Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Car Crashes, Friends and Lucky Horseshoes

As you may have heard, Pack & Paddle made the news last week. A freak traffic accident on Pinhook Road sent a Mitsubishi Galant into the front of our building. I thought that we would blog this week on the event so that you could see some photos of the accident.

Becky and I were out of town when we got a frantic call from Skip. "A car has crashed into the building! It's inside the shop!". Wow - you don't get a call like that everyday. Skip was with a customer only 8 feet away from where the car came through the wall. No wonder he was shaken up! Jamie said "I heard a crash and started walking towards the window. That's when I heard vrrrooooom and the car came through the window".

What happened was that the Galant was rear ended on Pinhook. The drivers foot became pinned to the accelerator, taking her over the grassy corner, through the parking lot, between two cars, over the bike rack, over the blue ski chairs, through the small cypress fence and through the wall of the shop.

911 was called and the driver was extracted from the car. Then the car was extracted from the building and our staff did their best to clean up the mess. Mark Menou put some plywood up to seal the hole for the night and everyone headed home.

In thinking back, it's amazing how lucky we were in how things turned out. First and foremost, nobody was hurt (including the driver!). Secondly, the car came through the building in an area with a high beam - so no structural supporting posts were knocked out. Lastly, we were surrounded by friends that helped us through the event. Thanks go out to Harold Schoeffler and Mark Menou who were on the scene helping us to get the building secured. Also thanks to all who emailed and called with offers to help clean up, hammer nails and do whatever it took to get us operating again. My brother called and said that his 6 and 8 year old sons had seen the news and wanted to give us their money and their help to get P&P up and running again.

The picture below is very interesting. Notice the car in the building. Take a closer look at the hood and you'll see a lucky horseshoe that fell onto the hood of the car as it came into the building. This is like a sign that all things eventually turn out for the best. We are surrounded by friends and a community that showed they really care. Our shop is now all fixed up and ready for Christmas. We are so appreciative to all of you and look forward to the future!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Younger Generation

I've been thinking about what's to become of "the younger generation" that we all refer to. I am as guilty as anyone of thinking of today's kids as an internet obsessed, cell phone connected, ipod listening, video game playing group of clones that would keel over and die should they be dropped onto a deserted island without electricity. Just yesterday, I had an experience that made me rethink a lot of my attitudes.

This past Wednesday and Thursday, Becky and I teamed up with Wes and Chris Franciol to take a group of junior high boys on an overnight canoe trip. This group was made up of the 5th, 6th and 7th grade classes of St. John Berchmans (the boys side of the Academy of the Sacred Heart) school in Grand Coteau.

Our first goal was to teach the boys how to paddle a canoe correctly. The chaos of the first few minutes slowly progressed into a more and more orderly group of young kids piloting their own canoe. Each time that I would begin to worry that one of the teams would not be able to master their skills enough, the light would begin to dawn, confidence rise, scowls turn into smiles and the canoes to magically begin to travel in a straight line.

After we felt the boys had acquired enough skills, we loaded the boats with all the tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear and food for the night and headed off into the wilderness. With their loaded canoes and miles of water to cover before making it to our wilderness home for the night, I sensed from some of the boys that slightly nervous feeling about the uncertainty that lay ahead of them. Could they paddle the miles that it would take to make it to camp? Did they have the gear they needed? Would they be scared in the tent at night? Or maybe - would they just be bored after being disconnected from their electronics and with the outside world?

After a couple of miles, the few canoes that were still zig-zagging their way down the canals began to straighten out. Clumsiness with a paddle gave way to subtle skills that can only be learned from doing. And before long, this group of kids - most of whom had never been in a canoe a few hours before - were confidently powering themselves and their gear for the night towards a campsite of their own making.

We arrived at the Highland Waters primitive canoe-in campsite around 3pm. After unloading, the kids set their own tents up. I was amazed to watch the small tent city rise as the boys figured out on their own how to pitch their tents and set up camp. After setting camp, one of the teachers led a biology experiment. With the sun dropping in the sky, we all got back into the canoes and paddled around to the west side of the island we were camping on. We arrived just in time to see an amazing sunset over the Cypress lining the Bird Island Chute. The boys were so invigorated by the freedom of paddling their own canoes, that many of them took off in an informal race to a duck blind in the middle of the Chute.

As night fell and stomachs were filled, middle school madness took over as the boys played multiple games of "searchlight" and "hide and seek" in the dark woods near camp. Soon they gravitated towards our roaring campfire. The milled around and joked with each other until they suddenly heard the sound of Wes' Native American flute. Transfixed by the notes that dripped from this instrument whose sound is synonymous with wilderness, the boys listened and settled into their spots near the fire. Over the next few hours we all told ghost stories and indian legends, sang songs, told jokes and watched the golden light dance off the canopy of live oaks above our heads.

After a hearty breakfast the next day, we loaded the canoes and headed across the lake to see some of the older cypress that still lined the distant west shore of the Bird Island Chute. We talked about the value of mature Cypress forest to the migratory bird population and the dangers that the Cypress mulch industry to these Cypress. We saw an Osprey fly just overhead with a fish in its talons. All too soon, it was time to make our way back towards the park to meet the bus that would take the boys home.

I think it was about the time that the boys all lined up to shake our hands that it began to hit me. What I was seeing were bright, clear eyes of strong and enthusiastic boys. So much promise and potential. Maybe the failing of "the younger generation" did not fall with the younger generation at all.

Maybe "the younger generation" are "plugged in" because we as outdoor enthusiasts have not taken the intitiative to give them an option. As I saw their faces, I thought about the time and energy our scout leaders and my parents had invested in me when I was young. What a gift that turned out to be in my life.

And what a gift it was to have the honor of passing a little of that along to an amazing group of young men that I am proud to call "the next generation of outdoorsmen".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Paddling Season is Just Getting Cranked Up!

Kayakers and Canoeists in most of the country are putting their boats in mothballs and going into hibernation for the next 6 months. Here in Acadiana, the paddling season is just getting started. As October melds into November, lots of wonderful things are happening for those of us that own a paddle craft.

Gone is the heat and bugs that have plagued the last 3 months. The steady procession of cool fronts will be rolling through bringing the temperatures and humidity down. These breezes will keep the insects at bay as we enjoy the beautiful waters of our area. The leaf change is about to begin in earnest. All of which make a trip out to Lake Martin, Two O'clock Bayou, Buffalo Cove, Lake Fausse Point, the Vermilion River, Whiskey Chitto or any of the myriad of opportunities we have in our area a special treat.

If you are a kayak fisherman, things are just beginning to get good. The Redfish are up in the marsh, hungrily feeding on the grass shrimp and other critters that have been growing all summer in the back ponds and grass beds as the north winds and lower tides of fall push them out. The Speckled Trout are moving inland seeking the right salinities to spawn. And the flounder action at this time of year is second to none. In other words, Kayak Fishing season is officially on. If you don't have a fishing kayak - now is the time to get one and get in on the fun!

If you enjoy the company of a group when you head into the outdooors, the trips hosted by Pack & Paddle, the Lafayette Paddle Club and the Lafayette Kayak Fishing club are just ramping up into full gear. P&P has a big variety of trips coming up as well as some we have not yet announced. The Lafayette Paddle Club (www.lafayettepaddleclub.com) has a Archaeology Paddle Trip, a Black Creek Overnight Trip, a Christmas Paddle and much more coming up. The Lafayette Kayak Fishing Club (www.lafayettekayakfishing.com) has group trips to Dulac and Cypremort Point as well as a Kris Kringle kayak fishing tournament coming up soon.

Whether you enjoy the solitude of paddling or want to get involved in a group paddle or kayak fishing trip - get your gear out and cleaned up, because Paddling Season in Acadiana is just getting ready to start!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Wind Is Free!

Recently, Becky and I were at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show where we were testing out new kayaks and canoes that we were considering carrying here at the shop. It was exciting to see the new innovations from Native Watercraft, Wilderness Systems and all the other boat lines out there. But as we tested boats, something we weren't expecting took us back to a place in our past that we will always treasure.

During the demo, we began to test the Hobie Mirage Drive kayaks. The ease of moving across the water with leg power was fun and addictive. But what kept catching Becky's eye was the beautiful red Adventure Island Kayak/Sailboat hybrid.

The Adventure Island was sitting off to the right side, and every time it would go out, Becky would watch it longingly. Soon she was wading through the waist deep water to hop onto the sleek, beautiful craft. What many of you may not know about Becky and I is that probably the only reason we met was sailing.

In those days (1984), P&P sold Hobie sailboats and Windsurfers. Becky grew up in Lake Charles and spent every free afternoon during high school sailing on the lake. While we were dating and early in our marriage, we spent countless hours Windsurfing and sailing many different types of boats. Since living in Lafayette, neither of us has been on a sailboat - and the Adventure Island was calling her strongly.

As Becky pedaled the boat out of the test area and onto the open lake, I could tell she was in love. She unfurled the sail, and a puff of wind set her skimming across the water.

Afterwards, we talked about our time out on the sailboat. There's something about sailing and pedaling these Hobie kayaks that took us back to our early days of windsurfing and Hobie Cat sailing. I'm not sure if it's the feeling of freedom, the exhilaration and speed, the ease and fun of the boats or simply the fact that there's nothing to do but to sit, relax, explore and enjoy our time on the water.

We look forward to sharing the world of pedal driven kayaks and kayak sailing with you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Under the Red Oak

If you've been in lately you've probably noticed a few things happening on the boat room end of our parking lot. This past summer we built a privacy fence along the property line. Constructed of Cedar and corrugated metal, this unique fence makes our yard cozier and will provide a backdrop for everything else that we plan to do in this area.

The next thing that made an appearance were some 4ft wide culverts set on their ends. The tall one serves as a base for the Cypress Cistern that now sits on it. The rest of the culverts will become planters.

All of this activity will create a nice outdoor space for events such as our Outdoor Gear Garage Sale (Sept 26th - see calendar of events) and other things that we are currently working on. All of this is being created in the shadow of our beautiful Native Red Oak. Jay Branch of Bob's tree preservation said that this is one of the few (and largest) Native Red Oak that he's seen in Lafayette.

If you haven't noticed what's going on, take a quick look next time you're in the shop.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Father, Son and Wilderness

Recently, our son Matt and I spent a memorable 5 days in the Pecos Wilderness of New Mexico. The trip was a few weeks in advance of Matt setting off on the adventure of pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Georgia. His pending move is what sent us to that dusty trailhead northeast of Santa Fe - looking for adventure and memories together before he moved.

The Pecos Wilderness is a prisine and beautiful Wilderness area that contains 13,000 foot peaks, trout streams, incredible wildflower displays and miles of amazing trail. One of the crowns of this Wilderness is the Truchas peaks - which were our goal for this trip. We hiked in, climbing steadily past Pecos Baldy Lake, across the incredible Trail Riders Wall, and then into the basin below the towering Truchas Peaks.

Over the next few days, we had some unforgettable adventures climbing peaks, camping out, fly fishing and hiking trails. On one memorable day, we attempted to climb Truchas Peak. We climbed up off the trail and reorganized into a single pack. Over the next couple of hours, we ascended a sub-peak of Truchas and decided that was high enough for that day. The time we spent on the peak soaking in the views was amazing. As we sat behind a rock on the edge of the peak sharing a powerbar, an Osprey rocketed by at mach speed. We both took this bird as a good omen for the future and headed back down the mountain.

That night we spent at Beatty's Flats after hiking through head-high wildflowers all afternoon. Later I got to watch Matt catch his first native brown trout on a fly rod near our campsite as the sun dropped out of the sky. The next day brought more fly fishing at Beatty's flats and then on the Pecos River. We waded in our hiking shoes - letting them dry out on the trail as we walked. All too soon we found ourselves back at the trailhead sign and our trip was over.
I've been thinking a lot about our trip during the month that has passed since we stood together at the trailhead in New Mexico. I've struggled to put my finger on what it meant to spend those days with my son in the wilderness. Life is changing for both of us. Matt and his wife are on to a new huge adventure in Georgia. Becky and I are even more like empty nesters than we were before. None of us know what the future holds. The thing I do know is that I am so thankful for the time I was able to spend with Matt before they moved on.

One thing that occurs to me in all of this is that the Wilderness is one of the threads that ties our family together. Wilderness serves as a backdrop for us to be together, enjoy each other and build memories for the future. It allows us to accomplish something that we can be proud of and remember. Wilderness cuts through the clutter of life - no work stress, no cell phone, no email.

Nothing to do but to experience life together. And what would be a better way to send a son off to new adventures than to have one with him?

Monday, June 8, 2009

First Time Outdoors Students Visit the Gates of Narnia

Introduction from John:
As a parent, it's always gratifying to see your kids "give something back". Our son Matt and his wife Rebecca just finished their first year teaching high school in Opelousas. To culminate the year, they gave 8 students the trip of a lifetime. Four days and three night floating the Buffalo National River in Arkansas was the backdrop to an amazing experience for this group of kids. These students had no canoeing, camping or other real outdoor experience before this trip. Matt is my "guest blogger" for this email. I think you'll enjoy experiencing the river through this blog entry.

First Time Outdoors Students Visit the Gates of Narnia

My wife Rebecca and I have been teaching high school at the Magnet Academy for Cultural Arts in Opelousas, LA for the past year and all of our hard work finally paid off with the opportunity to take eight of our students on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. It was their first real outdoor experience and well worth the work we put into it. We spent four days and three nights on the river, and they experienced many of the joys and miseries that make the outdoor experience so special. They slept on the ground, ate food off of rocks, made s’mores (a first for several), paddled until they got blisters, swamped canoes, rescued their swamped canoes, skipped rocks, hiked in their rain gear, jumped off of rocks, swung from ropes, and visited “Narnia”.

Our trip began with the obstacle of finding enough decent gear for eight first time campers. Rebecca and I sent emails and made calls to all of our friends who we thought might have gear to borrow. We had lists of who offered what and who needed what. It was really a big mess to try and figure out. Luckily, my parents have tons of leftover gear from an adventure crew they used to lead, and Rebecca’s brother Loren also had a lot for his group of students at Hope for Opelousas. Before we even left for the trip we had spent many many hours working with organization, planning, and gear.

When we finally got on our way we were definitely ready for a vacation. The river was spectacular, the first two days provided crystal clear water and beautiful warm weather. With all of the trials trying to get eight students onto the Buffalo we were not able to start our first day’s paddle until 5:00 and still had several miles to paddle. By the time we got to camp everyone was tired and hungry. We collected an enormous amount of fire wood and burned it all up to have a bed of coals on which we cooked our first meal. We made pizza inside of pita pockets and cooked them in foil packets. The kids were so hungry they were using rocks as spoons to eat the extra piazza sauce from the can. We then played music, made s’mores, and hung out around the fire. From there it was straight to bed.

Our second day was much more relaxed, we were able to pull out art supplies and skip rocks. Somehow it is just more fun to draw on each other than on paper, oh well. For the students, one of the very frightening things about spending several days away from modern amenities was going to the bathroom. The students coined the term visiting “Narnia”, and in order to insure privacy they went in groups and left several brave friends at “the gates of Narnia”. For each of the challenges of life in the woods they were able to come up with their own unique way of coping.

On the morning of the third day we planed to hike from our camp to a knife edge ridge (a narrow ridge about the width of a sidewalk with cliffs on either side). We woke up to dreary, drizzly weather and contemplated skipping the hike, but it is always the somewhat miserable experiences that you remember the most, so we had them all put on their rain gear and get ready for the hike. To begin you have to walk quite a ways through waist high grass then along a dirt road. We then climbed from the road up the side of a hill and onto the ridge. As it was still rainy most of the kids were not up for walking across. Two of them did though; it really is scary especially in the rain. Afterward when we asked them if they were sacred they said “No you wouldn’t have let us do it if it was dangerous.” It’s a little disconcerting to have that kind of trust from someone.

When we got back from the hike we packed for our longest day of paddling. The weather in the morning was beautiful and we were able to jump off of several rocks into the river and do a couple of rope swings. It was really a fantastic day for a while. After lunch we had an experience which really made the trip memorable. There was a bend in the river where the entire flow passes through a fallen tree. When approaching it you can tell that it will be bad but as hard as you can paddle to get away from it the current is strong enough to overcome. It swept all five of our boats into the tree and flipped three of them, we had gear everywhere, three boats floating down the river and six people trying to swim to shore. By the end of it we were able to recover almost all of the equipment, but everything and everyone was soaking wet, even our dry boxes containing our sleeping pads, stove and cooking equipment, and tents were sloshing with water. To make matters worse it started raining; but even this could not dampen our students' spirits. One of our students confessed, “I wouldn’t want to do it again but it was really exciting.” We finished the last several miles and set up our wet equipment on a wet, sandy gravel bar in the rain then we settled in for our last night. In order to stay warm we had to get everyone dry, so we all sat facing one direction and let the kids dry off and change in the back of the tarp. Finally once everyone was in dry cloths the rain stopped and we cooked our last meal. Needless to say we were all exhausted and we made it an early night.

We woke up early on the last morning and paddled out 9 miles in the rain to Gilbert. We all changed into car cloths and headed to a restaurant for an early lunch. Even after a real difficult last day and a half, all of the kids were in high spirits. Many said it was the best senior trip they could imagine and all hoped to have more opportunities to do things in the outdoors in the future.

When we returned home at 9:30 p.m. Rebecca and I laid out all of the equipment in our garage to dry. Then headed to bed after deciding to deal with the mess in the morning!
We would like to give a special thanks to Pack & Paddle, John and Becky Williams, Donna and Nathan Carriere, Loren Carriere and Hope for Opelousas, Wes and Kris Franciol, Jason and Jenny Cohen, Ashley Carriere, Jamie Gondron, Jessica Howell, and all of the parents. Without your help our trip and this amazing experience for our students would not have been possible.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spring 2009 Highlights

It's already almost June, and spring has most certainly slid right into summer. The spring season at P&P has been busy, busy, busy. Over the last few months, we have hosted over 30 events and trips. Early in the season we endured rain, rain, rain. But to the credit of all of our great participants - this didn't seem to dampen spirits. We had so much fun and we as a staff would like to thank all of you for that.
For this blog entry, I decided to hit a few of the highlights: (click the photo if you would like to see more pictures of a certain event)

The season began with a trip to the Backbone trail. Wet weather did not dampen the spirits of the people on this trip.

Our Valentines trip was wet, but memorable. We arrived at Lake Martin in the rain, but undaunted, pressed on. After the paddle tour, we headed back to the shop for beautiful music, fun and amazing food.

Our sunrise paddle at Lake Martin is always special - and this trip was no exception. Cool and misty weather treated the group to a view of Lake Martin that you can only get if you rise early.

In late February, we led a corageous group for an overnight canoe trip down Black Creek. We had rain, cold, sun, and even snow during our time on the river. The group did a great job and had a memorable time on the river together.

March brought us on a great kayak fishing trip down in Grand Isle. We all enjoyed the hospitality of Danny and Kristin Wray as well as the beautiful weather and good fishing.

The spring migration took us out to the northern Atchafalaya Basin to Indian Bayou. We enjoyed a paddle trip and a hike to this unique area on the same weekend. We enjoyed good weather and wildlife watching.

Michael Pears hosted his ever-popular kayak fishing seminars this spring. Both sessions were well attended as Michael gave lots of good fishing advice and gave away his favorite 30 spots to kayak fish across the state.

Our Canoeing 101 class was a lot of fun - as students learned proper technique for forward strokes, back strokes, Draws and J-Strokes. A good time was had by all!

Our marquis event of the spring was a talk and slideshow by Jon Bowermaster. His tales of paddling all over the world allowed everyone to live through the lens of his camera. His photos were awesome. His stories were amazing. Jon commented that this was the largest and most enthusiastic crowd he has spoken to in this type of setting and was very impressed with the outdoor community of Lafayette.

The first ever P&P trip down the Wild Nezpique was a big success. The group was aided by a good current and favorable winds - getting them in to the landing just before the skies opened up.

Buffalo Cove is always an adventure - and this year was no exception. We floated high water, battled through water lilies enjoyed every minute of it. We saw a pair of Osprey on its nest, snakes clinging to trees and even the illusive Prethonotary Warbler.

These are just a few of the trips and memories that we have of the first half of 2009.
If you would like to see photos of all our events and trips, click here.

Yes - it's been a busy time. We are so thankful that we can be part of the Lafayette outdoor community and look forward to the summer and fall!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jon Bowermaster to Speak at Pack & Paddle Venue

I wanted to give you, my faithful blog readers, the first heads-up on a VERY exciting event coming up in May. Through months of phone calls and emails, we have been able to arrange to bring National Geographic author, adventurer and living legend Jon Bowermaster to Lafayette for a talk and slideshow.

The date for the event is Wednesday, May 6th.

We being with an open house at 6pm where you can meet Jon in person. We'll have food from Great Harvest Bakery and live music with Jane Vidrine. The slidshow and talk begins at 7- but get there early for good food, good friends and a good seat.

This very special event has been made possible through a partnership with Mountain Hardwear. Representatives of Mountain Hardwear will be on hand at the event to answer questions about gear and for give-aways.

This event will benefit the Basinkeeper program which works tirelessly to protect our local wilderness wonderland - the Atchafalaya Basin. (http://www.basinkeeper.org/) In keeping with all events at the Pack & Paddle Venue - this will be a free event. We are asking that all attendees consider donating $10 or more per person that night to this worthy cause. All donations collected will go directly to the Basinkeeper program.

Here's a little background on Jon:

For more than 20 years, writer and filmmaker JON BOWERMASTER has explored the environment and exotic corners of the world for a variety of national and international publications, primarily for the National Geographic Society and the New York Times.

Author of eight books, three with renowned polar explorer Will Steger, his travels have taken him to seven continents and included two-person sledging across Antarctica, sailing a 60-foot sailboat across the Atlantic, and first descents of rivers from Chile to China.

His expeditions have been supported by six grants from National Geographic’s Expeditions Council.

Begun in 1999, Jon’s OCEANS 8 project is a series of expeditions launched to explore the world’s oceans from the seat of a sea kayak. Used as both transportation and as floating ambassadors, sea kayaks allow Bowermaster and his teams— comprised of some of the world’s top photographers, filmmakers, scientists and navigators—to reach corners of the world rarely seen.

To see a full bio on Jon, go to http://jonbowermaster.com/pdf/jb.pdf
For more info on Jon Bowermaster go to: www.jonbowermaster.com

About our event:
Jon will present a slideshow about his Oceans 8 project. This will give you a unique opportunity to hear about his adventures sea-kayaking around the world from the adventurer himself.

These trips have taken him to the Aleutian Islands, Vietnam, French Polynesia, South America’s Altiplano and the wild coasts of Gabon, Croatia and Tasmania and the Antarctic Peninsula. The goal of each expedition was adventure crossed with an assessment of the health of the seas and the lives of the people who live and depend on them. Around the planet more than 4 billion people live within 35 miles of a coast and depend on the seas that surround. Meanwhile, impacts on marine ecosystems have compromised the relationship between the world’s oceans and humanity. The OCEANS 8 project allowed for a unique exploration of this profound connection.

Besides his work for periodicals such as The New York Times and National Geographic, Jon has the following book and film credits:
University of Iowa Press, 1987
Alfred A. Knopf, 1990 (with Will Steger)
Alfred A. Knopf, 1991 (with Will Steger)
Bulfinch Press, 1993
Scholastic Press, 1995 (with Will Steger)
National Geographic Adventure Press, 2001
National Geographic Society, 2001
Lyons Press, 2004
Birthplace of the Winds (Aleutian Islands), 1999
The Dangerous Archipelago (French Polynesia), 2002
A Slowboat to Somewhere (French Polynesia), 2002
Into the Altiplano (Chile/Argentina/Bolivia), 2003
The Lost Coast of Gabon, 2004
Borderland (Croatia), 2005
Around Tasmania, 2006