Two years ago, Mark and Merri Morall of Morall River Films built up expectations of a DVD they had been working on by releasing "More than a River": a lush opening sequence, capturing the spirit of tripping and journeying in song as well as in great footage, and heightening anticipation by ending with Sigurd Olsen's famous line about the way of the canoe being "the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten"...
Expectations were raised even further with the release of a captivating series of "Cliff Jacobson Uncensored" films in which the straight-talking expedition guru (author of "Canoeing Wild Rivers", now in its 30th Anniversary Edition) showed he's not mellowing with age. The Moralls then released a trailer which promised even more, with Dan Cooke talking of how "anticipation of what's around the corner of each bend" drives him on, and with Cliff waxing lyrically about "Freedom, remoteness and challenge" - great stuff:
This Christmas eve, Mark and Merri gave us all a seasonal gift by releasing their full, 45 minute Introduction to Canoe Camping
As trailed, the film kicks off with some great discussion of "why" we might want to do this, capped by talk of "freedom to follow your own star as you see fit"... of getting out "where you normally can't go"... of developing relationships and the triangle of "you, friends and nature"... of being "self contained" in an activity which "strips away all the superfluous stuff" - all arguments which transcend their North American roots.
Darren Bush's is the one who contributes the "triangle" of "you, friends and nature" bit, and gets he to talk about much else in this extended interview:
Canoeing Legend Ralph Frese pops up repeatedly, kicking off with punchy bits about real camping, relating to our forefathers and getting back to the "simple" life. Steve Pirages chips in with talk of how tripping can "take your mind into a different place" and put you "into the present [...] into the now". This is all very much in the tradition of Bill Mason and "Song of the Paddle" - which fits with the way portaging is discussed as "something which goes with the game" and as being "whatever you make of it".
The section on how to approach tripping largely avoids the British obsession with boat handling. It rightly kicks off with the far more critical matter of the "car shuttle" - which arguably has a far greater impact on our scope to explore than anything we can (or can't) do with a paddle! In this, as in everything else, the whole film is very open minded. For example, we hear that "what type and how much gear you pack is largely personal preference", with examples from the "kitchen sink" canoe camper to the minimalist. Practical constraints are considered, but the film's focus is as much on the priority of environmental considerations and the case for "low impact" or "leave no trace" camping.
The American Canoe Association's Tom Linblade gets to make the case for formal training:
Getting back to the main film, that latter part shifts the focus to "what" we might need. This includes Cliff in fine form on the desirability of reading "everything" with a view to understanding what you need and what you don't need, and as we might expect, he stresses that when we do decide you "need" something... we should try the best, so we get to see why it's so good - though as ever, he argues for skills being more important than "things".
The film moves onto "craft" and that starts off really well with Ralph Frese noting "there is no simple definition of a canoe [...] man has tried everything" - though the aficionado may want to go to the full Ralph Frese interview to get full value:
Fortunately, after emphasising that nothing substitutes for deciding where we want to canoe and what kind of canoeing you want to do, and that we can't have one canoe that's going to do everything well... the film moves on to other gear: rain gear and tarps, sleeping bags and pads, packs, food, stoves (including for baking), water (purification, treatment & filtration), lights (headtorch through to lanterns), clothing and more.
The section on injuries and First Aid rightly kicks off with avoidance / prevention, and after touching on kit & training makes a key point about emergency planning.
Throughout all of this, and everything that follows, having Dan Cooke as an interviewee helps on all of these topics. Here's the full interview with him:
Later on you've got contributions on toilets (including bagging and catholes), and a great bit on "bears and bugs" - emphasising the greater significance of the latter, though not covering the full horrors of the midges we so commonly encounter in Scotland.
All told, this is worth 45 minutes of anyone's time... and is worth sharing far and wide with anyone who might feel drawn to canoeing.
Note: first posted (and discussed) in Morall River Films - Introduction to Canoe Camping.