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July 2022

A Little Paddle: Sanesh's AOG Part 2 (Trying New Things & Gear Shakedown)

This post is the second in a five part series about Sanesh’s experience getting certified as an Assistant Overnight [Kayak] Guide (AOG) through SKILS and the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of British Columbia.

Written by: Sanesh Iyer from @alittlepaddle

Paddling from Vancouver, BC to Cordova, AK, is going to be an incredible adventure with 140 days on trip and 104 days on the water – we’ve planned 20% rest days. Something that is a little easy to overlook is the fact that we will have to pack and unpack our entire lives into drybags and kayaks at least 104 times. Add in 104 lunch breaks, which will mean unpacking some of our gear twice as much. Packing it smart is a big part of this expedition. The AOG presents a great opportunity to shakedown some gear and try out some new camping techniques, so I went a little above and beyond. In the goal of gaining knowledge, I figured I’d try, fail, and learn in as many ways as possible before the trip to Cordova.


Food is simultaneously a really big deal for me and entirely unimportant. My food needs to be tasty, nutritious, and calorie dense in order for me to perform. I’m pretty in tune with my nutritional needs, to the point where I can tell you exactly what and when I should eat in order to perform at my best on a bike ride or in an exam. Yes, academic nutrition is a thing… but that’s for another post. I am also really good at eating the same foods for days or weeks on end and am not too fussed by texture. An artefact from spending too much time as a broke student I think.

For tasty delicious meals on weekend trips, I love the prepackaged food. They are shelf stable, so you can buy a bunch at a time, they are very easy to make, and very tasty. They are also typically quite well balanced in terms of nutrients. The fastest and surest way to manage your camp nutrition is to pick some of these up at your local outdoor store – for me that’s Valhalla Pure Outfitters – and keep them on the shelf ready to go. I like the Ginger Stir Fried Rice with Beef.

Food prepared using the 'Nathan Method' - individual ingredients.

For a longer expedition, buying 3 premade meals a day (420 meals) is an expensive proposition. Also, cooking is part of the fun and I like to be able to prep food in advance as well as do a little bit more than rehydrate on trip. However, for the AOG I decided to push my comfort zone a little bit, and delve into the realm of ultralight food.

My Meal plan for the AOG was as follows:

  • Breakfast — Quinoa, Coconut Milk Powder, Ground Flax Seed Dehydrated Strawberries
  • Lunch — Quinoa with Dehydrated Carrots, Peas, and Corn.
  • Dinner — Quinoa with Dehydrated Chicken, Peas, Carrots, Onions, Garlic; Coconut Milk Powder; and my special curry spice mix.
  • Snacks — Trail Mix and Clif Bars.
  • Drinks — Moja Decaf Espresso & a miscellaneous selection of herbal tea.

You read that right, Quinoa, for 3 meals a day, for 9 days. 27 meals. Those of you who knew me at McGill won’t be surprised by this, I was famous for carrying around a tub of Quinoa Salad everywhere. You may be wondering why. Most grains just don’t do it for me. Rice, wheat, oatmeal, bread, those simple carbs, I burn through them so fast. I can eat a bowl of oatmeal and be hungry in an hour. It’s insane. I need protein, fibres, and fats. My quinoa rich diet does that. I also stopped at Valhalla Pure Outfitters for my Clif Bars and a couple AlpineAire dehydrated meals, in case I did in fact go insane on Quinoa.

A word of caution: I strongly advise *against* trying new diets while outdoors. There are a lot of variables, and finding yourself hungry, tired, and your morale low due to bad food is a bad place to be. Trust me. 100% quinoa is new for me, but it it’s not a large leap from my day to day diet.

Another eye catcher is that crazy word, Decaf. I quit caffeine during the start of the pandemic. I was drinking one coffee per meeting at home, equating to 6 to 8 coffees per day… Not healthy. Since quitting I’ve found my energy more stable, and I’m more able to be up and out the door fast in the mornings. It’s also one less mandatory step in the morning, which is nice. I do occasionally mix caffeine in now and then, at most once every 3 days, and usually in the form of tea. Coffee is a big part of my morale. Even in the city. Sometimes I only get myself to sleep thinking about the coffee I get to make in the morning. The ritual, the smell, and the taste, are all really important to my morale. I’m glad I’m not dependent on it though.

Food organized the "Sanesh Way"

I also decided to prepare meals using the Nathan method. Nathan is a chef, and likes to cook. When he camps, he packs ingredients and mixes them at camp, it’s clearly something he enjoys and is a morale boost for him. I usually premix my food. I figured I’d give his method a go. Nathan is also a big fan of always having a hot beverage handy. I bought a Stanley thermos at his recommendation, and made a point of having enough tea to always have a hot drink handy. I’ll let you all know how these three shakedown items went as it goes.

Spoiler alert. Half way through the AOG, while in Uclulet, I grew to dislike the Nathan method. I just could not deal with having to unpack/pack all my food every time I wanted to make something. Even boiling water every time I wanted to eat sucked. I reorganized, adjusted my recipes, and shifted cooking strategies. More on that in the next post.

Kayaks and Paddles

The biggest cost of the trip is the kayak. I need to buy a kayak, and I’ve been lost in a sea of boats, so I was stoked to be able to try out a couple boats on the AOG. The paddle is less expensive, but equally important to get right. I have no idea how many paddle strokes I’ll be doing in 140 days, but probably a lot, so the thing in my hands matters.

The paddle I’ll most likely be using for the trip is a Werner Kalliste. It’s their go-to, high performance, low angle touring paddle. I’ve had a lot of time on the water with this paddle, I know I like it. I had access to one of these for the AOG. In addition, Finn and Rowan (my instructors) were kind enough to lend me their Werner Cyprus – a high performance high angle paddle – and Sho-Gun – a whitewater paddle – to try. I also used a more basic Werner Skagit Fibreglass paddle too. Nathan will be using a Cyprus on the trip. A higher angle paddle is shorter, with a wider blade. This requires more effort to push you forward, but you end up doing fewer paddle strokes and have more control over the boat. The Sho-Gun takes this to an extreme for whitewater use.

Nathan's Werner Kalliste in the 220 cm length. He's used it for nearly 300 paddling days and it's still performing fantastically.

In my first few days around Classroom Bay, I used all four paddles. The Skagit, the entry level paddle, is great. It’s light enough, stiff enough, and priced well. That said, as soon as you switch over to the Kalliste, you notice a difference. It’s subtle. But there’s less vibration as you pull it through the water. Less flex. And it’s lighter. Small differences, but over 140 days it will add up. It fits with my ‘buy it once buy it right’ philosophy. The Cyprus was interesting too. Again subtle differences with the Kalliste. Nothing I could really make out in short stints in Classroom Bay, so I was excited to try it out on the longer days circumnavigating Vargas Island as part of the AOG. The Sho-Gun was, of course, a completely different animal. It required substantially more core rotation to get the best push. It was fast. It provided a lot of power. Everything had to be with purpose though – the paddle wanted to push you places fast. For the trip, the Kalliste and the Cyprus are the two options I’d consider more seriously. I’m looking forward to spending more time using the Cyprus to compare it for the trip.

Kayaks…. what a beast. In cycling, it’s fairly common to be able to cruise up to a few different bike shops, attend demo days, and try out some bikes. You can also modify bikes quite easily after purchase. Not so much with kayaks. You’ve got to get the hull right and so far it’s been a challenge to demo. I’ve paddled a number of day touring boats, but always with the mindset of “this is good enough for the week” and never “I have to pick the perfect boat to live from for 5 months.” Different discussion.

Cetus HV I tested in Deep Cove.

So far, I’ve been considering some boats from Seaward, Nimbus, Sterling, and P&H Kayaks. I’ve paddled a few different Seaward boats over the years, so I felt like I have a pretty good sense of their line already. The P&H was a new animal, but came on recommendation from a friend. I was looking at the Cetus HV. SKILS was able to rent me a Cetus MV, the smaller sibling, for the AOG. With all the time we spent in Classroom Bay, I got really familiar with this boat. It was very stable and predictable, both features I enjoyed. When edging, it leaned over comfortably until it hit what felt like a stop. This was nice as it was really easy to push it to the edge, and have a solid feeling of where the edge was. The cockpit was also a nice balance of snug fitting — good for using your core and legs to drive movements — but big enough for me to get in and out of quickly. I have big mountain biker legs. That said, I’ve paddled around the Cetus HV and it fits much better. This boat was predictable, stable, and easy to paddle. It felt like a workhorse. I also found the seat quite comfortable and the 4th hatch quite useful.

It did however, become quickly apparent to me that the Cetus MV was going to be too small for me to paddle comfortably for our AOG multiday trip. I have Euro Size 44 feet and big mountain biker legs. Not the boats fault, I’ve paddled the larger Cetus HV and am still considering it, but the MV is too small for me. Finn was kind enough to lend me his Sterling Grand Illusion for the 5 day Vargas Island circumnavigation. The Grand is a high performance boat. It’s unique in that it has lots of rocker and a more rounded hull, more common in river boats than touring boats.

Sanesh kayak surfing a Sterling Grand Illusion. Photo: Matt Schweizer

First Aid and Fire Kits

First Aid Kits. Yes, plural. In my other hobbies (bikes, skis, hikes, etc.) I carry one first aid kit. Mountain biking I barely carry one, as a lot of items serve two purposes (pumps make a great splint, for example). And I carry a number of trauma pads in my mountain biking first aid kit as well… enough that my first aid instructor once asked me why and I said “well I’ve had days riding where I’ve run out of trauma pads and had to use a T Shirt, so I figured I’d add more trauma pads.” For kayaking, I figured that having two kits was the way.

On Water Kit -> This kit lives in my lap. It contains things for on water issues, like pain, sea sickness, small cuts, fast hypothermia response, and blisters. It includes things like Gravol, Ginger Chews, Advil, a Blister Kit, water purification tablets, and a toque.

Expedition Kit -> This is the kit that lives in my hatch for big emergencies, where you can only treat them properly once on land. This one includes an emergency blanket, splint, triangular bandages, and more serious medication.

It’s a tricky balance to strike. I can’t keep a full expedition first aid kit in my lap, and it’s also more exposed there than it needs to be. Even in two dry bags, it’s more exposed to the water in my lap. One thing I do not own, and have never had the need for, are trauma shears. I will be getting a pair. I hate even thinking about it, but in an emergency, if I need to cut through Nathan’s spray skirt, PFD, or dry suit, I need to be able to do that fast. I’m shopping around for a pair, I’ll take any recommendations you have!

I hoped to never need my first aid kit, but I packed and prepped for the AOG as if I was the one leading the trip (which I was not) so I could respond to any first aid emergency. I trust Finn and Rowan to this 100%, it was more for my own preparation and practice. Making sure my first aid kit had a home in my kayak, making sure I was able to keep it dry, etc.

I have avoided listing all the items in my first aid kit for a reason. If you’re interested, I’m happy to chat offline and strongly recommend you take a wilderness first aid course. They are the experts, and will teach you what you need to know and what to bring.

The fire kit is a new one for me. Fires are not a big part of my morale, and I spend a lot of time in fire free zones. However, I thought it would be fun to have one at least, incase we were in some zones which were safe to have leave-no-trace fires in and also in case of emergency on our kayak trip. My fire kit contains:

So, there it is. Some big items to shakedown. First and foremost was food, both in terms of pushing my limits in what I eat and also in how I prepare it. Second was trying out some new kayaks and paddles, to help pick an expedition ready kit for this adventure. And lastly, was my first aid and fire kits. A number of changes to my normal camping system. As Finn would say, I invited a fair amount of chaos into my life with those decisions. That said, I was eager to try them out. In Part 4 of this series I’ll do a deeper dive into my gear and let you know how the shakedown turned out!

My shelter is not something I changed for the AOG. Hammock. Tarp. Quilt. Clothesline.

Part 3: A 5 Day Overnight Around Vargas Island