I’m Back – From a Back Injury, that is…

8 03 2014

You may have noticed I have not posted to my blog in months. If you’ve read my blogs, you know I’m a very active individual. My hearts desire is to be outside, breathing the air, being active. Whether hiking, trekking the Himalayas, paddling surf, or skiing the Wasatch, I live for outside activities. Travelling overseas is especially rewarding to me, whether soaking up cultural experiences or adventuring rivers or mountains.

My lifestyle is also my work. I have taken kayaking/paddlesports and wrapped into a way to earn my keep. I’ve been a brand manager for Feelfree Kayaks, a company that imports New Zealand-designed, Bangkok manufactured kayaks into the American market. And I’ve converted countless couch potatoes into outdoor enthusiasts as kayak guide / instructor for Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. I never tire of getting great gear into a customer’s hands and then hearing their stories of their adventures using it. To put it mildly, I am a tireless evangelist for outdoor recreation.

But my passion does involve risk. It can’t be avoided. It can be managed, and minimized, but not entirely eliminated. When it comes to kayak instruction or guiding, lifting boats is part of the work. I carry boats to the dock for renters. I set up lakeside trade show affairs involving dozens of kayak models. When guiding, I sometimes have a trailer of kayaks and have to lift then on/off of the trailer. I’ve done it thousands of times. I’m in my early 50’s.

So, the reason I have not posted to this site in months is a mistake I made loading a kayak onto my car. One day, in August 2013, I was in a rush to get extra boats to a kayak class and purposely grabbed a boat and heaved it onto my car. Not the right way. I have paid dearly for it. I strained the illiolumbar ligament in my back. It connects the 5th vertebrae to the hip. When it’s strained, it “refers” pain down the hip. For months, I had pain when sleeping in my back and hip. I could not get going in the morning without 20 minutes loosening my leg. I could not sit in a movie without writhing in pain.

I have been on workman’s comp since August. I still work, but on “limited duty.” I have cancelled a September trip to Yellowstone National Park, and a trip kayaking down the Mekong River from Vietnam through Laos and into Vietnam. Plus a two week ski trip to Jackson Hole Wyoming and Park City Utah. It has been depressing. Yet I have never skipped one single physical therapy routine.

If you’ve had back problems, you know my plight! But I am a fighter. I have been with a chiropractor and massage therapist. I have been with a physical therapist. I have been with a osteopathic doctor. And now, Pilates. Thousands of hours of work later, I am much improved. Slow, steady progress. So, I continue my daily two hours of physical therapy work. Yes. Two hours.

I have content for a few things I have done, some hiking trips and ski trips. Stay tuned, they are upcoming! And in just a few weeks I am snorkeling/camping/camping on the barrier reef in Belize!

I’m blogging again because I am proof positive HARD WORK PAYS OFF! I can engage in activities again. There will be new content very soon! You may see some content about working with physical limitations! I will never give up.

See you soon!


Hawke’s Bay, Napier and Wine Tasting

6 02 2013

IMG_0058As you know I live in Portland, Oregon – where it’s dark and rainy in December! So I was super excited to take a holiday in summery New Zealand! But I brought the rain with me. It was raining when I got to Palmerston North, and it was fickle – rain/sun/rain the first couple of days. The thing about New Zealand is that if you drive east, over the mountains, it’s often dry and warm from places west. So Paul made plans to take us to Hastings and Hawke’s Bay – his dad and sister live over there. Plus, we’d pay a visit to some of the wineries the area is known for. Sounded good to me!

This was going to be a great day. Paul, Liz, myself and Anthia loaded up and took off east – we’d breakfast on the way. One Kiwi dish that ought to be sampled by visitors are the savory pies. So, Paul had a favorite pie bakery where we’d stop and eat a mid morning breakfast.

Paul and Liz

Paul and Liz


They had all sorts of pies – chicken, turkey, pork, beef, but I chose the seafood. It was delicious! And we had some “doughnut” sweet type pastries, too.

I had to get some cappuccino to go with this. Having a “meat pie” for breakfast was new to me, but these were quite nice.

The irony here is that these pies were made by Cambodians! I think the bakery was named Angkor Wat Kiwi Bakery.

Once we arrived on the east side of the mountains, the sky cleared and it warmed up substantially-with no humidity! Over in the jewel-like suburb of Havelock North, the town was very neat and clean – houses with crisply tended yards, flowers everywhere, purple flowered jacaranda trees – and a blue sea beyond. Hard to resist an intoxicated feeling just being there.


A jacaranda tree – just like in Buenos Aires!

We picked up Paul’s dad in Havelock North and headed up into the coastal hills – to a Te Mata Peak – a place with a panoramic view of the whole Hawke’s Bay area!


View from Te Mata Peak


After a brief lunch visit at Paul’s sister’s house, we drove through Napier, a coastal town known for its Art-Deco architecture, to the Mission Estate Winery.

Napier is definitely sun-splashed. It’s got a mile-wide beach – but it’s not good for swimming as there are dangerous currents. You can swim further north.

Napier was flattened in 1931 by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. The town was subsequently rebuilt in the then-trendy art deco style and visitors come to see the architecture. It’s a major export port for wool, fruit and wines the area is famous for.

We pass through on our way, stopping at the marina area to the north.


There is someone launching a Feelfree Move sit on top kayak with a fishing set up, and there are Laser Class sailboats getting ready to race. I take a step into the waters and it would have been a decent swim…but we move on.

We check out the Mission Estate Winery – the oldest in New Zealand.

It reminds me of something out of Gone with the Wind, except that we’re in New Zealand. Grand style, grand semi circle entrance, big halls, and beautiful palm-studded grounds with tables set out.IMG_0064

IMG_0067People sitting at the tables enjoying fine food and drink. After some tasting, Paul bought a bottle of Chardonnay, and I a Merlot-Syrah. New Year’s is coming…


Holiday Season in New Zealand

3 02 2013

The first part of my New Zealand trip was to be five days with my friend Paul Lepper and his family, in Palmerston North. This would be a great introduction to Kiwi life. For the first part of my trip, I would spend time with 100% Kiwis – people who live and work in the heart of the country. My flight left Portland, Oregon – to Vancouver, British Columbia. There, I’d catch an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland. Once there, I’d hop on a 60-minute domestic flight to Palmerston North. Total trip length? Two hours to Vancouver and 14 hours from there to Auckland, plus layovers. Total was about 22 hours.

Preparation for grilling!

Preparation for grilling!

I have known Paul and his wife Liz for seven years. Paul designs kayaks for Feelfree Kayaks. I was a USA Brand Manager for Feelfree Kayak USA, which distributed Feelfree in America. I’d worked with Paul on many occasions – in Bangkok, where they are manufactured, or at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City, Utah. We’d trained sales reps. We’d worked on design tweaks. We’d discussed where the market is going. We’d talked manufacturing schedules. We’d shown boats to countless dealers. We’d tipped more than a few pints in Bangkok or Utah. But I had never been to New Zealand! Paul had told me many times I have to come and visit. The timing was right this time!

View from Paul's house

View from Paul’s house

I arrived December 28th – Liz met me at the airport – and I was surprised that it was maybe 10 minutes to their house! It was SO nice to see her!


Cows out back

Cows out back

They live on 40 acres, have 44 cows, two dogs, several sheep. The house is crescent shaped, partly to deflect wind. It’s a one-story house, so it kind of sprawls to account for the rooms. There is also a view of Mt Ruapehu. Once arrived I went to work tending the cows! This was a good thing for a jet lagged soul. I donned gum-shoes, and set about moving the cows from one paddock to another. The property also has a fabricating facility – and it is there that the kayak designs come to life. I did not take any pictures in there!

Liz and Anthia

Liz and Anthia

I met Paul’s daughter Anthia a and son Glen. Paul has done well for himself. Everyone is so nice and made me feel comfortable. Essentially I was made to feel part of the family. I had a room, and anything I needed don’t ask just grab, whether it be a beer or something from the refrigerator.


Something very down under!

The next day I joined Paul, Anthia and Liz on a journey to the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Hastings/Napier to see Paul’s dad. We would also visit a mountain with a terrific view, and a winery! Anthia lives in Melbourne, Australia and was home for the holidays…she had lots to say about Melbourne!

One thing about New Zealand is they are into sit on tops and there a lot of Feelfree Kayaks down there.

Down Under Part 2: New Zealand 2012-13

31 01 2013


If you’ve followed this blog since 2011, you may recall I went to Patagonia in November. On that trip, I spent a lot of time with Elwin and Angelique, from The Netherlands. We had so much fun that in July of 2012 they asked me, “Hey Rod, want to get together for a trip to New Zealand this winter? Of course it will be SUMMER there!” That deserved some serious consideration! Especially since I have friends living there! First, Paul Lepper, a kayak designer for my old company Feelfree Kayaks, who’s encouraged me to visit for several years. And two other friends, Oscar Manguy and Yurira Hernandez, Mexican kayak guides I met at the Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup in 2011…they work for NOLS in New Zealand. I figured this has got to be the perfect time to visit New Zealand. So I said, “You bet I want to go!” And a plan was hatched.

I’d spend New Year’s 2013 with Paul Lepper and his wife Liz on the North Island. Then fly to Christchurch, on the South Island, to meet up with Elwin and Angelique. Then we’d all get together with Oscar and Yurira. Following that, the merry trio would wander all around both islands, through cities, fiords, beaches, rivers, glaciated peaks and volcanoes as well as geysers. And of course Mount Doom, plus all the other Lord of the Rings places! We’d hike, kayak and maybe sail! And learn how the Kiwis do things. Meeting all these friends down there seemed like such a far fetched thing. But not really! One just needs to plan it! And then the pieces fall into place.

In 2012 I sent word to Paul Lepper and Oscar and Yurira and we coordinated schedules. I’d land 12/28/2012 and then spend New Year’s up in Palmerston North with Paul and his family. Then fly to Christchurch on January 2nd and pick up Angelique and Elwin. Then on the 3rd we’d meet up with Oscar and spend the day together. Following that, Elwin, myself and Angelique would head south, beginning our exploration of New Zealand’s South Island!

As you may know, I live in Portland, Oregon, and New Zealand is on the other side of the International Data Line. It’s actually 22 hours ahead of Portland. For jet lag concerns, well, it turns out it’s not that bad. If you just ignore the day difference. Pretend that time in New Zealand is now minus three hours. So it is “tomorrow minus three hours from now.”

About New Zealand

New Zealand is very isolated from the rest of the world. A lot more than even Australia. New Zealand sits apart from Australia geologically – it’s right on top of the division of the Australasian Plate and Pacific Plate. Further, New Zealand is 1,300 miles from Australia. New Zealand has been separated from Australia for about 90 million years. Therefore, the flora and fauna native to the islands have not had outside influence for most of that time. Before man landed, birds and sea mammals were the primary fauna. Without competition, some birds evolved to be wingless. There were no rats and even today there are no snakes. Insects and spiders are present but they are not nearly as numerous as elsewhere – you won’t find insect screens on windows!

New Zealand is a Commonwealth country – and that means much English heritage. Rugby and cricket are popular, and sailboat racing is a national obsession. Gardens are neatly tended, and farms won’t have derelict vehicles on the property. Bars and pubs, even those targeted to young people – still have traditional pint-swilling patrons gathering for the neighborhood gossip. The driving is most definitely on the left-side. It has 4.45 million residents. And you will see plenty of Maori, especially on the North Island. But nobody of African descent.

New Zealand is packed with interesting landscape features in a small area. Check out these largest/highest facts for Australasia:

Other unique New Zealand trivia:

  • Tipping in restaurants is not expected
  • Many locals go barefoot
  • Typically it’s cars towing trailers, boats, RVs, not trucks
  • Diesel costs 50 cents less than gasoline
  • Many cars and trucks are available in a diesel version not available in the USA
  • Many cars come in a station wagon version not available in the USA
  • Backpacking often means staying in a hut on the trail instead of a tent
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are by far the most popular
  • 75% of forest was cleared by Maori or Europeans for agriculture
  • Lupine comes in blue, purple, white, yellow and pink
  • It had the tallest geyser in the world at 1,500ft
  • Tree ferns are common – ferns with 25ft trunks
  • Homegrown food is common – not rare at all
  • You will pay 40 cents to $2 to have ketchup on your french fries
  • You probably will never see anyone of African ancestry. In a month in the country, the only people of African ancestry I saw were travelers in the Auckland Airport.
  • You will probably see no native land mammals
  • You will not see any crows

So stay tuned for blogs about the recent trip to New Zealand! It is a wonderful country to visit. And parts of it definitely do look like Patagonia!