Aug 09 2016

Kayaking for the Fun of It: Readers Speak Out

Messing About in Boats

Canoeing has long been seen as everyman’s — pace, sisters — sport, a “Grandpa takes the kids fishing on Golden Pond” sort of thing. Kayaking, on the other hand, is often depicted as a never‑ending adrenaline high. In countless freesheets and local papers, canoeists are pictured drifting lazily on sunset‑reddened waters, while kayakers are almost invariably snapped in action, frequently poised in mid‑air, halfway down a 20‑foot drop.

The obvious conclusion? You’re either an old duffer — in which case a canoe is the boat for you — or you’re a young athlete, and therefore a natural kayaker. This neat, binary ordering has all the attractions of simplicity, but like many other obvious things, it’s wildly inaccurate. Any paddler who actually looks around her while she’s spending a lazy summer day on Golden Pond will notice a lot of kayakers on the water, few of whom fit the “adrenaline junkie” stereotype. And a quick, informal survey at the local Mallmart will likely reveal plenty of activity around the colorful displays of kayaks and sit‑on‑tops. (I’m not sure if a SOT is a kayak without a deck or decked boat that you sit on, rather than in, but whichever way you look at it, SOTs would appear to be closer to kayaks than canoes.)

The bottom line? Kayaks have shed their extreme sport image and paddled their way into the mainstream of American consciousness. And as I’ve already had occasion to note, this is a very good thing:

Kayaking could be a sport for Everyman (and Everywoman). It ticks all the boxes. It’s inexpensive, quick to learn, and a great deal of fun. … [So d]on’t stand on the sidelines looking on enviously while others have a splashing good time. Take paddle in hand and join the party. It’s never too late to set off on a voyage of discovery.

When I wrote this, I had no idea that it would generate much mail. But it did, and with the permission of the readers whose letters I’ll be quoting, I’m going to pass along a representative sample, beginning at the beginning, with a note on becoming a kayaker… Read more…


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Jul 22 2016

Off the Beaten Track: The Secrets of Survival

Out of the Woods?

Last week, I drew parallels between two stories. In both stories, a woman walked a short way into thick woods and got lost. One story had a happy ending. The other did not. I was the woman in the first story — the one with the happy ending. A 69‑year‑old solo through‑hiker from Tennessee named Geraldine (Gerry) Largay was far less fortunate than I, however. Her story ended in her death from “inanition.” In other words, she starved to death. And she did so at a campsite only a 30‑minute walk from a trail that would have brought her out of the woods.

A tragedy? Certainly. But to make matters worse, it was an avoidable tragedy. Gerry Largay didn’t have to die.

I don’t need to explain why this matters to us, do I? So let’s take a closer look at the story behind the two stories, beginning with the obvious: Read more…


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jul 14 2016

Off the Beaten Track: Thoughts on a Death in Maine

End of the Trail

Experienced paddlers and hillwalkers take getting lost in stride. We’ve all been “confused” from time to time, belatedly discovering that our mental map was at odds with either the paper quad or the terrain around us, and we’ve learned that if we keep our heads, such episodes are usually short‑lived. They can even prove to be welcome diversions, chances to see places that weren’t on our original itinerary and which haven’t yet been written up in printed guidebooks or someone’s bucket‑list blog.

But not all backcountry travelers are phlegmatic old hands. For a small number of unlucky wayfarers, getting lost can be the last stop on life’s journey. I was reminded of this not long ago, when I chanced on a news story about the fate of solo Appalachian Trail through‑hiker Geraldine (Gerry) Largay. On July 22, 2013, she walked off the trail in Maine to find a private place to answer a call of nature. She never made it back. The sleeping bag containing her skeletal remains was found two years and three months later. Yet entries in her journal confirmed that she’d spent her last days only a 30‑minute walk from a “‘clear logging road’ that led to lodging.”

My first reaction on reading this was to shake my head in disbelief. But then I remembered how I’d once come tolerably close to suffering the same fate, and for much the same reason… Read more…


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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