May 08 2017

Paddling Upstream, or, On Becoming a Gamefish by Tamia Nelson

Last week, Tamia made the case for emulating the gamefish and paddling upstream. Not as an everyday thing, to be sure—but as a change of pace from the usual gravity-assisted one-way river trips. And this week? She offers a primer on how to do it. Just in case you ever feel the urge to join the returning salmon and head upriver.

Tired of being a minnow? Do you sometimes dream of becoming a gamefish, at least for a day? I thought you might. And there are good reasons to give it a try, if only to free yourself from what might be termed “shuttle dependency.” Of course, the gamefish lark isn’t for everybody, and it’s not for every river. If you’re of a mind to emulate the salmon, you’ll still need to choose the right water. Steep mountain torrents and big, muscular rivers aren’t good candidates. At least they’re not good choices for beginners—or for anyone who paddles for the fun of it. But that leaves you plenty to choose from. You just have to look at a few quads to start building your list.

OK. If you’re still reading, you probably find the idea appealing. But unless you’re already a seasoned gamefish, you may need a little help getting started. After all, upriver travel doesn’t figure prominently in the modern paddling syllabus. Many canoeists and kayakers have never given a moment’s thought to going against the flow for any longer than it takes to execute an upstream ferry. Traveling upriver is something altogether different. Gaining ground against even a modest current requires a trained eye and strong arms, along with no small measure of guile. It’s something you learn by doing. You can’t acquire the necessary skills by reading or watching a video. That said, a few pointers may gentle your ascent of the learning curve. So here’s my guide for would-be gamefish… Read more…

Working Upriver -- (c) Tamia Nelson

Originally published at on May 8, 2017

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May 02 2017

Going Against the Flow by Tamia Nelson

Salmon do it. Shad do it. Even eels do it. But few paddlers ever try running a river the wrong way round. And that’s too bad. There’s a case to be made for going against the flow, at least now and then, and this week Tamia makes it.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of the dead over the years—dead creeks, that is. There’s probably at least one Dead Creek on most Canoe Country quads. Don’t be put off by the name. The Dead Creeks I’ve known have been mighty lively streams, favorite haunts of waterfowl, beaver, and trout. Of course, they’re also good places to make the acquaintance of multitudes of mosquitoes, every one of whom is itching to get up close and personal. But I don’t reach for a spray can of some unpronounceable poison and launch a chemical strike. I just slap on a little repellent, don my headnet, and roll down my sleeves. It’s worth the small inconvenience. Though mosquitoes are always keen to dine at our expense, they themselves are fast food for a long list of insectivorous birds. It’s natural justice, if you will—a case of the biter bit—and anyway, a world without mosquitoes would be a much poorer place.

You get the picture, I’m sure. Why, then, are these vibrant havens lumbered with such a lugubrious name? It’s usually a question of gradient. “Dead” creeks live up to their label in one important respect: They move at a measured pace, meandering unhurriedly through well-watered landscapes of alder, spruce, and birch. From time to time you may come to a riffle or easy rapid requiring careful negotiation, and there’ll likely be an occasional beaver dam to challenge your steeplejacking skills, but there won’t be much to quicken the pulse of a hardcore whitewater buff. And that’s one of the charms of dead creeks. They invite leisurely exploration and two-way travel.

Here’s how it’s done. Get an early start. Plan to be on the water just as the sun is painting the tops of the surrounding hills with golden light. Then spend the morning paddling or poling your way upstream. When the sun is at its highest, eat a leisurely lunch on the hogback of a convenient esker. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a glacial erratic to serve as your table. Afterward, doze in the sun (or wet a fly or paint a picture) for an hour or two before returning to your boat and beginning the languid drift to the put-in. There’s no need for haste. The force is with you now. Which means you’ll have time to stop every so often to explore an inviting backwater or gawp at a stand of towering white pine. You’ll still arrive at your starting point before the lengthening shadows bring down the curtain of the night.

Does this sound like a pleasant way to spend a late spring day? It is. And I’m surprised that more paddlers don’t do it. Perhaps the explanation lies in what I can only describe as our one-way mindset. We’re so accustomed to letting gravity decide our direction of travel that we’ve almost forgotten how to go against the flow… Read more…

A Visit to Dead Creek -- (c) Tamia Nelson

Originally published at on May 1, 2017


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Apr 25 2017

On Going Alone: Ten Rules to Go By by Tamia Nelson

If all of us paddlers were invariably sensible, we’d never venture onto the water alone. But we’re not always rational beings, are we? And taken all in all, that’s probably a very good thing. Still, there’s something to be said for setting up a few safety fences before we test the boundaries of unreason, and that’s what Tamia’s tried to do with her “ten commandments.”

All the experts agree: Sensible canoeists and kayakers never paddle alone. Yet who among us is always sensible? If the day dawns bright, warm, and welcoming, and if your work schedule leaves you free to march to the beat of your own drum, you can’t help feeling the tug of the woods and waters, can you? But what if it’s the middle of the week, and your paddling club doesn’t run mid-week trips? Or suppose that your usual partner is unable to join you. Do you resign yourself to a glorious day spent moping about indoors? I know I don’t. And I bet you don’t, either.

We all know the risks. When you’re on your own, you’ve no one to turn to for help when things go wrong. Yes, a cell phone may bring assistance. But then again, it may not. There are still places—not all of them remote—where cell phone coverage is spotty or nonexistent. And there’s also the “red face” factor. If you’ve shattered a leg or suffered a heart attack, you can put your misfortune down to bad luck. There’s no shame in coming up craps when fate rolls the dice, after all. But what if you just forgot to bring a map? Or spare batteries for your GPS? Do you want to see your name in the paper alongside that of a hiker who called for a chopper because her strapless heels gave her blisters? Probably not. It’s also worth noting that some park authorities now send bills to backcountry holiday-makers who log “frivolous” emergency calls, and it’s a safe bet this will become more common as wilderness rescue budgets get tighter. In other words, you could pay a very high price indeed for leaving your map behind on your desk.

OK. We know the dangers. But we still go it alone from time to time. Well, most of us do, at any rate. That being the case, what can we do to reduce avoidable risks to a minimum? I’m sure you have some ideas. So do I. And here they are: Tamia’s Ten Commandments… Read more…

Tamia's Ten Essentials -- (C) Tamia Nelson

Originally published at on April 25, 2017


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Apr 24 2017

Cyclists, Be Bright & Be Alert by Tamia Nelson

The recent tragic death of a popular professional racing cyclist highlights the importance to all of who ride a bike of doing what you can to improve the odds that you’ll make it home safely.

If you follow professional bike racing, no doubt you’ll have heard of the tragic death of Italian Michele Scarponi of the Astana team. On the morning of 22 April 2017, only days after winning a stage in the Tour of the Alps, Michele left on a training ride in his home town of Filottrano, Italy. A few kilometers from home, he was struck by a van turning across his lane en route to a side road. The collision killed Michele Scarponi.

So what does this untimely death mean for the rest of us? Just this: It’s a wake-up call to all of us who go forth on two wheels. So many cyclists I see on the road are dressed in dark clothing and without reflectors or blinking lights, seemingly unaware that it’s in their interest to be bright enough to be noticed by motorists. Of course, motorists bear some (most?) of the blame for collisions with cyclists. As the bigger, more powerful road users, motorists carry an extra moral (if not always enforced legal) responsibility to exercise caution. Having said this, many motorists don’t seem to realize their responsibility, nor do some seem to care. After all, in a collision—whoever is at fault—it’s the cyclist who will suffer more, and all too often the cyclist is killed.

The upshot? If you are a cyclist, do what you can to be seen and to ride defensively. It does no good to be absolutely certain that you’re in the right if the result is that you’re hit by a car. There’s no doubt you’ll be the one who suffers the most. Wear bright clothing. Light up. And keep your eyes and ears alert for what others are doing and what they may do. Stay alive and well.

One last note to the loved ones of Michele Scarponi. My heartfelt condolences. He will be sadly missed.

Further Reading


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