Sep 02 2017

Notice to Mariners! News About In the Same Boat

New articles are posted below this Notice to Mariners, which is a “sticky.” It will remain at the top of the TNO home page for some weeks to come.

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29 August 2017.  You’ve come to the right place for news about In the Same Boat, the weekly column by Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest? After 18 years at Paddling.net, we picked up a new mooring. But the old boat needed a refit, and she’ll be in dry dock for a couple of months. We’ll keep you abreast of progress, so stop by now and then to see how things are going. And if you ever want to get in touch, just drop us a line. We’re always glad to hear from you.

6 October 2017 Update.   Thanks to everyone who’s written to us. Your words of encouragement, your suggestions, and your offers of assistance are much appreciated. What news? Our new berth is a’building on schedule and should be ready to launch on 31 October, when our first new column since 29 August will go out into the aether. We’re also uploading all 900 or so of our previously published articles along with a comprehensive index. That job should also be done by 31 October. Several times a week we upload more of In the Same Boat to the new site. So whether you’re looking for a favorite column or visiting for the first time, take a look. If you see a problem, please let us know — we’re only human and we make mistakes. And please check back often for updates. Many thanks!

Sep 01 2017

The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System: Small Is Beautiful by Tamia Nelson

Quenching your thirst is surprisingly difficult, whether you’re cycling through rural country or trekking in the backcountry. You just can’t assume that wild water is safe to drink. Which explains why clever people have devised many ways to disinfect questionable water. Tamia has weighed her options for how to treat wild water, and the winner is… the Sawyer Mini.

Whether I’m heading out on a long bike ride along back roads with no services, paddling a lonely stream, or bushwhacking into a favorite beauty spot, I have one nagging worry: drinking water.

The Adirondacks, my backyard, is a well-watered place, but trekking is thirsty work, and there’s really no way for me to know if wild water is drinkable. The only valid rule of thumb was articulated many years ago by veteran desert walker Colin Fletcher: “If in doubt, doubt.”

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find a dented tin cup upturned on a stick alongside a stream or spring hole. And I drank my fill at such informal watering spots many times without any qualms. But times change. Nowadays there’s likely to be a 100-unit second-home development just a mile upstream. Or maybe the last person to pass by thought the spring hole was the perfect place to take a bubble bath. Or the trail might be popular with local dog-walkers, all of whom think pooper-scoopers are for city folk.

Which is probably why you don’t see many tin cups by streams these days — and why I’m left with only Fletcher’s Law to guide me: If in doubt, doubt. And then? Treat the water! It’s not as if there aren’t a lot of options. But before deciding on the best method for my trips, I thought I’d better get a clearer idea…

WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST

The answer? Just about anything I cared to name. Pathogenic bacteria. Protozoan parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. The eggs of infectious tapeworms (Echinococcus). Even waterborne viruses. Not to mention chemical contamination — that devil’s cocktail of subtle, insidious poisons that we regard as the inevitable price to be paid for progress and prosperity.

That said, I’m not likely to find all of these in one cup of water. But who wants to play Russian roulette with her health? If in doubt, doubt, and take reasonable precautions against foreseeable risks. The bad news? The risk posed by the chemical contamination of surface waters and aquifers can’t really be assessed or addressed in the field. While the activated carbon filters found in some portable filters may indeed improve the taste of water,…

ACTIVATED CARBON FILTERS DON’T REDUCE THE BURDEN OF TOXIC ORGANIC CHEMICALS

Is this a concern? Yes and no. Though there’s not much heavy industry in the Adirondacks, there are mines, commercial forests, farms, and lawns, all of which are fertile sources of noxious pollutants. (Yes, even lawns. Could any McMansion owner forgo having a vast sweep of lawn, maintained with an arsenal of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers? Certainly not. What would the neighbors think?) There’s also direct contamination of surface waters by runoff from parking lots and highways, not to mention the oil-rich exhausts of the outboards, jet-skis, ATVs, and snowmobiles beloved of many outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen.

The bottom line? The water flowing brightly under the road bridge, gurgling down the trailside stream, or passing under my keel may well be chemically polluted. And there’s nothing I can do about it, except hope that the risk is small. Or drink only bottled water — not really a practical alternative on long trips away from “sivilization.” Having said that,…

SOMETHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT PATHOGENS AND PARASITES

In fact, when it comes to disinfecting water, I have an embarrassment of options. I can boil it. I can dose it with a germicide. I can filter it. I can even zap it with ultraviolet light. That’s almost too much choice, which is why I decided to narrow the field before coming to a decision, weighing the merits and demerits of each method in turn, beginning with …

Boiling.  What could be simpler? Fire up the stove. Bring a pot of water to a good, rolling boil. Then — since I won’t be camping above 14,000 feet — I’m done. But nothing’s really this simple, is it? Boiling water has to cool before you can drink or decant it, and I’d need a big pot (and plenty of fuel) if I were going to boil up enough to see me through a sweaty day. In other words, boiling makes sense if I’m just brewing a pot of tea or making coffee for breakfast, but it’s an awkward and time-consuming way to meet all my drinking water needs.

OK. Boiling’s out, at least for disinfecting water in bulk. But I can always fall back on science, can’t I? What about …

The Pharmaceutical Option?  There’s nothing easier than popping a pill or two in a bottle of water, is there? No, but many devils lurk in the details, nonetheless. To begin with, two old campaigners are off the list. Halazone [4-(dichlorosulfamoyl)benzoic acid], the chlorine-releasing tablets handed out to GIs during World War II and still in widespread use as late as the 1960s, start losing their oomph almost as soon as you open the bottle. And tetraglycine hydroperiodide (the original Potable Aqua), though made of sturdier stuff, with much greater staying power than Halazone, is off-limits for anyone with thyroid disease, a cohort that now includes both me and Farwell. That leaves chlorine dioxide. The upside? Treated water still tastes like water, rather than disinfectant. The downside? Treatment time is four hours. And the tablets aren’t cheap. Moreover, it’s by no means certain that any chemical germicide is effective against the embryonated eggs of hydatid tapeworms, an emerging concern as Adirondack waterways become busier (and doggier) places.

My verdict? The pharmaceutical option was also out. But I thought I might have found my answer in another fruit from the tree of technology:

The Lightsaber.  This is Farwell’s whimsical name for the SteriPEN, a portable ultraviolet (UV) generator that bears a striking resemblance to an electric carving knife. UV radiation doesn’t kill microbial pathogens outright, but it does damage their DNA, limiting their ability to reproduce and thereby preventing them from overwhelming a human host’s defenses. The SteriPEN is an ingenious device, light in weight and easy to use. That said, it isn’t without drawbacks. It’s fragile, for one thing. For another, its efficacy is somewhat impaired in turbid water, and not all Adirondack waterways are crystal clear. But here’s the clincher: I’ve found no evidence that it inactivates the embryonated eggs of the hydatid tapeworm, surely one of the nastier surprises lurking in wild waters. Bad luck, that. Looks like it’s Worms 2, H. saps 0.

And that’s three down, with only one to go:

Filtration.  Portable filters have been around for a long time, and they do a good job holding back pathogenic bacteria, protozoan cysts, and tapeworm eggs. But many that I’ve seen (and used) have struck me as impossibly fussy and rather accident-prone. One of the best, the venerable Katadyn Pocket, is not only breathtakingly pricey, but it also boasts a ceramic filter. The filter is easy to clean, and it lasts a long time in ordinary use, but if you drop it on a rock, you’re back to boiling water. Moreover, like many other portable filters, the Pocket allows pathogenic viruses to slip right through. That said, an MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter has been our go-to solution for bulk water purification for some years now, though we also zap the filtered water with the Lightsaber to hobble any viruses. As the AutoFlow’s name suggests, it has no pump, and that’s a very good thing, indeed. Pumping is always a bit of a nuisance, and the absence of moving parts in drip filters like the AutoFlow eliminates many failure points. Still, the MSR is rather bulky, and packing it up is a little like wrestling an octopus. Ours is also getting a little long in tooth.

Which is why I started looking around for a smaller (and hopefully cheaper) alternative. And I found it on the shelves of the local HyperMart:

THE SAWYER MINI

Sawyer calls it a “water filtration system,” and I won’t argue, but it’s really just a small filter cartridge paired with a sturdy laminated “squeeze pouch” and a short length of rubbery tubing, plus a plastic syringe thrown in to make backwashing easier. And at around 20 (US) bucks a pop, it’s pretty cheap.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

Photo A above shows the Sawyer Mini in its retail garb. Stripped of its packaging, the entire “system” — filter cartridge (B), rubber tubing, rolled squeeze pouch, and a 60-mL syringe (C) — weighs less than four ounces. Simple it may be, but the Mini is nothing if not versatile. You can …

  1. Use the squeeze pouch to force water through the filter into any handy container (Photo D below).
  2. Attach the tubing to the intake end of the filter — do NOT confuse the intake and outflow nipples! — then immerse the end of the tube in a water source and suck away at the outflow till your thirst is quenched (E).
  3. Screw the filter directly onto a plastic seltzer or soda bottle filled with “wild” water and drink from the outflow nipple.
  4. Mount the filter in the line leading from a hydration bladder.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

I mostly stick to Option Number One. And how does the Sawyer Mini work? I’ve no complaints to date. It’s easy to pack and simple to use. But does it do the job? Good question. Sawyer has lab data supporting the filter’s efficacy against bacteria and protozoan cysts, and the filter itself seems reasonably sturdy.

So far, so good, but…

ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES?

There are. If a Mini is exposed to freezing temperatures after its first use, it’s toast. That drawback isn’t unique to the Mini, by the way. All hollow fiber membrane microfilters share this vulnerability. And since you can’t inspect the filter element without sawing through the housing, you’ll have to take its integrity on trust. Or not. Which is why I’d be inclined to season Sawyer’s claim that the filter is good for “up to 100,000 gallons” with a fistful of salt. In fact, one preliminary study reports that samples of a nearly identical Sawyer filter succumbed to irreversible fouling (and possible burst fibers) after two years’ household use, with consequent loss of efficacy. That’s why I intend to replace my Mini every year, without fail. Better safe than you-know-what.

THE BOTTOM LINE?

The Mini ticks all the boxes: It’s small. It’s light. It’s simple. Keep it warm when the thermometer dips to freezing and below, and carry a box of chlorine dioxide tablets to serve as an emergency backup in a hard chance. The Sawyer Mini’s not perfect, but it will do the job I need done. It might be just what you’re looking for, too.

Sawyer Mini Filtration System (c) Tamia Nelson

Product Evaluations Policy  TN Outside never accepts payment for product endorsements, nor do we accept product samples from manufacturers or their representatives. We write about the food we buy on our weekly rounds, and about the gear and books we’ve purchased, rented, or borrowed (from friends, family, or the public library) over the years. That said, on rare occasions we’ll write a product analysis of something we don’t own and have never used, based solely on the manufacturer’s claims, published specifications, or others’ experiences. But when we do that, we’ll tell you.

This article is an updated and modified version of one that appeared originally at Paddling.net on 12 May 2015.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Aug 29 2017

The End Is Where We Start From by Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

Tamia and Farwell have taken a few Big Trips in their day, but none compares to their Big Trip with Paddling.net (as it then was). It lasted 18 years, and it’s only now drawing to a close. Of course, no Big Trip goes on forever, and as a bank clerk turned poet once wrote, “to make an end is to make a beginning.”

Most canoeists and kayakers yearn to take a Big Trip. The details don’t matter all that much. Where, when, how — these are incidentals. There’s a new horizon on view at every point of the compass, and once you’ve made the decision to set off, one day (or one year) is as good as another. What does matter, then? That’s easy: the desire to lose oneself in the journey, “to seek,” in the words that Tennyson put in Ulysses’ mouth, “a newer world,” to see new things (or see old things in a new light), and “to sail,” literally or figuratively, “beyond the sunset.” Yet, as Ulysses knew very well, all Big Trips must end sooner or later. Sometimes the end is just that, the end. More often, though, it’s a beginning. As T. S. Eliot observed, “The end is where we start from.” And that’s where we find ourselves now.

For 18 years, In the Same Boat has been a weekly feature on these virtual pages. But nothing lasts forever, and this is our last column for Paddling.com. Make no mistake: It’s been a very Big Trip. Eighteen years can see a toddler grow to maturity. Or a white ash rise from a struggling sapling to a towering tree. It’s even enough time for an ordinary malt to mellow in cask and be transformed into an heirloom whisky. In our case, though, the span of years has been marked by something much less tangible: an outpouring of words — more than two million, in fact.

This wasn’t in the cards back in 1999, when we wrote our first column for what was then Paddling.net. We had no idea that In the Same Boat‘s Big Trip would last so long. Indeed, we stopped writing the column at the end of our first year, thinking that was that, only to be invited to return to Paddling.net in the following spring. But we never dreamed we’d still be writing weekly columns well into the second decade of the new century. Of course, this wasn’t down to us. Without the support — and, yes, the encouragement — of Brent and Brian, Paddling.net’s founding partners, In the Same Boat would have remained eternally landlocked. They gave us the freedom to write as we pleased, about whatever we pleased. And the check was always in the mail. (Writers will appreciate how rare these two things are.)

As important as Brent and Brian were in keeping us at our keyboards, however, our greatest debt is to you, our readers. Your e‑mails — thousands of them — have filled in‑boxes on four (or is it five?) generations of computers, and they’ve made starting each day of the past 18 years a journey of discovery. You’ve set us straight when we got something wrong, showed us better ways to do things, shared photos of your boats, invited us to stop by if we ever found ourselves in the neighborhood, and given us countless ideas for new articles. It’s largely your doing that not once in all 18 years did either of us face a deadline without knowing exactly what we’d be writing about.

Now the Big Trip that began in 1999 is over. But another lies in the offing. After all, “to make an end is to make a beginning” — Eliot, again — and we’re not about to scuttle In the Same Boat. We’re just shifting her moorings. We’ll be taking a break from writing a weekly column for a month or two while we finish work on a couple of books. Then In the Same Boat will embark on her next Big Trip, and as the time approaches for her to set out, we’ll post the coordinates of her new berth here at Tamia Nelson’s Outside. It goes without saying that we hope to have the pleasure of your company when she casts off.

In the Same Boat

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Aug 11 2017

A Kickstand Support Keeps Your Bike Upstanding and It’s Absolutely Free! by Tamia Nelson

Road shoulders aren’t always wide and paved. More often than not, the verge is adrift with sand, loose gravel, or unconsolidated soil. This doesn’t bode well for cyclists who use a kickstand to keep their bike upright when they pull off the travel lane to get off the bike. Why? Because you may walk away from your parked bike only to hear it topple over before you’re more than a few steps away. Luckily, there’s an easy way to prevent the slow subsidence that sometimes topples our bikes: the kickstand support. Tamia tells you how.

Are you tired of having your bike’s kickstand sink into sand or slide sideways in gravel? Here’s an easy solution to this common problem, one that weighs very little and costs absolutely nothing — a stout metal jar lid. Almost any lid will do, though a wide lid works better than a narrow one.

The principle is simple. The lid spreads out the load, providing a stable base of support for the kickstand leg and reducing the likelihood that it will punch down into soft sand or slip on loose gravel. Just put the lid on the ground with the threaded flange uppermost. Then maneuver the kickstand’s leg into place. That’s it. Mission accomplished.

My kickstand support is a lid from an empty jar of salsa, if you’re interested, but just about any metal jar lid will do. It’s a good idea to check that the lid doesn’t shift when you release your grip on the bike — and that the kickstand leg doesn’t skate across the metal surface. Sometimes you have to move the lid a bit to find a more stable lie. But that’s about all. Once your bike is standing pretty, you can walk away, confident that it will remain upright.

Outstanding!

After many months of use, however, your support may begin to show its age. When it starts to look like it’s been hit with birdshot, it’s probably time to consign it to the recycling bin and get a new lid. But you’ve really no cause for complaint. The price is right.

Will this work with a two-legged kickstand like the Pletscher? I haven’t tried it, but I can’t think of why it wouldn’t. You’ll need two lids, though —and it will probably be a bit fussier to get the legs where they have to go. Anyway, even if you need two supports, they shouldn’t weigh your down, and it’s not hard to keep it stowed but handy. I slip my lid into the map slot of my handlebar bag:

It's Not Heavy

But if you don’t use a bar bag your can probably find room in the seat pack that holds your spare tube and tools. (You do carry a tube and tools, don’t you?) Or just tuck your lid into your jersey or jacket pocket.

However you decide to haul your support around, you can now leave your bike on its kickstand without a qualm, knowing that you’ll find it upright and undamaged on your return. That’s a happy state of affairs, isn’t it?

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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