Where and what have you paddled over this past year?
The Stikine, Norway, Congo, the Ashlu, the Clore, Papua New Guinea. Uganda, the US… but honestly, a lot of other guys had bigger years than I did. Corey Boux and the Young Guns just to name a few. This year was one of my biggest, but between knocking off some rust and injuries, was also one of my most humbling.
Which of the trips in the grab-bag of dream paddling locations was your most committing?
It’s a toss up between the Stikine and Papua New Guinea. You could get shot in Congo but I guess that’s a different thing. We were the 24th crew to complete the Stikine and the river has such a well-deserved legend around it. It’s a hard river. I mean the “flatwater”, a bunch of big water IV+ at the end, is probably the biggest stuff most people would ever paddle. The river is walled out hard and consistent Class V. In a best case swim–worst case means death– you could get out of the canyon, make a sat-phone call and expect to be picked up. Where as in PNG, you could swim and survive in a lot of places but if the shit really hit the fan and you made the call out, you’d still be screwed. You’d have climbed out of the canyon so you could die in the jungle. HA!
I see… those sound great. You once said in PNG, “everybody on this expedition has the capability to be a leader, and a follower.” Why do you think this is important on a trip?
Sometimes you’ve got to know when to just shut up and follow. I generally prefer to lead, but in a time when quick decisions are being made, if somebody has stepped up and is doing even an adequate job, you’ve got to be ready to get out of the way and do what they tell you. For our EP (Epicocity Project) trips, people had their strengths and with few exceptions we all knew our rolls when we needed to. There were times I would step up, especially while kayaking, and times when I would listen, like caving. You just have to be ready to be flexible, and if it’s clear that the crew isn’t that way, just be careful.
What kind of skills should any aspiring expedition paddler, be it whitewater, sea kayaking or canoeing, learn before they start a trip?
Make sure your basics are solid. Take some courses for the skills you need. Swiftwater rescue, for instance, or if you’re doing rope work, whatever. I mean, why reinvent the wheel? Finally, this sounds corny, but be prepared. Get a sat phone, have a break down, a first aid kit and wear your damn shoes!
When and how do you recommend getting into expedition paddling?
Start small. Don’t go do a huge mission without getting some experience. When you’re ready to go, you need to know who you’re following and who you can trust, otherwise you shouldn’t be going. You also need to understand your own experience level. I’ve had some years that I’ve paddled better than others. Part of the the process is learning to accept where you are with your skill level and not letting that bother you. I’ve spent a lot of time getting over some emotional barriers and injuries and accepting that it’s ok not to be charging like you know you can. Basically, its ok that Evan Garcia is kicking my ass, even though that punk is only 19 years old… or whatever he is.
So what you’re saying is that you’re an old man. How has that helped you in your paddling?
Thanks, you bastard. Maturity does makes a big difference because when things go badly you need to just go with the flow and make the best of it. You’ve got to look at the positive. No matter how bad things are don’t gloom or doom it. I’ve been in a few situations, three in the past year that if I or somebody else on the crew hadn’t kept their calm, somebody would have died. It doesn’t take long for things to get out of control, and you’ve got to be prepared for that.