Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Unexpected Complication...OR How I Became Temporarily Homeless

In terms of dirtbagging, I had it all. Lot's of friends with warm homes and spare couches or bedrooms, a nightshift job that was just mind-numbing enough to dream about kayaking during the whole shift and left the days free to actually go kayaking, and even a family I didn't owe any real responsibility to.
And that's the best kind of family...
Kate Daniel Photo
(Also, apologies to my real family...)
What could possibly go wrong?

 It all started a few days ago.

I was informed that circumstances would no longer permit my very pleasant accommodations in the Woodstock neighborhood of SE Portland, an unpleasant but not unexpected development. In a desperate attempt to prove I was incapable of being trusted to my own devices, I cut my finger deep enough to see a vein while moving a refrigerator. It didn't work. The reasons for my eviction seemed reasonable enough though, and the wide network of friends in the region would surely step in to fill the position of "host." If my position should then be described as "parasite," it should at least be noted that there is a symbiotic relationship occurring, because, as expected, a number of hosts seemed to spring up.

The obvious selection was Gus'. Not only was there a big room, short commute, and high tolerance for smelly kayak gear, he has a cool ass name. In truth, the large majority of potential hosts were from college students leaving for winter break.
Presumably to act grinchly towards younger siblings...
With such a wide and undoubtedly reliable selection of new homes, it was hard to conceive something going wrong. Especially in the early morning haze preceded by 18 or so hours of consciousness, the latter half of which were spent carting children's toys unnecessarily back and forth in a store. I should add, the term "concious" is used in the loosest sense. 

Anyways, unacknowledged by me, the options trickled subtly away.

Benny left, Cat left, Harrison might (?) still be around. The day came for me to move out far too soon. I found myself experiencing some moderately significant anxiety as I packed up the car again. There was a distinct feeling of "not-good-ness" settling in the pit of my stomach which I attributed this to one too many redbulls throughout the night. 

After an ashamedly short drive to Gus' I hopped out of the car and confidently entered the passcode on his garage and twisted the handle.

Nothing happened.

I repeated the code 3 or 4 times, occasionally cursing, because cursing usually helps in these situations. So I called Gus, worried I'd have to admit I forgot the code. Turns out, I had it right, the door just needed to hear me admit I could be wrong (kinda like some of the girls I've met), because it started working as soon as Gus told me the code I was using was correct.

Things were looking up. I got to chat with Gus, it didn't sound like I woke him up, the door was about to open, and I'd continue living the dirtbag's dream. Except it still wasn't opening. And to be honest, I've sorta put off sharing this detail, because it's a bit incriminating.

That handle I twisted in my initial attempts actually sent a deabolt into the frame, effectively sealing me out. The poor automated door opener's engine whirred and cranked (repeatedly), now so desperate to allow me inside where moments ago it had stonewalled me.

It continued to strain against the deadbolt for the duration of my conversation with Gus which involved 2 near circumnavigations of the house, searching for an option that would allow the entering part of breaking and entering without the breaking part. It actually continued struggling to open well beyond my discovery that these college students had been surprisingly responsible when they headed home for break.

Ultimately, it stopped though.

Then it started to snow, a rare occurrence here in Portland.

So I went back to Kate's and did the first thing anyone in my position would do. Told facebook I was homeless.

Thanks to Cat, I'm not homeless anymore, and now I get to tell people I'm in a much better place now than I was yesterday.

Happy Holidays Everyone!
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Selling out

I stopped posting for a while because it felt like I was selling out.

You know, telling everyone how cool I was without actually saying anything insightful. And there's enough of that in this sport.

Since my last post, I said goodbye to my friends and family in the northeast and embarked on a cross country odyssey that I only survived because of the kindness of friends and strangers.

The first stop was Scott Martin's for the obligatory photo shoot:

I left with his great advice ringing in my ears: "There will be times when everything works out perfectly, and there will be times when you're alone, and everything is going to sh!t, and you don't know what to do. Cherish those times, because they teach you more than anything and that's what these adventures are all about."

With that in mind, I spent some time sleeping in the parking lot of the Upper Gauley, on the floor near NOC while I waited for the Cascades to release, on the couch at my aunt and uncle's near the Ocoee, in Durango, in my car somewhere between Arches and the Bonneville Salt Flats, and at a campground near Crater Lake.

I also spent a lot of time driving.

I learned a few things on that drive. 

I learned that being alone isn't all that bad, but it isn't all that good, either. There's certainly something to be said for being independent. That's what allowed me to see things like this:
That's not snow...
But for all the freedom I had, be it choosing where to stop, what to eat, or which hikes to go on, I constantly found myself searching for ways to share these experiences. So here I am, sharing. Unfortunately, you don't get to feel how cold the desert is at sunrise, or hear the crunch of the salt beneath your shoes, or smell the emptiness in the air. You don't get to reach into that photo and pick up a pinch of salt taste, even though it's against your better judgement.

Some things can only be shared in person.

I learned that the world isn't flat, but it really looks like it is sometimes.

It adds some perspective to how privileged I was growing up where I did. How privileged I am to choose where I want to live. I can't imagine living someplace without rivers or mountains, but those places exist, and people choose to live there. Some people don't have a choice. 

I learned (again) that the United States are far more vast and diverse than you can imagine.
How can this:
One Whistle Falls, NY
Arches National Park, UT
and This:
Mt. Adams, WA
all exist in the same country? And how can the people that live in all of these places agree on anything? Sure, there are some major disagreements every 4 years...I mean, once in a while, but really, at least we don't have states going to war against each other on a daily basis. Plus we can visit any of these, or many other, places without needing a passport or visa. America is pretty sweet.

Since I've been in Portland, things have been pretty fast paced. I've been kayaking a lot, looking hard for a job, and relying on friends to survive. So thanks friends, you rock.

My most recent paddling adventure was on the Upper Upper Cispus, which is an incredible run in the northern cascades that's a perfect 2-steps down from the Little White. 
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Beaverated Again (sort of)

By now, you're probably all familiar with this video, since the blog you're reading is named after it.
But it's good fun to watch again (and again, and again, and...)

Last weekend was Labor Day Weekend, better known as Beaverfest, and as usual hundreds of paddlers flocked to the western Adirondacks to get some Beaver. It also happened to be the 6 year anniversary of my rebirth as the Beaverator Kid, and while I didn't paddle the Taylorville section this weekend, I'll be making my way back there in the coming weeks.

More importantly, I stepped it up in a big way elsewhere.
If you're lazy and/or don't care to hear me describe the incredible awesomeness of the weekend, feel free to skip to the bottom paragraphs which contain the morals!
Staph is no fun, notice the size difference and the red streaks
 Last year, I had a staph infection on my knee that made walking difficult, and the idea of shoving it into a thighbrace unfathomable. It was the first Beaverfest I hadn't paddled in 7 years. I spent the weekend surrounded by friends and strangers alike running the river...over and over and over again. I was miserable, but I took a bunch of great photos and determined that no matter what I'd be healthy the following year.

And so I found myself here a year later:
Scouting out the first third of the enormous spillway at the Moshier section.
In years past this was something I had paddled quickly by, barely glancing at it, certain I'd never run it. Every year, more and more people run it, but in the relative crowd that shows up for the rest of the river, only a handful of people step up.

Mostly because of this...
Ben Schott sliding by.
 Yeah, that's a massive roostertail. It stems from a ledge/rock that juts up about 2 feet out of the bedrock right at the bottom-middle of the slide. There's a pretty solid amount of flow that crashes straight into it, making a normally large and ominous slide downright intimidating. 
This provides reasonable perspective
 Surprisingly, I bucked up and ran it. It took a little while, but after watching a number of people miss their boof and sloppily bounce down and still making it to the right too early, I remembered the wise words of Kate Daniel: "What could possibly go wrong?" And so I dropped in, nailing a boof and waiting to make the move to the right, finding it surprisingly smooth.

Stoked on finally firing up one of the biggest drops in NY, we headed down for an eventful run down the normal stretch. An unnamed paddler that looked vaguely familiar to me and may or may not have taught me everything I know took a stout beating at the second drop, followed by a swim. Then another anonymous individual took a brutal hit to the face in one of the no-name rapids.
The beaverator tradition continues!
Unfazed, we continued downriver with a couple more (justifiable) swims and 2 hot laps down Moshier Falls for me. It was the first year I really felt in control coming through the pushy series and into the boof.

The boof!
The Eagle followed, where Catherine got to practice her boof, and others sneaked in and out of eddies between KONY Racers charging down the course.

Catherine was one of the few paddlers to remain focused at the last drop
The following day, Taylor decided that buying a Beaverfest sticker and putting it on the back of his car wasn't enough, so he passed up an awesome time on the Raquette to paddle the Taylorville section (again).

And by awesome time on the Raquette, I mean it must have been interesting to watch, since I botched a line at Colton, requiring me to reset in the eddy above the boof and then battle a submerged rock at the bottom before ultimately rolling and scrambling into an eddy. Dylan seemed to be thinking twice after I said "it's not that hard, watch me..."

Dylan also managed to not be too distracted... coincidence? 
We continued quickly down to the Tubs. Dylan had a clean line, and I headed up to run it myself, confident in my past experience.

It should go without saying that I was overly confident.

Dylan with a sweet line
Plugging into the not so sweet line
I don't know how long I was in there, but I thought about swimming a couple times. Then I rolled up and saw where I was. With a pillow of water pushing me back towards the curtain and an swirling current securing me deep in the pocket, I realized no matter how bad things seemed in the boat, I didn't want to go swimming here.

After getting violently tossed, having my paddle snatched from one hand, and getting bowstalled underwater, I finally rolled up and managed to draw my way out before styling the second drop.

Dylan followed me down Particle Accelerator to continue the carnage. His right hand was totally shredded, but I think he got away without stitches. Catherine saved him the carry out by joining me for the remainder of the run, and all in all, the day was a success.

So here's the moral:
Even though I styled my lines on the Moshier, I feel that the beatdown and my ability to surf out of it speaks more to my skills as a paddler. Doug Ammons states that "The real measure of skill is not what you can paddle in optimum circumstances" but "what you can do when the worst happens and you're at rock bottom." While I was far from rock bottom (only figuratively speaking) I can at least say my ability to adapt quickly to a plan b or c has evolved greatly since the Beaverator Incident. No matter what class of paddler I become, paddling rivers I started out on will always hold a special place in my heart for the sense of renewed perspective and growth I can find on them.

Bonus moral:
Getting worked sucks, but it makes you a better paddler. Try it sometime.

Friday, August 3, 2012


I'm going to tell you a secret.

Whitewater Kayaking is a scary sport.
Also, this isn't usually what you're hoping to see when setting shuttle...
It appeals to most of our innate fears; fears like drowning, being entrapped in a confined space, loss of control. Fears of edges, falling, and "river monsters." Some of these are rational fears, others are not.

I think fear is an important thing to acknowledge, and occasionally, to challenge. It reminds us of our vulnerabilities and creates the opportunity for personal growth. It also reminds us of our strengths and encourages us to appreciate the challenges we have already overcome. The result can either perpetuate and strengthen your fears, or knock them back like shots at a frat house (or so I'm told).

My greatest fears stem from the unknown.
Not quite...
Perhaps I'm biased, but it seems like the unknown is the root of most fears. It's impossible not to play the "what if..." game, especially when staring at a complex rapid, or in the wake of tragedy. The unknown is equally influential in my trepidation about what the future may hold. Where am I going? What's out there?

Darkness embodies the unknown. It makes it visible, if not tangible.

Nietzchie references aside, I frequently find myself facing off against the darkness and feeling challenged. Most times I make it a few hundred feet into the woods before something goes Rice Crispies in the woods and I return to someplace less threatening.

But on the water it's different. Whatever light there is gets reflected and refracted, multiplied with every ripple. On the water, I feel at home. It acts the same way whether it's light or dark. For me, water creates an incentive to push past the fear.

So I chased after that incentive. I jogged my shuttle in the fading light. The dogs at every house I passed were aggressive but on leashes. In the last quarter mile I startled something in the woods. It followed me to the clearing where I stashed my boat, but stayed hidden in the trees.

The water was warmer than I expected. The residual light of the setting sun faded as I paddled through the minefield of rocks above the first falls. I sat quietly at the edge in the dark. The night air was rich and still. Life hung in the balance of black and white.
The answer's in there somewhere...
In truth, the flatwater was more difficult than any of the whitewater. The calm water in the river had turned to oil, indistinguishable from all but the most prominent rocks. In the darkness, my memory of these sections was incomplete at best.

But in the whitewater everything was sharp and clear. Well practiced moves came easily, holes and pillows provided an effervescent glow, and my memory easily filled in the gaps. Features loomed out of the darkness. With less time to prepare for each, my reactions adopted an intimacy with the river previously unheard of. I began relying less on my visual input and focused on what I felt beneath the hull of my boat and against the blade of my paddle.

Boofing over the last ledge and into the glow of lampposts was simultaneously relieving and disappointing. Tendrils of fear had wrapped themselves in my mind, forcing me to paddle continuously down the river, getting out of the dark and back into civilization as quickly as possible. But as soon as it was over, I only wanted to go back.

But the river wasn't finished just yet. In the orange glow of the streetlights, the river flowed as molten copper. My paddle strokes sent me gliding and slicing through the copper-oil and foam so easily it felt as if the currents had reversed direction. In fact, I looked up at the shore a handful of times to be sure.
Something like that..except much darker.
Paddle in hand, I walked into the darkness to retrieve my car, emboldened by the gifts facing my fears had left me with.

And that's just one of the reasons why I keep kayaking.
What about you?
Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012: The Summer without Water

So dry, I haven't been whitewater kayaking in weeks. WEEKS! Can you believe that?

I thought I could manage without water. I turned to mountain biking, climbing, ultimate frisbee. Anything I could do to keep myself busy while the rivers dried up, I did. I even started running. You know, the "sport" you play where no one ever wins and you end up back where you started...

Anyways, I did enter a SUP race last weekend at Mountainman's first annual(?) SUP festival. I placed 3rd, which was also last in the Men's division. The guy who won it had never been on a SUP before, and the guy that got 2nd was at least two decades older than me. Great ego boost...

If we don't get significant rain soon, a new horror film may be in the works.
Drought: A Kayaker's Nightmare

In the meantime, enjoy my spring recap edit!
(Up at the top there...)
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Canada and "Almost Canada"

Since I left the west coast roughly a month ago, I've spent the majority of my time in Canada or Northern NY, which is almost Canada. Despite the widespread belief that our neighbors to the north live in a cold and barren tundra, there's actually some reasonably good (REALLY FREAKING AWESOME) whitewater up there.

Now don't get me wrong, I won't be making poutine a regular part of my diet and saying "eh" at the end of every sentence any time soon (that's almost as bad as "y'all"), but I think it's safe to say that my passport is going to get a good deal more use before the summer is through.

First up was the Cheticamp. Ben Schott, Mike Mainer, and I had planned on getting a source to sea first descent on this one, but low water thwarted our attempt in the last 6 miles or so. Nonetheless, it was a huge accomplishment to get as far as we did, and I'll have a full TR with more supporting photos after I find out if I'm going to be famous or not. Until then, feel free to salivate over these shots...
The first "real" rapid, and out campsite for night 1.
Yours truly dropping into the committing one
Mike Mainer photo
we named this one Mike's Panties, I'll leave you in suspense for now...
Mainer on the last big was basically Metlako...
After a long 3 days of hiking/hucking and another 2 days of driving, I headed back to "Almost Canada" for something a little easier. I settled into a routine of safety kayaking and raft guiding on the Black River.
My family promptly took advantage of my guide status...
Before long, the river had reached dismally low levels, and Tony G and Chris Morelli convinced me to seek water elsewhere. And where better to seek it than one of the largest rivers in the east?

So we loaded up some Pyranha Jeds and rallied to the Ottawa after our respective rafting trips. The 4 hour drive turned into a 5 hour drive while Tony experienced some "difficulties" crossing the border. Nevertheless, we made it to a campground under cover of darkness, and woke up in a field full of tents and playboats. After a breakfast of fruitloop-peanutbutter sandwhiches and some help from the locals, we were on the river and headed to Garb...after a short detour.
Dirtbags for life!
Garb is a great place to learn to blunt...
It does most of the work for you.
Morelli going big. 
"Hey hold on a second, I'm about to go huge"
Tony throwing down some nasty Pan Ams.
All told, I spent $30 on the trip. There's a reason I'm chief dirtbag...
Monday, June 11, 2012


(This is the truth, and also more than the truth.)

It sure does feel like falling. If you try to fight it things just get out of control. That's how you end up hurt. It's best to just let go, tuck up, and wait it out. Of course, sometimes you do everything right and things still get broken.
Letting go and tucking up on Metlako Falls, Eagle Creek, OR
Kate Daniel Photo
It's always a choice, too. Whether it was a spur of the moment decision with a convenient pool at the top or a missed takeout where you ended up gorged in at the lip with no choice but to fall, there were a series of choices that led to the moment you tip over the edge.
One of the ones without many options. Brokeback Gorge, NY
Taylor Krammen Photo
And once you've made that choice, it's all what you make of it. Things accelerate quickly. Changes are hard to react to. Sometimes, even letting go doesn't work as well as you had hoped.
Reacting. Pixley Falls, NY
Brian Murphy Photo
When you're falling, that's all that exists. For some it's natural. Others feel their stomachs drop out. Everyone takes some time to wonder how they got there in the first place. Inevitably you start to wonder how long it's going to last. Above all, it seems bigger than it really is.
Metlako Falls, OR
Kate Daniel Photo
So you hang there.
In ecstasy or agonizing anticipation.
"Remember, this was a choice." Metlako Falls, OR.
Ethan Smith Photo
And just pray you don't hit bottom.
Kate Daniel Photo
And now for something completely different.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Best Place On Earth

You know it's true because it's on their license plates...
I haven't been around long enough or traveled far enough to make such a bold claim, but I can certainly say that it's one of the best places I've ever been.

British Columbia has been on my list of bucket list destinations since I started kayaking. Back then, it was more of a pipe-dream than an actual goal. The likelihood of me making it within striking distance of that particular part of The Great White North seemed negligible, and even after spending a summer in Oregon, the area still seemed inaccessible.

And so when Don "Cap'n Holiday" Butler extended an open invitation to explore the Whistler area, I knew the outcome could only be legendary.

Equally important to the success of the trip was an appropriate partner in crime...
Enter Kate "Skate" Daniel
Yes, the mission to B.C. could only be a success...

Kate took the day off on Thursday to pack and "acquire" a sweet mountain bike for me to borrow on our extended weekend. I held up our departure until about 6 that night, but I was getting more people stoked on kayaking, so I think I was forgiven.

We proceeded to drive (cranking Weezer and Insane in the Membrane the whole way) to a rest area about 20 minutes south of the border. On the way, we suffered a couple technological casualties, including, but not limited to, a totally shattered phone. Suddenly disconnected, we settled in for a cramped night in the car.
Despite tight accommodations, Kate awoke chipper as always (after "just 30 more minutes")
Apparently Canada doesn't believe in the concept of an inter-province (Because they aren't states, after all), so we had to battle rush hour traffic through Vancouver, which is home to about a tenth of the province's population.
Fortunately, we had a pretty clear idea of our destination
As soon as we got on the Sea to Sky Highway, things just kept getting better.
Sea-Check. Sky-Check. Highway-Check.
Yup, they got the name right.
After a brief stop in Whistler Village to get directions, we were welcomed into Don's gorgeous home for the weekend. Kate and I settled in without hesitation and gladly recovered from the drive while watching the final stages of the Giro D'Italia... which the Canadians ended up winning.
Go Canada, eh!
Skate, scoping things out.
Don made pretty much everything but the kitchen sink, er... stove, in this shot.

After unloading gear from his last class, Don showed us down the Calcheak, a class II-III staple in the Whistler area that combined the Lower Callaghan with a section of the Cheakamus. The numerous surf holes were friendlier than expected.

It was a great introduction to the whitewater of the area with some pushy features, a bit of wood, and incredible scenery.

My appreciation for having a local guide on these rivers can not be overstated. It was very common to watch the river drop away around a bend with no significant eddies in sight. In most cases, the rapids were mellow class III, but every once in a while there were places you really wouldn't want to end up.

After a stellar first run in B.C. (my first international paddle, we rallied to the Lost Lake mountainbike trails for my first international pedal, setting the pace for the rest of the weekend.
We returned to a delicious roast chicken dinner with strawberries and ice cream for dessert, plus a hot tub session. I slept well.

Saturday was spent as follows:
Paddling the Lower Birkenhead and napping on this sweet swinging bridge.
Breaking and attempting to repair a bike chain.
Digging ourselves into and back out of a pretty deep hole.
Alpenglow admiring.
 It was a great day, the highlight being a self guided tour of the Upper Cheakamus. After our aborted attempt at repairing my bike chain, Kate and I headed to the "Upper Lower Upper Put-in" for the Upper Cheakamus with beta from some bros at the takeout telling us to beware of the second hole after the suspension bridge.

Naturally, we decided to put in below their suggested put-in, and above Don's suggested put-in. In doing so, we subjected ourselves to a boat hindered hike several hundred "metres" through the woods and miraculously (read "through my innate sense of direction") found ourselves at the only reasonable eddy in sight. It was fine though, because I got to play in the snow.

It was at this point that Kate began question the wisdom in following me down a river neither of us had paddled before.
It wouldn't be the last time I would see this face...
Despite these (valid) concerns, we set forth through the most challenging whitewater we were to experience on the trip. I boat scouted through the class IV relaying nonverbal beta wherever I could. We arrived at the suspension bridge sooner than expected, without significant difficulty, and stoked on the experience.

Things quickly got gorge-y, and horizon lines started popping up all over the place. After a particularly hard to read ledge with a strong hole on the right, we slowed down and put more effort into figuring out exactly which rapid had the big nasty hole in it.
Nope, not this one...
Kate Daniel Photo
After blasting through the above and catching a convenient "last chance" eddy at the lip, it became quite apparent we had found "the big one." With no easy portage or scouting options in sight, I took a couple spins around the eddy line to get a better look and then went for it, nailing a SWEET boof off a flake on the left. The right consisted of a steep foam pile with a strong recirculation and pretty much no exit options.

Kate followed shortly after, hugging the left wall just a bit too closely. Her bow knocked off the wall and time slowed down as I watched her piton the same flake I boofed off and get knocked back into the hole. She disappeared completely, then rocketed out in a huge stern stall-pirouette and then disappeared again. After some sidesurfing and at least one more significant ender, she pulled her skirt, proving the bros at the takeout were right when they said "you either punch it, or you swim it."

I charged forward to get to a rock and throw a rope while she took a half-body recirc and as soon as she flushed into the eddy on the right I took off after her boat. With some fortunate side currents and a mindfulness of ferry angles developed during the very class that led to my late departure, I bulldozed the boat up to Kate and had her back in the boat just in time for a local crew to come down.

Sufficiently shaken (and in Kate's case, stirred), we asked if they'd be kind enough to show us down the rest of the run, which they were happy to do. What followed were numerous bends with pushy class IV and the occasional chute to negotiate. On one rapid, I was following along through the thick of it and noticed a potential boof flake out of the corner of my eye. Without taking the time to consider there could be a massive hole on the other side, I charged towards and felt the bow of my boat get thrown to the sky while I accelerated more rapidly forward than I had ever been before. I landed stern first in the middle of a boulder garden, recovering just in time to dodge a couple big holes and continue down.

At the takeout, we thanked our guides and met back up with Don at Dup's, the best Burrito place in Whistler. His eyebrows raised a bit when we told him about our put-in and he broke into a grin when we told him about our experience in the gorge. 
Then I made pie. Kate helped... sort of. 
Either way it was delicious.

The next day started slow, with a dip in the hot tub.
It's hard to rush with views like this...
We rounded out our trip with another good bike ride, which also allowed us to do a post-run scout of the Upper Cheakamus. It was great to come back after having run it blind and see everything again, especially getting a good look of the hole and how gorged in we were.
Kate checking out the "easy 6 foot boof" at the suggested put-in by the bros.
soaking it all in...
With a brief pit stop and roundabout hike to a rather large falls, we headed home, arriving in Portland happy and exhausted around 1 am.

Maybe the numerous crystal clear rivers with wildly ranging levels of difficutly (all within about a 30 minute drive) that tumble down the valleys and canyons between still snowcapped peaks have something to do with it. Maybe it was the miles of technical singletrack twisting between ancient trees blanketed in moss. Maybe it was because it was my first multi-day vacation in months.

But more likely, it was the company I had on the trip that made British Columbia the best place on Earth.

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I am a freelance writer and photographer, collector of experiences, adventure lover, and outdoor goer.