Sunday, October 17, 2010
It has been a rough month for the whitewater community, on top of an even rougher year. After losing Jimmy O'Brien, a greater boater, and more importantly a great man, this spring, I was hoping we might have a quiet summer and fall. Unfortunately, that didn't pan out. The Gauley River has claimed three lives, including a Pittsburgh father who friends have told me was one of the nicer guys you'll ever find.
Unfortunately, the one that really hit hard was Carl Schneider. Carl was one of those guys everyone knew. His mustache was out-sized only by his personality. He was a teacher, a champion of the river, and a great person. I only knew him briefly, hanging out at the Yough and in the bar in Ohiopyle, but I wish I knew him more.
My condolences to everyone who lost a friend this year, on the river or off. Be safe out there.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
Regardless, I decided to start writing a little bit about my perceived differences between the East and the West. And I decided to start with the beauty of each place. Reason? If I become more patient and decide to drive slow and smell the flowers, will it be worth it?
Beauty on the East Coast requires work. The interstates and highways on the East Coast don’t pass by many spectacular vistas; many just go through the industrial wasteland of the megalopolis. Take I-95 through Jersey and you would think the entire state is a wastewater treatment plant and refinery. Take 287 and you’ll think everything is under construction. But if you take a rural road, you’ll wind over rolling hills, alongside small streams in a, well, un-Jersey-like fashion.
Drive around on the West Coast and everything is big sky and mountains.
Snow-capped peaks of the Olympic and Sierra Nevada ranges dot the horizon, and the powder-blue sky stretches all the way back to Utah. Towering 6,000-foot peaks, higher than nearly every mountain back east, are just “hills” to the locals. Sometimes it is hard to focus on the road when you are surrounded by the spectacular.
The East, however, has its places. The Adirondacks are still stunning, and there are plenty of “scenic overlooks” on the highways that provide an ample view. The rolling farmlands of Western New York, punctuated by the occasional tree line or twisty trout brook, are beautiful to me. But most of the beauty in the East, I have found, is not large-scale. It is something you must get right up and see.
On the West Coast, you have those spectacular vistas, those beautiful mountain ranges, canyons, rivers, etc. But when you get right up to the land, the simple dirt that makes up those vistas, often you find that at close range, the view does not hold up. The scraggly brush and powdery dirt paint a beautiful picture from afar, but up close the brush strokes are too jagged, too barren to be great.
The East Coast, on the other hand, is much more suited for close inspection. Countless times in my travels out here, I have found something small, unique, and breathtaking. The interlocking trees on Fish Pond, the crystal-clear water of the Deerfield River come to mind. And then there is the Bog River. That has scenic vistas, some of the best in the East. But you have to work; it’s a five mile paddle and a three mile hike. But there is also a small scale that I love. There is a marshy bog with a twisting path to a granite erratics. And there is a sandy hill, where rain and the elements have washed away the vegetation. When I first saw it, I thought it was rather ugly, but when I looked closely, I noticed that the pebbles in the sand withstood the erosion of the water. The pebbles kept the sand underneath it from washing away, leaving small pyramids of sand standing like the spines of a porcupine. It took hard work getting there and a careful eye to see, but there is beauty on the East Coast.
And that is what I see now. I think the West has a lock on “spectacular”. It’s hard to find any other place where you can see the mountains, the snow, the rivers, the prairies all in one view. But the East, despite the built-up, industrialized nature of it, still has its beauty; you just have to look.
Friday, August 6, 2010
I’ve been thinking a lot about whitewater, mostly about why I like it so much. I’ve had serious interests before, but nothing quite as addicting as boating. One of the big reasons I like whitewater is because you can so easily track your progression.
I was practically born in a canoe. As early as I can remember, I was in the bow of my father’s Curtis Companion, paddling up and down the twisty Bantam River, pulling errant golf balls out that fell in from nearby Litchfield Country Club. And I learned how to solo a boat on Saranac Lake during a summer vacation, paddling that same Companion along the shore to fish for perch. I soloed a boat on a trip for the first time two years ago, still paddling that same Companion. And I was content, I thought, to continue paddling on flat water, seeing beautiful places that required a little hard work in a unique craft to see.
Then I discovered whitewater. I took a class with my brother in June of last year. We learned how to paddle tandem on the Lehigh River. The first day on the river, I had literally never paddled a rapid before in my life. I had floated down a swift in the nearby Delaware River a few times, and waded a boulder garden once in Algonquin. I had seen rapids before, bigger ones than the Lehigh could ever produce. But the first time I sat in the stern of the boat, watching the river drop away, watching my brother literally go downhill, that was it. I was hooked.
I paddled a half dozen more times in that tandem, learning the lines and the basic maneuvers. I learned how much respect one had to give the river, because the river is stronger than you will ever be, and the river never gets tired. But I also learned how fun the river can be, how beautiful it can be, and how rewarding it can be.
In July of last year, I drove up to Albany one day and bought a solo whitewater canoe, a Mohawk Probe 11. It was old, only a few years younger than I was. But it was a great boat, strong and forgiving. That August, I paddled it down the Lehigh for the first time. The level was nearly twice what I was used to, but I managed to get down the river with a strong brace and no swims. It was at that point that I promised myself that I would canoe as much as I possibly could.
This year, I stayed true to that promise. I paddled the Lehigh so much that I have the rapids memorized, and could talk someone down the river over the phone. But by July, I felt like I needed a bit more of a challenge. It wasn’t that the Lehigh wasn’t a difficult river. It always presented a different problem to solve, and I have swum more than my fair share of times. But I needed to prove to myself that I could begin to do something different, more difficult.
I went to the Deerfield River in July. While most of the river is innocuous Class I, the Fife Brook section ends in the difficult Zoar Gap, a III+ rapid, the biggest I had paddled to that point.
I stood in the shoulder of the road overlooking the gap. I watched the river constrict and then drop into a chute, with two mammoth holes, nearly the width of the river, providing the bulk of the difficulty. Rec boats tried to pass through, but were constantly stopped and thrashed by the holes. But as I watched, I saw a line on the left. Punch over a pourover, keep the boat on the left, sneak between the hole and the river bank on the left. I decided that the line could be run, then I decided that I could run the line. Then I did.
After two more Gap runs, one successful, the other, well, see the video, I realized that it was the progression that I liked. I thought I was a solid Class III boater, so I paddled a III+ rapid. A few weeks later, I decided that I needed a river with multiple Class III rapids, so I went to the Lower Yough. I paddled that twice as well, with only two dumb swims.
I’m not listing these to rattle off a bunch of achievements like a jackass. I’m only pointing out that whitewater gives me a measuring stick that I really like. You know how good of a boater you are based on what level rapid you can paddle, and how well you paddle that rapid. For me, after a few clean runs on a river, I feel ready to push onwards, and when I ready, upwards.
With a few tweaks to my outfitting, a roll, and a bomber forward stroke, I feel like I will be ready to tackle some Class IV next year. I’ll be spending my time this off season working on those three things, so that I can continue to progress. I’m sure at some point, I will hit a wall, unable to paddle anything bigger without taking unnecessarily dangerous risks. But I don’t know where that level is. So for now, I can only paddle to that limit.
--Post Note: After having posted this, I proceeded to swim on the first rapid of the Lehigh, at its lowest level ever. Just goes to show the river demands a little humility.--
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Some pictures from the fellows at Outdoor Adventure Photography. Immediately previous to me in the first series is Joe, a great open boater. Previous to me in the second series is Sarah.
July 31 - Hour 10 - Page 21
August 1 - Hour 8 - Page 2
More paddling this weekend on the Lehigh!
Friday, July 30, 2010
Short post before I head out for a(nother) weekend of paddling, this time at the
I will have a more detailed post about this later, but I want to get the secondary stuff out of the way now. Especially because this deserves more than one post.
What is that, you ask?
Now, I don’t watch TV. In fact, the only show I watch is Deadliest Catch. But this season and more specifically these last few episodes deserve some mention, because they have been incredibly touching/moving/heartbreaking/brilliant.
For those who don’t know, one of the main characters, Captain Phil Harris of the fishing boat Cornelia Marie, died this February of a pulmonary embolism. He had had one a few years earlier, and then suffered a massive stroke a week before his death. What was especially heartbreaking, however, was that it had looked to all involved in the days leading up to his death that Captain Phil would survive, and possibly recover.
I just want to write that the show did an amazing job of dealing with this sensitive and taboo subject. Never before had a television character actually died on screen. Sure we had the sitcom characters die, and sometime, when an actor passed, the on screen death of his character could be very emotional. And sometimes a real person would die in the middle of a production, forcing the show to deal with that person’s passing.
But never before had someone so real, so like us, died in front of all of us. And that was difficult to watch. Also difficult was how the older son, Josh, dealt with his father’s death, his younger brother’s drug addiction, and the completion of the fishing season. Maybe it’s because I’m an older brother that I felt so connected to Josh.
Anyways, this isn’t some stupid recrap, and the next post, which deals with something I noticed in the show won’t be so superficial. There’s a reason I’m bringing up the show, and its more meaningful, unique, etc. But I have to go paddle, so those thoughts will have to wait.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Somebody back home asked me what I thought of Cali. At first I thought I was too harsh, but I decided to really look into it. I figure my opinion is biased, but so is every opinion in some way. I'm biased because I'm on business, which is a double-bladed sword. I have no needs or wants at the present, because the ludicrous nature of a business trip means I don't have to worry about anything. Somebody does, but not me. Instead I have to worry about my business, which I do, constantly.
The other edge of that sword is that I spend nearly every waking moment working. I have logged 70+ hours the past two weeks. But on my day off, I went to LA, to get a feel for Southern California.
What I saw was a portion of this country to wrapped up in itself, too detached from the normality of the rest of the world. Or maybe that's my East Coast coming out.
For one thing, it is totally normal to sit in traffic for hours at a time. Traffic delays of two hours are common. Four hours happens probably once or twice a month. And this is an accepted cost of living here.
The living conditions here can be deplorable. Los Angeles has a high number of homeless people, but makes no effort to hide them by setting up shelters or keeping them in the barrios. Unlike New York, where the homeless are shuffled away from the more ascendant classes, everyone mingles together. So on a train coming back from Hollywood, you'll have a homeless guy, a crippled woman wrapped in a blanket on a crappy power scooter, a marketing copy writer (me) some construction guys, a lawyer, and a Hollywood executive. It's a decent cross section of society, all together, all heading the same way but going in completely different directions.
No one gave a shit. That homeless guy could have been a veteran, a firefighter. The crippled woman was somebody's daughter, maybe at one point somebody's mother. But who knows, because no one stopped to give a shit. Including myself. In LA, we are all too absorbed in the minuscule bullshit that makes up our daily life to care about anything or anyone that is beyond our immediate scope.
And that's why I'm bumming on LA. I'm not some detached moron who doesn't realize that scenes like this play themselves out in every corner of the world every day. And I'm not too impractical to realize that there wasn't much anyone on that train could do. Yeah, we could have pitched in and given that guy a meal and a shower, maybe really pitched in and gotten him a home and a job. But what about all the other homeless people in LA? California? The world?
This isn't a rant against homelessness in America. Nor is it a bash against the entire West Coast, as my love for Oregon, Washington, and B.C. is still very strong. This is more a picture. This is my attempt to render a scene of life in LA, and then try to determine why it bothers me. At the end of the day, this is simply a protest against the way we live our lives. We punch in, we punch out, but we are too wrapped up in the trivial distractions to focus on making the most of the very little time we have. The only difference is, in LA, they don't even try to hide it.
And one other thing. I said everyone on that train was going to the same place, but I didn't just mean Union Station. As human beings, we are guaranteed one thing. We are not guaranteed love, or kindness, or happiness, or warmth, or clarity. We are only guaranteed death. From the moment we are born, we are never younger, and death is never further away then it is at this instance in time. We might live 100 years. Or 100 days. So, my question for you is, with this one guarantee, this one certainty, what are you going to do?
Me? I'm going to canoe.
"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to slide in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, 'Holy shit, what a ride!' " Nolan Whitesell
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
I ran the Gap three times over two days. The first time was my best run. I chose the left line, hit an eddy, blasted over the pourover rock on river left, and managed to sneak in between the rock and the hole on river left.
The second run, well, was not so good. I got too far to the left, and when I compensated, my bow came out too far to the right, got caught by the hole, and I rolled into a rock. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you view it) I had the bow cam going. (Note: The video is a little large, so I'll have a Youtube link or something similar in its place shortly)
I was a little pissed that I had blown what was to be the last rapid of the trip, and knew I was going to be miserable if I had to drive from Massachusetts to Allentown to New Jersey that night, thinking about my little mistake. So I threw the boat on the car, drove to the top of the gap, and ran the damn thing again.
This time, I ran the line better. I got stuck in the hydraulic kicked up by the pourover rock, and did have a good deal of water in the boat, but I was able to punch out and grab the line. Video courtesy of Sarah:
All in all it was a great trip, and I felt that I was paddling at a notch above my previous level. Who knows, in a few weeks, I might give the Yough a try.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
I'm headed to the Deerfield River in western Massachusetts for some whitewater with a friend. I'm very excited to head out, see a new river, face new challenges, etc.
I have a list of stuff I need to take in my head, and I keep going back over it, scrutinizing each choice of gear. I've read NPMB and Cboats so much I'm afraid I'm going to get fired.
This is nothing abnormal. In preparation for any new trip, be it a day or a month, I read everything I can get my hands on about the location. I get excited thinking about what I might see, and trying to figure out the minute details, like how to get there, what to eat, and so on. That excitement helps get me through the week of anticipation, of wanting to be there now.
And in 24 hours, I will be.
More to come...
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
This is a mini-report for the Uppper Lehigh River, which I try to paddle once every two weeks during release weekends, while also hitting the lower. Nothing too in-depth, just some pictures and commentary on whitewater in general. Hopefully I'll have a cooler report from the Deerfield after this weekend.
Surveying No-Way, a Class III
I tried a Spanish Fly...
With mixed results
Back in my Probe.
More to come (hopefully)
Sunday, May 30, 2010
I never knew my grandfather without Parkinson’s. The larger than life figure that many of you know, the South Dakota farm boy, the sailor, the father of three, that man was only a face in a few faded black and white pictures. Even in my earliest memories, the man I knew had the shakes, the pains and the symptoms of Parkinson’s. And so it is, that I don’t have a funny story about the time we played catch, or went fishing, or practiced football. I don’t have these stories, because my grandfather was robbed of his physical capabilities before he could ever play with his grandchildren. I do, however, have stories about euchre, a simple card game that allowed three generations of my family to connect.
Euchre is an incredibly counter-intuitive game, where jacks are higher than aces and diamonds are hearts, sometimes. It is a complicated game, but it is the basis for many of the stories I hear about my grandfather. Stories like, that time Grandpa Orv ordered with no trump, and won. Or that time one of the Semmel boys went alone with right left king, and Grandpa Orv euchred him. The stories were always told with a laughing disbelief; nobody would do something that crazy, except Grandpa Orv.
My grandfather taught me euchre at the kitchen table, dealing each card face up, explaining the right bauer, the left bauer, which cards were trump, and which were not. He taught me how to play the game hard, how to pay attention to details so that I could play smarter. And he taught me how to play clean, that at the end of the day, it was just cards.
I remember the first time we sat down to play, Ruth and my father versus my grandfather and me. He took the cards, gingerly shuffled them and then, with a smile starting to trace his lips, he dealt to my father and said. “Three bad ones to you.” To me, “Two good ones for you.
After that first game, the countless others blended together. It seemed like whenever he visited, we had barely brought the suitcases inside before the cards came out. Whenever we played, my grandfather wanted me to be his partner. He said it was because I brought the luck, but I realize now that he liked playing with me because of how excited I was to play with him. Then, as I grew older, and my brother learned the game, my brother became his partner.
As his Parkinson’s worsened, we used euchre to gauge his condition. Even in instances where he would lose track of where he was, or who we were, he would still remember his last four hands. His passion for cards never seemed to dim, and the game helped everyone cope with what was a very difficult situation.
I still remember the first time we visited him at the hospital. We had been warned that he was unaware of his surroundings, that his mind wasn’t what it once was. And I remember thinking, if he really is gone, we will know when we play cards.
We sat down in the dining hall, and someone pulled out the deck. The game moved along, and my grandfather struggled to keep up with the conversation. He was confused easily, and sitting next to him, I wondered if he was going to be able to play. A few hands in, I dealt, turning over a club.
“Pick that up.” He said.
I picked up the card, making clubs trump.
He led a low club, meaning he was going to lose the trick. My father and I looked at each other. “That’s trump.” My dad said.
My grandfather nodded as I trumped his card and won the trick. I won the next trick too, and was on the verge of euchring him.
It was then that my grandfather, his hand trembling slightly, flashed my brother a quick thumbs up. My dad and I looked at each other again, and watched as my grandfather took the next three tricks with off aces. It was a gutsy move, but it paid off. And in the end, it only added to his legend. Hey, remember that time Grandpa Orv pretended he was too confused to play, gave you the thumbs up, and won the game? It makes me laugh to this day.
In speaking with many family members this week, I have come to realize that my grandfather lived a life divided into various stages. And the stage of his life I am speaking about today, when he had Parkinson’s, is probably a time in his life many of us would rather forget. But is a testament to my grandfather that despite the hardships he faced, I still have very fond memories of the time we spent together. There are some of us here today like me, who only know Orville Loomis when he had Parkinson’s. People like my brother Zack, his other grandchildren Mercedez and Camdyn, and Ryan and Cory. And as hard as his disease must have been on my grandfather and the people who loved him, I think we can all take comfort in the fact that he was still able to make a difference in the lives of young people, something I could tell meant the world to him.
As we gather today to celebrate a man that meant many different things to many different people, we should look back on the times we spent with him, all the times. We do not remember days, we remember moments. There might have been days where my grandfather struggled with his disease, but he still led a rich and rewarding life, filled with many moments where he touched us all.
It is comforting to know that he is in a better place, where his physical abilities have returned, his mind is clear, and a 9-10 with 3 off aces isn’t that bad of a hand.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
A house is a dwelling, a structure of some type. The term "house" generally implies ownership and space.
Home is different. Home is much more personal, emotional. A connection of some sorts. Roots. You might live in a house but it is not your home.
I am thinking about this as I move from the home I have spent the last ten years or so at, to an apartment in New Jersey.
When will that become my home?
Will it ever?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
That's how long it took Army snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon to go from two regular Delta Force soldiers to heroes. They saved another man's life, at the cost of their own.
The oversimplified story is this: On October 3, 1993, during a raid to capture a Somali warlord in Mogadishu, a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. When another Black Hawk took its place in the sky to provide cover for the ground forces, that helicopter was also shot down. Its pilot, Mike Durant, survived the crash but was badly injured, and a thousand Somali guerrilla fighters converged on the site.
After being denied twice previously, Shughart and Gordon were given permission to leave their helicopter and set up a perimeter around Durant. Two men, against hundreds if not thousands of hardened fighters. They reached the crash site, pulled Durant free, and set him up in a covered position before engaging the enemy. After expending all his ammunition, Gordon was mortally wounded. Shughart returned to Durant to give him another weapon. As he left, he simply said, "Good luck." Minutes later, after expending all his ammunition, and that from discarded weapons, Shughart was also mortally wounded. Durant was captured, but later released. He is still alive today.
It took 27 minutes. Less than half an hour. In the amount of time it takes to watch a sitcom, two
men gave everything they ever had, and ever would be, to save one. Have you done something in that short a time that has meant so much? I know I have not.
What is also interesting is that Shughart and Gordon knew what they were asking to do. They knew rescue was far away, and that the area was extremely hostile, but they asked to go in anyways. What motivates someone to ask for such a task, where the outcome is so deeply in doubt? What do you think as you run towards what you know might very well be your death? What do you think as the situation escalates out of hand? Do you still believe in your choice?
27 Minutes. That's how long it took for two men to save a life, take scores of others, win the Medal of Honor, become heroes, and die.
Think about that next time you are sitting down, wasting time in the mindless minutia we call life. Think about that, and think about Randy Shughart, Gary Gordon, and the countless others that have changed the world in some way in such a small period of time.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
And it feels great.
When I graduate with whatever bullshit degree I decide upon, I'm going to sell my stuff, get in my car, and head west.
"Just drive baby."
Things that interest me now: (in no particular order)
Drinking good beer
Music in general
Connections with others
Oh well, I guess there is more life out there than one lifetime can handle. Glad I brought tupperware.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
I don't consider myself interesting enough to get a Twitter, but I see the appeal in having that immediate connection. Sometimes, when I'm watching TV, and I see or hear something strange, funny, or just plain weird, I want to know if anyone else thought the same way. So a Twitter would help with that.
Why do I bring up Twitter? Because the personal connection that one has with 160 characters, and how well he can sum up all the problems in his life in those few letters and numbers, is a lot like what I'm trying to bring to the blog. Personal connection, some kind of reaching out. And at the same time, I want to expand. When I go on my trip, I want to have something tying me back to this blog, some reason to update it, to chronicle my journal, as much for myself as for others. Given the randomness and spontaneity that will drive the Odyssey, it mihgt be my only chance to give peple back home an update to my whereabouts and well-being.
So how do I expand? I'm not entirely sure, but I'm open to suggestions.
How do I make it small? That's coming, I think I have an idea of how to do that. So stay tuned.
My life has changed considerably in the eight or so months it's been, and I've decided to change the style of the blog, rather than delete it entirely. In my initial post I said I would put musings in here, and I've done a pretty crappy job at that. And honestly, since I don't get to travel as much as I'd like, I can't keep this strictly to films and travel reports. **Side Note** I made a fifteen minute film on Vancouver, using footage I shot whilst there. It's on youtube, on my channel. I'll try to post a link. **
Anyways, my goal with this blog has been somewhat long term. You see, I have about two years left of my collegiate career, but while most people are filling out grad school applications or submitting resumes, I'm saving up for something big, bigger than me, bigger than anything in my life.
I'm going on a trip. A road trip. For a couple years.
I hate writing things down only to see them fail to come to fruition, so it is with great determination that I write this. As soon as I pick up my degree, I'm selling everything I don't need, everything that will tie me down, pack up my car, and go. Maybe I'll leave a few boxes in storage at a friends, but my life will be limited to what I can put in my car, and that's with space for me to sleep.
I'm heading west (unless I graduate early, in which case I'll go south first.) Regardless, there is so much out there that I haven't seen that i feel I need to see. And I'll do anything to get there. If I'm broke and I can grab a job on a farm for a couple weeks, so be it. This will get me as far as Alaska.
After I've seen Alaska - that's a joke - I'm selling the car and anything I can't carry in a backpack. Then I'm getting on a plane and heading to southeast Asia. Cambodia, maybe Laos. We'll see. Money's cheap and life is short. I'm not quite sure why Cambodia appeals to me. Maybe it's the lawlessness, the last vestige of the cowboy. Maybe it's the fact that one can get by on five dollars a day. It'll be an experience, no doubt.
So that's the plan, stay tuned. My next post will be how I plan to change the blog.