Kickstarter Expedition, October 2012 Update

The current state of affairs. I experienced a significant number of delays that forced me to miss my weather window. The weather window was a concern from Day 1, and my memory tells me that I was pretty up front about it from the get go. After much reflection, it remains unclear how I could have avoided the delays in advance. I’m not sure that any of this is new information for anyone who has followed the twitter and facebook feeds all along, but for the sake of clarity, here are the basic delays.
Wave 1

5 weeks: lost to DIY food sourcing and preparation after failure of contracted company to deliver provisions as agreed.

2 weeks: lost to underestimation of waiting for gear as funds arrived, final gear prep, and fabrication of ultralight camera mounts.

1 week: lost to last-second planning of new provision strategy when Canada rejected allowing it through customs.

Wave 1 loss total: 8 weeks.

Adjustment to plan after Wave 1 delay: Likely forced to winter in Anchorage rather than completing route before snow. After the 5 week delay, I was forced to ditch any hope of the “Plan A” route across Great Bear Lake and scale back to Plan B (or was it C?) of paddling down the McKenzie.
Wave 2

1.5 weeks: lost to significant failed incomingb payment that was budgeted and promised

Wave 1 + Wave 2 total loss: 9.5 weeks.

Adjustment to plan after Wave 2 delay: Anchorage less likely. More realistically forced to winter in Alaskan interior.
Wave 3

Backstory: a combination of the backpack I custom fabricated from cuben fiber, and a broken collarbone in Q3 2010, a nerve in my right shoulder was pinched to the point of losing nearly all function and strength in my right hand. Medical advice indicated that continuing the same way may lead to permanent nerve damage and loss of function. Because of this, I went back to the maps and found a new route allowing me to start rafting on the Liard River (a tributary to the McKenzie) rather than picking up the McKenzie after a few weeks of road and trail riding. Three weeks on the bike was transferred to roughly three weeks on the raft. I had shipped supplies roughly one week forward of the Liard River access well in advance of my hand ceasing to work. Because of this, I requested that Canada Post transfer my gear from the forward post office, to the post office nearer the new river access. I was assured that this was a normal process that would take from 1-2 days because of the proximity of the two locations along the same postal route. Unfortunately that turned into…

4.5 Weeks: lost to undelivered promises, stalls, miscommunications, and insubordination between two Canada Post regional offices and two Canada Post branches. After waiting for 3.5 weeks, I was informed that a postal employee had unilaterally marked “Return to Sender” on all 6 packages at that location. The regional offices were eventually able to intercept 3 of the 6 packages, but couldn’t tell me which ones. After another week of waiting, I received 3 of the packages, as well as 3 packages from another post office (6 of 9 total). Two of the packages I’d previously deemed crucial were not intercepted. I could not continue without reordering the gear and waiting for another 7-10 business days and/or waiting for the “Return to Sender” packages to arrive at their original destinations, and have them resent.

Wave 1 + Wave 2 + Wave 3 total loss: 14 weeks.

Adjustment: With this size of delay, the best case scenario was reaching Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada by mid-late September. This is problematic for multiple reasons. 1) It is well above the Arctic Circle and winter weather can easily set in by this time. 2) Wintering in Canada would have violated my allotted time in Canada. 3) Prices in Inuvik are inflated by its remote location, fossil fuel fields, and various mining operations — making any tenure there cost prohibitive. 4) Continuing beyond Inuvik at that date would have required a complete change of gear and travel methods. 5) Extracting from Inuvik was cost-prohibitive as well.

During this waiting phase, I was a constant puppet of Canada Post. I was assured regularly that everything was shipped, or was otherwise handled, only to find out time and again that it wasn’t. After waiting one week, then two weeks, there was one adjusted plan bantered about among myself and various others. After waiting three weeks the plan was further strategized. Again after four weeks. It was still borderline until I actually saw the packages that arrived and their contents. Had the crucial gear arrived, I might have continued despite the time. So in effect, I was factoring in an extra two weeks (7-10 business days) of delay for that gear to be re-reshipped… leading to an effective delay of 16 weeks if the gear managed to arrive on time through some miracle.

With a 14 week delay and missing gear/supplies, a push for Inuvik exceeded my risk profile, and left me unable to afford to exist upon arrival there even in a best-case-scenario.

I chose to turn south to train and regroup… considering the delay to be part of the continuing story. I made it to Astoria on the Oregon Coast on September, 14. Some have stirred up much hullabaloo recently intimating that I’ve somehow misrepresented my whereabouts. This is factually incorrect, as you may observe in my Twitter update upon dining in my last restaurant before starting down the coast. It is clearly referenced as “Oregon Coast Trail. Mile Zero.” with accompanying photo of a cider I quite enjoyed. For the immediate future, I will continue to train and regroup along the Oregon Coast. During this time, I suspect I will remain without satellite phone (dead, factory recalled, not yet returned to me), without anything but sporadic internet at borrowed WiFi, and without a computer with a keyboard.

I’d love to be able to divulge my subsequent plans. However, as of yet, they are undetermined because of variables beyond my immediate control such as gap funding, and rumors that I’ve taken the Kickstarter money to live out some island fantasy — making attempts to obtain such funding more difficult. I sincerely hope that those engaged in the spreading of such rumors don’t succeed in turning their cynicism into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In any case, I’m not quitting. Please do be very aware that delays to the expedition’s progress lead directly to delays in the Kickstarter documentary. I suppose there’s always the option to cut together a lame documentary and vomit it out upon the world. I’d rather not go that route.

December 2014 UPDATE: While I have not given up on this project, I have been unable to self-fund a second attempt thus far. The “Fatbike Rafting the Arctic” expedition remains on hold pending funding.

Moving Beyond the Self-Aggrandizing Age of Adventure

First off, I don’t exempt myself from my own critiques. But now that that’s out of the way, I do find myself nostalgic for bygone ethea (pl. ethos, I had to look that one up) such as the Age of Discovery and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. There’s something rather hollow about the current formulaic template for expeditions. It doesn’t take long to intuit the formula, roughly construed as “blanking the blank to raise awareness for blank.”

Of course, this sort of behavior is common across the animal kingdom. Work in evolutionary biology has shown the tendency for individuals to “show off” in order to distinguish themselves. That’s probably a good thing in a certain light. I mean, a world of sameness is probably not a world any of us would be excited to live in. However, one of the requirements for this type of signaling to be optimally effective is that the activity must have a connection to whatever quality is being signaled. For instance, “handstand walking backwards across the frozen Great Bear Lake to raise awareness of malaria in Africa” forms neither a logical nor emotional attachment in those hearing it. Maybe if I punched up the funny it would at least resonate on that level.

‎”Science and exploration have never been at variance; rather, the desire for the pure elements of natural revelation lay at the source of that unquenchable power the “love of adventure.”

Of whatever nationality the explorer was always emboldened by that impulse, and, if there ever be a future of decadence, it will live again in his ungovernable heritage.” -Douglas Mawson, The Home of the Blizzard

Some adventurers are aware of how silly all of this can seem…

Awareness Campaigns Don’t {Always} Work

There is evidence that awareness campaigns don’t work. This has been shown in seafood awareness, cancer awareness, and AIDS awareness campaigns (among others). This simply demonstrates that exposure doesn’t itself lead to an improvement. While substantive connections are easy to make between awareness of sustainable seafood and ocean expeditions, it’s not as easy to make connections to diseases or negligibly related causes.

The Emptiness of the Current Ethos

There is one stark difference between legendary explorers and many contemporaries. Many expeditions of the past were undertaken for the purpose of increasing scientific understanding. At first glance, it’s easy to reduce this to the notion of geography. Granting that this is a worthy purpose that’s not particularly valuable in the age of satellite imagery, there were still myriad other scientific functions performed by expeditions and the explorers who undertook the adventures. Sir Douglas Mawson was a geologist. Robert Falcon Scott‘s expeditions contributed important biological, zoological, and geological findings. Roald Amundsen‘s expeditions were explicitly conducted for collection of scientific data. Vilhjalmur Stefansson was an ethnologist. You may also have heard of some dude named Charles Darwin, who had a slight impact on the course of science and the rest of human history.

In the case of expeditions receiving funding from organizations whose goals are not directly related to the expedition itself, the only real beneficiaries are those receiving the funding. It’s this reality that likely drives the hollow ring of adventurers attempting to drop messages of distant causes into stories of visceral personal experience.

“Exploration without science is tourism.” – American Astronomical Society

From the standpoint of individual people receiving messages meant to build awareness, there is something fundamentally different from a scientific expedition and an expedition raising awareness for a cause that needs scientific research done in a lab elsewhere. While that may be unfortunate, it is a fact that humans commit things to memory in relation to the emotions and context in which they’re received. The impact of messages communicated by expeditions as marketing tools will be in direct relation to the relationship between the message and the context of the expedition.

Solution? Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

The cost of expeditions is an unavoidable reality. The cost of scientific research is an unavoidable reality, particularly when research must be conducted in remote areas, and compounded by the common need to compare data from multiple remote areas that are distant from each other. The sophistication of modern science also tends to necessitate that analysis of gathered data must take place in centralized and immobile locations by large numbers of individuals. This makes the potential for every adventurer to be a scientist and for every scientist to spend large amounts of time in the field difficult. Enter Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.

“Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation is dedicated to improving the availability of scientific knowledge through partnerships between adventure athletes and scientists.” The organization, founded in January of 2011, does its best to match up scientists with adventurers. It also provides mentors and scientific advisors for adventurers. And of course, they provide information about expeditions they’re involved with.

Non-Disclaimer: As of this writing, I have no affiliation with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.

DOs and DONTs

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation is not going to be the solution for everyone. It’s likely that many expeditions and many scientific endeavors will fall outside the scope of “conservation”. However, their concept serves as a workable template for adventurers, scientists, and other sponsors considering joining forces to pull off expeditions.

Do

  • Relate expedition ecology to science related to similar ecology (Ocean voyages relate to ocean health, seafood, aquatic species, et cetera)
  • Relate expedition location to anthropology of proximate areas.
  • Relate expedition locales to climatology impacting local anthropological and biological stakeholders.
  • Apply the same principles of congruency between expedition and message to non-scientific partnerships.
Don’t
  • Assume that any cause will benefit from association with any expedition
  • Assume that “Awareness” will be memorable or have any impact on the behavior of individuals
In hindsight, much of this seems overly commonsensical. Unfortunately, the proliferation of awareness campaigns and the expeditions used as a vehicle to support them indicates that there’s a gap in common sense. The adventure of researching this piece has certainly changed my behavior in relationship to potential sponsors.
Please add your comments, questions, and additional suggestions below.

69 Signs You Live On a Boat

As a location decentric geo-neutral lifestyle constructing nomad time-exempt techno shama-lama-ding-dong slayer of all things that start with ‘cube’, you’ve probably had the disconcerting feeling of waking up and being freaked out for the few moments until your pupils catch up with your eyelids and your mind catches up with your GPS tracking system. If that lag time ever gets too long, refer back to this post. No, it’s not going to help if you’re covered in honey in the middle of a scorched expanse of sand with a column of ants approaching, but it will tell you whether or not you have ditched your landlubber lifestyle and now live on a boat. (a list of my faves compiled from the interwebs)

  1. Sleeping in a house makes you feel claustrophobic because there isn’t a hatch overhead to look at the stars.
  2. You know smaller is actually sometimes better.
  3. You find yourself bleeding from random places at random times.
  4. You and your girlfriend define “taking a break” as moving about six feet apart and looking in opposite directions.
  5. You avoid telling people you live on a boat just so you don’t have to explain to them how you shower… again.
  6. You are obsessed with the humidity…indoors.
  7. You think butter only comes soft
  8. All of your pots have removable handles.
  9. When invited to dinner at someone’s house you ask if you can have a shower.
  10. When invited to dinner at someone’s house you ask if you can do your laundry.
  11. The doctor assumes your body covered in random bruises is a sign of physical abuse.
  12. You are the only one who doesn’t want to win the big screen TV at the charity raffle.
  13. You think CSI is some sort of yacht club racing acronym.
  14. Kids think you’re the coolest person on earth.
  15. When you don’t like the neighborhood you just untie and move.
  16. You are content knowing that sailing is code for boat repair in exotic places.
  17. You can assemble a gourmet dinner using only one pot and a spork.
  18. Doing laundry involves a net bag, a moving boat, and 50 feet of line.
  19. You have to put up an umbrella inside.
  20. When asked for a piece of scratch paper, you hand them 80 grit.
  21. You truly don’t want anything for Chistmas that doesn’t come in PDF form or install on a Kindle.
  22. You only get seasick on land.
  23. Cardboard boxes, wrappers, and packing foam are thrown away before anything goes to the boat.
  24. You define a good anchorage as one where you can get WiFi.
  25. A fifteen minute job always takes and hour and a half since you have to pull everything out of all the storage lockers to find the right part, then the right tool, then put it all back.
  26. Your wallet contains more boat cards than business cards
  27. You know what a boat card is.
  28. When visiting ashore, you wake everbody at daylight screaming “We’re Aground”when you open your eyes and see trees.
  29. You define an easy chore as one where you only had to pull out 3 tool bags.
  30. You covet new solar panels more than a new car.
  31. You can identify boats by the sound of their halyard slapping against their mast.
  32. Removing things from the refrigerator is like playing Jenga.
  33. You gave up high heels for flipflops
  34. You’ve accidently put your life jacket on in a grocery store parking lot out of habit.
  35. You walk in the rain all the way back to your boat, carrying a backpack, a load of laundry,  groceries destined to fall out of their bag at any second… all while thinking how lucky you are.
  36. Filling the water tanks is a full day’s work.
  37. The only thing you do religiously on Sundays is wonder what day it is.
  38. The first thing you do after setting the hook is check to see who you know in the anchorage.
  39. Cutting the grass means diving over the side.
  40. You find a sea otter lounging in your cockpit when you get home.
  41. You think the roof leaking a little is no big deal.
  42. You wonder why it’s always low tide when taking stuff on or off the boat.
  43. A warm rum and coke won’t turn your stomach.
  44. When you try to sleep on land you find you can only sleep in hammock after rocking it.
  45. You understand and pay attention to the entire weather forecast.
  46. You spend weekends sitting in your cockpit with a boat hook beside you, waiting to fend off the next rental boat operator.
  47. You can heat your home with a Bic lighter.
  48. Every time you consider buying something the main consideration is what you’ll have to get rid of to make room for it.
  49. When visiting ashore you catch yourself pumping the handle on a faucet.
  50. You consider a three minute shower luxurious
  51. You covet your neighbor’s oven more than his wife.
  52. You measure the length of a shower in terms of quarters
  53. You know consider a freezer the ultimate luxury.
  54. You have to strap a bag full of water to your boom & wait a few hours before you can take a shower.
  55. You’ve sincerely wondered if there are any companies that make triangular bed sheets.
  56. You know that styrofoam was invented by satan, duct tape by God.
  57. When trying to register a new bank account or anything to do with government, their computer won’t accept the fact that you don’t have a residental address.
  58. All of your neighbors have your cellphone number, but only call when they want a weather report or for you to check on their boat.
  59. You realize previously asinine Jimmy Buffet songs have started to carry a deep philosophical significance.
  60. You only bring out the clear plastic Dixie cups for fancy occasions.
  61. You visit a friend’s house and worry that everything on the shelves will come crashing down when the boat heels.
  62. Getting the “heat” question for the 1,000th time drives you mad.
  63. Trying to find someone to sail away with you isn’t being romantic, it’s practical.
  64. Your first iPhone app was the Weather Channel.
  65. Your second was Tides app.
  66. Your homepage is the NOAA National Weather Service
  67. You’ve spent mornings standing in your underwear on the deck of someone else’s boat, adjusting halyards, lashing lines & freezing your ass off.
  68. You have given up trying to defend your lifestyle and are content with smugly thinking…..they don’t have a clue what they are missing.
  69. You have a clue what any of this means.

Have any to add… any favorites from this list?

The Paradox of Nature and Human Nature?

Nature restores human nature, yet human nature underestimates the value of nature. This tendency precludes our ability to take advantage of nature’s restorative power while leading to nature’s destruction.

This is one of my favorite academic articles ever. When I first read it, my immediate feeling was: “Holy @$%&! This validates the entire purpose of what I aim to achieve through 77Zero!” I know, I know… Confirmation bias much? In this case yes, but most people don’t need science to tell them that toiling indoors for a paycheck with which to purchase an endless supply of boredom isn’t the pinnacle of humanity. As soon as I say that, someone inevitably raises their hand saying, “but… but… but… I love my job.” That may be true, but I doubt it.

Abstract
Modern lifestyles disconnect people from nature, and this may have adverse consequences for the well-being of both humans and the environment. In two experiments, we found that although outdoor walks in nearby nature made participants much happier than indoor walks did, participants made affective forecasting errors, such that they systematically underestimated nature’s hedonic benefit. The pleasant moods experienced on outdoor nature walks facilitated a subjective sense of connection with nature, a construct strongly linked with concern for the environment and environmentally sustainable behavior. To the extent that affective forecasts determine choices, our findings suggest that people fail to maximize their time in nearby nature and thus miss opportunities to increase their happiness and relatedness to nature. Our findings suggest a happy path to sustainability, whereby contact with nature fosters individual happiness and environmentally responsible behavior. (Nisbet & Zelenski. 2011)

It’s sometimes mystifying to people who spend significant time in nature that so many others seem content to revel in the apparent malaise of the self-imposed human zoo. At the same time, we’ve also felt that moment of vibrating elation that forces us to smile in the wilderness — despite being the only people for miles. If a smile falls in the forest… Many of those moments occur after mornings when cozying up with someone warm in bed until the sun goes back down, or dissolving to dozen successive cups of coffee and a novel, seemed like a good idea. On those days… in those stay or go moments… we’re inclined to stay. It seems that our minds are perfectly content to choose the comfort of shelter and an exquisitely prepared meal. But it turns out, as many of us know, that these nesting instincts are a mirage. Humans are wild creatures — animals that thrive in an environment that provides more sensory input than human zookeepers architects can reproduce. The impulse to choose safety over sensation is a mirage.

Previous Findings

  • People habitually neglect the natural environment, yet contact with nature has considerable benefits
  • Contact with nature can: restore attentional resources
  • Contact with nature can: improve concentration in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Contact with nature can: speed recovery from illness, and reduce stress
  • Contact with nature may: reduce mortality risk
  • Subjective connection with nature: predicts environmentally sustainable behaviors, such as walking or cycling to conserve gas, signing a recycling petition, and self-identifying as an environmentalist

New Findings

  • When thinking about future events, people underestimate the positive benefit of being in nature to their own well-being
  • When thinking about future events, people overestimate the positive benefit of physical activity indoors
I think this study is important for a number of reasons. Not least of these is the ability to understand the motivations, or lack thereof, of others who think of nature with a chauvinistic, cavalier, or irreverent veneer. This study shows that this tendency indeed is a superficial misunderstanding of the human condition. Indeed, our fatally flawed inability to even predict what makes ourselves happy. Our imaginations are no substitute for the viscerality available to us.

“people who are more related to nature spend more time in nature and experience more happiness, and these effects seem to promote environmentally sustainable attitudes and behavior.” (ibid.)

The tendency to underestimate nature is a cognitive trap that we’re all bound to fall into. Recognizing this flaw in our own thinking is helpful, and I hope it may also help us to relate to others who haven’t yet crossed the threshold from thinking about nature to letting nature infuse our minds. Understanding this paradox is a clue to getting people to feel instead of imagine.

Go outside and play. Science has proven that you’ll like it more than you think.

Reference
Nisbet, E. K., & Zelenski, J. M. (2011). Underestimating Nearby Nature: Affective Forecasting Errors Obscure the Happy Path to Sustainability. Psychological Science, (August). doi:10.1177/0956797611418527