The Other Ten Essentials, Part 1: From Curiosity to Confidence by Farwell Forrest

Tuesday is the day reserved for new articles, but when, in an earlier column devoted to the Ten Essentials, Tamia made reference to a couple of pieces that Farwell wrote for In the Same Boat back in 2006, he figured he ought to revisit them, making whatever tweaks and tucks he thought warranted. This he has now done, with the result you see before you. (The second of Farwell’s two columns will appear in this space on Friday.)

Paddlers — most of the paddlers I know, at any rate — are gearheads. We memorize whole sections of outfitters’ catalogs. We devour pages of Web copy describing whatever is newest, lightest, fastest, or coolest. We read accounts of other paddlers’ trips from back to front, beginning with their equipment lists. And this makes sense. Despite the lip service we give to the traditional aspects of our sport, its evolution is driven by advances in technology. It always has been, right from its beginnings in the well‑publicized adventures of John “Rob Roy” MacGregor and Nessmuk. After all, the molded paper canoes that made headlines in the sporting press a century and a half ago were no less revolutionary in their day than the latest carbon‑fiber confections are in our own.

So it’s easy to see why we’re infatuated with gear. It’s important to us. To our safety. To our comfort. To our sport. Anyone who’s ever found himself up a creek without a paddle understands this. But our infatuation also has a downside. (What infatuation doesn’t?) It confuses means with ends. Canoeing is something we do for fun, and you don’t need the newest gear — let alone the lightest, the fastest, or the coolest — in order to have fun on the water. You just need a boat, a paddle, and a life jacket. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to have a great time maneuvering a caulked wooden crate around a flooded city street, with only a stub of one by six for a paddle. How do I know? Easy. I’ve done it. Admittedly, it was a while back (60 years ago, give or take), and it’s true that I didn’t bother with a life jacket. Even if I’d known that such things existed at the time, I couldn’t have afforded one. Then again, the water under my homemade boat’s keel was only about a foot deep, so I really wasn’t running much of a risk. And I had a wonderful time. For as long as my leaky barge held together (and it lasted longer than I’d thought possible), every summer thunderstorm transformed the street fronting my tenement block into a waterway that rivaled the canals of Venice, at least in my imagination. Best of all, I was free to explore that waterway at will.

The conclusion is obvious: There’s something more important than having the latest gear. More important than any gear, come to that, even the aptly named Ten Essentials. And what is this mysterious something? The answer isn’t simple. To begin with, it’s not just one thing. It’s several things. And you won’t find them on any outfitter’s shelves. None of them costs you as much as a penny of your hard‑earned cash — that’s a plus, surely — but none is exactly free, either. All of them have to be paid for, one way or another. With sweat, perhaps. Or time. Or simply by heeding the still, small voice that speaks to everyone who bothers to listen. So the price can be high, even if your wallet stays in your pocket. The good news? Taken all together, these vital “somethings” don’t weigh more than an butterfly’s wing, nor do they take up any more space in your pack than a grain of sand. Call them a paddler’s intangible assets, if you must. Or call them the Other Ten Essentials. I do.

And what are these intangible essentials? Let’s begin at the beginning, with Curiosity… Read more…