Archive for the 'Trekking Afoot: Stroll, Ski, Scramble, Snowshoe' Category

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 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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Feb 01 2017

Our Readers Write About the Knives in Their Lives
by Tamia Nelson & Farwell Forrest

Article by Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

Since the last time “Our Readers Write” aired, General Winter’s troops have occupied our corner of of the country, roads have been repeatedly plowed, salted and sanded, and the streams have lapsed into a frozen silence. But while it may be the off‑season for cyclotouring (at least here) and paddling, we’re still busy. We go into the woods when we can, work when we must, and whittle away at our long list of oft‑postponed chores. And we read and answer the e‑mails you send us. That’s always a pleasant interlude.

Here, then, is a selection from the mail Tamia got in response to “What Makes a Perfect Knife?” The article is a couple of years old now, but the subject is as timely today as it was then, and we trust you’ll enjoy these e‑mails as much as we did, beginning with one reader’s advice to buy the best knife you can afford… Read more…

Published in full at on 31 January 2017

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Jan 14 2017

Breaking Away: Rise and … Whine? by Tamia Nelson

Sporting literature — if the work of hacks like me warrants so grandiloquent a name — is full of hearty types who rise before dawn to tempt trout in remote mountain pools or run challenging drops while the morning mist still lies close upon the water. These prodigies’ boundless enthusiasm seldom, if ever, flags. They never wish to lie long abed of a morning, and they’re insufferably animated at breakfast, chattering on cheerily about the rapids and portages to come, even as a torrential rain beats a relentless tattoo against the kitchen tarp.

To be sure, real life seldom comes up to the standard required by the best books. In my experience, most groups of paddlers contain early risers and habitual sluggards in just about equal measure. And relations between the two camps aren’t always cordial… Read more…

Morning Has Broken

Published in incomplete form at on 9 July 2013

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Jan 09 2017

The Perils and Pitfalls of Trekking with Others by Tamia Nelson

Trekking with other like-minded folks can be a richly rewarding experience. Sharing heightens the pleasures associated with nearly everything outdoors, whether it’s catching a fleeting glimpse of a wading moose, discovering a perfect hideaway tucked along a back road or backwater, or scouting a clean line through a tricky rapids. It even adds to the fun of the post-trip debriefing. Trekking in company is also safer than going it alone, and this is especially true on any Big Trip. But what about less ambitious jaunts? It’s easy—too easy, perhaps—to offer the familiar advice: “Never paddle solo.” It’s not so easy to find the right partners, however. Like fast-moving rivers, the deep waters of interpersonal relationships are roiled by conflicting currents.

No surprise there, I’m sure. You’re lucky if your trekking partner is a spouse, a relative, or a close friend. Such partnerships can work out very well indeed. Of course, success isn’t guaranteed. More than one marriage has foundered on the rocks of a turbulent river, and lifelong friendships have ended in disputes over who gets to paddle in the stern. Still, if your partnership first blossomed before the trip, you’ve got a head start.

A very different state of affairs arises when a casual acquaintance asks to come along on, especially if the adventure is to be an ambitious journey over long distances, far from civilization, or on a difficult route in inhospitable weather. What then? Do you embrace the idea enthusiastically, glad to have any opportunity to share your love of cycling, hiking, backpacking, or paddling? Or do you reject it out of hand, fearful of the prospect of shepherding a novice—or worse, someone whose confidence exceeds competence—through those first days? Or maybe you steer a middle course, making tentative plans to meet up on undemanding trip, on a warm and sunny afternoon, sometime in the indefinite future. In any case, it’s never an easy decision, but it’s one that every trekker has to make sooner or later. … Read more…

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Dec 15 2016

Eulogy for an Old Friend: My Orvis Jacket by Tamia Nelson

Article by Tamia NelsonOurs is a consumer economy. If I ever had any doubts on that score, they were put to rest by then New York City Mayor Rudolf (Rudy) Giuliani, in the days immediately following the September 11th attacks, back in 2001. With nearly 3,000 lying dead under the rubble, and a still‑smoldering gap in his city’s skyline, what did Rudy urge his fellow Americans to do? To unsheathe their credit cards and hit the shops, that’s what. His message was clear: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. And though this rallying cry falls a little short of Thomas Paine‘s soaring cadences, if you view it as a prescription for national economic survival in the 21st century, Rudy’s message was probably right on the mark.

But I came of age in another time. In the small farm town where I grew up, people thought that “making do” was part and parcel of what it meant to be a patriot. My grandparents and many of their neighbors had lived through the privations of the Great Depression and the ration‑book stringencies of the Second World War. They didn’t see much point in shopping till they dropped. Their watchwords were “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” This was a very different world than the one we live in today, obviously. Back then, Americans were producers, first and foremost, not consumers. American factories still made most of the things that were for sale in the stores, many families got by with only one car, and traveling to some far‑distant destination by air was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime treat. On school trips, my classmates and I didn’t jet off to Paris. We spent the morning at a local farm.

The country has moved on since those days, of course, and wearing things out is passé. It’s, like, so yesterday. I don’t have to look far to find the evidence. Every spring, the thrift shop racks in the nearby college town fill up with nearly new student castoffs. The faculty contribute their share to this seasonal largesse, too. No one wears the same clothes for two years running, it seems. Well, no. That’s not quite true. Not all of us have moved on to the broad, sunlit uplands of perpetual consumption. Not quite. A few hard cases still place function ahead of fashion and think that frugality is a virtue.

Like me. And there are some items of clothing that I’ll keep wearing till they fall in tatters around my feet. Take my old Orvis waxed‑cotton wading jacket.… Read more…

Published in incomplete and inaccurately portrayed form at on 13 December 2016

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