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…


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Apr 20 2016

The Submarine Sandwich—A Make-and-Take Meal for Every Trek

Sub to Go

Back in the day, when Farwell and I chased around the Northeast in a quixotic effort to hit the sweet spot in as many snowmelt‑swollen rivers as possible before the water ran out, we often had to eat on the go. It wasn’t unknown for us to grab our lunch “out of hand” while portaging our canoe and gear around an unrunnable drop. And this state of affairs continued during our stones‑and‑bones days, since project schedules invariably dictated early starts and long hours. Extended lunch breaks were not part of the program.

Everyone has his or her own coping strategy for such situations, I suppose. Many of our companions — whether paddlers or trowel‑and‑toothbrush crew — made do with some variation on the pop-and-potato-chip theme, supplemented by an occasional Wonder Bread and bologna sandwich. But while Farwell would have been perfectly happy to join the Dr. Pepper and Cheetos brigade — having come of age humping 70‑pound‑plus loads for days on end, fueled by little more than rice and cabbage, he regarded everything else as haute cuisine — I wanted something better. I wanted a sub.

Subs were in my blood, so to speak. I had come of age assembling them for customers in my parents’ roadside eatery. And they’re ideal make‑ahead, take‑along fare. Subs aren’t just fast fuel. They’re a well‑rounded meal of meat, cheese, and vegetables, sandwiched between two thick slabs of bread. Add a couple of substantial oatmeal cookies and a handful of raisins or dried apricots, plus a thermos of hot tea or coffee, and you’re good to go from dawn to dusk. Best of all, you can make your sub at home the evening before your drive to the put‑in. In fact, you should. Taste, economy, even convenience… Homemade trumps store‑bought every time.

Unless you’re very lucky, that is. And this brings me back to my parent’s restaurant. I’ve libeled it in past columns, referring to it as a “greasy spoon.” I had my tongue in my cheek when I did so, but it was a libel, nonetheless. The spoons were never greasy, and the food was always first‑rate. Our subs were made with fresh‑picked vegetables, beef from nearby farms (the butcher was just down the road), and cheese from Vermont co‑ops that used milk from cows who grazed on lush grass and drank from streams that still ran clear. (Nowadays, this would be labeled “artisan cheese,” but we were simple country folk. It was just cheese to us.) The crowning touch was our sub rolls. We bought them from an Italian baker who’d set up shop in a nearby city better known for its shirt collars and church bells, and the rolls’ secret died with him. I’ve never had better bread anywhere.

You probably won’t have the luck we did when it came to procuring ingredients, of course. (After all, our baker is long dead, as is our butcher, and the cheese in the HyperMart is probably manufactured in a New Jersey plant owned by a hedge fund, with milk from cows that are force‑fed soiled banknotes.) But don’t despair. You can still make a perfectly good sub to bring along on your next day trip.

What about it? Do you want to know the secret of a great sub?… Read more…


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Apr 12 2016

From Buckshot to Bicycle: In Praise of the Boat Car

Drying Out

In and ideal world, we’d all live within an easy stroll of some lively river or white‑sand beach. But ours is not an ideal world. There aren’t enough lively rivers and white‑sand beaches to go round. The upshot? Would-be canoeists and kayakers must take to the road. Once upon a time, recreational paddlers could put their boats on a train and travel in comfort to the station nearest their destination, where a buckboard or cart could be hired to take them to the put-in. This is how Nessmuk and MacGregor accomplished their celebrated voyages. But in our wisdom, we Americans turned our backs on trains long ago, and by now we’ve ripped up many of the tracks that once led to rural hamlets — in a wonderfully ironic twist, some of the rights‑of‑way have subsequently become “multi‑use” trails — opting instead for the carefree life of easy motoring.

To be sure, a few “amphibious” paddlers have bucked the trend toward universal automobility, hauling their bagged boats and gear around behind their bicycles. This isn’t likely to become the next new big thing, however, not least because our highway engineers make few concessions to the safety of cyclists — and hills make no concessions at all to legs atrophied by long hours spent in the driver’s seat. In other words, for most canoeists and kayakers now hoping to light out for the Territory, it’s Hobson’s choice: get in a car or stay at home. This can pose problems. Even today, when many households boast a car for every family member over the age of sixteen, we need those cars for everyday transportation. After all, we are driven to succeed. Or else we drive ourselves. We drive to work, drive to class, drive to the HyperMart… We drive the kids to school (and then to soccer), the dogs to the vet, and the boss to the annual meeting (along with her whiteboards, spring water six‑pack, and sound system). We haul sack after sack of groceries home from the store and scores of two‑by‑fours back from the lumber yard.

In short, our cars reflect the demands of everyday life. There’s little space left in them for the hundred and one items of gear needed on even a short backcountry trip. So when we want to drive to a river or lake, we first have to pack all our gear into the car and load our boat(s) onto the roof. That takes time. A lot of time. It’s not uncommon to spend more time packing and unpacking, loading and unloading, and driving to and from the put‑in than you spend on the water. Which helps to explain why, after the initial novelty wears off, some weekend trips seem more trouble than they’re worth.

There are many ways to address this problem, of course. Careful planning and efficient stowage can cut down dramatically on the time lost to packing and unpacking. Or you can buy a second home on the water. (And hope that it’s not washed away in the next 1000‑year flood.) Or you can get a “boat car”… Read more…


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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