Archive for the 'In the Same Boat: Canoeing, Kayaking, & Paddle-Camping' Category

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 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 28 2017

When Old Clothes Become Old Friends by Tamia Nelson

I can never tell what articles will strike a chord with readers. Which means that I’m often surprised by the number of e-mails I receive. And that was certainly the case in the days after “Eulogy for an Old Friend” appeared last December. After all, a sentimental tribute to a torn and threadbare jacket, no matter how heartfelt, isn’t exactly click bait. Or so I thought. But I was wrong. My electronic mailbox soon overflowed with thoughtful letters. These ranged in tone from the no-nonsense pragmatic to the downright lyrical, and all of them shed new light on a subject I thought I’d already exhausted. And so, with the writers’ permission, I’m going to pass a few of them along, beginning with some good advice from Art Hilderbrandt on a very practical matter: Finding a replacement jacket… Read more…

Old Friends

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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 25 2017

This Old Thing? The Case for Buying a Used Boat by Tamia Nelson

Article by Tamia Nelson

On a little‑traveled back road near my home, stately maples and tall pines keep watch over what was once a one‑room schoolhouse. When central schools made such schoolhouses obsolete, resourceful people converted many of them into homes, and that’s what happened to this one. Now, however, the owners have apparently grown too old to cope with the demands of rural life, and their house stands vacant.

Although I often waved to the schoolhouse’s former occupants when I cycled past, I never spoke with them. But I know we had a lot in common. We shared a liking for natural landscapes and unostentatious architecture. And we shared a taste in boats, too. Resting on sawhorses on the north side of the house is an old Grumman canoe. The last time I passed by, snow had sloughed off the metal roof onto the upturned hull, and icicles hung from the boat’s stem and stern peaks. It’s an ignominious fate for a veteran craft. As regular readers of In the Same Boat know, I’ve a lot of time for the canoes that the late Harry Roberts christened “tin tanks.” Harry didn’t mean this as a compliment — he liked his canoes long, light, and lean — but his gibe rebounded in ways he didn’t intend, ultimately becoming a badge of honor. Aluminum canoes have a tank‑like ability to keep going in difficult conditions, after all, and they don’t require kid‑glove handling. Years after many plastic boats have become too brittle or too floppy to trust in moving water, a tin tank will still be ready and able to answer the call of duty. They’re not light, and they’re certainly not lean, but they can go the distance. Just about any distance, in fact.

So I was very sorry to see the old Grumman left to the untender mercies of ice and wind within earshot of The River. But there’s hope for this tin tank yet. It may find a buyer — me. I’ll have to locate the owners first, obviously, but I’m on the case. And as I explained in an earlier column, a tandem canoe would now be a welcome addition to our existing fleet of solo craft.

We’re not alone, I’m sure. I suspect that many paddlers will find themselves eyeing a used canoe or kayak sooner or later, and you may be among them. There are plenty of good reasons why you might want to make your next new boat an old one… Read more…

Published in full at on 24 January 2017

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