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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

One Foot in the Grave?

Paddling on After 50 —
Lighten Up!

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

January 2, 2007

As a young woman I never imagined I'd join the Go-Light Brigade. After all, I took pride in being "tough." Only sissies worried about the weight of their gear, and I was no sissy. Well, that was then. This is now. And I'd like to think I've gotten a little wiser over the years. Others might dispute this, I suppose, but one thing at least is certain — the years have made me older. When my joints pop, or my back refuses to bend, or my heart pounds loudly in my ears, I know I'm not as young as I used to be.

I also know I'm not alone. Canoeists and kayakers don't put down their paddles when they leave their youth behind them, but it isn't always easy to keep going, either. There's no such thing as passive paddling. That's both good and bad. We paddlers don't shrink from hard work. We welcome it. It's part of our sport. Yet sooner or later, in small matters and large, our bodies are bound to let us down. So — what do we do then? Toughing it out is one solution. And it works, at least for a while. But there's a better way: lightening up.

I know which appeals to me. Before going any further, however, I'd better make it clear that there are some things I won't ever do to lighten my load. To begin with, I won't cut the handle off my toothbrush, leave my journal at home, or live on nothing but pemmican. (Fat has the highest energy density of all foods, and pemmican is mostly fat. It's very efficient. But an all-fat diet gets mighty old mighty fast. Ask any voyageur.) Moreover, I can't afford to replace my boats with ultralight Kevlar® and carbon-fiber confections, nor am I interested in spending hundreds of dollars to shave a few ounces from my tent. There are limits, in short — limits of both purse and temperament — and I know what my limits are. What I want is something I can live with, all the time, even if that means…

Changing My Expectations

I'm no fan of fads, gurus, or quick fixes. More often than not, real change requires time, and it has to come from within. It also requires effort. The prescription for change is easy to write, in other words, but hard to swallow. The key? Don't try to do everything at once. Make incremental changes, and make them gradually. A backcountry campsite isn't an extension of your living room at home. Different standards of comfort and convenience apply. You can't take everything with you and still get away from it all. So adjust your expectations accordingly, and take as much time to get used to your new lightsized lifestyle as…well…as it takes. This is often difficult, but it can be done. Trust me. In my case, I began by…

Pruning My Gear List

Getting ready for a weekend trip once required that I combine the organizational acumen of a packaging engineer with the muscles of a stevedore. Portages were agony. Even cramming my stuff into the truck was exhausting. When paddling threatened to become more of a chore than a treat, however, I knew I'd had enough. So I took a long, hard look at my gear list. Did I really need three fly rods and enough fly boxes to stock the shelves of an outfitter's shop? Nope. One of each was enough. And did I have to bring a full batterie de cuisine to cook a few simple meals? No way! A couple of pots did the trick. Even my library of field guides took a hit. I almost never consulted more than one guide on any trip shorter than a week, so why did I need to carry eight? Why indeed? Item by item, I reconsidered all my "essentials," and one by one, I discovered that I could get along without many of them.

Give this a try. Look at all the things you took on your last trip and ask yourself how often you used each one. If the answer is "never," don't bring it on your next trip. On the other hand, if you used something every hour of every day, it stays in your pack. So far, no problem. But what if the answer lies somewhere in-between? That's the hardest call of all. My suggestion? Leave the in-between gear out and see how you cope. You, too, may discover that many essentials are anything but must-haves.

Of course, reducing the length of your gear list isn't the only way to lighten your load. Sometimes you've just got to…

Lose Weight

OK. I'm not talking about dieting here, though shedding any excess pounds you carry around under your skin never hurts. Just ask Farwell, who recently discovered that the hills around our home had suddenly gotten steeper. Or so it seemed. In any event, he was finding it much harder to climb them on his commuter bike. Was it his new studded tires, he wondered? Or had he put off cleaning his drivetrain too long? Or maybe it was just the December cold. Then he stepped on a scale, and the mystery was solved. All the holiday treats he'd been scarfing down, the eggnog and Yorkshire pudding and Stilton and hot chocolate and mulled cider, had left their mark. The upshot? The load he had to lift to the top of each hill had shot up by ten pounds in one month — and it didn't have anything to do with new tires. It was more like a spare tire, if you get my drift.

I'll come back to this in a minute. But now I'm talking about lightsizing your gear, not your bod. Begin by replacing that heavy wool sweater with a lightweight, quick-drying synthetic, for instance. I was the original natural-fiber girl, but I've been surprised how much of my ultralight cycling wardrobe now doubles as paddling wear. It keeps me cool when the weather is hot, warm when it's cold, and it drys in a flash whenever it gets wet. Who could ask for more? Not me.

Weight paring doesn't stop with your wardrobe. Take a look at the roof over your head, too. Next time out, if the bugs aren't biting, bring a tarp instead of a tent. You'll remove pounds from your pack in an instant. Not convinced? You say the bugs are always biting where you paddle? Then at least leave your heavy-duty mountaineering tent at home. I lugged a Himalayan special along on canoe trips for years. Big mistake. No. Very BIG mistake. A three-season tent that weighed half as much would have done just fine, and it would have been a lot cooler on hot summer nights, into the bargain.

Of course, software like clothes and tents isn't the whole story. We can't afford to ignore…

The Beasts Who Bear Us

Ah, yes, our boats. Farwell and I once owned a 20-foot freighter that weighed in at 110 pounds. And it was long a point of pride that I could portage Leviathan solo using only a pair of paddles as a yoke, not to mention carrying a pack on my back that added another 50 pounds or so to the total load. Still, as a widely read book reminds us, a haughty spirit goeth before a fall. And after tripping over exposed cedar roots, stumbling on rocks, and floundering in bogs for years, it dawned on me that I couldn't count on remaining an exception to this rule forever. Luckily, we also owned lighter canoes, and we had a a sturdy portage cart, too. It's hard to tell where the process of lightsizing will stop, but nowadays my favorite boat is a one-man (one-woman?) pack canoe. It rests easy on my back, and it floats almost as lightly over the portages as it does on the water — though I'll be the first to admit that it's not the perfect all-rounder. There are still many places where a tandem boat makes more sense, but my affair with the 110-pound freighter is history.

Speaking of lightsizing, this is a good time to remember that even though a paddler travels on her stomach, her pantry often makes the trip on her back. In other words…

Calories Count Twice

On day trips and weekend adventures it's not too important what you eat, but on longer expeditions it pays to watch your weight — the weight of your food pack, that is. A paddler's preferred medium is water, right? And one very good way to lighten up is to exploit this medium to the maximum. Leave the cans and fresh foods behind at home on long trips. Dried and dehydrated are where it's at. Why carry water on your back when it's all around you? Strip off any unnecessary packaging, too, repacking wherever necessary. It's that simple.

And speaking of counting calories, I probably ought to return to a point I made earlier: It's better to be fit than fat. Actually, fit is good in and of itself, whatever your girth. But fit and slim is better still. Of course, some folks find it easier to "make weight" than others. It's worth the effort, though. Every pound you lose is one less pound you'll have to haul up and over the next height of land. That's worth considering when someone offers you a second cup of eggnog.

 

All in all, lightening up is mostly a matter of intelligent accommodation. The years take their toll, and none of us can turn back the clock. That doesn't mean we can't keep paddling, though. Age may slow us down, but this only means we'll see more of the world around us. And that's why we paddle, isn't it?

I love making lists, but I've never drawn up a list of New Year's resolutions. Until now. There's a first time for everything, and this year, I promised myself I'd lighten up. Luckily, that's a resolution I'm sure I can keep! And what about you? Why not join me? You've got nothing to lose but a few unwanted pounds, after all.

Copyright 2007 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.
















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