Apr 29 2016
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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