The Case for Logging

River of the month #48

author: Pat Reilly
date: May 2002

In the spring of 1989 I bought my first plastic whitewater kayak and soon after that I bought a paddling log book, a little booklet designed to record information about each paddling excursion. I’ve continued to write log records after every time I’ve been is a boat since then and have never regretted it. Far from being a chore, logging trips has grown into a pleasurable part of each paddling experience as I get to relive the trip when I write it down, evaluate it and compare it to previous trips. After I filled that first book, I customized the data form and printed off my own, punching holes in the paper and storing them in loose-leaf binders. I’m up to 7 volumes now as last fall I celebrated log number 1000.

Of the 1050 log pages to date, 145 are multi-trip or ‘training’ logs, with 10 trips to the page. The multi-trip pages have led to separate forms for ‘regular’ trips and ‘training’ trips. The training logs are usually for exercise trips but may be any trip that just wasn’t eventful enough to justify a full log page. Trips such as a surfing session in the Dauphin Narrows, a quick paddle out to Party Island to check on the pontoon boat crowd or a pizza and beer run downstream to the ‘Gingerbread Man’ are all for the ‘training’ pages.

I didn’t get a personal computer until 1996, but had I had one back in 1989, I could have logged trips without the restriction of pages and all log types could have been the same. But the way it has worked out, I think I would still want to have some distinction, since all the ‘regular’ logs are considered individual adventures, each one different and special. While ‘training’ logs are mostly just to make sure I’m getting enough time in a boat and to keep a record of fitness and race training progression.

Through the years of paddling and writing it all down, I’ve come to discover many advantages to keeping records of your trips.

  • Reference. First and perhaps foremost is simply reference for future trips. This is the principal reason that I began logging. Record the levels and conditions so you’ll know for the next time. For example - if you noted that 2.3 feet on the gauge for Deathdrop Creek was a little pushy back in ’94, you’ll know you’ll really have your hands full today at 2.9 feet. That type of information can really take the guesswork out a ‘go or no-go’ decision.

  • Evidence. Logging can be a great argument stopper. You say we ran Broach-n-pin Run at 10 and a half feet on Saturday the 17th, your partner says it was running at 15 feet and it was on the 10th. You pull out the logbook and there it is in black and white. Oops, it was running at 12 feet and it was the 3rd.

It also puts a check on exaggeration. Checking the entry from 1993’s run you find out that the ‘waterfall’ on Bigair River that has grown over the years into a 12-footer is, in fact, only a 5-foot ledge.

  • Data crunching. This is where I get the most out of my training logs. Using data from timed logs one can do quantitative comparisons. Are you slower or faster than last year? How about the year before? Are you spending more or less time training? I’ve gone so far as make an Excel Spreadsheet and do further analysis on time-trail data. This allows even more questions to be answered: Which boat is fastest? What’s the average speed for a particular boat? And the standard deviation? What’s the percentage difference between straight blade and wing paddles?

Even in the ‘regular’ entries, I get a little crazy with all the data. I’ve developed an online index with various categories to list different types of trips. Trips such as: camping trips (defined when you paddle in and paddle out of the site), competition entries, swims (unintentional, that is), tidewater trips. This allows you to spot trends, such as how the number of swims is hopefully tapering off each year. (Except for 5 swims in 2000, what’s up with that?) I also have lists of all the popular rivers so I can spot at a glance how many trips I’ve made down the Juniata, the Youghiogheny or Antietam. This helps you spot ‘needy’ rivers. ‘Gee, I don’t have many runs down Headmunch Creek. Lets set up a trip for next weekend.’

Yeah, it’s a bit obsessive, but it’s fun and I always know exactly what, when and where I’ve paddled.

  • Memory. I don’t know about the rest of you club members pushing 50, but I find that I can no longer rely on my memory (not that I ever really could). In this respect the logs are becoming ever more valuable. I would never had been able to write the many accounts of past trips in ‘River of the Month’ had it not been for the logs. While some may say that would be a blessing, I would have missed out on the fun of writing them.

I’ve been terribly forgetful since day one (We’re talking about a kid who once went to 2nd grade class still wearing his pajama top) and it’s a very real fear that I won’t remember much of anything in old age. But at least I’ll have the paddling logs to look at and hopefully trigger some pleasant memories.

  • Pleasure. I never really intended for the logs to provide leisure. But I found that I do enjoy occasionally going over previous experiences. What normally happens is that I’ll be researching an old trip and end up browsing adjacent log entries for 10, 15, 20 minutes or more. Then there are times when I get out a logbook and read a few lines of text from a trip description while purposely not looking at any of the other data. Then I’ll see if I can recall the trip and guess the river. It’s funny, but I can usually remember a trip after just a sentence or two. I’ve got to believe that the simple act of writing down the trip is a big part of being able to remember it. Now if you accept that as true, and if you consider your paddling to be a priceless part of your life, and if you cherish the memories, then logging the trips can be said to be invaluable.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2002 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.