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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Singing in the Rain!

Wet Weather Doesn’t Have to Dampen Your Spirits

By Tamia Nelson

October 7, 2008

Let It Rain!Back in the day, before the Age of the Internet, personal ads filled many pages in local papers, including the classified-ad freesheets that could be had for the taking at any HyperMart or ser-sta-gro. These ads always made enlightening reading, even if you weren’t in the market for a new life-partner, and I was surprised to learn just how many folks enjoyed taking long walks in the rain. Moreover, they all sought soul-mates who shared their enthusiasm. And why was I surprised? Well, Farwell and I actually spent quite a few days each year walking (and paddling) in all weathers, both in the course of our work and in our free time. And while we could usually count on meeting plenty of other couples on balmy summer days when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, whenever it rained we often had the woods and the waters to ourselves, particularly if the rain was more than a passing shower. ’Twas indeed a puzzlement, and I couldn’t help but wonder where all the romantics who advertised their pluvial passions in the local freesheets had got to. Now, some years on, I’m still wondering. I still go out in the rain—if I didn’t, I’d have stayed indoors all this past summer!—but I don’t meet many other folks when I do. What’s going on here?

The answer is obvious to anyone who spends much time in the wet, of course. Rain, especially cold, wind-driven, insistent rain, is not an aid to romance. At best, it’s uncomfortable, in much the same way as a toothache is uncomfortable: a constant, unpleasant distraction. And at worst? Pretty bad, indeed. In fact, cold rain can kill you, damping all your essential internal fires until, little by little, they die down and then go out. That said, most backcountry travelers manage to cope with rain. A few lucky souls even learn to enjoy it. I’m happy to say I’m one of these lucky ones, and so is In the Same Boat reader Len Cowan, who writes, “I actually love to paddle in the rain.” He cites the pleasure to be had from intimate observation of “the sound and pattern of raindrops.” So far, so good. However, he immediately adds a very important proviso: “but only if I’m comfortable.” Good point, Len. Comfort is king in most things in life, and nowhere is this more true than when you find yourself paddling through a soaking drizzle.

The upshot? If you hanker after long walks in the rain, or if you just want to paddle whenever you can—and enjoy it, whatever the weather throws your way—then Job One is obviously…

Finding Your Comfort Zone

And staying in it. There are two parts to this. The first is pretty obvious: minimize the pain. Veteran paddlers are old hands at the game. Portage yokes make carrying a heavy boat bearable. Foam pads shield us from the assaults of rocks and roots and ease our way to a good night’s sleep. Efficient technique and proper conditioning lessen the inevitable strain on wrists, knees, and back during a long day’s struggle against the relentless opposition of the Old Woman. (Taking occasional short breaks helps a lot, too.) Similarly, the right gear and good habits can make even heavy rain less of a pain.

So much for the first part. What’s the second? Just this: Learning to cope. That’s shorthand for redefining your Comfort Zone, or mastering the art of shrugging off the inevitable small nuisances and uncertainties of backcountry travel. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Not, at least, in an era of womb-to-tomb and door-to-door Climate Controlled Environments, of La-Z-Boy® lifestyles and Total Entertainment Awareness. But it is possible. And it’s worth it. There’s a world awaiting discovery outside our doors, but we have to open the door first, and then we have to step out, whether or not there are clouds in the sky.

Seen in that context, a little rain is pretty small beer. Of course, thunderstorms are Something Else. Lightning is frightening, and for good reason. The best policy when Thor begins to sling his hammer is to get off the water ASAP and do whatever you can to avoid being mistaken for a lightning rod. There’s Rain on the Way!

But what about your everyday summer shower? Or for that matter, what about a chilling, swirling, autumnal drizzle? Look to your first line of defense. Stay dry and keep warm. Efficient waterproof but (more or less) breathable shell garments make all the difference, though you’ll want to make sure that the shell you choose permits a full range of motion—paddling in a straitjacket is no fun. The old-fashioned poncho isn’t too bad in camp, but it’s not a good choice in a boat, where it can do malign double duty as a drogue in any headwind (or even a shroud, if you should be unfortunate enough to capsize). That takes care of your outer layer. Synthetic fleece sweaters “complete your look.” They help trap the heat from your internal fires and keep it where it will do the most good. (Not a fan of synthetics? No problem. You’re ahead of the curve here. Luckily, wool is also excellent wet-weather warmwear. There’s a bonus, too: wet wool smells wonderful, at least to me.) And don’t stop with your core. Your extremities need attention, as well. Hands, feet, and head all deserve protection, and a brimmed hat has an additional virtue—it shields your glasses.

Still, don’t fool yourself. If you paddle in the rain, you’ll get wet, or at least damp, if not from the rain itself, then from your own sweat. This is where your second line of defense comes in: coping. If you’re warm, well-nourished and fit, a little damp needn’t spoil your day. Don’t let it. Snack regularly. Drink often. (A thermos is a welcome companion on a blustery day.) Add or remove layers of fleece as required. Above all, enjoy. Take in the beauty all around you—the pattern of rain drops on water, the vivid colors of the hills, the spiraling tendrils of mist, the gabble of distant geese… In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff. Open your eyes and ears. Open yourself to the larger world. That’s why you’re out on the water, isn’t it? Of course it is!

Keeping the Water OutOK. You’re dry and warm and enjoying the view. What next? Look after your gear. This is a no-brainer for paddlers—at least for any paddlers who’ve ever gone for an unplanned swim. (And this means most paddlers.) Packing our stuff to keep the water out is second nature to us. And don’t forget to keep your maps in waterproof cases and your GPS under wraps (if you aren’t certain it will survive a dunking, that is). After all, staying found is doubly important on rainy days, when landmarks and seamarks are often obscured.


But what if the rain doesn’t end at the end of the day? If you’re getting into your car to head back home, it’s not a problem. On the other hand, if you’ll be spending the night in camp, you face new challenges. If you’re going to stay in your Comfort Zone, you’ll need…

River CampA Good Meal and a Sound Sleep

This is easier if you have room to spread out. A couple of paddlers may find a four-man tent to be a perishing nuisance on the portage trail, but it’s a mighty welcome retreat in wet weather, especially if it has a generously cut fly with an ample overhang. A separate tarp is also worth the extra weight and bulk. Think of your tarp as a sort of Comfort Zone annex, a sheltered place to cook and eat and relax. (In a pinch, a tarp can also be rigged as a canoe shelter. This is handy if someone in your group loses his or her gear—or if you just want a bedroom with a view.)

Of course, comfort in camp begins with good site selection. Choose a sheltered place, but avoid big trees and dead limbs on windy days. Give yourself plenty of time to find the right site. Don’t wait until dusk to begin looking. This is particularly important in the fall. Days are shorter and nights are long. Plan accordingly. Once you’ve found a suitable camp, put your tarp up first. That gives you a sheltered space to unpack and change into your camp clothes. (I keep a set for just this purpose. Slip-on pacs make great wet-weather camp shoes, too.) Then set up your tent and light your stove. A hot drink makes any camp seem more like home. If you’re tempted to light a fire—and there’s no denying that a wood fire is a cheery addition to any rainy-day camp—give careful thought to the wind direction, and consider the possible effect of the clouds of sparks that are likely to be sent heavenward. These can turn a tarp into a sieve in no time. They don’t do synthetic fleece much good, either. You may decide to stick to your stove.

And so to bed. Come dawn, you’ll wake to a sunny day. At least you hope it will be sunny. But what if it’s not? What if you wake to another rainy day? What then? Easy. Just reverse the tape, so to speak. You want to keep dry things dry. Pack your bedding and camp clothes, then strike your tent and continue your packing under the shelter of the tarp. (To keep your tent “bedroom” as dry as possible, pack the tent fly separately, if you can.) Eat breakfast under your tarp, too, and clean up afterward. Then douse your fire (if any), take down the tarp, and head out into the wet, sparing a moment before you get under way to double-check that you’ve left nothing behind.


Or give Plan B a try instead. If both your schedule and your temperament permit it, why not sample…

The Pleasures of Indolence

Few things in life are more delightful than a rainy day in a backcountry camp—if you’re warm, dry, and well-fed. Have an extra cup of coffee or another pot of tea. Bake some bannock. Make a stew. Finish that book you can never find time to read at home. Watch the ducks and geese wheel over the water. Write in your journal. Paint a picture. Nap. Or…You might even want to go for a long walk in the rain with your sweetie. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Do rainy days and Mondays always get you down? Well, you can’t do anything about Mondays, but here’s some good news: rain doesn’t have to spoil your day. In fact, with the right wardrobe and a small attitude adjustment, you’ll discover that rainy days add a new dimension to your appreciation of the beauty of the backcounty. And who knows? You may just find yourself singing in the rain!

Copyright © 2008 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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