Monday, March 24, 2014

Gransfors Bruk Axe Review - Part 1

Not just any axe, a Gransfors Bruk axe.

As a kid, I loved being outdoors, but that was only one part of the equation. The other part was the dreamer, aspiring to be some rugged outdoorsman, carving out a meagre existence in the cruel wilderness. Seared into my impressionable head as a kid, was the iconic image of a woodsman holding an axe, much like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. It seemed to me to be the pre-eminent tool, for anyone wanting to embrace, live and survive in the wilderness. I wanted to be like them, and of course, that meant I 
had to have an axe too.

That was, and still is me. Forever the dreamer.

Well, many years have passed since, and my notion of a woodsman going hand-in-hand with an axe was crushed. I found out in time, that axes are not as heralded now as a must-have tool when heading into the bush, as they once were. I fondly, or maybe painfully remember heading out on a backpacking trip with an axe for the first time. I was proud as ever to purchase my first axe, a hatchet. There were few words to describe the feelings and elations of ruggedness that coursed through my blood having it hang from my waist. My childhood dream almost came true, until I used it for the first time. Without so much as an understanding of how to properly use it, or what it was for, I took it with the all-knowing assumption that it was to provide firewood, and lots of it. Little did I know.

Yup, if you believe, I still have the first axe I purchased.
I bit rough looking, but still very usable.

Yes, they are primarily a tool to cut wood, but not often just on its own. If you can imagine, my first mistake was hauling in a big log. (Big wood = big fire.) Chopping away, what seemed like forever was brutal. Sweating and cursing, I started to imagine the legendary woodsman as powerful demi-gods. After finally getting through my first cut, I looked at the log incredulously. How did they do it? I wasn't going to give up that easy, so I swung again vigorously. There is something to be said about the correlation between how youthfulness can make up for the lack of logic. (Thankfully, even though age hasn't made me stronger, it certainly has made me smarter.) I eventually got through the second cut, and finally had my first piece - yay! However, then came the splitting part. I quickly realized that hatchets aren't made for that, especially with a sizeable log. No matter how hard I swung, I couldn't get it to split. I sat that evening dejected around a cold fire pit, but learned some very valuable lessons. First and foremost being, that you don't need an axe to enjoy the wilderness, nor have a fire.

One of many fires enjoyed on a canoe
trip, without an axe.

Many years passed since that trip, with no axes in sight. Various types and styles of saws now accompanied me throughout the proceeding years. Then one year, the flame was re-ignited when I met a new paddling friend. On our first trip together, he brought an axe, and opened my eyes to the possibilities. Not that I was totally oblivious to the things axes could do, as I learned much more about them after that initial trip, but never bothered, as the saws were more than sufficient for my needs. But seeing how my friend put that axe to work, showing me what it could do, and where/when it was best to have one, I was duly impressed. Leaving that trip, I was not only convinced, but seriously considering getting an axe again. I had come full circle, and now was back where I started.

My friend Ben demonstrating what he could
do with his axe. (And yes, this
was on a canoe trip!)

Since them, I've purchased 2 axes and take them regularly on canoe trips. What a difference compared to my initial experience, especially when you know what to do with it. Owning an axe is only one part of the equation, the other, having the skill-set and knowledge of what it can do - of which I was sorely lacking years ago. Sure, I will still admit, they are not essential to have on a canoe trip, but depending on circumstances, they can be. For me personally, they've become an essential part of my kit. I find myself in many circumstances and conditions that warrant its need and use, so like how a paddle is essential to canoe, so is my axe essential to my needs in the bush.

On this canoe trip years ago, without an axe, I wouldn't be
warming beside a fire with all the rain, sleet, 
and then snow I got.

A couple years ago, I was introduced to one of the owners of The Canadian Outdoor Equipment Company, Chris Scerri. We had crossed paths a few times at trade shows, spoken of our interest and passions, and came to discussing opportunities. If you've ever seen their booth, or their shop, it would make any hardened outdoor warrior drool. It is filled with 'earthy' high quality outdoor gear that seems to fuse better with the sense of wilderness, than many of the other big box gear stores. With many subtle neutral tones in the colour of their products, tools and gear that have lots of wood, carbon, or wool, it just feels like - being in the woods. No GoreTex, bright flashy colours, or much plastic. The Canadian Outdoor Equipment store feels like the real deal, because in fact it is.

Inside of The Canadian Outdoor Equipment Company store.
Literally eye candy for the outdoor enthusiast!

One of those discussions with Chris was about me testing some of their fine gear and reviewing it for them - one of them consequently being a Gransfors Bruk axe. Have you seen their famed wall of axes? Not only are all those axes gorgeous, but they look plain intimidating as well, especially the double-sided ones. If you haven't had the chance to hold one of these beauties, I urge you to. They quite simply exude beauty, precision, and craftsmanship. There are axes, and then there's Gransfors Bruk axes. To hold one is to tease, and to use one is to savour - they are practically works of art. They are not cheap either, but neither is a prime steak, or a BMW. I think you get the idea. Simply put, they are premium tools for the hardened adventurer that accepts no compromise.

The wall of Gransfors Bruk axes. Once you get to hold one, bet
you'll find it hard to leave without one!

With any axe purchase, the best thing to do is talk with the staff. There are a various assortment of axes - styles, sizes, and features that are tooled for a specific purpose. You don't buy running shoes for a backpacking trip, nor would you buy a two bladed axe for a backpacking trip either. Tailoring an axe to your activity is key to your comfort and enjoyment, but also knowing you have the right tool for the right purpose. 

You got it, a Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe.
Forged by fire, to give you fire.

After hearing about the trips I do, and the situation I sometimes get myself into, Chris had the perfect axe for me, a Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe. I stood in awe admiring the solid wood handle, the polished axe head, and the snug leather sheath. I left the store with a sense of grandiose. Like how I recalled feeling years ago when I purchased my first axe. This time, it was a bit different, knowing what I could do with it and how it could be used. Maybe it's a guy thing, but holding this finely crafted tool in my hands, had me emoting a sense of confidence and power, like I was some unstoppable bushman. Then my wife broke my reverie, as she reminded me about getting her something to drink. Right, take the wallet to the convenience store, not the axe.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I finally get to put the axe through it's paces. And no, NOT at the convenience store!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

When Canoeing and Facebook Collide

You know the saying, "life is full of surprises"? It really is.

I'm sure we all have things that surprise us in our daily lives. Maybe because I'm so in tuned with my passion for canoeing, that quite often, I run into many surprises in my 'canoe life' as well. Some you think are just coincidence or plain luck, but other times, it's just odd and weird. Well recently, I came across a really amazing surprise. It was shocking in many ways, and just plain incredible at the same time, just fathoming how it could actually be? It was certainly noteworthy enough to me, my wife and the other couple, that I really wanted to share it.

Meeting Ray for the first time at the 2014 Toronto
 Outdoor Adventure Show

I ignored Facebook for years, literally. Despite the multiple and many requests to join, I didn't. Finally, last year, I took the plunge because I was more interested in making a 'page' about The Passionate Paddler, rather than a profile about me. ( Despite some technical issues with it, (Still, sigh.) it has been a great experience. Sharing my passion, connecting with other paddlers, and sometimes meeting them along the way. So I admit, maybe I did wait too long?

Recently, I was asked to speak at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show. Leading up to the event, I was given a bunch of free admission tickets, which I decided to give away by holding a simple contest on my Facebook page. The first person to enter, was a fellow by the name of Ray McCullough. Consequently, 
by coincidence perhaps, he also took first place and won not only a pair of free tickets, but a copy of Jeff's Map.

Who would have thought, I had something
to do with this tent?!

My intention was to mail out the free tickets, but due to time and the Family Day holiday, I ended up meeting Ray and the other winners at the door to give them their tickets. I only had a few minutes with each winner, as I congratulated them, as well as share a picture together with them before running off. As a nice gesture, Ray and his wife came by later in the day to visit me while I was working at the Eureka booth to chat for a bit. That's when it all started.

Jenn and Ray got married on Lake Chouchiching, on
the really big 'canoe', Island Princess.

In the course of chatting, I asked them a question that got the whole ball rolling. During the Facebook contest for the free tickets, I was corresponding with several people, tallying numbers, and noting other people's interaction. For the most part, you see names and faces, particularly the profile picture. With a cursory acknowledgement, especially in the rush of things, you just move on. But sometimes, something catches your attention and you stop to have a closer look. Like I did, when I saw the profile picture of someone named Jenn Seek. Yup, it had a canoe in it, but also what looked to be her in a wedding dress with her new husband. As you know, Anita and I got married in canoe, so naturally, this really caught my attention.

Checking out her profile, she had a few pictures. They were canoeist aright. There were outdoor pictures, ones of camping, and of course canoeing ones too! But what impressed me the most, was the couple in their wedding attire, in a red cedar canvas canoe. It took me back to my wedding, the drama, the fun, and of course 'the adventure', being married together - in a red cedar canvas canoe too!

Canoe cuff links for the wedding - what a nice AND smart
touch! Coming from passionate paddlers
themselves, not surprising!

I really wanted to contact Jenn, to see if she would be willing to share her story, and of course, me share mine, and ultimately share this story/pictures on my Facebook page. Because of those technical issues with my Facebook account I previously mentioned (Frustrating as hell sometimes.) I can't comment, message, or contact people through Facebook. Hence why, because Ray seemed to have some connection to this woman, I thought I would ask him if he didn't mind putting me in contact with her.

So back to where I'm chatting with Ray and his wife. Without sounding like some stalker, I asked who Jenn Seek was? His wife beside him exclaimed, "That's me!!" "What?!!!" Yup, stunned like a deer in headlights, I couldn't believe it! But maybe I really should? I soon came to realize, that many people, including Jenn, give themselves pseudo last names, so they can preserve their privacy in this vast capricious world of social media. Okay, so that was shocking, but pretty cool. So now, it was easier to speak to Ray AND Jenn, about their wedding.

Check these beautiful paddles out. Ray
himself made these for the wedding
to be exchanged! Wow! 

So away I went, asking questions regarding their wedding, as I tried to calm myself over the shock of it all. I found out they didn't actually have a canoe wedding, as those pictures were taken after they were married. The main reason they didn't, was because of elderly people that had mobility issues. Not surprising, as we had the same problems too, particularly wanting to have the canoe wedding on Georgian Bay. But thanks to Mike Armstrong, the superintendent of Awenda Provincial Park, his recommendation of using Kettle Lake instead sealed the deal, as it addressed that concern perfectly. Ray and Jenn however, with their love of the water and keeping to that theme, chose instead to get married in a 'bigger canoe', the Island Princess, a tour boat on Lake Chouchiching.

Another aspect that came up, was the weather, because the wedding was outdoors. They had a tough go with the cool and windy conditions. So naturally, I asked them what time of year it was at? I was stunned to hear it was in September, as ours was too. Theirs, Sat Sept 22, and ours Sun Sept 23! And for the record, our wedding was actually planned for Sat Sept 22, but due to family scheduling conflicts, it was changed to Sun Sept 23. Imagine that, we would have been married on the same date! Sure it is off by one day, but for all intensive purposes, it really is the same day! Wow!!

Ray even made the paddles for the guest to sign. Isn't it
obvious Ray thinks and breaths canoes? I think
 I found a kindred spirit!

So here I am, can't believe what I'm hearing, and then on top of that, can't even think straight any more because of the uncanny coincidence. But it didn't stop there. Ray went on to say, that they knew me long ago, of course from a distance. Four years ago, they came to the Outdoor Adventure Show in search of a tough rugged tent. Ray has lots of experience tripping, and has even guided the American Boy Scouts all the way up in Atikokan. So, besides knowing the types of trips he finds himself on, he also knows exactly the type of gear he is looking for. So four years prior, with two tents in mind, our Eureka K2-XT, a proven mountaineering tent, and a Mountain Hardwear tent, guess who helped him seal the deal?! Yeah, ME!! I recalled seeing a photo on Jenn's Facebook of the Eureka K2 on Dashwa Lake in Atikokan. Who'd have thought, I had something to do with that!

A couple years back, I presented at the Barrie Canoe and Kayak Club. It was a last minute fill in. Jay Mothersill from Paddle Shack couldn't do it because his computer crashed, including all the pictures for his presentation. So, he emailed me and the club, and recommended I do a presentation in his place. I accepted, and had a great time too. The club members were a cordial group of paddlers, and the feedback after the presentation was great too. But guess who was there? Yup, Ray and Jenn. They knew exactly who this 'passionate paddler' was. As Ray is a canoe nut like me, he mentioned (And which I totally agree with.) that the canoe scene in Canada is not that big. Yes, people see Canada as the canoe Mecca, which it certainly is, but big name canoeist are few and far between. Not that I in any way consider myself in that league, but between my association with gear companies, my blog, photos and stories that have been published, and even now Facebook, I've somehow managed to squeeze in through the back door and squeak the odd time here and there for people to hear me.

The happily married couple, Ray and his lovely wife Jenn,
hamming it up for the photographer in a 
classic red cedar canvas canoe.

So yes, I was totally stunned and amazed. Not only did we practically get married on the same day, in similar locations, but I've personally helped them purchase a tent, and they got to know me better through my presentation, but never ever REALLY met me, until now. It was Facebook, imagine that? Facebook brought us full circle and provided the opportunity for us to finally connect, and connect we certainly did! If there was one person that was ever doubtful of the usefulness and authenticity of Facebook (and social media in general), that was me. But I certainly have put those feelings and thoughts aside. Yes, we unfortunately hear the odd horror stories, but something as special and unique as this, has made me a firm believer of the benefits of social media. And to think I waited this long to join Facebook. What else would, or could have happened if I jumped aboard sooner? Life is certainly full of surprises!

Look familiar? Much like Ray and Jenn, we were getting
married almost at the same time and location.
Who would have known?

Post Script: After getting their permission to share this story, I personally spoke to Ray to get some more details. Here's another kicker. We both planned to get engaged at the 'peak' of something, on a canoe trip no less. Anita and I, on the highest point of Ontario, Ishpatina Ridge. Ray was originally going to propose on top of Silver Peak, (Killarney PP), but due to getting a dog the week before, couldn't go on a canoe trip with their new young Burnese Mountain Dog. So instead, got engaged to Jenn at the peak of the Lookout Trail in Algonquin. Oh, and one more thing. I almost had a coronary when I found this one out. I failed to ask them which year they got married, as I was so scattered brained when I found out we practically got married on the same day. Yup, the same damn year! 2012!!!! (Excuse me, I think I'm going to faint!)

PS. A big thanks to Visual Roots Photography for allowing us
to showcase their lovely photos. Check them
out. They are paddlers too!