Jun 25 2009

Eternal memories…

by renee

5 more days. The many weeks we’ve been here now seem a blur but every moment spent with family and friends have been so precious and meaningful. Wonderful, wonderful adventures and conversations and moments where time just stops and you step out of the picture and look upon it as an everlasting gift.

One of those moments happened today as I stood on a cobblestone walkway beside the Assiniboine river and waved to  Andrew, Bennah, Reayah, Zach, Jaiden and Grandpa as they slowly paddled down to meet me. I had left them about 2 hours before, where the river ran through Assiniboine park by the zoo and had done some grocery shopping with Joyzers before meeting up with them again at the Forks. Someone had to meet them downstream so they didn’t have to paddle all the way back again against the current. 🙂

The kids were quiet and content and a little sun burnt. They locked up the canoe, then we had a quick picnic lunch under some shade and watched a guy parkour-ing or free running. Andrew still wanted to get some work done, so we left soon after. We dropped off Grandpa back at the zoo where his truck was, then he drove back to the Forks to pick up the canoe and we went home.

Jun 16 2009

The Race Project

by andrew

The Race Project… OE21G… Adventuring… it has many working titles at the moment. The short version goes like this:

For nearly a decade now, one of my close brothers (of which I have many among my spiritual family) has been teaching an Outdoor Adventuring course at a private, faith-based school in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Incorporating the necessary provincial requirements, the course qualifies as phys ed credit for the students and teaches them fundamental survival skills like navigation, fire building, shelter making, team dynamics, etc. They spend a lot of time during the year practicing what they learn. They go hiking and camping in a remote area during the Fall Camping Trip. They build quinzhees and spend a night in sub-freezing temperatures on the Winter Camping Trip. And the year is peppered with biking trips, obstacle runs, urban night hikes, and the like. At the end of the year they have a final written exam and a final practical exam.

The practical exam has evolved over the years, but it has always been modeled after the fine tradition of adventure racing (e.g. Eco-Challenge). The amazing part is that these are 9th, 10th, sometimes 11th grade students completing roughly 100 km / 62 miles entirely self-powered (on foot and bike) during a 36 hour period; including a campcraft phase during which they have to build and sleep in their own tarp shelters. Held at the beginning of June each year in Canada, temperatures can still hover close to freezing. Each student team races against each other and against a veteran team (Bravo) that ran the race as students themselves several years ago and has been coming back for the fun of it since then. They have to navigate their way through roughly 30 checkpoints armed with their compasses, cardinal-based riddle-like instructions, and an appreciation (usually begrudging) for their instructor’s sense of humor. The checkpoints take them through a surprising variety of terrain from urban environments and open road, to bush-whacking through provincial parks, across muddy landscapes, and wading (or swimming) through river-like flood-ways. These are just some of the challenges they face. In addition, the instructor placed several handicaps on team Bravo this year to even the playing field as much as possible (for example, they had two 90 minute penalties, an additional checkpoint, and found all their bikes disassembled at one of the transition points).

A while back another close brother of mine and I got it in our heads that this course (and all the real, bigger than life characters that surround it) would make an excellent documentary. So, for the last year and a half we’ve been exploring how to pull it all together into a coherent project. Part of the exploration has offered me the privilege of chasing the teams through the course in 2008 and 2009 grabbing as much footage and photography as I can on the run.

I’m really cutting my teeth on any semblance of video experience through the exercise and pushing my photography skills as well. One exciting thing for me personally, as I wade through all the material that I collected at this year’s race just over a week ago, is that I am noticing a huge improvement in both the footage and the photos. I think a big factor in this is that I was here ahead of time, which made it possible to help the instructor set up the course. I knew were every single checkpoint was and (more or less) how the teams would approach and leave. Also, having gone through the whole experience last year, I had a subconscious working model that helped me anticipate where great clips or shots might be likely to emerge.

In all this, though, I know that there is a bigger story to tell, and it almost seems murkier now with 2-years-worth of solid coverage. Each class and each year has its own independent theme tying everything together for that particular group of students. Start adding the years together, however, to define something as big as the overall course, and the story-telling challenge grows exponentially with each additional year considered. One area that is significantly lacking in our coverage are the background stories of the students themselves – their families – their other interests – and the events that shape them throughout the whole year in the class. Now that we’re mobile, I’m hoping that we can start to fill in a lot of the gaps.

One thing that bears mention, and I saw this emphasized for me personally this year in a profound way: the efforts and sacrifice of the support teams that make this race and the course itself possible are immeasurable. Renee and the kids supported me being away for several long evenings while we were setting up the course, and then they followed me / drove me around / rode around in the truck for two days straight while I chased the shots. The instructor’s family supports him in similar ways throughout the entire year. And the parents of the students entrust them to a very worthwhile course that has very real dangers. Bennah, my oldest son, also helped take some excellent photos at times and places that I simply couldn’t be all at once. Seeing all of that in a new way this year really impressed on me the desire to make this a significant stream in the documentary’s storyline.

Here are a few of the photos I took from that amazing weekend adventure (see link below for a gallery of many more photos from the 2009 race with details of this year’s story in all the captions):

Here’s a gallery of photos from the 2009 race. [NOTE: The 2008 and 2009 Exam Race galleries are password protected out of respect for the student’s privacy. You can email me for the access codes, or get them from Mr. Dave directly.]

Other fun / related resources:
Here is a Google map of the whole course for 2009.
Here are some of the photos from the 2008 race.

Jun 16 2009

Day 65: Some Updates

by andrew

I know things have been a bit quiet around here… and as you might guess – that’s because life has been everything but. Here are some of the highlights from the last couple weeks (not necessarily in chronological order):

  • I smoked my first bona fide Cuban cigar and sipped superb home-made wine while hanging out with good friends after a delectable BBQ in their back yard one perfect weekend evening
  • Renee and the kids loaned me out for a couple weeks to the Race Project (more on that in a bit)
  • We enjoyed a few evenings that were finally warm enough to sit around the camp fire
  • There was the epic shopping trip that started out as a Zach / daddy date but turned into the other kids (except Joy) coming along because Zach is such a generous guy he invited them too (he misses them when he does stuff by himself)… of course upon arrival at the store I discovered that my wallet had schemed against me and left itself back at the trailer… and the store doesn’t take checks… but thankfully I was able to scrounge some U.S. cash from my grab & go pack, which they were more than happy to take… trust me, even a horrible exchange rate loss is worth avoiding a full-reset and start-over on a shopping trip with 4 kids.
  • We met grandpa at The Forks and invaded the wonderful children’s museum there, wrapping up with peanuts, gyros, and tips to the buskers (street musicians)
  • And, among other things, we hoisted the anchors and unfurled the sails and relocated the trailer to be in position for the Race Project.

Jun 1 2009

My New Carbon Footprint

by andrew

My conscience has been bothering me for years about my boots. They are big and bulky. Heavy. Probably made in China by grossly underpaid and mistreated workers. I’m sure none of the materials are from recycled sources. And when I walk in them… to think of the scars they leave on the land: the crushed grass, the ruined flowers, the shattered twigs, and the horrendous indentations in dirt and mud alike! Oh the shame. They have no soul… I mean sole left (well, I’ve had them for years and years after all).

No longer!

I am now clad in the closest thing to my own two bare feet that can still get me past those dastardly “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs! I am as silent as a ninja. I bend scarcely a blade of grass when I glide across the land. It’s marvelous – rocks and sticks practically roll out of the way when I step so that the bare earth can cup my friendly feet. I am wearing Vibram FiveFingers where ever I go now.

These are the most amazing invention of the 21st century. Hands down. Or, feet down as it were. I recommend them without reservation. Unless, of course, you are the kind of person who prefers to check your toes into a normal 5-star shoe resort, letting them bask in a jacuzzi, sip rum and cokes, get pedicures and their hair styled, and sunbathe under the kind of arch support that could suspend the Golden Gate Bridge while pounding heals and knees against asphalt… well, then in that case these marvels of modern technology will not really interest you.

However, if you are anything like me and would much rather feel the mud between your toes, the general texture of each rock – sharp or smooth – on your arches (think reflexology, not coal walking), the water from creeks and streams flowing in and over and through and leaving your footwear, the soft ground soft, the hard ground hard, the steep inclines stable with 10 points of contact instead of 2, the climbing effortless (trees, rocks, and other obstacles like tall buildings), and the land itself – the terrain – the feedback from every chunk of 12 inch ground contacted and passed at a time… then you too would be in a blissful state of trekking paradise in these foot-gloves.

My one main concern was breatheability… Actually, I’d prefer to be barefoot 100% of the time. In fact, but for the aforementioned prejudicial policy many commercial facilities insist on maintaining – and for the tendency of terrain that I like exploring to be more impervious than my own skin – I would be barefoot all the time. In fact, my feet can manage to sweat in flip-flops, so breatheability was a top priority. In this and every other respect the Vibram KSOs have performed flawlessly.

This past week I’ve been helping set-up a 100 Km adventure race course across urban and wilderness environments. With my predisposition for barefooting I experienced practically zero break-in time for these “shoes” and found the course set-up to be the perfect excuse to put them to the test. I have walked, run, climbed, waded, and sparred across pavement, grass, railroad tracks, gravel (large and small), creeks, trails, swamps, forests, mud pits, rivers, trees, rocks, streets, churches, malls, restaurants, basketball courts, and more.

My feet were initially delightfully sore in the way that only using forgotten muscles regularly again can achieve. No blisters. No raw spots. It was as if my feet grew an impervious second sole. There, now I’ve used impervious twice in one post. Your mileage may vary. So far, only two complaints – they were slightly chilly wet in 45 F temp at night. But certainly not as cold as barefeet I suppose. The other problem that is likely not solvable by anyone or any footwear: I managed to stink them up in one week of swamp tromping despite the space-age-antimicrobial-odor-suppressing imbuement the soles are supposed to bear… washing them twice (once by hand and once in the laundry) didn’t even cure them. But I suspect a good soaking in miracle soap would.

So, all that said, I am ready for the course! I will be traveling much more light-footed this year while I’m shooting video and photos for the race, shadowing the student teams as they self-propel their way through the final challenge of the year. And I must close this by saying THANK YOU BEN for barefooting with me and for sending me the Vibram info years ago (it seems like years anyway). I certainly did not forget about it.

Jun 1 2009

Episode 2: Winnipeg

by andrew

Episode 2 of Journeys – a serial, rough-cut documentary composed of Motion Snapshots from our life on the road. June 2009: In this episode we arrive in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, play with friends, and fight with sticks!!!