Friday, October 28, 2016


One of the classic images of a sea monster on a map: a giant sea-serpent attacks a ship off the coast of Norway on Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, this image from the 1572 edition. Credit: National Library of Sweden
Always remember, it's simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren't dragons ---Sarah Ban Breathnach
It's no secret that kayakers love maps. Any maps measuring the distance from place to place. Looking at the roads and trails following meandering blue river lines and rocky shores. We can stare at those National Geographic and Tom Harrison maps for hours while planning our next expedition. We like the way they feel in ours hands. Their waterproof, tear-resistant paper with detailed topographic information, clearly marked trails, recreational points of interest, and navigational aids lead to our path.
Now in the world of Google Maps, smart phones and GPS, where paper maps are a bit old-fashion,  the unknown is unnerving and the ocean can be downright scary place. But go back a few centuries,  where old world maps and atlases of once-uncharted territories are crammed full of undiscovered and mysterious lands and most frighting of all sea monsters. 

 “A lot of it was just purely unknown. The same way we imagine aliens in outer space, they thought there was something crazy with lots of legs and eyes waiting to eat them,” said Dory Klein, of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center in the Boston Public Library, in interview with National Public Radio “In the Medieval and Renaissance period in Europe, people didn't really know what was out there. So your corpus of knowledge came from folklore and the Bible. And so in that world, monsters could very well be real and they were just part of this supernatural landscape."

Each week,  Klein, the center’s education and outreach assistant, picks out  a map from the 16th or 17th centuries and then highlights the strange and mysterious beasts that adorn the top corners and oceans of the maps on Instagram and Twitter, calling it “Map Monster Mondays. The map center, a non-profit organization established by the library and philanthropist Norman Leventhal, has a collection of more than 200,000 maps and 5,000 atlases.

Klein says that those mapmakers let their imaginations run wild with fantastical creatures appearing in a variety of forms like sea-pigs, sea-bears, sea-elephants and seahorses in the common belief that  every land creature had a sea equivalent. Some resemble amusing figures like from the Muppets or Dr. Seuss,  such as the “hippocampus,” a mythical beast that has the upper body of a horse, and the lower body of a fish, while others like image of mustachioed, polka-dotted cat-monster” standing opposite a dragon holding a human hand between its sharp teeth are much scarier. These monstrous creatures suggest a world full of dangers lurking in the ocean deep.

"It was a jolting reminder," said Klein, "That all of the monsters that you see embedded in these maps really were genuinely scary to the people who are looking at them.”

J.R.R. Tolkien said, "Never laugh at live dragons.” I'm sure that could be said for sharks and whales too. Several kayakers around the world have had close encounters with marine life in the past year, living up to Medieval map illustrations.

Australian Ian Watkins estimated that a shark about 16-foot long, barged into his kayak while paddling off the country's west coast.
"This wave was coming behind me and I thought 'what the heck's that', and then I looked on and there's this massive fin, and I thought 'that's a serious shark'," he told ABC News, "Then he kept circling me, it went from the right under the kayak, then from the left under the kayak …when it was coming under it was just really white it was massive and I thought 'holy … bloody hell"

While a video clip went viral last year of the two Brits narrowly escaping death and injury when a 40-ton humpback whale crash-landed on their kayak off Monterey Bay in California. "It was above us and all I could see was this whale crashing towards us, blocking out the light," Tom Mustill told The Telegraph, "I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to die now. "The terrifying incident was captured on video by a passenger on a nearby whale-watching boat. Remarkably, the everyone was left uninjured.

"Yes, it happens." wrote Athena Holtey in TopKayaker.Net, "Kayaks are bumped, chased, circled, punctured; Shark teeth are pried out of hulls, out of cheeks, and faced off with paddle braces. This is the stuff entertaining forum banter is made of; but often the question remains definitively unanswered. The results are kayakers lacking the confidence to launch into the unknown wilderness they so want to embrace."

Other sighting of modern day sea monsters are far more mysterious and now part of the local folklore. The Loch Ness Monster also known as Nessie is one of the most famous lake monsters in history. Believers and cryptozoologists say that the creature represents a line of long-surviving dinosaurs while the most of the scientific community regards the Nessie as a tall-tale without any biological evidence.They say the sightings are hoaxes, misidentification of other objects or wishful thinking.
Others include Lake Champlain's Champ Echolocation, Pennsylvania's Raystown Lake's Ray and Pepie a sea serpent that is said to inhabit the waters of Lake Pepin on Minnesota Wisconsin border. These lake monster tropes have evaded our detection while much like the creatures on the Medieval maps, they have captured our wonder and imaginations.

Of course sea monsters on maps mostly disappeared as navigational and printing technology improved. Portrayals of whales and other map creatures became more realistic during the early 17th century.
“It was easier to convey more accurate information," Klein said, "So you might see pirate ships as an indication of, ‘There are dangerous pirates here’ or, 'These are good fishing waters, 'You’ll find whales here,’ but it wasn't an immediate disappearance [for the monsters]. It was more of a fading out.”

Friday, October 21, 2016


Photo by Tom Gomes
Channel Islands National Park are known for their phenomenal beautyl and rugged coastline. Under the protection of US parks service, the five islands and their ocean environments are isolation from the mainland offering a home to unique animals, plants, and geological treasures that can't be anywhere else on the planet. For Sacramento based sea kayaker and photographer Tom Gomes,  the trip to the islands were opportunity to experience and photograph this diverse and incredible national resource.
At nearly a 100 square miles in size, Santa Cruz Island is the largest national park's islands, located off the coast of Southern California. It has three mountain ranges, with its highest peak rising over 2,000 feet above the island. Canyons and streams fill its central valley, while its 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs  are permeated with giant sea caves, pristine tide pools and expansive beaches that are beckoned to be explored by island visitors. Large colonies of nesting sea birds and different types of animals, including breeding seals and sea lions can be found on the island. During summer there is also a chance to see Blue or Humpback Whales in the deep water off the island's shore.

Access to the island is limited to a ferry or private boat. Island Packers Cruises is the longtime transportation company between the mainland and the five Channel Islands. Their ferries leave from  ports in Ventura Harbor and Santa Barbara.

"This year was unique," said Gomes, "Because the normal loading dock on Santa Cruz Island was condemned after a major storm last year,  it will have to be rebuilt. So, Island Packers Ferry in Ventura loaded our kayaks and takes us to Scorpion Harbor, about a one hour ferry ride. The ferry then anchors about 200 yards from shore and transferred us to small skiffs, about six at a time, ) to take us to shore. Our group of nine then grabbed our kayaks as they were being brought ashore by Island Packers."

They secured and stored their kayaks about 30 yards from the landing and afterwards off loaded their sea bags of supplies and camping gear.

"We had three bags weighing about 35 pounds each," said Gomes,  "We then hauled everything to the campgrounds, except our kayaks, about 1/3 mile and no carts or wheels were allowed."

Gomes and his group from Sacramento Sea Kayaker's enjoyed a five day of camping, kayaking and hiking expedition to the national park last month. Check out more Gomes' stunning kayaking and outdoor images on his Facebook page.

Over the Bow is a feature from Outside Adventure to the Max, telling the story behind the image. If you have a great picture with a great story, submit it to us at

Friday, October 14, 2016


“When you’re traveling with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there’s no other way to preserve it.” — Shauna Niequist

It's a romantic notion. Man versus nature. A single kayaker confronting the odds alone against the unforgiving sea or fierceness river.  As Rudyard Kipling wrote, "He travels the fastest who travels alone." Solo kayaking trip has all the elements of a classic tale with mythical bravery, hardship and solitude.

"You do miss people a bit but I‘m reasonably comfortable with my own company." Jason Beachcroft told Australian Geographic Outdoor  "The longest time without seeing even a fisherman was six days. When I did the solo traverse of the Alps I went 12 days without seeing anyone."
Adventurer Beachcroft last month become the first adventurer to kayak around Australia, including the Tasmania into his route. He took only limited electronic gear and depended on a compass, maps as well as GPS for back up. He accomplished two crossings of Bass Straight and paddled into Sydney Harbour's Rose Bay,  after 17-months and 18, 000 kilometers around the continent.
"You need to interpret with what you’re actually seeing and balance your fatigue level and skill." said Beachcroft,  "On a certain day I might plan to paddle from one bay to another and then look at the conditions and shelter. But I may change my plans, even from paddling to not paddling."

You don't have to circumnavigate Australia for solo paddling to make you feel heroic or have a life affirming moment. Sea kayaker and blogger Kate Hives wrote,  "My intention to paddle alone did not stem from a desire to be bold or to do something no one had ever done. I wanted to see what kind of decisions I might make, how I would cope with the lonely days on my own. I wanted to crawl out of my comfort zone and use it as a time for reflection."
Kate Hives_North Wales Solo Trip_2016 (1 of 1)-2.jpg
Kate Hives
The Vancouver Island based Hives wrote about her experiences in her blog At home on the water while paddling alone off the coast of North Wales last winter. She shared that as she ran into highly changeable weather conditions, she was met by fear and uncertainty and had to developed courage from within to overcome those fears."Normally the sea conditions would not have caused me to worry," wrote Hives, "But as the front closed in, the seas got bigger and bigger, the wind stronger and more powerful. It became a mind game of convincing myself that it wouldn’t get any worse.  I put my fear in a box, thanked it for keeping me safe, and tucked it away in my mind to make room for focus. All my senses were heightened..."

 An African proverb concluded,  "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."  So while many love the solitude of the solo paddle, most people like to make it a social activity by bringing friends and family along with them to share their experience. Paddlers say, that by kayaking together they can build stronger relationships between loved ones and enhanced their friendships with other boaters.

"I think there's safety in numbers when you paddle as a group." said Sacramento Paddle Pushers, founder Lynn Halsted,  "You can bounce ideas off each other, try out a new kayak or paddle, or event talk about carpooling to the next trip.  I've learned from watching others and I'm sure this has been true of other paddlers who learn from me."

Halsted started SPP, an online paddling meet up group six years ago in October 2010 with no ideas of what to expect. It quickly grew with the popularity of kayaking. The group now has close to 500 members presently with a solid core of 60 paddlers actively taking part.  Having fun on the water together is always a priority for the group, as it  plans and undertakes extensive paddling trips through out Northern California and elsewhere.
"I honestly have never paddled solo." said Halsted,  "At least I've not launched and started out solo intentionally.  There have been occasions where I'm in the lead or a sweep who is far enough away from the rest of the group, to consider myself solo."

Lynn Halsted

She admits there are some drawbacks to paddling with groups while trying detox away from the daily rush while spending time in the serenity of nature.
"The talking!' said Halsted,  "I prefer to paddle in mostly silence so I can become close to nature and enjoy the wildlife. So, paddling ahead or hanging back is a great way to obtain silence, while still remaining with the group. This allows me to take pictures of both our paddlers and wildlife."

 "There is nothing like paddling out with good friends to enjoy the day together," Hives agreed,  "It can certainly feels easier to motivate yourself to get out and paddle when there are others to go with. But making the decision to go out on your own draws focus towards the center of your passion. It highlights your strengths and weaknesses in a very real and immediate way." Heading out solo offers a unique opportunity to practice the courage to know you can do it and the humility to know when not to go. It is an exercise in self-awareness and self- discipline."

For both of them, kayaking whether alone or in a group is about simply being out there and embracing that amazing adrenaline rush or celebrating those mindful moments on the water.
"Heading out solo, " said Hives, "Offers a unique opportunity to practice the courage to know you can do it and the humility to know when not to go. It is an exercise in self awareness and self discipline."
"The great advantage to being in front (of the group) by yourself," added Halsted, "Is you get the perfect reflections off the water in front of you.  There's nothing like being the first to cut through glass like water.

Friday, October 7, 2016


"My ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arise above the plain like a column of smoke which would frequently disappear again in an instant." Meriwether Lewis, June 13, 1805

It was one of the those clear skied early autumn days still being on the border of summer. Hot enough that a parade of rafters was still coming through the trees and down the bank to the water. Armed with suntan lotion, coolers and whatever that they have that can float, the army of rafters were heading down river with the flow. It's a popular activity along the American River Parkway in Sacramento throughout the summer. The Lower American River provides a cool and relaxing way to escape the heat during the summer months along its urban waterway. Rafts and inter-tubes are a common sight at the Sunrise Access all the way down to River Bend Park.
As I slid my kayak between a few rafts, I get the usual question.
"How far down are you going?" one asked.
"Not going down river today," I reply, "I'm going to paddle upstream a couple of miles."

It was relatively easy paddle when I learned to paddle my way up the meandering Red River.  It twisted and turned along the North Dakota and Minnesota border. When the river turned, it forms a bend. The strongest current will usually be found on the outside of that curve. By staying to the inside of river, I found the slowest flow of water. There the gradient dropped in inches per mile. I could travel miles upstream with ease before turning around to go with its northern flow.

In the foothills of California, when there is water, it comes cascading down the canyons only to be captured by reservoirs and frugally drained into its rivers like the Lower American on its way to the sea. There is a constant push to stay moving or risk losing ground.

In the past couple of weeks,  I have been taking trips up some California rivers and then back down again. For me,  it's always challenging way for me to spend some time on the river without the bother of having to a shuttle. I ascended the waterway much like climbing up an assemblage of stairs. I'd crisscrossed the river's surface while paddling upstream, staying its inside, feeling the water pushing my boat backward. Rapids or fast water are hurdles along the way, however just above them are gentle pools to explore.

Scientists say that the sound of running water motivates the beaver to build. Something in the noise the churning water tells them to construct a dam. For them, it's the sound to make progress. For me, it's the call to "Hikayak" My paddling partner Carly Mariani's invented the term, a combination of hiking and kayaking when I took her on several mile trip up the North Fork of the American River.  I'm sure she expected a simple cruise but ended up ascending much of the river by foot, before getting a fun trip back down.

At the narrowest point of the rapid,  I locked my boat against the eddies, a relative calm where the main current flows reverse,  I climbed out of my kayak and push it through the fast water or leaning forward into the stream, I lash a bow line to the boat and waded through the water pulling my kayak behind me. It's a rocky trek through the fast-moving stream to the pool above. Water shoes are a must. Footing was uneven and slippery.

It's the drive to see what is around the next bend and the anticipation of not knowing what I will see. Above the rapids, there are placid pools of scenic beauty between the next set of rushing water. There the river spreads out in spaces as I circled around the shore and find a hidden cove of backwater. There the beavers had been busy working. Green and lush, it's a quiet little world to tour and reward of getting there before heading back to ride the bouncy rapids back.