Our Readers Write
Catching Up as Summer Winds Down
August 29, 2006
To err is human, goes the familiar
refrain to which many of us now add, silently or otherwise, depending
on the circumstances, but to really foul things up requires a
computer. This is probably going too far. Truth to tell, we're often
tempted to excuse our own mistakes by attributing them to our electronic
helpmeets. After all, the computer can't complain, can it? Still, there's no
denying the power of the microchip to compound and propagate human blunders.
A case in point: The In the Same Boat team has had its share of
computer problems over the last year, ranging from a proliferation of sticky
keys to multiple hard-drive failures to home network crashes. But we never
lost any data. Or so we thought. Imagine our surprise, then, when we
discovered a treasure trove of unanswered mail recently during a routine bout
of housekeeping. At first, we were tempted to attribute this lapse to a
computer failure. That excuse didn't hold up for long, however, and we were
soon forced to admit that the culprit was old-fashioned human error a
simple mistake in labeling a mail folder after a system crash. So be it. To
err is human, right?
Of course, this leaves us with a stack of unanswered letters, many of them
a year or more old. What to do? Answer them, obviously. Which brings us to
the latest installment of "Our Readers Write,"
our periodic attempt to keep abreast of our column correspondence. The last time
we showcased readers' mail, summer was only just beginning to touch the
northern reaches of North America. What a difference three months can make!
The summer solstice is long gone, and the days are already noticeably
shorter. Weeks of searing hot weather have given way to cold nights, foggy
mornings, and the first hints of red in the maples. School vacations are
coming to an end, and paddlers are poring over the pictures from their
holiday adventures. Summer seems to have ebbed as quickly as ripples on a
Luckily, this is as good a time as any to catch up. We've got a lot of old
mail to answer, and new letters keep coming in. So beginning this month,
we're going to mix old and new, until we've worked our way through the
backlog created by our blunder. Here goes!
Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest,
In the Same Boat
Cooks, Too, Adore a Vacuum
Have you experienced the magic of thermos cooking? While preparing a
hearty breakfast you can also slow-cook wild rice or a lentil stew as you
paddle toward lunch. Simply preheat that stainless
wide-mouthed vacuum wizard with boiling water for a few minutes, then use
the "cooled steam" the preheating water to make hot drinks. Now
place lentils, rice, or another slow-cooking food inside the thermos,
followed by a second batch of boiling water. Upon opening four or five hours
later, discover wonderfully cooked contents that are moist and never burned.
(Warning! If you wait until dinner an even greater surprise awaits
over-cooked mush.) This method not only saves a ton of time at stove-side,
but a considerable amount of cooking fuel, too.
You're making my mouth water, Gloria. I've made oatmeal in a thermos, but
nothing more ambitious. I'll have to give your suggestion a try. Thanks for
Hoarders and Tinkers
An excellent article ["Hoarder's
Treasure A Water Bag That Costs You Nothing" -Ed]! I have made
water carriers from the plastic bags that creamer comes in these can
be found at some convenience stores and from the bags that milkshake
mix comes in (usually obtained from burger-in-a-box places). My wife and I
are both teachers, therefore we have a seemingly unending supply of tote bags
which I use to hold the plastic bags. I wind up with a $25 water carrier for
By the way, I think a distinction should be made in the "hoarder"
category. All tinkers folks who make "new" items from discarded ones
are hoarders, but not all hoarders are tinkers! I've got an old
wheelchair that is begging to be turned into a collapsible canoe-kayak
cart. I'm just waiting for the idea to finish developing in my mind!
After I make the hauler, I'll send you drawings and/or pictures.
Thanks for your good articles.
Yet another good idea, Art. My parents owned a small diner, and they
bought milk in large five- or ten-gallon plastic bags with long nozzles.
These would have made good water carriers or float bags though getting
rid of all traces of milk would have been a big job. You're right in thinking
that not all hoarders are tinkers, too. My grandfather was a hoarder, but he
was no tinker. Good thing his father (my great-grandfather) was a
machinist. Great-granddad put a lot of his son's "junk" to good use over the
It's always a pleasure to get your letters, Art. We look forward to
hearing from you again.
And We Did!
A New Use for Water Seal
Another excellent article, this one on maps and map
cases. I have used brush-on waterproofing compound for some of my maps
with good success. The best-known brand name is probably Thompson's
Water Seal, but store brands work just as well. After the liquid
penetrates the map and dries, the map can be folded as usual and written on
with a pencil. The Water Seal seems to give the map added strength, but
I have not tested that idea to prove or disprove it.
Thanks again for the articles.
You're welcome, Art. And many thanks for your letters. I've never used
Thompson's Water Seal on maps, but I'll certainly give it a try
Batteries Not Included
The Case for Staying Found
I just read your article
about loving maps, learning to read them, and waterproofing them. It was
great to hear someone else fighting the technology which is invading the
I am always amazed at how limited is the navigation knowledge of the
average outdoor enthusiast. I always thought that the point was to get back
to the simplicity of surviving (comfortably) with the "home in your pack (or
boat)" attitude. I guess that gearheads have been around since the early '70s
when new technology was beginning to make inroads into the outdoor sports'
world, but it is getting a bit out of hand now. Stores even market and
I guess that people buy little plastic clips to attach a rope to a
tarp. Haven't these people ever heard of a pebble? Most of the folks I have
been out with are still amazed that I know more than one
kind of knot, not to mention how useful this knowledge is. (This has
become a bit of a rant, I suppose, but your article hit a nerve with me, and
that nerve runs through my whole outdoor experience.)
I am still goofing around with the ultimate map system, but my bane is the
folds. Everything of importance on every map or nautical chart is bound to be
obliterated by a worn fold, you know. So I am trying to scan my maps
(purchased) and then print them with overlapping sections on small pages for
the Ziploc® bag. This is not great for open water where you have to fix
a point in the distance and need to open a full-sized map, but it gets rid of
My big beef with navigation is that most of the land and river instruction
that you can get in books is useless unless you are up in the mountains. The
texts invariably tell you how to locate obvious landforms and take bearings
on them to triangulate your position. I live in Ontario and the bush comes to
the edge of the river and you cannot see 100 feet away. I learned to read
maps in Scouts, in geography class in school, in the military on land, and
then learned to navigate ships as a naval officer. The best thing to do most
of the time is to use a watch and get a sense of how fast you travel on a
lake, on a river, or on a trail with your pack and then just dead
reckon! Apparently, though, this involves too much effort in remembering
to note how fast you traveled across a lake or up a trail with a pack.
Let us hope that not too many high-tech, extreme adventurers die after
getting lost in the wilds when their GPS packs it in. I also hope that the
value of gaining knowledge and practicing like you did "at your grandfather's
knee" will be recognized, and that it will motivate others to earn their
right to be out there, independent and secure. The instant gratification
trend is flawed. We all know we treasure what we have worked at and earned.
Keep talking about the map and compass and maybe more of us will find
We're of a mind about maps, navigation, and the value of learning basic
map-and-compass skills, Steve. Though I've acquired my share of electronic
gadgets over the years, I prefer to keep things simple. As you suggest,
knowledge and attention to detail are the keys to staying
found, particularly in low-relief environments. The elements of dead
reckoning belong in every paddler's skill set.
The Peripatetic Ponchos
piece on ponchos. We paddle in the rain a LOT in my part of the world.
(I'm weird. I actually love to paddle in the rain, with the sound and pattern
of raindrops but only if I am comfortable.) You got it right. Ponchos
are the best way to go by far for dry protection and ventilation, and as you
said, versatility. I won't risk using mine for a groundsheet, however, due to
the chance of poking holes. But that's a personal decision, easily changed if
For backpacking in forest with no wind, I sometimes put two small sticks
extending forward from the upper corners of my pack and attach the corners of
my poncho to them. That makes a tarp-like roof over my head extending out in
front a bit, that runs back and down over my pack. It extends out to the
sides enough for considerable protection. In summer rain this allows me to
backpack in shorts and T-shirt and stay dry, fully ventilated, and
A fondness for paddling in the rain isn't weird, Len. Rainy days are
wonderful times to be out and about, particularly if you want to avoid the
madding crowd and catch a glimpse of the local wildlife. Your point about the
hazards of making a poncho do double duty is well taken, too. Luckily, I
don't often have problems, and when I do a duct-tape
patch keeps the water at bay till I can make a more permanent repair.
This probably explains why I like military-surplus ponchos. They stand up to
abuse and they're cheap!
I find your idea for improving ventilation when hiking in the rain
intriguing. It's something else I'm going to have to try. Thanks for
Regarding your articles on car-topping [see "Landlocked:
Taking Your Boat on the Road" and links -Ed]: You show a less than
satisfactory example in one
illustration, where bow and stern lines are both pulling forward on a
canoe. The lines are still useful in that they do prevent the boat from
tipping fore and aft, but control under braking can be enhanced by adding one
additional line from the front of the canoe to the forward crossmember of the
roof rack or foremost roof rail, in order to take the strain while braking.
This will make the boat pretty secure provided the roof rack is up to
it, of course.
Thanks for the brilliant articles.
Sounds like a good idea to me, Jef, and a useful addition to the
discussion in my follow-up
piece for Guidelines. Anything that improves the security of a
car-topped boat under hard braking gets my vote.
Little Trips, Big Rewards
I just read your "KISS and
Tell" article. Nicely done. I'm relatively new to paddling and eagerly
looking forward to a Big Trip. The reality is I probably will be lucky to do
one every year or so. The good news is that I live in Southeast Tennessee
where we have numerous opportunities to paddle, from huge lakes to almost
pristine rivers. I'll keep your advice in mind and enjoy more "Little Trips."
Thanks for putting things in perspective.
I'm glad you enjoyed the article, Gary. With so many beautiful paddling
spots in eastern Tennessee, I'm sure you'll find plenty of opportunities for
adventures while you make plans for your next Big Trip.
The Simple Life
I've been enjoying your
articles for years, but I just wanted to express my appreciation for your
article on simplicity. I too have done the Big Trips, carried
a pack I could hardly lift, lugged an ammo box with a big camera, and also
felt like I was looking at life through a viewfinder. Now looking at water
lilies with a grandchild in my favourite canoe gives me as much pleasure as
swatting blackflies on the Thelon ever did.
Thank you for your kind words, Dave. It's hard to exaggerate the virtues
of simplicity, isn't it? And I'll bet your grandkids will long remember their
days on the water in your company. Happy paddling!
We couldn't end on a more cheerful note, could we? After all, passing
along our passion for paddling to a younger generation is certainly
rewarding, even when the destination is as close as a pond in the backyard.
As always, our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who took the time to send
us their comments and questions, not to mention the many helpful hints and
tips. Keep it up. After all, it's "Our Readers Write."
A little fine print: We'll assume that it's OK to reprint any
letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for
Publication" at the head of your letter.) We will never put your
e-mail address on-line unless you specifically ask us to, however. Letters
may also be edited for length and clarity, and we'll add links to articles or
other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.
Copyright © 2006 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights