Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mary The Kayak Lady: One Woman, One Kayak, 1007 Lakes

At a time when everyone seems to be so enamored of the big feats of kayaking (crossing the Atlantic, circumnavigating Australia), it was refreshing to read about a woman who simply chose to make it her goal to kayak on all the lakes in her county.  No sponsors, no website, no blog.  However, if you live in Itasca County, Minnesota, that may not be as simple a goal as it sounds.  The first problem is that she lives in the "land of 10,000 lakes".  Her county claimed to have 1007 lakes while the DNR's official lake list "only" included 945.  It took her eleven years to get to the 945 lakes on the DNR list, and then she made it a quest to find the 62 other bodies of water that were considered "lakes" under DNR criteria.

The author, Mary Shideler, chooses to highlight just a small sampling of her experiences during the many years that she paddled on these lakes.  Her life circumstances change over time, and she changes over time, as well.  The chapters are illustrated with photos taken by Mary and her friends.  The photos are nothing spectacular in an artistic sense, but their inclusion gives us a clearer picture of Mary and her personality.

While paddling on the lakes, Mary also attempted to add to the body of information about the lakes in her county by taking depth measurements and water clarity readings on each lake with a Secchi disk.

At a mere 142 pages including dozens of photos, this is a quick and easy read.  It may not be worthy of a national bestseller, but in it's own way, it may be an important inspiration to other paddlers to get out and set a big goal for themselves.  It isn't always necessary to paddle around a continent to be an accomplished kayaker.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Ten Rivers: Adventure Stories from the Arctic"

For the time being, I have decided to keep the Paddler's Book Club blog with the blessing of its creator, Rick I. However, it is going to be more of a book review format rather than an "Oprah"-like read and discuss book club format. I still invite your comments, but each blog post will be devoted to a single book.

I just recently finished reading the book, "Ten Rivers: Adventure Stories from the Arctic" by Ed Struzik. While not easily found on sites like, this book can also be found published under the title, "Ten Rivers Run Through It: Adventure Stories from the Arctic." It is published by CanWest Books Inc. copyright 2005.

I stumbled across this book as I was doing research on paddling the Thomsen River on Banks Island in the Northwest Territories of Canada. There is a chapter in the book on the Thomsen River which is mainly why I bought the book. Other chapters cover trips that the author has done on the Nahanni, Mackenzie, Snowdrift, Nanook, Firth, Brown, Cunningham, Taggart, and Back Rivers. Most of the trips were done using canoes, although the chapters on the Brown Cunningham, and Taggart Rivers are an exception.

The book is a very readable 228 pages, full of information about the history and wildlife of these Arctic rivers. Unlike many adventure travel narratives, Struzik does not get bogged down by giving a moment by moment account of every stroke he takes on the river. He accents the interesting highlights of each trip (both positive and negative), and gives expanded background information about the particular animals or native inhabitants of the region through which he is traveling. As a "map addict", I really appreciated the maps that are included at the beginning of each chapter which help to locate the river on the map of Canada as well as identifying the locations on the river which are mentioned in the text.

You can find many interesting and informative articles written by Ed Struzik, who is a science journalist, by doing an internet search of his name. He has been traveling in the Arctic for more than 30 years and has been a witness to many of the changes that have taken place as a result of climate change and human development. I plan to read his most recent book, "The Big Thaw", very soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Decision Time

I have finished writing about the book, "Crossing the Ditch" by James Castrission and am now at a decision point about what to do next.

I took over this blog for Rick Isaacson about a year ago as he did not have the time to carry out his plans. I don't know that I have really done justice to the vision that Rick had for this site. There was a long lapse between when Rick stopped posting and when he turned the keys over to me. The momentum and comments that were generated under Rick's watch never really rematerialized after I took over.

That being the case, and since blogging seems to take up a lot of time (for me at least), I'm at a point where I need to decide if I will continue to maintain the Paddler's Book Club blog.

If I do continue, the format of this blog would change from its current "Oprah Book Club"-type focus, which was Rick's vision, to a book review format. My blog posts would simply be reviews of paddling-related books (instructional, travel narratives, historical, etc.). Another option would be for me to return the Paddler's Book Club site to Rick and just start a whole new blog for my book reviews.

If anyone has strong feelings about this, I would appreciate hearing from you.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Expert" or "Lucky"?

How do you feel about the author, James Castrission, and his partner, Justin Jones, as a result of their having attempted and completed a crossing of the Tasman Sea? Do you view them as "expert" kayakers or were they just lucky that they weren't killed? Are they "heroes"? Do they deserve fame and adulation for their exploits? Did they deserve any "sponsorship" from the companies that gave them gear for the trip?

While there aren't a lot of people who attempt major crossings like this, there do seem to be an awful lot of paddlers who attempt very ambitious trips. In this day of social media, these trips get a lot of publicity through blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Some paddlers may view this as a way to rocket to the top of the kayaking world. They can become instant "experts" with street cred as long as they survive and successfully complete the trip. They will get their names and faces plastered all over paddling magazines.

In my own neck of the woods, I have seen a fair amount of attempts being made to cross Lake Michigan. Some are well-planned trips made by skilled paddlers with a desire to test their personal limits. Unfortunately, many of them are just ill-conceived plans made by inexperienced paddlers who have visions of grandeur. Thankfully, their have been no deaths, as yet, only a couple of rescues.

I suppose I have given an indication of how I feel about many of these adventures. My favorite adventurer is Ed Gillet who crossed from California to Hawaii with no fanfare or sponsors, and didn't even write a book about his trip. Whatever the reasons for his trip, they were and mostly remain his own. Most kayakers are still unaware of his name and what he did.

However, I'm curious how other people view these kinds of exploits, speaking either specifically about the Tasman Sea crossing related in "Crossing the Ditch" or generally about any such attempts. Does glorifying these people encourage unprepared paddlers to take risks that they shouldn't in hopes of grabbing their 15 minutes of fame?


Friday, February 25, 2011

Does Technology Make Kayaking Safer?

James Castrission and Justin Jones took the following items on their trip across the Tasman Sea:
  • 2 EPIRB's
  • 2 satellite phones
  • 1 laptop
  • 1 VHF radio
  • 2 handheld GPS units
  • 1 Daestra TracPlus locater beacon
  • 1 electric water desalinator
  • solar panels to recharge and power the above
Andrew McAuley took the following items on his trip across the Tasman:
  • 1 EPIRB
  • 2 satellite phones
  • 3 handheld GPS units
  • 1 Fastwave GPS tracking beacon
  • 1 VHF radio
  • solar panels to recharge and power the above
Twenty years ago, when I started kayaking, GPS was a military technology that cost thousands of dollars, assuming you could find a unit in the first place. Cell/satellite phones were likewise very rare and were bulky and heavy. There were no PLB's. EPIRB's were something that were carried on larger sea-going vessels. VHF radios were available, but you had to get a license to use one. Mostly, kayakers had to depend on their knowledge, skills, and navigation ability with a paper map and compass. If anything went wrong on a trip, you were most likely going to have to handle it on your own. On the positive side, we didn't have to depend much on electronic or battery-powered technology that has a tendency to fail in a marine environment, and focused instead on those skills that would hopefully keep us out of trouble in the first place.

Here's the $64,000 question: Is kayaking safer now with all the available tracking, navigation, and communication technologies? Or do paddlers rely too heavily on these items and put themselves into more risky situations figuring that the technology will save them when the you-know-what hits the fan?


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What is the definition of a "kayak"?

Over the years, there have been several major crossings of oceans by people using "kayaks". However, if we look at each of the actual boats used, these "kayaks" would look quite different from each other.
Of these seven expeditions, only Ed Gillet used a totally stock sea kayak without modifications. Andrew McAuley's kayak had some modifications to increase volume so he could carry enough food and gear. Romer and Lindemann used stock folding kayaks that were only modified somewhat, but they mostly sailed their kayaks and only used paddles occasionally. Bray, Doba, and Castrission/Jones paddled, but had kayaks that included a sealed cabin for sleeping.

When McAuley and the team of Castrission/Jones were making their preparations to cross the Tasman Sea, the sea kayaking legend, Paul Caffyn, expressed his feeling that using a 29-foot kayak with a cabin was essentially "cheating". It wasn't really a "kayak" in his estimation.

How do you feel about this question? What is the definition of a "kayak" for the purposes of doing a major crossing for the record books? Does it matter? And what about all the new communication technology that is available to today's adventurer? We'll address that specific issue another time. For now, let's focus on the definition of a kayak. What do you think?


Friday, February 4, 2011

Chapter 4: "You're Going To Kill Yourself"

When James and Justin tell their parents about their plans to kayak across the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand, both sets of parents are understandably upset. It was certainly not an unreasonable fear on the part of the parents that these two young men might very well die in this attempt.

This chapter brings up a larger question for everyone who participates in high-risk adventure sports. What responsibility do we have towards our family and friends, those who love and care about us and will be left to mourn if we should die or be required to care for us in the event of a crippling injury while pursuing our passion? Is there or should there be an obligation to consider the feelings of others before undertaking these kinds of trips? Is it selfish of the parents to ask their sons not to do this trip? What do you think?

My brother died in a sky-diving accident many years ago leaving a wife and small daughter. Afterwards, I have always felt a greater pressure to stay safe and make sure that nothing happens to me. At the time, I had a small son of my own and I was left as the only child to take care of my parents as they aged. Does this thought ever cross your own mind as you go kayaking?