Apr 12 2016

From Buckshot to Bicycle: In Praise of the Boat Car

Drying Out

In and ideal world, we’d all live within an easy stroll of some lively river or white‑sand beach. But ours is not an ideal world. There aren’t enough lively rivers and white‑sand beaches to go round. The upshot? Would-be canoeists and kayakers must take to the road. Once upon a time, recreational paddlers could put their boats on a train and travel in comfort to the station nearest their destination, where a buckboard or cart could be hired to take them to the put-in. This is how Nessmuk and MacGregor accomplished their celebrated voyages. But in our wisdom, we Americans turned our backs on trains long ago, and by now we’ve ripped up many of the tracks that once led to rural hamlets — in a wonderfully ironic twist, some of the rights‑of‑way have subsequently become “multi‑use” trails — opting instead for the carefree life of easy motoring.

To be sure, a few “amphibious” paddlers have bucked the trend toward universal automobility, hauling their bagged boats and gear around behind their bicycles. This isn’t likely to become the next new big thing, however, not least because our highway engineers make few concessions to the safety of cyclists — and hills make no concessions at all to legs atrophied by long hours spent in the driver’s seat. In other words, for most canoeists and kayakers now hoping to light out for the Territory, it’s Hobson’s choice: get in a car or stay at home. This can pose problems. Even today, when many households boast a car for every family member over the age of sixteen, we need those cars for everyday transportation. After all, we are driven to succeed. Or else we drive ourselves. We drive to work, drive to class, drive to the HyperMart… We drive the kids to school (and then to soccer), the dogs to the vet, and the boss to the annual meeting (along with her whiteboards, spring water six‑pack, and sound system). We haul sack after sack of groceries home from the store and scores of two‑by‑fours back from the lumber yard.

In short, our cars reflect the demands of everyday life. There’s little space left in them for the hundred and one items of gear needed on even a short backcountry trip. So when we want to drive to a river or lake, we first have to pack all our gear into the car and load our boat(s) onto the roof. That takes time. A lot of time. It’s not uncommon to spend more time packing and unpacking, loading and unloading, and driving to and from the put‑in than you spend on the water. Which helps to explain why, after the initial novelty wears off, some weekend trips seem more trouble than they’re worth.

There are many ways to address this problem, of course. Careful planning and efficient stowage can cut down dramatically on the time lost to packing and unpacking. Or you can buy a second home on the water. (And hope that it’s not washed away in the next 1000‑year flood.) Or you can get a “boat car”… Read more…


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Apr 05 2016

On Fishing Fine, and Far Off: In Which a Chance Cast Hooks Some Memories

Opening Day

Don’t be fooled by the date under the byline. This is a story from the recent past. It is mid‑morning in mid‑March. A warm sun shines in a cloudless sky, a sky tinted a perfect robin’s‑egg blue. The weak cold front that blew through in the night left a dusting of snow behind, but that has now melted away, and the buds of the flowering crab are already swelling with the promise of blossoms to come. A robin — was he tempted north by the robin’s‑egg blue sky, I wonder? — scampers over the winter‑brown grass beneath the tree’s twisted branches, searching for any fruit the waxwings might have missed. Meanwhile, in a nearby marsh, a red‑winged blackbird gives voice to a strident conk‑er‑ee.

And me? I feel a familiar surge of expectation and impatience, a burning desire to be outside and under way.

But today is not the day. Paddling isn’t possible. Shore ice still guards The River’s channel, and the lake ice, though thin, has yet to go out. Nor is cycling an attractive proposition. The town roads are covered with deep drifts of salty sand, the curious legacy of an almost snowless winter. Even shanks’ pony falters at the starting gate: Ice lingering on the trails transforms simple strolls into faux alpine adventures requiring ice ax and crampons.

Still, I can’t sit quietly at my desk. Not on such a day as this. So I pad out to the boatshed to see what needs doing in preparation for the coming canoeing season. It’s an annual ritual, mingling remembrance and anticipation in equal measure. Once my eyes have adjusted to the dim half‑light inside the shed, however, I notice a grimy cardboard box. It sits on a high shelf, and I can’t remember when I last looked inside it. Curiosity gets the better of me. I wrestle it down. Four scrawled labels give its history:


This puzzles me. It’s been years since I wetted a line, and I thought I’d disposed of all my fishing tackle. There’s only one way to solve the mystery: open the box. And I do just that. It’s like opening a window on the past… Read more…


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Apr 02 2016

One Equal Temper of Heroic Hearts; or
How to Keep Your Paddle in the Water When You’re Over the Hill

Now What?

Winter is drawing to a close in our corner of Canoe Country. And truth to tell, it wasn’t much of a winter, with more rain than snow and few subzero (Fahrenheit) days. It certainly wasn’t like the winters I remember from my childhood. But then a lot of things aren’t what they used to be. Not that all change is bad, of course. Take aging. It’s deservedly unpopular. (Until you consider the alternative, that is.) But at least those of us who can remember the days of pay phones and free TV are no longer expected to subside gently into a La‑Z‑Boy on our 65th birthdays, never to rise again.

In short, it’s fashionable for those of us who are not in the first flush of youth to stay active. And why not? If you enjoyed messing about in boats when you were 20, why stop at 50? Or 70? Or 90? Well, many of you know the answer to this: Because the years do take their toll. Muscles soften. Joints stiffen. Vision dims.

But… Not all 20‑somethings are fit and flexible, are they? And yet they get by, on the water and off. So why shouldn’t members in good standing of the Over‑the‑Hill Gang do just as well? It only takes a bit of gumption.

Or as a celebrated poet once wrote, in a somewhat more heroic vein:

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees….
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die. …
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

And to prove that such sturdy resolve isn’t confined to the realm of poetry, we now present a sample of the e‑mails we received around a recent column highlighting one paddler’s unbending determination in the face of increasing age. Taken all in all, these letters illustrate how other “heroic hearts” continue to “smite the sounding furrows” with every bit as much pleasure as they did when they were 20‑somethings.

Nourishment takes many forms. The last “Our Readers Write” was all about food. This one is about spirit. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have… Read more…


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