I think we all have this idea that an epic vacation might act as a pressure release valve to mitigate the stress we accumulate in our lives. With an S.I. injury I'm desperately trying to stabilize the logical solution seemed to get as far away from work and boating as possible, so I headed to Costa Rica....
....where I was promptly bitten by a dog, contracted a bacterial infection, went to the hospital, and then spent the rest of the time trying to no avail to extract the hospital bills from the dog owner. Returning home, and vowing never to leave the country again, I thought to myself, at least that's over. Two nights later I was back in the hospital, this time with the infection spreading to new and exciting parts of my body, after which I had to teach a whole class in pain. Still in pain the following week, I landed back in the doctors office who really couldn't seem to offer much beyond a third course of antibiotics.
Convinced I would probably be dead soon anyways I decided my SI injury was the least of my worries so I called my buddy Don who is always up for my ill advised schemes to remote and hazardous locations.
"Bro," I said, "Lets go on a trip."
"We have to go tomorrow, I'll be dead soon."
"Nevermind, I think we should do the upper section of the John Day in sea kayaks."
"I'll see you at 7am."
I threw a couple F1's on the car and spent the afternoon outfitting my F1 as a kneeling boat to take some stress off the injury. From that point on packing was something of a lackadaisical affair, a couple cans of tuna fish, some apples and oranges, some nuts, a couple energy bars, sleeping bags, warm coat, headlamp ect... I showed up at his house the next morning with boats and a reasonable pretext of camping gear and figured I'd let the open road take care of the rest.
Driving out the Columbia gorge and into the sunshine of the Oregon desert, I worried about the infection and what it might cost if I had to go back to the doctor. Either way I knew I'd rather be miserable on a river than miserable at home, and there is something about long desert drives that is perfect for contemplative states of mind. I love the ancient rusted out cars, spooky abandoned shacks, half collapsed barns and old creaking windmills, contrasted with thousands of massive modern futuristic wind turbines, like ships from an alien invasion.
Arriving at the Service Creek boat "ramp" the process of packing the F1's for our 50 mile 3 day trip takes about a half hour. We dropped our car off with the lovely folks at Service Creek Stage Stop who provide a shuttle service for 80 dollars, and also have river maps for sale. Permits and other information are available through the Bureau of Land Management website.
I'm pretty sure I could be excommunicated from the guild of sea kayakers for this cockpit scene, but then again, anyone who tells you their boat never looked like this on at least a few occasions is lying. Heaving my deteriorating carcass into the completely untested kneeling seat of my modified F1 and clicking the knee straps closed, we peeled out of the eddy and crossed into the current, the flow pulling our noses downstream.
This is probably where I should confess that I did about 10 total minutes of research on the John Day, which is not generally considered a sea kayaking destination. Scenic desert canyon.... close to home.... 4000cfs.... class II rapids.... the last two bits of info translated in my mind to "rapids probably deep enough not to bash up the boats too bad." Which turned out to be mostly correct, and even if it wasn't, the boats are tough.
The F1's handled the class II beautifully, bobbing merrily along the same way they do on a rough day in the ocean. Don only paddles every few years when we go on trips and had no trouble with the stability. I was a bit tiddly six inches higher up in my kneeling saddle, especially not knowing if I could roll it yet! I finally gave it a go and couldn't quite get the job done. (thanks for the bow rescue Don!) Not keen to inhale anymore agricultural/ranching runoff I decided to try later in cleaner waters.
Don heads into burnt ranch rapids class II+ I will say that with 40lbs of gear and 50lbs of water on board maneuvering is just about impossible in a rapid. You pick your line at the top and commit to it. On the plus side, you can punch through holes that would stop a full sized raft!
Alternating between ranch land and canyons, the upper Service Creek to Clarno section of the John Day isn't the most remote or spectacular river in the world, but there a lot of beauty, and well worth the float. Sea kayaks were nice to cut through the flat slow sections. The section up to the ranching community of Twickenham is great (as is the name Twickenham!) and after this slow ten miles section through farmland the canyon steepens up again.
Day two: we covered about 15 miles through lovely canyons with a fast current sheperding us along with the occasional rapid to keep things exciting.
People will often push their luck on this section to find the campsite at cathedral wall occupied so we decided to stop a few bends earlier, across from this huge wall formation swarming with cliff swallows!
I sat for hours and watched the frenzied activity of these tiny birds building mud nests one beakful at a time. Fascinating little creatures, they worked tirelessly transporting and sculpting all day long until late afternoon when the whole chirping swarm shot skyward. I lay on my back beneath the multilayered cloud of birds watching as they devoured insects pulled up to them on the thermal air currents.
Unlike a lot of desert canyons, the John Day is surprisingly hikable, and a forty minute jaunt of steep grass slopes brought Don and I to this viewpoint. Watch out for rattlesnakes though!
Many canyon river trips consist of a deep canyon which slopes up to a rim surrounded by flatland. There is something magical about the soft hilly landscape here.
I love the spring wildflowers and am kicking myself for not getting a shot of the lupines!
Fishing is popular here. The river teems with little smallmouth bass which can be caught continuously. They don't hook themselves deep and so are easy to cut loose with a minimum of violence. Next time I'll crimp the barbs down on my hooks to make it even easier on them.
Our last day. A couple more miles through pretty canyons and the impressive basalt columns of the cathedral wall and we were back in open country. Floating out the last ten miles we encountered rain and headwinds that would have been hell in a raft.
The sea kayaks performed great on the mild whitewater river. My kneeling seat really helped take the strain off my back, although I did switch back and forth when my feet went numb. To be honest the infection and it's assorted complications are still an issue, but Illness and injury aside, it was just nice to be back on the water.
As both a woodworker and an environmentalist, it can sometimes be difficult to reconcile how I make my living with the harm it causes a dwindling resource. In the case of the oak I use to make kayak coamings and ribs, it's estimated that 99% of the oak savannah that once blanketed the Willamette valley is now gone. Some people accept this as inevitable, and some people, like my friend Ben Deumling of Zena Forest Products are working to make things better.
Originally belonging to a German-born sustainable forester, in the mid 1980's Ben's family purchased the 1300 acres he sustainably manages in the Eola Hills. Ben started Zena Forest Products in 2007 at age 25. He wanted to find a better outlet for the logs from the Zena forest then the big industrial sawmills where prices were low and good management practices were not appreciated or rewarded.
As a wood junkie, it's a pleasure to visit Ben's operation every year and enjoy the process of selecting and cutting the oak for my kayaks guilt free. As sawyer, salvager, and micro-logger myself, I'm envious of Ben's mechanical aptitude and I'm always interested in the old machinery that Ben rescues and rebuilds. This small mill with it's labyrinth of gears and pulleys is called a Mobile Dimension and is one of the most ingenious little sawmills I've ever seen.
The jealousy doesn't stop there though, Bens large electric bandsaw mill slices easily through the hard white oak. Definitely a step up from my 084 stihl chain saw!
Working together we carefully select the very best cuts to make into bending stock.
Nothing is wasted here, off-cuts will be resawn, dried, planed, and milled into FSC-certified white oak flooring, which Zena produces more of than anything. Maple, fir, oak, or walnut, when a log is truly exceptional, Ben will cut and dry specialty lumber and slabs as well.
Truck loaded with more oak than is probably a good idea for a 1/4 ton pickup I head back home to fire up my own saw and planer, the next step in the journey from forest to kayak.
For anyone with an interest in traditional wooden boat building, Port Townsend is one of the last places on the west coast where you can see traditional shipwrights plying their trade. Home to the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, The Boat Haven Shipyard, The Northwest Maritime Center, and the Annual Wooden Boat Festival, this is a town soaked in nautical history. Spend any amount of time there and it starts to feel like every other person you meet has gone on some incredible sea voyage, or is restoring some derelict yacht in their backyard. It's a romantic place to be sure, and every year I am fortunate to be invited to the NW Maritime center to teach a week long class in their amazing space, rubbing elbows with real boat builders, and lining my diminutive little watercraft up next to the beauty of varnished planking and copper rivets.
With a scaled version of my West Greenland kayak, two F1's, and two LPB's, we had plenty of diversity to keep things interesting. Sometimes a variety of boats can slow things down a bit, but the ample light, and warm, clean, spacious shop kept us on track for easy days. I love my barn, but it's hard not to have shop envy building in a space like this!
Walking the docks at lunch or visiting the chandlery with it's abundance of bronze and wooden sailing bits, one starts to feel the ache to build a small wooden sailer and set off on some ill-advised voyage. Fortunately, I grew up sailing on boats both big and small so I know the difference between the fantasy and the reality of such a project. It brings to mind words from the late Andrew McAuley on his voyage to sea kayak the coastline of Antarctica: "Sailing is the worst sport in the world, It's like standing under a cold shower while continuously tearing up money!"
So cool to check out all the other projects going on in the background. Bob (left) is building a new interior for the historic Schooner Adventuress, while Matthew (right) spiles new planking on a restoration in progress.
Fort Worden with it's labyrinth concrete barracks was a fun place to explore, and as a barefoot runner it's always sweet to kick off the shoes and feel new sand on my feet. One of the things that endears me to my fellow humans is that everywhere there is a beach and a scrap of wood, someone will always build a fort.
I stopped to gawk at the massive steel and wooden ships under restoration at the Boat Haven shipyard. I'd never seen big fishing boats drydocked before and I was struck by just how much of the mass lies below the waterline compared to a yacht of comparable shape and size.
We made some beautiful kayaks over the course of the week, and begrudgingly I learned to be a little less of a curmudgeon about my LPB design. It really is a pretty boat, even if it is more waterline than most people have any use for.
FInally it was time to launch, but the wind was blowing a sustained 25 knots. Not exactly ideal conditions for the first trip out in brand new boats, especially the tippier race boats and Greenland kayak!
Testing out a new version of the LPB I was almost certain that it was going to weathercock with that kind of a crosswind, so I was delighted when I took Lorens boat for a quick spin and it tracked on all points of wind! Nice.
A wing paddle with a skin-on-frame? Sure! Sheri is a seasoned racer and has the push to make the LPB sing.
Happy people in boats on the water. My work here is done.
Living out here on the rugged Oregon Coast, there are few places that rival my home stretch of sand for sheer beauty, the mile long beach and estuary directly south of Cascade Head is one of them. I first saw this idyllic place when I made the mistake of landing a kayak on the front of Cascade Head in a rising swell seven years ago. Tent pitched in a crag I climbed the thousand foot slope behind my prison beach and stared enviously at this perfect slice of shoreline while I waited for the surf to subside. Six long days later I was finally able to break free, and I never did land at that beach, but I did vow someday to return. That opportunity came last fall when Westwind Stewardship Group
invited me to come teach a workshop at the their retreat. So it was that in the middle of a tempestuous February I loaded up the subaru with sticks and strings and skins, and headed a couple hours south to ply my trade.
Bending the ribs on Day 2.
Always a pretty sight.
Dyed boats in the background.
The beach inside of the mouth of the Salmon river.
A successful class in a beautiful location. Thanks to Westwind for inviting me, I hope to return again.
2013 was a tough year. Beginning with a brutal sports injury that left me barely able to walk for eight months, just as that started healing I woke up in the middle of the night and shook my fiance awake, "Somethings wrong, my heart isn't beating right." Snapping back into paramedic mode, this time with myself as the patient, I tried to determine what exactly I was feeling. The audible heartbeat in my chest was beating doubletime to the pulse in my wrist, some sort of weird arrythmia. Then I sat up, and it stopped, and I layed back down, and it started, and then the chest pain came, and then I went to the hospital.
Five months, a half dozen doctors, and every single dime I've ever made later, the tests are still ongoing. To quote my cardiologist, "There is definately something wrong with you, we just don't know what yet." To which I had to resist the temptation to answer, "Have you met me? Anyone could tell you that." I'm pretty sure that if I ever do keel over my final words will be some sort of wise crack.
One thing they don't tell you about being sick is that life doesn't just stop and play a little violin while you suffer, you still have to do things. Pain becomes a companion, molding you, shaping you, compelling changes that you could have never made otherwise. I've been meditating every day, cooking every meal, working on Lee's new restaurant, making instructional videos, broadcasting live webisodes of me building things, designing a brand new website, building commissions, working on a new row boat design, building an outdoor kitchen for the farm, fishing, whitewater kayaking, salvaging wood, and running on the beach. Every moment of productivity an act of open defiance against the tyranny of this stupid mystery sickness. I will win.
I normally start these updates rambling on about my personal life, getting to the actual kayak building somewhere between the end and never, so lets start this time by talking shop. With my organic farm mostly self-sustaining, I'm taking a hard look at the business and asking: "What next?". I think the first answer is that we need to modernize. I've been tapping away at this archaic self-designed html website for twelve years now, and truthfully, for all the cool content it is looking kind of shabby. More to the point, there are things I just can't do here, and chief among them is video. I've spent the better part of a year and a half now teaching myself video production and we are finally filming and editing a whole series of kayak building instructional videos. To this I plan to add paddling instruction, and all manner of sustainable living projects. Simply put, I love to teach, I'm good at it, and I want to share that with more people.
The new site will feature professional photography, a live shop cam, and an all around sharper look and feel.
After small boats, my other passion is small spaces and sustainable architecture. A few months ago a lady contacted me and wanted to film me talking about the things I build and my off-grid organic farm. I barely glanced at the email and probably mumbled something like sure, whatever. I'm glad I did! That woman was Kiersten Dirksen, sustainable living videographer extraordinare. She travels all over the world making videos about people living smaller and smarter. She showed up here, family in tow, and caught me on an exceptionally clear-headed day while I talked about everything I do here from solar, to hydro, to salvage to boatbuilding. Check it out!
Me talking about the Japanese Forest House click here
Me talking about the off-grid farm, and building kayaks click here
Our newest structural addition to the farm, a kayak-salvaged wood, timber-framed outdoor kitchen in progress. Gins' (co-owner of the farm) boyfriend Brigham has been using his mad metal working skills to create super efficient wood fired stoves and ovens. Perfect for class potlucks rain or shine!
Speaking of salvage, more than a few friends and aquaintances have been shanghai'd into pulling large chunks of wood long distances and thus have learned to accompany me into the wilds at their own risk. If I see something cool I just have to bring it home. I'm pretty sure my friends here thought they were completely safe heading out for a coastal paddle and crabbing expedition, but you can find wood in the darnedest places.
On one of the flattest days I've ever seen on the Pacific ocean, myself and crew dropped some crab traps and headed out to explore the sea caves of Neah-Kah-Nie mountian. A death trap at even a small swell, under these conditions we ventured into passages that I'd never even explored. Ghosting down a passage in the darkeness "Bang!" my kayak struck an object and I let out a startled yelp. "What the hell was that?' my buddy called. "I don't know," I replied, "I think it's a log." I pushed the thing and it moved, and then leaned down and inspected it by braille. The fuzzy surface spoke of a mighty battering, but what struck my curiosity was how high it floated, almost half out of the water. "It's got to be cedar, and dry." I explained in the dim passage. "I need to see this thing, lets throw a rope on it." Very slowly I towed the monolith into the light, the butt of a log, about 9 feet long, 24-40 inches around, about a ton, cedar.
"Lets see if we can move it." a proposition that any normal friends would balk at, but Don possesses a stalwart tenacity that makes me look like a slacker, which makes us a dangerous pair. An hour and a half a mile later Don abandoned me to go look for the rest of our friends, which is when I should have done the same had I not been captivated with two poisionous thoughts:
1) I found this in a SEA CAVE, I'll never have a chance like this again.
2) I'm already a quarter of the way there.
Did I mention this was my first time in a sea kayak since the injury? Not exactly tip top conditioning, even if I wasn't towing this behemouth. At the 1/2 mark I realized I'd made a terrible mistake. The wind picked up, I was desperately hungry and thirsty. I imagined myself dragging a sarcophagus through desert sands. I simultaneously knew that I could not do this, and also that I would. At hour three my friends passed me, wisely assigning themselves to pulling crab pots and starting the fire, and I found myself alone again. I cursed the bastard thing, trudging bitterly onward. When I finally released it to let the small surf carry it onto the beach it had been 4 hours, and 2 very long miles.
You can imagine I was not the most popular person in camp when I stumbled up the beach out of breath, and commandeered all available hands mid-feast, to help me pull the damn thing up the beach where the tide wouldn't bury it. With strained friendliess toward my hairbrained scheme, some carefully placed roller logs, and a whole lot of grunt, we dragged it a hundred yards uphill, before returning to the feast at sunset.
The next morning I returned with my monstrous Stihl 084 and enjoyed the most scenic chainsaw milling I will ever do. Working with absolute focus I just barely finished as the tide lapped at my heels. More friends were recruited to carry the three inch thick slabs up to the truck. Among salvage schemes this one has to be one of the more ridiculous, and I want to offer a deep and heartfelt thanks to all the people I tortured to make my dream a reality. It was a fitting first day back on the water.
It's hard to describe just how grateful I am to be paddling again, and though I need to be careful with the injury, there are days when having a gorgeous river literally in my back yard is just too much to resist. My friend Justin caught me sneaking a bit of solo floodstage class IV. Whitewater or Greenland stick, it's just a blessing to have a paddle back in my hand.
Among my many aquatic addictions, however, nothing holds sway over my congnition quite like steelhead fishing. For two months a year approximately 30% of all thinking is devoted to these gorgeous silver seagoing supertrout. An addiction like any other, days are wasted with little to show, responsibilities are neglected, loved ones abandoned. There are deep lows filled with cold rainy masochistic depression, and all of that is forgotten in a moment when a mini tornado slams into the end of your line. Every steelheader knows the feeling, and the accompanying bright silver twisting flash. So hard to catch, and when you do get one landing it takes finesse as well, then the reward of some best fish you'll ever eat. It's a peak experience, and one that just digs the groove even deeper, "I need to get another one."
Hi, my name is Brian, and I'm a steehead-aholic.
Honestly though, and I say this with great pain in my heart, steelheading and whitewater kayaking are going to have to wait for now. As those of you who follow this site know, my fiance Lee is opening a local farm-to-table restaurant here in Manzanita. A remarkable young chef, she went from farmers market booth, to leasing an existing space, to attracting attention and a hundred thousand dollars in investment to open her very own place. Impressive for a 28yr old. Such an undertaking really needs about 175,000 to get up and running, but I've always believed in taking risks and living your dreams, so I told her I'd build the interior, for free.
I milled my best kayak-salvaged logs, old bridge timbers, anything beautiful with a story. The idea is to create an interior as local and unique as the food she serves. The doors on the space opened today, giving me exactly 45 days to get it done. I've never built a restaurant interior before, but I have this disease called self confidence that gets me into all sorts of trouble.
Still, a free interior doesn't close the funding gap, so as my other contribution to the space I made a video and put it on Kickstarter to see if we could raise some money. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing grass roots fundraising platform, meaning if you don't make your goal you don't get anything. Well, in one of the rare instances where my characteristic overconfidence didn't pay off, we didn't make our goal.
All is not lost though. We've taken the video to another site, this time with a more modest goal, because to be truthful, even with this money Lee is going to be bootstrapping her way into the business. I never ever use my website to push or peddle anything, but in this one instance I'm asking you to consider making a donation to Lee and the restaurant. A talented young chef serving people healthy local food, I can't think of a better cause.
View the video here
Apropos of absolutely nothing, I want to finish this update by showing off the cutest kitten ever created. This is Bruno, he's huge for his age, dangerously intelligent, and sadly does not belong to me. My friend Jen, professor, food writer, and author of the awesome Culinaria Eugenius blog, rescued this little guy from the shelter where they arbitrarily decided he should cost TWICE AS MUCH as a normal adoption??? Honestly, they were right. Bruno is the coolest thing in the western hemisphere right now, and his adorable little face is a reminder of everthing warm and wonderful even when the cold winds of change threaten to blow in gales. The neat thing about a cat is that they live entirely in the moment, pain is forgotten as soon as it's gone, and there is no expectation of future pain and all the fear that goes with it.
If we can draw wisdom from our furball friends, it would be that our only real job in life is to Be, and to Grow.
...well that, and to bite the shit out of things that upset us, but I wouldn't recommend the last part.
I'll see you all in the new year with a brand new website, videos, and a restaurant completed. Come join me for another year of food, laughter, and kayaks.
As anyone who reads this site knows, I like to dive right into the important issues of life before moving onto the trivialities of kayaking and whatnot, and as such I feel compelled to ask my readers if they saw the latest larger-than-life sci-fi/monster movie Pacific Rim yet? Dude! giant monsters fighting huge robots with the fate of humanity resting in the balance! Expertly crafted by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labryinth) this larger-than-anything-ever-made movie is a godzilla-sized gut punch of some of the biggest, meanest, and most compelling action to ever hit the big screen. There would have been so many ways to screw a movie like this up, and he missed all of them. If you like sci-fi, you'll be doing yourself a grave disservice by not running out and catching this one on a big screen before it's gone. Seriously, go see it.
Next up: The injury. As many of you know, last winter my idiot self decided it would be somehow intelligent to take my creaking skeleton up to the slopes of mount hood to chase a pretty girl on a snowboard, which was great fun for all of 3 days until I caught and edge and crashed, snapping open an old and pretty serious sacro-illiac injury. Well, after one of the most depressing and sedentary years of my life I'm proud to announce that:
IT'S FINALLY HEALING!
I can't tell you what torture it's been not being able to move without pain all this time. After a winter and spring of pure hell, late summer I started walking without pain, then a little farther, then a short hike, then a light backpacking trip. As cliche as it sounds, you really can't appreciate what you have until it's been taken away for a while. Kayaking still hurts, and I'm nowhere near 100%, but I'm hoping that with more healing I'll be able to get back into a boat by early next year.
Here at the shop we're still pumping out the best skin-kayaks available anywhere. Superior ergonomic, cutting edge design, individualized customization, and a five year warrantee; there is a reason people keep coming back. The F1 continues to be the backbone of my business, and we make more of those than anything these days. Extremely efficient hull, tracks straight as an arrow but carves a mighty turn on edge, stable yet quick, nimble and more controllable in the wind and waves than any other skegless kayak in existence, there's just no other kayak that does so many things so well. After twenty years in sea kayaks it's essentially the boat that I designed for myself, to paddle long distances comfortably in extremely dynamic conditions. I love sending these out the door because I know the people who build them will actually use them and its always gratifying to open my email and read about peoples adventures in their F1's.
Six years in, our organic farm and sustainable living education center is doing better than ever. The CSA is solidly profitable, the farmers market is going well better than ever with the addition of prepacked wraps and veggie trays, letting us use more produce with less waste and showcasing new ways people can consume fresh produce without a lot of fuss. When we first started carving cropland, one grueling square foot at a time, out of blackberry choked hard clay soil, I could have never imagined five acres brimming with food, or that we would ever arrive at the ability to completely feed ourselves without going to the grocery store. I'm endlessly impressed by my farm-partner Gingers' ambition and raw tenacity in keeping the labor intensive operation afloat. Her new boyfriend Brigham has really added the icing to the cake though, and his efforts at landscaping has really transformed the look and feel of the property. It's a project I feel lucky to be a part of.
On the personal front, I was once again unsucessful at killing an elk this year. Owing to the injury I was unable to stalk them through the forest this year, instead adopting an equally ineffective strategy of sitting still on a known elk travel route and playing the odds of time and patience. I brimmed with optimism that sooner or later they would have to wander close enough... which never happened. Elk are huge tough animals and to reliably put one on the ground with a bow and arrow you NEED to be 30 yards broadside. The forest is a big place and 30 yards is a very small distance. I did, however, spend significant amounts of time in close company to these beautiful and secretive creatures and that opportunity to interact is so closely is the real reward of bow hunting. Waking up at 4am, creeping into the forest, and spending day after day in solitude and twilight. It feeds the soul something that we are missing more and more as civilization expands.
While I may not be able to kill an elk, dammit, I'm a fierce predator of the local wild red and blue huckleberry. This year I actually took the time to pick a huge bucket of these delicious little buggers over the course of two days and then made them into TWO delicious pies. One thing I don't think I've ever mentioned on this website is that I'm a pie fanatic. Regular cooking, miserable, but when it comes to baking pies I would go toe to toe with your grandma and win any day of the week. The perfect huckleberry pie had eluded me for years but finally I think I nailed the ratios and got it right this time!
Next on the list of accomplishments was the harvest of this single 20lb chinook salmon, although it did come at the cost of my pride. Because of the injury I haven't been able to fish solo this year, instead settling into a routine of begging various friends to row us around while I managed the poles, and to endure a ribbing from nearly every fisherman in sight for having women rowing me around all summer! It was all I could muster not to yell back something to the effect of "at least we're rowing at all you fat bastards" As they putted by under power of chevron and and evinrude. While most fishing could more appropriately be described as chatting while dragging lines, on this trip my fish biologist friend Mari and I actually mananged to hook up! As a number cruncher and field biologist she has worked tirelessly in defense of the dwindling wild salmon of the Columbia basin but had never actually killed a fish! Nature must have decided it was her turn because within an hour we were locked in mortal combat with this anadromous beauty. Catching a big fish from a tiny rowboat is exciting to say the least and it was pretty cool to have that experience with her.
Pies, fishing trips, and interminable elk waiting aside, most of my time this year has been consumed with the huge project of preparing for the interior build of my fiance's brand new restaurant. After a year lease stint in the delapidated and rapidly deteriorating Nehalem River Inn, we are moving her farm-to-table cuisine into a brand new space in downtown Manzanita. I probably don't need to go into detail to impress the scope of such a project, especially when absolutely everything is being made custom. The tables alone were milled from a fifty year old laminated bridge timber that washed down the river and I've been hanging onto for ten years. The bar sawn from a gorgeous live edge fir log that I've had equally as long. To compliment her handcrafted local-as-possible approach to food, I'm building the entire interior from unique salvaged wood. It's the biggest project I've ever tackled and not a little bit daunting but I'm confident that when it's finished we will have created a restaurant unlike anything on the coast. The freshest possible ingredients, Lee's amazing palate, and a gorgeous handcrafted interior......
Click here to check out the kickstart video for our new farm-to-table restaurant,
and please consider donating, we need your help to make this happen!
....which brings me to my next pitch: For years now I've been threatening to make a video, and that has finally happened, it's just not the video you expected. With funding for the restaurant at about 70% I threw myself into producing a Kickstarter video to help Lee get the rest of the way to her goal. I bought a professional camera, taught myself an editing program and worked insanely long hours to produce what I hope is a compelling enough story to get people to donate. In ten years I've never used this website to solicit anything, preferring to take a 'let-them-come-to-me' approach to business, but just this one time I'm going to make an exception to that rule and push this project hard for the next few months. Lee is a hell of a chef and her tireless work ethic has me convinced that she can make this farm-to-table restaurant a success. Watch the video and please consider supporting our venture. It's for a good cause.
Finally, the 2014 schedule is now online! Port Townsend and Portland classes are open now and registration for Manzanita classes opens January 1st. Classes can fill very fast, so if you need to get into a particular class you want to hit send at 9am on January 1st. I look forward to meeting new faces and sharing what I do, in the meantime, I've got a restaurant to build, and if I'm lucky, a few more fish to catch this year. As always, thanks for supporting what I do. I'm very lucky to do what I love for a living, and spending an entire year almost unable to do anything at all has only increased that gratitude. Again, consider checking out that kickstart video and putting a few bucks in the pot to make the new restaurant a reality. Hope to see you in the spring!
I'll begin by getting the 'poor me' portion of this update out of the way. The injury still sucks, and despite my best efforts with physical therapy, massage, trigger point release, acupuncture, deep breathing, essential oils, prayer, seances, ouji boards, and voodoo..... It STILL f***ing hurts. Slight improvements over this spring include: the ability to work mostly without pain, and some light carpentry in my off-time. Still off the list is any sort of hiking, climbing, running, paddling, basically everything I do to stay mostly sane. Prognosis is still totally uncertain, but I am choosing to believe that one day I may actually be able to paddle again. Fortunately I still have my sense of humor and my fingers to type, so lets move on....
Summer being upon us, it's time once again for classes at the shop. People show up, they build stuff, they walk on the beach and hike to pretty places, I get some money, they get a boat, we have a potluck, it's a marvelous time. People keep coming, so I can only assume we're doing something right. A giant improvement this year is that we finally have the GOOD SKIN back in stock. The last few years have been extremely frustrating with ballistic nylon in increasingly short supply resulting in kayaks that were at times less tight than my pathological perfectionism can tolerate. So it's a tremendous relief that my supplier finally found a huge amount of the good stuff- 9oz nylon that cuts and sews perfectly and shrinks up tight as a drum. It's about time! Another thing I want share is the flickr photo stream posted by Patrick a recent student in the may class. He did a beautiful job of capturing the process and has given me permission to share. Thanks Patrick.
Patricks Flickr documentary of the May class
Intolerant of my roommates dog, M the amazing supercat has moved down to the shop full time where her incredible personality endears her to everyone she meets. You too will fall in love with her. We had quite the scare a few months ago when one of my shop-mates let her into their studio where she promptly chowed a whole bunch of rat poison, but after a frantic and expensive night, and a very tenuous few weeks, her survival seems assured. This comes much to the relief of my shop-mate who had unfortuate displeasure of hearing the following words spoken clearly and with menace an inch from her face: "If my cat dies I'm going to light your car on fire." (please don't judge, I was upset at the time)
Up at the farm an alternately wet and warm spring has kicked the chlorophyl into overdrive, and we are planting and harvesting like crazy in an ever increasing frenzy to feed a 65 person CSA, the local farmers market, and my fiancee's farm-to-table restaurant. The amount of sheer work that Ginger and her rotating cast of 2-4 interns manage to do in a week defys the normal laws of physics and reinforces my belief in passion as a viable fuel source for the future of mankind. While I do own half the farm, my work here is that of building and maintaining the infrastructure and thus I am spared the ravages of trench warfare in a pitched battle to keep nature from eating it's own bounty before we can. Strolling through the quiet fields in the evening, drink in hand, I am overcome with an intense gratitude to be part of this important journey toward learning how to feed ourselves. The impracticality of shipping food long distances in an oil-scarce world is coming faster than we think, at which time our cities and suburbs will have to return to local food sources. The fact that we can do this on the north facing slope of a temperate rainforest gives me a lot of hope for that.
Building things for others to breathe life into being my raison d'etre, Lee and I have been on a tour de force of as many restaurant spaces as possible gathering ideas and details for the build out of her new restaurant space. That's right folks, from the construction team who brought you the bright idea of farming in a coastal rainforest, we present the newest insane project: A salvaged, hand built, custom interior for Lee's new farm-to-table restaurant, opening this winter in Manzanita. I've always been a go-big or go-home sort of individual and this build out certainly qualifies. Lots of rusted steel, reclaimed boards, fat fir slabs, live edge wood, antique mirrors, edison bulb lighting, burlap, and brass will form the canvas upon which Lee can practice her art of blending the absolute freshest in local produce and grass-fed meats, with her background in fine dining. The outpouring of support she's gotten for the restaurant is truly touching, and both her and I are committed to doing everything possible to make the new space a success. The current location, Dinner at the Nehalem River Inn, is open thurday through sunday, with more days added as the season progresses. I encourage you to come out for Dinner!
At present I've been keeping my carpentry chops sharp with lots of little projects around the house, and my humility chops sharp by having to ask for help with damn near everything. :( Since vacating the Japanese house completely for full-time rental, Lee and I needed a new place to hang our hats. Hard to believe that this was our tool shed a month ago!? This cozy little cabin right in the middle of the garden is perfect for our needs. The woven cedar Japanese style railing fences look awesome and were ridiculously easy to build!
Another thing I just finally got around to was hanging this F-1 frame in the rafters of the Japanese house.
Also easy to build are these simple stairs in the forest. They facilitate a walk up to a favorite tree, where for the moment I sit and wait, contemplating life without exercise, but still doing my best to make the most of my time. As always, I'm grateful to be employed, to live somewhere beautiful, and to have the opportunity to share my passion for beautiful simple things with so many people. See you this summer, or whenever....
This winter began as most any other, with a giant sigh of relief as I settled in for some much deserved time alone with a fishing pole, pouring rain, and endless miles of solitude on the river. I woke to a familiar rhythm, darkness, coffee, the cold and the wetness, the rumbling engine of my one-ton chevy, a three mile drive to the put in and then sliding my kayak into the water in the dim twilight of morning. Stop, step out, walk quietly, cast, reel, step sideways, cast, reel, step sideways, back in the kayak, another rapid through fern dripping canyons, and another bank shaded by drooping cedar boughs, stop, step out, walk quietly, cast, reel, step sideways..... and so on in an endless meditation, until, and it may be hours or even days until, one of those magnificent chrome colored anadramous mutants, the steelhead trout, slams into my lure with twice the gusto as you could ever expect from a fish it's size and starts to peel line in an often successful attempt to break free. Splashing wildly and doing it's damnedest to wrap every log and rock in the vicinity, landing one is much more complicated just reeling and tugging. In the throes of battle I've gone so far as do dive into the river and swim a rapid with the pole in my teeth rather than break off a hot fish that mistakenly thought I wouldn't be willing to follow.
This is how I spend my winters, and it's a perfectly good life, one that needs no additional complications.
So one might wonder why on earth I ever agreed to let my dear friend Elizabeth take me snowboarding. Despite the bourgeoise trappings of snowsports, the actual experience was beautiful. Riding the chairlift eye to eye with frosted treetops, the anxious moment of transition from lift to slope where you pray not to eat shit and create a pigpile of frustrated skiers. Buckling in, and then turning the nose downhill with the swooping thrill of acceleration. Elizabeth said she'd never seen anyone take to it so naturally, and within a few sessions I was hot on her tail, streaking down the mountain at inadvisable speeds. I tried in vain to catch her, and I can only assume she stayed ahead to avoid the embarrassment of being seen as the companion of the dreadfully unfashionable snowboarder wearing a kayaking drysuit. Hey, snowboarding clothes are expensive! Elizabeth and I had five marvelous sessions together, and I was beginning to wonder how and where I was going to add such a time consuming and expensive hobby to my life. Fate has a way of rescuing us from ourselves though, and it was on the last run of a beautiful clear day, with the sun setting red across the white hillsides, that the inevitable occurred. I came slicing to a halt at the bottom of the mountain, turned backside and didn't quite switch my edge hard enough, and BAM! I slammed my entire weight down on to an old and very serious sacro-illiac injury.
I knew it before I knew it. Life was about to get complicated.
SI injuries are especially bad because there is no good way to really isolate the movement in the joint. The body tightens the surrounding large muscles in a vain attempt to splint the injury, which may be a good physiological response elsewhere, but actually exacerbates SI hypermobility. It's a be-careful, wait-and-hope sort of injury, and the next few weeks found me flat on my back just praying that things would tightnen back up enough that I could at least work. When I could barely walk again I took stock of my situation, and began the triage. I needed to focus on what's important, and do everything I could to minimize any extraneous movements.
They say there is a silver lining in every cloud and in this case it was the imperative to truly clean my shop for the first time ever, to reduce the dozens of trips back and forth, walking in circles, and bending over all day long. While I'm not thrilled about the motivation, I am very pleased with the result and my workflows are cleaner than they've been in years.
With a lot of help I barely managed to get prepped for the first class. Heading up to the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, I was really nervous that I wouldn't be able to teach. Thankfully, the hip held together just enough that with careful movement and a lot of rest I was able to do what I needed to do and we built six beautiful boats in six days in this idyllic shop and setting.
Heading home, next up was a commission for four custom F1's. A gentlemen from conneticut had ordered them for himself, his wife, and two daughters. I was quite taken with the notion of boats for a whole family and felt priviledged to have the honor of building them to suit each person. I also felt fortunate for the infusion of capital, physical therapy is expensive! Again I was worried that I wouldn't be able to pull through, but with lots of help and very short work days, we got it done.
While I struggle with my newly crippled status, my fiancee' Lee continues to rise to her own challenges, transforming the Nehalem River Inn into a farm-to-table restaurant that is recieving rave reviews. Talented and fiercely hardworking, she's a source of inspiration for me and I encourage anyone who is in the area to stop in for dinner or brunch. Here I caught her taking a catnap, and I'm sure she's going to kill me for posting this picture!
Spring on our farm means mud, and sprouts, and lots to do. New interns have arrived and I sometimes wonder if intern is short not for intership but rather interment! We just finished building a 20 x 100 foot long greenhouse, and the list of projects for yours truly is already far in excess of what I could accomplish able-bodied. Not being able to use my body as I wish has been quite an adjustment, but slowly I'm getting used to having to have another person shadow me and be my muscles for me. The worst part really is not being able to run or kayak and therefore not manufacturing new endorphins. I'm prone to wicked depressions because of it!
One bright spot is that elusive bright spot in our often clouded rainforest sky. Now showing itself more and more often, it's stimulates electrons and causes mollecules to vibrate and sets in motion the myriad of solar contraptions that heat our water and power our lights. It's always gratifying to feel the evidence of my handiwork in the form of a blissfully hot outdoor shower at the end of the day. So for now, that is what I look forward to, and it's a lot to be grateful for.
Recovery is a slow process but as long as I do actually recover, I can deal with the pain for now, and try to not shed too many tears when I limp on the beach and look out at yet another perfect wave gone unridden, another mile of sand not flying past beneath my feet. For now I'll have to live vicariously through my students and friends and I ask you to really get out there and enjoy your mobility and never take it for granted. Until we meet, see ya around....
Some nice photos from the winter:
First, to answer the question that I'm sure half of America has been on the edge of their seat wondering..... No, I did not kill an elk this year. At the conclusion of twenty consecutive days of stalking the coastal forests with minimal nourishment and maximal exertion, I returned home without the trophy that would have made for a darn fine story, and if you read this site you know that I enjoy the story every bit as much as the activity itself. I did, however, have some of the most profound experiences of my life, and my connection with the natural world deepend to level that I didn't know was possible. Those mornings, sitting in the dark, covered in mud, still as ghost with thousand pound elk crashing through the brush mere yards away from my face, were nothing short of breathtaking. For comparison, dropping into a fifteen foot, make it or die, wave in a surf kayak, doesn't even come close to comparing to the sheer adrenaline of having a big bull elk come in fast to 10 yards, stop, and tip his horns down. The conditions were wrong though, and I held my shot, then, and other times when I probably should have released, which is infinately preferrable to to the opposite. I just feel privileged to have gotten so close to them so many times, and that intimacy of interaction has left me with an abiding love for these wild creatures. They are so beautiful, it's hard to feel too bad about not killing one.
I returned to the my normal life with eyes just a little wider, ears just a little sharper, and the weird habit of freezing in place at random moments. Reintigration was difficult but within a couple days I was cutting red cedar and bending white oak and generally prepping like a crazy person to pay for my month long hiatus. This year I was fortunate to be invited to teach at the Delmarva paddlers retreat in Lewes, Delaware, where we built six kayaks in six days and launched them on Rehoboth bay to coincide with the launch of the retreat. Aside from losing my computer to a thunder storm (which sounds so much better than I left it in the rain like an idiot) things went over really well, and at the retreat itself I had the opportunity to teach paddling for a couple days. It made me remember how much I love teaching kayaking, and reminded me that I should probably do something with that skill. My thoughts drift back to the video camera and the editing program I taught myself to use last year. I sincerly hope I can find the time and make good on last winters promise to get some video up.
Back at the farm here I'm still busting butt to finish out the season, I have a construction job to complete and then a full class to teach in Georgia and then I can finally take a break and make a plan for the coming year. As usual I'm having a hard time balancing my commitment to local food with my passion for kayaking. My girlfriend Lee is doing an amazing job with the new restaurant Dinner, at the Nehalem River Inn, although as you can imagine, I seldom see her anymore. This December and January I am availing myself to her completely for a full-on remodel of the space and I'm thinking that come spring, her delicious farm-fresh cusine is going to look even better on thick slab tables, made from logs salvaged by kayak, and milled with a chainsaw. If I've learned anything, it's that you can't buy soul, you have to earn it.
Speaking of Lee, I suppose this would be as good a time as any to announce that we are tying the knot. The last year with her has been a revelation in how relationships are supposed to work, and there is no one I'd rather spend the rest of my life tormenting with my innumerable crazy schemes. Attractive, capable, tolerant, and the best cook I've ever met, one could do a lot worse. We're tentatively considering a ceremony next summer when the farm is in full bloom.
Sitting in the dark right now in Lee's dining room, the first heavy rains of fall lash the windows and I feel that familiar pulse in my heart, the affinity for water dripping off of trees, draining in rivulets that become creeks, that feed into rivers, over boulders and waterfalls to form the architecture of my other passion, whitewater. I've got a full day today, too full, a solid 12 hours of work at least, but that should never, ever interfere with the imperative to chase one's bliss, so I'm going to wrap this up for now, zip into my leaky old drysuit, and head up the river for a little bit of crack-of-dawn solo class 4, because at it's elemental core, that's what this site is all about. Paddling.
The schedule for 2013 is online now, Port Townsend and Portland classes are open for signups. I hope to see you in the coming year to share the farm, the boats, and my unique brand of poor humor. Take care.
Bonus: Here are some of my favorite photos from late summer and fall, in random order.
An avid paddler, builder, and teacher, I'm passionate about sharing the strength, lightweight, and beauty of skin-on-frame boat building.