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Getting Certified to Paddle to Alaska

I’m really looking forward to our paddle to Alaska. I’m looking forward to paddling, sunny weather, hunkering down on stormy days, and many many other parts of it. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as packing up and going for me. There is a lot of planning that has to happen in advance, which I actually quite enjoy. Keeping my fitness up, gear in tip top shape, and emergency skills up to date gives me the confidence to drop into slabs on my bike, go for big road rides in the rain, or go out camping on a moment’s notice. I am a pretty cautious person by nature and find nothing gives me confidence in high pressure situations like having spent lots of time preparing in advance. That ups my enjoyment and also my safety. Going to Alaska, for me, is going to involve a lot of prep work, which is why Nathan and I started planning over a year in advance. My big items are: 1) Gear → kayak and drysuit are the big ticket items.

2) Training → making sure I have the skills to go.

3) Trip Planning → Food, route, etc.

he best type of cross-training, getting outside. In this case touring Mont Lyall in the Chic-Choc.

The first one is no problem. I’m a gear nerd, and love researching and trying out new things. The other two are a bit more of a mixed bag for me. I work a 9-5 as a mechanical engineer in the Carbon Capture industry. I’m really lucky to love my job, work with great people, and feel like I make a difference in the world… but the last thing I want to do in my time off is spend any more time on a screen. So if training and planning involves going to the gym, or riding my bike, making camp food in the park, or – god forbid – kayaking, I’m all in. For this trip, screen time is part of the preparation process and that’s been a hurdle for me so far. Some of these screen intensive tasks include route planning, meal planning, researching certification and licensing requirements (and then actually taking those courses), etc.. I’m also going through the process of licensing as a Professional Engineer (P. Eng.) in BC which has involved studying for an exam (you guessed it, all online), webinars, as well as various assessments. Motivating to spend all this extra time on a screen, outside of my 9-5 job, has been the hardest part of this process. Nathan has been very understanding when I drop the ball on screen-time things like our website (or this blog post), while also being constant support. It’s one of the reasons we’re going to make such a good team for this trip.

So, after some consideration, I decided to take my Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of British Columbia Assistant Overnight Guide certification through SKILS in Ucluelet from May 30th to April 8th. There are a few reasons I decided to take the class:

  1. Kayak time and time outside! It’s 9 days in the field, so that’s a fair amount of time in the boat and there are a lot of specifics about boat handling that are in the curriculum, which are certain to serve me well. And it’s going to be super fun.

  2. Navigation → Obviously a great skill to have. And while I’m confident in my land-lubber orienteering skills, more time exercising these on-the-water is key.

  3. Language → Nathan is a kayak guide with many years of experience. I have a long way to go to match his competency and experience in the boat. However, from my past experience as a mountain bike guide, I found a key takeaway of this type of training is the language taught. Having a common jargon is very useful for communication, especially in high pressure situations. Nathan and I have great communication already, we have a shorthand and understand each other’s non-verbal cues well. I expect this course to upskill my kayak related jargon to further improve our communication in the context of sea kayaking. In high pressure situations – I have in mind surf landings with poor visibility in Class IV waters – I expect this to be invaluable. Prepare for the worst, to make it safe and make it fun.

  4. People → it’s going to be fun to make some new friends!

I take a lot of pride in my office. Standing desk; ergo keyboard and mouse; and a couple 27s. It’s dialled. But it doesn’t mean I want to stay at it after work.

As I mentioned before, I love the learning process but have trouble motivating myself to spend more time on the screen and the AOG does include a classroom component of about 30h, SKILS was gracious to let me start the online content early and I bought a paper copy. I’m happy I can spread it out over a timeline that works for me to make sure I master the content while maintaining a balance that works for me. I’ll be posting a few more times about my AOG experience! Additionally, I have to take the Restricted Operator Certificate – Maritime (ROC-M) to allow me to legally operate a marine radio. This is a key piece of equipment for our trip, as it’s going to let Nathan and I communicate with each other as well as with other vessels. Something I’m particularly excited – and nervous – about is using our radios to contact the appropriate authorities as we cross from Canada into the USA. Any thoughts on what my call sign should be?

A ROC-M and VHF would have been very useful on this trip to link up with our co-conspirators with the bikes.

The last big certification I’ll need is my 80h Wilderness First Responder certificate. I have had this in the past, and currently hold a Wilderness First Aid certificate. This skill is an especially important one to refresh. I really enjoy wilderness oriented first aid classes. The content is really interesting, and the instructors and peers are really cool and knowledgeable. My favourite part about these is the outdoors component, where we practise in the field. I’ve been in nature enough to know how useful first aid skills are. You rarely use them, but when you need them, you need them. Just a few weeks ago I helped someone with a broken arm off of Lower Oilcan on Mt. Fromme. Like any skill, first aid needs to be practised and refreshed. I’ll leave this course until later in 2022 or potentially 2023. Expect at least one, if not more, blog post about our first aid preparations as well as the WFR course to come.

Going to Alaska is mostly fun and games, however, there are some challenging parts for me which mostly revolve around motivating myself to do the work requiring screen time. The courses fill up fast. ROC(M) in particular was hard to find a provider, and I booked my AOG 3 months in advance and got the last slot in the course. I need to keep this in mind when I book my WFR. Planning ahead has really paid off here, as it’s ensured that I can do the training I need to, and at a pace which makes sense for me. This trip is a big effort, and it would suck to have it derailed by something we could have prepared for. Knowing yourself is the best way to balance your long term desires with your happiness in the moment, and for me that requires planning months in advance so that I can enjoy the preparation, as much as I can enjoy the paddle itself.

I’ll be writing about my AOG experience in a future post, but if there’s any part of the certification process you’d like to know more about, let me know by leaving a comment! I’d love to hear from you. Please consider subscribing to be notified about future posts.

Talk soon,


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