Monthly Archives: December 2010

Getting kids Outdoors

It’s not easy getting kids outdoors these days. You’re competing against video games, TV and all sorts of handheld electronic devices, but my wife and I are still able to get them out, although it gets harder and harder.

Eventually I know they’ll come around (as I did) and realize the things outside are much more memorable, challenging, and fun than anything done inside (excluding sex, but that’s fun outside too).

For now though, we have to trick em into getting outside and playing. It’s easy to take them skiing and rafting, these are big fun expeditions that they love to do but we can’t do those things all the time, especially in Winter. So, like I said were forced to trick em into going outside on a more regular basis.

For instance, for Christmas, Santa brought my two young boys airsoft shotguns and pistols. These are the perfect toy for getting kids outside. They obviously can’t shoot them inside, but they desperately want to shoot them, so they beg me to go outside and shoot with them.

Eventually shooting targets turns to shooting at each other and pretty soon we’ve spent the entire cold winter day outside running around like little boys are supposed to.

I know in today’s PC world were not supposed to teach our kids war games, but if I didn’t play army growing up nearly every day, I probably wouldn’t have left my sweet Atari system. The ends justify the means, in this case.

When were out there running around hunting each other down, there is no boredom, the outdoors become a battlefield full of all sorts of possibilities. The fresh air rejuvenates the soul and makes them sleep the sleep of the truly tired. They want to go to bed after a day of outdoor play.

Another way we trick them is to tell them about the games we used to play when we were their ages. For instance my buddy had a muddy field that had a bit of a slope to it, when it rained that field became an absolute slippery slide.

We’d put on our worst clothes, grab a football and slide around trying to tackle one another. Eventually the game progressed into a mud fight or just a distance mud sliding contest or both.mud fight

At the end of it, we’d wash each other off with the freezing water from the garden hose. OOH a shower never felt so good after a winter mud session. Creative Commons License photo credit: melodramababs

It just so happens that we have a muddy field in our back yard and after telling them this story, wouldn’t you know it, my boys were putting on grubby old sweat pants and hand-me-down shirts and were heading outside to play in the mud.

My hope is, once the kids get enough outdoor exposure and realize how much fun they’re having outside, they won’t want to be inside much. Of course this may be a pipe dream because they see me inside playing my X-box 360 sometimes which reminds them of their systems. (bad daddy!)

But when they’re older and looking back on their childhood will they remember what level they reached in Halo 3, or that day they played in the mud until dark? It’s a no brainer.

Portable River Toilet: Part (2) doo, Choosing the Type

So now you know why you need a portable river toilet, here are my thoughts on how to go about choosing which one is right for you.

I have used three types of portable river toilets. 2 are large toilets that are needed for multi-day river trips and are secured on our whitewater raft. The other is a small, hand-made kayakers pooper.


Jon-ny Partner Toilet Systems

When I guided on the Grand Canyon we used large, fully contained steel containers called, Jon-ny Partner Toilet systems.  We’d usually bring two or three of these downstream depending on how many people and how many days we’d be on the river.

They’re made of strong aluminum, weigh 20 lbs empty and can accommodate 6 people for 10 days (assuming everyone only dumps once a day).

These are great systems. They’re well-built and if you clamp the lid on well,  they won’t leak. It comes with handy carrying handles which are crucial when they get near full.

They also have a pressure release valve which is really nice for trips in extreme heat. Heat and methane gas can lead to some nasty accidents if it’s not purged every now and again. Be sure to plug your nose when the purge happens.

These toilets are perfect for long trips like the grand canyon, but are probably overkill for shorter river trips. At over 500 bucks a pop you’ll only want to get this set-up if you’re planning a lot of grand canyon type trips. Even then it may be more economical to rent.

Eco-Safe Toilet

The toilet I use most of the time is the Eco-Safe toilet. It is a tough polyethylene tank which is made to fit into a “rocket box.”  It comes with a toilet seat which secures to the tank once you unscrew the top lid. The screw top has the required rubber gasket which keeps it from leaking even if upside down.

The eco-toilet can take up to 50 uses, so it’s perfect for a 4 day trip with 10 or 12 people. I’ve never filled one of these on our typical 4 day Rogue river trip.

What the hell’s a “rocket box”? A rocket box is just what it sounds like a box that’s used to store rockets. Were talking army surplus here. They were used to store 20mm rockets back in the Vietnam war days.

rocket box
20mm rocket box

The eco-safe toilet is made to fit perfectly into this 20mm rocket box. The rocket box is metal and can be locked shut with strong clasps on either side. It also has the crucial carrying handles.

If you buy an eco-safe toilet system you’ll also have to purchase a 20mm rocket box. The metal box will add some weight but it’s easily tied into a whitewater raft.

The eco toilet is around 200 bucks and is well worth the price. To alleviate some of the cost, split it with your river running buddies. Don’t forget: not everyone on the trip needs their own toilet, only one per trip is required, so it makes sense to go in on the purchase together.

Wag Bags

There are also some new systems out there called, “wag bags.” They are solid human waste pouches which actually turn your stuff into some weird gel and starts bio-degrading immediately. They have been approved by the DEQ and are safe to throw the used bags into a public refuse station (aka garbage can).

I have never used these bags but they sound pretty slick. They are approved for use on the Rogue river but I would call and ask if heading to other toilet required rivers.

Basic Requirements

Portable river toilets must have these traits: be waterproof, not have bag inserts, be big enough to accommodate your group, be washable and re-usable, and have a gasket on the lid.

There are other large toilet systems that fit these criteria but I’m not familiar with them so I excluded them here.

Portable Kayakers’ Pooper

Occasionally I’ll do a river trip without raft support, which means I need to carry all my supplies in the back of my whitewater kayak. I still need to present my toilet at the put-in but I obviously can’t fit a 20mm rocket box into my kayak.

The BLM website lays out an easy method for making your own kayakers’ toilet. I’ve followed their instructions and it’s very simple and effective. So not to re-invent the wheel, simply follow the directions on the previous BLM link.

Portable River Toilets: Part 1 Why you need one

Most multi-day river trips require the use of portable river toilets. Even if you’re floating a river that has outhouses or doesn’t require a portable toilet, you should still carry one.

As a General rule: If you’re doing an overnight river trip someone in your party should bring along a portable toilet whether it’s required or not.

On most wild and scenic or government controlled rivers they’ll check to make sure at least one portable toilet is with the group. They won’t allow you to put-in without one.

Typically when you check in at the ranger station to pick up your permit (if it’s a permitted river) they’ll check to see if you have a toilet. For the Rogue river all they really care about is whether or not the lid to the toilet has a rubber gasket. I guess this assures them that it won’t leak into the river if you lose it.

I’ve even had random toilet checks once I was on the river. A BLM raft will float into camp and demand to see your toilet setup. On the Rogue river they’ll do this even if you’re camped at a place with an outhouse.

But if there are outhouses why do I need one? You need one in case you’re forced to camp somewhere other than the designated campsites with outhouses. Don’t rely on the outhouses, they could be closed for repair, closed for cleaning, too nasty to enter, whatever, bring your own and you’ll never have to worry.

Don’t be the raft trip that ends up digging a hole behind a rock and burying your poop. Sure, you won’t be affected, once your done with camp you’ll float downstream and forget all about the mess you left, however the next group will notice.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across nasty toilet paper gardens despoiling otherwise beautiful riverscapes. No matter how well you’ve covered up your deed, forest animals will dig up the hole and spread the nasty stuff all over. It’s disgusting and easily avoided, bring your own toilet.

Continue reading Portable River Toilets: Part 1 Why you need one

Takelma Gorge Rogue River: Naming Therapy Falls

Back in 1988 or so, my brother, myself another guy, Mike  and a friend of ours, we’ll call him Doug, put in at the natural bridge park on the upper stretch of the rogue river. This run from natural bridge to river bridge (aka Takelma gorge) had been pioneered the summer before. It’s a 7 mile stretch of the Rogue that is very different from the mild-mannered lower sections  many river runners know and love.

natural bridge rogue river
put in for natural bridge

Takelma gorge is full of solid class 4 and one class 5, filled with nasty undercuts and unpredictable log jams. It’s run fairly routinely now, but back then we were pioneers.

We were following Doug through the rapids because he and Mike had been down twice before.

It was a great day in early July. We didn’t know Doug too well, and Mike not at all, but they were nice guys and  competent boaters. Doug, though seemed kind of off. He was quiet and kept shaking his head and staring up into the blue sky. His eyes were red as if he hadn’t slept in days. There was something about him that just wasn’t right.

Since we didn’t know him  well, we didn’t know if this was his normal function or not, so we kept our thoughts to ourselves.

About a third of the way down the run is a rapid called, “therapy falls.” This is its original name. I hear boaters also call it knob falls. It’s a nasty 20 foot spigot waterfall that was (it’s changed since) very difficult to line up with and boof. Of course, like most rapids on this stretch of river the falls hadn’t been named yet. It was on this day that it got its name. Continue reading Takelma Gorge Rogue River: Naming Therapy Falls

Winter Raft Storage: 7 Tips

Parked Rafts
Parked Rafts


Putting the raft away for the season is depressing, but it’s important to store it in a way that isn’t harmful to the life of the raft.

Here are some tips for storing your raft:

1. If possible leave it inflated. Not everyone has the space to store an inflated raft, but if you do, it is far better for the raft.

Don’t keep the raft inflated to its full capacity, deflate at least a quarter of the air from each chamber. Be sure all chambers have approximately the same pressure. You don’t need to measure the pressure, just eyeball it. If one chamber is inflated a lot more than another it can put a lot of strain on the baffles inside the raft.


2. Cover the raft. This is obvious, but even if you keep the raft inflated, cover it with a tarp. If it’s outside, use a sturdy tarp that will be able to withstand the weather. tie the tarp to the raft secure enough to withstand a windy day. You don’t want your raft absorbing all the rigors of winter without some protection.

3. Keep the raft off the ground. Try to get the raft off the floor whether it’s inflated or deflated. If you’re able to store it inflated and you have a raft trailer, leave it on the trailer.

If you don’t have a trailer or the space, consider suspending the partially inflated raft from the rafters of your garage. This is easier said than done, but it’s not too difficult to set up a nifty hanging system with ropes and pulleys.

This will hold up to 250 pounds

Racor PHL-1R Pro HeavyLift 4-by-4-Foot Cable-Lifted Storage Rack

To ease the strain of rope against rubber, string the rope through 2 inch PVC pipe. Place the raft on the pipe and hoist it up by pulling on the rope which is strung through ceiling mounted pulleys. Never hang a raft by the D-rings.

If you have no space for hanging or storing an inflated raft, then loosely roll the deflated boat with open valves and store it on some wood pallets. Cover the pallets with indoor outdoor carpeting to guard against abrasions. Even being off the ground those few inches will deter a lot of rodent activity. The last thing you want is to unroll a raft that’s been home to a couple hundred mice over the winter.

4. Storing the raft frame. If you’re able to keep the raft inflated keep the frame attached to the boat, however don’t keep the straps tight to the raft.

If you must deflate the raft, then store the frame wherever you have space. It’s okay to store the frame on edge if necessary, however be sure to pad any portions touching the ground.

If you must store it outside be sure it is covered with a good waterproof tarp. Before tarping it, pull the oarlocks out and store them indoors (be sure to keep the oarlock pins with the oarlocks).

5. Storing raft boxes and coolers. Pull the coolers and boxes from the boat and keep them indoors, or in the garage. We tend to use our coolers even in winter, however when not in use be sure you store the boxes with the clasps undone and the lids partially open. We usually shove 2 sticks under the lid at each end to keep some airflow happening. This helps with condensation and mold growth.

Don’t store anything inside the coolers unless your positive there’s no chance of the item holding moisture. In other words don’t store your strap bag full of straps in the cooler.

6. Storing Straps and ropes. Speaking of straps, it’s a good idea to sort through your straps and hang them. Not only will this keep them fresh and dry, but also you’ll know exactly how many you have and purchase what you need for the upcoming season. I don’t know how it happens but every trip I come home with one or two less straps (I blame my thieving brother).

If you’re really anal, pull all the rope from your rescue bags, coil it and hang it. This will assure dryness and you won’t be faced with a rotting rescue line come Spring.

7. What about the oars? No matter what kind of oars you own, it’s a good idea to store them upright and straight. Don’t hang them from the rafters unless they’re supported from many points. You don’t want to warp your oars.

If you have the clip-on oar blades, you should detach them from the shaft for long-term storage. Lubricate the latch to assure a rust free winter.

If you follow these tips you should pull your gear out in the Spring and not have to do any repairs due to poor raft storage techniques.

Pins and Clips vs. Standard Oarlocks

I’m going to start off  by telling you I am extremely biased in my opinion regarding pins and clips and standard oarlocks.

I’ve been rowing drift boats and rafts since I was 12 years old and I’ve always used standard oarlocks. However, since I’m reviewing each method, I’ll be as balanced as possible (pins and clips are for wussies).

Advantages of Standard Oarlocks

1. The oar isn’t locked into one position. Some people  would deem this a disadvantage, but it’s better to have your oar free. You need to be able to move your oar around in the oarlock.

There are countless times rowing that you need to pull your oar in to avoid hitting the bank or some other obstacle. The standard oarlock allows the free movement of the oar, it’s easy to pull them out of harms way. 

It’s also a lot easier to tuck your oars forward or back when you need to, like when you’re slipping through a tight slot. Hell, I’ve even had instances where I’ve had to pull the oar free of the oarlock altogether to keep it from snapping. This is impossible to do quickly with pins and clips.

2. Feathering the Oar. Some oars-people consider this showing off, but whenever I’m pushing a raft down river with standard oarlocks I always feather the oar so the blade is horizontal to the water as soon as I’ve pulled it from the water and am pulling it back to the top of the forward push.

I do this to help the blade cut through any wind resistance. It’s become a habit for me and I do it even when there isn’t any wind.

With pins and clips the oar is locked in place and can’t be feathered. It’s quite noticeable when a brisk wind comes up. Continue reading Pins and Clips vs. Standard Oarlocks

How to become a Kayak Instructor

Not to sound like an old man, but back in my day…

Let me start over, I started whitewater kayaking when I was 13 and became an instructor when I was 17, it was 1985. The only pre-requisite was to be a good kayaker and be able to teach kayaking to older people without sounding like a cocky 17-year-old punk.

Well, that’s an oversimplification. First I had to AB, (assistant boatman) for a couple of summers with the old instructors and learn how to teach from their examples.

Through trial and error over many years these kayak instructors had come up with what is today the foundation of the American Canoe Association’s (ACA) method of kayak instruction.

Todays Kayak Instructors

These days, if you want to become a kayak instructor you have to go through a certification process. I never went through the certification, I was grandfathered into the process. However these days, if you want to be a whitewater kayak instructor you must go through an ACA program.

If you want to pass the certification you still  need to be an exceptional kayaker with solid skills. No amount of classes will help with that, you have to get out there and paddle, paddle, paddle.

I didn’t find The ACA website very helpful as far as finding ways to get certified. They don’t have a comprehensive list of options, particularly if you live in the pacific northwest.

The website is the place to sign up for the required ACA and SEIC (safety education and instruction council) memberships. You need to be a member of both these entities to receive your kayak instructor certification.

The membership to both will cost you 65 bucks, I think there’s a discount if you’re under 23. Again this registration is required no matter what entity you use for the actual instruction.

Where to Go

If you’re from the northwest it’s difficult to figure out where to take these courses through the ACA website. After an exhaustive search, there aren’t too many choices. It will behoove you to sign up early for these fast filling courses. Here’s the few I know of in the northwest.

Deriemer Adventure Kayaking is located in Coloma California on the south fork of the American river. Mary Deriemer is the ACA instructor and is excellent in every way. I can personally attest to her skill in both kayaking and teaching…she’s also a super fun and positive person.

Her certification course is 2 days and costs 175$ at this writing. This does not include the ACA and SEIC membership dues. There are only 2 courses offered in 2011 so sign up soon.

She also offers a development course which is 3 days and costs 335$. There is also an advanced course which is 2 days and costs 295$.

eNRG Kayaking is located in Portland Oregon. I have no first hand knowledge of this program, but I do know the owner, Sam Drevo has been a name in kayaking circles for many years.

His program is 40 hours of instruction (either five, eight-hour days, or four, ten-hour days) and costs 500 dollars. This is around 100$ a day for instruction which seems pretty standard. I asked him about his pricing and training course, this was his honest and forthcoming response:

“When deciding who to take this course from you ought to consider the IT’s (instructor’s) experience.  I can tell you that this is the most comprehensive kayak course I teach.  I was coached by the Olympic coaches, and on the US team for almost 10 years as a Junior, and a senior in the disciplines of slalom, wildwater, freestyle, extreme and ocean surfing competition.  I am a Rescue 3 instructor, a WFR, and I’ve been trained as a lifeguard instructor with Red Cross.  I have taught thousands of people to kayak, and certified hundreds of instructors.  I run a great course, and it is worth every penny.”

Osprey kayaking  is located in Shasta California, however the website hasn’t been updated since 2008, and the owner never returned any of my calls so I don’t know if this is a viable option or not. I’m giving you the link in case you want to give them another try.

How to Apply for a Rogue River Permit

In my previous post I mentioned that from December 1st through January 31st the great rivers of the northwest are open for applying for river permits. This means that if you want to take a private trip down the wild and scenic rogue river between May 15th and October 15th, you need to apply for a river permit.

Here’s the process for applying for a Rogue River permit:

1. Get your friends and family involved. Call up your river running buddies and remind them that it’s river permit application time. Talk about possible dates that might work, then let them know that if you get a permit you’ll invite them along  as long as they reciprocate the favor. This will greatly increase your chances of actually getting on the river.

2. Deciding on Dates. Obviously you need to decide on dates that would work for your family to be on the river. That’s not an easy task considering you’re deciding on dates still many months away. The BLM has created this document to help you figure out which dates have the best chance of your application being picked in the lottery.

3. Go to this site and print an Application Fill out the application and fax it back to their office. You’ll need to send 6 dollars for each application or they won’t process it. If you don’t get a permit you’re out 6 bucks but it’s a small price to pay for getting a spot on the river.

4. Sit tight and wait for March. The lottery winners are announced in early March. There are two ways to find out whether you’re on the list. If you haven’t gotten a letter by March 12th…you didn’t get a permit. If you’re inpatient and can’t wait until March 12th or just need some closure, they list the successful applicants online at the BLM site.

If you don’t get a permit don’t be discouraged, I’ve applied every year since I was 18 and I’ve never been succesful. In spite of that I have never gone a season without floating the wild and scenic section of the Rogue river. In an upcoming post I’ll fill you in on the secret to getting on the river without being a lottery winner.

Teaching Kids to Ski: 7 Tips

Teaching kids to ski can seem like an impossible task. There’s so much to think about, gear, transportation to and from the mountain, not to mention actually showing them how to ski without killing themselves or you.

My kids are 8 and 10 and have been skiing since they were 4 and 6. They’re pretty darned good skiers now. They still have lots to learn but we feel we’ve done a good job teaching them the basics. They can ski most of the mountain and we don’t have to wait or worry about them.

We were successful because we followed these simple tips:

1. Keep it fun. We never made skiing a chore. We made it fun first and foremost. This meant we didn’t rush to get onto the slopes. All the kids really want to do when they get into a snow zone is play in the snow. We’d let them run around and play for about an hour before we went skiing. Letting them play helps in a lot of ways; it gets their yah-yahs out, and gives the whole day a feeling of fun.

2. Teaching Skiing. The fun continues on the ski slopes. When we first started out we’d take off our skis, and cart them up and down the bunny hill. One of us would be up and one down. The up person would release the mini-skier and they’d ski into the arms of the down person.

Whenever they’d fall we never made a big deal about it. We never coddled them, asking if they were okay…instead we’d laugh and describe how cool the crash looked.

Of course this was when they were little. If they’re a little bigger taking them up the bunny hill chair lift shouldn’t be too hard. Just be sure they know how to move around with their skis on and know what it feels like to slide before getting on the chair.

3. Teach by Example. Whenever possible show the kids what you want them to do. Show them how to stop, show them how to turn, exaggerate things so they can see what you mean. For example, really bend your knees and show them the different pressures you’re putting on your legs that allow you to turn.

Don’t try to explain everything, there’s no need for them to understand the physics involved, just demonstrate and let them figure it out.

4. Keep it Short. The ski teaching sessions shouldn’t be long. When kids are just starting out, don’t go beyond 30 minutes. Take lots of breaks. This is a great time to romp in the snow or head into the lodge and introduce them to the wonders of hot chocolate.

Even the act of taking off and putting on their own skis is a learning process; the more they do it the better they get. Think of these breaks as learning experiences.

Of course the older the kids your teaching to ski, the less breaks they’ll need. Keep your eyes open though, if they look like they’re getting frustrated or bored do something else.

5. Show them you’re Mortal. Once you graduate to the bigger slopes and you’re actually skiing on more than just the bunny hill, show them that it’s okay to fall. Ski in front of them and “accidentally” crash. It does wonders for a kid to see that even their parents who’ve been skiing for years still crash. It makes them feel good about their own crashes and usually gets them to crack up laughing.

6. Don’t constantly Instruct. Even if you see your kid making obvious mistakes, don’t be too quick to correct them. Just ignore it and remember to hit on it some other time, like maybe when you’re riding the lift.

7. Teach without Teaching. Say you notice your kids’ arms are getting behind them and they’re leaning back, play a game with them that makes them reach forward. I’m constantly pretending I’m flying a world war I fighter and I’m holding onto the front machine gun.

I’ll be behind them and “shoot” at them, then pass and allow them to get on my “tail”. They love this game and immediately extend their arms forward and start skiing better. 

This is also a great way to get them to try to follow your turns. It’s amazing watching them suddenly turning like pros trying to stay in my path. When they stop trying to turn they can do it without thinking. With this exercise, I’ve gotten their arms forward gotten them turning and never once “instructed.”

Another great lesson is to have them try to spray you with snow with a quick stop. Do it to them first then tell them to get you back. Ski below them, stop and have them come at you and try to spray. Be careful, they may misjudge and actually careen into you…be ready to move.

Stay Positive and be Patient

The first year or two can be frustrating, but stick with it because the payoff is huge. There’s no doubt that struggling with the kids is hard to do especially when the skiing is really good. Stick with it though; it’s only temporary.

All the struggles were worth it; now we rip around the mountain as a family. Watching them ski and have fun is an awesome experience.

Apply for Idaho River Permits

It’s time to look to the upcoming summer and put in your dates for securing a river permit for Idaho’s wild and scenic rivers.

It’s always tough to look so far ahead, I mean ski season just started, but you need to get on it and plan for your summer river trip.

You can apply online via the previous link until January 31st. Applying doesn’t guarantee a start, it’s a lottery(odds are 1 of 30 last I checked), but at least you’ll have a chance.

Better the Odds

To increase your chances remind your river running buddies to apply as well. Make a pact with them; if you get a permit you’ll invite them along, and they will reciprocate.

Pick a date you think will probably work then have your buddies pick the same day, this’ll increase your odds of one of you getting that start date. Don’t forget, anyone 18 years or older can apply, so if you buddy has kids…

The nice thing about figuring all this stuff out so early is that you’ll know whether or not you got a permit in March. If you or your friends got a permit you’ll have a couple of months to get the time off and plan for the trip.

Planning for these big river trips isn’t easy and will be a topic for an upcoming post on Continue reading Apply for Idaho River Permits