And So to Bed
A Place for Everything.
By Tamia Nelson
August 5, 2003
My grandfather my other grandfather,
the one who wasn't an Adirondack
guide served in the Coast Guard in his youth. And like most folks who
are well into their second half-century, he had a vast store of anecdotes. One
of his favorites began, "'A place for everything, and everything in its place.'
That's what they told us in the Coast Guard, and.
The story wound its way through numberless variations, but the ending was
always the same: a guided tour of my grandfather's house. True to his word,
everything had its place. There was the flashlight on the bedside table, within
easy reach should something go bump in the night. (My grandfather always paused
to switch it on, proving to any doubters that the batteries were fresh. "Be
prepared" ran a close second to "a place for everything" in his repertoire.)
Next came the portable radio for weather bulletins and breaking news. It too had
fresh batteries. And then there were his shoes and socks, neatly lined up beside
the bed, ready to slip into at a moment's notice. A bathrobe hung next to the
door. Should disaster strike in the night, my grandfather would be dressed to
The tour continued through each room of the rambling old farmhouse.
Afterward, while my grandmother served up slices of cake preparing for
emergencies was Man's Work; a woman's place was at her post in the kitchen
my grandfather would fix his audience with his eye, wag his finger, and
gravely intone, "You never know what's going to happen here in the country. You
have to be ready for anything."
In all honesty, I soon grew tired of this oft-repeated lecture, and I got
heartily sick of hearing that there was a place for everything. Still, I had to
admit that my grandfather followed his own advice. Whenever a thunderstorm or
blizzard knocked out power in the middle of the night, some sixth sense would
awaken him. In no time at all, he'd be out of bed, making the rounds of the
house, flashlight in hand, knocking on bedroom doors and checking to see that
all was well. It was eerily reassuring.
Happily, we paddlers don't often have to worry about power outages in the
backcountry. But that doesn't mean there'll never come a time when you need to
get out of your sleeping bag and move about camp in a hurry, long after the
sun's gone down. After all, many folks can't make it through even a quiet night
without having to answer nature's
call. "A place for everything and everything in its place" is a motto worth
heeding, even in the bush.
Want to avoid unpleasant surprises in the dark? Then get into the habit of
squaring away your campsite before hitting the sack. It's good to have a plan. I
find it useful to work from a mental checklist, going through each heading on
the list just before turning in. You'll have your own list, of course, but
Boats and Gear
Most canoeists and kayakers haul their boats ashore at the end of the day.
Unless you're paddling a log dugout or other heavy craft, this makes a lot of
sense. Boats left in the water or beached within reach of the tide have a nasty
habit of drifting away in the night. If you do opt to tie up to a dock or
moor your boat offshore, however, be certain that all your knots are secure and
your anchor, if any, is well set. (WARNING Few small anchors can be
relied upon to hold if the wind shifts or the tide turns. If you must anchor
out, it's wise to sleep aboard your boat. You may wake up a mile or more from
where you went to bed, but at least you'll have your boat with you when you open
Have you opted to beach your boat, instead? I'm with you there. But be sure
your boat dry before hauling it out of the water. Your back will thank you
and so will your boat. Then, once you're both on land, make sure that all
float bags and other gear are well-secured. Coil your bow and stern lines, too.
Canoes are best stored "bottoms
up," overturned and allowed to come to rest on one gunwale, with their
bilges angled toward the prevailing
wind. A light breeze can lift a pack canoe, and a gale can make even a
freighter take flight. To get the most from whatever level ground you have, nest
all the canoes in your party together, well away from any trails. Lastly, if
you're the belt-and-suspenders type, or if strong winds are likely, lash the
nested canoes down. It's a nuisance, to be sure, but it's less of a nuisance
than running around in the dark, driving stakes and lashing guys during a sudden
Ashore, as afloat, kayaks are most comfortable resting right-side up. If you
don't want to give free passage to rainwater, insects, and small mammals
not to mention the odd snake or scorpion it's a good idea to close the
cockpit with a fitted cover. (If you lose your cockpit cover, a piece of heavy
plastic sheet will do in a pinch. Just lash it to the cockpit rim.) Kayaks can
fly, too, so be sure you tie them down. If you have long painters fitted, it's
easy to do: pair the boats off, secure the painters fore-and-aft, and then
stretch each boat's painter over its neighbor. Stake the painters down at the
bight and you're done. Paddles and other loose gear can be placed between the
Easy, isn't it?
Paddles and poles can
be laid on the ground under (or between) canoes, as well. Whatever you do, don't
leave them lying across the path to the privy, or leaning against trees or
rocks. To avoid tempting porcupines and other salt-hungry nibblers into
mischief, rinse the dried sweat off grips and shafts.
food are the main concerns here. Drown your campfire
before turning in. If, like many paddlers, you prefer a portable
stove, be sure it's cool, and then refill it before stowing it away
in your pack. Extinguish any lanterns, too, and don't leave lighters or matches
lying around. Put them where you can find them easily, somewhere they'll be
sheltered from the rain. (Matches can also attract nocturnal nibblers. They're
best stored in a metal or hard plastic match-safe.)
And speaking of uninvited guests, a clean camp is your best guarantee of an
uninterrupted night's sleep. Gut fish far from any likely camp site. Wash
all your cookware
and utensils every night, and dump the dirty water in a shallow (6-inch) "cat
hole" at least 150 feet from camp, lakeshore, or riverbank. (Fill in the hole
immediately afterward.) Never burn food or garbage in your fireplace, and don't
take food into your tent or sleeping bag. Farwell broke this rule only once. He
awoke to see a skunk sitting just beyond the foot of his sleeping bag, carefully
unbuckling the straps on his duffle. The skunk then extracted the remains of
Farwell's lunch and settled down to enjoy a good meal. After he finished, he
snuffled companionably about the tent for a few minutes before saying goodnight
and waddling off. Farwell resumed breathing shortly thereafter. It could have
been worse. It could have been a bear.
Ah, yes. Bears. In bear country and most North American canoe country
is also bear country it's best to double-bag food and to hang all food
packs. This also ensures that the resident squirrels and other diminutive
camp-followers get some much-needed exercise. But hanging may not be enough. In
many popular parks, the bears are now accomplished riggers and steeplejacks,
capable of getting into even the most ingeniously suspended pack in a matter of
a few minutes at most. Only tough plastic drums will discourage these Artful
Dodgers. And what if, despite your best efforts, a bear asserts a claim to your
food stores? Don't argue the point. Chances are good that he's bigger than you
are, and he's almost certainly better armed. Better to miss a few meals than to
become part of bruin's midnight snack.
Do I have to remind you not to deliberately feed wildlife? Ever? Under
any circumstances? I didn't think I did.
OK. Food packs get hung high. Any other packs that don't go into the tent can
be stored under (or in) your boats, or under a well-guyed tarp. Don't leave
loose gear lying around. Maps, notebooks, cameras,
are much too valuable to trust to the mercy of the wind and the rain, not to
mention the discretion of inquisitive passers-by, both two- and four-legged.
Rinse the sweat off your life jackets, dry them, and then tuck them into a
boat or a pack. (A freshwater rinse is a good idea after a day on the ocean,
too.) Hang any wet clothes on a line strung under a tarp. Use
clothespins if you have them. If not, twist two lines together and catch the
clothes between the two. I usually put wet or muddy boots just outside the tent
door, someplace where they're out of the way, yet sheltered by the fly and still
Don't forget to check the guy lines on your tent and tarp before calling it a
day. Taut but not drum-tight is right, though if either tarp or tent is cotton,
it pays to slacken the guys a bit. Even if you don't expect rain, cotton
swells (and shrinks) in the humid night air. Under some conditions, this may be
enough to yank tent pins right out of the ground or tear the fabric of a tent.
Once you're in your sleeping bag, place eyeglasses and flashlight near at hand.
Net storage-hammocks are good for this. And make sure your flashlight works!
A personal hygiene note for women only: Don't try to burn soiled sanitary
napkins or tampons, and don't bury them. Store them in sturdy, doubled, sealed
plastic bags, or even better in an air-tight, screw-top
plastic jar. Do NOT keep them in your tent. Hanging is best.
It's a long way from the wilds of New Jersey to a riverbank camp on the
Canadian Shield, but my grandfather's maxim is no less valid for all that. A
place for everything, and everything in its place. Compulsive organizers are
on to something. That midnight dash to the privy is less likely to end in a
slip-and-fall if you're wearing your glasses and your flashlight's in your hand,
rather than in some dark corner of the tent. You'll sleep better when you get
back, too, knowing that you won't be invited to join a grumpy bear for an early
breakfast. At least I know I will. 'Night, all!
Copyright © 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights