Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Leave of absence...

Just when I'm getting back into the swing with the blog, I'm off first thing tomorrow - to Orlando. It's our annual meeting, with delegates flying in from mostly all around the US, but did find someone via a blog mention flying out from Moscow at 0530 this morning to join us. That's dedication.

Back in a few days...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

You'll never guess...

Writing about mum yesterday reminded me of one of the stories I phoned her about, the “you'll never guess what just happened!” calls. I was living in NYC at the time, transferred from London for two years to establish a development and alumni office for University College London, working from my apartment.

Most nights I ate sushi two doors down, on 3rd Ave, just below 80th. Apparently the place closed down a week or so after I left – pals said that my two years of eating there had kept it afloat. Most nights I ate at the sushi bar, as the lead chef, a Japanese waiting for a Green Card, had taken a bit of a shine to me and slipped me new morsels to experiment on. (If anyone can read Japanese, I still haven’t been able to translate the message he wrote on a baseball he gave me one evening.)

Anyway, the bar soon filled up with a young group of lads, whose parents and elders moved into the back room to eat in more quiet. They were from Uruguay, and dead mad about rugby. Ha, and here was the Kiwi also dead mad on rugby. We immediately set about saving the world. The boys were college students (what Americans call high school and us college) and desperately wanted to put together a tour of NZ to play school boy rugby. Did I know anyone who could help? Of course, I said – NZ’s a small place. I wrote down on a paper napkin the names of the principals of the schools I knew – Tauranga Boys’ College where my mum had taught for 16 years and was senior mistress; Hamilton Boys’ High where an old colleague of mum’s was now principal and was once an All Black; Selwyn College, in Auckland, where an uncle had taught maths; and Auckland Boys’ Grammar, where the ex-husband had gone. They were thrilled and tucked the napkin away.

“Would you like to meet my dad?”, the young man asked. “He’s also a rugby player. In fact, he was the young medical student, Roberto Canessa, who was on the plane that crashed in the Andes in 1972.” I gaped at Canessa junior. The story of the young rugby players who had survived for 72 days in the Andes had been one of the great stories of my childhood, and I had avidly read and re-read Piers Paul Read’s book, Alive, when it was published in 1974. “I would love to meet him”, I replied. Canessa junior slipped off his bar school and soon returned with his dad. He was quite short in stature, about 5ft4, but trim and strong looking. He beamed as he shook my hand, delighted to meet a Kiwi. The feeling was mutual. Roberto talked a little about his experience trapped on the mountain, but became even more animated when he told me about his talks to local Uruguayan school children, telling them of their struggles and fortitude and comradeship, taking with him relics of their stay on the mountain. I felt honored to have met him.

A few hours later I returned two doors up 3rd Ave to my apartment, raced up to the eighth floor and rang mum in NZ, saying, “you’ll never guess what just happened!”

Monday, October 29, 2007


Shame to see Wendy Killoran and Rene Siendel's split on their paddle around Sardinia. In previous entries, Wendy had mentioned her frustration with Rene's apparently different approach to speed and day's distance covered. And now it seems to have come to a head, with Rene heading back home, and Wendy leaving to paddle solo.

Paddling on a long term expedition with a partner is a lot like a marriage, and not only in the more traditional sense of the word. Going into it with eyes wide open, a big heart, lots of respect and patience are key ingredients. This is perhaps why engagements (for expeditions and life!) are so helpful - do we pull together? Can we laugh at the same problems and cry at the same joys? Will the faster of the two slow down to enjoy the walk with the slower one? Will we be there for each other when either of us really needs it the most?

Not everyone can paddle, or live, alone. And, of course, some can and do. Those who do paddle solo are often those with a very happy partnership back home - maybe they are also the happiest soloists? Knowing that there's someone at home who loves them that they can share all their experiences with on their return?

One of my biggest feelings of loss when my mum died at far too young an age, now just six years ago, was that I couldn't call her anymore from somewhere in the world and say "Mum, you'll never guess what just happened!", and spend hours with her laughing on the phone over it. I have someone else to share those stories with now, and often we've experienced them together, especially since I learned to walk slower; and perhaps that's also why I'm happy to paddle solo when the opportunity arises.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Weekend reading

Just finished reading Bruce Henderson's 2005 book, True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole. While more of an Antarctica nut (the Southern Hemisphere thing), I'll still read anything to do with snowy, cold, arduous, polar adventure. And this tale is no exception.

Must admit, I was completely ignorant of the race for the North Pole, or the "Big Nail" as it was named by the Eskimo tribes of Greenland. And this is a sadder race than most, with what appears to be a rewrite of history that seems fairly widely accepted now, that Dr. Frederick A. Cook did reach the North Pole first, and that Robert Peary may not even have done so at all.

On his return, Cook was asked, if deep down in his heart did he believe he had made his goal, and whether he had indeed set his foot right on the North Pole. His response made me smile: "Oh, I couldn't say that. I got to where there wasn't any latitude."

The saddest part of the entire tale is not only the behaviour of Peary during and after his last attempt for what he considered was rightfully only his to attain, but the despicable behaviour of his financial backers, his sponsors, who we know so well nowadays as pretty well integral to any modern expedition. Nothing was different even in the early twentieth century. Those businessmen belonging to the Peary Arctic Club and National Geographic, among others, destroyed the reputation of a seemingly honest man, even to the point of refuting Cook's earlier claim to being the first to summit Mt. McKinley. At least National Geographic later apologized for its actions, in 1988.

(Then again, what may really be the most saddest part of the book, is the warning that with the Arctic ice cap's current melting rate of 9% per decade as the world's climate grows warmer, that ice cap will disappear before the end of this century.)

But the tale of true adventure and hardship shines through for both Cook and Peary - nothing can detract from that. "Lost in a landless, spiritless world, in which the sky, the weather, the sun and all was a mystery," wrote Cook of his fears as he made his way.

And I also appreciate that the tale is yet not completely resolved, and may never be. Ah, the stuff of true adventure and hardship.

Friday, October 26, 2007

This way or that?

Brilliant op-ed in the New York Times today, titled "The Outsourced Brain".

"I have melded my mind with the heavens, communed with the universal consciousness, and experienced the inner calm that externalization brings, and it all started because I bought a car with a G.P.S. ... After a few weeks, it occurred to me that I could no longer get anywhere without [the GPS]. Any trip slightly out of the ordinary had me typing the address into her system and then blissfully following her satellite-fed commands. I found that I was quickly shedding all vestiges of geographic knowledge."

Obviously tongue-in-cheek in some respects, but this does stir my consciousness. How dependent are we becoming on the technology we use every day, and then of that, that which we take with us on our expeditions (sounds more adventurous than "trips" ;) - our GPS, EPIRB, VHF, cell phone, iPod, camera, Blackberry, Nokia NSeries, etc?

Some of these acronyms are definitely necessities from a safety perspective. But are we overloading our senses just that bit too much when we take away with us everything else to barrage our senses - what we may now also think of as necessities?

And then are we losing our last "vestiges of geographic knowledge"? This may even scare me more - losing that innate sense of "being there" that is so integral to actually being out on water with just a paddle to steer me by.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New talent on the block

A huge welcome to new paddling talent, Super Boo! Do have a look at her new blog. Many of you may be keen followers of her dad and his blog, Capt' of the O'Dark 30, so it's great to see an 11-year-old out making her own adventures happen, and dragging big daddy along with her!

And all for a good cause - not only her only self-awareness of the fun of life, but also raising awareness for breast cancer, of which her mother is currently fighting.

Big adventures are on the horizon for this wee lass, some which can't even yet be talked about! (I hate it when other folks write things like that on their blogs ;) So stay tuned!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blogger's block

After some fierce words from the Capt'n, I figured I'd better put fingers to keyboard. It's got to be a blogger's block of some sort - perhaps a new phrase for the lexicon. There's certainly been a fair bit running on inside my head, which I could have made a few comments on. Dang it, I couldn't even find the time to do so on Blog Action Day. I've even been out on the water since the last entry, but that went by the by.

Mostly, it's been block thrown in with little time. Work's a bit busy at the moment (what's new), with our upcoming annual meeting in Orlando in a fortnight and various other projects on the boil. And, of course, there's this wee 5.5-month-old at home that seems to take up an inordinate amount of time. Go figure. I have him for an hour in the morning, after getting up at 0530 (waaay pre-sparrow fart) to take the dog for a four-mile run, so FliesWithKiwiBird can catch up on some sleep; and then as soon as I get home from the office around 5pm, he's mine until we share bath, books and bed (I now know Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Goodnight Moon off by heart). During the weekends, I have him pretty much most of the time, to give FliesWithKiwiBird a much needed break. And frankly, the wee one doesn't care two hoots whether I have a daily blog commitment or not. But above all that, he's just so darn-gone-gorgeous!

So there you go. There are my excuses. At least the world keeps turning without me. Phew.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Learning from tragedy

Two experienced kayakers have died in Howe Sound, northwest of Vancouver. I'm not keen on going into the wherewithalls - it's well covered in this newspaper report and others - and I'm sure all the forums will soon be well abuzz.

But once more we can learn from the tragic mistakes made, and work to make bloody sure that this isn't you or me in the same position. As always, it comes down to wearing the right gear for the sport and the occasion, and not dicking around with the weather.

People depend on us coming home at the end of the day.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Four more years

Turned out not to just be the day we wore black to support the All Blacks' quarter-final match against France in the Rugby World Cup currently being played in Europe, but a day of mourning as well.

Earlier in the day, the Aussies had been trounced by England 10-12, the same England who had lost 36-0 to the Springboks earlier in the tournament. That was a real shocker. And then last night the favourites to win the Cup, the NZ All Blacks, lost to France 18-20. Couldn't believe it. We were all over at Pete and Lauren's watching the match - the wee one wearing his black NZ shirt for the first time. Pete's a Maori - how amazing is that - two Kiwis in Durham (there are more) and we live behind each other.

Never mind that the Pommy ref was just terrible, even allowing a forward pass try from the French, and not carrying through the penalty for NZ in the dying seconds of the game, we just didn't play well enough.

The bookies, and fans, had us tipped to win. And somewhere in the US is a very unhappy chappie who's just lost $4.2M.

But we'll continue to wear black. For another four years.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Shopping for gear

Sigh. The ever-so-slight shiver that runs through one’s spine when new gear is wanted. Nay, necessary, even. And every kayaker needs a PFD. For a couple of years I’ve happily worn Patagonia’s Lotus, now discontinued. But I noticed the other day, after nearly losing a wee maglight torch and my ever-so-necessary stick of chapstick, that the bottom of the zip pocket had frayed away to near nothing.

Of course, we never get too sad about having to replace gear, because that means some happy hours spent researching just the right replacement. Which I did. When the wee one is asleep in his sling across my shoulders, I’ve devised a system where I can rest the laptop on top of a good-sized carton, and then that atop the dining room table. Thus standing I’m just the right height to ‘research’ and not disturb the sleeping babe, who, of course, will know how to Google just as soon as he can sit up and move a mouse all by himself.

I needed a few more pockets this time, and bigger ones too. I particularly wanted a pocket that would fit my McMurdo 406 PLB EPRIB, not the smallest in its field, thus not having to carry it in a bumbag around my waist. I also wanted another separate pocket for my VHF. And then another pocket for a few other goodies, such as a whistle, stick or two of chapstick and three or four small flares. I’ll still carry the bumbag, but that’s for snacks and a bit of this and that – that system worked really well in this year’s Everglades Challenge. And if the new PFD could be yellow, to match my boat (I’m a girl) and to stand out in a potential rescue situation, even better.

A few happy hours later, Kokatat’s MsFIT Tour PFD it was. All the pockets I wanted and one more to boot, and I also like the fact that you can have it clipped across your chest with the two chest straps and the zip undone, and apparently you’re still USCG-deemed safe – for those hot steamy days. And it comes in yellow – mango for the fruits among us.

Being an REI purchase, and having saved every receipt ever spent on all my kayaking-related gear over the last two and a bit years (just to shock myself one cold rainy winter day when I add it all up), I trotted off to our local REI and turned in the old PFD for the new one awaiting me – I’d previously ordered it on line (using last month’s members’ special 20% discount offer) and taken advantage of the free shipping. And I learned that I didn’t even need the receipt as every one of my purchases is stored away on REI’s system. Rather scary. But what I loved is the no questions asked – you’ve used the kit for over two years, it falls to pieces, and presto, you’ve a new – maybe even better – one.

Oh, and actually using it to paddle in? A dream. Hardly even knew I had it on.

Sigh. The smell of new gear.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Out on Wednesdays

Just stunning out on the lake Wednesday. I get into the office pre-sparrow fart so I can leave earlier, usually around 1500, to be paddling by 1540 or so. There was a slight breeze on my tail for the first two miles from Ebeneezer's put in to New Hope Overlook, and then it died. Which was just fine as I'd forgotten my sail. I've been dying to test out the new base I'd had made for me in California - but more on that when I've actually tested it out!

For the first time in months there were rain clouds on the horizon, but they slowly drifted off to the south (lucky South Carolina, if so), leaving us as dry as ever. Once more, the level of the lake's dropped, and even more counties have banned any watering or car washing whatsoever. In Durham County here, we're restricted to certain watering times on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We're also allowed to top up the pool, but I'm inclined to think that's rather a silly thing to be allowed to do when others are suffering, including Durhamites, so we're not.

The pink hues as the sun slowly died behind the clouds made for beautiful reflections as I made it back to Ebeneezer, 12 miles later.

It's good to get out on Wednesdays.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

NZ's the place to be

Just amazing. No woman has ever paddled around New Zealand's South Island, and only three men have, and now three sheilas are making a go of it, all within the next few months.

I mentioned Freya Hoffmeister's journey a few posts back, and now the renowned Justine Curgenven (Wales) and to me unknown Barbro Lindman (Sweden) are also taking up the challenge.

My responses are entirely irrational:
  • One was fine, now three are 'competing', and I'm not one of them
  • Three sheilas and not one of them is a Kiwi, and I'm not one of them (but I'm a Kiwi)
  • This trip is probably one of the most challenging any paddler could make, and I'm not one of them
  • With the most beautiful scenery to view, and I'm not one of them
Kia Kaha!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Argo project

Did you know that today there are 2,917 Argo floats bobbing around the world's oceans? I didn't, but exploring the Web site devoted to the Argo project had me gripped.

An Argo float is a 25kg free-drifting profiling float that measures the temperature and salinity of the upper 2000m of the ocean. This allows, for the first time, continuous monitoring of the temperature, salinity and velocity of the upper ocean, with all data being relayed and made publicly available within hours after collection. The power of the Internet!

The battery-powered autonomous floats spend most of their life drifting at a depth where they're stabilised by being neutrally buoyant, usually 1000m to 2000m. This "parking depth" pressure means they have a density equal to the ambient pressure and a compressibility that is less than that of sea water. A typical model operates at about 10-day intervals - the floats pump fluid into an external bladder and rise to the surface over about six to 12 hours while measuring temperature and salinity. Satellites determine the position of the floats when they surface, and receive the data transmitted by the floats. The bladder then deflates and the float returns to its original density and sinks to drift until the cycle is repeated. Ingenious! Floats are designed to make about 150 such cycles, so they typically last about 3.5 to four years.

Another factor that picked up my interest, is that New Zealand has a role to play in the Argo project. The R/V Kaharoa, based out of Wellington, has recently returned from its seventh Argo mission since beginning the program in 2004, and has now deployed 439 active floats. Altogether, the 28m Kaharoa has spent nearly a year at sea for Argo.

UPDATE: October 2nd: The 3,000th Argo was launched today!