May 12 2016

Weather Matters: A “Be Prepared” Omnibus

Weather, Happening

Most of us — at least most of us living in what we like to call “developed” nations — spend most of our days in a weatherless world. We leave our climate‑controlled houses for our climate‑controlled cars and drive to climate‑controlled offices, schools, or malls. Then we drive home again. Weather, it often seems, is what happens to other people. But every now and then something comes our way to remind us that we are not immune. A winter storm, perhaps. Or a flood. Or a hurricane. And while most such reminders are unpleasant, spring is the happy exception. The return of light and warmth to the northern latitudes is impossible to ignore, even for the terminally climate‑controlled.

Of course, trekkers need no reminding. When you’re on the water in a small boat, or cycling down an open road, or hiking across a barren ridge, weather isn’t remote. It doesn’t happen to “other people.” It’s all around you — a total immersion experience. This is both good and bad. If weather were simply a succession of smiling summer days, it would be a never‑ending feast of delights. But weather has many moods, and at its angry worst it can be very bad indeed. Most of us have been caught out on a big lake by a sudden storm at least once. Few of us are eager to repeat the experience.

So weather is important to paddlers, even paddlers who never plan to venture beyond Golden Pond. Which is why I’m now going to try to bring together everything Farwell and I have written about weather (and related matters). If I succeed, this column will serve as a guide to these earlier articles — a sort of TripTik routing through the increasingly congested byways of the In the Same Boat archive.

That being said, let’s jump right in at the beginning: Be prepared… Read more…


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May 03 2016

The Making of a Casual Kayaker

Messing About in a Boat

In this age of climate confusion, perhaps the most reliable sign of spring is the appearance of flocks of plastic kayaks on hastily erected racks in front of Canoe Country Mallmarts. With their molded finery of bright primary colors, these little ships offer a moment’s relief to the trudging masses, many of whom still seem to be weighed down by the gray and cheerless winter, a winter lacking even the redeeming transformation of snow. And — at my local Mallmart, at any rate — you can take one home for just 160 US dollars.

Yet the shoppers walk past the display without looking, apparently unmoved by the kayaks’ siren song. There are exceptions, of course. A few people stop and stare thoughtfully at the racked boats, and I can almost see the scenes that are passing before their inward eyes: A leisurely outing with a grandchild. Or a picnic with a new love. A day spent fishing with an old friend. Or a directionless drift on a sunny afternoon, alone or in company, good book and cold drink always within easy reach. And from time to time one dreamer remains, rooted in place, a solitary standing tree defying a river in spate. But then, more often than not, he (or she) shakes his head ruefully and rejoins the throng headed for the automatic doors and the chirpy greeters. His dream has died aborning.

I can only guess the reason. Maybe the dreamer convinces himself that kayaking and canoeing are only for the fit — those tanned, taut athletes who populate TV “reality” adventure shows. Or maybe the learning curve seems insurmountably steep — that is, it appears to be interminably shallow — with mastery of the art coming only after a prolonged and painful apprenticeship. The kayaks look, well, tippy. And how could anyone make something that resembles a plastic butter dish go in a straight line? Especially as the double paddle looks like nothing so much as an unwieldy club. So the doubts multiply, and sooner or later courage fails. No one likes to look a fool.


It doesn’t have to end that way, however. After all, even the tanned, taut television athletes were once apprehensive beginners. A few words of encouragement would quickly dispel the gathering clouds of doubt that killed our dreamer’s dream.

So here goes. This is for you dreamers out there: Advice to would‑be paddlers, now wavering… Read more…


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Apr 29 2016

Why Not Sit Down and Hang Out?
More Home Comforts in the Backcountry

The Versatile Bucket

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. That line from the old Joni Mitchell hit “Big Yellow Taxi” is true of a lot of valuable things: primeval woodlands, an equable climate, and passenger rail service, to name only three. But it’s also true of physical abilities. When something you’ve taken for granted — being able to squat on your haunches and hop back up again in an instant, say — is suddenly snatched away from you, it can be a hard blow to weather. Still, whingeing about the unfairness of life gets you nowhere. It’s better by far to (wo)man up and move on.

In my case, the peccant parts are my knees. My grandfather often joked about belonging to the Gimpy Knee Club, and I always laughed, as he intended I should. (He came from a generation that thought physical infirmity should be borne with a certain sang‑froid — what the Brits once called “a stiff upper lip.”) But never for a single moment did I imagine I’d be a candidate for membership myself. I was confident that this was one indignity of aging I’d be spared. After all, I was active. And strong. And my knees, despite having taken more than a few hard knocks, never gave me any real trouble.

That was then. Today, I’m a member in good standing of my grandfather’s club, and I’m reminded of this whenever I get into a kayak, kneel in a canoe, or just squat down to stoke a fire. Even crawling in and out of a small tent has become something of a trial. And negotiating steep, rocky portages now requires total concentration. A single moment’s inattention can mean a week of misery.

As for squatting down to answer nature’s call… Well, the less said about this, the better, though any bears who amble by — they’re presumable on their way to do exactly what I’m doing — probably think my antics are the funniest thing going.

All of which helps to explain why I welcomed 74‑year‑old kayak‑camper Chuck Neubauer’s insights. He, too, finds kneeling to be a bit of a chore. But he’s shown wonderful ingenuity in addressing the problem, and his letters served as the basis for an earlier column. This in turn elicited a spate of reader mail, which led to a follow‑up article on ways to adapt the camp kitchen to the needs of paddlers with creaky or uncooperative knees.


I thought that would be that. But I was wrong. More good ideas kept coming in, and I figured they warranted a wider audience. So here goes, beginning with a hymn of praise to the humble hammock… Read more…


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