Aug 06 2015

Contourland — The Mapping of Mount Corbyn


Chances are that you can look up from reading this article on your computer (tablet? smartphone?) display and gaze out a window. Or maybe you’re already sitting outside, enjoying a pleasant day on a park bench or your front porch, and visiting a favorite website while birds chorus overhead. In any case, wherever you are now, lift your eyes for a minute from the virtual page in front of you. Then take in the view.

And unless you’re reading this on the deck of a yacht becalmed in the doldrums, I’ll bet that the landscape that greets your uplifted eyes is anything but dead flat. Even Iowa and Florida have topography — the ups and downs that make cyclists’ days (and highway engineers’ jobs) so interesting. Yet when you look at a typical roadmap, whether it’s in a printed atlas or magicked out of the aether on a tablet, the picture of the world you get is likely to be entirely two‑dimensional. At best, such maps disclose occasional point elevations or flag especially steep stretches of highway with mysterious chevrons, grudging acknowledgment that real life is not lived in Flatland. Clued‑in travelers can read between the lines, of course. They know that frequent switchbacks mean a mountain road, and that a highway that follows a series of broad, voluptuous curves probably traverses the valley of a slow‑moving river. Still, such inferences can take you only so far, and no farther.

The upshot? Paddlers, cyclists, and hillwalkers leave roadmaps to motorists. When we plan a trip, we turn to topographic maps. But topographic maps, good as they are, are slow to yield their secrets to the uninitiated. That’s why I wrote the first chapter of a primer on topographic maps (aka topos, quadrangles, or quads) a couple of months back, promising that more would follow shortly. And I try to keep my promises. This, then, is Chapter Two of the promised primer. The first chapter was introductory, and I gave short shrift to the one thing that sets topos apart from other, lesser maps: the third dimension. Unlike most roadmaps, topos give you a real sense of the lie of the land… Read more…

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Jul 30 2015

Going to Ground: In Search of the Ideal Groundsheet

Going to Ground

I’ve rolled out my sleeping bag in some pretty unlikely places: scree slopes, abandoned graveyards, the platforms of deserted railway stations, fetid tussocks next to sewerage outflow pipes, in ankle‑deep mud on riverbanks, on the floor of a (supposedly) haunted house… And often there was nothing under my bag but earth or splintered wood. But my days of roughing it are, I hope, behind me. I certainly don’t need to prove anything to myself anymore, and I’ve learned that, far from detracting from my enjoyment when I’m in the backcountry, a modicum of comfort enhances it. Which is why I always tuck a groundsheet under my tent or sleeping bag now. You could say I’ve come to the conclusion that groundsheets are fundamental… Read more…

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Jul 23 2015

Hot Dogs Revisited: Will a New Top Dog Emerge?

Wild Dogs

The hot dog is to summer holidays in the States as haggis is to Burns nicht in Scotland, a necessary accompaniment, without which the feast wouldn’t be complete. Of course, neither hot dogs nor haggis would be suitable everyday fare — “skinking ware” is probably what most doctors would advise their patients to eat these days — but both hearty treats can be consumed in moderation without qualm, at least by omnivorous paddlers. After all, holidays are times when moderate excesses are allowed, aren’t they?

And it was in keeping with this spirit of permissive moderation that, earlier in the year, I matched one brand of vegetarian hot dogs, Lightlife Tofu Pups, against a proven champion, Nathan’s Famous All‑Beef Skinless Franks, a contest whose outcome I subsequently reported in these very pages. Sad to say, though, the contender didn’t do very well against the champ. Which is why I invited my readers to let me know of other likely pretenders, with an eye to staging a second bout as soon as a suitable fight card could be assembled. In the meantime, I planned to continue my own program of talent‑spotting, surveying HyperMart shelves whenever the opportunity came my way.

Yet I’d barely begun scanning the aisles before readers came through with a number of good leads, and this column contains a sample of their letters on the subject. Some of the contenders they’ve singled out are vegetarian. Some are not. All sound promising. Let’s begin with kosher hot dogs… Read more…

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