Rivergator #002: Gear

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3/27/17

“That’s your lesson for today,” Lena declared Sunday afternoon. Lena von Machui - Quapaw Canoe Company secretary and first mate on the Rivergator expedition - shows me how to differentiate bobcat tracks from coyote tracks.

“The main thing is that you can tell it’s a coyote if you see a toe nail impression on the paw print.” She points to a track a few meters away. “See here, there’s no nail print on the bobcat print.” At the crossroads of coyote, bobcat, and deer tracks, I thank Lena for today’s lesson and respectfully unravel my tent on top of the tracks.

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Our first week on the Middle Mississippi was an orientation. Aside from falling into the daily paddle stroke rhythm, there are a lot of camping and production details for which I have begun to feel more experienced, already. Lena would say I’m obsessed. I don’t disagree. It’s the product of nerves and stress, having thousands of dollars of assets balancing atop a mountain of dry-bags in the belly of a canoe, or underneath the gunwales and seats, sitting in muddy Mississippi water in a “dry” bag.

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GEAR

Along with 120 pounds of shelter, clothing, some food, and mostly production equipment, I came with the intention to create enough content to make a documentary film. To do so, I learned in my last go-around the need for better audio, handheld shots, structured narrative, and a mission. This takes a boat-load of electronics. Sorry, pun.

In preparation for the trip, I reached out to a few folks for their guidance, depending on their expertise.

John Connelly paddled the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in 2016, from New York to Maine, and down the Maine Island Trail Network for a course of 1500 miles over 75 days for his Paddle Quest 1500. We sat down for coffee and besides two hours of great storytelling, I thought I would gear up in a similar way with a Solar Charging Kit, and consider buying a Garmin - neé Delorme - inReach Explorer for real-time tracking. Although we’ve had mostly grey days, I sprung for solar, and am impressed at the battery on the GoalZero Sherpa 100 (consider 98 Watt Hours for 3 cameras, a phone, laptop, GPS device, rechargeable AA batteries, and more).

Peter Robbins bicycled the Silk Road from China to Italy, and we met for a drink at Rosie’s in the Old Port, and we chat about his odyssey in 2016.  He mentions Delorme’s inReach Explorer and using it to track location for friends and family. That if I might want to borrow it, I could get my own subscription and commandeer his device. Since Day 1, I have been using the Garmin inReach Explorer to track in real-time (like John and Peter did) the expedition. I can send a ping to loved ones at nightfall, when we hit land, so they can interact with the map from a text message. It’s very neat, and all goes back to collecting as much information as I can, and share simultaneously.

Ever in the Patagonia loop, I stumbled onto the work of Nate Ptacek, in-house video producer and digital archivist for the company. Nate’s work caught my eye for the most recent video work for Save the Boundary Waters digital shorts. I saw beautiful footage from a canoe, and reached out for some peer advice on our similar situations. Thanks to some incredibly thorough and practical feedback, I met more than half of his suggestions with my own gear, and picked up a few specific items for canoe-specific rigging/ stowing with some two day shipping. I couldn’t be happier with his timely and perfect responses.

On the eve of Day 8, in Grand Tower, IL, we pulled into a campsite and were able to recharge, hang out in a pavilion we could call ‘our own,’ and find the first hot shower. It was here I spent hours dispelling sand out of every camera and piece of equipment with me. I brought some good luggage, and yet, mostly not.

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WHAT WORKED

Patagonia Stormfront 35L Backpack - Mostly great, worried about sand in the robust welded zipper. Nate’s biggest warning was keeping a camera in the boat both dry and padded. He recommends the Mountainsmith Cube to fit in a backpack, I had a Timbuk2 Messenger photo insert, and it is not a good fit for any quick-access. I aim to take a cue from Johnnie Driftwood and have a couple of smaller Pelican cases in arm’s length.

Sea to Summit Dry Bag - Using this small dry bag for all my audio equipment - sans lavalier microphones and boom pole. It doesn’t feel hearty enough, often it feels cold and damp within. I would go NRS for any dry bag in the future unless proven otherwise.

Off-brand pelican case - Calumet Photo went out of business in NYC not too long ago, and all I got was this case I’ve hardly used. When it arrived in Memphis 1/2” ajar - with locks on! - I know to never use this outside the state again.

I am currently figuring out the ways to waterproof my boom pole, and Manfrotto Video Tripod. I’m thinking art/drafting tube, fly fishing rod tube, and other options are welcome.

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ULTIMATELY

I would re-do all my gear packing, but for now, I can’t obsess over it. Instead, I will continue to relish in the deer tracks, coyote paw prints, wild mushrooms, and invasive garlic mustard greens that are abound. Those won’t get old. For now, I’ve got to air-dry the inside of my laptop’s Pelican Case, before dark. It seemed to have leaked.

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