FBRTA October 2012 Update: The Quick Version

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The current state of affairs. I experienced a significant number of delays that forced me to miss my weather window. The weather window was a concern from Day 1, and my memory tells me that I was pretty up front about it from the get go. After much reflection, it remains unclear how I could have avoided the delays in advance. I’m not sure that any of this is new information for anyone who has followed the twitter and facebook feeds all along, but for the sake of clarity, here are the basic delays.

Wave 1

5 weeks: lost to DIY food sourcing and preparation after failure of contracted company to deliver provisions as agreed.

2 weeks: lost to underestimation of waiting for gear as funds arrived, final gear prep, and fabrication of ultralight camera mounts.

1 week: lost to last-second planning of new provision strategy when Canada rejected allowing it through customs.

Wave 1 loss total: 8 weeks.

Adjustment to plan after Wave 1 delay: Likely forced to winter in Anchorage rather than completing route before snow. After the 5 week delay, I was forced to ditch any hope of the “Plan A” route across Great Bear Lake and scale back to Plan B (or was it C?) of paddling down the McKenzie.

Wave 2

1.5 weeks: lost to significant failed incomingb payment that was budgeted and promised

Wave 1 + Wave 2 total loss: 9.5 weeks.

Adjustment to plan after Wave 2 delay: Anchorage less likely. More realistically forced to winter in Alaskan interior.

Wave 3

Backstory: a combination of the backpack I custom fabricated from cuben fiber, and a broken collarbone in Q3 2010, a nerve in my right shoulder was pinched to the point of losing nearly all function and strength in my right hand. Medical advice indicated that continuing the same way may lead to permanent nerve damage and loss of function. Because of this, I went back to the maps and found a new route allowing me to start rafting on the Liard River (a tributary to the McKenzie) rather than picking up the McKenzie after a few weeks of road and trail riding. Three weeks on the bike was transferred to roughly three weeks on the raft. I had shipped supplies roughly one week forward of the Liard River access well in advance of my hand ceasing to work. Because of this, I requested that Canada Post transfer my gear from the forward post office, to the post office nearer the new river access. I was assured that this was a normal process that would take from 1-2 days because of the proximity of the two locations along the same postal route. Unfortunately that turned into…

4.5 Weeks: lost to undelivered promises, stalls, miscommunications, and insubordination between two Canada Post regional offices and two Canada Post branches. After waiting for 3.5 weeks, I was informed that a postal employee had unilaterally marked “Return to Sender” on all 6 packages at that location. The regional offices were eventually able to intercept 3 of the 6 packages, but couldn’t tell me which ones. After another week of waiting, I received 3 of the packages, as well as 3 packages from another post office (6 of 9 total). Two of the packages I’d previously deemed crucial were not intercepted. I could not continue without reordering the gear and waiting for another 7-10 business days and/or waiting for the “Return to Sender” packages to arrive at their original destinations, and have them resent.

Wave 1 + Wave 2 + Wave 3 total loss: 14 weeks.

Adjustment: With this size of delay, the best case scenario was reaching Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada by mid-late September. This is problematic for multiple reasons. 1) It is well above the Arctic Circle and winter weather can easily set in by this time. 2) Wintering in Canada would have violated my allotted time in Canada. 3) Prices in Inuvik are inflated by its remote location, fossil fuel fields, and various mining operations — making any tenure there cost prohibitive. 4) Continuing beyond Inuvik at that date would have required a complete change of gear and travel methods. 5) Extracting from Inuvik was cost-prohibitive as well.

During this waiting phase, I was a constant puppet of Canada Post. I was assured regularly that everything was shipped, or was otherwise handled, only to find out time and again that it wasn’t. After waiting one week, then two weeks, there was one adjusted plan bantered about among myself and various others. After waiting three weeks the plan was further strategized. Again after four weeks. It was still borderline until I actually saw the packages that arrived and their contents. Had the crucial gear arrived, I might have continued despite the time. So in effect, I was factoring in an extra two weeks (7-10 business days) of delay for that gear to be re-reshipped… leading to an effective delay of 16 weeks if the gear managed to arrive on time through some miracle.

With a 14 week delay and missing gear/supplies, a push for Inuvik exceeded my risk profile, and left me unable to afford to exist upon arrival there even in a best-case-scenario.

I chose to turn south to train and regroup… considering the delay to be part of the continuing story. I made it to Astoria on the Oregon Coast on September, 14. Some have stirred up much hullabaloo recently intimating that I’ve somehow misrepresented my whereabouts. This is factually incorrect, as you may observe in my Twitter update upon dining in my last restaurant before starting down the coast. It is clearly referenced as “Oregon Coast Trail. Mile Zero.” with accompanying photo of a cider I quite enjoyed. For the immediate future, I will continue to train and regroup along the Oregon Coast. During this time, I suspect I will remain without satellite phone (dead, factory recalled, not yet returned to me), without anything but sporadic internet at borrowed WiFi, and without a computer with a keyboard.

I’d love to be able to divulge my subsequent plans. However, as of yet, they are undetermined because of variables beyond my immediate control such as gap funding,  and rumors that I’ve taken the Kickstarter money to live out some island fantasy — making attempts to obtain such funding more difficult. I sincerely hope that those engaged in the spreading of such rumors don’t succeed in turning their cynicism into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In any case, I’m not quitting. Please do be very aware that delays to the expedition’s progress lead directly to delays in the Kickstarter documentary. I suppose there’s always the option to cut together a lame documentary and vomit it out upon the world. I’d rather not go that route.