Lots going on this year, leveling up on the video side of things, working on the canoe design, Liz's salvaged skin-on-frame art exhibit, the garden, and still fighting the health battle. Check out the video for more details!
Something new this time, a video newsletter to celebrate the completion of our new boat building/video studio.
We've got a lot going on in 2018, just finished remodeling an old 1907 victorian house.
Adding new videos to the Cape Falcon Kayak YouTube Channel every few weeks now.
Added a new feature the website called Student Builds where students who are willing to take the time to put up a blog on our platform can get free plans. This feature is retroactive, which means if you have enough photos from your build and want to make a blog, we will refund your plan purchase, just send us an email.
We are also offering a free Greenland paddle video and plans to any former students who are willing to add themselves to the student map of the world. This isn't marketing, we're not going to send you anything, I just think it would be incredibly cool to see all the boats on a map. Send me an email for the download code.
My health is still pretty rough, neuropathy, chest pain, difficulty breathing, can't really teach or paddle but I try to make the best of it. I'm hoping to make a lot of great kayaking and kayak building videos this year. Follow the site and the youtube channel!
Be Well, -Brian
Last update I was fresh off the heels of finishing the kayak building video course, looking forward to the new year. Videos were selling, I'd made a little sailboat, life was OK.
Then winter came, and with it the full terrifying force of the chronic illness I've been fighting for the last few years. My finances flatlined, and I got trapped in the dangerous spiral where illness and poverty reinforce each other. It got to a point where I was living in one location, my tools were in another, my shipping station was in another, and my workspace was in yet another location all in separate quadrants of a city with a perpetual traffic jam in the middle. There were days I burned more money in diesel fuel than I made from working. The whole thing was so frustrating that is was almost funny.
In January I had to admit to myself that I wasn't making videos or teaching classes any time soon, so I agreed to help my girlfriend remodel a derelict house she owns. Together we could do it cheaper than contractors would, at a pace my body could handle, and end up with a great place to live and work out of. So after building a couple commission kayaks and sending them off to Alaska, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
Gardening has kept me sane since I left the farm, and I knew that a big beautiful garden would be a welcome sanctuary during the stress of a down-to-the-studs remodel, so I insisted that the first thing we do was dig up the back yard. We planted blueberry bushes, strawberries, kiwis, a row of raspberries, two kinds of figs, two asian pears, and three apples. (ProTip: After a lot of failed experiments I discovered that a sawzall with a metal blade is the easiest way to cut a whole roll of landscape fabric to a narrower size.)
With the garden dug, mulched, and ready for spring we set about restoring this 1908 Victorian house to it's former glory. Having undergone several very bad remodels there were quite a few shaking my head in disbelief moments including noticing that someone had cut the main structural beam holding up the entire second floor to make room for a cabinet. When we got down to the bones though, the original framing was still pretty solid, and for a seasoned wood rat like me, working with that gorgeous old fir was a real pleasure.
After a whole house re-wire and re-pipe and a battle with a squirrel that we affectionately dubbed Romex (we had to put a wiring run in STEEL PIPE to stop him) we headed down to Utah for a much needed break to float the Green River. It was a complicated trip, absolutely beautiful as the Green always is, but the combination of cold and altitude kicks my ass to a degree that it was actually pretty miserable. I didn't take any photos but did we did use the opportunity to test my new video gear, I'm hoping to edit it this winter! We did have a few smaller, easier adventures though, occasional trips to the beach and a stop by my friends farm to see the spring lambs. The van is a real blessing for getting to neat places with a little extra comfort. I did risk another short backpacking trip which flattened me for two weeks afterward, so backpacking is still off the table for the time being.
With summer approaching and the insulation, sheetrock, and floors refinished it was time to start building the house back up. Liz is a designer, I'm a builder, and we both have an unquenchable thirst for salvage, so bringing the house back to life together afforded a great opportunity to incorporate a lot of really cool reclaimed elements. I might not be salvaging whole logs by kayak anymore, but I'm still a fierce denizen of dumpsters, garage sales, craigslist, and The Rebuilding Center (which Liz says I can't go to unsupervised anymore due to the piles of reclaimed lumber growing in the driveway.) I even built real cabinets with minimal tools on the porch!
With a working kitchen and bathroom, we officially took up residence in the NE Portland Alberta neighborhood. Alberta is a bit of a throwback for me, I built my first kayak in a basement just a few blocks from here in 2001. The neighborhood was just starting to get hip at the time, a trend that continues with real estate prices to match, but somehow Alberta has kept it's charm, still a bit funky and a bit gritty, and the yards are often filled with big gardens and/or art. To shake off the stress of the remodel we bought a couple of single speed bicycles. Liz named hers Pony and I named mine Scott (sorry, I'm just not very creative) My range is limited to about a mile, but there is always an adventure to be had, some art to admire, or something we can load into tupperware and take home.
This year I actually got around to making a solar food dehydrator which works amazingly well and we have dried literally hundreds of pounds of neglected fruit that would have otherwise ended up on the sidewalks. Liz gets the one liner award for challenging my claim that I was helping the local church by picking figs that were starting to litter the sidewalk: "Whatever you need to tell yourself, you're stealing from God."
With all my tools and my home in one location for the first time in 4 years, I tested the kayak building class waters again to see if the increases in efficiency might let me run classes again without it being too hard on my health. I posted 4 spots and as usual those four spots disappeared in minutes, all to former students who knew how fast they would go! So it was a reunion of sorts, we built three F1's and an East Greenland kayak all under a massive horse chestnut tree and within picking distance of my garden. Unfortunately a backyard isn't a realistic class venue for a variety of reasons but it was a good time nonetheless. We launched at Cathedral Park beneath the huge gothic arches of the St Johns Bridge.
With the class over it was back to the house and it's hungry appetite for both money and sweat, some of which was initiated in a fit of frustration rather than according to any sort of schedule. Liz came out one morning to find me ripping the railings off of what the neighbor kid calls our "zombie porch". Two weeks later, a few hundred bucks of reclaimed fir, three sets of planer knives, some Timber Pro natural coating, welded wire, and some rusted schedule 80 pipe, we went from the being the least respectable house on the block to a strong showing. I can't wait to train kiwis up one side and grapes up the other.
I'm really proud of just how much food we've managed to grow on a partially shaded city lot. In addition to our perennial vines and trees, this year we grew peas, kale, beans, leeks, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, melons, seven types of hot peppers, basil, corn, sunflowers, various herbs, cherry and russian tomatoes, (my tomatoes have no contact with the Trump campaign, I promise), tomatillos, zuchinni, and bunches of various flowers that Liz brought home. It's been really great to interact with all of that life every day AND end up with pesto, tabouleh, salsa verde, zuchinni muffins, and a handful of berries every morning. I'm a bit of a pie fanatic, so there have been some epic pies made as well.
So what comes next for me and Cape Falcon Kayak? That's the big question. I'm sure this update makes things look really great, and in some ways they are, I'm living my life with more presence, gratitude, and positivity than I ever have, but I'm also still living inside of a body wracked with pain and exhaustion that dictates my choices on a day to day basis with little stability or predictability. If you were to put on your dirtiest pair of sunglasses, turn up the stereo to an ear splitting song you hate, stub your toe as hard as you can, and then not sleep for 3 days: that's what my life is like 24/7. The variability makes it extremely hard to plan anything, so I think I'm going to start talking about what I hope to do and we'll see where things actually end up. Liz's shirt here says it pretty well:
After the house my next iron in the fire is to continue with what sometimes seems like a hopeless effort to get an appointment with a metabolic doctor. The simplest description of my medical problem is that I have severe chest pain, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, exhaustion, difficulty keeping warm, loss of coordination, confusion, depression, sleep difficulty, and other symptoms triggered by heavy exertion, cold, altitude, and fever illness; and improved by keeping fats to an absolute minimum and eating lots of regular complex carbohydrates and maintaining ambient temperatures. Basically if I increase my overall metabolic load past a certain point or I dip even slightly into hypoglycemia my system crashes dramatically. Seems like the kind of thing you'd want to discuss with a metabolic expert right? The problem is that there is a serious shortage of doctors who are truly qualified to diagnose complex metabolic illness and most have stopped seeing adults altogether to keep up with their pediatric caseloads. It's a difficult problem I haven't found a way around yet, hopefully I will soon.
In better news, kayak building videos have been really popular with lots of people building Cape Falcon Kayaks here in America and overseas. It makes me happy to see boats getting built even when I can't teach. Here are a few unedited photos from F1's built as close as 2 miles away and as far as Northern Sweden!
I'm hoping to start next year where I left off last year, making instructional videos and improving my online store. Right now I have a beautiful well lit space to work in, a small but well organized shop, and I've assembled a lean, mean, video rig that appeals to my minimalist sensibilities while still delivering excellent quality sound and images. I'm really excited to see if it all works the way I think it will. I'm still hoping to make on the water videos for all of my kayaks, a kayak rolling video, a guideboat construction video, and then start chasing my longtime obsession, the skin-on-frame sailboat. Check out this video I made to showcase the bending oak we have for sale now, and a short steam bending demonstration!
My health still needs to improve quite a bit before I can start teaching again, so I am very interested in exploring the idea of a partnership with someone who might want to run the teaching and custom kayak building side of the business on a more permanent basis. If you are a self-starter and have excellent teaching and woodworking skills and a passion for kayaking feel free to get in touch. Hopefully there will be classes sometime in the future, in the meantime, expect the online stuff to get a whole lot better next spring. There should be lots to follow, and as usual, I plan to release about half of it for free.
I'll finish this update with the time honored tradition of sharing my favorite photos from the year. Notice the glowing Tomatillo plant I made with Christmas lights and an Xacto knife! If you like these photos I'm capefalconkayak on instagram. I'm incredibly fortunate to have so many good places, people, and things in my life right now. Thank you to all the people who have reached out to me, and apologies to anyone I haven't responded to, things get rough sometimes and a lot slips through the cracks. I wish all of you the very best in 2017-2018.
So lets start this update off with the big news first. The Cape Falcon Kayak instructional video courses are now online at cape-falcon-kayak.thinkific.com. Years in the making, these courses include six hours of free videos and over ten hours of video instruction available for purchase. Complimenting these videos are seven, seventeen page downloadable PDF plan sets for each of the Cape Falcon designs.
Video, lighting, and audio gear, graphic design software, editing software, online course platforms, online store platforms, payment systems, and hundreds of hours of work, I'll admit that I vastly understimated the cost, complexity, and difficulty of this project. Now that all the moving parts are in place though, I'm really excited for where we can go from here. I love teaching, sharing, and creating content, so I'm hoping the online classes will be a good fit for me and for the business in the coming years. Learning to Roll Your Kayak, and Building the Adirondack Guide Boat are already in the planning stages.
I want to extend the hugest of thanks to my videographer Linda Freedman, and graphic designer Liz Grotyohann of Highwater Design, without whose tireless efforts none of this would have been possible. Also, a big thank you to Sam Johnson and Chuck Bollong and the Columbia River Maritime Museum for letting us create this course in their boat shop. Chuck teaches a great stitch and glue kayak class at the museum in case your tastes run more towards plywood than skin-on-frame.
In addition to the online classes and plans the other thing we've been hard at work on is the Cape Falcon Kayak online store. One of the biggest hurdles in putting a skin boat together is simply sourcing all the materials and accessories. Our kit for example, includes items from 8 different suppliers. By putting this stuff all in one place you avoid a lot of time, hassle, and shipping charges. We are also offering steam bent White Oak cockpit coamings, which is the only truly hard part of building a skin boat. Stock on these will come and go due to the limited availability of the perfect White Oak we need to build them. Greenland paddles, custom spray skirts, and some pretty neat T-shirts complete the store. We're looking forward to expanding into more products as cash flow allows.
With the video project and store up and running, it's time to start searching out venues for our in person classes next year. As some of you know, we lost our gorgeous shop space on the Oregon coast a few years back, making Cape Falcon Kayak a nomadic operation. Pending a few details I already have plans to teach at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, and the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria. I've also got a few private individuals interested in hosting classes. I'm planning on nailing things down during December and posting the schedule online January 1st. I'll then give people a month to plan vacations ect. and open registration Feb. 1st. If you're on the list you'll get an email when the schedule is posted. If you are interested in hosting a class in 2017 get in touch with me now!
Being a traveling boat builder isn't exactly easy, but it does bring me to some interesting places. In October I found myself on stage at the historic Capitol Theater in Rome, NY! It was a surreal experience made all the more so by the organ player who would come in to practice on the gigantic original 1920's pipe organ. Pretty cool.
Aside from the big work projects, I got bit by the sailboat bug again this year and managed to finish a cute little traditional work boat called a Delaware Ducker and show it at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. I built the Ducker as a hybrid ply-glass / skin-on-frame which served to renew my disdain for plywood and fiberglass despite having good results with it. The finished Ducker is a great rower and a smart little sailer, albeit one I'm not really using much due to health issues and not actually having anywhere to put it. In light of those two facts, I'm putting it up for sale. For more info and pictures of the build check out the Delaware Ducker page.
While at the boat show I wandered off into the candyland of brightwork and brass (recent accomplishments exempted, I'm a fan of neither), and somehow found my way into the clutches of various cruising talks where people like Lin Pardey and Pam Wall seduce a new generation of cruisers with the idea that sailing is somehow an enjoyable activity. Having grown up with sailboats myself, the words of the late Andrew McCauley come to mind: "Sailing is the worst sport in the world. It's like standing under a cold shower while continuously tearing up money." I'm reminded of my own former girlfriend who once yelled in exasperation: "We're just going back and forth and not getting anywhere!" An apt description for sailing, and at times, life.
Those truths being self-evident, there remains an inexorable pull towards the false promise of steady breezes and distant adventure, and as such I've spent more time than I should as of late wandering the piers and consuming book after book on voyaging and the craft to do it in. Every 30ft full-keeler I walk past seems to whisper "Buy me, fix me up, take me somewhere." I suppose I should probably just get it out of my system.
I'm hoping to crew on some sort of passage this year so if you or anyone you know would like a crew member this year, I know my way around a boat, can build just about anything, and am happy to trade kayaking lessons for sailing lessons. Also, if anyone wants to give me a sailboat for Christmas, or wants to sell one for a song, I promise I'll do something highly entertaining with it, and record the whole experience.
Speaking of sale, as usual I have things that must go to make room for things to come. This basically new LPB is one of them. This is a solid boat that's been used twice. I need to get some on the water video of it next month, and then it's available. Price is $1700, which saves you $400 over the price of a new boat and I'll throw in a paddle. If you're interested in this boat let me know.
There's also a barely used Disko Bay kayak in Oneida, NY for sale for only $1000. Built by a student in one of my classes he found it a bit too tight, so we built him another which he loves, but the 1st one now needs a home. This kayak was scaled up 7% meaning it's an exact copy of a traditional hunting kayak that will actually fit someone larger. Ideal weight for this kayak would be 190-215lbs. If you're in the area and in that weight range, this is a rare find and a great deal. Email me if interested.
In non-nautical news, my garden-in-the-city continues to expand providing a psychological anchor with all of the unwelcome changes of the last few years. Seven big vegetable beds, a strawberry patch, an herb spiral, and two year old fig, hazelnut, apple, cherry, and pear trees. This year I grew cucumbers, kale, leeks, pumpkins, sunflowers, zuchinni, carrots, beets, sungold cherry tomatoes, and a delicious heirloom called Cosmonaut Volkov that was given to me by a kayak student at the end of the class.
Finally, circling back to my least favorite subject, those of you who follow my work already know that I've been fighting a savage chronic illness for the last five years that started with chest pain following hard hikes that got worse and worse until I finally had to stop doing almost everything I enjoy, and finally closed the business for a few years.
Things have gotten better, and they haven't. Me and the illness have an uneasy truce. As long as I don't work very hard or do anything fun (bike, hike, walk, run, paddle, surf, or kayak) I can sort-of make it through a day but I still have awful chest pain if I push it even a little bit and sometimes even when I don't. Doctors say it can't be my heart because I pass a stress echo, and I say how could it not be because it gets worse with exercise. I've had serious problems with exercise my whole life (despite appearances) so my money is on some weird rare metabolic problem, but who knows? Bottom line is that I'm still really struggling.
My focus this year is going to be on getting myself somewhere like the Cleveland or the Mayo where they actually see cases like me and have the resources to definitively exclude possibilities. The Mayo was out of reach even when I had a sizeable medical fund, and my insurance has been less than cooperative, but all I can do is keep trying.
The other thing I need to figure out is how to get a home and a shop again. Right now I live in 2 different places, and Cape Falcon Kayak lives in 3 different garages and I spend way too much time driving between them. It's a challenging way to run a business.
I'd like to end here on a positive note. A counterpoint to the complexities of living with a serious chronic illness is the vividness with which it contrasts against the good things. I'm simply floored by how awesome life is every time I get a break from the pain, and while I've never been a slouch when it comes to seeking out beauty, these days I rarely miss an opportunity to appreciate the miracle of being alive. Thank you to all of my friends and students for your support, enjoy the videos, and maybe I'll see you in the coming year.
Picking up where we left off last update, my medical situation is still pretty dark. Neuropathy, heart pain, dysautonomia, and a whole host of awful unexplained symptoms. I've never been one of these anti-allopathic medicine people, but as a very sick person I'm continually shocked at just how badly the American medical system fails people with chronic illness. If you visit this site with any frequency you've heard the story already, we don't need to dwell on it. I still struggle to find the right balance in being authentic in talking about my medical issues without letting that story define me. I still hurt like hell most days and can't surf, run, kayak, bike, hike, climb or do much of anything that used to feed my soul, but I am moving forward in some big ways, and I'm excited to share some of the things I've been up to this year:
First up, I decided that no matter how bad I felt I had to start seeing pretty things again or my soul was going to die. This is a bit complicated because pretty things require motion which my body isn't so keen on these days. So I hatched a series of micro adventures, taking my knowledge of Oregon and making surgical strikes to access the most beauty for the least amount of effort. Destinations included, the Salmon River Trail, floating on an inflatable down the John Day and Wallowa Rivers, and a long foray into the deep southeast Oregon desert where we peered down into the breathtaking Owyhee Canyon, soaked in deserted hot springs, and dug up Sunstones!
If being sick has taught me anything, it's to learn to appreciate the heck out of anything that brings you any joy whatsoever. You don't get the luxury of being a happiness connoissuer any more, thumbing your nose at potentially joyful experiences just because your life isn't going the way you want. Anything your eyes, mouth, or heart can feast on becomes vital nourishment.
One of my biggest sources of nourishment both literal and figurative is my garden. Picking fresh herbs, leeks, zuchinni, and kale, for breakfast every morning, strawberries for lunch, nibbling on cucumbers and carrots and watching all the baby fruit trees I've planted get bigger is simply sublime, which isn't to say I don't have my fair share of battles with leaf miners, pill bugs, aphids, cabbage moths powder mold, and all manner of things that thrive when you put a buffet in the front yard. It's fascinating to watch the natural evolution and how it twists and turns to escape my sculpting hand. I am at this point convinced that borage and nasturtiums contain alien DNA and will ultimately overrun the earth.
Aside from pain, the other thing that makes being sick unbearable is uncertainty. This is the dark side of living in a country with such a poor social safety net. While it's true that you can usually find something to eat, somewhere to sleep, and at least access to an emergency room care in America, poverty here has an event horizon, and once you slip past it, there is little chance of returning to anything like a decent standard of living. This is a huge problem for people with health issues, because the body needs rest, good food, and access to more than just the ER and stressed out GP's to truly heal, and those things simply aren't available on $700 month disability payments.
So to make a long story shorter, I realized that no matter how sick I am, I gotta somehow find a way to work and make some money, (ironically, so I can rest.) To that effect, I've embarked on what is probably the most ambitious Cape Falcon Kayak project yet: A complete overhaul of the business, to include plans, kits, instructional videos, an online store, and about a zillion other things that I'm basically nuts to try to do in my condition.
I started out by working with a graphic designer who has done an incredible job of taking pages and pages of handwritten notes and turning them into gorgeous plan sets for all five kayaks, as well as creating a new logo and even an electric brand so I can burn the logo into kayaks, paddles, and business cards made from kayak scrap wood. Too cool!
Check out these sample plans.
Next I scheduled a ten day intensive class with eleven students at the Columbia River Maritime Museum where we built all five Cape Falcon Kayak designs from scratch, filming the entire process, and finishing up with a surveying class generously taught by kayak historian Harvey Golden. Thank you to the Columbia River Maritime Museum for hosting the class, and thank you to everyone who participated.
It probably goes without saying that the class kicked my ass pretty hard (another understatement), but it also showed me that I can put a mental barrier between myself and the illness and still give people a quality experience. It also makes me feel like I still have a purpose, another vital component of well being.
This means I'm going start teaching again on a limited basis. I'm aiming for four classes next year. That still isn't much for people who are trying to get into a class but it's more than there's been in quite a while. Due to that limited availability I've created a newsletter signup so people can receive an email whenever new classes, plans, kits, or videos are released. The CRMM class filled in 48 hours, so this is a good option for people who don't want to miss out. I'm planning another F1 only class in late September.
The next month for me is going to be a hyperfocused edit-o-thon to try to get the videos, kits, and plans ready by September. During that process I'm going to be posting a lot of free content on my videos page, so come back and check that out, or just sign up for the newsletter and I'll send a link when stuff gets posted. Speaking of video, I wanted to share an amazing whale encounter my friend and former student Ken captured while paddling his F1 in Monterey bay.
Finally I want to share with you a personal project. The most important part of surviving a serious illness is to have something to look forward to. For the last few months that has been an awesome little sailboat called the Delaware Ducker. Whenever I start to panic because I'm broke, in constant pain, and live in a van, I unroll the plans from Mystic Seaport and let my mind drift on an imaginary journey, gliding across the water in an ultralight tiny sailboat. I've decided now is the time to make that sailboat a reality. To keep myself from going bonkers from too much screen time I've decided to split my days half and half between editing video and building the Ducker. I'm going to try to post pictures of the process every few days. Feel free to follow along on the Delaware Ducker page. Or check it out on the Cape Falcon Kayak facebook. Also, the finished boat will be on display at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Show, at the Northwest Maritime Center, where I teach a class every year.
I may not be able to do much besides work and suffer right now, but goddammit, I can cling for dear life to a sheet and tiller!
Seriously though. I hope all of this inspires people facing all sorts of hardship to move forward as positively as possible which isn't to say that we all don't need people to carry us when we can't carry ourselves. I've been there, I might be there again, there's days the pain is so bad I'm not sure I want to be here at all. But for now, I'm alive, I'm strong, and I'm trying, and that wouldn't be possible without all the people who've supported me along the way. Thank you. I hope this update brings you joy.
(one last thing, there is a really cool F1 for sale in Tennessee for a great price that has only been used once, send me an email if you're interested, details here
For almost a year this little grey update box has sat empty while my email inbox has steadily filled with people wondering if I’ve dropped off the proverbial waterfall at the edge of the planet. The truth is, my health situation has been pretty rough lately and I’ve been quietly hoping things would improve before I had to write again. For those of you who are new to the site, a long fight against chronic illness forced me to shut down Cape Falcon Kayak classes at the end of 2014, and an ongoing medical investigation revealed a fairly advanced peripheral neuropathy, widespread autonomic dysfunction, and a host of other devastating cardiac and neurological symptoms that have yet to be explained.
Needless to say, this was not part of the plan.
Over the course of the last year I’ve had a hard time reconciling my faith in power of the the human body to heal, with the reality of a personal situation that has proved thus far unresponsive to that sentiment. Staying positive while living with disabling pain levels, dwindling finances, big changes in my living circumstances, and the inability to do almost everything I formerly enjoyed is beyond challenging. I’ve always believed that with enough positivity and determination that anything is possible, I don't think I'll ever stop believing that, but you can imagine just how difficult it is to be proven wrong day after day. It's a complicated existence, and one I'm still struggling to find my footing in. On a more positive note, it inspired me to get a cool new tattoo. :)
Also a bit jarring is being back in the city after nearly 15 years nestled in the coastal rainforest surrounded by old growth spruces haunted by barred owls, dripping sword ferns hiding golden chanterelle mushrooms, blankets of moss overshadowing secretive herds of elk, thundering surf endlessly delivering the beach sand between my toes, and emerald rivers hiding the distinctive twisting flash of those gorgeous winter steelhead trout. I can't pretend that I don't miss it.
Still, if I had to choose any city to live in it will always be Portland, Oregon, so I count myself fortunate. Bookstores, good parks, great food, and a general warmth that is missing from most large cities. I try to focus on the good things.
For those who remember the last update, I’d just purchased a 7.3L diesel Ford super duty van as a potential mobile workshop/home-on-wheels. Since then I made some significant upgrades in the form of a custom built interior that serves excellently as both a living space while still leaving plenty of room for supplies should I ever get well enough to take my classes on the road again. In addition to the clever storage and custom cabinetry, I also added a mini off-grid electricity system complete with solar panels on the roof to supplement the alternator power, an extra deep cycle battery, and a 2000 watt inverter (because lets face it, life without an electric tea kettle is simply not civilized). The build was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Thanks to my friend Paul for helping me install a nice stereo system!
With the van complete, I wanted to take a road trip, and a client in Chicago who needed a Guideboat delivered gave me a perfect opportunity to offer some amazing customer service while saving on shipping. After dropping off the guide boat I figured:
"Hell, it's not like I have anything else to do, so I'll just keep driving."
...and so I did, circling the country and finally ending up in my beloved Moab, Utah, albeit a bit later in the year than is comfortable. While indulging my thirst for adventure along roads marked 4wd only, I caused a bit of damage to the van! (this is why we can’t have nice things.) My health was in rough shape at that point from too many consecutive long frozen nights, and with the van starting to feel more like a coffin than an RV I headed home to make repairs to both man and machine.
On the business side of things, the downside of not running classes full time still has still upsides, notably letting me catch up on commissions and make some changes that I should have made years ago. I trained an assistant who amazingly hasn’t told me to get stuffed despite my obsessive perfectionism. Dan has been both an avid paddler and passionate skin boat builder since he first built his first kayak with me in 2008, so I decided it was finally time to bring him on board. Working together we’ve managed to get the turnaround time on custom kayaks down to less than a month and do some really cool things with customization that I never would have had time for when I was running classes full time. Recently we created a 25lb ultra-light F1, that is ultra-comfortable as well with the addition of a custom fitted Redfish kayak seat, (which may become the new standard for Cape Falcon Kayaks.) We also added foot bumps for a guy with huge feet that ended up looking really cool. I also have a couple of brand new standard F1’s for sale, check out the boats for sale page for more info!
To explore whether I might be able to return to teaching this year I decided to start small and spent a week building a pair of F1’s with my friend Holly in the living room of her house! We had an amazing time chatting and building and stopping for lunch in the kitchen less than 6 feet away. It made me realize how much I miss what I do, and watching her climb into her boat on a chilly winter day with a huge smile on her face is the moment I always live for!
So does that mean I’m going to be teaching again? The answer is yes, no, and maybe. The build with Holly was fun, but my body wasn’t thrilled. For right now I’m going to keep things confined to small one or two person classes. The days are short and easy, and I can bring the whole works directly to individual students, which opens up possibilities for people who might not otherwise be able to make it to a class.
While larger classes remain mostly off the menu for now, I am making one BIG exception! For years now I’ve talked about making videos and kayak plans available, in fact I actually started this last fall only to realize after a day of filming that it makes no sense to put that kind of energy into a project and not do it with quality camera equipment, and also a well lit professional quality shop space. In searching for a space I got talking with Sam Johnson the executive director of the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon, and he invited me out to visit their Barbey Maritime Center which is most perfect small boat building space I’ve ever seen.
Visiting with Sam and their resident Pygmy Kayak builder Chuck Bollong, we hatched a plan for a single Cape Falcon Kayak class this summer that will not only provide an ideal location for filming my instructional videos but will offer a once in a lifetime opportunity for students to come and learn the entire process, start-to-finish, while we build every single model of Cape Falcon Kayak in one room. The class will be open to people who want to build their own kayak and take it home, as well as people who just want to come and learn the process. All students will receive copies of the completed videos as well as full sets of plans for all 5 kayaks, a 1/2 day of on the water instruction, as well as opportunities to try all 5 kayak designs! Class runs June 29-July 8th. For complete details visit the Calendar page.
In the meantime, I’m just going to keep doing what I can. Going for short hikes in the city, petting stray cats, planting out the garden, and hoping my body will get with the program and let me return to the land of the living.
Finally, I'm not the kind of person who has an easy time reaching out for support, (to put it mildly) but I welcome prayers, advice, friendship, and material assistance from anyone with the means to offer it. It's especially helpful to hear from other people who have been through or are going through similar difficulties. A sincere thank you to everyone who has supported me through these difficult times, I hope there is a brighter future ahead!
With the help of some friends, over July 4th weekend I finished clearing out the last of the barn. Selling all my kayaks, moving all my tools to various locations. After 15 years of building a kayak business and an organic farm in this beautiful little town on the edge of the Pacific ocean, I'm sure you can imagine the transition of moving back to the city isn't the easiest thing. If you work at it hard enough there are plenty of things in life to be upset about, and I can't afford to dwell on any of them, so I said a small goodbye and decided not to follow my feelings into a quagmire of loss and regret. The stars may not be as clear, and there are no longer deer in my back yard, but moving to Portland, Oregon, is hardly being relocated to a concentration camp.
Before leaving Manzanita, however, I had the opportunity to complete an art show that I've been looking forward to for a long time. Scale models of my two most popular designs combined with the best photos I've taken over the years. It seemed like an appropriate way to honor the time I spent here and share my perspective. The models sold quickly, which makes me think I should be building more of them.
Another project I'm finishing up on is the Off-Grid Airstream. Due to my health issues, financial constraints, and losing my shop space, I won't be finishing the final installation of the planned 540 watt photovoltaic electric system, aside from that though, the project is mostly complete and turned out really nice. I'm hoping to sell it by the end of the summer. Here's a link to the webpage and a photo tour. www.offgridairstream.net
To deal with the logistics of making an entire boat building shop vanish in just a couple of weeks, I bit the bullet and finally purchased the van Cape Falcon Kayak has been needing for the last 15 years. Finding the used one ton 7.3 Powerstroke Diesel I've been lusting after at a great price was a windfall, although the irony of buying the van I need just as I close the business is not lost on me. I'm sure it will see a lot of use as Cape Falcon Kayak transforms over the next couple years.
While I'm still in a bit of a holding pattern while I see how my health issues are going to progress, transitioning the business is something I'm thinking a lot about right now. I'm slowing getting better, but it's a process and I need to be smart about how I manage things. Presently, I'm still building commission kayaks and I can keep up on that workload. I have to admit it kills me not to be teaching this year, but with luck that will change.
Thinking about the future: Cape Falcon Kayak has a solid customer base, excellent designs, and potential to expand into retail, paddling instruction, kits, and instructional media. There are a lot of directions the business can go from here, but I'm coming to realize that I need to partner with someone to move the business forward. Even before I got sick I pushed way harder than I ever should have, and the new paradigm is going to have to include the novel idea of help! So right now I'm just putting out feelers to explore that idea. I'm looking for someone who is a natural teacher, a passionate paddler, a decent woodworker, and has the creative drive and organizational abilities that make any business successful. (at least 3 of those things) If you think you might be a good fit, get in touch and we can talk. In the farther future, I'll be looking to build a new shop and another small off-grid farm as a home base, or possibly partner with someone with an existing property.
At present, I think it's likely that I'll return to teaching classes late next spring, probably traveling, which affords me the opportunity bring the classes closer to people who weren't formerly able to travel to Oregon, and explore my other passion of visiting and consulting on fledgling off-grid homesteading projects.
As far as my health situation goes, I'm glad to say that things are improving, although in no way thanks to the total disaster of our medical system. After pushing through years of agony to get a partial diagnosis where my complex symptoms and life history isn't even considered relevant, I finally decided to just drop to doctors. I like my neurologist and my primary care doc, but they're out of ideas, and our system just isn't set up for doctors to have hours of free time to catch up on all the latest research and then sit down in a big roundtable and speculate on how my complex web of symptoms might be related and then propose experimental treatments to address the problem. Furthermore, legal regulations and insurance protocols mean that the cutting edge of medicine today won't be seen in general practice for nearly a decade. People like me don't have time to wait for that. I have to take a more proactive approach, doing my own research, and building a picture of what I think is wrong with me the same way a detective might build a case. Hypothesize, experiment, evaluate, repeat. The details are way too much to discuss here, and progress is slow, but owing to this strategy I've managed to stop the scariest of the symptoms. I'd rather not have a serious neurological illness, but in some ways it's a fascinating puzzle, and when I do ultimately recover, I'll have one hell of a story to tell. Again, thank you to everyone who helped with my medical fund. I was a half-dead wretch of a creature last year, and without that money, I wouldn't be any better right now. I want to note that not a dime of it has gone to anything but medical expenses.
Life right now means doing what I can. Tending to the huge garden we've created in my girlfriends front yard, reading a lot, consulting on off-grid projects, building boats in the garage, and being eternally fascinated by the biological workings of the compost pile and the endless swarm of bumblebees surrounding the lavender plants. Yes, I'd like to go paddling, I'd like to be teaching, I'd also like a Ferrari and a million bucks. Things could always be better, and things could always be worse. You don't really get a lot of choice over what happens in life, but you can choose what to focus on. I'll keep you posted.
Well, fuck it.
I suppose that's not a very professional way to start a post, but by all measures 2013-2015 shall hereby be known as the years that stuffed my whole life into a food processor and hit: Puree.
There's no easy way to say this so I might as well have out with it, I came home earlier this month to discover that the big red barn that I rent for the Cape Falcon shop has been sold, and I have until the end of June to vacate. It was an unexpected broadside during a year fraught with unpleasant surprises. If you've been to this idyllic setting on the North Fork of the Nehalem river, just a few miles inland from the magical little coastal town of Manzanita, you understand just how truly special this place is. 12 years, hundreds of classes, nearly 1000 kayaks. So many memories. It's hard to believe that it's really over.
A week later I got a call from the neurologist, who informed me that my biopsy confirms that I do in fact have idiopathic autonomic neuropathy, (like I always said I did), and not an anxiety disorder or psychosomatic illness, (like every doctor I've seen in the last 3 years has insisted). With no real options for treatment aside from the drugs I'm already taking, this is one of those times when "I told you so." rings pretty hollow. Right now what autonomic neuropathy means for me is that my heart rate, rhythm, intensity, and blood pressure is very unstable, hitting me the hardest while I sleep, leaving me feeling like I've been run over by a truck most of the time. It's a nightmare inside of my chest. I'm eating perfectly and taking as good of care of myself as possible, but from here it's pretty hard to know what to do. Alternative therapies of all types have shown little effect, and conventional medicine doesn't have a magic machine for repairing nerves or their corresponding control centers. Fortunately I'm still qualified for work as an international fashion model.
So yeah, things aren't so great these days, and by all measures I should be devastated, but strangely, I'm actually doing better than you'd think. I'm sure I've said this in a previous post, but pain changes you. It really pulls into sharp focus that now is truly all we ever have, and what I'm choosing to do is focus on things that are positive. What I can do, not what I can't, and no matter how bad things get, never losing faith that I can somehow heal.
I've finally reached a point where I can walk on the beach and just feel appreciation for the incredible experiences I've had in the ocean, the wilderness, and on so many beautiful rivers. Back at home I continue to work on the off-grid Airstream when my body is up for it. Bright, and clean, this sustainable remodel has made this 1970's beast into a delightfully modern little place to live.
In the shop I'm still slowly building boats while I can, taking the last few commissions and winding things down. It's weird to be in here without students, a little sad, but I'm trying to just sink my focus into the work at hand. I just finished a beautiful guide boat and an F1 for a gentleman in San Francisco and delivered it in person, and then headed over to Nevada City to build a frame with a friend, a display piece for his house. Until I can get back on my feet this might be what Cape Falcon Kayak looks like, creative, diversified, nomadic.
Another project I've started is my new creative website called Mind of Brian. People tell me I'm a decent writer and I wanted a dedicated site where I could share stories, past adventures, and current insights. It should be a fun ride, please subscribe! Mind of Brian is also an umbrella site, a place to cleanly tie all of my creative projects together. So there's some cool photos up, and links to everything else I do. Also, to check out my latest photos you can follow me on instagram @capefalconkayak
Because a farmer without a farm still needs to farm, on the not-exactly-my-home front I took it upon myself to lay waste to my girlfriends' useless sea of grass and transform it into seven big garden beds, ten different trees, ten blueberry bushes, and an herb spiral. My job on the farm was always infrastructure so I'm enjoying learning the plant side of things. I think I'm doing pretty good! I'm especially proud of the repurposed kayak frames as pea trellises! Right now everything is in full bloom and that gives me a huge amount of pleasure.
...and now onto the big question, what's going to happen in the future? I'm afraid I don't have much of an answer for that, but I'm trying to face it as fearlessly as I can. I feel calm and focused, and intentional amidst all of the uncertainty. One thing I do know for certain is that I have a LOT of shop to clean out, and that means selling a lot of kayaks. Visit my new for sale page to see what's available, this could be a chance to pick up a used or new boat at a great deal. After that the big tools go in storage and the small ones go in bins. Give a lot of stuff away, try to sell the airstream. (if you're interested in the Airstream lets talk)
As much as things are changing, things aren't ending by any means. There is a lot of ways to grow the business that I've wanted to explore in the past, but haven't been able to due to my full work schedule. The impulse here is to start transforming Cape Falcon Kayak now with video projects, kits, and satellite classes, but right now is not the time for that. My body is tired, and my nervous system is fried. Neuropathies of unknown origin are hard, but not impossible to reverse, and on this long journey I've seen enough genuine medical miracles to consider medicine, both allopathic and alternative, to be only one form of healing. In all of this difficulty I've been through, that understanding has really been the silver lining. I've come to believe that the world we directly perceive is but a small portion of a much larger consciousness, and this perspective has given me an unshakeable trust in my own journey, as difficult as it is at times.
In the farther future I'll be looking for investors and collaborators to help me create a much more integrated version of the workshop/homestead I'm leaving behind. Using all of the knowledge I've gained to create a place where all of the food, water, waste, thermal, electrical, and use flows are integrated as tightly as possible. A multi-purpose teaching space, and a sustainable living demonstration site. I can see it so vividly in my mind. Because I still have every intention of getting well, I see no harm in making connections and starting those discussions now about what the future of Cape Falcon Kayak can look like. If that sounds like a project you'd be interested in collaborating on or investing in, drop me a line.
For now though, clean out the shop, sell my stuff, throw some camping gear and few dozen books in my old Subaru, and try to find somewhere quiet and far away to rest and heal. I know that's not much of a plan, but it's physically and financially what I can do in this moment.
Finally, for the most part I've always been too busy to take photos during class, but here is a random collection of photos I found from 12 years of teaching at the barn. The time I spent here and all of the wonderful people I met along the way has been a privilege. Thank you, to everyone who helped make this period of my life possible.
For those of you who haven't read my last blog entry, I recently went public about an undiagnosed illness that I've been battling from for the last 3 years. Finally admitting that my pain and disability levels were greater than I could continue to hide, and that I needed help both emotionally and financially was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Pressing send on that update felt like the admission of failure, and the dissolution of my identity as a whole. It felt like I had finally paddled to the edge of a flat earth and was facing the drop into monsters and oblivion.
There's a funny thing about fear though. I'll avoid the obvious Jack Kennedy reference, but it really is true that majority of our pain and anxiety has to do with the avoidance of any path, rather than the actual discomfort of that path. When I finally tipped past that proverbial horizon line, I did not tumble into darkness, I discovered the world was round.
As the donations poured in, I realized just how lucky I am to have the friends that I do, the 25,000 dollars I raised is absolutely essential to being able to afford much of the testing and treatment that I need right now, and those of you who know me well, know that I am already thinking past myself and into how I can use this experience to help others who are suffering. Just as valuable as the donations, however, were the dozens of letters I received from other people suffering similar symptoms who had found answers. It gave me a wide database of possible disorders for my doctors to (albeit reluctantly) investigate. More than information though, these letter gave me strength, hope, and perspective and ultimately, allowed me to surrender to my journey and find a place of peace and gratitude.
Where we are right now is that tests are still ongoing. The process is slow and doctors can be difficult, but I think they've gotten to know me well enough to know that the best way to deal with me is to work with me rather than against me. I am not going anywhere until we have tested for every known condition that matches my symptom profile, which you can imagine makes me an unpopular patient. While one hopes to find a smoking gun complete with pill to neutralize it, I have also come to accept that many disorders that match my symptoms are still poorly understood disease processes, (specifically a whole host of neuro-immune disorders) with limited conventional treatments options, and to that effect I am also aggressively pursuing alternative therapies as well.
Healing is about more than just repairing a broken physiology though. Healing is the process by which we transform malcontent into content, and pain into love. Paradoxically this process can actually be hindered by our blessings, and while the process of being paired down to your core is painful, I've discovered that even stripped of the larger share of my possessions, my finances, my work, and my athletic abilities, I can still find grace and meaning. Pain is a reality for me, I can't change that right now, but I can always find something positive and focus on that.
My limitations right now are that I can be moderately active about 4 hours a day, and I can run on the beach for 15 minutes a day. Activity beyond that makes me dramatically sicker, so I lay down and read and write the rest of the time. For those of you who have known me as the person who used to wake up at 5 am and surf until sunrise, and then work until long after dinner for months on end, this has been exactly the kind of wrenching transformation you'd expect it to be. I'm past that though, and I'm committed to focusing on what I can do, and most of all trusting my journey. There are so many people out there that find joy in much worse circumstances, and feeling sorry for myself would be an insult the to blessings I still have intact.
Where this brings us to is the changes in my material world. First off I sold my half of the R-evolutions Gardens farm. I needed the money to survive, and can no longer meet my responsibilities to the property. It is in good hands with Ginger and her new husband Brigham. The Off Grid Airstream that I worked so hard on last summer has proven to be exactly the beautiful, simple place I need to rest and heal. I will continue to slowly work on it throughout the year. Cape Falcon Kayak will be closed this year. That's a tough one. I am energized and inspired by teaching but there is simply no way I can physically do my job with my current limitations. I will still be able to build commissions, which makes this a great opportunity for anyone who ever wanted to buy a kayak from me but didn't want to wait the usual 6 months or more it used to take to get one out the door. I also plan to use the time to work on development of a couple other boat and video projects that have been impossible to get to with my normal schedule.
I feel like it is important to view this as a year of celebration rather than a year of loss, a year of gratitude, healing, and breathing into the promise of future possibilities. To that effect, I thought it would be awesome to have a giant party and gear swap here at the Red Barn, the third weekend in July, so mark your calender. As many of you know I live in one of the most beautiful places in America, and the shop has abundant camping space. Together we've built over 800 kayaks in the last 12 years and I would love to see just how many we can get out on the water for a group paddle. Both former students and non-students are invited.
I think that's about it for now. Enjoy the blessings of the new year in whatever form they come to you. I'm going to be here working on healing, catching up on my reading, and spending some quality time with my cat.
Here on November 18th, 2014, just a little over a month shy of my 40th birthday, I want to be writing about how this has been an amazing year. I want to tell you about how the off-grid Airstream project is coming along beautifully, with plans to add a mobile version of the Japanese Bath House to the fleet. I want to tell you about the currach project we have in the works and a possible bid for the Race to Alaska in 2015. At the very least I want to express relief at a long year being over and looking forward to hours of drysuit clad solitude this winter, plying the waters of my beloved North Fork Nehalem River, casting for that most magnificent of fish, the steelhead trout.
But I'm not here to talk about any of those things today, I'm here to talk about being sick.
Truthfully, 2014 was a brutal year for me. As some of you know and most of you don't, I've been fighting a losing battle against a mystery illness for the better part of the last 3 years. Chest pain, shortness of breath, wildly fluctuating blood pressure, orthostatic tachycardia, heart arrythmias, heat intolerance, exercise intolerance, violent panic attacks, weakness, and extreme fatigue. In 3 short years I've gone from being one of the strongest surf paddlers on the West Coast to someone who can barely make it through the work day.
Through 2012 and 2013 I was able to keep this mostly hidden from friends and students but cracks in the facade of my characteristic humor and enthusiasm during 2014 have forced me to face the fact that I truly am sick, and if I just keep forging ahead in my typical workaholic fashion I'm going to collapse, or worse. My condition is somewhat of a medical mystery, basic labs and a single echocardiogram appear fine, prompting physicians to label it as either "Unknown, not real, or psychiatric." Given the severity of my symptoms this seems insane to me, especially considering that I have not had any further cardiac imaging, brain imaging, neurological testing, viral or bacterial panels, or testing for any genetic conditions.
Over the course of this process I've bled my savings dry and accrued more medical debt than I'll ever be able to pay, I finally got insurance under the affordable care act only to have doctors refuse to order more tests, and insurance refusing to pay for specialists and the out of state facilities that are actually equipped to deal with complex cases like mine.
On the verge of a breakdown I reached out to others with undiagnosed illness and discovered an epidemic of sick people who have been sidelined by a system woefully ill-equipped to deal with mysterious chronic illness. In this process I also met other people though, I met people who fought every step of the way to get testing and to get care. I met people who found answers and got their lives back.
I made a choice, I decided I was going to be one of those people.
I've been a fighter my whole life. I put myself through college working two minimum wage jobs. I worked on an ambulance and shepherded the broken and bloody to safety. I led a fight to stop state-sponsored illegal logging on one of Portlands main drinking watersheds, and won. I carved a profitable off-grid organic farm out of the north facing slope of a temperate rainforest and simultaneously built a beautiful business where dozens of amazing individuals come together every year to connect around a passion for kayaking, building things, and a deeper connection to earth. In short, I feel like I have valuable contributions to make to the world and I'm not going to let some goddamned mystery sickness take me down without a fight.
In a long and torturous battle with my ego and my pride, my sense of self-preservation won out and I'm going to do something I've never done before, ask for help.
Basically, I need a lot of medical testing and treatment that I have no conceivable way to pay for. I'm already bleeding money just in the beginning stages of initiating care with some of the most brilliant doctors in America, and am hoping to pay a visit to the Mayo Clinic diagnostic center by Christmas. These higher level physicians believe, that if I was an athlete 3 years ago and too sick to work today, that yes, there is probably something seriously wrong with me, and that's a step in the right direction. To keep taking those steps I need raise some serious cash. To this effect I've created a Go Fund Me crowd-funding campaign for myself. I decided saving private Brian was just too cheesy, so we're calling it the Cape Falcon Medical Fund.
With your help we can get me back on track toward being the ridiculous and gregarious individual the world needs me to be. If you decide to donate, thank you.
Finally, to answer the big question, what is going to happen with Cape Falcon Kayaks and the 2015 build schedule? I can tell you now that I have every intention of teaching in 2015. I have set dates for both Port Townsend, and San Diego which I will soon post online, along with dates for the spring and summer at the shop. Dates for the fall tour from Maine to Florida will be announced early next year. What is different than years past is that I won't be opening enrollment for anything except the Port Townsend and San Diego classes (open Jan 1st) until March. The reason being that I have to get on top of this illness before I make commitments and start taking money from people. To be clear though, despite how I feel at the moment, I have every intention of getting better.
I will heal.
I will paddle again.
I will be teaching next year.
To close this rather serious and depressing update, I want to revive a tradition from the old site, sharing the best pictures I've collected over the course of the year. No crazy surf photos or mountaintops this time around, but the world is still beautiful when you move slower, and get closer. Enjoy.
An avid paddler, builder, and teacher, I'm passionate about sharing the strength, lightweight, and beauty of skin-on-frame boat building.