In the Same Boat: October – December 2016
Ticks and tick-borne diseases have come to Canoe Country. And Tamia’s readers are kitting up to do battle.
Tick(ed) Off! Our Readers Take On Ticks
by Tamia Nelson | October 4, 2016
The northern Adirondack foothills have long enjoyed a reputation for intemperate weather. Frigid winters and chilly summers were the norm — less than ideal for sun‑loving paddlers, perhaps, but not without its compensations. For one thing, ticks were uncommon, and tick‑borne disease was all but unknown. This helps to explain the cavalier attitude I displayed in my 2005 article on the subject. In forty‑odd years of knocking about in the backcountry, much of that time spent wading through dense vegetation well off the beaten track, I’d never once played host to a tick.
But the New Model Climate has brought a change in the weather, and my attitude toward eight‑legged fellow travelers has also changed. I’ve become a tick magnet. This wouldn’t matter very much if ticks were benign nuisances, but the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) is a vector for Lyme disease — not to mention other, even less welcome, afflictions. And the deer tick finds the New Model Climate most congenial.
Which is why I revisited the subject of ticks and tick‑borne disease in a recent column, and though reader response was heartening, it was also sobering. It seems that my experience is not unique. Ticks are advancing on many fronts. And they’re bringing gifts we’d rather not receive, among them …
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
No, I haven’t redrawn the map of North America. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is very much at home in the East, as Ginger Travis points out:
Your tick article has special relevance for me: I just finished a course of doxycycline for suspected Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The disease is relatively common in North Carolina, and unexplained spring and summer fevers are often routinely treated here with doxycycline. (The antibiotic isn’t much fun itself, but the disease can be fatal.) I was covered in ticks this spring following a mild winter. Many were attached, and more than the usual number, I thought, were nymphs. I usually feel a bite immediately and pull the tick off, but I think one or more nymphs might have hung on long enough this spring to transmit the bacterium for Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Although it’s also possible I had a virus, I and my doctor thought it was the tick-borne illness.
I have lived in the woods for a long time and usually walk the trails daily; tick bites were never a big deal for me before. Now I am getting ready to spray one suit of woods-walking clothes with permethrin, bought at REI. And my boots, of course. As in your case, my cavalier attitude is gone now. I’ve been schooled! But I don’t intend to stay out of the woods.
I’m in Ginger’s debt for this cautionary tale. Luckily, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, like Lyme disease, can be treated with antibiotics. But not all tick‑borne diseases are equally susceptible to pharmacotherapy. Powassan virus is one such “hard case,” and it’s now starting to make its unwelcome presence felt in Canoe Country, with tragic consequences for a small number of unfortunate victims.
OK. There’s little doubt what the future holds for paddlers and other backcountry wanderers. And the picture isn’t pretty. If ticks were merely irritants, and nothing more, that would be one thing. But when a tick bite leaves the reluctant human host wondering if this could be her last trip, the carefree holiday mood is hard to recapture. So, what are we to do? The usual answer, of course, is what I’ve labeled …
And the weapon of first resort is increasingly the acaricide‑cum‑repellent permethrin. Al Corlett makes the case for its use with characteristic aplomb:
I was a drill sergeant in the US Army Reserve. My favorite training destination was Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, which was one of the earlier research locations for Lyme disease.
Soldiers going into the field were issued spray cans of Permanone (permethrin) with instructions to thoroughly spray their uniforms the night before [field exercises], to ensure that they would be thoroughly dried before wearing the next day. I was with the academy, and one of my candidates, a bright and capable screw-up, decided that he did not need to use the Permanone. In the morning, he changed his mind, sprayed his uniform, and went into the field with it still wet with Permanone. [As a result, he later] went to the medic with considerable genital distress. Medic’s response was, “I do broken arms, I do broken legs, but I do not do [a word rhyming with ‘ticks’]!” [The medic then sent the sufferer off to the] Troop Medical Clinic for treatment.
I have a friend, a retired forester from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, who makes regular use of permethrin on his clothing while in the woods. Not only does it kill ticks that crawl on you, and fleas, but also mosquitoes and biting flies that land upon your clothing or hat before landing on your skin. It is durable, remaining active through several clothing washings, and far, far less obnoxious than DEET. My last trip to Cherokee, I had sprayed all the mosquito netting in my dome tent with permethrin and never noticed a mosquito in the tent! In terms of safety, I feel that it is far, far better than using DEET….
Being cheap, I focus on spraying shoulders, collar, sleeves and other potential entry and staging points, and this spring turkey season, I did not bring home a single tick, near as I could tell. As to warnings, besides insuring that [permethrin-treated clothing] dries thoroughly before wearing, just avoid any possible contact with cats.
Contemplating your concern about permethrin contamination in surface waters, permethrin seems to become fixed on clothing after proper drying. What happens afterwards is less certain. As it survives a number of washings, extraction rate should be low, and it may degrade slowly on the clothing. Considering the dilution from washing with other clothing, … I question the hazard of extracted permethrin from that source.
Al speaks from experience, and in his concluding paragraph, he addresses my previously expressed concerns about permethrin — concerns grounded in its documented toxicity to fish and other aquatic life. After all, paddlers’ clothing is often in and out of the water dozens of times during the day, and it’s usually washed after every trip, with the wash water ending up in a local river or lake. That said, I’ve little doubt that an individual paddler’s contribution to permethrin pollution is vanishingly small. But it’s not my personal contribution that worries me. It’s a question of numbers. There are millions of people wearing permethrin‑treated clothing these days — both the UK and American armed forces now impregnate field uniforms with permethrin as a matter of course — and the manufacture of this clothing may itself involve contamination of surface waters.
There’s reason to be concerned. While the aggregate effect of clothing‑associated permethrin leachate on the health of aquatic ecosystems remains uncertain, one study — the only such analysis I’ve been able to find — concluded both that “permethrin was frequently detected in ‘whole water’ and sediment samples” in two of the studied rivers and that “concentrations of permethrin found in bed‑sediment [in those rivers] are likely to give rise to ecotoxicological effects in the benthic macro‑invertebrate community.”
That is not, I submit, a clean bill of health. So I’ll stick to less toxic repellents and accept the additional personal risk that this entails. Where the integrity of the biosphere is concerned, I’ve long thought that the best maxim is primum non nocere. First, do no harm.
There is, however, an alternative to chemical warfare:
Remove the Host
And the deer tick’s name identifies the prime suspect. The white‑tailed deer plays an essential role in the tick’s life cycle. Eliminate the deer, and you eliminate the tick. Or so the argument goes. And it’s been tried. Rick Waldron wrote to tell me of one successful control effort:
Of interest is that in the absence of deer, the deer tick cannot survive. When deer populations are reduced below a certain level, Lyme disease also drops to almost zero. On Monhegan Island [between] 1996 [and 1999], a sharpshooter paid by the town eliminated the entire deer herd, and the incidence of Lyme disease dropped to almost none.
Rick concludes by wishing me “good luck reducing the deer population in your neck of the woods.” I’m sure his tongue was lodged firmly in his cheek when he wrote this. Not only would extirpating the white‑tailed deer from Canoe Country prove a very costly business, but it would not be welcomed by either hunters or state and provincial wildlife agencies, many of which derive a large part of their operating revenue from license sales.
Moreover, troubling ethical questions would plague any such eradication campaign. A better course might therefore be to further restrict the hunting of apex predators (e.g., coyotes, wolves, and cougars), with the expectation that deer populations would then stabilize at lower levels over time. But this approach, too, would likely prove unpopular with hunters and wildlife agencies, not to mention suburban pet owners. It would also raise liability concerns. Cougars are not adverse to dining on mountain bikers and joggers, after all. And very few people welcome the prospect of becoming part of the food chain themselves.
Clearly, then, the solution to the growing problem of tick‑borne disease lies elsewhere. Only one thing is clear: It won’t be simple. Which leaves the most important question hanging in the air:
What, if Anything, Can Be Done Now?
I suspect you already know the answer. For the moment, the individual paddler’s best defense lies in keeping ticks at bay. Proper clothing (long pants, long sleeves, hats), frequent applications of repellent, regular collegial inspection of otherwise inaccessible anatomical areas (no giggling, please), and prompt post‑trip showers are becoming the new norm for modern‑day backwoodsmen and women. It’s the prescription I’ve embraced myself. But having already eliminated permethrin (potential environmental toxicity) and DEET (greasy feel and a propensity for eating plastic) from my list of acceptable repellents, I’m left with a comparatively new entry in the repellent stakes: picaridin. Fortunately, it seems to do the job. Or at least it has so far. Fingers crossed.
Of course, such barrier methods are an unsatisfactory stop‑gap at best. Inconvenient and far from fail‑safe, they threaten to make backcountry trips more penance than pleasure. Who wants to spend hot summer days imprisoned in long pants and long‑sleeve shirts, while smearing pricey goop over each exposed inch of skin every few hours? Not I. But what would be a better solution, you ask? Effective vaccines, that’s what. Lyme disease vaccine is available for pets, but not for people. And a European vaccine against tick‑borne encephalitis — one expert has suggested that it might offer “some benefit” against Powassan virus — is licensed in Canada, but not in the US. This manifestly unsatisfactory state of affairs cries out for change. Let’s hope it’s not long in coming. The clock is ticking.
After many years in which I was blissfully untroubled by thoughts of ticks and tick‑borne diseases, I’ve now had a rude awakening to the dangers they present. And as the mail I’ve received from readers shows, I’m not alone. What steps are you taking to reduce the risk? And what response would you like to see from provincial, state, and national public health authorities? Please let me know.
In case you’re wondering never accepts payment for product endorsements. Read our full product policy here.
- “A Tick(ing) Time Bomb? Tick-Borne Disease Comes to Canoe Country
- “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute
- “Tick Biology” (University of Maine Cooperative Extension)
- “Tick Removal” (Ditto.)
- “Ixodes scapularis” (Wikipedia)
- “Ticks“: (US Centers for Disease Control)
- “Lyme Disease” (Mayo Clinic)
- “Density of Ixodes scapularis Ticks on Monhegan Island After Complete Deer Removal: A Question of Avian Importation?” (Journal of Vector Ecology)
- “Tick‑Borne Encephalitis” (Wikipedia)
- Deer Control: A Basic Element in the Integrated Management of Ticks That Carry Lyme Disease (Maine Medical Center Research Institute)
Planning a paddling holiday? Then you’ll want to bring your boat. And more and more paddlers are moving from roof racks to trailers. This week, in the first of three columns devoted to the subject, Tamia taps readers’ expertise to find the best way to hit the road.
On the Road Again: Trailer Talk — From “Just Say No!” to “Seeing Cents”
by Tamia Nelson | October 11, 2016
When paddlers get together off the water, the talk is mostly about their boats. Trailers and trailering don’t often come up in the conversation. But the fact remains that without a way to get your boat to and from the put‑in, your cherished canoe or kayak is just an expensive planter.
The usual solution is a cartop rack, of course. Yet more and more paddlers are turning to trailers, and I outlined the case for (and against) these tagalong trolleys in a recent column. I’d like to think I did an evenhanded job, too, but there was no disguising my near total ignorance of the subject. To be sure, I’ve been towing “boats in bags” behind my bike for years now, but I’ve never owned a boat trailer designed for a car. This reflects my long‑standing — and possibly irrational — antipathy to automotive trailering. Still, I figured it was high time I reexamined my prejudices in the matter, and I did what I could to strike the proper balance in my article.
I’m happy to say that the column attracted a near record volume of comment. Readers wrote to offer their informed opinions on the subject, to set me on the right track when I went astray, and to direct my attention to important points I’d overlooked. In other words, they sought to bridge the chasms of ignorance revealed by my narrative. And they did such a good job that I’ll be devoting three columns to their e‑mails. This is the first.
But where to begin? Well, an image is always easier to see if the contrast is strong, so let’s start off with …
The Argument in Opposition …
As that argument is ably articulated by Bud Glendening, a paddler whose earlier homage to the boat‑car will make his name a familiar one to regular readers of this column. But as fond as Bud is of boat cars, he is not a trailer fan:
I believe no amount of pro/con analysis will ever get me in front of a trailer. The cost, space needs, and my seeming inability to back up the dang things preclude flirting with that alternative. Find a used “ideal” boat car, take great care of it, and with a little luck it will last as long as your boat — or your back. My vote still goes to Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe (especially the latter with AWD). Besides, what good is a boat trailer when the lake is frozen? A car, on the other hand…
These are good points, too, though we shall soon see there is indeed another side to the question. First, however, I’d like to look at the e‑mail that best reflects my own inclinations:
The No‑Octane Option
Torn as I often am between the competing pleasures of paddling and cycling, I not infrequently resolve the conflict by combining the two, a marriage of opposites I’ve christened “amphibious paddling.” And I’ve found that folding and inflatable boats get on very well with bicycles — provided that the bulky bagged boat is consigned to a bike trailer, that is. But notwithstanding my predilection for amphibious trekking, I’ve never had the courage to tow a hard‑shell boat behind my bike.
Other paddlers are braver, however, and Barry Davidson is one such intrepid amphibian:
How about boat bikes? I ride a recumbent cargo trike for transportation and just started kayaking. I use a portage cart for wheels and rigged up a trailer hitch with a tow bar on my kayak. I’ve seen many cyclists towing canoes, too.
This is indeed heartening news, even if my experience has been much different than Barry’s. Farwell and I have yet to meet a single fellow amphibian on the road. But perhaps the 10‑ to 30‑percent grades that enliven our local routes help to explain the scarcity of trailer‑towing cyclists. In any case, Barry’s rig is well worth a close look:
Note the workmanlike tricycle. Such high‑tech tricycles — they’re made in both “delta” (single wheel forward) and “tadpole” (two wheels up, one in the rear) configurations — are wonderfully practical alternatives to the conventional bicycle, offering a combination of comfort, stability, and efficiency that pedalers who totter uncertainly on two wheels can only dream of. And as you can see, Barry’s trike is a delta. The high seating position and generous cargo capacity provided by the “trunk” must serve him very well, though I can’t help but think that a tadpole trike would also be a good choice for any amphibious paddler, if only because of the happy coincidence of the name.
That said, I suspect few paddlers will be tempted to embrace the amphibious lifestyle, and even hard‑core cyclists will probably choose to travel by car when the journey to the put‑in exceeds 25 miles — or when the grades get steeper than 10 percent. So let’s see how readers make the case for automotive trailers, starting with simple ergonomics. To trailer, or not to trailer? You could say it’s …
A Loaded Question
But Jim Traxler has weighed the options, and he comes down on the side of trailers:
I have used a pick-up truck for years … and [it] hauls up to six kayaks. Also have a utility trailer that I pulled behind, which also hauled six-plus kayaks. The truck had to be sold. I purchased a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and outfitted it with a roof rack, not a bad deal. But at the end of a long day, it is much easier to just throw the boats on the trailer and strap them down — no unloading, and ready for the next trip. So my feeling overall is the trailer is a great way to haul my boats.
This is a powerful argument. I’ve been so tired at the end of a hard day that just peeling off my wetsuit seemed a herculean chore. Lifting a heavy tandem to mount it on a high roof rack then bordered on the impossible. And that’s when I was fighting fit. Paddlers of all ages frequently suffer shoulder injuries or strained backs, making hefting even a light solo boat a painful ordeal. So I can readily appreciate how the ease of loading a trailer would appeal to a broad spectrum of boaters.
And that appeal will likely grow as time passes. The bottom line? If the choice boils down to …
A Trailer or a La‑Z‑Boy, …
I know which one I’d choose. And Warren Risk is of the same mind:
Thanks for your article regarding trailers. I agree with the points you made — both pros and cons. I will share my thoughts from the perspective of an older paddler.
I am now 67 and have enjoyed moderate kayaking over the past several years. I originally hauled my boats — single and tandem canoes, 17-foot and 16-foot sea kayaks — on top of various tall SUVs with little or no problem. When we purchased our latest vehicle six years ago, we went to a smaller, and much lower, station wagon, partly because loading the kayaks safely on taller vehicles became increasingly challenging. The lower vehicle has been a good solution, but as each year takes its toll on the body, I am now seriously thinking of joining the trailer world. It will enable my wife to more easily join her paddling friends without my assistance, and make it more enjoyable for us to get on the water without the thought of mounting racks and boats before each trip. I guess my point is that a trailer might be a great alternative for aging paddlers to continue to enjoy the sport.
OK. Trailers make sense for those of us whose youth is now consigned to memory. But what of younger boaters? Does a trailer have anything to offer them? It does indeed, and a paddler who goes by the name of Milemaker13 online drew my attention to the vital role played by the …
Milemaker13 has already weighed in on boat cars. He’s a fan. But since a new crew member joined his family, he’s had to replace his handy little car with a somewhat less boaty van, and that has meant still more changes are in the wind:
Unfortunately, the new van has no roof rack, and like you said, the aftermarket choices are nothing to write home about. So the utility trailer will be getting a homemade rack so it can haul the boats and gear. It just makes sense at this point.
I will be able to pack it up, 20 minutes at a time, in the weeks before a trip, and it will be ready when we are. And considering all the additional baby gear, the trailer will provide room for anything we may need (red wagon, for example).
Here is our utility trailer rigged in the most simple way possible:
The trailer is your basic four‑foot by eight‑foot red trailer that we bought on sale for about USD250 (less than most roof racks on the market). The racks are made from scrap two‑by‑fours and a couple of old bolts. I put this together in under an hour. While it needs some bracing to be highway‑worthy, it performed well around town. I think a simple plywood box would serve for both bracing and storage.
Here is a DIY boat trailer to be proud of — cheap, cheerful, and perfectly adapted to a growing family’s needs. As someone who was driven to build my own furniture (also cheap, cheerful, and perfectly adapted to my particular needs), I see a kindred spirit in Milemaker13. And he’s not alone in finding that …
When Money Talks, …
It often shouts, “Trailers!” Stan Jensen has also heeded the call:
I recently switched over to a trailer that I built and licensed for USD600. (Insurance not needed in my state because it’s insured by the car.) The tongue can be slid under the trailer deck. The boats are now on their own storage rack in the garage — or outside, if you need to, [covered] with the tarp.
Six hundred dollars is the cost of a low-end roof-rack system. My sister-in-law spent USD1800 on one for her Mini Cooper because she had to have rails mounted to the car. It just made sense to go to a trailer, as I can haul six boats of varying lengths. On one of the racks I have also mounted our Skybox, which is lockable, for all of the extra gear.
The trailer makes it so much easier to get the boats on and off versus trying to get on top of the SUV or [my wife’s] hamster wagon. My wife will even use the trailer to go kayaking with friends without me being around.
Here’s the “hamster wagon” — a Kia Soul — hauling the trailer:
And here’s the trailer tongue in extended and retracted configurations:
A trailer that sticks out its tongue only when it’s warranted… Now that’s what I’d call good manners! Not to mention good sense — and good cents, too, if you’re counting pennies.
You can’t go far on the water without a boat, but you have to get the boat to the water first. A roof rack is the time‑honored solution to this problem, but more and more paddlers are now opting for a trailer. And though I’ve written about trailers before, my latest column on the subject elicited so much e‑mail (not to mention so much cogent argument and helpful advice), that I thought it best to devote three more columns to this one subject. This is the first. The second goes out into the aether next week. Don’t miss it!
Heading off on a paddling holiday? Then you’ll need to bring your boat. And more and more paddlers are turning to trailers. This week, in the second of three columns devoted to the subject, Tamia taps readers’ expertise to find the best way to hit the road.
On the Road Again: More Trailer Talk — Time to Get Your Feet Wet?
by Tamia Nelson | October 18, 2016
In introducing last week’s column — it, too, was about trailers — I wrote that, although the talk is usually about boats whenever paddlers get together off the water, a boat is little more than an expensive planter if you don’t have a way to get it to and from the put‑in. That’s where trailers entered the picture. For a long time, only outfitters, Scout troops, and summer camps used trailers. But lately, trailers have been showing up behind a lot more cars. And with your help, I’m exploring the reasons for this sea change in boat transportation.
Today, the conversation continues, beginning with Sam Peters’ reflections on trailers’ dual role in …
Saving Marriages and Our Paddling Heritage, …
Tempered by a few cautionary words concerning the importance of regularly inspecting all lines and lashings:
I broke down and bought a trailer many years ago, for two reasons: First, to save my marriage, and second, I had recently acquired an ancient wood-canvas canoe which I had restored, and it is heavy. Also, I could not stomach dragging those new mahogany rails across roof racks while clumsily maneuvering the canoe to the top of the van, minivan though it was. That was some 16 years ago, and I was told that I had bought the first Trailex in Florida.
Aside from the usual maintenance you mentioned, I have had no problems. My trailer is a single; it tracks nicely at highway speeds and behaves in traffic. I live in Miami Beach, so [predictable] traffic behavior is mandatory. I am concerned about theft, but so far, so good.
On the negative side, there is only one [thing of note]: When backing up a trailer with a short tongue, the action is immediate and leaves little room for error. However, like all learning experiences, practice makes it easier — if not perfect!
I have never regretted buying the trailer. The only problem I did have was my own fault. When you are driving at highway speed and a car pulls up next to you [and the driver is] waving their hands and pointing behind you, it’s never good news. A line I had used once too often had … snapped, and I was dragging the stern of a nice fiberglass canoe down the highway! Do pay attention to your lines and straps, or else you may end up spending a weekend or two rebuilding your boat’s stern.
That’s very good advice. Having learned the ropes while scaling rock faces and frozen waterfalls, I soon got into the habit of keeping a close eye on the state of my cordage. Anyone whose life or property may hang by a thread (or by a length of nylon braid) — and this includes all canoeists and kayakers — would be wise to heed a variation on the old‑time copper’s ABC: Assume nothing, Believe only what you see, and Check everything.
Safety considerations aside, Sam’s thoughts on the value of a trailer in protecting your fleet from unnecessary wear and tear are taken up by another writer, who points out that …
It’s Not Just the Rocks in the River That Do Damage
Writing as “Canoe Oregon,” he (or she?) also addresses the role of the trailer in safeguarding your peace of mind:
You forgot two key “pros” to trailering a boat: First, roof racks are noisy. My Yakima crossbars with J cradles and gunwale supports whistle like a drunken sailor. Second, by towing your boat behind your vehicle — and this is really important if you have a USD3,000+ composite boat — you protect it from the rocks that semis and pickup trucks occasionally kick up. Rocks with enough inertia to crack a windshield can do considerable damage to a fiberglass boat.
I can speak from personal experience in saying that you ignore this last point at your peril, especially if the road to your put‑in is gravel and frequented by logging trucks. Protecting your gear from road hazards is as important as keeping it off the rocks in the river. But …
Convenience Counts, Too, …
And that’s the thrust of Dave Shatto’s e‑mail:
I’m relatively new to the enjoyment of being on the water. I could not see myself putting a Hobie on top of my SUV and throwing gear in the back, then picking up a grandchild to go fishing. I couldn’t find acceptable rooftop ideas for different styles of kayaks and my paddleboard. [But with a trailer,] I can leave one of my kayaks behind and go pick up a friend and ride in the same car. And gear is always where it is supposed to be. Yes, [it costs] a little more money than I planned, but I now get to the water more often and spend less time getting in and getting out.
That’s a hard argument to counter. Less time loading and unloading boats and stowing gear means more time on the water. And isn’t this always a good thing? Now here’s a portfolio of shots of Dave’s rig, beginning with views from behind, …
And broadside on, …
And finishing up with a couple of photos of the trailer stripped down to bare essentials, first from astern, …
And then from the bow:
Commodious and versatile… What’s not to like? I figured it had to be a custom job, but it turns out I was only half right. Here’s how Dave described the genesis of his versatile trailering system:
[It didn’t take] much to design and build. Just thinking about it, asking a few friends, and going for it. It is a jet ski trailer. [I] ripped off [the jet ski-specific] stuff and worked with a couple of four-by-fours on the frame. I didn’t want [to use] a junk trailer that I put some expensive stuff on, or [one with] small wheels, and then not be willing to drag it a couple hundred miles. You might have noted the bike racks that are mounted to that hitch/tongue. Some might consider it a little long, but over winter I store my bikes on it so I don’t have to hang them otherwise.
Which just goes to illustrate another of the trailer’s strong points: its role in off‑season and between‑trip storage. It’s like a boat car, but without the engine (and the insurance bills).
Dave isn’t the only paddler to repurpose a jet ski trailer, of course. Dina Becker did, as well, and she’s found there’s an unexpected bonus:
Trailers Keep You (and Your Car) Clean
I got tired of putting three kayaks on top of a car, so I bought a converted jet ski trailer for USD500. I’ll never use roof racks again! I purchased my trailer [already converted for paddlecraft] from a kayak distributor. They simply take the [original] rails and turn them so that instead of them going the long way, they go horizontal. My boats are 14 feet long, so I actually added a third rail on the front to accommodate the length.
An advantage you didn’t mention is coming back and loading boats on a cartop [rack] in dirty conditions. I used to have to open the car door and stand on the door frame of my car to reach the top, getting the inside of the car full of sand. No more!
Having gotten many buckets of silty water down my neck while lifting boats onto roof racks — try as I might, I can never get all the water out of the bilges — I can see Dina’s point. But she’s also learned that convenience and cleanliness come with a price tag attached:
The only downside I’ve experienced is that not all places are trailer-friendly. One of my favorite places to kayak doesn’t allow trailers. Sadly, I haven’t gone back. Also, tolls are more expensive. Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami charges one dollar for cars and 10 dollars for trailers. [And] marinas charge for parking with trailers. [But] I love my trailer and wouldn’t go back!
There’s no such thing as a free launch, is there? And the problem is even bigger than highway tolls and parking fees. If the road to your destination involves a ferry ride, you’ll discover that ferry operators impose a surcharge on cars that are towing trailers. Have your wallet ready.
Now, while we’re dwelling on the, er, taxing aspects of trailering, here’s another thing to consider:
Trailers Can Also Tax Your Patience
Just ask Ed Segraves. He’s a fan, but he has a few words of warning for boaters who are new to trailer‑towing:
As a long-time boater (40+ years) using both canoes and kayaks, my switch to using a Malone trailer about five years ago was a major change in my boating transportation routine. Your pros/cons are right on.
My only additional “con” is turning around at narrow put-ins. [For example:] driving miles down a narrow, rough road only to find just enough room so that doing a multi-point turn requires disconnecting the trailer, turning the vehicle and trailer separately, then reconnecting. It doesn’t happen often, but it can be a pain.
Otherwise, I enjoy my trailer, [especially] the ability to carry boats for myself, my wife, and other paddling partners, [and] the convenience of storing my boats and gear.
The bottom line? If your favorite put‑in is at the end of a jeep trail, be prepared to invest a bit of sweat equity in your transport.
Now here’s another paddler who’s happy with his trailer. And John Ennis has several suggestions for boaters looking to get into trailering on the cheap. But he also has a few words of …
Advice for Boaters Who’ll Be Getting Their Trailers’ Feet Wet, …
Because water and bearings don’t mix:
We’re lucky here on the central west coast of Florida. Extreme Sports in Palm Harbor will build an aluminum kayak trailer for USD400 plus tax. Top workmanship.
Secondhand jet ski trailers can be had for under USD500, and with little modification can be turned into kayak trailers. The basic trailer kit sold by Harbor Freight for under USD400 plus shipping can also easily be converted into a kayak trailer.
The beds on jet ski trailers are adjustable. I would suggest taking cable ties or tape and adding swimming pool noodles for a softer ride. Once summer is over[, however,] these things disappear from the stores. Best place to get them is at dollar stores at a buck each.
Just remember to pump plenty of grease into the bearings [of your new trailer], because the crap in there is questionable — and spring for a set of Bearing Buddies, too. It’s a kit, but not hard to put together, and the company has a free consumer helpline number with people who speak and understand plain English.
Whether you launch in salt or fresh water, you need Bearing Buddies to keep your trailer’s bearings from rusting. They cost about USD20 a pair. [A heads-up:] I have been informed by a trailer shop that the newer jet ski trailers do not need [the protection of] Bearing Buddies, so … check with the local trailer shop and add them only if they’re needed.
The best way to tell if you have enough grease in the bearings is to feel the hubs after about 20 miles. If they are cool or just warm, you are OK. If they are really hot, do not drive any further — unless you want to buy a new axle.
Take it from a cyclist (me) who’s ridden though several slushy Canoe Country winters: John’s cautionary words about bearings are worth heeding. Water and salt, alone or in combination, are notorious bearing killers, whether the bearings are on a bike or a trailer. This is yet another place where prevention is much, much easier (and cheaper) than cure
Finally, by way of rounding off this second installment of “Trailer Talk,” here’s a short note from Dave Van Orden, …
A Very Happy Trailerman
I have been using a trailer to haul canoes for 16 years, and it is so much easier than cartopping, especially if there is more than one boat to tie down. I am currently using a 16-foot tandem-axle flatbed trailer with a six-place canoe rack to haul canoes and kayaks for Scouts and family trips.
That’s at least six (or is it 16?) reasons to consider a trailer. And Dave gets the last word this week. But there’s more to come.
You can’t go far on the water without a boat, but you have to get the boat to the water first. A roof rack is the time‑honored solution to this problem, but more and more paddlers are following the lead of dinghy sailors and opting for a trailer. I’ve written about trailers before, but my latest column on the subject elicited so much e‑mail (not to mention cogent argument and helpful advice), that I thought it best to devote three more columns to the subject. This is the second. The third goes out into the aether next week. Don’t miss it!
More and more paddlers are turning to trailers. This time around, in the last of three columns devoted to the subject, Tamia taps readers’ expertise to find the best way to hit the road.
On the Road Again: Still More Trailer Talk — Are You Ready to Rack and Roll?
by Tamia Nelson | October 25, 2016
In introducing the first column in this series — then, as now, the subject was trailers — I noted that, although the talk is usually about boats whenever paddlers get together off the water, a boat is little more than an expensive planter if you don’t have a way to get it to and from the put‑in. That’s where trailers entered the picture. For a long time, only outfitters, Scout troops, and summer camps used trailers. But lately, trailers have been showing up behind a lot more cars. And with your help, I’ve been exploring the reasons for this sea change in boat transportation.
It’s been fun. But today’s column, the third in the series, will wrap things up, at least for now. There’s still a lot to say, though. So we’ll begin with a question that hadn’t occurred to me:
Can You Launch Loaded?
And no, this isn’t a call to start your day with the “breakfast of champions” (I’m referring to slivovitz here, not Wheaties). It’s a suggestion made by Chip in a recent e‑mail:
What has often seemed attractive to me is a boat trailer to carry loaded boats that can be launched like a powerboat. Especially for kayak campers, it usually seems like an hour is needed to load the gear into the boats. How nice it would be to load them at home, then back down a ramp and float the kayaks off.
Often times, on the Chesapeake, we use launches that are concrete boat ramps. We need to load the boats away from the ramp so that power boaters have use of the ramp. When all the gear and water is loaded, launching is a risk to boat, back, and bone — the ramps are often slippery.
Landings would be similarly eased and speeded up with all the gear remaining in the boat. A further benefit is the gear in the boat no longer needs to take up storage space in the car.
[Making the] case for canoes is somewhat more complicated. Worries include theft from the canoe during stops on the road, rain, and items being blown out of the boat by wind at highway speeds.
I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think many boat trailers are readily adaptable to hand-launched boats. They’d have to be customized, and that might be costly or troublesome. Still, every time I am struggling down a boat ramp with a hundred-plus-pound kayak, the thought of a boat trailer recurs.
I’ve had more than a few misadventures slip‑sliding away on slimy concrete ramps myself, so Chip’s idea strikes me as a good one. And I can’t see why it couldn’t be made to work, provided that the trailer was suitably configured. Tilt‑trailers and trolley‑trailer hybrids would be ideal, if rather pricey. After all, dinghy sailors have been launching their boats from trailers for many, many years, and dinghies, some of which have an unladen weight of more than 350 pounds, are often chock‑a‑block with sailing gear, including foul‑weather kit, food and bedding for overnights, anchors, outboard auxiliaries, and more.
It would be good to know what other paddlers think. Does any reader have experience launching a loaded kayak or canoe directly from a trailer? If so, Chip (and I) would like to hear from you.
OK. I — or more accurately, many of the readers whose letters I’ve quoted in these columns — have been singing the praises of trailers. But in much the same way that a steady diet of sweets is certain to cloy, a surfeit of praise will eventually prove somewhat unpalatable. Not to say misleading. That being the case, let’s give Frank Schumann the floor. Make no mistake: He likes the convenience of trailering his boats, but he’s not blind to the shortcomings, most of which come down to …
No Room at the Put‑In
I started out cartopping … on my old Dodge Minivan, wrapping pool noodles around the luggage racks. It worked fine, and I never had a problem. The ‘yak would slide right up and slide right off.
Then an opportunity presented itself in the form of a 12/14-foot Continental boat trailer. It was almost new, so I paid USD350 for a USD700 trailer. I removed the upright with the crank attached and adjusted the two bunks with the carpeting, added a few two-by-fours at the front and rear, and presto, I had a kayak trailer. Now I could transport three kayaks with very little trouble to anywhere we wanted to go. The trailer towed behind my ’91 Toyota Camry very well, and I barely knew it was there. I could push it into my garage by myself even though there’s a slope going up.
I have added two plywood sheets on top of the plywood that is attached, with wallboard screws that can be removed in a couple of minutes using a portable drill. With the plywood on, I can haul mulch, lumber, furniture, and appliances as well.
That was the pros. Now for the cons:
My first use of the trailer was when I signed up for a guided trip with the Sierra Club in Charlotte County, Florida, on Shell Creek, off of U.S. Route 17. The put-in was on the side of the road next to a bridge over the creek. I had quite a difficult time finding a decent spot for my car and trailer to park, while making sure everything would not impede traffic on the highway. Luckily, I arrived before anyone else. If I had been late, I wouldn’t have found a place.
Many public parks, and many kayak put-ins, have no place for a car and trailer to park. Sometimes I have to drop off the kayaks and then drive around trying to find a suitable spot to store my vehicle [and trailer] a long way from the put-in. Then I worry, for many different reasons, if they will both be there when I get back. Another method I’ve used is to back the trailer into a parking spot, disconnect and park the vehicle in an adjacent spot. So far I have not had any complaints from park rangers or police.
I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repetition: There’s no such thing as a free launch.Trailers promise convenience and efficiency, and they mostly deliver — but these virtues come at a price. You may have to hunt for a place to park, pay more in tolls, and sweat a bit if your trip ends at a cul‑de‑sac with no space to turn around. Is it worth it? Many paddlers think it is.
And Patricia Lee is one. She’s hooked. Why? Because …
A Trailer Will Follow You From Car to Car
This is a big deal if you have several cars, or if you share a single trailer with friends. Here’s what Patricia had to say:
I began trailering right when I started kayaking and almost always prefer it. Your article omitted a huge advantage of trailering: the ability to use it with many tow vehicles. The vehicles need only have a ball (on the bumper or on a hitch) that matches the coupler size, and they must have wiring so that the trailer’s lights work with the vehicle’s signal and brake lights.
With a trailer, you can use multiple tow rigs in a household or let others borrow it. Even better, you can keep using the same trailer throughout owning different vehicles. There is no need to buy a new roof rack system every time you get a new vehicle. This alone is an enormous cost saving.
It does appear that more paddlers are considering buying trailers or devices such as the Hullavator as they get older. I noticed that they are especially popular in Florida, where many retirees frequently go paddling all year round.
The bottom line? Choose well, and your trailer could follow you from car to car throughout your paddling life. You’ll probably save a pretty fair wodge of cash, too.
Then there’s the trailer’s inherent versatility to consider. One trailer can carry your boats, carry your bikes, and carry your luggage — all at once. And when you get to the water, it can even double as a picnic shelter. In other words, …
Trailers Are Jacks of All Trades
Just ask Allen Moyer:
We have too many toys not to use a trailer. I made this two years ago to haul our two 16-foot Mad River canoes, two 13-foot Ocean Kayaks, and five mountain bikes from Houston to Brevard, North Carolina. It’s hard to see [in the photo,] but one of the bikes is an off-road tandem.
I use the trailer all the time, even if not hauling everything. I made an awning cover so we can put a BBQ pit on the trailer and use floor space to sit on in shade when at the beach. We have even towed it behind our pop-up camper when heading to the lake.
I love [cartop] racks and am a confessed rack nerd, but I could not get all the boats, bikes, four-wheelers, etc., on racks. The trailer allows us to take everything, and is actually easier to load and unload.
I grew up backing all types of trailers, so towing, backing, and parking are not an issue. I know this could be for some. I bought the used trailer for USD500 and made my racks myself. My Draftmaster bicycle rack for our tandem cost more than that, and it can only haul bikes. Get a trailer and teach yourself to back up if needed. You won’t be sorry.
Is Allen a satisfied customer? You bet he is!
And now, for all you DIY buffs out there, here’s a real treat. Ric Olsen is well‑known to readers of this column. He’s been corresponding with us almost from the start, and he’s the sort of guy who can always find a way to make a good thing better. His …
Customized Johnboat Trailer …
Is a case in point. Check it out:
One of the nice things about a trailer is that I can carry all of my canoeing equipment in the storage boxes on the trailer. So I do not have to take up any room in my vehicle.
On almost every trip we have had it on, someone has stopped me and asked where I got the trailer. On our last trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, while on the Interstate, a person pulled up beside me and took pictures of it. I am amazed at the attention it has created.
I started out with a 16-foot johnboat trailer for USD100. I then put a plywood platform on it. The three aluminum boxes are about USD300 each, and they hold all of my canoeing and camping equipment. The bottom [cross]bar holds one canoe on each side; the [pivoting] arms at the ends [of the bars] go up to give the upper [crossbar] support and encase the lower canoes…. The upper [crossbar] will handle three 16-foot tandem canoes. I have a complete set of spare tires bolted on top. I have provided an ample number of eyebolts for tie-downs. The black, triangular box on the front holds my road tools, jack, lug wrench, and two-by-six-inch cribbing for jacking up the trailer.
Th[e forward] section [see photo below] also holds two 96-quart ice chests, enough food storage for four people for seven days.
One cautionary note: It is essential that the hitch ball is tight in the trailer hitch. I had my trailer roll over in a 25 mph crosswind. It rolled over and came off the ball because it was too loose. I [now grease the ball and make sure I] tighten the hitch on the trailer securely, and it is not an issue.
I made the trailer about eight years ago and have 10,000 miles on it. It has served me well!
It has, indeed. And it’s easy to see why it turns heads on the highway. Of course, not everyone is as keen on DIY as Ric. Which is why it’s good to learn about …
An “Off‑the‑Peg” Trailer That Can Really Rack and Roll
Marylyn Feaver, another experienced paddler whose name will be familiar to regular readers of this column, is delighted with her Yakima RackandRoll:
I am five feet tall and cannot step into our compact Honda Element’s seats with fluid grace. Trying to raise a 14-foot kayak onto the roof, even with a small bench to step on, would have made me consider whether a short paddling trip was worth the effort. It was always the issue with our tandem canoe — we used it infrequently for the many years we had it because it was such a chore to put it on a car and lower it.
Anticipating this deterrent, when we switched to kayaks, we were ready to consider the Yakima RackandRoll trailer on display on the shop floor. We negotiated the whole package — two kayaks, one trailer, and essential gear — for a significant discount. It was still an expensive outlay. But we would not be kayaking as much without it.
The RackandRoll can carry 350 pounds [with the optional heavy-duty shocks], weighs [only] 150 pounds itself, and can be folded up very compactly. We can carry four kayaks, and we have also carried two kayaks and a heavier canoe. We now carry our two 14-foot kayaks and our 40-pound canopy on it. Paddling at least twice a week, we keep the kayaks on the trailer, wash them, and apply the UV protectant while on the trailer.
We can roll the whole trailer with kayaks to the put-in; it’s that easy to pull. And when we are exploring narrow forest roads and can’t turn with the trailer, we unhitch the trailer and turn car and trailer separately. We do it likewise where parking spaces are designed only for car lengths, where we unhitch the trailer and use two spaces.
For those with shoulder problems, this may be another option. Other aids to hoist the kayaks to the top of the car may cost as much and are not as easily detachable as trailers.
It sounds like Yakima’s engineers were every bit as clever as the anonymous copywriter who christened the RackandRoll. And Marylyn has the last word on the subject of trailers — at least until we venture out on the road again.
You can’t go far on the water without a boat, but you have to get the boat to the water first. A roof rack is the time‑honored solution to this problem, but more and more paddlers are following the lead of dinghy sailors and opting for a trailer. I’ve written about trailers before, but a recent column on the subject elicited so much e‑mail (not to mention so much cogent argument and helpful advice), that I thought it best to devote three more columns to the subject. This is the last one. But I doubt we’ve exhausted the topic. So if you have anything you want to add, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
See you on the highway!
Got a boat? Think all you need now are a PFD and a paddle? Well, think again. You also need a painter.
Learning the Ropes: Hanging by a Thread; or,
Why Would Anyone Go up the Creek Without a … Painter?
by Tamia Nelson | November 1, 2016
For paddlers in the northern marches of Canoe Country, late autumn is a bittersweet time of year. Don’t get me wrong: It’s always fascinating to see the bones of the land laid bare again. But with nature’s palette now reduced to 50 shades of gray on every hillside not cloaked in evergreen, November can indeed be a dreary month. And for paddlers, it’s doubly so. Ice now sheathes the margins of the larger lakes, and tiny, whirling floes are starting to form in some river eddies. The lazy days of summer are already a distant memory.
In short, November is the time when many of us lay up our boats for the winter. And that means stripping them of their fittings and furnishings. Float bags are deflated and stored. Yokes are detached. Rudders are unshipped (if your boat has a rudder, that is). And painters are removed, inspected, and stowed away.
I find this last chore particularly poignant. Why? Because I came to paddling by way of mountaineering, and rope has a particular claim on the affections of every mountaineer. Most of us have had our lives hang by a thread — OK, a rope — on at least one occasion, and the bonds formed in such circumstances are enduring ones. Which isn’t to say that rope is any less important to paddlers. We use ropes to lash boats to our cars or trailers. To keep float bags and packs from drifting away in capsizes. To secure “deck cargo” on our kayaks. To moor boats in the shallows and later, when we bring them ashore, to frustrate the Old Woman’s spiteful attempts to carry them away in storms. To pull loaded canoes upriver against the current and then, turning around, to guide them gingerly down “almost runnable” rapids. And finally, when our skill proves unequal to the day and our luck deserts us, we turn to rope to winch our crippled craft from the too‑fond embrace of midriver rocks — not to mention hauling our sodden companions from the water before they’re washed over the falls.
In other words, a lot hangs on our many ropes. And the first among equals in this inventory of cordage is …
The Humble Painter
Painters aren’t much to look at — just eight to 25 feet of quarter‑inch (6 mm) line. But these short ropes have a long and illustrious history. I wouldn’t have known this had it not been for Les Cahn, however. He e‑mailed me around an article on recovering a swamped kayak, and it was clear that — to borrow a phrase from the hunting field — I’d thrown him at the first fence. This is something no writer wants to hear, but at least Les gave me a chance to put him back in the saddle, so to speak. He wrote:
In your article you mention the term “painters,” but you never explained what they are. Are they what I know as the “grab loops” on kayaks? If not, what are they? Where do you get them? Are they only for canoes, or only for kayaks, or both?
Happily, this was a question I could answer. Painters, I replied, are just the short lines affixed to the bow and stern of a canoe or kayak. Mostly, they’re used as mooring lines, but they can also be pressed into service to secure boats in camp or on the road and as auxiliary lines when attempting to salvage a pinned canoe or kayak. (While painters are occasionally used to line boats over short, unrunnable drops, and even more rarely, as throwing lines to rescue swimmers, they’re really too short for either employment.)
That answered Les’ question, but it left me with a question of my own: Just how did these short ropes acquire their rather odd name? And this took me, via a rather circuitous path, to the Oxford English Dictionary, where I learned that “paynter” was originally the name given to “the rope or chain with which the shank and flukes of the anchor, when carried at the cathead, are confined to the ship’s side” — a usage dating to the late 15th century. The word’s derivation, however, remains a mystery. Or to adopt the OED’s magisterial language, its origin is “uncertain.”
I also learned that the modern meaning — the meaning familiar to canoeists and kayakers — was likely derived from a later historical usage: “a rope attached to the bow of a boat, for making it fast to … a stake, etc.” And this usage is still current in sailing circles. But I, and most of the paddlers I know, have broadened the definition to include both bow and stern lines. So much for consistency. I shouldn’t have been surprised, however. Language, as Inspector Grim once observed in a very different context, has always been as slippery as an owl.
Now to more practical matters. Painters, whatever the history of their name, are renowned for their utility. They are the Swiss Army knives of cordage. And no canoeist or kayaker should venture away from land without at least one painter attached to her boat. That’s certainly how Ric Olsen sees things, at any rate, and he goes one step further to ensure that none of his paddling companions ever finds himself …
Painterless in a Time of Need
You could call his approach an example of tough love, I suppose.
When I canoe with others, I always check for painters. I carry extra rope just for that purpose. I will attach my own painter if they have none. If they do not want my painter, I tell them they are on their own to collect their boat if something happens. If we stop along the way, they have no way to tie to a branch or tree. A simple painter is an essential. I will not chase your boat without one! That is how much I believe in having at least one on your boat. Same thing goes for carrying a second paddle.
I share Ric’s passion for painters, and I, too, have brought “loaner” painters — along with extra paddles and PFDs — to group outings. We’re all in the same boat, right? So it’s one for all and all for one.
And speaking of chasing down runaway boats, reader Todd Orwat asks, …
Can a Painter Be Pressed Into Service as a Lasso?
How about a lasso — one of one’s own painters or a spare rope — thrown about the upturned craft to act as a painter? Not 100 percent secure, but, maybe effective. I just thought about it, and figured maybe it could work. If you could get ahead of [the runaway craft], you could perhaps slip [the lasso] over the bow, or even the stern if you could get it to sweep forward. With enough line, one might be able to wrestle the boat ashore, or at least tie it off to something to stop its progress. It would not have to be an official knot for a lasso, just a loose loop thru a figure-eight might cinch up tight enough. Head for shore, and use a tree or large rock to anchor the loose end, controlling the downstream run.
It’s an intriguing notion, I admit. But I have grave doubts about its feasibility. My years working in a cattle auction barn taught me just how hard it is to rope a restive steer, and that was in the relatively confined space of the sales arena. Still, I can’t see why you shouldn’t try lassoing a runaway boat in extremis, though it will be mighty hard to get your rope to stay on a beast as elusive as a wave‑tossed canoe or kayak. The tapered ends of either craft will slip the noose in an instant — unless the boat boasts bow or stern cleats, that is, and even then you’ll likely need a rope that is longer than a typical painter. Nonetheless, it’s an idea worth keeping in mind for that once-in-a-lifetime emergency, the paddling equivalent of the quarterback’s Hail Mary pass.
What about it, fellow (and sister) paddlers? Have you ever lassoed a river runaway? If you have, please let me know.
OK. Painters are valuable tools. But like all tools, they need looking after. So let’s take a minute to review …
What’s that? You don’t think rope needs maintenance? Don’t tell that to a climber. If you know you may someday find yourself dangling over a thousand‑foot drop, with nothing but a length of rope keeping you from a long fall, followed by a short, sharp shock, you take a keen interest in making sure that your rope is always up to the job. And paddlers, too, will find that a lot can hang on the strength of a bit of rope.
The bottom line? If you want your painters to take care of you, you have to take care of your painters. I offered some detailed guidance in an earlier article, but to save you the trouble of scrolling through it, here’s the executive summary:
- Never, never step on a painter — or any other rope, for that matter.
- Whip the ends of new painters. Use heat‑shrink tubing, if you’re not handy with a needle and palm.
- Remove painters from boats after each trip, …
- Wash them in clean, fresh water, …
- Air‑dry, and then …
- Inspect for damage before passing them for continued service, immediately replacing any that exhibit cuts or other signs of wear.
- Store painters in a cool, well‑ventilated place between seasons.
- Protect painters (and all other lines) from contact with solvents and corrosive chemicals, including gasoline (petrol), bleach, and acids.
That’s not too much trouble, is it? Especially when you consider the plight of any paddler caught up a creek (or down a bay) without a painter.
Paddlers and mountaineers are as one in their dependance on rope. The climbing rope is the badge of the mountaineer, and though the humble painter doesn’t rank quite that high in the paddler’s world, it’s something no canoeist or kayaker should venture afloat without. ‘Nuff said?
You don’t often see a ghost while you’re driving down the highway. But Tamia has. And it got her thinking about the many commercial waterways now lost to memory. So why not join her as she travels back in time? Next stop: Clinton’s Folly!
Raising a Ghost on the Way to Clinton’s Folly
by Tamia Nelson | November 8, 2016
No, this isn’t what you’re thinking. I haven’t lapsed into partisan political commentary. This column has nothing to do with the news of the day. My subject is a canal, and though there is a political subtext, it concerns events that were a century old before the current contenders for high office were born. My story begins, not in a boat, but on the highway. I was skirting the western margin of the Adirondacks, on my way to the Mohawk River Valley and an old port city on the Erie Canal, when I spied a ghost. More about the ghost in a minute. First, though, let’s set the scene. The highway I was following threads between the Tug Hill Plateau to the west and the Adirondack Mountains to the east, never straying far from the north‑flowing Black River. You don’t often see the river from the road, but every now and then you can catch a glimpse of it across a farm field, and there are a lot of farm fields. We’re in dairy country. That hasn’t always been the case, however. Two centuries ago, the seemingly endless fields of corn were unbroken woodland.
This is where the ghost comes in. I had just negotiated a gentle bend when the roadway divided to go round what I first thought was a grassy median. As I got closer, however, I realized that the “median” was an old canal cut. I soon passed it by — traveling at 55 mph, it didn’t take long — but then, a short distance to the south, I saw what appeared to be a lock. Now my curiosity was piqued, and since there was a parking area next to the lock, I pulled off the road to take a closer look.
After all, how often do you get to see a ghost close‑up? And this was no ordinary ghost:
This Ghost Had a Tale to Tell
Today, boats propelled by paddles, oars, and sails are toys — recreational watercraft, if you prefer. A working boat needs a motor. Anything else is unthinkable. But throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th, a lot of freight moved in mercantile “bottoms” propelled by muscle (human or animal) or wind. And for much of America’s early history, our waterways were our best, most cost‑efficient commercial thoroughfares. Water transport had a lot of advantages back then: Heavy goods could be moved farther, faster, and cheaper on water than on what passed for highways. After all, those “highways” were often little more than rutted tracks or log corduroys, and ox cart transport was both slow and costly. It didn’t lend itself to heavy bulk cargo — think stone, lumber, or grain — either.
Good as water transport was, however, it had one big limitation. You needed water, and well‑behaved water, at that, to make it work. Rivers didn’t always oblige. They often didn’t go where you wanted them to, and even when they did, their gradients were far from uniform — if that wasn’t the case, today’s whitewater boaters would lead very dull lives — while their flow was much too variable. They flooded in spring, dried up in summer, and froze over in winter. If you wanted to move goods to market year‑round, this state of affairs was far from ideal. Which is why canals were big business in the early 19th century.
Canals are simply engineered waterways. You make a canal by taming a wild river with locks and dams, or you build one from scratch by digging a ditch crosscountry. Often you do both. The idea isn’t exactly new. Primitive canals were being dug in what is now Iraq and Syria over 6,000 years ago, and by the mid‑17th century, Europe was well on its way to developing an essentially modern system of “tamed” waterways. The canal idea crossed the Pond to the New World, too. Decades before the American War of Independence, proposals for building canals were being floated by speculators eager to make a quick buck, and by the early 19th century, as settlement pushed out beyond the Appalachian Mountains, there was growing interest in using waterways to move Western grain to Eastern markets.
That’s when Clinton’s Folly entered the picture. Not that the “projectors,” the money men behind the scheme, called it that, of course. To them it was the Erie Canal. But then, as now, big infrastructure projects like canals meant big money, and politicians have always found the allure of big money irresistible. That was as true in the 19th century as it is today. Anyway, the Clinton in “Clinton’s Folly” was DeWitt Clinton. He was governor of New York at the time, and he was a man of vision. If his state was going to live up its rather grandiose nickname (the “Empire State”), Clinton decided, it needed improved transport infrastructure. Like a canal stretching right across the state, say, making it possible to float cargo from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and down the Hudson to the Port of New York. Western grain could then flow freely and easily to the big cities of the East, and manufactured goods like farm machinery and building stone could travel back the other way, where they would help open new land to the plow and build impressive courthouses in what had, until quite recently, been Indian country.
The only thing standing in the way of realizing Clinton’s vision was money. Or the lack of it. So he saw to it that the money taps were opened wide. His political opponents scoffed — that’s where “Clinton’s folly” entered the lexicon of state politics — but Clinton’s “ditch” (another term of opprobrium coined by his enemies) got built. In 1825, after eight years of digging and seven million dollars of spending, he emptied a couple of firkins he’d filled in Lake Erie into New York Harbor, in a spectacle billed as the “Wedding of the Waters.” (Politicians were glorying in photo ops long before there were photographers to record them.) And in truth, the Erie Canal lived up to Clinton’s imperial vision. See for yourself. It’s the thin blue line in the map below, reproduced from a 19th century Beers Atlas:
But this was just the start. Three years later, the Black River Canal Company came into being. As the name suggests, the Black River company’s backers hankered after a canal of their own. They wanted to connect the northern New York village of Carthage with the Erie Canal at Rome. (That’s Rome, New York. The backers may have been projectors, and New York politicians may have had visions of imperial grandeur, but they didn’t yet envision a transatlantic empire.) And in 1855, they, too, got their ditch: It’s the red line running north to south on the Beers map. Grain wasn’t the prime commodity on the Black River Canal backers’ minds, though. Their eyes were fixed firmly on the millions of acres of trees cloaking the slopes of the western Adirondacks and the Tug Hill Plateau. Before their ditch opened for business, those trees were just scenery. But once the lock gates closed on the first canal boat, they were money in the bank.
Of course, traffic on the canal traveled both ways, and as the mortal remains of the northern forests flowed south to build sailing ships and stately homes in New York City and New England, East Coast tourists flowed north to see (and play in) the endless forests described in lyrical prose by writers like “Adirondack” Murray and Nessmuk. But it turned out that the forests weren’t endless, after all, and the time came when the last tree fell to the last stroke of an ax, or near enough as to make no difference. The tourist tide then dwindled to a trickle. Barren, eroded slopes and slash‑choked rivers simply didn’t appeal to urban romantics looking for a sylvan idyll. The Black River Canal was a busted flush.
It enjoyed a brief revival around the turn of the century, when improvements to the Erie Canal created a market for quarried Black River limestone, but this boom was even more short‑lived than the timber boom, and the Black River Canal was allowed to return to nature after 1924. Nature did a pretty good job of reclaiming it, too. But the ghost of the old ditch remains, and even today, …
The Black River Canal Reveals Itself to Those Who Look
I knew little of its history until the day the abandoned lock caught my eye. By contrast, the Erie Canal is still a going concern, though much of it was rebuilt and rerouted in the early 20th century, when it was rechristened the New York State Barge Canal. Now this name is also consigned to history. Today, the Erie Canal has its old name back, in recognition, perhaps, that few barges ply its waters. It’s a recreational waterway.
But the Black River Canal plays host to no fun‑seekers. It survives only in name. Nothing remains of it but a few ditches filled with stagnant water and a handful of dewatered locks:
This lock staircase was called a combine, and even though the lock gates are long gone, it’s a mighty impressive piece of engineering. There’s not much else to see, however:
Where water once flowed and canal boats traveled to and fro, there is now only a drainage ditch. Even the New York State Education Department’s historic marker has seen better days:
But though its locks are dry, the ghost of this abandoned waterway still carries commercial traffic: Much of NY Route 12 was built on the canal right‑of‑way, and with the aid of satellite photos and topographic quadrangles of varying vintages, a patient and practiced eye can put the old canal back on the map. I gave it a go myself recently. But before we pull out the maps, take a look at this:
Can you spot the relic combine and the trace of the old canal leading away to the north? Easy, wasn’t it? Now let’s see if we can conjure our ghost from the spirit realm. I’ve placed a digitized copy of the 1907 edition of the USGS Port Leyden, New York, 15‑minute quad — the canal was still a going concern back then — side by side with the 2016 edition of the 7.5‑minute quad bearing the same name. I had to enlarge the old 15‑minute map to something like the same scale as the its modern 7.5‑minute counterpart, but the rest was a straightforward exercise in interpolation. A red trace on the 2016 quad now shows where the Black River Canal once flowed:
During the winter months, I’m going to extend my preliminary analysis, in order to bring all of the old canal back from the dead, at least on paper. Then, come spring, I’ll take my annotated maps into the field to see how often I can catch sight of the ghost on the ground, so to speak. If we have a wet spring, and if I can get permission from private landowners, I may even be able to paddle short stretches of the canal — a waterway that’s been lost for almost a century. I can’t wait!
Canals were America’s commercial highways during the first half of the 19th century, when water transport trumped all other ways to move heavy or bulky goods to market. Canals carried the timber for ships and homes, the stone for public buildings, and the grain for city tables. But these once‑vital arteries of commerce now lie abandoned, or cling to a precarious existence as playgrounds for holiday‑makers. Still, if you know where to look, you can sometimes catch sight of the ghost of a long‑forgotten waterway, hidden in plain sight beside some busy highway. And who knows? The day may yet come when politicians will see the wisdom of returning at least some of these neglected thoroughfares to productive use. All it takes is a man or woman of vision.
Now that the
shopping holiday season has begun in earnest, few of us are thinking about paddling. (So many HyperMarts, so little time!) But we still have to eat. Which is why Tamia figured it was high time to rescue this not‑very‑old article from the limbo of the archives.
It’s Alimentary: A Cornucopia of Seasonal Treats
by Tamia Nelson | November 15, 2015
Revised and updated on November 24, 2017
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds —
— Thomas Hood, “No!”
November is an indecisive month, teetering on the cusp between autumn and winter. At least that’s how it is in Canoe Country, and while the New Model Climate is now pushing the thermostat higher with every passing year, November is still full of surprises. On one day, we wake to summer‑like temperatures and balmy breezes. On the next, we look out on three inches of new snow.
And then there’s the sky. Gray is the dominant color note, a theme echoed by the gray hills and reflected in the ominously gray water. Only the stands of spruce and pine provide an occasional, and very welcome, visual respite. All in all, November doesn’t invite us to linger out of doors. Day trips are fun, but it’s hard to work up enthusiasm for anything more ambitious. A little bit of gray goes a long, long way. I’d rather camp in the drifts on a mountain col on a sunny (if arctic) February weekend than pitch a tent by the shore of a gunmetal gray pond on a monochrome November day. Yet the relentlessly gray days of November have their compensations. Thanksgiving comes in November, for one thing. (That’s for paddlers living in the bits of Canoe Country lying south of the Webster–Ashburton Treaty line, of course. Our neighbors to the north celebrated the holiday last month.) And Thanksgiving is a good time to sample …
The Fruits of the Year
As I’ve already said, I don’t often go on overnight trips in November. But day outings are something else altogether, and on the rare days when the clouds part to reveal a wan sun (and ice conditions permit), I warm to the idea of a moveable feast on some nearby waterway. Such November picnics can be a real treat. I don’t do much cooking on the shore, however. I’ll use my Trangia burner to make tea or heat soup, perhaps, but that’s about it. The daylight hours in the shank of the year are much too precious to spend muttering over a hot stove. So I complete the meal prep at home, then stow the resulting ready‑to‑eat treats in a pack. Soft “coolers” help keep food warm as well as cold, and vacuum flasks make it possible to get a hot drink, a mug of soup, or a bowl of stew with no more trouble than taking a swig from a water bottle. (Hint: If you use a soft cooler to keep hot food warm, make sure the food isn’t so hot that it melts the fabric!)
But perhaps the idea of picnicking in near‑freezing weather doesn’t appeal. No matter. A hot meal is always welcome at the end of a long day in the woods (or at the mall), especially if you haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast except raisins, hard biscuits, and chocolate (or a soggy sandwich from a food court kiosk). And notwithstanding Thomas Hood’s lament about “no fruits,” farm and field have quite a lot to offer at this time of year. In fact, the cornucopia of seasonal delicacies makes late‑fall picnics and end‑of‑of the day feasts especially memorable. Want to know what’s on my menu? Well, then, let’s begin with a holiday staple that will grace quite a few tables in the next month:
Cranberries. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’m crazy about cranberries. They have a delightfully tart flavor that complements many dishes. Dried cranberries — “craisins” in marketing‑speak — are usually sweetened. They can be eaten out of hand like raisins, but while craisins make good quick‑energy snacks, fresh cranberries are far more versatile. These can be added to cooked dishes or ground up with oranges (peel and all) and sweetened with honey or maple syrup to make an intriguingly sweet‑tart relish. I also put cranberries in my Hundred‑Mile Plus Oatmeal Bars.
And that’s just the start. Fresh or frozen cranberries make a splendid accompaniment to braised or roasted beef, chicken, or pork. Simply cook them with the meat. (There’s no need to thaw the frozen berries first.) Not that you’re likely to be preparing a roast at the water’s edge, I imagine, but you can always add a small handful of cranberries to a stew while you’re heating it on the burner at home. Simmer the stew long enough to soften the berries, then decant it into a wide‑mouth thermos, adding a dash or two of balsamic vinegar if you’re feeling adventurous. Now you’re good to go. Want a hardy breakfast to fortify you for the day’s exertions? Fresh cranberries can be added to instant oatmeal, sweet or savory steel‑cut oatmeal, or oatmeal groats. (Add the cranberries before steaming.) And dinner? What about dinner? Cranberries make a tasty addition to grain pilafs, too. Dessert? Bakers long ago discovered that cranberries add a colorful touch to quick breads, yeast breads, and apple crisp, not to mention apple pie.
Ah, yes. Apples. If any food says fall, it’s …
The Apple. The heady perfume of “wild” apples* is one of the season’s signature scents, and the fragrance of cooking apples pervades countless kitchens at this time of year. Here’s why: Apples are versatile. Stew or sauté chopped apples with nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom. Add shaved or chopped apples to both quick and yeast breads, pancakes, and waffles. Stir apples into cooking pilaf and risotto. Bake apples with maple syrup and nuts. And lest you forget (fat chance!), there are apple cider and apple butter — and apple pie. (Yes, Farwell. I hear you.)
Of course, you can also eat apples right off the tree, and if your favorite river happens to wind though an old, abandoned orchard, be prepared for a sweet surprise. Wild apples taste nothing like their store‑bought counterparts. It’s like the difference between Monet’s The Magpie and Norman Rockwell’s Home for Christmas. Or between Corelli’s Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 (the “Christmas Concerto”) and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Each member of these pairings of unequals is exemplary in its own right, but only one is sublime. That said, I limit myself to a single wild apple per trip, and I don’t go back for seconds. I never forget that I’m a guest in the backcountry, and I don’t fancy robbing my wild hosts of their stores. Winter lasts a long time in the northern latitudes, even today.
OK. We’ve explored the possibilities of cranberries and apples. What’s next? Well, how about …
Squash? Winter squash, that is, the hard‑skinned kind that will last till spring if properly stored. My favorites are acorn, buttercup, and pumpkin. All are delicious, no matter how they’re prepared. Winter squash soup is silky and flavorful. (You haven’t eaten all the cranberries and apples, I hope. Add some to the soup.) Or just halve a squash, scoop out the seeds, and roast the halves with their cut sides down. And don’t forget squash pie. Pumpkin pie is a holiday sine qua non, but many other squashes can also be pressed into service, yielding a whole litany of sweet and savory pies. Does this exhaust the squash repertoire? Certainly not. Whole books have been written on how to prepare winter squash. But I like to keep things simple. More often than not, I go the halve‑and‑roast route, though I flip the halves right side up once the squash is tender, adding a pat of butter and a drizzle of maple syrup to the seed cavity for good measure, after which I leave the halves in the oven just long enough for the cut surfaces to brown. (I save the seeds and roast them separately, then season them with salt and pepper and mix in some walnut pieces.)
Now, with that mention of walnuts, another holiday treat takes center stage:
Nuts. Actually, since nuts keep very well when properly stored — ask a chipmunk if you have doubts — any time of year is a good time for nuts. Still, tree nuts like pecans, walnuts, and almonds are at their freshest in late autumn. I eat them out of hand every day, but I also add nuts to oatmeal and other hot cereals, rice and grain pilafs, and pasta, along with quick and yeast breads, pies, cakes, energy bars and cookies. I like nut “butters,” as well, though peanut butter is something of an impostor. (Peanuts are legumes, or “ground nuts,” not tree nuts.) Almond butter is the real deal, however. Grind almonds into a paste and spread your homemade “butter” on hot toast, whole‑grain breads, or pancakes. Delicious!
Have we finished with nuts? Not yet. As we’ve already seen, broken or crumbled nuts make a tasty garnish, and their virtues are nowhere more evident than when you sprinkle them on …
Soup. And this is where we came in, adding cranberries to soups and stews. But there’s a good reason to revisit the subject of soup, even if cranberries play no part in your meal plans. I have a thermos of hot soup in my pack on nearly all shank‑of‑the‑season jaunts. My favorites include squash soup, tomato-bean-leek-and-kale soup, my Irish grandmother’s potato and cabbage soup, and pot‑au‑feu, the last being more a boiled dinner than a soup.
There you have it, my menu of fall treats, from soup to nuts, including berries, apples and squash.
But… Perhaps you think I’ve left something out. After all, for most North Americans, Thanksgiving dinner is one of the gustatory high points of the year, and for many of us, that means only one thing:
It’s Time to Talk Turkey
Not for Farwell and me, though. I find myself paddling against the current here, but I prefer my holiday turkey alive and strutting. Wild turkeys stop outside my office window to pass the time of day every now and then, and it doesn’t seem right to dine at my convivial neighbors’ expense. And though I freely admit I don’t feel quite the same bond of affinity with the shrink‑wrapped corpses in the HyperMart freezer, I’m loath to reward the factory farms in which these unfortunate creatures were imprisoned for all of their short and miserable lives. Those industrial enterprises are nothing like the turkey farms I can remember from my youth, where clear‑eyed and muscular birds roamed free during the day, conversing volubly with their neighbors all the while, then returning to individual cabins at night to enjoy a well‑earned rest.
A field trip to just such a farm was the highlight of the second‑grade curriculum in my school, and the tour included a full and frank discussion of every aspect of commercial turkey farming, from rearing the poults to killing and processing the mature birds. We kids left the farm knowing exactly where our holiday meals came from, and we had a burgeoning appreciation of one farmer’s humane approach to animal husbandry, as well. That philosophy has no place in today’s scaled‑up, bottom‑line‑driven farm operations, of course. Which is why my holiday table is made conspicuous by the absence of turkey in any form. And what dish takes pride of place in its stead? Vegetarian lasagna, that’s what. But that’s another story.
Is there still open water in your corner of Canoe Country? Then why not plan a moveable feast — a shank‑of‑the‑season picnic on some quiet stream? Or just take a long walk in a nearby woods before returning home to sit down before the festive board. And with that in mind, I’ve made a few suggestions for seasonal treats. Whether eaten on a riverside rock or reserved for dinner at home, this autumnal bounty is sure to please. But maybe I’ve left out some of your own favorites. If so, please tell me what they are. A cornucopia can never be too full, can it?
* Apples aren’t native to North America, so our “wild” apples are really feral. But only a pedant (or a hack like me) would ever worry about such things, right?
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Into every life a little pain must fall. But you don’t have to let that stop you. In this week’s column, Tamia Nelson explores the arithmetic of affliction — and finds that things add up in surprising ways.
The New Arithmetic of Affliction; or,
How One Plus One Equals One — And Nobody Gets Shortchanged
by Tamia Nelson | November 22, 2016
There’s a fascination frantic
In a ruin that’s romantic;
Do you think you are sufficiently decayed?
From The Mikado, by Gilbert and Sullivan
Digital technology has certainly improved the quality of medical imaging, but when the picture on the screen is something you don’t want to see, image quality isn’t the first thing on your mind. Most likely, you’re just thinking, “Why me?” And that’s what I thought not so very long ago, as I studied the wonderfully sharp images of my right knee. The picture was crystal clear, yet at the same time distressingly dark. It revealed that much of my right medial meniscus — one of the two fibrous pads lining the bearing surface between femur and tibia — had worn away. Little was now left but shreds and tatters. “Why me?” I asked myself again. But I knew the answer to my unvoiced question already: too many miles trudging over too many hills, too many heavy loads carried down too many portage trails, too many hard knocks given and received. Of course, knowing the “why” didn’t help. I wanted to turn back the clock.
That wasn’t in the cards. To be sure, the surgeon I’d consulted was professionally optimistic. He noted that the knee was otherwise undamaged, and that I had exceptionally well‑developed quads. (Too many miles…) This, he said, would help stabilize the joint. He also suggested NSAIDs and physical therapy — and cycling. Only the last part of this prescription was attractive. It was doing something I liked doing, after all. But there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Sooner or later, I’d be a candidate for a knee replacement. How soon, I asked? The surgeon’s optimistic mask now slipped a bit. That would depend on how well I coped with steadily increasing pain, he replied.
Oh, goody, I thought. And then I started to think of all the things I wouldn’t be doing in the years to come. No kneeling in a canoe. No portaging into remote beaver ponds. No rock scrambling. No skiing. No snowshoeing. I put the whole list of my favorite things to a vote, and the “Nos” were definitely in the majority.
But later, as I talked with Farwell on the long drive home, I started coming to my senses. Farwell is no stranger to disappointments of this sort. He’s been blind as a bat since he was a kid, though his vision with glasses was always 20/20 or better. It was certainly good enough for his draft board, where he was told he’d do fine in the hand‑to‑hand fighting (a joke that was already old when his father was drafted, back in ’41). Shortly afterward, a nice lady handed him a pocket Testament and showed him where to wait for the bus. Farwell remembers her as a grandmotherly sort, with silver‑gray hair, who — he swears this is true — was knitting something that looked very much like a shroud. It didn’t seem out of place.
Fortunately, the draft board’s jokey judgment proved correct. And Farwell’s vision was also good enough for him to qualify Expert on the rifle range, something that took on added significance in the months that followed boot camp. But now, many years later, Farwell’s 20/20 has picked up an extra nought, becoming 20/200 — with glasses, and in his better eye. He sometimes cycles into curbs. He even walks into closed doors from time to time. Luckily, he has a hard head. He says the scars provide padding. But he knows his limits. He doesn’t run rapids solo anymore.
Is this a story with a happy ending? No. Bad as Farwell’s eyesight now is, it’s certain to get worse in the years ahead. He could rage against the dying of the light — and being only human, he sometimes does — but that will change nothing. Still, there’s an upside. His knees give him only occasional twinges. So he can do all the things that I can no longer do: climb mountains, snowshoe through drifts, even portage a freighter over a watershed. And therein lies the secret of our new arithmetic of affliction:
One Plus One Equals … One
I don’t claim to be have discovered this. In fact, it was a letter from a long‑time correspondent who put me on the scent, so to speak. And I’ll get to her e‑mail in a minute. But I can say this: We’ve tested the formula, and it works. Farwell can’t see. I can’t pack heavy loads. Alone, we’re each, well, incomplete. But together… Together we make one hell of a paddler. Or cyclist, come to that. Farwell is now our legs. I’m now our eyes. On the trail, Farwell hauls the freight, while I keep us headed in the right direction. On the water, I warn of rocks and shoals ahead and point the way to the chute, while Farwell plays follow‑the‑leader. This works when we’re cycling to and from the put‑in, as well. Farwell carries the donkey’s portion of our joint duffle. I keep us on the road and out of the ditch. (The taillight on my bike is so bright that Farwell can use it as a leading light, even when the sun is high in the sky.) The upshot? We don’t need a tandem bicycle. And on the water, we don’t always have to be in the same boat, either. I can still paddle my own canoe when I choose, and so can Farwell. We only have to stay close and work together. This comes easily to us both. We’ve been doing it for a long time.
OK. As I said earlier, we didn’t think this up all by ourselves. No way. The germ of the idea came from veteran paddler Marylyn Feaver — if you’ve been a regular reader of our column, this won’t be the first time you’ve seen her name — who offered some good advice to canoeists and kayakers of any age who find themselves operating at a disadvantage:
Band together with others whose disabilities do not mirror yours, but who are strong where [you] are weak. When one’s inventive capacity hits the limits, turning to others or a group for continued paddling may be the solution. I’m sure that paddlers who have three generations of family living nearby are fortunate to be able to continue paddling with relatives. In the absence of such, forming our own “paddling family” may be another solution to continue paddling as we age.
Our paddling friends include a couple with an able and sighted wife and a husband who is legally blind. But they have been canoeing all their lives. One would never know that in a tandem canoe, one of them cannot see. She gives him instruction softly, and in the winding and tree‑ridden ‑‑ on the banks and in the water ‑‑ channels of the Florida Panhandle, they are a wonder to appreciate. They keep up with the group, and new paddlers are not aware that one is paddling by sheer trust, instinct, and long experience.
I’m sure you’ll have noticed that the paddling couple in Marylyn’s circle of friends devised the selfsame coping strategy that we’ve now adopted as our own. In other words, we’ve profited from their example. And if you someday find that your body is no longer your faithful servant — it can happen to anyone, at any age — you, too, can follow their lead. I’m not saying it will be easy. It won’t. Nor can I promise there won’t be days when you long to turn back the clock. There will. But the new arithmetic of affliction can give you back the freedom of the hills and waters, a freedom you thought was lost to you forever. If that isn’t better than a life lease on a La‑Z‑Boy, I don’t know what is.
Summer… Where did it go? Off to visit the southern hemisphere, that’s where. But if you’re a regular reader of In the Same Boat, there’s no better time than now to catch up with what our readers have been writing. And the lastest edition of this quarterly feature has just gone online.
Our Readers Write: Salmagundi — Of Portage Yokes and Little Lives
• a dish of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, onions, and seasoning.
• a general mixture; a miscellaneous collection.
—Oxford American Dictionary
Summer, which not so very long ago stretched before us, full of promise and seemingly endless, is no more. And autumn, that briefest and most poignant of seasons, has come and gone in the blinking of an eye. The wheel of the year spins ceaselessly round, and once again Canoe Country paddlers find themselves on the threshold of winter. All but the largest lakes have frozen over, the rushing waters are mostly stilled, and our boats sit idle under roof or tarp. When “Our Readers Write” last appeared, we were roasting in the record‑braking heat that is our New Model Climate’s new normal. But now it’s ice with everything, and paddling has given way to remembrance of seasons past and dreams of seasons yet to come.
Our fellow travelers in the northern latitudes — those whose “little lives of earth and form” pass largely unnoticed in our species’ near absolute self‑concern — are also preparing for the coming months of chill privation. Each goes about it in his or her own way. The swallows fly south to warmer climes, the bats (those that haven’t already succumbed to Pseudogymnoascus destructans) retreat to their winter roosts in caves, the jays cache seeds by the hundreds in the crevices and hollows of trees, and the chipmunks make final forays in search of stores to add to already well‑stocked subterranean larders.
We’ve long felt that these “little lives” get short shrift. Tweet that you’ve seen a grizzly in your backyard, and your post will be retweeted endlessly. Write that you’ve crossed paths with a chipmunk, however, and the Twittersphere will rival intersteller space in its frosty indifference. This seems unfair. Grizzlies are undoubtedly rarer than chipmunks — and likely to get even rarer in the years to come — but the ubiquitous chipmunk has no less claim on our attention. A commonplace wonder is a wonder still. Would we miss the sun if it failed to return in the spring? You bet we would!
Anyway, among the ingredients in this salmagundi are two e‑mails written in response to a column Tamia wrote about her striped namesake, aka Tamias striatus. But just to show we still have our feet planted firmly in the practical paddler’s world, you’ll also find a couple of letters about portaging. First, though, we have a favor to ask …
The English language, as we had occasion to note earlier in the month, is as slippery as an owl. And nowhere is that more evident than when considering the case of homophones: words with similar sounds but very different spellings (and meanings). We were reminded of this only a few months back, when a keen‑eyed reader spotted a rather embarrassing typo in a recent article and drew our attention to it with an admirable economy of words:
Surely you know that the word is “yoke.”
Yes, Jeff had us bang to rights. We had indeed confused “yolk” and “yoke.” And yes, we did (and do) understand the difference. Still, we failed to spot the error before sending our copy off into the aether, and though we corrected it as soon as Jeff brought it to our attention, we’re sure there are many more howlers awaiting discovery in the nearly 900 In the Same Boat columns we’ve written. So we’re asking you to let us know whenever you find a misspelling or grammatical solecism, whether it’s in this week’s column or one from the last millenium. Why? Because words matter. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be writing this — and you wouldn’t be reading it.
On the other hand, we’ve now got more pressing problems than the odd misspelling or incorrectly placed apostrophe: Our backlist of “In the Same Boat” columns didn’t survive the move to the new domain unscathed. Far from it. Our bylines have vanished down the memory hole, for one thing. We’ve already received a letter from a new reader addressed to “Dear Verloren.” It probably won’t be the last. And that’s just the start. Many (most?) of our old columns now appear under new titles, some of which give no hint about the subject. The column datelines have also disappeared, as has our on‑site index. The bottom line? If, despite all these rocks and shoals, you’ve somehow managed to navigate your way to us, congratulations are in order. You’re one of the few and the proud. But if you haven’t… Well, if you haven’t, you won’t be reading this, will you?
Anyway, if you’re looking for an old article that’s gone astray, let us know. Address mail to Verloren, c/o Post Restante, Limbo, or try your luck with our new e‑mail address. We’ll do all we can to help you run your quarry to earth. We can’t do anything about the many formatting problems in our old articles, however. These should be brought to the attention of Kevin, Paddling.com‘s self‑described “content sherpa.” E‑mail him at this address, and if you think of it, please carbon the e‑mail to us, as well. We can’t begin to rebuild our column backlist until we know what’s been lost.
Many thanks. And a special thank you to Jeff, who gave us a sporting chance to wipe the egg off our faces before too many other readers had a laugh at our expense.
About a year ago, Tamia wrote a column titled “A Portage Yoke That’s Always Handy.” This inspired Ric Olsen — surely one of our handiest readers — to show us how to make a good thing even better:
A nice article! In my canoes, I have installed permanent pieces of paracord, or 2[3?] mm accessory cord to secure paddle blades to the yokes and thwarts:
I also use my portage yoke to tie in paddles when transporting them:
This keeps the paddles out of the way and safe from harm. I have modified all of my canoes. In my tandems, I have installed cord on bow and stern thwarts …
… so I can secure four paddles, keeping them out of harm’s way.
That’s as elegant as it is efficient, Ric. Thanks for the tip.
Of course, not all boats are as accommodating as Ric’s canoes. Just ask reader Norm Yarger, who finds his pedestal‑equipped whitewater canoe to be a pain in the neck on the portage trail:
I have a solo whitewater canoe, and if I were to use your paddle yoke, the canoe would not ride on my shoulders since my head would hit the center pedestal first. Any ideas other than really thick paddles or surgical shortening of my neck?
Pedestal‑outfitted boats pose special difficulties, Norm. But I don’t think you need to consult an orthopedic surgeon just yet. Try using a packframe to support your boat, instead. We’ve portaged kayaks atop a Camp Trails Freighter frame in the past, and it shouldn’t be difficult to adapt this approach to portaging a pedestal boat. To see how it might be done, take a look at “Yackety‑Yack, Packin’ a ‘Yak” or (and this is by far the more elegant solution) check out “David LeBlanc’s Better Idea.”
That being said, using a packframe to portage your boat means that you have to stow the frame in your boat when you’re on the water, and packframes are mighty awkward luggage. But if finding room for a frame makes it possible to scoot painlessly across the portages, the small inconvenience shouldn’t be too high a price to pay.
Or so it seems to us. Anybody have a better idea? If so, drop us a line and we’ll pass your suggestion along to Norm.
OK. That’s the practical stuff out of the way. Now let’s talk chipmunks, as two readers who were moved by Tamia’s “Adventures Among the Dryodytes” add their own sidelights on this ubiquitous campsite companion’s antics and antecedents:
I liked your article. It reminded me of an amusing folktale about how the chipmunk got its stripes. But this is not the Native American tale that you may know — the one with the angry bear. This is the Mongolian one. It is quite different. I hope you like it.
I do indeed like it, Chris. Thank you.
I enjoyed your article on chipmunks, as I do most all of your articles. For a good film of chipmunks, if you have Netflix streaming, check out the series Hidden Kingdoms, Episode 2 [“Secret Forests”]. It unfortunately has the modern human adaptation of the animals, [and is] somewhat shallow on biology, but there’s incredible close‑up photography.
I don’t subscribe to Netflix, Rodney, but since Hidden Kingdoms has now been released on DVD (under the oddly off‑putting title Mini Monsters, no less), I shouldn’t have much trouble getting hold of it. And I will. Thanks for the heads‑up.
And with that mini‑moment of monster madness, we’ll bring this edition of “Our Readers Write” to a close. Before long, we’ll be heading out the door to join the jays and chipmunks in laying up last‑minute stores for the coming winter. But we’ll be back. So keep your e‑mails coming. Got a better idea about something? Let us know. Do you have comments, corrections, or criticisms (constructive or otherwise) to offer? All are welcome — and much appreciated. After all, it’s every reader’s right.
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Making a kayak go where you want it to go is pretty easy when you’re paddling. But what happens when you stop? Your boat starts to spin round, that’s what, and soon you’re facing back the way you came. Is there a good way to put on the brake before your head starts to spin, as well? Tamia explores the options.
The Casual Kayaker: Putting the Brake on Spin
by Tamia Nelson | December 6, 2016
Not so very long ago, kayaking was a rather esoteric sport. But times have changed. Kayaking is no longer the preserve of a corporal’s guard of hairy‑chested hard men. Nowadays, inexpensive rotomolded recreational kayaks and sit‑on‑tops are displayed on racks outside almost every Big Box retailer. They make their appearance in spring, not long after the snowblowers are spirited away to their summer kennels, and they remain on display until the snowblowers return in late fall. Kayaking is now a sport for everyman (and everywoman, of course). And this happy state of affairs was borne out by the response to “The Making of a Casual Kayaker” and “Kayaking for the Fun of It.” Few columns have generated so much mail.
But buying a boat is only a start. Paddling a kayak isn’t like driving an outboard runabout. You’re the engine, for one thing, and if you expect your boat to take you where you want to go, you’ll need to do more than grip a wheel and work a throttle. Which is why a lot of beginners suffer buyer’s remorse soon after wetting their paddles for the first time. Instead of gliding effortlessly across a still lake, they find themselves battling gusty winds that come at them from every quarter but dead astern. It’s sweaty work, and it’s often made harder still by the chaotic chop kicked up by multiple powerboat wakes. So it’s no surprise that many beginners spend their first few days going in circles. Farwell and I did. And I’ll bet we’ve had plenty of company. Luckily, practice makes perfect, and most novices soon master the art.
But what happens when you stop paddling? You’d think your sleek new boat would continue on toward your destination, at least for a minute or two, wouldn’t you? But it doesn’t. As soon as you lift your paddle from the water to snatch a few seconds’ rest, the contrary beast starts to pirouette, and before you know it, you’re looking back along the way you’ve come. Or at the adjacent shore. Or almost anywhere but where you were headed.
It’s frustrating, and novice paddlers feel this frustration most keenly. Here’s how Maria described her perplexity in a recent e‑mail:
I have a Spitfire 8 sit-on-top. …, and I have a problem in that once I start moving, the kayak tracks pretty well. But as soon as I stop paddling, it wants to turn. I have checked to see that I am centered, and so is my dog. What causes this [tendency to turn], and is there anything I can do to stop it? I am even thinking about trying to add a rudder. … Someday I may have the money to buy a more expensive kayak. … But I think my next one is going to have the foot‑pedaling option.
Maria states the problem with admirable clarity, and I wish I could offer as clear and succinct an answer. But I can’t. I can save her some money, though. A more expensive kayak won’t help. No canoe or kayak stays on course for long once you stop paddling, though the exact nature of its subsequent digressions from the straight and narrow will vary from boat to boat and time to time. Where will your wayward craft take you? That depends on many variables, including the boat’s trim, its underwater profile, its top‑hamper (everything that can catch the wind, including the kayaker herself, along with any deck cargo and passengers, not to mention dogs), the wind direction, and the current. Current? In a river, to be sure — but in a lake? Yes, even in a lake. Lakes have subtle, shifting currents. These are most noticeable near inlets and outlets, but many lakes are in fact impoundments, and it’s worth remembering that nearly every reservoir has a river imprisoned in its depths. Trim, profile, top‑hamper, wind direction, current… The cumulative effect of all of these variable forces cannot be predicted, but it’s readily observed. Just stop paddling.
OK. That’s the problem. What can you do about it? In a word, nothing. A rudder will help you hold a course while you’re paddling, but as soon as your speed drops, the rudder will begin to lose its bite on the water. Mariners speak of a vessel “losing steerage” as it loses way, and this is as true for kayaks as it is for supertankers. That said, many veteran paddlers find the tendency of a drifting boat to pirouette to be only a minor nuisance. But anglers and photographers will disagree. For them, this “minor” inconvenience looms large. Casting a line or shooting photos from a boat that’s spinning like a slow‑motion top is a recipe for frustration.
So… If you’re an angler or a photographer, you’re probably hoping that I’ve painted too bleak a picture. Is there really no remedy for the problem? Well, maybe I have, and maybe there is. It depends on your willingness to complicate your life. In shallow water, you can always anchor. Your boat’s ultimate orientation will still depend on the competing forces of wind and current, but at least it should be more or less constant. You’ll need to carry a suitable anchor, of course — a so‑called “lunch hook” should suffice for casual use — and a long anchor line, or “rode.” How long is long enough? Figure three times the water depth (a 3:1 scope), at a minimum. Which means you’ll need at least 50 feet of rode if you plan on anchoring in 10 feet of water. Wait a minute! I know what you’re thinking. Three times 10 isn’t 50. It’s 30. What gives? Easy. The additional 20 feet of line is needed to make the anchor fast to your boat, with a little extra thrown in for good measure. There’s no easy fix for a line that’s not long enough, after all. And even 50 feet may come up short someday. Strong currents or gusty winds require more scope: 7:1 isn’t too much in a seaway. How much more line will you need in such cases? You do the math. It’s a lot to store belowdecks in a kayak, especially as you’ll want good strong stuff. Paracord won’t do.
And what if the bottom is 200 feet below your keel, rather than 10? You can’t use a lunch hook then, can you? No, you can’t. But you can use a sea anchor (aka “drift sock”). You’ll still drift slowly to leeward, but the sea anchor will hold your bow (or stern) to the wind. That’s fine if the wind is a gentle breeze blowing steadily from one quarter, but it won’t help much if the Old Woman is in a rage, with her gusts boxing the compass every minute.
Anyway, Farwell will likely have more to say about anchors and sea anchors in the future. (He’s an old sea dog. I’m not.) He might even have a word or two to offer on the subject of riding sails. For now, though, I’d like to end today’s column on a simpler note, harking back to a good idea from the dawn of recreational canoeing: the “pudding stick.” Nessmuk’s friends coined this colorful name to describe the “little one‑handed paddle” he turned to whenever “shrubs and weeds” crowded in on his tiny canoe, making it difficult for him to wield a double blade. And pudding sticks are still offered for sale in marine supply catalogs that cater to dinghy sailors. With such a paddle, you can control the orientation of your boat in light winds and gentle currents — and still keep one hand free for casting a fly or snapping a picture. Mastering the pudding stick will take some practice, however, and I’m not about to tell you that one‑handed photography is easy. But it can be done.
Speaking of shrubs and weeds, there’s another way to check your boat’s tendency to spin round as soon as you stop paddling. Head for a weedy shallows. (Salt water paddlers can seek refuge in a kelp bed.) Once your boat is nestled tight in the weeds’ elastic embrace, you can put down your paddle, put up your feet, and relax. Even if there’s a stiff breeze, your world won’t spin round in a dizzying swirl, and unless there’s a swell running, you’ll find yourself sitting serenely in an oasis of calm.
Maybe this is the best remedy of all.
A waxed-cotton jacket isn’t something to wax nostalgic about. Or is it? Tamia thinks it is, especially when the jacket in question has accompanied her on trips afoot and afloat for more than a quarter of a century. Which is why she’s offering this eulogy for an old friend.
Eulogy for an Old Friend: My Orvis Jacket
by Tamia Nelson | December 13, 2016
Ours is a consumer economy. If I ever had any doubts on that score, they were put to rest by then New York City Mayor Rudolf (Rudy) Giuliani, in the days immediately following the September 11th attacks, back in 2001. With nearly 3,000 lying dead under the rubble, and a still‑smoldering gap in his city’s skyline, what did Rudy urge his fellow Americans to do? To unsheathe their credit cards and hit the shops, that’s what. His message was clear: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. And though this rallying cry falls a little short of Thomas Paine’s soaring cadences, if you view it as a prescription for national economic survival in the 21st century, Rudy’s message was probably right on the mark.
But I came of age in another time. In the small farm town where I grew up, people thought that “making do” was part and parcel of what it meant to be a patriot. My grandparents and many of their neighbors had lived through the privations of the Great Depression and the ration‑book stringencies of the Second World War. They didn’t see much point in shopping till they dropped. Their watchwords were “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” This was a very different world than the one we live in today, obviously. Back then, Americans were producers, first and foremost, not consumers. American factories still made most of the things that were for sale in the stores, many families got by with only one car, and traveling to some far‑distant destination by air was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime treat. On school trips, my classmates and I didn’t jet off to Paris. We spent the morning at a local farm.
The country has moved on since those days, of course, and wearing things out is passé. It’s, like, so yesterday. I don’t have to look far to find the evidence. Every spring, the thrift shop racks in the nearby college town fill up with nearly new student castoffs. The faculty contribute their share to this seasonal largesse, too. No one wears the same clothes for two years running, it seems. Well, no. That’s not quite true. Not all of us have moved on to the broad, sunlit uplands of perpetual consumption. Not quite. A few hard cases still place function ahead of fashion and think that frugality is a virtue.
Like me. And there are some items of clothing that I’ll keep wearing till they fall in tatters around my feet. Take my old Orvis waxed‑cotton wading jacket. I’ve forgotten exactly when I bought it, but it was at least 30 years ago, and it came from the Manchester, Vermont, store. In those days, I made semiannual pilgrimages to this holy place — once in the spring and again in the fall — treading a well‑worn path between the cabinets containing vintage side‑by‑sides (I had a brief, unconsummated flirtation with a lovely Churchill XXV) and the racks of fly rods. In other words, in those days I was a patriot à la mode, a consumer of whom the nation could be justly proud.
Many years have passed since I last put a covey to flight or fished fine and far off, however. Yet I still wear my Orvis jacket nearly every day that our steamy New Model Climate permits. It’s perfect for dark, late‑autumn evenings, when a chill mist rises from the falls along The River and creeps stealthily down the valley. To be sure, the threadbare fabric no longer defies the swirling damp. And the pockets, which once swallowed bulky Wheatley fly boxes without protest, are now more hole than pocket. But these wounds aren’t mortal. The wool lining is as warm as it ever was, the zipper — a stout brass affair — never jams, and the jacket’s abbreviated length means I can take full strides without having my legs hobbled by redundant folds of fabric. (It’s also just the right length for wear in a kayak.)
In short, my Orvis jacket is a testament to the wisdom of “form follows function” tailoring. Oh, yes… It has one other virtue: The jacket smells wonderful. Three decades of woodsmoke, steaming coffee, and crushed bracken have melded with a remnant tang of wax to leave an indelible olfactory signature. It reminds me of my Grandad’s camp. But now, like its owner, it’s showing its age. Nothing lasts forever, after all. And the day when my jacket will have to be retired is fast approaching. See for yourself:
That will be a sad day, indeed. Not only will it feel like saying goodbye to an old friend for the last time, but I’ll need to find a replacement. Waxed‑cotton jackets are now luxury goods and priced accordingly. They’re out of my reach. (I bought mine — it was the last of a discontinued model, if I remember correctly — at a knockdown price.) As for the polychromatic plastic offerings on the racks in MallMart, the less said about them, the better. They’re certainly cheap and cheerful, but I can’t see myself choosing one as my constant companion. I’d rather not play harlequin on life’s stage just yet. So I’ll have to hope some musty, neglected corner of a surplus store holds something suitable, at a price I can afford.
Fortunately, though, the final parting of the ways is not yet at hand. Tattered and torn my old jacket may well be, but it still has a season or two of life left in it. And when the last day comes, as it must inevitably come, I’ll hang the jacket behind the boatshed, so birds and mice can tease the warm wool from its lining for their nests. In the fullness of time, nothing will survive but a few fragments of corroding metal, and I can then take solace in the fact that, unlike its plastic counterparts, my Orvis jacket will soon have rotted and returned to the earth, rather than hanging around for centuries to litter the landscape and poison the seas.
For now, though, my jacket remains in its place of honor in my closet, ready to accompany me on excursions afoot and afloat, as it has done for more than half my lifetime. I’ve never been one to abandon old friends for new faces on a whim, and I see no reason to change. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” If I have to have a motto to live by, and I suppose we all do, that’s a lot better than “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”
Sorry, Rudy: Call me a sunshine shopper if you want, but I’m afraid the consumer economy will just have to get along without me for a little while longer.
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Fancy stuffed pizza in camp? Think it can’t be done? Well, think again. Tamia has been spending time in her test kitchen, and she’s found the secret. So… What are you waiting for? Get stuffed! You won’t regret it.
Alimentary, My Dear: Get Stuffed! Perfect Pita Pizza
by Tamia Nelson | December 20, 2016
Midwinter’s Day is almost upon us. The alcohol in the thermometer outside my office window seldom rises above the freezing point, and drifts of snow are already mounting toward the sills. It’s certainly not ideal weather for canoe camping, but winter has its compensations, nonetheless. For one thing, it’s a good time to prepare for the day when the waters again run free. And that’s just what I’ve been doing, busying myself in my “test kitchen,” where I try out recipes that show promise as camp fare.
My most recent experiment started with a four‑pack of pita bread that I discovered in a little‑visited corner of the freezer, and once I embarked on the journey, the road from pita to pizza was a short one. As it happens, stove‑top pizza has been a favorite of ours for years, both at home and in camp. But packing premade dough is a nuisance, and making dough from scratch at the water’s edge isn’t always feasible. So I’ve tried a number of time‑saving alternatives, ranging from readymade commercial crusts — Boboli is a widely distributed example — to tortillas.
All of these have worked well, but it never hurts to have an extra string to your bow, and the pita bread I retrieved from my freezer looked like it might be a contender. To begin with, it was just the right size for an individual pizza. And the pita pocket is made to order to hold extra cheese, meaning that stuffed pizza in camp is no longer an impossible dream. I used the oven for my proof‑of‑concept effort — the day was cold, and I wanted to warm the kitchen — but I could also have used a skillet on the stovetop. This is how I make pizza in camp, in fact, though virtuoso cooks will likely turn to their Dutch and reflector ovens.
OK. Do you want to give pita pizza a try? Good. Join me in the kitchen, and we’ll stuff a pizza together. We’ll need one pita round for each person who’s coming to dinner, plus cheese and other toppings. If you like, we can use the leftovers from my proof‑of‑concept trial: whole‑wheat pitas — these were what I found languishing in my freezer — plus sliced tomatoes, freshly sliced garlic, sliced fresh mushrooms (not to everyone’s taste, but I like them), thick slices of mozzarella, thin slices of smoky provolone, grated Parmesan, dried oregano, and ground black pepper.
Once we’ve assembled our ingredients, we’ll prepare the bread, slicing along each pita’s edge with a sharp knife until we’ve opened the pockets. (There’s no point in “butterflying” the bread, by the way. Simply slide the tip of the knife halfway round the circumference.) Then it’s just a question of gently expanding the pockets with your fingers. Easy does it! Pitas are fragile, and a torn pocket is a real PITA.
Now, having prepared the pockets, it’s time to stuff ’em. I suggest we use sliced provolone and mushrooms. Less is more: We don’t want to overstuff the pockets and tear the bread. Next, we’ll pat the filled breads (gently!) to flatten them before we add the toppings — the crowning touch, if you will. We’ll layer tomato slices evenly over each pita, followed by the fresh garlic and slices of mozzarella and provolone, finishing off with grated Parmesan, dried oregano, and black pepper. A few minutes in the oven (or skillet) and our personal pizzas will be ready to eat.
Let’s recap. We began by splitting each pita round (Photo A below), then filled the resulting pockets with cheese and mushrooms (Photo B), …
… patted the stuffed pitas flat, added the toppings (Photos C and D), …
… and popped our stuffed and topped pizzas into the oven — we’d have used a skillet in camp — just long enough for the crust to brown and the cheese to melt:
The result? See for yourself:
Perfect stuffed pita pizzas. Of course, the proof of the pizza is in the eating. So you’ll want to give this a try in your own test kitchen. Then I’ll bet you’ll add the recipe to your camp menu planner. The snow won’t last forever, after all. Midwinter’s Day is almost upon us. We’re halfway to spring already.
Winter puts paddling on ice, at least in Canoe Country. But there are plenty of ways for canoeists and kayakers to pass the time while they wait for the sun to return. And to prove it, Tamia’s putting a few items from her to‑do list online. There’s just one question: Will winter be long enough?
Off‑Season: Will Winter Be Long Enough?
by Tamia Nelson | December 27, 2016
Canoe Country winters aren’t what they used to be. The New Model Climate has seen to that. But those of us living in the higher latitudes don’t yet have open water for twelve months of the year. So winter still means downtime. Our boats rest on their racks. Our paddles hang from hooks. And our muscles slowly revert to fat. Of course, winter needn’t mean strict confinement within four walls. Skiing and snowshoeing are pleasures in their own right — when there’s snow on the ground, that is. That’s the rub. Snow is now a sometime thing in much of Canoe Country.
Which makes it hard to keep fit in winter, especially for anyone who, like me, finds running painful. I used to ride my bike year round. But I’ve grown tired of spending an hour or more cleaning salty gunge from the frame and drivetrain after every trip into town, and I’ve had far too many narrow escapes from Mad Max (and Dozy Dora) motorists careering down icy roads. After all, a crash that may only dent a car’s fender can put a cyclist in a nursing home bed for the rest of her life, and those aren’t odds I like. The bottom line? When the latest dusting of snow turns to mud on the trails within a day of falling, and the white hills revert yet again to their late‑autumn grays, I no longer hit the road. Instead, I resign myself to going nowhere on my stationary bike and rowing machine. And I dream of spring.
But that’s not all I do. Winter’s downtime is the right time to catch up with the many paddling‑related chores I’d neglected during the more clement months. These include the never‑ending process of make‑and‑mend — there’s always a pack seam to restitch, a stove nozzle to decarbonize, or a dull knife to sharpen — along with the annual ritual of inventorying and restocking the bug‑out box. And that’s only the start. Just consider this small sample of …
Items From My To‑Do List
Index magazine backfiles. Farwell and I have nearly complete runs from the early years of Small Boat Journal, Messing About in Boats, and WoodenBoat. There’s a wealth of information in each volume, but without a comprehensive index, much of this treasure is inaccessible. Now, with the help of a LibreOffice database, I’m going to change that.
Download quads. That’s maps, not muscles, by the way. We have a large collection of paper quads, some of them dating back to the turn of the last century — so many, in fact, that we’ve almost run out of storage space. But no map library is ever large enough. Luckily, digital quads take up less room than their paper counterparts, and right now these can be had for the price of a click. Since I doubt this happy state of affairs will long continue — we have to pay for the billionaires’ tax cuts somehow — I’ll be adding to our digital library of maps and charts whenever I get the chance. Which will also make the next item on my list a lot easier.
Take a trip back in time. Retracing historical journeys on the map can be almost — almost — as much fun as doing it in your boat. Last winter, I joined R. M. Patterson on his wanderings in the Nahanni country. This time around, I’m going to keep company with William Francis Butler and Cerf‑vola, the “Esquimaux dog” who was Butler’s indefatigable companion. I’m looking forward to the journey.
Make an alcohol burner. Long days spent poring over faded maps and dusty volumes take their toll, and when the time comes that I need a coffee break, I can turn to my newly acquired Esbit Kaffeemaschine. Except that I can’t. I don’t fancy using costly Esbit tablets to heat water, and my Trangia burners are too big to fit in the Esbit’s windscreen‑cum‑pot support. Which is why I’m going to fabricate a custom alcohol burner for the Kaffeemaschine from small aluminum drink cans. Once I have it up and roaring, I’ll tell you how I did it.
Put image library in order. I have thousands of slides, not to mention tens of thousands of digital images. And my filing system needs an overhaul. It’s nearly impossible to find the one image I want among the multitude. To remedy this, I’m going to digitize all my slides, restore their faded colors, and then catalog the whole shooting match in a searchable database.
Build a boat. Farwell once wrote a debunking piece about boat‑building for GuideLines. It was the only article that either of us has written for Paddling.com (it was Paddling.net back then) that ended up on the spike. But now Farwell’s come round to the contrary way of thinking. He’s even talking about building a sailing canoe or small sailing dinghy. And me? I’d like to build a wooden touring kayak. We hope to have one or both of these vessels on the stocks by the time the sun frees Canoe Country waters from their icy prison. You’ll all have VIP seats at the launch.
Go hunting with the microscope. I’ve spent many hours examining thin sections with a petrographic microscope over the years, but long before I knew what “crossed pols” were, I was exploring the hidden world of microscopic life with a simple Gilbert ‘scope. I’ll be doing it again this winter. I’ve got a nice new ‘scope with a mechanical stage and oil‑immersion objective, and I’m going hunting once more — for the smallest of small game.
And last, but certainly not least, Farwell and I are finally going to …
Get all 17 Years of In the Same Boat ready for print. Complete and unexpurgated, newly edited, and (where necessary) brought up‑to‑date, the first volume of this unmissable Collector’s Edition will be coming to a bookstore near you by the time the wavies return to the ‘Bay.
Well, that’s what it says in the press release, anyway. Let’s hope it’s a long winter!
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