Saturday, November 29, 2008

Proctor Academy

I've been working with a private high school from New Hampshire for the past few years and they want to go kayaking in Baja again this February. I pulled out some photos from 2006 while thinking about the itinerary and thought I'd post them. Proctor Academy has a 10 wwek program they call the "Mountain Classroom". A group of about 10 students and 2 teachers travel the US and Baja in a small bus and learn by being out there in the world. It's very cool and the kids and teachers are pretty awesome. It's an amazing trip and I have loved working with them. Here's the 2006 trip.....

We drove to Bahia de los Angeles (about 12 hours south) in Baja and paddled for 5 days. Most of the kids had paddled a bit before, but not much. We loaded all our camping gear and set off into the desert paradise that coastal Baja is. We paddled among volcanoes, sea lions, and dolphin. On shore, we hiked, cooked, studied, relaxed, and played. I've been to LA Bay a dozen times, but every experience is magnified by the enthusiasm of youth and this was the best trip there I've ever had. Axel Shoevers, a good friend from the Netherlands went with us and contributed so much to making it a magic trip. In addition, Proctor instructors Tom and Molly invited their frinds and experienced wilderness/NOLS guides (Ely and Erin) to join us. It was amazing to work with such a diversely experienced group.
This is our bus - the kids and instructors live out of this and a gear trailer for 10 weeks! It's got a library of books in the back and is comfortable enough. It brought back lots of fond memories from my college days as a geology student on field trips around the desert southwest.

What an amazing classroom! It was windy this day so they were hiding from the wind. I think this was English class....maybe Social Studies. Whatever it was, I would have liked school a lot more if this was MY classroom!

"It was this big...." I begged to teach an "Intertidal Biology" session and the kids loved flipping over rocks and checking out all the oogie creatures. Biology was my first love - I had "worm farms" as a kid and an amazing high school biology teacher invited me to splice genes (I'm not kidding) on a grant he got when I was 15. We played God with E.coli bacteria and created things that didn't exist. We separated the DNA using powerful centrifuges, chopped it up using enzymes, and put it back together in a new way. We proved it by running the DNA molecules through gel using electrophlorisis (sp?). I'm sure this is all standard practice in Biology 101 these days, but it was pretty cutting edge when I was a kid. Anyway, the shoreline in many parts of Baja looks like plain old rocks.....until you start flipping them over. The intertidal world is truely a miraculous array of adaptations to incredibly difficult conditions. The next time you're on a rocky beach, flip 'em!
A resident of the intertidal zone...a brittle star.
Other residents of the intertidal zone turned out to be tasty! We camped at the end of a little bay (I'm sorry, but the name has to remain known only to the trip participants), and scooped clams by the handful. We let most of these return to the sea - our eyes were bigger than our stomaches.

For the rest, we made a fire below high tide line with drift wood and cooked our clams on the embers. Yummy. A real Clam Bake!

One of our camps.

Camp life.

Food was a big part of the trip. The kids were divided into cook groups and with a bit of advise, were more or less left to their own devises when it came to shopping and cooking. This led to some interesting choices and meals. Ely was an extraoridary fisherman and we ate a lot of fish, including some of the prettiest and tastiest sushi I've ever had (and I love sushi!),

Ely the fisherman, always provided! Some of the kids learned how to filet like pros!

Susji in the middle of nowhere!

The Sea of Cortez is a magic place to paddle! Check out the volcanic cone in the background - what a view from up there!

We learned a lot of kayaking skills on this trip - mostly by playing!
There were some roll classes too in the tourquoise water!

Relaxing in camp.
Biology "in-your-face"! These beautiful squid committed suicide in front of us! They squirted ink and jet-propelled themselves onto shore. When we tried to return them to deep water like beached whales, they simply aimed again and rammed themselves into the rocky shore. They cut their flesh open against the jagged volcanic rock and refused to be steered into open water. I read about this phenomenom later back home - it's common, like salmon dying after they breed.
These kids had so much confidence and style of their own by this point in the trip - I loved their attitudes! Every night, they had a "debrief" session and said some pretty frank things to each other. Yet they took the good and the bad onboard with an amazing amount of grace, self-confidence, and humility. I've seen many adults do worse and I'm impressed with the skills that this program gives the students - much more than "book" learning!

There's no better place to learn about natural history than in the middle of nature! baja is almost like an island and has numerous endemic species that are so different from New Hampshire! What an experience!

Below is Baja at it's most classic. A "loncheria" on HWY 1. We had tacos here. Cultural and gastronomic education at it's most pure.
A beautiful sunset to end the story.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


My trip to the UK ended almost exactly as it began – hiding from crazy winds in the Menai Straits in the rain and cold! I spent the last 2 days attending a” 4 Star Assessor training” weekend so I can train and assess the new 4 Star award. It was very productive course. I had a warm bed and cold beer each night with good friends Phil and Joan Eccles, and it was a great way to end the trip. Every time I go back, there are a few new friends made and old relationships made stronger. There really is a world-wide tribe of kayakers and Anglesey is a common meeting ground. I highly recommend attending the symposium there in May sponsored by Nigel Dennis and Sea Kayaking UK.
I returned home to spectacular hot weather. Everyone says this has been one of the best falls here in San Diego – warm,sunny, and very clear water with active marine life.
Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw were here as part of their premier tour for “This Is The Sea 4”. We had a good turn-out with almost 100 people who appreciated the film and cheered heartily for my segment - thanks, guys! Justine and Barry stayed long enough to enjoy some southern CA surf, but had to hurry on to their other stops.
My employee Suzy has moved on with the goal of going back to MIT next year. Jake is spending over a month back in the mid-west with his family and left last week. If you check out the SPOT location, that's him freezing his ass off in WI. It’ll just be me, Mike, and Eddy for a while!

Coaching course in Devon, England

I spent one more day in Anglesey tagging along on a BCU 4 Star assessment. We had spectacular weather for a change and proper conditions were a bit hard to find. It was a good day on the water in any case.
I met up wit Phil again when he picked me up at the outdoor center and we headed down to Bicton College in Devon where he was running a BCU Level 1 Course with Matt Blue for 10 young coach candidates. 7 of them were enrolled on a 9 month outdoor instructor course and were traveling all over Europe together learning about and doing outdoor activities. They were very cool kids and it was a fun few days.
I wanted to observe the course so I can deliver them in the US myself. I’m offering one in the spring at my symposium and Phil will come over to run it with me. It’s a really great course that is much better than the “old” BCU Level 2 course was. The 4 days go by quickly and include a lot of hands on coaching for the candidates. At the end of the course, candidates either get an “action plan” which they need to complete before getting their certification, or they simply get their certification. For people who work in the industry or are actively involved with clubs, the Level 1 certification combined with the new 4 Star Award are really useful qualifications.

Tar Barrels of Ottery

Phil and I had an exciting night out in Devon when we went to the “Tar Barrels of Ottery” festival in a nearby tiny village. According to Phil, this event is on some list of "100 Things to do Before You Die". It’s not an easy thing to describe, but I'll try. All afternoon and into the night, the locals light big barrels on fire, hoist them on their shoulders with big asbestos mitts to protect their hands (but nothing visible to protect anything else), and run around the village with them. The barrels are well coated with tar to ensure that they burn vigorously. They get passed around to the lucky “barrel rollers” until they are completely burned. From time to time, they’ll set them down and pour wax in them to get them flaming better. Only one barrel is burned at a time. So picture this: the old village square is packed with people shoulder to shoulder. There’s a guy with a barrel on his back with flames shooting out the ends. He’s running (not walking, but running) around the square and the crowd parts around him. There’s no predicting which way he’ll go. He has a few “blockers” running with him trying to keep people from tapping the barrel (I guess they do this for luck????) or otherwise hurting either themselves or the barrel roller. We watched people literally get run over by the barrel dude and got way closer to the action than I needed to!
The barrel burning starts with the kids (that's right) in the afternoon. I guess they get the little barrels. The women start later and the men get the biggest barrels. Nobody is exactly sure how this tradition began or why (or if they are, they're not saying), but I have to think that there wasn't a single sober participant nor spectator on that first night of barrel burning or surely someone would have put the drunken fools to bed. It's not surprising that drinking remains a big part of the event (as if the hazards aren't significant enough!). There is also a giant bonfire, some amusement rides, and lots of food stands - a proper festival for the whole family!
On our way out through the crowd, I noticed that we were following a path of glowing embers where the barrel had just been. And then I noticed a glowing ember on the back of the rugby shirt of the guy I was squeezing past. I brushed him out as we went by. I’m sure he had no idea he was smoldering. Crazy. You can check it out at

Open Boating on the Severn River

I drove through snow covered hills early one morning to meet Phil and Dave for a little canoe trip. It was my first time in whitewater with an open boat, so I was a little nervous. We put in just above a class II rapid and the river got easier from there. It was all the wrong way around, but an exciting start! I has done a bit of research online the night before just so I knew what I was getting into (you can never trust whitewater boaters!) and I’d read about the “horrendous weir” on this stretch of river. Weirs are really common in the UK and can be deadly. In the states, they’re called low head dams and they are much less common (but just as deadly). Phil and Dave promised me it was impossible to miss the portage, but I kept reminding them it was coming up!
We played in some small riffles while I tried to figure out how to ferry, peel out, etc with just one blade. It was a fun new challenge. I was happy that our canoes were pretty standard touring canoes rather than the narrow, highly rockered type outfitted with thigh straps and things for running difficult rapids.

Finally Dave and Phil headed to the shore in a big calm pool and I could see the BIG horizon line made by the weir. We got out and had lunch in a bird watching blind. It was still pretty cold and damp so it was nice to have shelter! After lunch we dragged the canoes around the weir and it was indeed pretty horrendous! After 2 big man-made drops, the river gradually settled down again through some small rapids. Phil found a superb surf wave to play on.
It took me a few of tries and I had to watch Phil’s moves more than once, but I finally got on it. Phil’s analysis of my first attempt was that I wasn’t committing enough. “You’re just one stroke away from Nirvana. But when you get on it, it’s going to try to flip you!” Yeah, no shit. Maybe that’s why I’m not really sure I want to take that last stroke!! The picture below says it perfectly - my posture, the blade angle.....I'm definitely weighing the odds that I swim instead of surf! I finally did get on the wave though and it was excellent fun. I’m sorry we don’t have a little river close to home!

Phil scored me a cabin at his buddy’s outdoor center for a few nights and I got some work done on my laptop at the local coffee shop in the morning and the pub in the evening. It’s a shame to be wasting precious days in the UK working on my laptop, but I’ve got a very competitive proposal due when I get home. The proposal is for a permit to operate kayak tours in La Jolla – something Aqua Adventures has been doing for 20 years and we might not be able to do anymore. The request for proposals was announced the day before I left for the UK and the proposals are due a few days after I get home, hence all the work. I should know our fate in December or January so keep your fingers crossed for me!