Our Readers Write
Warm Thoughts in a Cold Season
December 29, 2009
The view from our windows is a portrait in gray and white. The trees in the nearby woods crackle and boom in sub‑zero cold, freezing fog swirls over the falls on The River, and crashing floes chime like a demented handbell chorus in the swiftwater channel between the ice shelves at the Narrows. The beaver ponds and sheltered bays are silent, however, their glazed surfaces stretching unbroken from shore to shore, while chickadees and nuthatches chatter fitfully in dense stands of hemlock. Midwinter's Day may be history, and the sun may have already started on its long journey back north, but winter won't loosen its grip on Canoe Country any time soon.
Of course, this doesn't mean canoeists and kayakers aren't already thinking of spring. In fact, some hardy folks are still paddling. So it's no surprise that readers have been keeping our mail bag full with all manner of letters since the last "Our Readers Write" went online in September. And what's on our readers' minds? Just about everything having to do with canoeing and kayaking, from photography to food to breaking the ice (and no, I'm not talking about making new friends here, though that's always nice). Want to know more? You've come to the right place. Read on. And send us a note if you're so minded. After all, this is "Our Readers Write."
— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat
Make Mine Dry!
Tamia's article on staying alive when the thermometer dives drew several letters, including these two:
Drysuits are only expensive if you consider human life cheap. In Oregon we wear them for whitewater canoeing from October through June.
That's admirably succinct, Mark, but it's also somewhat misleading. Drysuits are expensive, full stop. Whether or not the cost is excessive is a decision for the individual paddler. It's my job to show folks what alternatives are available, and to outline the relative merits (and drawbacks) of each. Then it's up to readers to weigh the risks and benefits for themselves, in the light of their own individual circumstances. I wouldn't presume to do this for them.
Bottom line: While I'd agree that a well‑maintained drysuit worn over suitable undergarments offers more protection than a wetsuit — and I think my article makes this clear — I'd rather have a cash‑strapped canoeist or kayaker buy a wetsuit than make do with flannel‑lined jeans and a sweatshirt while waiting for the day when he (or she) could afford a drysuit. Sometimes the best is truly the enemy of the good.
That said, I appreciate the rhetorical force of your implied comparison. It certainly drives home the importance of proper cold‑season clothing. (Mark wrote back later to say that while he was in broad agreement with the thrust of my original article, he felt that the drysuit was so clearly superior to the wetsuit that "it deserved [more] emphasis." A fair point, I think — and a vital one for any paddler to consider before venturing out in winter.)
A Dispatch From the Winter Navy
I've been a member of the "winter navy" for quite a while now. Here in Western Michigan, we have to go out in early winter because by midwinter the rivers are too swollen with ice to make for a happy trip (that's experience speaking here…). One of my favorite trips was kayaking the Thornapple here in Hastings on the afternoon and eve of the new millennium. Four of us took off and did a four‑hour trip before it got too dark. Since then, we've also done some full‑moon midnight paddles in mid‑December when the ice shelves jut out a couple of feet from shore and the banks are snow covered. It makes for a wondrous night, and the wildlife you see is amazing!
My personal gear is a pair of neoprene chest waders with water shoes. That way bulky boots aren't hindering my movement. Under the waders are wool pants, cotton long johns, and polypro long johns. Up top, I use a similar layering, but underneath my life vest is a tight fitting jacket that ties at the tails which keeps water out quite nicely! (Again, experience talking!) I use neoprene gauntlets (of the sort duck hunters and trappers use) for my paddling gloves in winter. I put a polypro glove on the inside for sweat wicking and a little added warmth.
So far we've only had one accident, and that was because we were being foolish by trying to be icebreakers with our kayaks. Two of us got dumped by an ice shelf that didn't budge when we hit it. Once we were on top of it, it gave way, and it and a log provided the leverage to roll us back up. Neither of us got wet enough to get cold, so we kept going. I wouldn't recommend summer antics in the river, but you can certainly enjoy a conservative paddle without too much danger involved as long as you have the right preparations and clothing.
Here's a picture of me as we took off on the 31st of December, 2000. We didn't get the millennium trip on film. We forgot the camera!
That's quite a story, Steve. Moonlight paddles are magical in any season, but they're doubly so on a still winter's night. Freezing‑cold waterways aren't a good place for novice paddlers to get their feet wet, of course, but as your example proves, experienced and properly‑equipped boaters can keep paddling well into winter. Danger is ever‑present in icy waters, to be sure, but it needn't be an absolute barrier to paddlers prepared both to accept the inevitable risksand to deal with mishaps if and when they arise.
I'm intrigued by your wardrobe hints. While I've kayaked in stocking‑foot waders, I've never done so in winter. It's an ingenious adaptation to conditions, though I'd substitute a second pair of poly long johns for the cotton pair myself — and I'd make very sure I'd zipped up my life vest before paddling away from the put‑in. Unless the inherent flotation of neoprene waders is offset by a snug‑fitting PFD, they exhibit a disconcerting tendency to hold your feet up while forcing your head down. And I've never had much luck breathing through my toes.
Photography and paddling go together, and even if canoeing and kayaking shutterbugs hang up their paddles for a few months when the days are shortest and the waters are coldest, most of us keep shooting right through winter. Perhaps that's why Tamia's "Backcountry Photography" series — which began in the depth of winter last year — has drawn so much mail, including these letters from a couple of readers who passed on their own tips for taking pictures in the cold…
Keeping Feet and Hands Warm
I, too, have faced the winter clothing and photography problem.
In the deep snow where I live, I have found Chota Quicklace mukluks (purchased for paddling, of course!) work very well. They are light and non‑bulky yet warm, and, as the top can be tightened, snow doesn't pour in.
As for my hands, I've found a pair of skiing gloves of a design similar to the Chota Stow‑a‑Way flip mitts, with fingertip‑less gloves on the inside and a mitten that can be flipped back or pulled over one's fingers on the outside. This keeps all but one's fingertip ends from being exposed. Works lots better than taking one's gloves off to shoot a picture.
Waterproof mukluks are wonderful all‑season wear, Anna — I own a pair myself — and the convertible "flip" mitts sound like a great choice for winter photography, as well. I've used convertible mitts for cold‑weather cycling in the past. Now I'll be sure to give them a try the next time I'm in the woods.
Warm Hands and a Ready Camera
I got a Nikon D‑60 camera kit for Christmas, and I have a "bino strap" for my binoculars. So, to make carrying the camera easier, I put bino rings on the camera. Then I found some small‑strap snap‑hooks at my local surplus store and put the snap‑hooks on my neck strap. I can now carry my cameras with either a bino‑strap or a neck strap. This makes putting the camera under my coat a lot easier. I also have coated my LED screen with clear protective plastic to prevent scratching.
The other thing I do is to use a set of moosehide choppers to keep warm. I got them large enough to accommodate a pair of convertible glove‑mittens that I wear underneath. That way I have my fingers exposed but not my whole hand when adjusting the focus on either my camera or binoculars. If it's not too cold I just wear my mitts alone.
Thanks for paddling along,
Congratulations on your new camera, Ric! Your bino strap alternative to the conventional neck strap is ingenious, and your solution to cold hands is just the ticket.
Paddlers love to eat, and no wonder. It takes a lot of energy to pull a boat through the water, especially when the Old Woman gets in your face. Not having to count calories is one of the rewards of being active. So let's dig in and read what folks have to say about a few of their favorite foods…
More Bean Soup, Please!
I'd make a couple of changes to your recipe for bean soup. First, delete the celery! Then add a touch of God's nectar: maple syrup. I usually put in about an eighth of a cup. Now stir in half a cap of liquid smoke to really add some depth to the pot. I like to use the seven‑ or nine‑bean dried mix with some diced ham. Ham hocks are good too. Maple‑smoked turkey jerky is to die for!
Sounds good to me, Steve — particularly the maple syrup garnish. Bean soup is wonderfully versatile, not to mention filling.
Unsolicited e‑mail may be the bane of life online, but there's one kind of SPAM that a lot of folks can't get enough of — the kind that comes in a can. So it's no surprise that Tamia's article on "the meat we hate to love" elicited a lot of mail. Here's just a sample:
Since my company has cut out all routine overtime, my paycheck is shrinking, so lately we have been eating a lot of SPAM: SPAM sandwich spread (like ham salad), SPAM mac‑and‑cheese, etc.
A few months ago my wife and I drove 45 minutes to a SPAM cook‑off. The food was great, and I got a recipe there for SPAM‑stuffed mushrooms! It has won nationwide contests, and the SPAM‑stuffed mushrooms taste like sausage‑filled mushrooms. There was a reporter at the cook‑off who liked my SPAM logo hat, and he took a picture of me for his paper's website.
Loved your article. I think we will have some tonight for dinner, but what to make? I have a lot of leftover cabbage, but no corned beef, so…SPAM and Cabbage. Just invented it. Better buy some Beano first, though!
PS. The SPAM and Cabbage was great! Some mustard and horseradish sauce, and it was excellent. By the way, SPAM is Number One in Hawaii, I guess because of the pineapple. Shane Victorino of the World Series Champion Phillies is from there, and his favorite sandwich is SPAM with a pineapple slice, plus a slice of tomato and lettuce.
Sounds like the cook‑off was a real Monty Python moment, Tracy. Thanks!
SPAM with Maple Syrup
SPAM! Now you're talking. Yummy! Don't forget SPAM and Beans with some of the Lord's sap.
It May be Bad, But…
Just a quick note to say I loved the article on SPAM. It's in my canoe pack on every trip. It is also a staple in the cupboard. There are days when you just have to have some. It may be bad, but it's, oh, so good!
PS. SPAM‑lovers from south of the border who venture north into Canada may be disappointed to learn that they won't find this backcountry staple in every grocery store. Luckily, though, there's a Canadian counterpart: Klik. It's manufactured by Maple Leaf Foods. Nutritionally, Klik is similar to SPAM, with a few differences. A bit more cholesterol, 220 mg less sodium, and four percent more iron. Its appearance is a bit redder than SPAM, and it seems to fry up greasier, but its fat content is less — both total fat and saturated fat. I think that is because it isn't ground up quite as fine as SPAM. The fat appears as little globules throughout, where SPAM has a consistent look and texture. When fried up, Klik tastes like SPAM. Even my 12‑year‑old picky eater son (who likes SPAM) thinks so.
So, whenever you're in Canada, look for the blue can of Klik, eh? And thanks again for your great articles on Paddling.net!
Gourmet SPAM? Yes!
I paddled out to the island on my lake with some friends and I brought…SPAM, Swiss cheese and Triscuits! With a bottle of Pinot gris, all was good. You should have seen the look on the foodies' faces! There weren't any leftovers, though.
SPAM Jerky? Sure!
I enjoyed your article about SPAM, and since I have enjoyed that product all my life was anxious to print out your article, but my computer won't do it. Oh, well! Anyway I have a recipe for SPAM Jerky I would like to share:
- 1 12‑ounce can SPAM
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ teaspoon fresh horseradish
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon liquid smoke
- as much Scotch bonnet sauce as you can stand
Cut SPAM into 12 slices. Pile the slices on top of each other and make two more cuts all the way through to make 36 pieces. Put the remaining eight ingredients in a sealable plastic bag. Swish around and add the SPAM. Marinate 12 hours to two days in the refrigerator. To dehydrate, place on drying trays but do not overlap the slices. If any oil appears — and it will! — pat dry with paper towels. Dehydrate until the SPAM is chewy, not crunchy.
I have had fun with this stuff in that most of my outdoor friends won't go near SPAM. But after the second time taking it backpacking and canoeing with friends and challenging them repeatedly to try it, finally one of the guys did, and he liked it well enough to ask me for more later that day. Then another guy tried it, and so goes the story. Try it. You'll like it!
Great story, Ron. SPAM jerky? Why not?
I'm sorry you had trouble printing out the column, though. Paddling.net's resident wizards are looking into the problem. Until the fix is in, however, try this workaround: simply "print" the article from the page as a PDF. It works for me with both Safari and Firefox, though I'm afraid I can't say what luck you'll have with Internet Explorer. If all else fails, drop us a line and tell us the article you're interested in. We'll send you a copy as an e‑mail attachment.
Obviously, SPAM is a popular backcountry (and home kitchen) staple, but other foods engender fierce loyalties, as well. Take Nutella, for instance. Tamia wrote about this delicious chocolate and hazelnut spread a while back, and then the letters started coming in…
A Bargain Hazelnut and Chocolate Spread
Just read your article about Nutella and I agree — it doesn't get better than that! I'm English, so am quite familiar with it. Anyway, I thought you'd like to know that World Market makes a similar spread. It's just as good and half the price.
I need to head to the kitchen now for a hazelnut fix!
Just as good at half the price? That sounds like a winner to me, Jeanette. Thanks for the tip!
How About S'mores?
I haven't tried this yet, but I'm thinking Nutella would be great for making s'mores. Use Nutella as a substitute for the messy melted chocolate bar. Graham crackers, Nutella, and roasted marshmallow.
Hmm… S'mores. It's been too long. Much too long. I'll have to give this a try, Russell. Thanks!
Chocolate is wonderful and hazelnuts rock, but no backcountry cook's pantry would be complete without a very different sort of treat: glorious, gutsy garlic!
Garlic With Everything
(And Don't Forget the Aluminum Foil)
When I was in Vietnam I ate a lot of garlic to make C‑rations and "long rats" (freeze‑dried Long Range Patrol rations) taste good. I also found that as it came through the skin pores, garlic kept many of the bugs away, including the water and land leeches. I have always been a garlic lover. Thank you for your article.
PS. Remind paddlers to buy heavy‑duty foil for foil cooking. It will not burn through in coals, and makes a great improvised pot. After use, don't bury or throw away. Instead, fold it and put it with recycled cans. They pay good money for it. My kids love hamburger meat, onions, diced potatoes, seasoned salt all wrapped up in the foil, then placed in the coals to cook. Makes them think they're really cooking. We have a canvas bag that we use for outings just for recycled material.
I'm not surprised that you found that garlic improved your C‑rations and long rats, Frank. From many hints that Farwell has dropped over the years, they certainly needed all the help they could get. I'm not sure he had your luck with the leeches and biting flies, though. Still, anything's worth a try, isn't it? That's a good tip about foil cookery, too. It's been quite a while since I cooked anything in the coals, I admit, but I'm going to give it a try again soon.
Pasta at the End of the Portage
I read your columns regularly. A few weeks ago you featured an article entitled "One‑Pot Pasta."
We ignored your advice about practicing the recipe at home and went for broke. We packed the basic ingredients and made pasta a critical part of our meal planning on our Eleven‑Carries Route through the St Regis Canoe Area last week. It was the keystone meal in the evening after the 1.4 mile portage into Fish Pond. We did our own sauce using a tube of tomato paste and included dried vegetable soup mix to add a lot of veggies. It was delish! We declared it a keeper and will come back to it in future trips.
Wonderful concept. Great recipe. Thanks for the idea.
PS. You might want to check out our winter camping website. We enjoy winter camping and like to promote the activity to any three‑season campers interested in making the leap to four seasons.
I also read through several months' worth of articles at Tamia's Outside, and I especially enjoyed your NEOS overshoe reviews. I wear a pair of felt‑lined pacs and use the NEOS Explorer as a winter boot for camping and snowshoeing. In camp I merely swap my felt pacs for a clean, dry pair.
It's great to know that your "field test" of One‑Pot Pasta was such a success, Jim, though I'd be a little leery of depending on any recipe that I hadn't tried at home first, especially for a "keystone" meal. Still, it worked out for you, and that's what counts. I make one‑pot pasta meals regularly. Just the other day I made a quick lunch by breaking angel hair pasta into a one‑quart pot, covering the pasta with water, and added an eight‑ounce container of V8 juice. Inside of ten minutes I was eating spaghetti, and it was pretty darned good.
NEOS Trekkers and Explorersare wonderfully versatile boots, aren't they? Mine are in their second year now, and they've proven to be durable, comfortable, and easy to pack. In fact, I'll be updating my evaluations of them soon, so stay tuned.
Great website, by the way. There's a lot at WinterCampers.com for both first‑timers and experienced winter explorers.
Just read your Talismans article and it's soooooo true! I have this orange, long‑sleeved cotton shirt I have to wear when it's cool out. It's the color of some specific canyons in Utah, and I would be lost without it. So I know where you're coming from. Great article!
Vicki from Oklahoma
Thanks, Vicki. I, too, have a favorite shirt, though it's now worn so thin in the back that it's in danger of dropping off me altogether. I don't know how I'll get along without it.
I'm glad you enjoyedOutside Up North, and it's heartwarming to know that you're a "turtle taxi." Please spread the word. I'm hoping to get as many copies of the "Quick Guide for Turtle Taxis" in circulation as possible, so would‑be rescuers will always have instructions on hand when they come across a turtle in the road. Some folks have even printed multiple copies and given them to delivery drivers and other high‑mileage road users. Good idea!
OK. It's winter now in Canoe Country, and the turtles are slumbering deep in the mud at the bottom of ice‑sheathed lakes and ponds. But spring is coming. Before long, both turtles and paddlers will be on the move again. Let's hope we all have a happy New Year. We'll be back with another "Readers Write" in March. See you then!
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