Monday, April 29, 2013

Blog for the gear heads

Only the true gear heads may be interested in this one.  The following is the gear that I used and a little bit of what worked, what didn't, and what I might do differently if I was to do it again. 

Gear Used:
- Perception Eclipse Kayak.  17', polypropylene with a rudder - I love this boat.  Can't say enough good things about it.  She carried a ton of gear, tracks nice and straight, and never thought about capsizing on me even in the biggest wave conditions I have ever paddled.
- Werner straight handle paddle with a really heavy Perception paddle as a back up.  Thankfully I never have needed the back up paddle because it would destroy my shoulders within an hour.
- Nylon Eddyline spray skirt
- Stohlquist Tow Motion PFD
- Whistle and Flint/steel kept within PFD
- Paddlefloat, pump, and a 50' rope throwbag.  The throwbag turned out to be useful as quick access to line to land when the surf was trying to drag the fully loaded boat back out to sea or to tie up to sailboats.
- Orion Skyblazer II Flares x8
- Both a deck mounted and a hand held compass
- ACR Aquafix 406 EPIRB - float plan was preregistered with NOAA so if it went off they would know that the distress signal was real.
- SPOT Connect - so I could send daily position report to friends and family.  Also functioned as a back up distress beacon.
- ACR Firefly3 SOLAS Strobe Light
- Cockpit Cover - for keeping the creepy crawlies out of the cockpit at night.  No scorpions, roaches, mice, snakes, bees, or spiders please.
- Mountain Surf Paddle Jacket - I would not bring this next time.  The water is fairly warm and any time I was getting wet enough to need it the adrenaline and effort were keeping me warm.
- Marmot Aura 2P tent - I don't think I would use this for this kind of trip again.  It didn't shed the wind very well.  I both snapped one of the guy lines and had the fly rip in a small spot.  Also since the body of the tent is mesh is allowed the fine grit sand in when it was blowing.  This is the kind of sand that is especially hell on electronics and camera/sunglass lenses.
- Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 sleeping bag - it got cold at night sometimes.  I wouldn't have wanted any lighter of a bag.
- An old 3/4 length Ultralite blowup Thermarest
- 1 wide brimmed hat, 1 baseball cap, and 1 keffiyeh
- 2 bathing suits
- 2 paddle shirts - one short sleeve and one long.  I only ever wore the short sleeve one.  It is now pretty much destroyed.  Should have brought two. 
- 1 pair of Tevas - the sand and straps tore up my ankles
- 1 pair of Mountain Masochist trail running shoe - the lava rock tore these up pretty quick though they did already have a bunch of miles on them.
- 3 bandannas - there are at least 101 uses for these things
- Microfiber towel
- Beach towel - initially I thought this was silly but it worked great to lay on or fold up to pad my bony butt in the kayak or when sitting on rocks.  Really glad I brought it.
- A bottle of camp soap and a bottle of waterless shampoo
- MSR Whisperlite International Camping Stove with 4 fuel bottles of various sizes
- Camping mess kit and a small teflon frying pan
- Whisperlite repair kit, Patch kit for Thermarest, Sewing kit, 2 spare rudder cables (ended up needing one), and an extra foot peg.
- 10L MSR Dromadory Water Bagsx4 (usually only used 3) and 4 x 1L Nalgene bottles - basically an 11 to 12 day supply of water. 
- Garmin eTrex 30 GPS
- IPhone 4 with DriSuit waterproof case
- Olympus Tough TG-810 Camera
- GoPro Hero3 Camera
- IPod Classic
- Seattle Sports SUB HandCrank Flashlight with laser and ability to charge IPod
- SOLIO Magnesium Solar Charger
- Small pair Leica 10x25 binoculars
- Petzl Myo XP headlamp - batteries last forever in this thing.  Nice and bright when the batteries are new.
- Only used 9 AA batteries between the headlamp and the GPS
- First aid kit with signal mirror
- Julbo glacier goggles.  I also had a pair of Foster Grant Ironman sunglasses but they died the first week.
- Assortment of dry bags - various sizes and companies.
- SEAL Line Baja Deck bag - also worked great as a "purse" when going to town'
- 2 tubes of SPF 50 sunscreen and Chapstick
- A big mesh bag for carrying all the little bags and assortment of stuff when loading and unloading boat.
- Books and harmonica for entertainment
- Collapsible fishing pole with a selection of lures.  Spoon lures tended to work the best.

The two things that I would do different next time would be: 1) I would have brought some body glide.  I did have some chaffing issues from my PFD around my "love handles".  2) I had 15 pound test fishing line on my rod and it would often snap on the initial strike.  Lost a bunch of lures that way.  25 pound test would have been better.

I am sure there are a few other little things I had but this is the bulk of the important stuff.  For the most part it worked out fine.  The sun, sand, and salt are hard on stuff.  All my pants ripped out except for one pair and that only survived because I stopped wearing them after I realized it was my last intact pair.  My "waterproof" wristwatch/altimeter also went haywire within the first few days.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

SUCCESS!!!!! If I met you inBaja then read this! A BIG THANK YOU!

So I have made it to La Paz.  The trip was a great success.  I'm a little blistered, chafed, cut up, and bug bitten but the trip never truly went knucklehead on me.  My plan is to do a longer writeup of the trip in 3 parts (Norte Cortez, The Middriff, and Baja Sur) and to post some of the best pictures.  This will take some days to get done.  In the meantime while people are still fresh in my memory I wanted to single some people out for helping make my trip a resounding success. The people I met made the trip even more spectacular.

First I want to thank my parents.  Teaching me to ski before I can even remember and traveling as much as we did gave me an early love of the outdoors and adventure.  From these early roots comes the drive to do a trip like this and the other activities in my life that give me so much joy.
However, my biggest beef of this trip is also with my parents.  What were you thinking when you let a 4th grader go see JAWS in the movie theatre alone when it first came out?  That movie has messed with my head for my whole life and this trip was no different.  Always waiting for a huge mouth to rise up out of the water from underneath me, especially when paddling early in the morning.  Hell, even swimming pools used to make me nervous.

Just as big a thank you needs to go to Kathleen.  Your love, support, and words of encouragement gave me more strength then you even know.  I know it was hard for you for me to be gone and out of contact as much as I was.  I am SOOOO looking forward to this next adventure stage that I get to share with you.  Thank you for being my biggest fan and supporter.   

Juli and Morgan Cavanaugh were a key component in the logistics of pulling this together.  Their house (actually houses since they moved while I was paddling) was Home Base California.  They have watched my truck while I was in Mexico and I have a bunch of gear and another kayak in their garage.  They helped simplify the process of getting myself and my gear both into and out of Mexico.  Plus they are a blast to hang out with and always have good wine.

The other person I could not have done this without would be Toby Storie-Pugh.  Toby is a friend of a friend (and now a friend of mine) via Facebook and Kenya of all places.  He has a crazy love of adventure.  He heard about my trip and decided that without knowing me it sounded like fun to fly out, come help me drive into Mexico and then drive my truck back to Juli and Morgan's house.  He turned out to be cool as shit and I hope to be able to have other adventures with him in the future.  Without his help I am not sure how I would have gotten to the starting line with a 17' kayak and 200 pounds of gear.

GU Energy Labs also provided nutritional support for my expedition.  I actually really like their flavors and the packets easily fit into my life vest.  When I was tired in the afternoons, the wind was picking up, and I needed that extra energy to my muscles to keep me going (or to turn on the afterburners when it got rough) the GU shots provided it.

The following is a list of (hopefully) all of the people that showed me the Baja Way.  I had several different people call it that.  It meant sharing what you have, helping people out, and just generally being hospitable. So many people offered help, big and small, without solicitation. From the first bar that Toby and I sat down at in San Felipe to the final beach in La Paz.   No one I met that lives or visits regularly here felt unsafe and the same applies for me.  I would have no problem recommending to people to come visit Baja.
-  Louise, Mike, Ken, and Carol - let Toby and I stay in their guest house in San Felipe in the middle of race week for the Baja 250.  It was the last bed I slept on for almost 2 months. 
-  Rob,  Mike, and the boys from Yuma - fed me a home cooked dinner in Puertocitos.
-  Antonio at Alfonsina's - let me camp on his front porch for free.
-  Dennis and Larry - gave me a ride from Alfonsina's to the market in Gonzaga Bay.
-  Joe and his friend (sorry, I don't remember your name) - conversation and cold beer in San Francisquito.
- Russ & Gwen of S/V A-Train - watching my kayak so I could go into Santa Rosalia for supplies.  This turned out to be the best/most incredible day of the trip and they started it out on the right note for me.
-  Javiar & Marco Dominguez - sharing ceviche and their Easter Sunday with me and tolerating my horrible Spanish.
-  Russ Blackman in Punta Chavato - a great help.  The perfect beach to have washed up on that day.  Beer (and a lot of it), internet, electricity to charge cameras/phone, finding me some white gas in the community, taking pictures, letting me camp on his property, and just great general conversation and hanging out.
-  Dave - gave me a ride into town in Mulege.
-  Kenny F - helping me find stuff that I needed around Mulege.
-  Pete, Janeene, Allen, Cathy - beer and good times in Santispac
-  Scott, Joy, and family  - another great beach to have washed up on after the most intense paddling conditions of the trip.  They let me camp on their beach and then fed me both a home cooked lunch and dinner.
-  Jim & Diane of S/V Prairie Oyster - coffee on their boat at Punta el Pulpito.  Spectacular scenic day.
-  Brian & Elizabeth of S/V Autumn Wind - cold beer on Isla Coronados.
-  Bob and Mike - letting me stay at Loreto Shores and cutting me a deal.
-  Danny & Jane - cold beer and a ride into town in Loreto.
-  Christian of BOA (Baja Outdoor Activities) - coffee cake.
-  Jim in Agua Verde - gave me the fishing lure "that never fails".
-  Janet & Pat from Telluride (an older version of me and Kathleen) - coffee, blue cheese, and for letting a lonely kayaker hang out with them for entertainment and travel/adventure conversation.
-  Louisa & Greg - Vegy stir fry
-  Andrew of S/V Del Mar - gave me his last beer for celebrating getting to the finish line.

All the help and interactions I had with you (and others) made an incredible trip even more special.  Thank you.  Some of you don't have my blog address or even computers but I still wanted to send you a shout out for being you and to show people how incredible this part of the world is.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Rough Week

Since I left Santa Rosalia the landscape has become even more amazing  however the conditions this week have been less then friendly.  Bahia Conception was sheltered, mellow, and a great place for novice paddlers. However once I left the bay  and headed around the peninsula that forms it the North winds started to blow and kicked up a swell. This is also the second most remote stretch of coast on this trip. Nobody goes there in boats because there are no anchorages.  The first day wasn't too bad but by the end of the day the swells were building. It was the second day that I will remember for a long time. From camp that morning the water looked unsettled but better than the day before. Once I got out there I discovered that wasn't exactly true. That was also the morning pretty much at the start that I came across a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water. I started to fumble for my GoPro because they were close. It was then that I realized we were on a collision course. I figured they were dolphins and knew what they were doing but they did not notice me. Suddenly one leaped way out of the water and landed within 3 feet of me. I thought it was going to land on me and these things are big. At best I would have capsized, at worst it would have knocked me out. I started to scream at them to get their attention. Unfortunately, the GoPro just comes on as I yell "Don't land on me!"  They finally noticed me and scattered.  That was just the first adrenaline rush of the day. The swells coming from my left rear side kept getting bigger. My butt is basically at water level so when waves get 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall they start blocking my view of the horizon when I am in the trough. These swells were blocking my entire view of the mountains. I thought they were about 6 to 7 feet tall. A sailor I talked to later said 8. By far the biggest waves I have ever paddled in. Not the roughest water (that would have been in Deception Pass in WA) but the tallest. The swells weren't breaking which made all the difference in the world. The problem was the wind kicked up and started making wind waves that were hitting me from the right side. I would surf down a swell which would then cause me to hit a wind wave and throw up a big spray of water into my face. I did notice that this is a lot less frightening when the water is bathtub warm as opposed to the ice cold, 20 min survival time water of Washington. I wanted to get to shore but these same swells were creating a huge surf that looked even scarier then what I was in so I continued. I knew (thought I knew/hoped) that once I got to a certain point that the coast turned south and that should protect me from the swells at least. That was the case and from then on it was a 2 hour grind against a headwind to get to the cove I knew would provide protection. I expected a fish camp but when I got there it is all private property. Luckily the first person I talked to was Scott who was the caretakers son. He took one look at me and said "We can't send you back out there". I looked a little ragged and worn out. He showed me where I could set up camp and then his family proceeded to feed me both lunch and dinner. Once again the "Baja Way" of sharing what you have was shown to me. 
The next two days were windy and rough also. Wet rides each day but nothing of the magnitude of the second day. Other nice people helped. I was invited for coffee on a sailboat anchored under Punta el Pulpito which is one of the most stunning pieces of rock I have seen yet. I paddled through an arch/sea cave. The sailboat was S/V Prairie Oyster with 2 Canadians Jim and Diane. Turns out that they had sailed the South Pacific and had never met my friends Shawn and Ben but they had totally heard of their boat S/V Pangea since it was during the same years (2008 I think). Small world. 
Still waiting to run into another kayaker. I did see some people in day paddlers in Conception Bay fishing from them but no true touring kayaks. I still get the same thing from everyone that hears what I am doing. The Mexicans think I am either crazy or very strong. From the gringos I either get "Hardcore" which translates as "I would like to do something like that" or " Ballsy" which from the tone of voice translates as "You're an idiot". I think they are all right. 
Yesterday I found swarms of bees where I had planned on camping so paddled an extra couple of miles out to Isla Coronados. Much prettier campsite but there they had a rattlesnake relocation program going on. It's been that kind of week. 
The trip continues to be really rough on gear. My tent is ripped, my bathing suit is ripped, both sneakers are blowing out, and my paddle shirt can stand up by itself. It may just spontaneously combust. I may show up in La Paz half naked with nothing but my kayak and a paddle. 
Homestretch. 2 weeks to go. A person can only read, write, nap, and play harmonica so much before he starts to get bored.  More then ready to go adventure with Kathleen. When I hiked the Colorado Trail it was a longer trip but there were people on the trail to talk to pretty much every day and I had friends do parts if it with me (and my dogs). Here it is remote and I can go days without talking to anyone. Gets lonely. Plus I just don't like being separated from Kathleen for this long. At least she and I are about to have one hell of an adventure together. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Day In The Life Of Fid

For those of you who are interested, the following is a description of my life right now. 
The alarm is set for 5:30am which is better then the 4:30 it was when I was still in the Pacific time zone. Either way, it is still totally dark when I wake up. This gives me time to pack up my gear, make breakfast and a mug of coffee (I "borrowed" Kathleen's camping French Press), drag the boat and gear down to the edge of the water, and then to launch just as the sun is breaking the horizon. It is light enough to paddle before then but honest to God's truth I saw JAWS in 4th grade and it is still messing with my head. Twilight paddling freaks me out.  It tends to be cold in the morning where I need my shell but as soon as the sun comes up it gets warm fast.   I then paddle between 15 to 25 miles. The wind usually picks up midday which is why I start so early.  Sometimes that means by 9am and sometimes it never occurs (rarely). That usually determines how far I paddle that day. Sometimes I will troll a fishing line behind the boat if I feel like dealing with cleaning and cooking a fish. Pretty much if you drag something shiny that wiggles behind you then there is a fish that will come and try to eat it.  By 11am to 2 pm I have reached my goal or am driven ashore by the wind. I then unload everything and set up camp. By then I am hot and sweaty so I will often jump onto the ocean to cool off. Then it is time to eat my lunch (usually a peanut butter and jelly tortilla), send out a SPOT signal to the world to tell everyone I am alive, figure out the next days paddle on the charts, and then take a siesta on the shady side of my tent through the hottest part of the day.  Around 4:30 or 5pm I will go walk into the desert to see what I can find for a bit. Then it is time to make dinner and shortly after it is dark I go to sleep. Somewhere during the course of the afternoon I will journal the days events also.  Survival takes a lot of time. I really haven't had as much time to read as I thought I might. I also have my harmonica to keep me occupied.  It is a simple but very fulfilling existence.  

Mulege - Gateway to Bahia Concepcion

 In Mulege. Gateway to Bahia Concepcion, Mecca for paddling in Baja. That said I have gone 420 miles and 27 days without seeing another kayaker. I have seen some little sit on top day paddlers on people's beaches but no one actually paddling. If I don't see someone this week I may go the entire way without crossing paths with one. I am finally taking a full rest day. I have had some half days but never a full rest day and the weather has really cooperated so I haven't had to take a weather day either. Basically I am 2/3 done and it is time to dump out all my dry bags and reinventory what I have left. I can resupply here and in Loreto in about 8 days. I am going to head from here into Conception Bay and have some mellow days there. There is a hot springs I want to find and some little islands that are an easy day paddle. About 19 days left. Still a chunk to go but the end is in sight at the same time. It is becoming more tropical now. The water is becoming noticeably warmer. Palm trees have started to appear. The types of fish are changing. My kayak keeps scaring up flying fish and I have seen sting rays by the hundreds. Whales still make occasional appearances. I had a 25 foot whale shark circling within feet of my boat, and the views under the water when it is calm continues to be amazing. This area has been commercially fished pretty hard (both legal and illegally) and that shows in the much lower density of sea birds here.
Mulege has an international flavor. So far I have met Mexicans, Americans, Canadians, Germans, and a Belgian. There is a pretty big expat community that lives here and it is easy to get to on the highway. Once again everyone I meet wants to take care of me. Give me rides, show me around town, help me find stuff, give me supplies, etc. Not one person who lives down here feels unsafe. If you are looking for some sun and sand I would highly recommend coming to Baja. It has been a fantastic place to visit.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Easter in Morro el Fraile

Easter Sunday turned into the best day ever. I had spent the night on a crappy beach next to a 
dirt racetrack with motorcycles, ATVs, and dune buggies racing by and just a little ways from a 
large gypsum mine spewing dust.  I paddled the 7 miles to Santa Rosalia easily. It would have 
taken a hurricane for me not to paddle across the bay. I had low expectations for Santa Rosalia 
and they were exceeded in every way. I paddled into the marina where I promptly met two 
wonderful Canadians Russ and Gwen of S/V A-Train. I don't know if it is possible but Canadians in 
Mexico may be even nicer than Canadians in Canada.  They had absolutely no problem having me leave 
my kayak tied up behind their boat and watching it for me while I went into town for a few hours. 
Turns out randomly that it was Easter which I did not know until I got there. Easter is a big holiday 
in Mexico. 
I went to the store and got some supplies and water. The Mexicans were very interested in my 
water bags as I transferred the water from the plastic jugs into them. Pretty much the consensus 
about my trip is "hardcore" from the gringos and "su es loco" from the Mexicans. I then went and 
ate a real breakfast of eggs,bacon, hash browns, and toast. The next trick was trying to find 
Internet. All the places were closed since it was a holiday. I even had a Mexican guy try to help me 
find a place, who later I learned had been deported from Tacoma (of all places) 2 weeks before. 
I gave up on that mission but then on a whim stopped at a restaurant across the street from the 
marina for a beer and they had Wifi. I got to chat with Kathleen and my Mom so all my main 
goals for the day had been completed. I went back to my boat, loaded up, thanked Gwen and 
Russ for their help and paddled a few miles out of town to where I knew there was a place to camp. 
Morro el Fraile is the most spectacular camping spot on the planet. It is going to be really hard 
to ever beat this spot. A flat ledge with water almost 3/4 around it that jutted out from the land. It 
was made of sandstone and the rock was full of shells and fossils. I was able to jump off the ledge 
and snorkel around the rocks, kelp, and coral. Sea lions and whales swam by a short distance from 
the ledge. Because the ledge juts so far out into the water, people came there to fish and probably 
have for 100s of years. Here the technique is to use a weighted hook with a piece of fish as bait. 
They would twirl the hook through the air and then launch it as far as they could. Some of the guys 
could really get it out there. It appeared that the further you could throw then the more fish you 
A Mexican family (two brothers Javier and Marcos, their wives, kids, and Mom) caught some 
fish and then invited me to have some ceviche they made right there. It is funny. The Mexicans are 
always very concerned about me and their hot sauces. That day was the first day when I was truly 
frustrated not being able to have conversation in Spanish. The sunset was of course amazing. The flat 
water turned a rainbow of colors while the sky did its yellow to red to purple transition. 
I killed the batteries on  both my video and still camera. That was followed by a bazillion stars with 
meteors streaking overhead. I fell asleep to the sound of whales breathing. It really was an almost out 
of body experience kind of day and the high from it still lingers. The only thing that could have 
possibly made it better was if Kathleen had been there to share the experience.