Weekend warriors and noob backpackers, I want to clear up some misconceptions that backpacking is necessarily a prohibitively expensive and back-breaking hobby. Below I have put together some of the information I’ve acquired over the years to help people who are interested in going on a summer adventure in the woods. I want to reassure people that getting outside is not difficult and that anyone can do it. The woods should not be thought of as a daunting hostile place that people carry machetes and guns into because frankly it isn’t. If you’re looking for a badass adventure, the backcountry in the Mid-Atlantic is not the place most of the year. But if you want a break from civilized life and want to relax, here are some tips I have, including a comprehensive budget ultralight backpacking gear list at the bottom. Continue reading 3 principles of ultralight backpacking
My boat glided up onto the beach as I popped open my spray skirt. The dense smell of sweat and urine assaulted my nostrils. I slipped out of the boat and fell into the water, tried to stand, and contented myself with wading. I waded in the water for minutes, looking up on the island at the campers. Occasionally one would walk by and give me a look of total confusion, but the refugee Cubans arriving moments before distracted them from my arrival, at least long enough for me to learn how to walk again. Continue reading Key West to Tortugas, Part 3
A fishing captain looks at me, his thirty-two foot boat getting thrown about ten miles off shore in giant swells, and asks “What the hell are you doing out here?”
Me in my kayak bobbing around like a piece of Styrofoam, “I was asking myself that same question.” Continue reading Open water: Kayaking to the Bahamas
My homemade kayak sail is complete and I just want to thank my wonderful aunt for all her help with it! It looks absolutely beautiful. I have yet to take it for a test run but with all the forethought, I am certain it will sail wonderfully. In the last three days I also added the outriggers and some deck rigging and cleats for the sea anchor/tow rope. I will post about them in the next couple days!
In preparation for my fast approaching attempt to kayak from Key West to the Bahamas, my aunt and I made a kayak sail. I created the mast and boom using fiberglass rods which I ordered from DX Engineering. I considered using carbon fiber rods but changed my mind because of the expense. A fiberglass pole may cost $10 whereas the equivalent in carbon fiber will be over $100. For a low stress kayak sail, the fiberglass will do.
I have created a coffin but I sure as hell hope that I am not digging my own grave. I made a cockpit cover for my kayak, a kind of last resort safety capsule, a way to turn my boat into a life raft. I’m pretty proud of the design and the construction, it’s like nothing I have ever built before. But when I slid into for the first time today, with the roof less than an inch from my nose, I realized what I had done. This is an absolute minimal design so that I can store it below deck. It is cut in the middle to latch together and to break apart. On top I have installed an air-only ventilator, an incredible design that could very likely save my life. The frame is made from fiberglass which I purchased from Tapp Plastics. The latches I purchased from The Toggle Clamp Store.
First I taped down the mold which I cut from polystyrene foam using a hacksaw and an electric carving knife and then sanded down. I then covered the whole thing with plastic wrap which I then covered with mold release. Then I laid down one layer of 2oz fiberglass mat and then another layer on top of that, all the while rolling to smooth out bubbles as best I could. I ended up with an imperfect piece but good enough for my purposes. I am currently working applying an overhang on the front cover which will come over the rear cover to allow me to make it watertight. All the edges will be coated with a rubber seal.
I imagine trying to sleep in this thing will be pretty close to anyone’s worst nightmare. Alone in the ocean, no land in sight, with a twenty-one inch beam, and two inches of freeboard, crammed down in a cockpit no bigger than a coffin. But while I hope it never comes to that, it is a safety measure that I would feel moronic doing without. I would much rather spend a few hours waiting out a storm in a coffin then the rest of eternity in a coffin. It may seem curious why I would even consider putting myself in these predicaments. I’m not. It’s an all else fails scenario. The goal is to bring this trip to safer than the thousand mile drive down I-95 to the Florida Keys. Not more comfortable, just safer. And this cockpit cover is another step in that direction.
Frederic Fenger published these words in his book, “Alone in the Caribbean”, after his 1911 crossing of the Lesser Antilles in a sailing canoe.
“Crab pas mache, il pas gras ; il mache trop, et il tombe dans chodier.”
“If a crab don’t walk, he don’t get fat ;
If he walk too much, he gets in a pot.”
— From the Creole.
IS IT in the nature of all of us, or is it just my own peculiar make-up which brings, when the wind blows, that queer feeling, mingled longing and dread? A thousand invisible fingers seem to be pulling me, trying to draw me away from the four walls where I have every comfort, into the open where I shall have to use my wits and my strength to fool the sea in its treacherous moods, to take advantage of fair winds and to fight when I am fairly caught — for a man is a fool to think he can conquer nature. It had been a long time since I had felt the weatherglow on my face, a feeling akin to the numb forehead in the first touch of inebriety. The lure was coming back to me. It was the lure of islands and my thoughts had gone back to a certain room in school where as a boy I used to muse over a huge relief map of the bottom of the North Atlantic. No doubt my time had been better spent on the recitation that was going on. Continue reading The weatherglow
I’m currently reading Vicki McAuley’s recount of her husband’s attempt at kayaking across the Tasman Sea and am absolutely hooked with the tale. With each fumble and misstep though I am cheering so desperately for Andrew, really feeling emotionally attached in his journey. But I know the outcome. We all do, with a simple search of his Wikipedia page. And it burdens me so terribly. I feel like I am there, cheering for him, but all this happened when I was just a junior in high school. The story is remarked upon as one of the greatest kayak expeditions of all time. But we all know it was a heavy price to pay. It pains me so much to keep reading, knowing what the ending with be. Maybe his wife will provide me with closure that I otherwise would not be able to attain. I know I must finish reading, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to know. I want to admire Andrew for all his successes and not empathize with the pain of a widow when she heard the news of her husband’s empty kayak found bobbing in the Tasman. Continue reading The life of adventure
I landed on the Man o’ War covered Smathers Beach on the south end of Key West at around eleven in the morning. I jumped out of my kayak in front of dozens of tourists trying to tan their wintery white skin. My face was coated with zinc oxide, my eyes sunken in from lack of sleep, my clothes wet and smelly. I sat on the beach in the warm sand for a moment reflecting on what I had just done. I had paddled a kayak the same distance it would be to paddle to The Bahamas. The absurd goal, an unfathomable distance, didn’t seem so crazy anymore. The only difference, no bugs to fend off, no unpredictable currents, just open water and solitude. Continue reading Middle Keys to Key West