Friday, October 16, 2009

NOLS New York City Reunion & Presentation

Over sixty NOLS Alumni, friends and families braved a cold, chilly nor’easter last night to attend the 2009 NOLS New York City Reunion & Presentation hosted by Patagonia SoHo, 101 Wooster Street. The venue was appropriate considering that the presentation by NOLS instructors Rob Walker and Karen Holm (photo top right) featured the pair’s six-month, 1,850-mile kayak traverse of Chilean Patagonia—the first of this spectacular coastal wilderness.

Prior to the official event some local Alums, NOLS staff from Lander, Karen and Rob gathered at nearby Puck Fair, an occasional NOLS Alumni hangout, for drinks, food, and conversation. As we talked I learned that when not working as NOLS instructors with the Wilderness Medicine Institute Rob is an Emergency Room and Life Flight Nurse and Karen teaches 8th grade in Bend Oregon.

Karen and Rob’s program consisted of a 35 minute digitized slide show set to music. Featured images included Chilean coastal flora and fauna, picturesque coastal scenes, portraits of some local inhabitants, and Rob and Karen, both in and out of their Feathercraft K1 Expedition kayaks. According to Rob, the Feathercraft K1 is not only the kayak used by NOLS on its Patagonia Sea Kayaking courses but also the standard kayak in Chilean coastal waters. After the slide presentation Rob and Karen answered questions.

Knowing adequate planning and preparation is the key to safe and successful expeditions; Rob invested two years of reading accounts from people who had paddled in the area and studying maps prior to their own departure. According to Rob there were some historical records of indigenous paddlers travelling the same route. On some of their portages the couple could easily see evidence of previous and numerous portages whiles other portages suggested that Karen and Rob were the first in recent times to make the portage. The couple took all their gear with them from the US to Chile, including their kayaks. They did arrange resupply drops, however.

While Karen and Rob did not paddle every day, their expedition lasted 170 days. They experienced rain on 105 of those days and still averaged over ten miles a day covering a total of 1,850 miles, the entire distance they had intended to paddle. They often paddled for days without seeing another person or boat as only about 50 paddlers are permitted in the waters during the paddling season. While they passed abundant shellfish they did not enjoy a single one, not only because to do so was illegal but also because it could be fatal. In recent years red tides have decimated the local shell fish populations and made shell fish potentially poisonous.

Avoiding dry suits because they thought the suits would not outlast the expedition, the paddlers opted for neoprene under Gore-Tex tops and bottoms. They carried old technology cameras because they reasoned that six months of salt air and humidity would decimate newer electronic cameras. They also carried solar chargers to recharge the batteries for their various electronic devices.

In spite of their Chilean and previous paddling experience, Rob says that neither he nor Karen considers themselves sea kayakers, but rather as adventures who kayak on open waters. Rob's outlook seems to capture the NOLS philosophy of engaging in safe and ecologically responsible wilderness travel, regardless of the location or season.

Before and after the presentation NOLS grads, friends and families reconnected with other area grads, caught up on what’s happening at NOLS, enjoyed hors d’ouvres, non-alcoholic drinks and a raffle (photo second from top right). Newlywed NOLS Alum Chris Saxman (photo third from top right) won the ice ax donated by Eastern Mountain Sports SoHo. I won a Mountain Hard Wear ball-cap style hat.

In addition to NOLS representatives (photo fourth from top right) from Lander, also present at this year’s reunion were representatives of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, Joe Gindoff (photo bottom right) and Jenny Hezel, who passed out literature, spoke briefly about the work and programs of the Conference, and were available to answer questions. Keep your eyes open for future programs and publicity involving both the Trail Conference and the local NOLS Alumni group.

Rumor has it that if a suitable location is secured NOLS will also be offering a weekend Wilderness First Aid Course in the New York metro area, so keep your eyes and ears open for this possibility as well.

Local Alumni should also mark their calendars for a NOLS Alumni hike on October 24 and the NOLS Alumni Holiday party on December 2. Other outings and gatherings are being planned and will be announced through the local list serve which can be joined through a link on the the NOLS Alumni home page.

As always, special acknowledgment and thanks is due Tobey, Lori and Gint, our three local NOLS NYC Alumni volunteer coordinators.

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