Monday, 18 February 2019

Yes, that is a Vagabond kayak in the ad

This morning Celliers did a double take. He was drinking his first cup of coffee and catching up on the News24 mobile app when he saw this advert...


Yes, that's a Vagabond kayak in the Investec ad (sans logo etc.). It is the Kwando, our children's kayak. Check out the beautiful shape, sleek bow, moulded-in footrests, stand-up platform, bottle holder positioned in front of the sculpted seat, paddle rest, 8" hatch, tankwell and, Vagabond's most distinctive feature, orange fittings. It is ours alright.

There are a number of versions of ads in this campaign; this one with a kayak, another with a juicer...

The theme behind the ads is that instead of spending R8000* on a kayak, you should rather invest the money. 

* Our recommended retail price on the Kwando is R3490, not R8000.

I've watched a few episodes of Marie Kondo's 'Tidying Up' on Netflix. She is a Japanese 'Mary Poppins' of tidying and organising your home, and packing and storing your stuff. When debating whether to keep an item or to turf it - whether an appliance, pot or garment, she recommends holding it and considering whether it brings you joy. If it brings you joy, keep it. If not, throw it out.

People buy kayaks for different reasons. To take on holiday every year for the next 15 years; or to leave at their holiday home or away-from-the-city farm to use when they are there; or to use regularly for sport, fitness and recreation. Kayaks, bicycles, juicers... these are once-off purchases that last for years (and have a resale value).

Personally, I like toys. From 20-plus years of adventure racing, trail running, mountain biking, paddling and orienteering, I have many toys that I've bought in this time - some dating back to the 90s. I've used them and cared for them. I hang on to my toys because even though I don't use all of them often, they enable me to do activities that I enjoy. They bring me joy.

There are simple ways to save money to invest. Cut down on the number of take-outs and restaurant dinners that you have each month (cheaper to cook that meal). Sell stuff you really don't use and that doesn't / no longer brings you joy. Avoid having accounts and debts - paying interest is a serious waste of money. Don't buy that pair of shoes / jacket / dress / bag - you have enough clothes. Don't buy - take your own lunch to work. These things are dispensable.

Like a bicycle or pair of running shoes, a kayak serves multiple purposes. It gets you outside. It disconnects you for a time from screens, internet, emails and whatsapp. It clears your mind as you focus on the water, scenery and splish-splash of your paddle. It is a physical activity - good for the heart, muscles, lungs and mind. It is a tool for adventures and can take you anywhere on the sea, dams and rivers. It brings joy.

Investec, I get what you're trying to say, but I think you're wrong about the kayak (and the juicer). 

Trim things that can be done without and put that money aside. Choose wisely and spend on toys that will fill your life with joy through activities and adventures for many years to come. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Mobile blood donor clinic - "Parys never disappoints"

On the second Tuesday of the month, SANBS visits Parys with their mobile blood donor clinic.


The staff always say "Parys never disappoints" as they usually have over 100 donors every month.

Yesterday, the hall was packed. As luck would have it, they were low on staff (those absent were off ill) and as such they only had six instead of eight beds. While I was there the beds were always occupied. The queue for blood pressure and iron check was full (about 15-18 seats) the whole time and before I got to a bed there were seven of us in the bed queue. I got there at 4pm and was out a bit after 17h30 - I'm usually in-and-out within 30 minutes.

They were expecting 140 donors. Well done Parys.

This was my 51st donation - Rusty comes with me.

REMEMBER: once-off donations are a waste of time, resources and blood. If you are going to donate, you need to become a regular donor and maintain your regular-donor status for your blood to be used. To be a regular donor, you must donate at least three times a year (max is six times - every two months).

My VW Polo clocks 250,000km

I bought my VW Polo in mid-2006. It was second-hand (2003 model) and had 35,000 kilometres on the clock.


On Monday afternoon the odometer hit a new milestone of 250,000 kilometres. I love my Polo. With its seats down it acts like a bakkie ('pick-up truck') to carry equipment, gear, bicycles, products and even a lawnmower. It has been a faithful race scouting vehicle, off-roader, commuter vehicle and an all purpose car. It has taken me to races and places. I've transported any number of items on my roof racks - from kayaks to wooden poles, ladders, plumbing pipes and metal bars.


Polo, I look forward to many more adventures with you.

Mini adventure paddle

Last week I needed a mini adventure and, while the river was lower than it had been earlier in the week, a long paddle on the Vaal was in order. I've done this section only once before - on our Vagabond Kayaks Mazowe, a double-seater. This time I wanted to stretch out and paddle my Marimba, which is a fast single. I called my friend Karen and we were in for a Friday afternoon paddle.

The section that we paddled starts about 24km upstream of our Likkewaan Canoe Club in Parys.

The water level was low so the little rapids along the way were friendly and bubbly. It is mostly flatwater. A great section for training and enjoying. We got onto the water just before 4pm and we got back to the club just as it got dark. Minutes after getting out, Celliers arrived to fetch us - thank you support driver.

Highlights of this trip included seeing two Goliath herons and my best ever fish eagle sightings and interactions. The first guy seemed to play with us, staying low, flying 30m and landing, waiting for us to come past, flying off again - that was cool. The second guy was completely unphased and let us have a good look at him.

My thanks to my friend Karen for being game to paddle. She paddled a Marimba for the first time and is the star of my photos. We really should do this more often, especially when the river is up.

Posing for a photo before we got onto the water. Karen is in red, I'm in blue.

Saying bye to Celliers, our support driver.

And off we go. 24km of water lie ahead of us.

We pause to check out a Goliath heron on that big branch. Not that you can see him in this photo... but he was there.

It was a magnificent evening. Clear, still, only us on the water... just beautiful.

This reflection just had to be photographed.

Karen coming through a bubbly rapid. At this water level the rapids can't even be graded they're so small and friendly. They are fun nonetheless and they break up the flatwater sections.

Almost on the home stretch with daylight fading fast.

Only a few kilometres to go. Bye bye Mr Sun.

Double-shift school just makes sense


School properties are underutilised. During the morning, children are - for the most part - in classrooms and there may be some use of sports fields and other facilities for physical education lessons. From 12h30 to 14h00 classes end (depending on the grade) and, I would presume, the majority of the students go home. Some stay behind for after-school sport and cultural activities.

Image from thesouthafrican.com


Class sizes are upwards of 28 to 40 (certainly in the government system) and as such teachers and space are burdened. The bigger the class, the slower the progress through the learning material - this holds true for running, hiking, biking, paddling... The bigger the group, the slower the group moves overall.

From what I have seen of Kyla and Ruben's school work over the past three years (currently grades 8 and 5 respectively), they don't cover that much in a year and learning would certainly be far more effective with smaller class numbers and a slightly shortened day to accommodate the double shift.

Putting schools on shifts is not a new concept. Double-shift schools maximise the use of resources, reduce overcrowding and accommodate more children overall. Fewer new school properties and all that these entail would need to be built.

Shift variations include having morning and afternoon classes or having full-day school on alternate days (the latter makes life more difficult for parents with children not at school at all on alternate days).

One property could host a primary school in the mornings and a high school in the afternoons, or, probably more feasible, is one school in the morning and a completely different school with its own headmaster and teachers in the afternoon. This would be more practical as teachers of the same grade could share the same classrooms (they could even work together to share material and classroom decorations too).

Whether a school has 100 children or 1000 children, the costs for maintaining buildings and facilities is the same. The property may as well be put to maximum use.

Driving past our schools in Parys in the afternoons and school holidays, I'm always disappointed to see the lack of use of facilities as I rarely see children out and about; and during the holidays - around three months a year! - there is no one on school properties at all!

Why are our schools not doing shifts? I have no idea. It doesn't make sense to me that they are not.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Paddling in adventure racing (article)

Yes, I do still write. Actually, I write a lot - just not always articles as I create all of the content for Vagabond Kayaks and my YOLO Compost Tumblers - FB, Instagram, websites and such.

In the new issue of The Paddle Mag, I have written an article on the discipline of paddling in the sport of adventure racing. Paddling is one of the four key disciplines of adventure racing with the other three being trekking, mountain biking and map-and-compass navigation. It felt good to stretch my fingers out.

You can read this piece on pages 66-69. The Paddle Mag is a free digital publication that you can read online or download.

My thanks to my friend Nicholas Mulder from Team Cyanosis Adventure Racing for his insightful comments that I included in the piece.


Monday, 14 January 2019

Digesting 2018: Parys parkrun (pt 4)

Parys parkrun

I've put our Parys parkrun here because it has been a constant in my life since I moved to Parys (three years ago this past Dec). Parkrun was not only something I enjoyed participating in, but as the Event Director here and fulfilling Run Director and other volunteer roles, I have made new friends and a community in this town. I love driving past parkrunners and waving at them or having a quick hello at the shops. Small town joys.

In November we were alerted that volunteer runs before the 8am parkrun start would no longer be permitted. I spoke to Gill Fordyce on the phone and she explained that this was coming from parkrun UK and also for reasons of safety and that outside of the parkrun time that volunteers were not covered by the event's liability.

OK. I can understand this. But...

Our volunteers are participants too. We've tried to get non-participating volunteers - family members of participants - but realistically you don't get enough of them volunteering often enough to make this viable. Many of our regular volunteers help out weekly or twice a month. They would hardly get to run if they did not run before parkrun.

Our volunteer run serves two purposes.

First, we start at 7, open the two gates on the way and we check the route for hazards and pick up litter.

Secondly, it is an opportunity for volunteers to participate and is a small thank you for more than an hour of their time spent enabling other people the opportunity to enjoy our parkrun.

Volunteerism in South Africa is something like 5%. I don't know how this is calculated - like number of people who have volunteered (ever) against total number of registered parkrunners? Anyway, we only have around 30-50 locals who regularly (more than twice a month) come to parkrun. We've got a lot more (maybe over 200?) parkrunners who have Parys as their home parkrun.

Small parkruns cannot exist without the same people who volunteer almost every week - rain or shine. We have people who are nearing 50 parkrun milestones - and they have never volunteered. We have people nearing 100 who maybe volunteer once or twice a year; and this is with having a volunteer run so they can still do their run and get their points.

Now how about telling my regular volunteers that if they volunteer they can't participate? Boom! They may then volunteer once every three months. Actually, I'm a fairly compulsive volunteer but if I didn't get to run I wouldn't volunteer as much either.

I've given up so many parkruns the past three years - like this past Saturday when I was Run Director (I didn't run early because of Rusty, not because of parkrun's ruling). I'm almost on 90 volunteerings and 90 parkruns. I would have been on 100 parkruns months ago if I didn't volunteer as much. It is one thing choosing not to run for my own reasons rather than to be told by parkrun that I may not participate.

Our volunteer roles mostly all take place during parkrun time because we need all the hands we can get. We do not have the luxury of being counted as volunteers for 'equipment storage', 'other', 'race briefing' or 'results processing'. Just this morning I fulfilled these roles as well as that of Run Director, Barcode Scanner and Finish Tokens (and I took photos at the finish of our milestone runners).

I found an email in my parkrun inbox this morning from parkrun.

"We have received feedback that Parys parkrun is still allowing pre runs? Please will you confirm that this has been stopped as requested telephonically to you in November last year?"

Dum-dee-dum

Yes. We. Are.

So what can happen here?

Parys parkrun can close down.

We now have a MyRun in Parys on Sunday mornings so people can still do a timed 5km run and they can get their Vitality points.

Parkrun is important to me because:
  • It is run on public ground and is part of the community.
  • The start is closer for our runners coming from the township.
  • It brings visitors to the town.
  • Parkrunners chase milestones, a motivation for them. Yes, they can aim for 50 MyRuns but is isn't quite the same (yet). As there are no more parkrun milestone tees, this is maybe not quite the incentive that it was.
I feel that Parkrun SA is bigger than both Gill and Bruce Fordyce. Each and every event is run by volunteers who make the 170 plus events in South Africa happen each and every Saturday morning (and the world, in fact) with absolutely no input from headquarters. We promote our parkruns, setup the equipment, help the participants, pack up, process the results, run our Facebook pages. 

We now have five Run Directors here - a super team. It wasn't that long ago that it was only me and Karen. Most of us volunteer on other days when we are not being the Run Director too. And we all usually do the early volunteer run - opening gates and picking up litter - happy to give up our time afterwards to allow our community to participate.

There are two types of volunteer roles: during parkrun and not-during parkrun. The later includes things like the aforementioned equipment storage as well as pre-event setup, post-event close down, communications, results processing, token sorting, first-timers briefing, other, run report writer etc. While these tasks are required to be done, they don't require a person to give up participating. Here in Parys, we do these roles too and don't even count them as volunteer roles, because we don't have the luxury of extra people to do these.

During-parkrun roles are those of run director, tokens, time keeping, marshalling and barcode scanning. Fun roles during parkruns that allow you to also participate are those of photographer and pacer (I didn't know that this role existed) and tailwalker.

Would they give up 12 to 40+ parkruns a year? This is the number of times that some of my volunteers volunteer each year.

I've just checked our parkrun email and I've been instructed to remove some volunteers from the results.

"All the above need to be removed from the results by Friday 18th January - this week. It is such a pity that this has happened and that so many visitors were witness to this. We have had feedback from a number of people about this."

Well, I hope that 'a number of people' will enjoy there being no Parys parkrun because this is the direction we're headed. I can bet that these visitors have not volunteered half as many times as our volunteers.

Parkrun runs off the goodwill of the volunteers. Take away goodwill and what do have? Nothing.

No volunteers. No parkrun. No participants.

// end of pt 4

Digesting 2018: Paddling, bookclub and crochet (pt 3)

Paddling

Overall, I didn't paddle much in 2018. Before I got Rusty I paddled once or twice a week. Once I got Rusty, my priorities changed because going running or walking with her was more important than paddling without her, especially as I'm pushed for time.

 I sold my beautiful Epic v7 surfski in November to make way for my Vagabond Marimba, which I got in mid-December before we paddled the Orange River for three days.

While I loved my v7, it didn't have space for Rusty. My Marimba has a spacious tankwell; now I can take my girly out with me.
 

Over New Year I tripped the Vaal twice from town on my Marimba and this past weekend I tripped 'Top Section' (from the canoe club to town) for the first time (this time paddling our whitewater sit-on-top, the Usutu).

 I'm definitely finding that my paddle stroke skills are getting better and I'm also developing better control in rapids. I look forward to getting even better.

Bookclub

 I've got a super bookclub here and we meet monthly. Of course, it is more about the company than it is about the books... I am very appreciative of the friendships from this awesome group of women.

I read every night before I go to sleep - never as much as I'd like to. My attention span is generally only good enough for fiction, which I've always devoured.

I never keep a record of what I've read, so this year I'll endeavour to take a photo of each book to save in a folder on my phone as a record of how I spent my time.

Crochet

I haven't done much this year - but I have completed smaller projects throughout the year. I like to crochet while watching series or movies - the more I watch, the more crochet I get to do. I really need to watch more TV.


I have a bit of a doily thing going... I love the patterns but don't know what to do with them! I've done some with beads for milk jugs and the like; I've got one strung up for a dream catcher and I think I'm going use my two most recent ones on cushions. It will probably take me a year to get around to this!

I got Netflix about four months ago (for the first 24 days I didn't get around to watching anything!). We didn't even have regular TV at home (we got dvds occasionally and watched some series on DVD). Netflix is the way. Yeah! It's nice to zone out and so I try to get in one episode of something every night.

Overall, I have not been very productive on the crochet front.

// end of pt 3

Digesting 2018: Running, Rusty and mom's Moroccan adventure (pt 2)

Running 
A bit of a mixed bag for me.... I was on fire (speed and distance) until mid June when I got a chest cold with a nasty cough. It took me more than two months (plus a doctor visit and meds) to get over it and it left me flat.

I've ticked over but sleeping 3-4hrs a night on too many nights really worked me over.

I don't recommend it.

I'm not running as much or as fast as I'd like to. This is something I need to make right. I need to take care with Rusty and so psychologically I need to get myself right to do more sessions without her to get in more distance for myself.

We have a Parys parkun on Saturdays and a MyRun on Sunday mornings. This was a MyRun in December.
I won't be hosting Forest Run again this year. Long story, but the main piece of land used for Forest Run has been sold and the new owner doesn't want anyone on his property, he is busy putting up fencing and apparently he will put buffalo on the land. I will do another social 'Not-Forest Run' in May.

I do have access to land around the sections that I used for further parts of the 30km and 46km Forest Run routes. But I'll need a few months for scouting and mapping, which I just don't have now.

Rusty
This doggy girl... She is my heart.


This dog keeps me sane and grounded. I definitely make more effort for her than I would do for myself. We go out walking or running every day and usually once a week we go to our favourite place Otters' Haunt to run with my friend Karen and Rusty's friends Rocksy and Skally. In summer we love to run to the quarry, swim there and then run back - around 7km loop.


We had a wobble two weeks ago when Rusty had a sore front leg and a sore back leg - and probably sore back too - after one of these outings. Vet visit and x-rays later, Rusts has arthritis in two spinal joints and also in the 'little fingers' of her front paws.


She is between 7 and 8 and is maybe closer to 8... Having a doggy in pain that can barely walk is very distressing for me. Fortunately, rest and pain killers got her on track in days but we'll need to look at long-term maintenance so that my special companion can continue to enjoy adventures with me.

Mom's Moroccan adventure (and her broken foot)

My mom - the gaiter-making elf of AR Gaiters - spent months preparing for her adventure - a trip to Morocco to hike up Mt Toubcal in the Atlas Mountains. Unfortunately, on her first afternoon of trekking, she broke her right foot - fractures on her tibia and fibia! That was a Friday afternoon. A donkey ride took her to the village where she waited for her group to return on the Sunday afternoon. They returned to Marrakesh and a hospital visit on the Tuesday morning confirmed the fracture.

She got on a flight home one-day early. I fetched her from the airport on the Thursday and we were at the orthopod on the Friday morning. He operated on the Monday morning - putting in plates and screws. She was out of hospital the same day - we stayed over at my uncle's place; mom was out of it.


We got back to Parys the next day and I moved in with mom; cooking, hanging and sleeping at her house at night but working between my house and the factory in the day and then putting in extra hours late into the night (or early into the morning depending on your perspective).

Mom was pretty much confined to her house until recently. She got the go-ahead to start putting weight on her foot in mid-Dec and two physio visits before Xmas got her more mobile. She started driving just over a week ago and can now walk without a crutch. She is making fast progress now.

I found it very difficult managing mom's household and my household with too much work on my plate; so I didn't spend nearly as much time with my mom as I would have liked to. She was a good patient, happy to eat anything that I put in her lunchboxes or cooked for dinner. I enjoyed hanging with her and watching Netflix together at night.

// end pt 2

Digesting 2018: YOLO & Vagabond (pt 1)


We're two weeks into January and I haven't even begun to digest last year. It was one helluva ride. 

This was my lowest blog-count year since 2006! It wasn't that I didn't have anything to write about, I just didn't get around to putting my thoughts down.

My memory of much of the year is actually pretty fuzzy. I worked too many hours on too little sleep, which over many months definitely messed with my memory.

While the year left me feeling like I'd been run over by a freight train, it had a dose of good with the bad. I have to really think about the good because bad has that awful way of permeating into every aspect of one's life whether it really was a significant proportion or not.

YOLO Compost Tumblers
My year started out with a bang on the YOLO  side - very, very busy. 


I had stock in the factory from before xmas and by the end of the first week of Jan I was all out. On one side, this is a great position - sold out and having a product that is in demand. On the other, being out of stock means a lot more admin. Customers have to be kept in the loop about how production is progressing and when they can expect their unit. This significantly ramps up the amount of communication needed for each order.

The year went in waves of building a little stock and then having orders exceeding production speed.

The winter months of June and July were quiet (as expected) and gave me the chance to focus on Vagabond (see below). August kicked off with the Decorex show, YOLO's second time there. We had another good show. The show coincides with spring, when people are searching online about gardening and composting... We've been busy ever since.

We do sell YOLO through Takealot too, although I've found it challenging to keep enough stock there. Mainly because I setup a production list including orders and a bunch of extras for Takealot and for factory stock and before I even get all of the units from the factory, I've already assigned them to direct orders. I've had quite a bit of stock on Takealot since mid-December.

We'll ramp up production this year. I'll have some more units going off to Australia in February.

YOLO really is a delight and I thoroughly enjoy my interactions with customers. I've learned a lot about composting since I started YOLO (most two years ago) and I keep learning from experience, articles and my customers as we go along.

It really is heartening how many people are trying to do better with their waste at home by refusing items that they don't need, reducing what they consume and use, reusing where they can, recycling what can be recycled and composting organic waste. Makes a huge difference!

If you haven't liked the YOLO Facebook page yet, please do so.

VAGABOND KAYAKS

Our new company, Vagabond Kayaks, has dominated my existence since before we launched at the beginning of July 2018. My role kicked in a few months before with the design and building of our website.

This is the biggest and most complicated website that I have ever created. I created well over 100 pages  (110 pages just for kayaks), wrote content, designed and created all of the graphics... In the build-up to launch we were working crazy non-stop hours with barely any breaks to eat or sleep.

All the while we were working in the factory and Celliers and our incredible team of workers were making moulds for the kayaks, running test kayaks and dealing with hundreds of elements that makes manufacturing what it is - not for the fainthearted. You need the constitution of an ox to wake up every day.

We went to a tradeshow in the US at the end of August, squeezed in a one-week roadtrip from Parys to East London to Cape Town to Parys, meeting with dealers along the way. I spent almost every hour in the car on the phone (email, calls, whatsapp, internet) and managed to flatten my battery every day. I didn't see much scenery despite the perfect weather. We got to paddle briefly and hangout a little in Cape Town.

Me paddling in a super-fun novelty event at Paddlesports Retailer in the USA.
An early morning demo session. Here I am paddling with Celliers on Zandvlei. What a magnificent morning! Photo by my friend Ray Chaplin.

Three days later we flew to Germany for another paddle sport tradeshow there - PaddleExpo.



Getting to tradeshows means a lot of logistics, especially where you have to ship kayaks over. Your heart lodges in your throat as you wait for them to arrive safely on the other side.

Returning home meant a lot of juggling here as we entered our main summer season and needed to build relationships with people we met at the shows ahead of their seasons in 2019.

So most days were really about getting as much done as possible. From building our new brand through social media to fulfilling orders, dealing with transport logistics (not anyone can transport 4.5m kayaks!), interacting with dealers, responding to customers on Facebook, email, whatsapp, Messenger... If the platform exists, people use it. And as a company, we have to respond - fast.

We've been trading since August and the two single-seater sit-on-top models that we think will do the best are only going to come out this month. These will complete our recreational sit-on-top range.

There is no doubt that Celliers' designs are the best in the world and our kayaks outrank other brands in performance, stability, features, quality, strength and design. No debate here. Any new company has a lot of work to do.

Our Vagabond year ended with a three-day trip on theOrange River. My personal kayak is the Marimba, the longest, narrowest (but still very stable) and fastest in our range. I knew it would be good but it was even better!


Back home on the 23rd, I had a few days with chunks of work and then took off the whole week of 1 Jan. I really needed it. I didn't turn on my computer, I didn't check email on my phone and I mostly ignored everything.

We had beautiful rains that week and magnificently cool, overcast weather - perfect for a bit of Netflix indulgence.

With the rains and water release from Barrage, came higher water levels in our Vaal River.

2018 was marked with very low water levels in the river for pretty much the whole year - starting from January. We tripped occasionally but it was rocky. After 1 Jan, we got water! Instead of the usual 15 to 25 cumec we'd been having, the river went up to a beautiful 70 to 80 cumec and even higher (up to 130 cumec) for a bit. We did two trips with our Marimbas before getting back to work.

// end of part 1