Apr 01 2017

Cyclists Rejoice! It’s Shaping Up to be a Great Spaghetti Harvest by Tamia Nelson

Is there any better reward after a spin on your bike than a plate of steaming spaghetti topped with your favorite sauce? If you love spaghetti, then you’ll be happy to learn that the spaghetti harvest looks like a good one this year.

Where would we be without spaghetti and other pastas? We’d be hungry, of course! Farwell and I each consume several pounds of spaghetti every week, so we were heartened to hear that the harvest this year is in full swing. The venerable BBC has produced a short documentary to explain the spaghetti harvest. It’s worth watching:



Now that’s good news! And if you’d like to know the story behind the report, watch this:



I’m off to the kitchen. The pot’s boiling over!


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Apr 01 2017

Outfitting Your Bike on a Budget — And No, This is NOT an April Fool’s Joke! by Tamia Nelson

Wondering how you can afford to outfit your new bike? The answer may be nearer than you think.

Bikes are cheaper than cars. Well, most bikes are cheaper than most cars. But the sticker price is just the start. Few bikes offered for sale in the States come fully equipped. Kickstand? Hell, no. Fenders? In your dreams. Rack? Maybe, but don’t hold your breath. Front rack? No way! Lights? Who rides at night? Bell (a legal requirement in many places)? Please…

There are a few exceptions, of course. But even better bikes often come up short in the essential accessory department, and few of these bikes are exactly cheap. If you’re on a tight budget, you won’t have much cash left over for things like lights and racks.

It can get pretty discouraging. And the cost mounts up in a hurry. To say nothing of the time required to fit fenders and racks. Which is probably why you often see cyclists with black streaks up their backs carrying groceries in plastic bags hanging from their handlebars. Luckily, a good bike shop can do a lot to bridge the gap. But good bike shops are as rare as fully equipped, street-ready bikes. City dwellers can often take their pick from among competent, helpful shops. The rest of us have to take what we can get. Or do without.

OK. That’s the problem. What’s the solution? You might get lucky and find an online seller who’s overstocked fenders and is letting them go dirt cheap. Then again, you might not. And if you need fenders now, you can’t wait for a sale. But there is one alternative. Call it the Walmart option. More and more Big Box stores are increasing the shelf space they give to bicycle accessories. The stuff isn’t top of the line, but a lot of the time it’s plenty good enough for most purposes. The price is usually right, too. Status-conscious cyclists won’t like it, but if it’s a choice between cheap and cheerful, on the one hand, and doing without, on the other, I know which I’ll take.

What about you? Are you tired of bringing the groceries home in a plastic bag swinging from your handlebars? Then check out what I found for sale at my local Walmart, in the depth of winter:

  • Helmets for all ages and sizes, at sensible prices
  • Headlights and taillights to help you see and be seen
  • Tires and tubes
  • Pumps to take along—and use at home
  • Pressure gauges
  • Rearview mirrors (watch your back!)
  • Bicycle computers (useful, if somewhat depressing at times)
  • Rear cargo racks (no front racks, though)
  • Bags galore for handlebars, saddles, cell phones, and snacks (but only sometimes panniers)
  • Cargo nets
  • Trailers for cargo or kids
  • Chainlube and bearing grease
  • A fair selection of basic bike tools
  • Locks
  • Kickstands
  • Bells
  • Hand grips (but not always handlebar tape)
  • Pedals
  • Saddles
  • Compact first-aid kits (but you can make your own, too)
  • Padded saddle covers
  • Cycling gloves
  • Activeware (not cycle-specific, but perfectly adequate)

There were plenty of inexpensive bikes, too, some of which even boasted fitted fenders or handlebar baskets (great for shopping trips round town). Many of these would make acceptable utility rides, even if they won’t get a second look from the gang at the local college cycle club. Farwell, returning from a hundred-mile string of errands on his bottom-of-the-line “comfort” bike late one summer afternoon, met up with one of these clubs at his last stop. The conversation went like this:

FARWELL: [Eyeing a superlight carbon confection that probably cost as much as his first car] Nice ride.

VELOMINATUS: [Taking in Farwell’s dust-caked bike-shaped-object with its bulging panniers] Hmm. You must be local, right? You couldn’t get very far on a fat-tired thing like that.

FARWELL: Nope. Not far. [Glances at cyclometer] Only 97 miles today. Of course, I’ve still got ten to go…

VELOMINATUS: Oh. [Long pause] Well, you have a nice day.

The moral of the story? If money’s tight and you see your bike as transport rather than bling, then good enough is—you guessed it—good enough. And Walmart can be your friend.

This article is an update of one originally published on 1 April 2014.


Further Reading


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Mar 29 2017

A Sweet Victory Ride! by Ric Olsen

Ric Olsen is a frequent contributor to my weekly column at Paddling.com née net, but his interests range broadly beyond canoeing. Here he writes about something close to the heart of every bicyclist — his first bike. ~ Tamia Nelson

The first bike I owned, my Dad got for me from someone where he worked. It had been blue before someone had painted it with spray cans, and sprayed everything all one color. It was a 26 inch fine piece of road transportation. The kick stand was welded to the frame, the spring holding it up in place was weak, so it made a metal clinking sound every time I hit it peddling.

When I got it, in order to get my leg over the top tube, I had to stand the bike on the street while I stood on the curb next to it. At first, getting on was easy, but getting off was tricker. Until I got my balance, and would be able to swing my right leg over the seat with the left peddle all the way at the top. I had to look for a soft landing spot and just slow down and fall over. Sometimes I was able to swing my leg over the seat and to the ground before falling over. If I balanced wrong, I would slow down, and fall to my right side, that never worked out too well. I ripped more pants than Mom really had the tolerance for.

I was not able to sit on the seat. I had to straddle and sit on the top tube, thus making swinging my leg over to the left side of the bike to stop and dismount quite an acomplishment. For longer rides, beyond my street, I tired to put a pillow on the center bar for paddling. My legs were that short and the pillow being too thick, it never worked. So, I had to wait until I grew taller to sit on the seat.

One of the great additions to my bike was a speedometer, the kind that had a small wheel that fit on the front wheel axle. The front wheel, turned a smaller wheel, that turned a cable that attached to the speedometer head on my handle bars. The red speedometer needle went up to 60 miles per hour. I always wanted to see how far I could make that needle go, perhaps even reach the 60 mark. So, one day I rode out to the golf course a couple of miles out of town. The hill was about a mile long and very steep, the perfect place to go to get speed. As I stated coasting down the hill, I soon realized I would not go beyond 40 without pedaling. So, I stood up, and started to peddle as fast as I could. As the needle touched the 60, I hit a small rock in the road that caused me to start shaking the handle bars. With that the whole bike started to shake and wobble. The first thought that went through my head was, “If I fall and rip these pants, Mom will kill me for sure. I am not even suppose to be out here!”

So, I applied the brakes, slowed down, which allowed me to regain control of the bike. When I got to the bottom of the hill, I headed to the shoulder, slowed down, and promptly fell over in the gravel, not being able to get my leg over the seat.

The trip home was a sweet victory ride. I had hit the 60 on my speedometer and lived to tell about it. Now if only I could learn to get off my bike without falling over. Maybe some day.


Further Reading


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Mar 28 2017

The Shape of One Hand Paddling: Make Your Own Hand-Paddle
by Tamia Nelson

A film projector—remember those?—clattered in the back of the darkened classroom, throwing a shaky black-and-white image on the screen. The class was Anthropology 411: Northern Peoples, and the film we were watching had been shot by the guest lecturer, a man who’d spent much of his life living and working among the Waskaganish, then better known (to government bureaucrats, at any rate) as the Rupert House Cree.

The film consisted of short vignettes of northern life. In the last of these, a Cree canoeman rummaged through the storm wrack on a rocky shore. He selected a wave-polished spruce limb, carried it to a nearby boulder that served as both carpenter’s bench and seat, and removed a crooked knife from a pouch hanging at his side. Then he set to work, shaping the wood with a succession of deft, rapid strokes. In a matter of minutes—the film had been edited—he stood up, holding a slim paddle in his hand. He grinned at the camera, spat a stream of tobacco juice through the gap left by a missing tooth, and walked out of shot. The lights in the room came on.

I was reminded of this long-ago day only recently, as I studied a length of furring strip I’d picked up at a local big box “home improvement” store. I was planning to carve a small paddle from it, and I was wondering how best to proceed. I had several advantages denied the Cree canoeman, of course—I had a selection of woodworking tools at my disposal, for one thing—but I lacked his skill and sureness. Still, fortune favors the brave… Read more…

A Paddle-Shaped Object

Originally published at Paddling.com on March 28, 2017

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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 Paddling.com on March 21, 2017


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Mar 20 2017

It’s Not Too Late to Make a Bug-Out Box for This Year’s Cyclotours by Tamia Nelson

I’ll risk being outed as a hoarder. I keep enough food in the house to survive for several months. I’ve had reason to be glad I do, and my hoarding habit has a welcome offshoot: I’m always ready to take advantage of any opportunity for a short getaway by bike, boat, or afoot. It’s paid off again and again. You might not get bragging rights on Farcebook for two days cycling a 150-mile circuit loop of back roads, or enjoying a chain of beaver ponds you can portage to from your doorstep, and the video you shot of the beaver family at play probably won’t make you a YouTube millionaire, but your short break will do a lot to lighten the next week at work. It might even make the hours you spend stuck commuting to work in a metal-and-glass cage in traffic a little more bearable.

Readiness is all, of course. Which is yet another way of saying “Be prepared.” And here’s what’s involved in …

Keeping a Supply of Camp Food at the Ready

I make it as easy as I can, collecting suitable staples and quick-to-prepare entrées in a large cardboard carton I call my bug-out box. When it’s full, it holds several weeks’ worth of food for both Farwell and me. That’s more than enough for casual getaways. And I can see what’s available in an instant, just by glancing down. My Master Menu—another item in my “be prepared” tool kit—guides me in stocking the bug-out box, and it helps me decide what to take from it when I light out for the territories, too. In other words, the Master Menu serves as both shopping list and meal planner.

Of course, not every staple foodstuff lends itself to storage in the bug-out box. Some small items (e.g., spices, herbs, and nuts) have permanent berths in my kitchen cabinets. Others (fresh fruit and starchy vegetables) wait patiently on pantry shelves, and a few perishables chill out in the freezer or fridge. No matter. Grabbing what I need from these dispersed stores is the work of a New York minute, and bagging it all up takes only a little longer. Any frozen items will be thawed by the time I’m ready to dig in.

Now let’s return to the bug-out box. Here’s what it looks like:

Tamia's Bug-out Box

It was somewhat depleted when I shot this photo: Spring brings more opportunities for getaways, and I often go several weeks between restocks. This is one of the advantages of “hoarding.” You don’t have to devote a good part of every weekend to shopping.) But the diminished contents of the bug-out box are still representative. They include packaged entrées — Rice-a-Roni, Near East Couscous, Knorr Pasta Sides — as well as instant oatmeal, fig bars, egg noodles, dried potatoes, and imitation bacon bits. There’s also a box of ziplock bags for easy repackaging. Any boxed entrée selected for a trip is immediately transfered to doubled bags, along with the cooking instructions, if necessary.

On nearby shelves or hidden under the top tier of bug-out items are other staple items, such as pasta, dried milk, canned chicken, single-serving condiment packets, instant cocoa, tea and coffee, as well as dried soups, dried fruit, and chocolate.

Such a motley collection doesn’t assemble itself, of course. You need a Master Menu as a guide. And because I prepare much of what we eat at home from scratch, I make only limited us of prepackaged meals in the ordinary course of day-to-day life. But staple foods are just that: staples. And on the rare occasions when their use-by date approaches, these get pulled from the bug-out box and transfered to my kitchen shelves. In many instances, I avoid the need for such sleight of hand altogether, by the simple expedient of taking staples directly from my kitchen stores, as and when needed. Naturally I replenish regularly, just in case am impromptu holiday comes my way.


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