Mar 22 2017

Alimentary, My Dear: Break(fast)ing Bad—and More by Tamia Nelson

I have a confession to make. Farwell and I don’t buy many “outdoor” books these days. Having now written the equivalent of something like 30 hardcover volumes on paddling, camping, and related en plein air activities, we’re likely to turn to something completely different when we feel the urge for a relaxing read: history, say, or biography, or a title from that broad and rather amorphous grab bag called “literature.” Still, there are times when one of us hankers for what used to be called a busman’s holiday. But even then we’ll probably reach for a book that was first published many years ago.

It isn’t that contemporary outdoor writers don’t have something to say. They do. And many of them say it very well. It’s just that we’re drawn to earlier writers when we’re in search of rest and relaxation. Which is why I was leafing through the old camping books on our shelves a few weeks back, looking at the authors’ food lists. How things have changed! With few exceptions, the old lists relied on the three B’s—beans, bannock and bacon—or on some predictable variation on this theme. Lard and sugar (lots of sugar!) figured prominently, too. All in all, it was enough to bring joy to the heart of any cardiac surgeon’s stockbroker.

At first I was inclined to shake my head in wonderment. After all, I’ve absorbed the messages of the “healthy eating” school. And I’m truly found of greens, groats, and garlic. Yet I can’t forget the days, not so very long ago, when SPAM fritters were a rare and keenly anticipated treat. Hunger, it’s often said, is the best of sauces, and anyone who has ever relied on an ash breeze to get across a big lake knows this to be true. That may help to explain why I sometimes yearn for a few of the forbidden fruits of the table, a sort of gustatory nostalgie de la boue.

But before I make a public display of my secret appetites, I must utter the statutory warning: If you should be so misguided as to follow me into folly, on your own head (and heart) be it. I will not answer for your conduct to your grieving spouse, and I will leave your lawyer’s summons unopened on my desk.

Now, with that burdensome, though necessary, warning attended to, allow me to reveal my hidden yearnings, most of them quarried from food lists that were already showing their age when I first shouldered a pack. And I’ll begin with a backwoods icon: Coffee … Read more…

Roasting Hot Dogs Alongside the River

Originally published at on March 21, 2017


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Mar 20 2017

It’s Not Too Late to Make a Bug-Out Box for This Year’s Cyclotours by Tamia Nelson

I’ll risk being outed as a hoarder. I keep enough food in the house to survive for several months. I’ve had reason to be glad I do, and my hoarding habit has a welcome offshoot: I’m always ready to take advantage of any opportunity for a short getaway by bike, boat, or afoot. It’s paid off again and again. You might not get bragging rights on Farcebook for two days cycling a 150-mile circuit loop of back roads, or enjoying a chain of beaver ponds you can portage to from your doorstep, and the video you shot of the beaver family at play probably won’t make you a YouTube millionaire, but your short break will do a lot to lighten the next week at work. It might even make the hours you spend stuck commuting to work in a metal-and-glass cage in traffic a little more bearable.

Readiness is all, of course. Which is yet another way of saying “Be prepared.” And here’s what’s involved in …

Keeping a Supply of Camp Food at the Ready

I make it as easy as I can, collecting suitable staples and quick-to-prepare entrées in a large cardboard carton I call my bug-out box. When it’s full, it holds several weeks’ worth of food for both Farwell and me. That’s more than enough for casual getaways. And I can see what’s available in an instant, just by glancing down. My Master Menu—another item in my “be prepared” tool kit—guides me in stocking the bug-out box, and it helps me decide what to take from it when I light out for the territories, too. In other words, the Master Menu serves as both shopping list and meal planner.

Of course, not every staple foodstuff lends itself to storage in the bug-out box. Some small items (e.g., spices, herbs, and nuts) have permanent berths in my kitchen cabinets. Others (fresh fruit and starchy vegetables) wait patiently on pantry shelves, and a few perishables chill out in the freezer or fridge. No matter. Grabbing what I need from these dispersed stores is the work of a New York minute, and bagging it all up takes only a little longer. Any frozen items will be thawed by the time I’m ready to dig in.

Now let’s return to the bug-out box. Here’s what it looks like:

Tamia's Bug-out Box

It was somewhat depleted when I shot this photo: Spring brings more opportunities for getaways, and I often go several weeks between restocks. This is one of the advantages of “hoarding.” You don’t have to devote a good part of every weekend to shopping.) But the diminished contents of the bug-out box are still representative. They include packaged entrées — Rice-a-Roni, Near East Couscous, Knorr Pasta Sides — as well as instant oatmeal, fig bars, egg noodles, dried potatoes, and imitation bacon bits. There’s also a box of ziplock bags for easy repackaging. Any boxed entrée selected for a trip is immediately transfered to doubled bags, along with the cooking instructions, if necessary.

On nearby shelves or hidden under the top tier of bug-out items are other staple items, such as pasta, dried milk, canned chicken, single-serving condiment packets, instant cocoa, tea and coffee, as well as dried soups, dried fruit, and chocolate.

Such a motley collection doesn’t assemble itself, of course. You need a Master Menu as a guide. And because I prepare much of what we eat at home from scratch, I make only limited us of prepackaged meals in the ordinary course of day-to-day life. But staple foods are just that: staples. And on the rare occasions when their use-by date approaches, these get pulled from the bug-out box and transfered to my kitchen shelves. In many instances, I avoid the need for such sleight of hand altogether, by the simple expedient of taking staples directly from my kitchen stores, as and when needed. Naturally I replenish regularly, just in case am impromptu holiday comes my way.


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Mar 14 2017

A Primer on North Declination & Variation by Tamia Nelson

A magnetic compass is a simple instrument. Or so it appears. A needle or card, a graduated housing, maybe a lanyard ring… And that’s that. It doesn’t beep or chirp, it boasts no colorful map display, and it won’t tell you how far it is to your lunch stop. But twist and turn the compass as much as you like, and the needle (or card) continues to point toward the north. Magic? No. Magnetism. And before some physics Ph.D. takes me to task for playing fast and loose with the truth, I should add that the compass needle doesn’t really “point” north. Its orientation is determined by the north-south lines of force established by the earth’s local magnetic field. Still, the result is the same. The needle…er…points north.

What’s that? You’re not impressed? You say your GPS can do this, too, plus show you exactly where you are on the map? Right—though unless your GPS also incorporates a fluxgate (electronic) compass, it will lose track of north just as soon as you stop moving. Nonetheless, by comparison with the all-seeing, all-knowing GPS, the magnetic compass is a one-trick pony.

But what a trick! This simple, trembling needle—a Chinese invention, by the way—gave medieval Europe the key that eventually unlocked all the rooms in Gaia’s great house. That’s no small achievement. And the compass still has a place in paddlers’ packs—or better yet, on their decks and in their hands. A compass is self-powered and self-contained. It doesn’t depend on satellite coverage or batteries, and it’s not subject to sudden, inexplicable crashes. Every electronic device I’ve owned has failed me sooner or later, almost always without warning. No compass has ever let me down.

As simple and straightforward as a compass appears, however, it holds a dark secret. Its north is not the cartographer’s “true” north. Its needle doesn’t point the way to the soon-to-be open waters lapping around the North Pole. And therein lies a story: the story of the other north pole… Read more…

Two Norths

Originally published at on March 14, 2017

Mar 10 2017

Questions Potential Surly Long Haul Trucker Owners Ask: Will Your 42cm LHT Fit Me? by Tamia Nelson

I ride a 2008 42cm Surly Long Haul Trucker, or LHT, bought from stock and modified to suit my body. This is the smallest of the LHT frames Surly makes, and I’ve often written about my bike. As a result, I get a lot of letters from folks who want to know something more of my vital measurements. What’s my height? My standover measure? My reach? All this is in aid of wondering if the 42cm LHT would fit them, or their girlfriend or wife, or boyfriend or husband. So this is for all of you shorter folks who all wonder the same thing. I’ll begin with a photograph of my bike just before a short tour:

42cm Surly LHT Standover Heights

You can open an enlargement in a new window by clicking this link. The top tube of my LHT slopes down from head tube to seat tube, meaning that the standover measure differs along its length. The red line shows the standover height just ahead of the saddle nose, and the blue line shows the height near the head tube.

The photo above also shows the measure between the center of my bike’s seat post to the middle of the clamp on my 42 cm Nitto Noodle handlebars. This magenta line shows the horizontal measure, also called the “reach,” and it’s 20½ inches or 52 cm on my bike. Why show the reach? Because to my mind, finding a good fit depends more on reach than standover height. I’ll quote myself from an earlier article:

My main goal in choosing the size was to get a bike with the reach which would minimize shoulder and neck strain, and reduce the potential for numb, tingling hands. I’ve ridden a 46 cm LHT and can manage, but the top tube (or TT) on the 42 cm frame is shorter, making the reach just right for me. I can stand over both the 42 cm and the 46 cm frames, but don’t care if I have lots of air between the TT and my bod. I wanted comfort over the long haul, and I got it.

Keep in mind that these measures will differ from one 42cm LHT to the next. Different model years, stem angle and length, handlebar design, tire and wheel measures can all change actual measures.

So, will the 42 cm LHT fit you? That depends on any number of factors which I addressed in earlier articles, which are linked below. Of course, it’s best to try before you buy. But many (most?) bike shops stocking Surly LHTs won’t have the shortest (or tallest) models on the showroom floor when you stop by. A quality shop with helpful staff will happily order one without expecting a commitment to buy. Hopefully what I’ve had to say will help you make your bike size decision.

Further Reading


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Mar 09 2017

Portrait of a Winter Beater by Tamia Nelson

Snow and ice, road salt and grit, harsh temperatures and abrasive slush… these add up to rough conditions for riding a bike. Which is why many cyclists switch to a beater bike for winter commuting. The owner of this soft-tail salvaged the bike from the crusher’s jaws. With electrical tape he lashed on a trashed milk crate to carry his returnable bottles and sack of groceries. Tape keeps the torn saddle from disintegrating, too, and it builds up hand grips where there were none. He smiled widely when loading up for the two mile ride home on sloppy streets, uncaring that his bike won’t win any beauty contests. He was riding, after all. And others weren’t. (Including me!)

Winter Beater Bike by Tamia Nelson

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Mar 07 2017

Yes, It’s True: They CAN Shoot You From Shore by Tamia Nelson

Many years ago—William Jefferson Clinton was still living in the White House, and Farwell and I were just starting to write weekly columns for what was then—I was skimming through a not-very-good book on waterfront photography when I came to a chapter titled “You Can Shoot Them From Shore.” The subject was photographing boat races with long lenses, but I couldn’t help thinking that the title hinted at another, darker meaning. And no, I wasn’t being alarmist. I’d already come under fire when I was on the water. (I’d been threatened at gunpoint when hiking in woods, too, but that’s another story.) A young man—the son of a neighbor, as it turned out—decided to amuse himself by sending a few rounds over our heads as we took the canoe out on the ‘Flow for an evening paddle. He’d apparently concluded that he could shoot us from shore with complete impunity. He was right, too. The long arm of the law often proves to be pitifully short in the Adirondack foothills. The “jes’ havin’ a little fun” defense may not figure prominently in the statute books, but it commands respect from many rural cops and courts to this day.

In any event, we escaped unharmed from the shoreline shooter. (It helped to have a bowman with no small experience in assessing—and evading—incoming fire.) Nor did the incident recur. But it served to remind me that paddlers can easily pass for sitting ducks. Deliverance may have been fiction, but almost any one of us could someday share Drew Ballinger’s fate.

I hasten to add that this isn’t very probable … That being said, there’s still a chance that you’ll someday find yourself on the wrong end of a gun. What then?… Read more…

You Don't Want to Confront This

Originally published at on March 7, 2017

Further Reading


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