Day 1 of Canoecopia was a blast, and a great introduction to what it would be like the rest of the weekend. But unlike the day before, I had all day at the show. I got a good night sleep, woke (relatively) early and ate a nice big breakfast to get myself ready for a full day of canoe related presentations and exhibitors. I had map in hand, and my plan was to get into the best talks, and in between see how much of the exhibitors as I can. Tomorrow, the last day, I’d see whatever I’d miss. The problem was that there are just so many great presentations, often at the same time. Three however, stood out as must sees. And it probably doesn’t surprise regular readers that Kevin Callan was involved in two of them.
First presentation of the day for me was an absolutely great idea. Two expert outdoor authors and canoe camping enthusiasts, Kevin Callan and Cliff Jacobson, would go toe to toe, no holds barred, and debate their personal preferences and philosophies when it comes to camping. An American and a Canadian, the Boundary Waters vs. Quiteco, Duluth packs or barrel harnesses, one man’s “must-have” would be the other’s luxury, or even dead weight. To show their dedication to the spirit of the event, they both came out for their bout wearing boxer’s robes adorned with their fighting names. Well, not really. The robes were actually bath robes. Their fighting names? Kevlar Kevin and J-Stroke Jacobson. Then again, it was completely appropriate for the talk, as they would ham it up, teasing each other over their differences in opinion. A lot of people thought it would be a good show, as it was standing room only, packed full. I had to stand way in the back, and the fire marshall was even called. (For the rest of the event they would have staff outside each presentation to ensure fire codes wouldn’t be broken again.)
Their biggest differences in opinions? Well Kevin doesn’t think an ax is too necessary, and brings a saw instead because of how often he’s found people who have injured themselves with them. Cliff believes you absolutely need one because to him it’s essential to ensure your ability to create a warm fire – something that when it’s needed, you absolutely have to be able to create. Cliff’s a big tumpline guy, Kevin not so much (though both agree you should learn to use a tumpline properly). And of course Cliff showed off his assortment of hats, each with a purpose, each essential in different situations. Kevin told us her prefers his baseball cap. He says his has soaked up the soul of each trip on which it has been. “What if it rains?” asked Cliff. “You get wet.” says Kevin. Would this point lose the crowd for him? No. Kevin knows how to convince people. He asked the crowd what they thought, whether they liked his hat. There was a few affirmative responses, so he asked, “Would you like my hat?”
At this point Kevin proceeded to throw a few hats into the crowd. (Not just cheap throw away hats either. They were Outdoor Research Swift Caps.) The crowd went pretty crazy, and the hats just kept coming.
Kevin reached into a big box and threw cap after cap to the outreaching arms of the crowd. It was quite the moment (note Cliff’s expression in the pictures above). I didn’t catch one though. As I said, it was packed, and there were plenty of hands in front of me and Kevin. I’m not sure who won the debate, but if it came down to an audience vote, you can imagine the results.
One presentation I absolutely, 100%, HAD to attend was the one given by the ladies from Hudson Bay Bound. Only 2 days after graduating from St. Olaf college, the set off on an 85 day, 2,250 mile trip up to Hudson Bay from Minnesota. Inspired by the “Canoeing with the Cree,” published in 1935, they followed the now famous route taken by the author, Eric Sevareid. In fact, they are believed to be the first woman to complete this arduous journey. When I heard about what they were doing I followed their journey through their website and the media attention they received during their travels. Why did they do it? Well partly it was to raise awareness of watershed issues and preservation. Having just taken environmental studies in school, they got a chance to see some of those problems first hand, seeing the erosion and waste runoff along the route. Later, when learning of some of the economic and nutritional issues plaguing the local aboriginal population along the way, they want to make sure to emphasize this problem when they talk about the trip. As they mention, with so much unemployment, coupled with the remote location, the affordable foods are the cheap, over-process, unhealthy ones, adding many health issues. Pop is cheaper than milk, and they were shocked at the price of a little bit of cheese.
Their main reason for the trip was to support their local YMCA camp – Camp Menogyn – which they both attended. Obviously inspired by their time there, they wanted to bring those essential experiences to others, and make sure it would be available to other young girls and boys for years to come. This is yet another example of how inspiring these outdoor activities, and those that provide them, are to kids, getting them out there, enjoying nature and – most importantly – making them want to preserve it. The ladies came up with a budget for their trip and decided that anything more would be donated to Camp Menogyn – which amounted to $3000. Not bad at all.
Why I was so interested in their story was because I like hearing about people who just go out and do it. There’s plenty of excuses not to, and a canoe trip like this one (or even one much, much smaller) can feel overwhelming to someone who has never done it. But that did not stop Ann and Natalie. They picked up a bit of knowledge, figured out how to get what they needed and went. Not to generalize, but this seems pretty unique to younger people. (I re-wrote that 6 times to find a way not to sound old. Nope. Even without using the term “back when I” or “nowadays”, there’s just no way to do it.) Again, that’s why it’s so important for us, camps like their Menogyn, to introduce the outdoors to kids. And not to put to fine a point on it, being female would come with it’s own challenges for such a journey because of people’s perceptions (even their own) of what young woman can and can’t – or shouldn’t – do. What they were able to accomplish is clear and obvious proof against that.
I also followed Natalie and Ann’s travels because they seem very fun. Check out their website, in particular their blog from the trip. The sing, dance, make fun little videos – they even opened and closed their presentation with songs (and are quite good singers).
After a few presentations, I managed to see some of the exhibitor area. With a full schedule though, I barely made it through half. There was just so much stuff to see.
As you can see by the picture above, the place was huge. (Everyone seemed to have those feather looking flags.)
What I really wanted to see was stuff that you just can’t find at your local outdoor store, and to get a feel for new trends and what’s popular. Canoecopia did not disappoint. (I’ll be talking about some of the goodies I got and neat stuff to look out for this season in later posts.)
My home base was the Badger Paddles booth. They were nice enough to let me hang out and talk to show-goers about paddling. What amazed me was that locally (perhaps it’s an American thing), traditional style canoe paddles were a bit of a novelty. People were pretty amazed to see them, and wanted to know what were the advantages. Down there, the paddles are all wide and short blades, made of laminates, carbon fiber or even plastic/aluminum, and they really love them bent – at both the grip and the blade. Mike spent a lot of time discussing the benefits of the
better different style.
Seeing all the exhibitors would have to wait though, because the finale for Day 2 of Canoecopia was an event called “The Aluminum Chef”, which of course I had to attend. Like it’s less outdoorsy TV show, the Iron Chef, the contestants had to make an appetizer, an entree and dessert using an ingredient that would only be announced when the competition began. (Garbanzo beans as it turned out. I wonder if they’re anything like chick peas.) Unlike the other show, they were also limited to only tools and ingredients that you would realistically bring on a camping trip. The contestants were Wilderness expert Marty Koch, local chef Joey Dunscombe (of Madison’s Weary Traveler), and of course the Canadian dark horse – even though he was the defending champion – Kevin Callan. Just like his earlier presentation, Kevin had a lot of fun, hamming it up with the crowd, providing tips as he cooked, and got ribbed pretty good by his fellow contestants. It was all in good fun of course, mainly poking fun at his country of origin and his penchant for camping wine. Judges were picked from the audience, and raffles for MSR camping gear were going on almost constantly. Some of us were even lucky enough to have been given samples of the food that was being prepared. It was the place to be at Canoecopia.
Of course Kevin won, though it didn’t look to good for him in the beginning. How did he pull it off after a slow start? Obviously the judges must have really liked what he served them, including generous portions of wine. Of course it could have also had something to do with presentation, which they say is just as important as how it tastes in events like this. I don’t know what the plates looked like, but his presentation had more to do with his interaction with the crowd, fun with the judges (offering more wine regularly), and the cooking tips he offered throughout the event. (If you thought throwing hats into the crowd was fun, wait until you see him whip around pitas.) He provided us with a lot of entertainment, making the competition a lot of fun. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for in a camp chef?
It was a great way to end the day, after which I made my way back to the hotel to rest. After a long day of walking around Canoecopia, running to and from presentations and talking with so many people, I was pretty done for the day. I had the same feeling I do after a great day of paddling and portaging – a happy tired from a lot of fun. And I still had one more day to go!