog Lucy makes every visitor to the cold-sweat shop welcome and Eric has all the goods and the knowhow to pimp anybody’s ride, be it rubber-knobbed, urethane-coated, or bindingly-boarded.

He added 4 more inches of Velcro to my Llama's center closure, the one with the seat freed, together with a big handle to rip that 5 inches of velcro free should need arise while upside down with an Eskimo roll gone missing. He sewed two inches of Velcro on the freed seat so it’s now adjustable. He sewed in spray deck “waist pockets” that hold two-liter Platypus bags as air dams at the top of the spray deck. He attached the red Yak’s seat six inches forward, in a better spot for thigh-strapping control. He also replaced some worn out Velcro on the Yak and another Llama -- basically repairing a sizeable portion of the Dial Armada in dry-dock.

So I got him a foot long Subway sandwich and made it a meal with chips and a drink and bribed him to let me wedge in front of all those others out there who are desperate for a guy who sews for a living and can negotiate a Juki or a Brother through crusts of Velcro, down couloirs of Cordura the way Jeff Conaway skis and Brad Meiklejohn paddles.

In short, Eric helped make my dreams come true, and anytime someone does that you must repay them handsomely.

This thanks’s to you Epic Eric.


  1. Not knowing Eric, it sounds like he did a superb job, something only very dedicated and customer oriented folks can and will do. Good for you to have such a person living close by you!

    I'm really looking forward to the videos and photos of your trip. Since I was a teenager New Zealand is a country I want to go visit, and doing so backpacking and packrafting sounds like a perfect trip. I'm almost a bit jealous, Roman =) Don't worry about the emissions, if you offset them (I'd just give money to some nature conservation like WWF instead on of the "offsetting businesses") you have nothing to worry about, and can enjoy your trip with a clean conscious.

    Yule tidings!

  2. Sounds like you're getting ready to jet soon Roman. Can't wait to be down there doing some boatin' with ya! Shoulder is getting better, the physical therapy has been helping a lot & I'm staying religious about doing it 5 times a day.
    I don't think you'll ever have to really find that tab to "pull your skirt" on your packraft... but an old kayak trick is to take a carabiner and just clip it to the grabloop. When you're upside down, the heavy carabiner will sink, extend the grabloop, and make it really easy to find.
    I'd HIGHLY recommend ditching any kind of floorless tent & bringing a real tent. You'll be really glad you carried the extra weight when there is 10 billion blood thirsty sandflies that just can't find a single crevis to slip into your tent. Just a thought:^)

    Tim Johnson

  3. Hendrik, Knowing that where you are in Finland is at least as dark if not darker than hear in Anchorage, I can empathize with your near-envy when someone is heading to balmier climates during midwinter. Hopefully I'll be able to post stuff from NZ -- and enjoy the trip with a clear conscience!

  4. Tim,

    I'll bring bug netting for sure -- and good idea about the weight on the rip-cord for my spray deck.

    Looking forward to seeing you in NZ -- enjoy your family time in GA and Merry Christmas!

  5. Hey Roman
    I'm pretty keen to see which rivers you are going to do in NZ. I was over there a few years ago and was gobsmacked at the potential, but i'm sure you and others are fully aware of it....
    Are you going to hit the Clarence system?
    Paul Christensen
    Whitehorse yukon

  6. Don't know what you plan on doing before I get there Roman, but the Perth (lower canyon, which is probably going to be really scary, but hopefully good:^), is one of the top on my list if the water levels are right. Got a big list & little time.

    Tim Johnson

  7. Paul and Tim,

    Yes Perth is high on the list but waiting for you Tim to arrive!

    My plan is to spend a couple days in Fiji en route doing the Navua, then link up with a couple other boaters in NZ I've emailed and maybe walk-in to something multi-day. Then I'd like to go up to Murchison and the Buller and work on my roll in river water. Next meet Australian Andrew Allan for a run down the lower Karamea. Then....not sure....play it by ear....until you get there Tim and maybe we can work on some west coast runs, like Styx, Arahura, Perth, Hokitika, Whitcombe, or whatever you want to do and have time for a packrafter. Are any of those on your list?

    Paul, when did you trade ice tools for paddles?

  8. Sounds like a good plan. I've paddled the Arahura, and we would more than likely both get our asses handed to us if we so much as attempt a section of that river (some really powerful ledge holes that I would be terrified to try to boof over with the hull speed of a packraft:^) The lower Styx, Perth Lower canyon with caution, Lower Kakapotahi, Lower Hokitika definitely, lower whataroa, maybe Oparara? although we might get our stuff handed to us and would definitely have to portage a few that I can think of, hmmm. so many. I'd love to attempt Nevis Bluff (the big class V+/VI- big water rapid down towards Queenstown. I think it just might be possible, just want to pre-attempt it first in the hardshell to see if I get my ass handed to me or not. Shotover, Hurunuai near Christchurch, so many good ones and so little time. Looking SO forward to some boating!!! AHHHHH!&*(@

    Tim Johnson

  9. Hi Roman
    Ah yes, ice tools. They are, ahem, hanging in the basement, somewhere.
    To be honest, the Yukon is a NOT the place to be if you are an ice climber. Pretty barren here. Fairbanks vicinity has better ice than we do for cryin out loud! And the 15 hour drive to Valdez got to be more of a chore than a treat. Glenallen at
    -50 began to lose its lustre.
    Wilderness journey's however... Man, the Yukon is a mecca.
    I just got bit by that pesky packrafting bug, and can't wait for summer.
    I'll be in NZ next Oct/Nov/Dec and want to take the PR along. It will be great to see what you get up to down there.


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