Apr 19 2014

Something for Swingers: Hammocks for Cyclotourists? Why Not?

Whether you’re on the road or not, a good night’s sleep is all-important. Which is why I replaced my shorty Therm-a-Rest with a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mattress. It seemed a good idea at the time. And it still does. But when I wrote up my first impressions of the Big Agnes for Paddling.net, I was surprised by the amount of mail I got around the column. Some correspondents shared my high opinion of the Big Agnes. Others didn’t. And a few made a suggestion I hadn’t seriously considered: Why not try a hammock, they asked? Well, why not, indeed? I’ve slept in hammocks before, and Farwell had an on-again, off-again affair with a GI jungle hammock, back in the day. (The waterproof bottom panel did double duty as an “indoor” pool, he remembers.) Which got me thinking. Had I missed a bet? Let’s list the pros and cons:

Hang High!

  1. Sloping, soggy, or stony ground? That’s no problem in a hammock.
  2. Hammocks are (or can be) lightweight—lighter than any tent—and…
  3. They pack mighty small.
  4. They exemplify no-trace philosophy, too. (But be sure to pad the ropes!)
  5. If you’re bothered by the thought of things that go bump in the night, a hammock can lift you out of their path. Unless you’re in big cat (or big snake) country, that is.
  6. There’s no better way to blend in. If your hammock is green or brown, it’ll be hard for passersby to tell where the trees end and the hammock begins.
  7. Tight budget? There’s a hammock to suit every purse. You can even make your own.
  8. Hammocks are downright comfortable. For some. Better find out if this means you, though, before you buy.


Swing Low

  1. You need someplace to hang your hammock. If there aren’t any trees or other convenient anchoring points, or if they’re too far apart, or if the site regulations prohibit hammocks outright, you’ll be sleeping on the ground.
  2. Speaking of trees… Sometimes they come crashing down. In the night. When you’re asleep. If this happens to one of the trees supporting your hammock, you’re in for a rude awakening. If you’re lucky. Are you feeling lucky?
  3. Is it raining? Then you’ll need a tarp over you. And you’ll probably have to tweak the rig every time the wind shifts. (Memo from Farwell: Don’t buy a waterproof hammock. It makes the worst kind of water bed.)
  4. Storms can be scary. Even if no dead limbs fall on you, the swaying may make you seasick. And a coffin-sized cell seems darned cramped after eight hours or so.
  5. Bzzz… Mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers love to hang out with folks in hammocks. Netting is a must in bug season.
  6. Too cold for bugs? Then you‘ll probably be cold. Unless you put a pad under your sleeping bag, that is. But this adds both weight and bulk.
  7. Sleeping in a hammock is easy. Living in one is hard. Getting dressed, eating, going over your maps… That’s when you’ll miss your tent most.
  8. You can’t easily bring you bike (or your gear) into your hammock with you. So you’ll need a tarp as well. More weight and bulk.
  9. Privacy? No way! Better eat your Powdermilk biscuits. Hammocks are not for shy people.
  10. You don’t like sleeping alone? Than you’ll need to plan ahead.
  11. Hammocks are downright uncomfortable. For some. Better find out if this means you, though, before you buy.


Bottom line? The lows outnumber the highs, at least in my estimation. But every camper has to strike his or her own balance. And hammocks have a lot of fans, especially among weight-conscious cyclotourists who frequent well-wooded areas and don’t expect to be hit by many storms. Will I try one? We’ll see. I must admit I’m tempted. So stay tuned.

For an earlier take on hammocks from my Paddling.net column, see “Hanging Out in a Hammock.”

This article was originally published in a slightly different form on March 22, 2011.

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Apr 18 2014

Photo Finish for April 18, 2014: Noah ‘Scape

Chaucer waxed lyrical about the month of April, whose “shoures soote / The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.” And e. e. cummings went on at some length about a world made “mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful” by the coming of spring. But here in New York’s Borderlands, the spring of the year has lately assumed a somewhat ominous air. The roar of raging water is now the season’s signature tune, ushering in a newly familiar litany of road closures and evacuation orders, along with whispers of impending dam failures.

The blame falls, as always, on the usual suspects: deep drifts of snow in the hills and unusually heavy rains. And they play their part, to be sure. But snow and rain are nothing new in the Borderlands, are they? So maybe the explanation for the surging rivers lies elsewhere. After all, I don’t have to go far to see recently drained wetlands and freshly felled woods. And if you insist on paving paradise to put up a parking lot, you can’t really be surprised when the spring rains run right off the asphalt and swell the rivers, rather than soaking in.

Or can you? I suppose that depends on how tight you shut your eyes.

High Water

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Apr 17 2014

Feeling Their Oats — Readers’ Ruminations on Oatmeal

Dr. Johnson, I Presume?

Back in January, I wrote a column describing my search for an inexpensive instant oatmeal that retained some of the flavor and texture of the real thing, a search that culminated in my making my own. The experiment — for that’s what it was — proved a success, and it was successful in more ways than one. Not only did my homemade instant oatmeal live up to expectations, but the column generated an outpouring of reader mail. Oatmeal, it seems, is a hot topic, and one which generates strong feelings among paddlers.

That being the case, I figured I’d better pass along what I’d learned from the ensuing correspondence, and with the generous consent of the readers who wrote around my article, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ll begin with a few words concerning Dr. Johnson on oatmeal… Read more…

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