Sep 02 2017

Notice to Mariners! News About In the Same Boat

New articles are posted below this Notice to Mariners, which is a “sticky.” It will remain at the top of the TNO home page for some weeks to come.

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29 August 2017.  You’ve come to the right place for news about In the Same Boat, the weekly column by Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest? After 18 years at Paddling.net, we 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, 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.

6 October 2017 Update.   Thanks to everyone who’s written to us. Your words of encouragement, your suggestions, and your offers of assistance are much appreciated. What news? Our new berth is a’building on schedule and should be ready to launch on 31 October, when our first new column since 29 August will go out into the aether. We’re also uploading all 900 or so of our previously published articles along with a comprehensive index. That job should also be done by 31 October. Several times a week we upload more of In the Same Boat to the new site. So whether you’re looking for a favorite column or visiting for the first time, take a look. If you see a problem, please let us know — we’re only human and we make mistakes. And please check back often for updates. Many thanks!

Oct 06 2017

What Good is a Dead Tree? by Tamia Nelson

The Others have an answer to the question in the title. But is anyone listening? Tamia is.

The Expert looked at his watch, and gave his companion a thumbs-up. The job wouldn’t take long. A flight of finches exploding into the air. Neither man noticed. The Expert eyeballed the old pine. He didn’t see the red squirrel clinging to the trunk. He saw only the brown needles and the bare limbs.

“What good is a dead tree?” the Expert asked, not expecting an answer. His companion knew the question was purely rhetorical. And he marked the pine for removal.

The two men thought they were alone. But they were wrong. And the Others who were present did their best to answer the Expert’s question. He wasn’t listening, though. Perhaps he never had. In any case, his companion was anxious to get going. Time is money, after all, and the Expert had more trees to condemn.

Yet the dissenting voices of the Others continued to make their case, long after the Expert had gone. It’s too bad that no one stayed around to listen to them. Blue jays would have told him that they took shelter in the pine whenever an icy norther blew down from Canada. As so would the Nashville warbler who often found a meal among the dead and dying branches, too. Nor were they alone. The Others included red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches, hairy and downy woodpeckers, rose-breasted and pine grosbeaks, black-capped chickadees, common redpolls, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Not to mention a chipmunk, and the red squirrel — the same red squirrel the Expert didn’t see.

What good is a dead tree? The Others know, even if the Expert does not. Their pine is a home to some and a source of food to many. It offers a refuge in storms and a vantage point in all weathers. And as it decays, it returns nutrients to the soil, nourishing the young pines that will shelter and feed generation upon generation of Others.

Another dead pine, not far away from the Others’ tree, give turtles a place to sun themselves after the spring has freed them from their icy prison. They tunnel up from the black ooze into the light.

What good is a dead tree? Now you, too, can answer this question. The Others won’t be heard. You will, though. But only if you choose to speak.

A Living Dead Tree (c) Photo by Tamia Nelson

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Sep 29 2017

To Build a Fire … When Carrying the Ten Essentials Isn’t Enough by Tamia Nelson

Veteran paddlers bring the Ten Essentials along on every outing. So do climbers, hunters, and a lot of other folks who often stray far from the beaten track. Yet carrying the Ten Essentials isn’t enough. The stuff has to work, too. Tamia came face to face with this backcountry gotcha just last month. She wanted to build a fire, and she assumed she had the makings. But she was wrong. And what happened next?

Between trips, my getaway pack lives on a shelf right next to my desk. I don’t empty it when I come back from a jaunt or a paddle, so it always holds the Ten Essentials, along with extra clothing suited to the season (a head net in summer, for example; mittens and a balaclava in winter). Then, any time I see a chance to make my escape, all I have to do is stow my camera kit, fill a water bottle, shoulder the pack, and head for the door. I don’t lose any time looking around for critical items, and I can be sure that nothing important has been forgotten. I’m ready for anything.

Or am I?

A month ago I was more than an hour down a little‑used trail along The River when I got an urge for a hot cup of coffee. Until recently, I’d have shrugged off this sort of craving, at least on a short outing, but my new Java Press is so light and compact that it now has a permanent berth in my getaway pack. Just in case. So I didn’t hesitate. I picked a sheltered spot to serve as my kitchen, dug the little Trangia burner out of my pack, dipped a small pot into The River’s icy flow, and assembled the Press. My mouth watered in anticipation.

Only one step remained. I extracted a strike‑anywhere match from my brass match safe, screwed the gasketed top down, and gave the match a quick flick along the ‘safe’s knurled side. But nothing happened. The match didn’t burst into flame with the usual sulfurous reek. It didn’t even fizzle. It just left a greasy black streak on the match safe. That was all. Thinking I’d simply used too light a touch, I scraped the head of the match against the ‘safe again. Still nothing. Hmm… I tried striking the match on a rough slab of riverbank gneiss next. Ditto.

OK, I thought. I’ve got a dud match. No big deal. There are plenty more where that one came from. So I opened the ‘safe and pulled out another match. But it, too, failed to light. I tried another. No go. And another. And…

Not a single match flared up into flame. Well, I said to myself, that’s one for the record‑book. I wasn’t about to give up, though, and I fished a butane lighter from the bowels of my pack. I spun the wheel on the striker. It threw off plenty of sparks. But no flame appeared. I checked the lighter’s translucent reservoir. It was full. I spun the striker again. Sparks aplenty, but nothing else. And again. No joy. Then I woke to the obvious. It was a chilly day—well below freezing, in fact. No problem, I thought. And I warmed the lighter in my armpit. Then I tried it once more.

Nothing.

I was beginning to feel a little like that hapless man in Jack London’s famous short story. Of course, all I faced was a small disappointment. A lost opportunity for a cup of coffee. My life didn’t hang in the balance. But then the freezing mist riding the back of the strengthening breeze forcibly reminded me of the fine line that divides annoyance from catastrophe once you leave home and hearth behind. Colin Fletcher, who probably forgot more about backcountry travel than most of us will ever know, was fond of quoting a Persian proverb to the effect that “Fortune is infatuated with the efficient.” That being the case, I figured I had only myself to blame if Fortune turned her back on me.

So I decided there and then that something had to be done. And this meant looking…

BEYOND THE TEN ESSENTIALS

It’s not enough to have the right gear. You also need to know how to use it. And you have to make sure it’s in good condition, ready to do the job it’s meant to do, whenever it’s called upon. Case in point: I’ve carried the same nickeled brass match safe for two decades or more, but I don’t often use the matches. The match safe is my fail‑safe, in other words. It’s my emergency backup. That said, the last time I put the contents to the test—more than a year ago now—the first match out of the ‘safe lit on the first strike. But, as I discovered, a year can be a long time.

The same uncertainties dog butane lighters. I use them often to light stoves and start kindling, and so long as there’s butane left in the reservoir, they’ve never let me down. But butane gets torpid as the temperature drops. This doesn’t matter if you keep your lighter in an inside pocket, but you can’t count on a lighter stored in your pack to give you a flame in sub‑freezing weather. I knew this, but I assumed that a few minutes tucked in my sweaty armpit would reawaken my chilled lighter to its duty. Not true. Perhaps I didn’t leave it long enough. Or maybe my armpit wasn’t quite as cozy as I thought. In any event, my lighter stubbornly refused to light on that day by The River. It worked fine when I got back home, however.

I assumed… Well, most folks have heard the one about assume making an ass out of u and me. And no one much fancies being mistaken for an ass, does he? The only safe rule? That’s easy—

ASSUME NOTHING

Frequent, thorough inspections offer the only real assurance that your gear will work as it’s supposed to. This is the idea behind prefloat checklists, after all. But even inspection isn’t enough by itself. You also have to …

PUT YOUR GEAR TO THE TEST

And do it on a regular schedule. You don’t have to worry much about the stores you use every day. They’re not likely to last long enough to deteriorate. But what about the things you use once in a blue moon? Like, say, the matches in my backup match safe. A lot can happen in a year’s time. Which is why I’m going to do more than just check to see that all my essential gear is in my pack in future. I’m going to make sure it works, too.

With that end in mind, here’s my new inspection checklist:

  1. Map(s)  Are the maps in the map case the right maps at the right scale (large scale for hill‑walking, intermediate scale for paddling, small scale for cycling)? Is the map case intact, with no tears or pinholes?
  2. Compass  Does the needle pivot freely? Is the capsule free of bubbles? (Farwell’s old USMC‑issue lensatic compass relies on induction damping. The downside? The needle’s a little slow to settle. But it never suffers from bubble trouble, either.) Is the declination offset correct? Is the lanyard intact, and are the securing knots sound?
  3. First‑Aid Kit  Are the plastic bags free from pinholes and tears? Does the tape stick? Are the emergency water‑purification tablets, aspirin, ibuprofen, and antacids still good? (It pays to write the pull date on the bags or bottles. Better yet, buy meds in dated blister packs. And plan on replacing gauze pads and other sterile dressings every year—or immediately, if the sealed packets become soiled or damp.) Has the ACE wrap lost its stretch? Replace it.
  4. Knife  Is it sharp? It should be. A dull knife is a dangerous thing. Is it free from rust? (Even stainless steel rusts, and rust will destroy a blade over time.) Is the sheath in good condition? Does it hold the knife securely? Will it protect the blade from nicks—and you from the blade?
  5. Food and Water  Is the food packaging intact, with no pinholes or tears? Check the pull dates, too. Food that’s past its sell‑by date is usually safe to eat, but why take chances? Is your water bottle or bladder clean and free from mold? No? Scrub it out or replace it.
  6. Matches and fire starter  Ah, yes. Matches. Do they light first time, every time? You can’t test ’em all, but you can (and should) test a representative sample every month or so. Is your fire starter dry? (I carry a plastic bag of tinder as well as a few petrolatum‑impregnated cotton balls.) Is the reservoir in your backup butane lighter full? Does the striker spark?
  7. Flashlight or Headlamp  Are the batteries good? (An inexpensive multimeter really earns its keep here.) No? Then did the light turn itself on in your pack? If it did, tape the switch or immobilize it in some other way, so that your light lights up only when you want it to. Do you have spare bulbs for any light that needs them? (One of the great advantages of LED lights is their longevity. You can’t replace the LED “bulb,” of course, but you’ll probably never need to.) Has the strap on your headlamp lost its elasticity? Replace it now.
  8. Sunglasses and Spare Eyeglasses  Are the tiny screws that hold the bows secure? Do you have a protective case for each pair? Are your spare eyeglasses from your latest prescription? Do you have reading glasses? (If you need them to read a book, you’ll need them to read a map.) Are the lenses suited to the environment, e.g., amber in low light, full mirror or dark gray in strong sun, and total UV block anywhere and everywhere? (Polycarbonate lenses give your eyes better protection from impacts than glass can. That’s worth thinking about if you’re a whitewater boater, hunter, or cyclist.)
  9. Sunscreen  Check the pull date. Is it stored in a plastic bag? (Few things can make as much mess in a pack as a burst tube of sunscreen.) And if you use lip balm (I do), check to see how much is left in the tube.
  10. Extra Clothing  The list changes with the season. Make sure you’ve packed what you’ll need—and that it’s free from tears and holes. You’ll probably want a head net and tight‑weave pants in summer (biting flies and ticks); heavy socks, balaclava, and wool mitts in winter; a fleece jacket or down vest and an anorak in all seasons.

That takes care of the Essentials, but most of us have other, almost‑Essential items that require regular inspection, too. Here’s my list:

  • Poncho or Tarp  If you have one or the other, you’ll never be without a roof over your head. Check grommets, ties, and seams—and make sure you also bring stakes and guys.
  • Rope  A 25‑ to 50‑foot length of 11 mm braided polypropylene or 3/8‑inch laid nylon is a very useful thing to have in your pack. You could call it a lifesaver, in fact. So inspect it inch by inch along its entire length. If it’s cut or worn anywhere, retire it. And if it gets wet, be sure to dry it thoroughly first chance you get.
  • NEOS Overshoes  These can serve as both cold‑weather mukluks and warm‑weather wellies. But they won’t be waterproof if they have holes in them. Check for cuts and tears. And check the plastic bag that they’re stored in, too. Overshoes get dirty, and you’ll want to keep the other things in your pack as clean as possible.

    Yaktrax  Unless you grow your toenails really long—and walk barefoot in all weathers—you’ll need these handy gadgets, or something like them, to help you keep on your feet when all around you are falling down. Make sure the rubber retainers haven’t been torn, that the wire traction coils haven’t rusted through, and that the storage bag hasn’t sprung a leak.

OK. That’s my list of almost‑Essential items. Yours will probably be a little different. No matter. True Essentials aside, the things you carry in your pack are less important than what you carry in your head. But if something is worth carrying, it’s important that it works. That’s why I lost no time in replacing the matches in my match safe. I’ve also got a firesteel on order as a backup for the unreliable butane lighter. After all, to paraphrase a notorious indoorsman, allowing myself to caught out in the cold once can be excused as a misfortune. If it were to happen twice, however, that would be nothing less than carelessness. Fortune is infatuated with the efficient, after all, and I want to keep Lady Luck on my side.

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Veteran paddlers bring the Ten Essentials along on every outing. So do climbers, hunters, and a lot of other folks who often stray far from the beaten track. Yet it’s not enough to carry these vital items. The stuff has to do the job it’s intended to do, each and every time it’s needed. But you can’t simply assume that something that worked last month—or last year—will work tomorrow. It’s like they say: Assume makes an ass of “u” and me. And no one I know likes being taken for an ass. So why wait to make mistakes of your own when you can learn from mine, instead? Check your emergency gear regularly. After all, it’s essential, isn’t it? Sure it is.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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!

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