Skip Brown shreds the meadow.We’re so close. We’ve waited all winter for this day: good snow, good wind from the right direction, sunny, not too cold, and we’re about as deep into the West Virginia backcountry as you can get on a road.And we’re stuck in a ditch.The snowplow had turned around miles ago, so we slipped and skidded our pickup almost to the trailhead before sliding into a ditch. Behind the pickup, we’re towing a snow machine, a four-wheeler outfitted with tracks instead of wheels. It’s a cross between a snowmobile and a small tank and it’ll get us into the good stuff if we can ever get it off the trailer.Snow kiting is a colder version of kite boarding, and it’s grown rapidly in recent years. Out West, where there’s a lot of snow and above tree line terrain, the sport has taken off. Here in the East it’s harder to find good kiting locales, and conditions change so fast that you have to jump quickly on a good snowfall.One guy chasing it more than anybody is John Regan. A legend in the whitewater paddling world, John pioneered many now famous class-V rivers, notably West Virginia’s Upper Blackwater. A few seasons ago, John got into snow kiting, and he’s pursued it with the same vigor as his aggressive paddling style. Living in Western Maryland near wide-open hillside fields, John added a kite to his tele skis, got permission from his farmer neighbors, and started a new kind of first descent.After an hour of pushing, pulling, sweating, and cursing, we manage to get out of the ditch and head into the Sinks of Gandy, a high mountain meadow with a celebrated cave and underground stream system in West Virginia.John plants a windsock in the snow, quickly unfolds and launches his foil kite, and within minutes he is a half-mile away, zooming uphill on his tele skis before unleashing turn after turn in powder as he glides back downhill.He then skis over to one of the giant cornices overhanging Gandy Creek. You don’t find too many 30-foot cornices in the Mid-Atlantic, so a jump fest commences with lots of soft landings.I launch my inflatable kite and slide off after John on a snowboard. The wind holds, and we explore the entire valley. There are some thin spots and patches of ice to contend with, but mostly we’re zig zagging across snowfields, going anywhere we want. It takes minutes to kite up hills that would take an hour to hike. Then we knock out a ski-run’s worth of turns in the fresh powder.So it goes till near sundown when the wind starts to ebb. We pack up kites and gear and head home. It’s dark and freezing back at the trailhead, but we’re happy, and the PBRs go down well.
Marathon Pursuit (2/3): Going for the Long RunThe day was ambitious indeed. 15 miles is no easy jog in the park. The sore feet and achy knees, the long stretch of road, and the shear amount of time to keep yourself entertained; a lot goes into running the same distance as a 20 minute car ride. The forecast was calling for rain and rain it provided. It seemed the moment I started using the running shoes on my feet, a steady drizzle was there to accompany it. And two hours later, the rain never stopped.Somewhere between the start and end of the 15 miles, discouraging thoughts drifted between my tired legs and weary mind. The hills kept coming and the rain never stopped. For a moment it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t until my shuttle picked me up on the wet road and I climbed into the heated front seat did I began to appreciate the feet at hand.It wasn’t the farthest I’ve run or even the fastest. An inevitable nasally cold followed the 15 miles of running in the rain, but I knew in the back of my head I gone out and done what I had set out to do; go for the long run. I went to sleep easy that night with the day’s progress putting me to bed. I had managed to stay on track. I had crossed a new finish line and with the red-tape behind me, I woke up one day closer to the Big Race (Richmond Marathon, November 10th).With the new sun and the long run the day before, I was able to rest easy and kick my feet up; progress had been made. With running and training for a marathon, progress can be easily measured. Distance and time, that’s all you really need to know. But running, and seeing the value of that progress, allows me to see there are other achievements that get lost in the name of the Big Picture.It is important in marathon training to track your progress so that the 26.2 is just another long run in the history of many. But perhaps that same logic applies outside of the long runs and time on the road. A lot of people have secret ambitions, dreams they have night after night, unnoticed or not, that they strive for in the daytime, a naked ambition that lies under uniforms and clothes. Everyone has this, somewhere deep down and possibly hidden, and the only way to climb higher to your goals is to occasionally look beneath your feet to see how far you’ve come. To take that time to see what you have built and to know you are closer to the clouds then you were a day before.Get outside and play, understand your true-progress, and go for the long run.-Brad
The George Washington National Forest is home to the headwaters of the Potomac and James Rivers, which flow through two capital cities, Washington D.C. and Richmond, Va. One of the largest forests in the eastern U.S., it’s more known for its rolling hills blanketed with trees than it is for energy potential. But natural gas drilling, along with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could be coming to this wild forest.The U.S. Forest Service originally disallowed horizontal drilling and fracking for natural gas within the George Washington National Forest boundaries. However, after pushback from the natural gas industry, the Forest Service began reconsidering. Hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and companies do not have to disclose what chemicals they are using in the fluid pumped underground to bring gas to the surface. Some of the chemicals used in the fracking process could contaminate drinking water for many communities and poison some of the GW’s most celebrated rivers for fishing and paddling.We tend to confuse our national forests with our national parks, thinking of them as pristine and unspoiled lands that are protected from commercial usage. But national forests are often subject to the same uses as private land, from cattle grazing to coal mining. Traditionally the most common commercial activity on national forests in the East was logging. Then, during the energy crisis of the 1970s, nearly all national forest lands in the East were leased for gas and oil drilling. Most attempts at conventional drilling came up dry. The gas deposits were too hard to get at using then-known methods. When energy prices began to fall, drilling for natural gas in the East no longer made economic sense.Fast forward 40 years. America finds itself caught in a perpetual energy crisis. Politicians once again want the fuel under our feet, and public lands are seen as our salvation. New forms of drilling have now put the oil and gas resources beneath the Eastern public lands within reach. Much of the region’s drinking water comes from sources with headwaters in protected national forestlands. Will your drinking water soon be laced with fracking chemicals? Will your favorite forest campground or trail soon become a wasteland of wells, towers, and toxic ponds?Fracking 101America’s 21st Century shale gas boom has thrust hydraulic fracturing into the spotlight. “Hydrofracking,” as the process is known, is a catch-all term for a complex two-part method of natural gas extraction.It starts with horizontal drilling. A well bore is drilled vertically for several thousand feet before turning horizontally and continuing for several thousand more. A water and chemical mix is then pumped into the well bore at high pressure. The fluid breaks up the shale rock and releases pockets of natural gas trapped there. Much of the fluids return to the surface and the “flow back” must be kept in containment ponds or hauled off site; the rest seeps into the groundwater.The process of hydraulic fracturing has been used since the 1950s for making conventional vertical wells for oil, gas, and even water. The difference today are new horizontal drilling techniques and the massive amounts of water used—up to one million gallons of water per drilling site. Mixed with the water are toxic cocktail of chemicals—many of which are carcinogenic.Drilling supporters say the process is nearly 50 years old and has been proven safe in many communities in the Midwest. Opponents point to known cases of groundwater contamination and spills, saying fracking threatens water supplies throughout the Southeast.One thing is certain: fracking brings a large-scale industrial operation into wild lands. Roads must be constructed for the trucks that haul in fracking water, and pipelines are built to transport the gas to processing sites. A well pad, including its containment ponds, can cover up to 10 acres. When underway the operation, with its associated noise, light, and traffic, happens around the clock.“The footprint of fracking is larger in scale and more disruptive than logging,” says Sarah Francisco, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “With logging, the forest regenerates, and in 100 years the trees will have grown back. But with gas drilling there is a permanent well pad in a permanent clearing.” Fracking usually involves many well sites and a much larger cumulative impact that leaves behind poisonous ponds, toxic waters, and a ruined landscape.Click for larger imagePublic Lands, Private ProfitsWho determines if gas drilling takes place in a national forest near you? First, an energy company requests to lease certain national forest lands from the Department of Agriculture, which manages the national forests. The Department of Agriculture then places the land up for competitive bid on a quarterly basis. Anyone can place a bid and the winning bidder gets a 10-year lease to explore for oil and gas. If they discover reserves, they apply for another lease and an extended permit. The government gets a small percent of the profit from the gas extracted.The Southeastern natural gas boom exists in areas that sit over top of the Marcellus shale beds, which include Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. There are also known gas reserves in the Conasauga shale bed in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the Marcellus shale alone contains 262 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.There are approximately 8 million acres of public land in 17 national forests in the Southeast. Fracking has already occurred in two of these forests and is proposed for at least two more.Pennsylvania has been ground zero in the Eastern fracking debate, sitting on top of the thickest part of the Marcellus formation. The Allegheny National Forest contains 500,000 acres and is home to more than 12,000 gas and oil wells.West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest’s 921,000 acres are open to drilling; a test well was drilled there recently in the Fernow Experimental Forest. And last year, Alabama’s Talladega National Forest announced that it would lease 43,000 acres for gas drilling.The biggest concern is George Washington National Forest. At over one million acres, the GW is one of the largest undeveloped areas on the East Coast. Recently, the Forest Service began revising its management plan for the GW. Fracking opponents pushed for a prohibition on horizontal drilling in the forest. This was included in a draft of the plan before political and industry pressure forced to it be dropped.“We developed options to allow horizontal drilling on forest land,” said Ken Landgraf, planning officer for George Washington National Forest. “Part of our job is to develop America’s energy resources responsibly.”All national forests are administered by a management plan that is revised every 10 to 15 years. The GW is the first to come up for revision since fracking became prevalent. All eyes are on the GW.“We are in the driver’s seat,” Landgraf stated.A finalized management plan for the GW is scheduled to be announced this month. Meanwhile, other national forests are beginning to revise management plans, and fracking could be a major issue. Two of the most popular national forests in the Southeast—the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in North Carolina—are revising their management plans this year.Areas of privately held mineral rights occur in all of the national forests. Ninety-three percent of the land in the Allegheny National Forest has its mineral rights in the hands of private companies. In the GW, 180,000 acres, or about 17 percent of the total land, has its mineral rights in private hands. Seven percent of the Talladega’s and 38 percent of the Monongahela’s acres have privately held mineral rights.When the Forest Service tried to prevent drilling on these leases, they quickly ran into legal challenges. In 2011 a federal appeals court ruled that the Forest Service was misinterpreting its powers and had no authority to control access to private minerals on public lands.“Companies have rights to their minerals [on private leases] and we cannot stop them,” Landgraf says. “But they do have to work with us [the Forest Service] jointly because they are using our surface.”David and Goliath: Communities Take on Big GasWith political will and industry money pushing for gas drilling in the national forests, what options do people who enjoy public lands and oppose fracking have?In 2011 Carrizo Energy, a Houston-based company, applied for a drilling permit for a lease on private land in Rockingham County in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The state quickly approved the permit. The county board of supervisors also seemed on the verge of signing off on the project. Then outdoor enthusiasts and local residents learned about the proposed well. They launched a campaign to educate the board and the community on the potential hazards of fracking. They were successful. The board tabled the permit, effectively preventing fracking on private lands in the county, which would include private mineral rights in the George Washington National Forest in Rockingham County.Then in 2012, when Alabama’s Talladega National Forest announced it would sell fracking leases, outdoor enthusiasts vocally opposed it. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed litigation under the Endangered Species Act, and in June 2012, the Forest Service announced it would delay the gas lease sale.It’s hard to say whether environmentalists won an outright victory or energy companies backed away from a fight in areas where gas production was uncertain. Nearby test wells in both areas failed to produce up to expectation. One thing is for sure: as the price of energy increases, supplies of petroleum dwindle, and technology improves, energy companies will keep the national forests of the Southeast in their crosshairs.Wanna find out the latest news on fracking plans for the George Washington National Forest? Visit protectthegw.org.
Geoff Cantrell, Public Communications Specialist at Western Carolina University shared his thoughts on WCU’s victory. CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR THE 2020 WINNER Amidst this backdrop of Appalachian peaks, crystal clear trout streams and world class rivers, and seemingly endless singletrack, WCU has cultivated an outdoor culture that only gets richer with each passing school year. Cantrell:I would say three things: “Over a half-million votes poured into Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s Top Adventure Contest — the most ever in its seven-year history. Once again, Western Carolina rallied its students, faculty, staff, and alumni to a decisive victory. WCU boasts a premier location for outdoor adventure—with world-class whitewater, climbing crags, and hundreds of miles of trails in national parks and national forests surrounding the campus. It also offers outstanding outdoor education and adventure opportunities, such as Base Camp Cullowhee. Most importantly, perhaps, Western has a dedicated, outdoor-minded campus community that promotes and celebrates adventure. It’s not surprising that WCU has captured its fifth Top Adventure College title. They’ve definitely earned it. “–—Will Harlan, Editor in Chief BRO: Votes hit record numbers for our annual Top Adventure College Contest this year. Over half a million! How does it feel to be a part of the biggest voting year yet? Once again colleges and universities in the contest were selected for their outdoor clubs and curricula, their commitment to outdoor and environmental initiatives, the quality of their outdoor athletes and programs, and their opportunities for adventure, and once again WCU’s strengths shown through above the rest. BRO: What makes WCU stand out from the rest? What is its greatest and most unique quality? BRO: What percentage of the school’s population participates in taking advantage of WCU’s ideal outdoor surroundings? Second, opportunities. Base Camp Cullowhee, the university’s outdoor programming organization, offers equipment rentals, events and programs, recreational trips and experiential education services. Student clubs and organizations also provide outdoor excursions for members. Then there’s the topnotch curriculum available. Among the academic programs offered by WCU of interest to students pursuing careers in the outdoors are forest resource management, hospitality and tourism management, natural resources conservation and management, and parks and recreation management. Cantrell: Wow, that is a tremendous response, and good for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine. Winning the online poll shows that Western Carolina University participates and is proud of our outdoor adventures, our campus, and the region. BRO: How has WCU grown since the first year they won? And third, involvement. WCU supports regional outdoors-based travel, tourism and industry, and the entities that are destinations for residents and visitors alike. For example, on Oct. 10, WCU will hold an Outdoor Economy Conference as the region’s premier outdoor industry and networking event to support businesses and entrepreneurs. Western Carolina University has further proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with in the outdoor community. The Catamounts have earned the title of Top Adventure College for a fifth time in our annual Top Adventure College Contest, edging out a solid effort from last years winner Lees-McRae College. Cantrell: Potentially, everyone. We know from invitations to participate and other publicity, students, faculty and staff are engaged in birdwatching, organic gardening and more vigorous pursuits like hiking and mountain biking. When the weather warms, students stretch out in a hammock at WCU’s Electron Garden on the Green, a solar power-generating facility and green space on campus with a multifunctional design that includes outdoors relaxation. There are academic programs that utilize the outdoors, like recreational therapy, geology, and Cherokee studies. Some training and exercises that are outdoor-oriented take place indoors, like our climbing wall and kayak roll clinics. So, really, enjoying the outdoors is an individual thing in how you choose to participate. Then you can find a group or network to pursue it if you’d like. First, location, location, location. The Cullowhee campus is in a natural setting that has many great things to offer, with a short list including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, Chimney Rock and Gorges state parks, DuPont State Forest and numerous lakes, rivers and creeks. There’s a natural environment for practically anything you want to experience. Cantrell: If you had to point to only one activity or event that brings everyone together and is representative of this university and its connection to the outdoors, it would probably be the Tuck River Cleanup. On Saturday, April 13, the 35th annual cleanup will take place, with hundreds of volunteers expected to raft or walk along the Tuckaseigee River between Cullowhee and Whittier, collecting litter and debris. It is believed to be the nation’s largest single-day effort to remove garbage from a waterway. BRO: What outdoor program is WCU most proud of? BRO: Describe what downtime looks like for an outdoor enthusiast at WCU. Cantrell: Entering the 2018 fall semester, WCU for the third consecutive year and the seventh time in the past eight years has increased in both the size, with an 11,639 fall enrollment to be exact, and academic qualifications of the student body. University officials attribute the enrollment surge over the past several years to several factors, including several high-demand degree programs, new and renovated residence halls and dining facilities providing the type of amenities demanded by today’s students, and as you might have guessed, the campus’s mountain location and access to outdoor adventure activities. One reason that WCU is revered as a top outdoor college is its proximity to renowned outdoors adventure havens like Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. Cantrell: Downtime? What downtime?
Ellen: In comparison to other packrafting and bikepacking trips out there, ours was not that extreme. But that’s okay. It doesn’t have to include days of climbing gravel or paddling whitewater to still be an adventure. We spent two days immersed in the sights and sounds of the Lower James and Richmond, two days away from our phones and constant emails, two days of friends connecting outside. Even if some of that “nature” included a pack of raw sausage floating in the river, I’d call it an absolute success. Shannon: Before I came to work at BRO, I was an outdoor guide and paddling instructor for years. Outdoor adventure was all I did for a while, so I was very excited to jump back into the process of getting out there. It was thrilling for my brain to go into planning mode again as it started flooding with thoughts of gear, supplies, strategies, and plans A through Z. Before this trip I had done plenty of overnight paddling and biking trips, but never both at the same time. Day 2: After breaking down our campsite in the morning, we paddled an additional 4.5 miles to our take out at Deep Bottom Park. To finish off our adventure, we biked the Virginia Capital Trail for 15 miles back into Richmond, stopping for a beer at Stone Brewing. We road another 4 miles back to Shannon’s apartment, arriving back home just as the sun set below the Richmond skyline. A Self-Supported, Multi-Sport Adventure Right Out the Front Door When it comes to deciding what sleeping bag to bring, it’s all about the temperature rating. Knowing that we were going in the middle of March and would be sleeping by the water, we went with bags with a 20-degree temperature limit. Both the Tacquito 20 and Nitro Quilt 800 from Sierra Designs fit our hammocks and provided the warmth we needed. Whether you go with a sleeping bag or a quilt, it is all up to your preference and sleep style. If you prefer tent camping, the Granby Insulated Sleeping Pad provides an excellent layer of insulation between your sleeping bag and the ground. The bike ride was so much fun, both the actual ride itself and the great reward it offered in knowing you just did something really hard. Finishing our bike ride at Stone Brewery for a delicious beer and Nightingale ice cream sandwich was a pretty nice reward too. COVID-19 hit the U.S. hard in mid-March and we started practicing social distancing. We cancelled our plans to avoid traveling and potentially spreading the virus. And we haven’t seen each other (in person) since. Although we didn’t get to test out our skills in Asheville, we will be ready to take what we’ve learned with us on our next trip into the great outdoors. The Payoff: That Was Totally Wicked The Planning: It’s All in the Details The bike mechanic at Blue Ridge Cyclery worked with us for over an hour to find the best setup for our bikes so we could carry all of our gear, including a bike rack, extra tubes, a new repair kit, and some chain lube. They have it all. The rear bike rack was a huge lifesaver when Ellen’s saddle bag didn’t fit because she needed the seat all the way down! Almost done paddling! The Itinerary: City to Woods Ellen: I didn’t sleep very much the night before we left. I was too anxious, worrying that we had forgotten to pack some really important piece of gear or that the temperature would suddenly drop into the teens. But within a few minutes of getting on our bikes, I started to feel that anxiety give way to the excitement of heading out on an adventure. We left Shannon’s apartment while most of the city was still sleeping, so we practically had the streets to ourselves. Looking back on our trip, it’s weird to think that we wouldn’t get to hang out with each other in person for a couple of months. When I left Shannon’s apartment, I told her I would see her in the office next week. Instead, that Monday, everyone in our office started working from home. Bamboo Elements from UCO Gear Shannon: The trip was long, challenging, and very rewarding. We had beautiful weather and the boats were easy to paddle, even with all of our gear. It was funny we chose this section for an outdoor adventure trip because, even though we did get to enjoy nature up close, we also got to experience some heavy-duty industrial structures that are easy to forget exist. We saw just as many barges and factories as we did birds and turtles. Big ass factories with signs warning us “Strong undertow. Back TF up.” We must have considered over 10 different trips on rivers from Virginia to Georgia! For a while, it didn’t feel like we were getting any closer to making a decision until one day we realized a Richmond trip was the ideal practice trip. I am familiar with the area, we could easily call for help if needed, and the fact that we could take a safe and scenic bike path back was great. [metaslider id=128122 cssclass=””] TR1 Mesh W’s from Astral Our take off was a little clumsy as we needed to make slight adjustments to the bags that we stayed up late to attach the night before. It felt like the beginning of a comedic music montage where the inspirational music starts, then stops, then starts, then stops one more time, then finally we were off to the river. With a trip like this, we wanted shoes we could wear for paddling and biking so we wouldn’t have to pack two separate pairs. Astral’s TR1 Mesh W’s fit our needs perfectly. They are lightweight, dry easily, and provide excellent support. For paddling, we wore them with a pair of wool socks to keep our toes warm. PRO TIP: Figure out what needs you have for your trip and list them in order from top priority to low priority. Then see how different trips fit those needs. For each river we looked at, we had to consider how we would get there, camping spots, the river’s navigability, and what the traffic would look like on the bike routes. Since we put that work in, we have a bunch of ‘draft adventures’ that we can look at in the future! Ellen getting out of the water after the first day. Ellen: After 18 miles of paddling, I expected the biking to be no sweat. The majority of our miles would be on a paved greenway, so I wasn’t worried about traffic. But I had never ridden with anything other than a water bottle strapped to my bike. You really start to regret every ounce of gear you packed when you’re trying to pedal it up a hill. JungleLink Hammock Shelter System and Ember UnderQuilt from ENO Bike parts from Blue Ridge Cyclery Ellen: I am usually the one afraid of the dark. When I’m out camping, I try not to think about all of the other creatures I’m sharing the space with. Shannon was NOT playing it cool. Shannon: I slept well in the hammock thankfully, but I woke up very sore from all the paddling we did the day before. We had a short day of 4 miles and were eager to knock it out and get on our bikes. Our put-in maneuvering was much more graceful than the day before. After just a two-day trip we came out feeling like pros in boat launching, gear tie downs, and packing. The second day of paddling offered more wildlife and natural views then the day before. We even saw a few eagles! Shannon showing off our paddling setup. The Bamboo Elements mess kit from UCO Gear comes with a bowl/container, lid/plate, spork set, and reusable tether, perfect for whatever backcountry meal you’re cooking up. Everything fits together so that you don’t lose any of the pieces. Ellen is ready to get this trip started. Rogue-lite from Kokopelli We were the only ones at our campsite and had a really nice view of the James. Though as the sun started to go down, being the only ones there started to get in my head. The big stone cross got eerier and the idea of camping next to a settlement from the 1600s got spookier. I swore I kept hearing something in the woods a few times! But I didn’t want to force my spooks onto Ellen. I thought I was playing it cool enough that she wouldn’t notice I was being a chicken. I kept shining my light into the woods anytime I would hear something just to prove to myself that it was nothing. So, you can imagine my surprise when my flashlight eventually landed on a pair of eyes that was just feet from our camp! Once we got to our put in at Ancarrow’s Boat Landing, we spent about 45 minutes figuring out how to attach our broken-down bikes to these inflatable rafts along with all of our gear. I remember thinking “awesome, that looks great! Now where TF is my butt going to go.” Once we got everything tied down and situated, we exchanged a celebratory high five and a few moments of “hell ya we got this we are such capable badass women!” Now came the moment we’d been waiting for… the takeoff. Shannon: After we got our sorry butts out of the water we stood before a long, paved ramp that led to the top of a huge hill where our campsite would be. I may be exaggerating how big this hill was, but after paddling 13 miles, looking at the amount of gear we would have to carry, my frozen hands, and Ellen’s injured ankle, that hill looked like Everest. After carrying everything to the top we were rewarded with a heated bathroom and hand dryers we could stand under! Score! After changing into warm dry clothes, we hung our hammocks, fashioned our ‘raccoon’ bag, and started cooking dinner. The Adventure: 18 Miles of Paddling and 24 Miles of Biking Shannon: The early morning take off of any adventure is my favorite part. The air is cool and crisp, the world still feels asleep, and you have a whole adventure ahead of you that will be filled with good stories and lasting memories. Plus, you get to look forward to how toned your muscles are going to feel after you complete the whole trip. Our wacky bike setup. Pro tip: lose the giant camera and use your phone. Day 1: We left the Fan District in Richmond around 7:30 a.m with all of our gear on our bikes. After riding 4.5 miles to our put-in at Ancarrow’s Boat Landing, we broke down our bikes and strapped everything to our boats. Then we paddled 13 miles down the Lower James River, past industrial parks and under towering bridges, to our campsite at Henricus Historical Park. There, we set up our hammocks, made a delicious pot roast dinner from a can, and spent a peaceful night amongst the trees. Ellen: The paddle started out great. The sun was shining with a nice breeze at our backs. We made pretty good time in the morning, stopping for lunch on the bank. And then the winds shifted and so did our luck. While we were finishing up our lunch, the current lifted my boat from the beach and started carrying it away. As we chased after it, I stepped in a hole and twisted my ankle. As I go down, I’m yelling at Shannon to leave me and save the boat! Through some masterful maneuvering, she got in her boat and herded mine back to shore. Now the second half of the day was a real struggle, paddling into the wind and racing the sunset. I almost started crying when we finally pulled into the cove and spotted our take out. There’s a point on the Virginia Capital Trail as you start your descent into Richmond where the city skyline spreads out before you, welcoming you back from your journey. As we crested that hill, pedaling the last few miles home as the sun began to sink below the horizon, we felt that overwhelming sense of pride that comes from setting a goal and accomplishing it. Nothing but satisfaction from two days of hard work, and maybe a tiny bit of relief that we would be sleeping in our own beds that night. The Gear That Got Us Here We tip toed around the water’s edge and tried to finagle getting in without getting our feet wet. We were so ready for this big epic takeoff into the sunrise, and the extra time we put into staying dry added to the buildup. Careful… steady… PLUNK! Our butts plunked deep down into our boats causing a splash and zero forward momentum. Because I stored my dry bags in between my legs, my right foot spent the first four miles fully under water until I realized it was dragging. When we first started planning this trip, we thought it was going to be about us—two friends planning a trip outside of their comfort zone while experiencing Richmond, Va., in a new way. The inflatable Rogue-lite from Kokopelli was the perfect vessel for our packrafting adventure. It easily held the weight of our bikes and gear while also rolling up tight for easy attachment to our handlebars. When planning a trip like this, easy transition from bike to boat back to bike is key. The lightweight Feather air pump quickly inflated the boats in a matter of minutes. The Rogue-lite also comes with a Tizip option, increasing your storage space inside the packraft. Thank you to the folks at Kokopelli who shared the ins and outs of packrafting. Every adventurer knows that being prepared for any scenario can make all the difference. We packed all of our gear, clothes, and food into dry bags so they would stay dry on the river and in case of rain. Here are a few pieces of gear that made a difference on our trip. You see, this excursion was supposed to be a warm-up, a trial run for bigger things. We would only be gone one night, we wouldn’t have to paddle any rapids, and a majority of the biking would be on a paved greenway. This trip would give us the chance to test out all of our gear and make any changes before attempting a longer adventure. Once we figured out all of the kinks, we planned to do a similar trip in Asheville, N.C., paddling a section of the French Broad River and then biking back into the city. But we never got the chance. Ellen: As BRO’s travel editor, I write a lot about epic adventurers—hardcore athletes attempting ridiculous feats on the road, trails, and water. I am more of a fair-weather adventurer. I like hiking when the sun is out, a refreshing three-mile paddle on a summer’s day, and a bike ride around my neighborhood. When Shannon and I first started talking about doing a combo packrafting and bikepacking trip, I was a little apprehensive because I had never paddled or biked that far on one trip. But having Shannon with me, who has a lot more experience with changing flat tires and reading the water, helped ease my mind. While we lucked out and avoided rain, Topo’s Global Jacket kept us warm during the chilly mornings and dry on the river. We stored phones, maps, and sunglasses in the many pockets. The water-resistant finish and stretchy waste line on the Boulder Pants made them the perfect pants for a variety of outdoor activities or just lounging around the campsite. Taquito 20 and Nitro Quilt 800/20 from Sierra Designs We decided to take a hammock sleep system so we wouldn’t have to pack tent poles. The ENO JungleLink Hammock Shelter System came with everything we needed to sleep through the night, including a rain tarp and built-in bug net. The Ember UnderQuilt added a layer of insulation to the outside of our hammocks to keep us warm from the breeze coming off of the river. You know those videos of the astronauts getting out of their capsules after splashdown? The ones where they have to be helped out of the capsule by the divers? That’s how I felt getting out of the boat the first day after 13 miles of paddling. There was a family fishing off the dock at Henricus Historical Park, where we would be camping for the night. These amazing folks, the true heroes of this adventure, helped pull us and our rafts onto the dock as our muscles were screaming for us to give up. I don’t know how we would have gotten ourselves and all of our gear out of the water if they hadn’t been there, especially as we barely made it to our campsite before the sun completely set. Why did we think it was a good idea to paddle 13 miles on the first day? The idea was to design and complete a trip that was entirely self-supported. There would be no cars dropping us off at the boat ramp or shuttling us back home. We wanted to ride out the front door with nothing but our gear supported on our backs, bikes, and boats, and return the same way. And while we did accomplish that, paddling 18 miles of the Lower James River and biking 15 miles of the Virginia Capital Trail, it feels wrong to say that’s all it was. Earlier this year BRO Travel Editor Ellen Kanzinger and Digital Content Coordinator Shannon McGowan took a combined packrafting and bikepacking trip on the Lower James River and Virginia Capital Trail. Follow the journey, with insight on essential gear and what they learned along the way. For most of our trip, we could see a road or highway. It was surreal to see society yet feel completely disconnected from it. I am so glad that we got to have such a fun trip together before entering this new way of life… And that the nickname “Ellen Bean” (inspired by Ellen’s small size and the toughness she shares with my L.L. Bean bike) came out of the trip. Global Jacket and Boulder Pants from Topo
By Dialogo July 20, 2009 Washington, July 17 (EFE).- Today FARC guerrilla Gerardo Antonio Aguilar Ramírez, alias “Cesar,” one of the “jailers” of Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans rescued in July 2008, pleaded “not guilty” to the drug-trafficking charges of which he is accused in the United States. “Cesar,” who was extradited from Bogotá yesterday, appeared before a federal judge in Washington in a hearing attended by Marc Gonsalves, one of the three Americans who were kidnapped in the Colombian jungle for five years. Through his lawyer, Carmen Hernández, the guerrilla pled “not guilty” to the drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges of which he is accused in the United States, while the lawyer recalled that in this case her client is being judged “in a drug-trafficking case, not a kidnapping case.” Nevertheless, prosecutor Eric Snyder pointed out that Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell, the three Americans kidnapped by the FARC and freed in Operation Jaque together with Betancourt and eleven other hostages, were carrying out a mission in the fight against drug trafficking when they were kidnapped, thereby attempting to demonstrate that the FARC were impeding law-enforcement action against drug trafficking. Throughout the entire hearing, Gonsalves, who was present as a spectator, never took his eyes off the man on whom he fixed his gaze when he entered the courtroom dressed in the orange jumpsuit worn by prisoners in U.S. jails and with his hands cuffed. “He’s in handcuffs, but he has better conditions in jail than they gave us there,” he told a group of reporters after the hearing. Gonsalves said that he is not seeking “revenge,” but that he wants “Cesar” to go to jail because he thinks that he “does not believe in freedom, and he would go back to the jungle to do the same thing he did to me, or worse.” The Washington Federal District Court judge, Thomas F. Hogan, scheduled a follow-up hearing for July 30; in the meantime the defendant will remain in the D.C. jail, known for its harsh conditions.
By Dialogo April 02, 2010 UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday confirmed Edmond Mulet as his special representative to Haiti, a post which the Guatemalan already held in an interim capacity since the January earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation. Mulet, 58, had already served as special representative and head of the UN stabilization mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) from June 2006 to August 2007 before he was asked to become deputy head of the UN department of peacekeeping operations. He was then succeeded by Hedi Annabi of Tunisia, who died along with several of his staff when the January 12 quake leveled the MINUSTAH headquarters in Port-au-Prince. In the wake of the disaster, Ban sent Mulet to take charge of the decapitated MINUSTAH and coordinate UN emergency aid operations. MINUSTAH, which was established in 2004 and is under Brazilian command, had roughly 7,000 troops, 2,000 police and about 2,000 civilian personnel in January. The January 12 earthquake that struck near Port-au-Prince killed at least 220,000 people and left 1.3 million homeless.
By Dialogo September 27, 2010 This democracy that the world and its political parties have, is something that any group of people without morals has, they assist and nurture this type of sickness found in all societies. The gangs and the misery Colombia has is not new, and the politicians offer this in their political platform but then they do nothing. I want and support democracy, because it allows us to go on â€œliving in liberty” with the citizens who live with politicians who are mentally ill not only in Colombia, Mexico, U.S.A, and from there on down to the east and west of Patagonia, I donâ€™t know what needs to happen, I donâ€™t have the one true answer but since I reached the age of reason during my 71 years, I donâ€™t see the way nor will I see a change, thank you for allowing me to make this statement. The death of the Colombian FARC guerrilla group’s military commander during Operation Sodom was a blow to the heart of the rebel group that could accelerate its decline and force its leaders to negotiate for peace with the government. Jorge Briceño Suárez, better known as “El Mono Jojoy,” fell fighting soldiers following a bombardment of his camp that began early in the morning on 22 September, in a jungle area near the municipality of La Macarena, in southeastern Colombia. While combat was underway, on the same day, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced in a statement their willingness to negotiate for peace with President Juan Manuel Santos, but without submitting to any conditions. However, the president, a former defense minister in the previous administration, which maintained a hard line against the guerrilla group with the support of the United States, is demanding a suspension of hostilities before sitting down to the table. Now, the death of the veteran Briceño Suárez, a fifty-nine-year-old guerrilla fighter, could increase the pressure on the rebel group, which is experiencing the worst crisis in its history, according to specialists. “For this organization, El Mono Jojoy was the equivalent of the commandant of the Army,” said former peace commissioner Víctor G. Ricardo. “It’s a blow to their military strategy; it’s a blow to the organization’s morale,” he added. A decade ago, Ricardo was one of the participants in the negotiations launched in 1999 by then-president Andrés Pastrana, when the rebel group was much more powerful. The talks collapsed in 2002. With the recent death of the guerrilla leader, considered a hardliner within the FARC, a light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to become visible. “With that military strength having been diminished, dialogue has to be near,” said Guillermo González, a former defense minister and current governor of the department of El Cauca. A SINGLE PATH Santos made peace negotiations with the rebels conditional on their releasing those they have kidnapped, suspending attacks, and announcing their readiness to lay down their arms. “Unacceptable, arrogant, and triumphalist” was the rebel group’s characterization of Santos’s demands. Meanwhile, the president promised to maintain the offensive against the FARC begun by his predecessor Alvaro Uribe. For former president Pastrana, the message that the administration has sent to the FARC’s commander-in-chief, Alfonso Cano, is that he could suffer the same fate as “El Mono Jojoy” and that the rebels should understand that the only path is that of peace. “They (the FARC) have no possibility of recovering their military strength; it’s an absolutely irreversible process of decline in both the political and the military spheres,” analyst Alfredo Rangel said for his part. “It’s to be expected that the psychological impact and the demoralization caused by this blow will lead dozens or hundreds of members of the guerrilla group to desert,” he explained. Despite everything, the guerrilla group still has the ability to cause headaches for Santos with high-impact attacks in jungle regions and even in urban centers. In fact, in recent weeks the FARC launched attacks in which more than thirty soldiers and police personnel died, leading the armed forces to redouble their offensive. “The deaths of police and military personnel, the deaths of guerrillas, the dramas that the inhabitants of the countryside experience in the midst of armed operations should lead us to construct a space for dialogue,” said Sen. Piedad Córdoba of the Liberal Party. Thousands of combatants have abandoned the ranks of the FARC since Uribe began military operations, reducing the rebel forces to 8,000 men from the 17,000 they once had, according to calculations by security sources.
By Dialogo May 17, 2011 Luis Giampietri, vice president of the Republic of Peru, presided over the closing ceremony of the Third International Technology Salon for Defense and the Prevention of Natural Disasters (SITDEF), an event that drew more than twenty thousand attendees, who toured its installations from 11 to 15 May. For the first time, a Peruvian Air Force Sukhoi plane was put on detailed exhibit. Likewise, attendees were able to experience, using simulators, what it is like to steer submarines or practice shooting, etc., as part of the celebrations for the centennial of the Peruvian Navy’s Submarine Force. In addition, there were demonstrations of parachute jumps, the deployment of special commandos, and firefighters, among other attractions applauded by the numerous audience in attendance. The third edition of SITDEF was held at Army headquarters from 11 to 15 May. The first two days of the salon were destined exclusively for all Armed Forces and police personnel and their family members. On Saturday the 14th and Sunday the 15th, the doors of the headquarters were opened to the general public, for the third time, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event was held in a space measuring 15,000 square meters, a much larger area than in 2009 (9,400 square meters), enabling a better display of the most advanced defense, security, and natural-disaster-prevention equipment by the more than five hundred domestic and foreign exhibitors participating. About SITDEF The International Technology Salon for Defense and the Prevention of Natural Disasters (SITDEF) is a business and cultural event held in Peru every two years since 2007, jointly promoted and organized by the Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces at the Army’s headquarters installations. The event seeks to bring together domestic and foreign firms dedicated to exhibiting cutting-edge technology in the areas of natural-disaster prevention and national defense.
A Colombian judge sentenced four leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group in absentia to 25 years in prison, including the group’s top-ranking leader, Timoleón Jiménez (Timochenko), for the murder of the archbishop of Cali, Isaías Duarte, almost a decade ago, that country’s Public Prosecutor’s Office announced. The four leaders of the FARC, Latin America’s oldest guerrilla group, were found guilty of the crime of aggravated homicide, for which they were sentenced to 25 years in prison and to pay around 543,000 dollars to the prelate’s family. In addition to Timochenko, those convicted are Luciano Marín Arango (Iván Márquez), Jorge Torres Victoria (Pablo Catatumbo), and Noel Mata Mata (Efraín Guzmán), who died in 2003 according to the FARC, but whose deaths the Colombian legal system has not been able to confirm. In his verdict, the judge reiterated the arrest warrants pending against those sentenced. Archbishop Duarte, who maintained a critical attitude toward the FARC, was murdered on March 16, 2002, in the Buen Pastor parish church in Cali, where armed men burst in as the prelate was finishing a group marriage ceremony for 105 couples. Timochenko, 52 years old, took supreme command of the FARC following the death of his predecessor, Alfonso Cano, in a military operation in November. By Dialogo January 17, 2012