Canoecopia 2012 Report (1 of 2)


The world’s largest paddlesport expo came along just in time for an early spring. Here’s what sprung this year (including UpNorthica as presenters).

Change in season moved swiftly this March, as did our whirlwind weekend at Canoecopia in lovely Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to our speaking engagement, we also had staffer Arthur Beisang along with us to bolster our coverage. Snapping pics. Tweeting. Chatting. and drooling in no small amount over the latest gear.

We hit the convention center Friday afternoon, each of us scattering to catch the first presentations of the day.

Especially rewarding were Alan Kesselheim’s selected readings from his new book, Let Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the Water. This collection of stories centers on his family’s tradition of paddling with his teens down some marvelous rivers, like the Yellowstone, the Rio Grande and more. There was no PowerPoint; there was no need. Kesselheim’s robust storytelling and expressive, evocative descriptions were plenty sufficient. We picked up a copy, of course, and are through it already. Go get yours, now.

Steve Nelson discusses the aggressive spread of the Pagami fire. Photo: Arthur Beisang

Another standout from the day was outfitter Steve Nelson’s talk on the 2011 Pagami Wildfire. As you might guess, it was very well-attended by many who followed along in the headlines… and likely more than a few who experienced it up close. Steve certainly had; his Spirit of the Wilderness outfitting company provided aid to firefighters on several levels. His firsthand knowledge showed, both with excellent visuals to show the startlingly rapid spread of the fire, and other images from the effort (one memorable photo showed a bobcat swimming to safety). Reactions from the crowd were rather audible in adjacent rooms, and among the questions were many inquiries about the condition of campers’ favorite sites. Luckily, according to Nelson, only about 5% of the BWCAW campsites were affected by the fire… but it really underscored the sense of belonging that so many share for the BW.

Then, after weeks of research and prep, we were given the chance to tell a story of our own.

During our presentation. Photo: Preston Ciere (

“Fun with Smoke ‘n’ Ash: Chased by a Wabakimi Wildfire” is our story of how a 9-day canoe trip in Ontario took an…er, interesting turn when our route was beset with smoke from a nearby blaze. While we’d blogged about it in our trip reports, the presentation brought focus to how we dealt with unexpected hazardous conditions. We used additional data of the fire (courtesy of the Ontario Fire Authority), and wrapped it all together with a sweet new online tool that zooms & pans the viewer all over our route map.

But here! Have a look at our presentation yourself (while the online version doesn’t have audio, the images and chronology are worth a gander).

We filled our 150-person room capacity —woohoo!— and among the attendees were several long-time volunteers from the Wabakimi Project whose comments afterwards were a huge reward. One mentioned that in his 9(?) years of trail clearing efforts, he’d thought he had seen everything; but not this.

Also unexpected after our talk, were several other stories shared with us from other canoeists whose paths missed crossing ours by only days. Hearing their fire experiences and perspectives, and re-living those semi-harrowing experiences was unforgettable. In a good way, if that makes any sense to you at all.

Thanks to everyone who attended, new friends and old!

Each of us stole away whenever we could during the evening, roaming the vast exhibition hall in search of the Newest. The Neatest. The Most Notable-est. A few standouts…

Puzzle joints… giving hope to the boatbuilding-challenged. Photo: Arthur Beisang

Arthur hung out at the Chesapeake Light Craft booth for a while. The increasingly-popular puzzle joints in their kayak kits caught his eye.

Pop-up attracts popping eyes: The SylvanSport GO. Photo: Arthur Beisang

And he had to fight his way to even get near the SylvanSport GO camper. Looks like a svelte camper trailer for outdoorsy hipsters, does it? True, but this one wears more than one hat: the configurable design allows it to become a boat/ATV trailer, a utility trailer/rack and more. Is ‘glamping’ really so bad after all? Lots of buzz around this item, with good reason.

As day drew into evening, it was movie time.

The ever-witty Kevin Callan screened his latest film, WildernessQuest. Filmed just north of the BW in Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park, it poses viewers with the question “does wilderness still exist?”

Well, no, we’re not going to tell you the answer. You have to get the DVD yourself. Or at least watch the trailer. All kidding aside, it was good to see high-school and college-aged young adults in this feature. Fresh blood, wide eyes and tender feet are much, much needed in the world of paddling. They need to know how welcome — and needed — they are among those of us who love wilderness.

Our evening wrapped up with a stop to our favorite eatery in town, Graze. I would challenge you to find better cheese curds in all the state of Wisconsin.

But that’s only our first day at Canoecopia 2012. Part Two will follow, later this week — stay tuned!

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10 Responses to Canoecopia 2012 Report (1 of 2)

  1. Darren says:

    Thanks so much for coming and presenting! You added a nice dimension to our speaker array. I like how there were talks this year about things not going so well but making the best out of the situation.. Look forward to the upnorthica gang next year.,,maybe you can go paddling with us the next day!

  2. Luke says:

    So when in part 2 coming along?

  3. Camp System says:

    This article was well written and easy to follow. Andy, What motivated you to call this blog “Canoecopia 2012 Report (1 of 2)”, not that the title does not go with the content, I am just wondering. I appreciate you sharing this with the rest of us Andy.

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