Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Post Toronto Sportsman's Show Update

The official Sportsman's Show exhibitor's
badge I was entitled to wear!

It was another marathon weekend, but I was much better prepared this time despite the longer hours! One notable difference was the type of people that attended this event compared to the Outdoor Adventure Show. Due to the huge range of exhibits, which entailed lots boating, fishing, and hunting paraphernalia there were lots of hunters and fishermen around. Even then, there was no lack of the traditional outdoors enthusiast types such as canoeist, kayakers, and backpackers.

Dave Helsdon, myself and Jim Stevens working
the Eureka booth.

I got to work with the great folks from Johnson Outdoors again -Jim Stevens, Ian Holmes, Eric, Justin, as well as Dave Helsdon. Last time, I wasn't able to get a picture of Dave because he was sooo popular, he barely had time for anyone, let alone himself! But this time, we had some time to chat and even get a picture together. (he's also a photographer - we had lots to talk about!) The highlight of the Eureka booth was Dave's invention - a hammock tent. After many years, prototypes, long hours, and headaches he has finally perfected his "baby" and through a partnership with Eureka, they have come out with the Chrysalis.

Taking an opportunity to try the Chrysalis out before the
the start of the show! Very slick set-up
and comfortable too!

Let me tell you, that hammock is quite an amazing set-up. First off, it is extremely comfortable. It is different from other hammocks by its patented 2 pole design that even allows you to sleep on your side! People were eyeing it like candy as they were clambering to get in it and try it. Once they got in, they loved it. One lady at the Outdoor Adventure show was convinced she couldn't use it due to back pain. Let me tell me you, once she tried it she left with 2! It was definitely a hot selling item! The hammock is also fully covered and protected from the elements which allows for 3 season use. I will definitely review and report more on it after I get a hold of one. Great job Dave!

Dave Helsdon was going non-stop. He put the rest
of us to shame! Watch the star
attraction in action!

I've also obtained another unique product by Jim Stevens called the Vital Stove that seems to buck the trend of gas driven stoves, much like the Littlbug that I recently reviewed. It uses any combustible material you can find (twigs, pine cones, bark etc.), but the big difference is that this unit is forced fed air which helps fan the flame and increase heat, much like the bellow used by a blacksmith. I am eager to try this stove out and will report back with a review later in the season as well.

A compact battery operated forced air wood stove.
Its a mouthful, but extremely effective.

I have to say, I had a great time at the show. I met a lot of amazing people - from all walks of outdoor life. It was not only gratifying to help people with gear selection, but to engage them in their stories of adventure and travel. Thank you all for sharing and making my time there much more enjoyable! Hope to see some of you out there!

A small word to Jim Baird and Sid Bredin for coming by to see me - thanks guys! Always a pleasure meeting up with the gang from Paddle Shack, Souris River and the Swifty boys. It was lots of fun and surprisingly a bit sad (I know, I'm getting soft!) when it was all said and done!

Till next year!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mar 14 09 - Sixteen Mile Creek

Waiting at Sixteen Valley Conservation Area for the rest of
the crew to finish the shuttle

Let's be frank, I'm not an urban paddler. There is nothing really that interest me about paddling Lake Ontario or any river/creek that flows into the lake. First off, who REALLY knows what's in the water! Flowing through either industrial complexes or jam-packed neighbourhoods, you never know what (or who for that matter!) gets dumped in there. All it takes is a walk through a park and you'll see plenty evidence of our ignorance.

Our motley crew of seemingly intrepid paddlers!
Photo by: Imroze Albert

Then there are the structures - houses, apartments, buildings, bridges, culverts, etc. Why would I want to see that from the water?!! I could do that from any place out of the water! Then there is always the possibility of tipping in the drink! I couldn't even imagine, let alone wish it on my worst enemy! The previous day when my Ben and I paddled the Credit river and we hit some huge rollers, we squealed with glee, only to have "brownish" water splash into both our mouths! Needless to say, after spitting in unison like crazy, our mouths stayed fairly shut for the rest of the runs!

Evidence of urbanization was much more pronounced
in the lower reaches of Sixteen Mile Creek

But,...there are some advantages, I grudgingly admit. Like ice-out earlier in the season, closer places to paddle (including whitewater), less time spent on the road, and the more likelihood of friends joining you. Oh, and I forgot to mention, the possibility of a hot meal and cold beer at the end of the run!

I'm sure we were the only canoe-topped vehicles at a
drive through in Oakville that day!

The Credit river is definitely a fun run when the water is high, but the scenery from approx Streetsville south doesn't offer much. So when the opportunity of paddling Six Mile Creek in Oakville came up, I jumped at it. Other friends had paddled it the weekend before and raved about the scenery and challenging whitewater so I couldn't resist. Of course I had my doubts about the scenery (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), but hell, it was a chance to paddle more whitewater, so why not?

Like Rob's shadow, his alter ego -
the child in him - emerged!

After taking care of the annoying shuttle, we saddled up at Sixteen Valley Conservation Area. It was an absolutely beautiful day, - sun, blue skies, and balmy temperatures (5-6C), - ideal conditions despite large chunks of ice still lining the shore. We definitely caught the attention of people at the park and locals passing by with our flashy outfits and canoes. Before we got too far, we were even flagged by a couple (masked as paparazzi!) to take a few pictures - we obliged only because we are underpaid celebrities! (yak!) Once the photo shoot was done, we let the swift current whisk us away!

The red shale-limestone cliffs were breath-taking!
Urban paddling at its best!

It was soon evident that the landscape we were paddling through was much more wilderness-like than I expected. The upper reaches were void of man-made structures and helped us forget how close to civilization we were. Then there were the imposing but stunning shale-limestone cliffs, streaked with large vestiges of melting ice. At times, I felt like I was navigating a river through a remote canyon on a far flung expedition. It was well worth the paddle, even just for the scenery. So I may not entirely retract my earlier statement, but I have certainly changed my stance on how I view urban paddling and look forward to the next one. The scenery certainly did impress, but so did the massive concrete pillars and bridge that supported the 407!

Paddling below huge ice cliffs discoloured by the red
shale was out of this world!

Ben and Dimitry had to prove their worth
after their fiasco on the Dumoine river

Sixteen Mile Creek didn't have the same volume as the Credit, but it certainly offered up some whitewater challenges. Many were tight technical rapids that required precise executions while the odd time, we encountered huge rollers and standing waves that was just plain fun to run. There were also many strainers and downed trees to watch for, but nothing that required anything more than being diligent. Despite the range of rapids that we got to paddle (class 1-3) we still grounded out several times and realized any further drop in water levels would make it challenging to paddle. Nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed the run and look forward to doing it again in the future.

We all lose our way in life sometimes, just as long
as you can find your way back! - as
these boys can illustrate!

Due to our late start, we ended our outing in the dark at 20:00!, - thank goodness for the earlier daylight savings! (oh, and the streetlights helped!) It was a good 5 hour run, which was great, but we will certainly start sooner next time. It may have been warm earlier on, but it certainly wasn't when the sun went down. We all got out of the canoes with a funny gait as all our feet were like blocks of ice! (a hot jacuzzi would have helped right about now)

No urban paddle is complete without a playground! Yeah,
the kids ran when the colourful monsters emerged
from the river to take over the swings!
Photo by: Ben Albert

One thing I HAVE to mention. Once we got back to Ben and Imroze's place, - besides Ben being chided for not calling about our late finish, he's so irresponsible! (muffled giggle) - Imroze prepared an awesome meal for us. We were not only frozen when we finished, but starving! So once we peeled off our wet gear and cleaned up, we were treated to an amazing dish of pasta and samosas that we devoured like emaciated coyotes. Let me tell you, once we finished, we were royally stuffed! Thank you so much Imroze! We owe you big time! The singles in our group (which was everyone except Ben) concluded we all need a canoe-friendly lady! (of course, not just to cook! - sheesh!) You're a lucky man Ben!

That big pan of pasta was absolutely delicious!
Thank you so much Imroze!

Thanks gentlemen, (cough, cough) for the highly enjoyable paddle down Sixteen Mile Creek!
Until next time, "keep the hands off the gunwale!"


Monday, March 16, 2009

Kanawa Magazine - Winter/Spring 09

Just a quick note, in the latest edition of Kanawa Magazine, (Winter/Spring 2009) you will find an article by Jim & Ted Baird on the Kuujjua River/Beaufort Sea titled "Untamed Land". These are the same friends that I've posted about previously. As expected, you will find stunning photos and an exhilarating account of their travels in the high arctic. Whether you subscribe to it, or come across it in the newsstand, check it out.
Congrats boys!

A full page photo of mine can also be found at the end of the magazine under Last Word.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mar 13 09 - Whitewater on the Credit River

Ben and I think alike - the chance to paddle always brings
about a big smile, despite the conditions!

What a difference one week can make! This time we got sun and blue skies, but didn't get the balmy temperatures from last week. It was not only a chilly -3C at the river edge, but there were multitudes of ice pieces floating down the river, - nice! Not surprising as Ben mentioned it was -10C overnight! Brrrr!

Chilly morning at Meadowvale Park

Since Ben's canoe was getting repaired at Complete Paddler, they kindly loaned us a fully outfitted canoe to paddle for the weekend. (can't say enough about the great service at Complete Paddler!) After carrying the gear to the river overcoming our first hurdle - the icy path to the water - we loaded up to go just after noon.

A mandatory portage meant breaking ice to get to shore!

Because Ben and I were paddling on our own, we had to be a little more diligent running rapids since a capsize could be detrimental without another boat acting as a spotter. Which didn't mean we avoided them (hey, Ben did we avoid any?!), but exercised more care. Surprising, the river this weekend was running even faster and stronger! Maybe from the rain and snow during the week, but I didn't expect it to be like this. Which in essence was fine as we thoroughly enjoyed practicing manoeuvres in more demanding situations.

I believe this is the Reid Milling Co. dam that
we portaged around.

We noticed many fly fishermen along the river edge (fishing for Rainbow trout) as they in turned noticed the gawd-awful colour scheme floating along. (probably scared the fish too!) Surprisingly there was also many people walking along the park paths waving and wishing us well - while under their breath they probably thought we were nuts! One time there was a large group of people up on a bridge waving at us like we were "stars", when Ben noticed a pillow rock last minute and we had to take quick evasive action while scraping the boulder. Wouldn't that be great! - waving, looking up at the crowd, acting cool and then dumping in front of everyone! Phew!

Taking a break along the 4ft snow banks along
the shores of the Credit

It was cold, I will definitely admit that! We frequently got out to bail water from the canoe and jog in place to get warm blood back into our frozen hands and feet. Not only that, all the splashing, crashing, and punching through large waves started to ice-over the canoe, thigh straps, seats, and Ben's drysuit! (he was in the bow) I guess it all comes with the package this time of year! Despite it all, we made sure to take full advantage of the river. One time there was a chain of huge standing waves which we plowed into that launched Ben as high as I've ever seen him go. (the paddle flapped like wings!) Yeah, he may have screamed a bit like a girl, but hey, don't tell him I said so!!

What do you do when the zipper on your drysuit
freezes and you have to go pee?!!

The most incredible scene was the damage found at Mississauga's Golf and Country Club. Several weeks ago, huge spikes in temperature combined with heavy rains released a torrent of water and large ice pans down the Credit. This ultimately ended at the golf club wreaking complete havoc. Nothing was spared as the ice pans extended hundreds of feet into the golf course! Ben and I were at a loss of words as we witnessed all the destruction. I'm sure the repair cost would be in the millions! It was unreal! See the pictures below!

These melting ice pans extended far into
the greens from the river!

The after-effects of the moving ice looks eerily similar
to what glaciers do! Talk about a shredded lawn!

Huge trees had their bark torn off! This tree
was ear-marked to probably be
cut down!

Even the asphalt roads for the golf carts were not spared!

Earth torn apart, water lines cracked, planks broken on
bridges - the force of water & ice was relentless!

We both had a great time, despite the freezing cold temperature and wind. Although, the take-out and the carry to the car got us warmed up lickety-split! Ben had an alternate plan of taking out before the QEW bridge where his wife would be waiting to pick us up. Did I mention we not only had to clamber over 3 foot ice pans from the muddy shore (try that for a lift-over!), we then had to carry up an insanely steep 60-70ft hill! Try that with neoprene boots!!! Let me tell you, that won't happen again! I have to admit though, the view from the top was spectacular! Nothing like ending a paddle with a bang!

Over-looking the Credit river - there is a sheer drop in front
of the canoe. No we didn't come up that way!

Many thanks to Ben's wife Imroze for the shuttle!


PS. One last thing, what the heck is up with all the coconuts in the river!
We found one last week floating in the river and then we
found 3 more yesterday!
This is Canada, right? See below.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Two Quick Announcements

Hey Folks,

This post is a little late, (okay really late!) but one of my sponsor, The Complete Paddler is hosting the Real Paddling Film Festival this Friday with the support of The Outing Club of East York. There will be a variety of films to sate the taste of every paddler, so if you are free Friday evening, come on out and join us downtown at the OISE Auditorium.

Here's the link with more detailed information:

Call The Complete Paddler to purchase you ticket for $12 in advance, or $15 at the door. All profits from this screening will goes towards charitable causes. You can't go wrong here, - the money goes to a good cause and you are guaranteed to have a great evening! Plus there are door prizes!

Secondly, the weekend after this, the Toronto Sportsmen's Show will be going on at Exhibition Place from March 18th to the 22nd. Here's their website for more detailed info:

This show caters to a much greater variety of outdoor interest than the Outdoor Adventure Show - and in the same respects, is much bigger too. So if you have nothing to do, come on out and enjoy the show! I will again be helping out at the Johnson Outdoors/Eureka booth both Saturday and Sunday, so if you are there, make sure to come by and visit me! And of course if you need any outdoor gear, there is no better time than at this show for some good deals!

Hope to see you all there!


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Littlbug Stove

The humble Littlbug Stove - simple yet effective

Last year at the Outdoor Adventure Show, while speaking to Gary and Joanie McGuffin, I noticed an interesting contraption they had on display. I found out it was a cylindrical wood burning stove made by a fellow down in Minnesota. I was intrigued as I've always considered such a unit, to either make or find to purchase. I admit, early on, I was not much of a campfire cooker as I grew up with the notion of "saving trees", therefore always using a stove. But in recent years, I have slowly changed my views - witnessing the petroleum based problems, speaking to various conservationist and paddling with other canoeist.

Campfires are sometimes convenient to cook with, but not always. The location (windy site), the construction (huge stone fire rings), need for greater quantity of wood, and the fact that sometimes fire pits don't exist are many such reasons. Therefore the idea of a small portable wood stove came about. Trust me, this is not some brilliant novel idea of mine - many have thought the same thing before. I've seen many homemade contraptions, including one made from those large commercial-sized cans used for food. However, this was the first time I saw a high quality production unit for sale, nicknamed the Littlbug Stove.

That's it, just 4 parts! Put it together and voila!, you
have a working wood stove!

As I was excited seeing this unit, I wondered how I could get one. I was even more excited when Gary told me he could get me one to trial/use. So when I met the McGuffin's again at Canoecopia less than a month later, I had the Littlbug Stove in my hands ready to be put through its paces throughout the year. The beauty of the unit is that it is collapsible and compact. There are 4 main parts (a fifth part to use with alcohol - which I don't use) that nestle into each other. Two large outer half rings, and two smaller half rings that fit inside the outer ring to provide the pot support. The stove is made from high grade stainless steel which prevents warping and it weighs just over 500grams. I have the larger of the 2 stoves - 8 inch diameter. When the unit is packed in its pouch, it has a slight curve which fits perfectly at the bottom of my barrel.

View from the top: Its all geometry folks! - 2 circles!

After having the stove with me on a half a dozen trips over 30 days last year, I have to say, I've fallen in love with it! Its provided endless hot water - everything from rehydrating food, to hot drinks, dish washing, cleaning and of course cooking. Its quick to set up and easy to get a fire going - campsites are ideal for finding small pieces of wood since everyone uses the big pieces and leaves the ideal sized scraps all around. You can practically use anything - bark, twigs, pinecones, dried leaves/needles - but its good to seek out finger sized twigs to provide a steady source of fuel. Oh, did I mention that I can actually hear myself when I use the stove?! Yes, I can have a normal conversation! My MSR Dragonfly (which I love) sounds like I'm sitting beside the NASA launch pad everytime I fire it up! Also when there is no firepit, the Littlbug can provide a quasi-campfire!

Fire in the hole! This stove directs the heat
and flame exactly where its needed!

The only thing I didn't have which I supplemented was the bottom firepan. I purchased a "stainless steel plate" so that I could use the stove in places other than the firepit, but it was soon evident that it was poor quality metal. It warped during the first fire. The other thing I had to watch for was where I placed the stove - with my cheap base. It is pretty hot underneath and it can scorch the ground, so use a rock based surface - gravel, stones, pebbles, sand or place it in the firepit without the base. I don't know how the firepan for this unit is made, but once I get one, I'll update my findings.

Cooking on Dumoine River - the Littlbug was the talk of
the trip! Everyone loved it!

One last thing, fires cause soot. That's unavoidable, even on the stove itself. So besides taking a pair of leather gloves to handle the stove (if necessary), you should also take a dry cloth to wipe the soot off before packing it away. I hate sooty pots, so you can either take separate pots for this application, or smear dish soap on the pot surface before cooking. It will wash off when you are done and keep your pots looking clean. (thanks Mike & Kathleen!)

With an endless supply of wood and water,
you could have hot drinks to your
heart's content!

Kent Hering has made a great product that is sure to not only reduce our dependence on petroleum based fuels, but make our experience in the wilderness more authentic. He has made a quality product that is sure to stand the test of time. Its backed by a solid satisfaction guarantee and not only that, a sizeable portion of the sales goes towards humanitarian and conservation efforts. Congrats Kent on inventing an awesome product! I totally recommend it! If any of you are interested in purchasing this stove or want more information, here is the website - Trust me, you won't be disappointed!


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mar 7 09 - First Paddle of 2009!!!

The "Rainbow Bright" crew: (l-r) Rob, Ben, Igloo, Dimitry
& myself (no, Igloo didn't join us!)
Photo: Imroze Albert

The itch of paddling (for some of us) comes as soon as water begins flowing - like it did down my driveway when the snow melted not too long ago. Its kind of like the feeling you get in your bladder when you hear the rush of water and then have to go make a deposit. Well despite the seemingly protracted winter, with the copious amounts of snow and cold temperatures, the odd spell of really mild days have opened many local creeks and rivers. Throw in the rapidly melting snow and you have the makings of a runnable whitewater river!

Besides trying to co-ordinate time for everyone to go asap, (mild temps and high water levels do not wait for anyone this time of year) we also had to think about the ambient outdoor temperature since -14C just doesn't cut it. So when the weather forecast stated a high of 8C and rain this past Saturday, we jumped at the opportunity to paddle the Credit River in Mississauga.

Rob taking water temp and speed measurements -
as well as verifying the suits integrity!

Just after 11AM, a group of four assembled at the Streetsville Memorial Park donning colourful drysuits under grey skies. Yes, there were the odd stares, but we didn't care. We were giddy like kids just happy to get out on the water. (of course, did it not start raining once we got on the river!) There also was a more serious side to it as we also wanted to practice our whitewater strokes in preparation for the big Mountain River trip planned in July. But really, it was all fun and games.

Yes, that's a chunk of ice they are standing on. A brief break
to bail, rehydrate, & relieve ourselves - like you
needed to know that!

We could only arrange one canoe for the outing so initially we were only going to practice on a short section of the river in pairs, but two other friends unexpectedly showed up with 2 canoes! This meant we could all now actually paddle a large section of the river! Bonus! (thanks Jim & Arie!) So away we went, back ferrying around obstacles, eddy ins and outs, C turns and S turns - you name it we were doing it! (for the most part!) The river was moving fast and providing lots of large standing waves to smash through while having fun. It was pure pleasure despite the cold spray, constant rain, and the large blocks of ice that lined the river banks! So much so that we have the following Friday in mind for another long run! Stay tuned!
(Please stay above freezing!!!)

Congrats to the boys for starting the season on a good "paddle"!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I'm Finally Published!

A few years back, I had the fortuitous opportunity to meet an amazing couple from BC at Killarney Provincial Park. It was November and the whole area was covered in snow as Marylou and I pulled into the park office with a canoe on top of the vehicle. Yes you read right, we were going canoeing. Canoeing?!! - that's exactly what the the park staff and this couple were thinking. Curiosity got the best of them, - whereas a question became a conversation which then ended up with us purchasing a book from them.

Yes, this was the scenery just before we turned into the
Killarney Provincial Park office to canoe!

So who are they and why did I buy a book?! Let me introduce you to Matt and Stacey Jackson, - an outdoors-oriented, adventuresome couple from British Columbia. They have hiked, canoed, mountaineered and kayaked various spectacular places in North America, even just recently hiking on Baffin island for their honeymoon! Like old friends, we hit it off instantly as we shared many similar interests and outdoor pursuits. Matt had just recently driven from out west to promote and sell a new book that he had just self-published and was spending some time with Stacey and a friend at the park. The subject eventually turned to his new book titled "Mugged By A Moose", which is an anthology of humorous misadventures in the wilderness. Since I knew I could relate, I had to buy a book from him!

Hanging out with Stacey and Matt Jackson

Since then, we've met several times and have become good friends through the years. When it came to pass for Matt to put another book together titled "The Beaver That Ate My Canoe", I was asked to contribute a story. (no, a beaver didn't eat my canoe!, that's someone else's story!) So with Matt's blind faith in my writing skills, -or lack of - I'm pleased to announce I've finally become a published author! (Really people, it doesn't mean much - I'm just totting my own horn!) The book recently came out and much like the previous one, it is a delight and joy to read. The statement on the cover is true to its word, - "True Tales to make you Laugh, Chortle, Snicker and Feel Inspired" (it also tends to soften the pain you suffered on your own trips!)

This is the book! My story is on page 121
titled "Bridge Over Troubled Waters".

Matt has edited/authored several other book titles including an award-winning book on his 4 year adventure hitch-hiking across Canada. Yes people!, hitch-hiking! He is also a photojournalist that has been featured in dozens of popular outdoor magazines. If anyone is interested in any of his books, here's a link to his website. -

By the way, Matt also takes amazing photos. That wee little
person all the way down there is Stacey!
Photo credit: Matt Jackson

Matt is presently still selling his wares across North America, while seeking, searching, and connecting with out-of-touch individuals like myself. (he needs more material!) Congrats Matt to a great book, and thank you guys for not only believing in me, but enriching my life with your friendship! All the best!

The lovely couple laughing - the one thing they
don't stop doing! Something we should
all do more often!