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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

The Wellies that Walked, a Portage Yoke for a Kayak, the Secret of Brenna's Lost Smile, and More

August 31, 2004

Gentle Will was right. Summer's lease has far too short a date. But as the nights grow longer and the temperature drops, we're reminded that fall also has its share of pleasures. The first colors from autumn's palette are already tinting the maple woods. The biting flies are mostly gone. And Orion rises above the horizon a little earlier every evening.

We have more time to read, too. That's a good thing. Letters from readers arrive in our virtual mailbag every week, each one a window on the larger world beyond our river. Here's a sample of what we've been reading since the last "Our Readers Write." We hope you'll find it as interesting as we have.

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

Where Are the Wellies of Yesteryear?

I would like to buy a pair of wellies, but have no idea where they are available. I would appreciate a suggestion or two regarding chain stores, outdoor stores, or outdoor catalogs where they would be available. I have often seen knee-high, all-rubber, wader-type hunting boots, some with a closure band at the top, but do not know if these are wellies. They are heavy and don't usually fit snugly as per your description. They don't strike me as the boot that would do well on long portages. Help!


Tom Wasbotten
Minneapolis, Minnesota

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'll do my best, Tom. You're not alone. My wellies came from L.L.Bean, but the Freeport outfitter dropped them from its catalog a while back. I've babied my last pair, hoping Leon's heirs would have a change of heart. Now I can't wait any longer. So I'm looking for a substitute.

It's not easy. As you note, a good wellie is both reasonably light and snug-fitting around the ankle. Most "barn boots" and "hunter's pacs" are neither. A good wellie is also cheap. I'm lucky if I can make a pair last six months under normal circumstances — I wear wellies a lot, in summer and in winter — so it doesn't make much sense to spend more than thirty bucks or so. Taking all this into account, the most promising candidates I've seen so far are from the Cabela's catalog: an "uninsulated scent-free rubber boot" in brown at US$40; the LaCrosse Grange in olive drab, also US$40, and an "insulated Wellington" at US$30.

Being the cheapskate that I am, I'll probably give the insulated Wellington a try first. The light insulation shouldn't be a problem — even uninsulated wellies are hot in summer, and I usually wear thick wool socks, anyway — but I won't know if these boots are really what I'm looking for until I've trudged over a long portage in them. And what if they don't pass the portage trial? Then I guess I'll get a chance to put Cabela's "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" to the test.

Hope you find what you're looking for soon. Wish I could be of more help, but we're in the same boat on this one.

A Better (Waterproof) Bucket

Dear Tamia,

There is another way to keep things dry that you may want to put in a future article. In many of the grocery stores in Utah you can find a lid for a 5-gallon plastic bucket called a Gamma Seal™. They are made by Gamma Plastics, Inc., in San Diego (USA) and are available from a lot of mail-order places. I have found them in gray, red, yellow, and white, so you can use them to color-code your gear. They replace the regular snap-on lid (very hard to get off!) with a screw-on lid. The new lid has a rubber seal for both the snap-on portion that attaches to the bucket and for the screw-on lid. Gamma Seals are sold for air-tight food storage and are very good at keeping water out. Unlike the other food barrels, these have a handle on them so that you can just carry them like buckets around camp or on short portages. In addition, the seals have a recess so that the buckets with seals on them stack very nicely — a great way to store equipment like ropes, lanterns, stoves, etc., between trips.

Bryan Peterson

PS I forgot to mention one use of 5-gallon buckets around camp — they make great chairs!

When the Yoke's on You
(Portage Yokes for Kayaks)

Dear Tamia,

As a beginner kayaker, I have learned a great deal reading your and Farwell's articles at

One thing I was wondering, though: Is there a carrying yoke or some other device to carry the kayak on one's shoulders? I have been planning to make one if one does not exist. Perhaps someone else has come up with one, and you know of one I can construct. Thank you.

Nick Maselli

• • •

Tamia replies:

Glad to hear that you find our articles useful, Nick. Ready-made portage yokes for kayaks come and go. A few years back, it seemed that there was one in every outfitter's catalog. Now I have to look hard to find a single example.

You can easily make your own, however. Here are a couple of approaches:

  • Cut down a canoe yoke, re-engineering the clamps to fit your cockpit coaming. Be VERY careful, though. You'll probably have to build up the shoulder pads, too, so that your kayak rides high, with the cockpit coaming above your ears. You don't want to find yourself in a neck-hold trap if you slip or fall on the trail!

  • Modify a pack to serve as a kayak carrier. We've done this with a frame pack with good results. You'll find a brief description — and a simple sketch — in "Carrying and Launching a Kayak." I'm sure that something similar could also be done with most internal-frame packs, although it would require more extensive modification to provide the necessary support structure. It's certainly worth the effort. We really enjoyed being able to carry our boats and gear across the portages in one go.


There's no such thing as a free launch, though. If you opt to use a modified frame pack, you'll want to watch out for three things:

  1. When we devised our frame-pack carrier, we were using 35-pound touring boats. If your boat is much heavier, you may want to double-carry the portages, at least on longer or steeper trails. I would, at any rate.

  2. The frame can't be stowed inside most kayaks. We lashed ours to the stern decks of our boats, just aft of the cockpit, where they traveled in company with our break-down spare paddles. All this deck cargo looked a little untidy, but it worked fine. Of course, if you expect to encounter really heavy breaking seas, you should make sure all your lashings are bomb-proof. I'd also caution against carrying a LOADED pack on the stern deck on any but the calmest days. If you do, you'll find that your boat has become a pretty good imitation of a weather vane.

  3. When mounted on the frames for portaging, our kayaks were perched high over our heads. (You strap on the frame first, then lift the kayak into place. Practice makes perfect.) This gave excellent visibility, but the boats bobbed like dabbling ducks with each step. The solution? We rigged short painters leading to the bow and stern of each boat, holding both of them in one hand as we walked along. It was a little bit like curbing a skittish horse. Though the lines occasionally snagged on trailside brush, that was the only drawback. In fact, the painters made it easy to adjust the boat's "angle of attack" when climbing or descending steep slopes, either to improve visibility still more or to lessen the likelihood that we'd be dragging our tails. (OK. I'll come clean. Our tails are usually dragging after any steep climb, but you get the point, I'm sure.)

One more thing. If you decide against doing it yourself, you might want to check out the Knudsen Knu-Pack Kayak System. I've never used it, but it looks like an elegant alternative to our improvised frame carriers. Such elegance comes at a price, obviously. Still, it could easily be worth it.

I'm sure I haven't exhausted the possibilities. And you're probably not the only paddler looking for a portage yoke for his kayak. Perhaps other readers will suggest alternatives I haven't considered.

Water Bottle Blues

I read "Holding Our Water" with interest. I have been refilling Coke® and other plastic bottles with water and freezing them for ten years. I drink from them every day except Sunday. I deliver mail and most Saturdays I paddle. While paddling a couple of weeks ago, a couple said they had gotten an e-mail about the plastic breaking down when freezing and causing cancer. Have you heard this? Please let me know if you have and if it is true.

Miriam H. Stewart
Bay Minette, Alabama
West Florida Canoe Club

• • •

Tamia replies:

This sounds like a variation on a familiar theme, Miriam — a number of plastic-bottle chain-letters have been making the rounds. You'll find a brief history of the phenomenon at the Break the Chain website.

There are reasons to be somewhat leary of both new and reused or recycled plastic containers, of course. Bacterial and mold growth are two, although these problems also plague improperly cleaned, commercially-manufactured canteens and hydration-system bladders. Ordinary kitchen hygiene is perhaps the best response. Chemical contamination is another potential concern. Consumer Reports found traces of bisphenol A (an endocrine disrupter, or "gender bender") in bottled water from eight of ten commercial 5-gallon polycarbonate jugs they tested in 2000. Such jugs are used in home water dispensers, but many hikers' water bottles and flasks — and even wine glasses — are made from the same material. (Look for the letters "PC" molded somewhere on the bottom.) The health risks to humans that are associated with such contamination, if any, are currently unknown.

On the other hand, most sport-drink bottles and spring water bottles are fabricated from polyethylene terephthalate (abbreviated as PET or PETE). Consumer Reports apparently identified no instances of trace contamination from any PET container, and a recent Food Standards Australia–New Zealand (FSANZ) Fact Sheet "noted that although PET bottles are not intended for reuse, they do not present a chemical hazard if reused for a prolonged period." However, the Fact Sheet also goes on to caution that "bottles should be thoroughly rinsed and allowed to dry between uses to avoid potential microbiological risks from bacterial contamination." (Both quotations come from "PET Urban Myth Hits Australia," an article in the December 2003 edition of Health Stream, a publication of the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Water Quality and Treatment.)

Does this mean that PET bottles enjoy a clean bill of health? Yes and no. After all, the production and use of plastics entails both direct and indirect environmental and public-health costs, costs whose magnitude can now only be guessed at. And nothing precludes the discovery of hitherto-unrecognized health problems associated with the use of plastic containers — whether new or reused — at any time in the future. For the present, though, plastics are so nearly ubiquitous that it would be very difficult to avoid some exposure. Sort of makes you understand how a guinea pig feels, eh?

Over the Hills and Far Away

I've just finished reading Trip of a Lifetime. I really enjoyed it. However, I'm confused about the ending. The last sentence in the epilogue ends by saying that Brenna was no longer smiling. Was there something about the song that Sergei was singing?


Jonathan Taylor

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm very glad you enjoyed Trip, Jonathan. The song is "Over the Hills and Far Away," a marching tune that dates back to the 17th century. Like many other marching songs, "Over the Hills" is more than a patriotic anthem. It's also a romantic ballad and an ironic commentary on the uncertainties of a soldier's life. Brenna recognizes the tune. (Maybe she heard Dominic Muldowney sing it while the credits rolled in one of the Sharpe videos that aired on PBS a few years back.) As she listens to Sergei, she's reminded that all the men around her are former soldiers, and that none of them has emerged from "his" war entirely unscathed. Suddenly, the night air seems chill.…

That's how it might have been, at any rate, if we'd thought it through beforehand. But writing fiction is a little like navigating in a fog: a lot of it is done by feel. At the time we wrote the closing lines of the novel, it just seemed right that we end the story with an implied question. So we did.

That's it for now. As always, our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who took the time to write to us. Please keep telling us what's on your mind. It's Our Readers Write!

Editors' note: No letter appears without the writer's permission. All letters may be edited for publication.

Copyright 2004 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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