Sep 02 2017

Notice to Mariners! News About In the Same Boat

29 August 2017.  Looking for news about In the Same Boat? Then you’ve come to the right place. After 18 years at Paddling.net, our weekly column has picked up a new mooring. But the old boat needed a refit, and she’ll be in dry dock for a couple of months. We’ll keep you abreast of progress, though, and when the launch date approaches we’ll send up a rocket. So stop by now and then to see how things are going. And if you ever want to get in touch, just drop us a line. We’re always glad to hear from you.

A reminder: This Notice to Mariners is a “sticky.” It will remain at the top of the TNO home page for some months to come. Please check back often for updates.

Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest are Back In the Same Boat

24 September 2017 Update.   First things first: Our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who’s written to us. Your words of encouragement, your suggestions, and your offers of assistance are much appreciated.

Turning to the news, now: The refit is going well. We’re on schedule and under budget, and if we don’t find dry rot deep in the sternpost, we should be ready to launch on 31 October. That’s the day when our first new column since 29 August will go out into the aether. But if you can’t wait till then, there’s always the backlist. We’re putting all 900-odd of our previously published articles online, along with a comprehensive index. That job should also be done by 31 October, and you can see the progress we’re making right before your eyes. Every couple of days we upload another year of In the Same Boat to the new site. So whether you’re looking for a favorite column or visiting for the first time, you’ll want to check it out.

And while you’re exploring the backlist, please make a note of any problems you see. Typos, inconsistencies, factual errors, formatting glitches… Let us know when (and where) you spot them. One thing is certain: You’re sure to find a few. While we proofed all of our copy carefully before it was first published, we’re only human. In other words, we’ve made our share of mistakes over the years, and we know we didn’t catch them all. We’re doing what we can to make everything shipshape in the time available, of course, but we’d welcome any help you can give us.

Many thanks!

Sep 25 2017

Wheels of the Year: Gearing Down for Winter Cycling by Tamia Nelson

The hours of darkness are now edging past the hours of light in northern New York, but with daytime temperatures hovering in the mid‑80s (degrees Fahrenheit, of course), it’s hard to believe that winter will ever arrive. It will, though, and as Tamia returned, dripping with sweat, from a quick 10‑mile ride around the block, she was already thinking about the challenge of winter cycling.

Our New Model Climate is certainly leaving its mark on the Americas, and though the Adirondack foothills have so far escaped hurricane‑force winds, I can’t help but notice that, with October less than one week away, a lot of windows in a lot of neighboring houses still have air conditioners perched on their sills. The obvious conclusion? Summer’s lease has been extended. I can remember when no Columbus Day trip was complete without at least one snowy morning. Not any more. And I’ve no idea when winter’s snows will make their first appearance this year. But it’s a safe bet that they will. A friend in the mountain West has already seen white on the hills surrounding his home, so it’s just a matter of time before General Winter turns his attentions to the wild East. No matter. I plan to keep cycling through the storms. I’ve had a bellyful of going nowhere for half the year on my aptly named “stationary” bike. But if I’m going to hit the road this winter, I’ll need to gear down before the snow flies.

The first order of business will be deciding on a suitable bike. In years past, the decision was easy. I owned one bike and only one bike, so I rode what I owned. But today I have no fewer than three bikes to choose from. True, one of these is a near antique Schwinn Traveler, now enjoying a well‑earned semiretirement. I certainly won’t be riding this old friend through the mix of hardpack and salty slurry that the highway crews leave behind on our town roads. The sorry state of the roads isn’t the crews’ fault, by the way. The town roads are maintained to meet the needs of snowmobilers, not cyclists. The “sledders” — We’ve come a long way from the Flexible Flyer, haven’t we? — travel in packs and consume gas and beer by the hogshead, whereas winter cyclists are solitary, like snow leopards. We subsist mostly on fig bars and the slush from our bidons. There’s not much money in fig bars, and the highway crews are under orders to follow the money.

Anyway, my ancient Schwinn — it was my first “good” bike, and it came back into my possession thanks to a friend’s generosity — will stay on its rack in winter. Which means I’m left with my Surly Long Haul Trucker and my aluminum‑frame Schwinn Sierra, which, before I swapped out saddle, seatpost, stem, and bars, was perhaps the most uncomfortable “comfort” bike ever sold. That was a long time ago, though. It’s now a very comfortable go‑anywhere utility machine, and it’s my usual winter ride. Once I fit the studded tires, it’s equal to almost anything General Winter (and the town highway crews) can throw at it, and for the many years when it was my only bike, it carried me on hundreds of shopping trips into town between the months of October and May — not to mention hundreds more between the months of May and October. But it, too, may have seen its last winter. When the state resurfaced the highway linking my crossroads hamlet to the nearest outpost of civilization, it left the shoulders out. Where I once had three to five feet of usable shoulder, I now have six inches to a foot at best, with a one‑inch‑plus drop‑off down to the crumbling, potholed remnant of the former shoulder. Even in smiling summer weather, I find myself whistling “Suicide Is Painless” as I ride into town, and obvious risks to life and limb aside, the ravaged shoulders are no place for a good bike in any season.

The upshot? I’m thinking about buying a cheap “beater” at Walmart, tuning it up, and using it as my winter bike, replacing it when the salt and the potholes take their inevitable toll. I’ll opt for a single‑speed, too. Even well‑maintained mechs (a handy Britishism for “derailleurs”) freeze up in winter. I’ve often started the climb back into the foothills from town with 21 (or 27) ratios at my fingertips, only to finish the ride with just one. With only a single cog on the beater and plenty of 10‑percent‑plus grades on the road, however, I’ll have to gear low. My cartilage‑free knee gives me grief if I stomp on the pedals, and climbing out of the saddle is streng verboten. Of course, an easy ratio is necessarily slow on the flats, but that’s fine by me. Winter rides aren’t time trials. Survival is the order of the day, and I’ll have better luck avoiding the slip‑slidin’ dodge‑em cars if I’m not distracted by a balky mech.

There’s another plus to a beater: I won’t have to spend an hour after each ride scraping frozen gunge off the drivetrain. I can just wheel my winter bike into the shed and clean it every other weekend. And what will I do with all the free time this will give me? I don’t know, but I find the prospect mighty attractive.

That being said, I’m still dithering. I’m not keen on contributing to our culture of consumption, and buying a beater bike with the intention of riding it into the ground is putting my money where my mouth isn’t. So I may yet turn to my workhorse Sierra. (Farwell, who rides Sierra’s twin, has christened her Modestine, after Robert Louis Stevenson’s patient, though ill‑used, donkey. The moniker fits.) We will see. But one way or another, I’m going to stay in the saddle when the snow flies. Whatever the charms of going nowhere on a stationary bike — and I admit that saddling up on a 15‑degree day with a nippy northerly blowing right in your face can prove tolerably off‑putting, at least at the start — there’s little doubt that the world is a much more interesting place when you’re out in it than when you’re looking at it through two panes of glass. I think so, at any rate. In life, as in writing, I always prefer the active tense to the passive, and a little discomfort is a small price to pay to remain active through the winter. After all, as someone (Balzac?) once wrote, if you suffer, at least you know you’re alive.

That’s the object of the exercise, isn’t it?

The Real Winter World (c) Tamia Nelson

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Sep 09 2017

Cold Day? Make a Pot of Soul-Warming Chili! by Tamia Nelson

Is it cold where you are? Maybe raining or snowing, too? Then cook up a pot of chili! You could make it with canned beans, but if you’re nesting for the day, give dried beans a go. It’s not as hard as you think. Much of the work is done without your needing to keep watch, and the results are well worth the effort. Dried beans simmer up into tender, toothsome morsels packed with their own subtle sweetness. And you get to control the salt content — something to keep in mind if you’re on a low-sodium diet.

Until necessity required it, I’d never cooked dried kidney beans, and perhaps never would have if I hadn’t excavated a large bag of them from a forgotten corner of the cabinet. What I didn’t have was ground beef. No matter. Meatless chili is every bit as satisfying, and it’s lower in fat, too. But don’t be turned off by the lack of meat. This chili is robust in texture and flavor, and will appeal to carnivores and herbivores, alike. And if you stick around, I’ll give some ideas on how to customize this recipe to suit your own tastes. Ready? Here’s…

THE MASTER RECIPE

  • 1 pound dried beans — I like small red beans, or dark kidney beans
  • 1 each red and green bell peppers, cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 medium or one large onion, chopped into large pieces
  • 4-6 large roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • olive oil
  • 1 small can chopped green chilis
  • 1 32-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

Start this chili early in the day. Rinse and pick over the kidney beans, discarding any stones. Put beans in a slow cooker and cover by two inches with water. Cover the cooker and turn the dial to high. Within two hours, the beans should be softened. Add more water if you need to. When the beans are softened but still firm enough to hold their shape, shut off the slow cooker.

Meanwhile, toss the peppers, onions, roma tomatoes, and garlic with about two tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, spread into a single layer in a roasting pan, and pop the pan in the oven to roast for an hour at 350-degrees Fahrenheit. When the vegetables have softened and are slightly caramelized around the edges, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

The bean and veggie prep shouldn’t take you longer than about 20 minutes. After you get the beans in the slow cooker and the veggies in the oven, go do something else. Once the roasted vegetables are done, they can sit in the pan on the stove top while you wait for the beans to soften. Then continue with the rest of the recipe.

Put about a tablespoon of oil into the bottom of a large pot. Cut the roasted vegetables into smaller pieces — irregular chunks are just fine. Now add the vegetables and any juices from the roasting pan to the olive oil, then turn the heat up to high. When the vegetables are sizzling, ladle the kidney beans and remaining juices from the slow cooker to the pot. Stir to combine. Pour in the canned green chilis as well as the whole or diced tomatoes and their juice, mixing with the beans and vegetables, breaking up whole tomatoes with a spoon as you do.

Stir in the oregano, cinnamon, and cumin. Taste for flavoring, and adjust to suit. Bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to let the pot simmer, partially coved, for between one and two hours, or until the chili thickens. Stir in the corn — yes, you can pour it in right from the freezer bag — and adjust seasoning to taste. Let the chili simmer a little longer so the corn heats through, then serve. How much does it make? Enough for six or eight hungry people. Leftovers? Pop them in the refrigerator and reheat tomorrow. Chili freezes well, too, and can be thawed and simmered directly from the freezer.

Variations on the Theme  If I’m in the mood for some carne, I sauté up to a pound of ground lean beef chuck, then drain the fat, before adding the roasted vegetables and softened beans. Proceed with the rest of the recipe. Adding meat increases the yield and makes enough for a small crowd.

I don’t tolerate much heat anymore, so my chili is on the mild side. Make the chili as hot as you like with jalapeno peppers, chili powder, or hot pepper sauce. Serve with garnishes such as grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, chopped chilis, guacamole or cubed avocados, fresh chopped tomatoes, or tortilla chips. And how about skillet corn bread, or better yet, skillet cheddar corn bread? There’s no better way to heat you up on a cold day. Have some!

This article is an update of one originally published on 19 February 2015.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Sep 01 2017

The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System: Small Is Beautiful by Tamia Nelson

Quenching your thirst is surprisingly difficult, whether you’re cycling through rural country or trekking in the backcountry. You just can’t assume that wild water is safe to drink. Which explains why clever people have devised many ways to disinfect questionable water. Tamia has weighed her options for how to treat wild water, and the winner is… the Sawyer Mini.

Whether I’m heading out on a long bike ride along back roads with no services, paddling a lonely stream, or bushwhacking into a favorite beauty spot, I have one nagging worry: drinking water.

The Adirondacks, my backyard, is a well-watered place, but trekking is thirsty work, and there’s really no way for me to know if wild water is drinkable. The only valid rule of thumb was articulated many years ago by veteran desert walker Colin Fletcher: “If in doubt, doubt.”

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find a dented tin cup upturned on a stick alongside a stream or spring hole. And I drank my fill at such informal watering spots many times without any qualms. But times change. Nowadays there’s likely to be a 100-unit second-home development just a mile upstream. Or maybe the last person to pass by thought the spring hole was the perfect place to take a bubble bath. Or the trail might be popular with local dog-walkers, all of whom think pooper-scoopers are for city folk.

Which is probably why you don’t see many tin cups by streams these days — and why I’m left with only Fletcher’s Law to guide me: If in doubt, doubt. And then? Treat the water! It’s not as if there aren’t a lot of options. But before deciding on the best method for my trips, I thought I’d better get a clearer idea…

WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST

The answer? Just about anything I cared to name. Pathogenic bacteria. Protozoan parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. The eggs of infectious tapeworms (Echinococcus). Even waterborne viruses. Not to mention chemical contamination — that devil’s cocktail of subtle, insidious poisons that we regard as the inevitable price to be paid for progress and prosperity.

That said, I’m not likely to find all of these in one cup of water. But who wants to play Russian roulette with her health? If in doubt, doubt, and take reasonable precautions against foreseeable risks. The bad news? The risk posed by the chemical contamination of surface waters and aquifers can’t really be assessed or addressed in the field. While the activated carbon filters found in some portable filters may indeed improve the taste of water,…

ACTIVATED CARBON FILTERS DON’T REDUCE THE BURDEN OF TOXIC ORGANIC CHEMICALS

Is this a concern? Yes and no. Though there’s not much heavy industry in the Adirondacks, there are mines, commercial forests, farms, and lawns, all of which are fertile sources of noxious pollutants. (Yes, even lawns. Could any McMansion owner forgo having a vast sweep of lawn, maintained with an arsenal of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers? Certainly not. What would the neighbors think?) There’s also direct contamination of surface waters by runoff from parking lots and highways, not to mention the oil-rich exhausts of the outboards, jet-skis, ATVs, and snowmobiles beloved of many outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen.

The bottom line? The water flowing brightly under the road bridge, gurgling down the trailside stream, or passing under my keel may well be chemically polluted. And there’s nothing I can do about it, except hope that the risk is small. Or drink only bottled water — not really a practical alternative on long trips away from “sivilization.” Having said that,…

SOMETHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT PATHOGENS AND PARASITES

In fact, when it comes to disinfecting water, I have an embarrassment of options. I can boil it. I can dose it with a germicide. I can filter it. I can even zap it with ultraviolet light. That’s almost too much choice, which is why I decided to narrow the field before coming to a decision, weighing the merits and demerits of each method in turn, beginning with …

Boiling.  What could be simpler? Fire up the stove. Bring a pot of water to a good, rolling boil. Then — since I won’t be camping above 14,000 feet — I’m done. But nothing’s really this simple, is it? Boiling water has to cool before you can drink or decant it, and I’d need a big pot (and plenty of fuel) if I were going to boil up enough to see me through a sweaty day. In other words, boiling makes sense if I’m just brewing a pot of tea or making coffee for breakfast, but it’s an awkward and time-consuming way to meet all my drinking water needs.

OK. Boiling’s out, at least for disinfecting water in bulk. But I can always fall back on science, can’t I? What about …

The Pharmaceutical Option?  There’s nothing easier than popping a pill or two in a bottle of water, is there? No, but many devils lurk in the details, nonetheless. To begin with, two old campaigners are off the list. Halazone [4-(dichlorosulfamoyl)benzoic acid], the chlorine-releasing tablets handed out to GIs during World War II and still in widespread use as late as the 1960s, start losing their oomph almost as soon as you open the bottle. And tetraglycine hydroperiodide (the original Potable Aqua), though made of sturdier stuff, with much greater staying power than Halazone, is off-limits for anyone with thyroid disease, a cohort that now includes both me and Farwell. That leaves chlorine dioxide. The upside? Treated water still tastes like water, rather than disinfectant. The downside? Treatment time is four hours. And the tablets aren’t cheap. Moreover, it’s by no means certain that any chemical germicide is effective against the embryonated eggs of hydatid tapeworms, an emerging concern as Adirondack waterways become busier (and doggier) places.

My verdict? The pharmaceutical option was also out. But I thought I might have found my answer in another fruit from the tree of technology:

The Lightsaber.  This is Farwell’s whimsical name for the SteriPEN, a portable ultraviolet (UV) generator that bears a striking resemblance to an electric carving knife. UV radiation doesn’t kill microbial pathogens outright, but it does damage their DNA, limiting their ability to reproduce and thereby preventing them from overwhelming a human host’s defenses. The SteriPEN is an ingenious device, light in weight and easy to use. That said, it isn’t without drawbacks. It’s fragile, for one thing. For another, its efficacy is somewhat impaired in turbid water, and not all Adirondack waterways are crystal clear. But here’s the clincher: I’ve found no evidence that it inactivates the embryonated eggs of the hydatid tapeworm, surely one of the nastier surprises lurking in wild waters. Bad luck, that. Looks like it’s Worms 2, H. saps 0.

And that’s three down, with only one to go:

Filtration.  Portable filters have been around for a long time, and they do a good job holding back pathogenic bacteria, protozoan cysts, and tapeworm eggs. But many that I’ve seen (and used) have struck me as impossibly fussy and rather accident-prone. One of the best, the venerable Katadyn Pocket, is not only breathtakingly pricey, but it also boasts a ceramic filter. The filter is easy to clean, and it lasts a long time in ordinary use, but if you drop it on a rock, you’re back to boiling water. Moreover, like many other portable filters, the Pocket allows pathogenic viruses to slip right through. That said, an MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter has been our go-to solution for bulk water purification for some years now, though we also zap the filtered water with the Lightsaber to hobble any viruses. As the AutoFlow’s name suggests, it has no pump, and that’s a very good thing, indeed. Pumping is always a bit of a nuisance, and the absence of moving parts in drip filters like the AutoFlow eliminates many failure points. Still, the MSR is rather bulky, and packing it up is a little like wrestling an octopus. Ours is also getting a little long in tooth.

Which is why I started looking around for a smaller (and hopefully cheaper) alternative. And I found it on the shelves of the local HyperMart:

THE SAWYER MINI

Sawyer calls it a “water filtration system,” and I won’t argue, but it’s really just a small filter cartridge paired with a sturdy laminated “squeeze pouch” and a short length of rubbery tubing, plus a plastic syringe thrown in to make backwashing easier. And at around 20 (US) bucks a pop, it’s pretty cheap.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

Photo A above shows the Sawyer Mini in its retail garb. Stripped of its packaging, the entire “system” — filter cartridge (B), rubber tubing, rolled squeeze pouch, and a 60-mL syringe (C) — weighs less than four ounces. Simple it may be, but the Mini is nothing if not versatile. You can …

  1. Use the squeeze pouch to force water through the filter into any handy container (Photo D below).
  2. Attach the tubing to the intake end of the filter — do NOT confuse the intake and outflow nipples! — then immerse the end of the tube in a water source and suck away at the outflow till your thirst is quenched (E).
  3. Screw the filter directly onto a plastic seltzer or soda bottle filled with “wild” water and drink from the outflow nipple.
  4. Mount the filter in the line leading from a hydration bladder.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

I mostly stick to Option Number One. And how does the Sawyer Mini work? I’ve no complaints to date. It’s easy to pack and simple to use. But does it do the job? Good question. Sawyer has lab data supporting the filter’s efficacy against bacteria and protozoan cysts, and the filter itself seems reasonably sturdy.

So far, so good, but…

ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES?

There are. If a Mini is exposed to freezing temperatures after its first use, it’s toast. That drawback isn’t unique to the Mini, by the way. All hollow fiber membrane microfilters share this vulnerability. And since you can’t inspect the filter element without sawing through the housing, you’ll have to take its integrity on trust. Or not. Which is why I’d be inclined to season Sawyer’s claim that the filter is good for “up to 100,000 gallons” with a fistful of salt. In fact, one preliminary study reports that samples of a nearly identical Sawyer filter succumbed to irreversible fouling (and possible burst fibers) after two years’ household use, with consequent loss of efficacy. That’s why I intend to replace my Mini every year, without fail. Better safe than you-know-what.

THE BOTTOM LINE?

The Mini ticks all the boxes: It’s small. It’s light. It’s simple. Keep it warm when the thermometer dips to freezing and below, and carry a box of chlorine dioxide tablets to serve as an emergency backup in a hard chance. The Sawyer Mini’s not perfect, but it will do the job I need done. It might be just what you’re looking for, too.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

Product Evaluations Policy  TN Outside never accepts payment for product endorsements, nor do we accept product samples from manufacturers or their representatives. We write about the food we buy on our weekly rounds, and about the gear and books we’ve purchased, rented, or borrowed (from friends, family, or the public library) over the years. That said, on rare occasions we’ll write a product analysis of something we don’t own and have never used, based solely on the manufacturer’s claims, published specifications, or others’ experiences. But when we do that, we’ll tell you.

This article is an updated and modified version of one that appeared originally at Paddling.net on 12 May 2015.

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