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Bog and Mountain Our Readers Write

High Summer in Canoe Country

June 29, 2010

The solstice has come and gone, and though the sun is even now beginning its long retreat from the northern latitudes, it's high summer in Canoe Country. Planning and paddling will continue at fever pitch for the next couple of months, and In the Same Boat readers are in the thick of things. You've been writing to us, too, and your letters have run the gamut from a stirring defense of hit‑and‑switch to favorite ways to beat the bonk.

Want to join the conversation? Good. We've gotten a lot of mail since the last "Our Readers Write," so there's no time to lose. Find out what other paddlers are thinking and doing. And then drop us a line when you get a chance, as well. It's "Our Readers Write."

 —  Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

Beaver or a Muskrat?

Tamia's column on these two water‑loving cousins, "A Tale of Two Tails," drew a quick response from Heidi Perryman, whose video clip highlighting their respective "field marks" was embedded in the article. Here's what Heidi had to say:

Hi, Tamia!

Thought you'd want to read my response to your article on our website, which also has some fun footage of a muskrat and beaver interaction. It's a great movie for showing the differences.

Heidi Perryman
President, Worth A Dam
Martinez, California

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for your kind words, Heidi, and for drawing my attention to the second video. [Heidi subsequently gave us permission to embed that video here. –Editor]

Elegance v Efficiency

Hey, Farwell!

I was glancing over an old article of yours ["Different Strokes: Going Straight" –Editor]. I must say I take exception to it. I have paddled from Canada to the Florida keys and points between. I have used the old "Minnesota Hut" method with no problems and considerable success, even in moving water. I will concede the old Red Cross-Boy Scout-ACA method is elegant. But when I want to get from point A to point B — say from Cooperstown to Bainbridge, New York — in the least amount of time, I go Hut! As a matter of fact, I know people who regularly race in whitewater who also use bent shafts and switch sides. I live near the whitewater center, and have visited it several times. After visiting I saw a need for the J‑strokes, etcetera, but see little necessity for it in Class II and below.

In closing: Cut us lowlife, no‑good, pond scum, sit‑and‑switch paddlers a break.


Charlie Swengros
Denver, North Carolina

• • •

Farwell replies:

"Pond scum?" No way, Charlie! When I slighted hit‑and‑switch in my article — and it was quite a blast from the past to reread it after all these years — I was alluding to the desperate flailings of untutored novices, not the practiced choreography of expert paddlers. That's why I added the "another story" caveat. And while I do indeed find classic North Woods paddling "elegant," hit‑and‑switch gets the nod whenever efficiency is paramount. After all, as you rightly point out, it IS the racer's edge — and even for recreational paddlers, efficiency often trumps elegance.

All of which being said, I find that I switch infrequently. It's not that I eschew efficiency. It's just that I prefer to keep my blade in the water as much of the time as possible. This gives me better control in places where control is important (whitewater, windy lakes, etc.), while also making my passage less…well…ostentatious, particularly when I don't want to cause unnecessary disturbance (e.g., wildlife‑watching excursions on beaver ponds). Indeed, I sometimes keep my blade immersed during the recovery phase of the stroke, as well as the power phase. This eliminates almost all splash and flash, albeit at some considerable additional cost in efficiency. Of course, if I have to get somewhere in a hurry, I'll usually power along without regard to either elegance or "ostentation." Or use a double blade. But that, too, is another story.

… To which Charlie replied:

There is so much proselytizing about the "right" way to paddle I have gotten a little — OK, a lot! — defensive about it. I paddled the Jersey Pine Barrens with some Philadelphia‑area canoe club members. They were borderline insulting on their insistence for the use of straight‑shaft "conventional style " paddling in close confines. Needless to say, the Gearwoman and I had no problem horsing around a 16‑foot Mad River Explorer using 50‑inch bent‑shafts. I guess it all boils down to seat time, and what you are out for. I am always in a rush to see what is around the next bend in the river, so I go for bent‑shaft and open canoe. I love kayakers (my second son is a kayaker), but I can't deal with the amount of futzing they need to get going.

Double Vision — A Second Take on Efficiency

Hey, Tamia! Double Vision

I am seeing an upswing in the use of double‑bladed paddles in canoes. This is heresy to some. I have had some interesting interaction with these defilers of sacred tradition. At the 90‑miler one year, a young guy in a Rapid Fire pack canoe pulled next to Red Cross Randy and me. I wasn't impressed about a double blade in a canoe. After the starting whistle I reappraised my opinion. Joe Moore pulled away from Randy and me like the Starship Enterprise going into warp!

The following year I went to a race in Georgia. There were several adventure racers with big biceps, Lycra paddling outfits, skin‑coat Minnesota IIs, and double blades. We thought we were doomed. Debbie and I were using bent‑shaft Zavs in an old gelcoated Jensen cruiser I had straightened out, and Debbie hadn't raced since she had children seven years prior. I wasn't in any shape worth mentioning — except maybe pear‑shaped! Neither one of us had any Lycra or youth like those guys did. The race started, and we soon realized that just having better equipment wasn't as important as our having trained as a team. We came in first in the canoe category, probably fourth or fifth overall (an ICF kayak came in first overall, and some wildwater racers were ahead of us).

Moral? Training and seat time make the crucial difference.

Charlie Swengros
Denver, North Carolina

• • •

Tamia replies:

Victory is sweet! There's no doubt that practice makes perfect, Charlie. Muscle is important and good gear is…well…good, but the brain housing group is the most vital element in any winning equation.

A Budget Inflatable?

Hi, Tamia!

I enjoyed your article ["Airborne" –Editor] very much. I wonder which inflatable you got for under USD250.

I have never kayaked and am leaning towards a sit‑on‑top inflatable that fits my tight budget. What do you think of the Qayak Two‑Person Inflatable Kayak, which is sold only online and has few reviews? Suggestions would be appreciated. I am 59 years old, a good swimmer, not afraid to get wet, and think a SOT would be less claustrophobic then the typical kayak — I don't want to do that Eskimo roll stuff. I will paddle mostly on Walden Pond, and maybe on Gloucester Bay on the ocean, but in the harbor only. Any thoughts on a Sevylor SOT? Qayak looks good to me, but I don't really trust online‑only stores. Help!


• • •

Tamia replies:

The USD250 inflatable I mentioned in "Airborne" is the Sevylor Rio, Steve, though it now sells for more than USD300. And I've never seen a Qayak, I'm afraid. Plenty of folks find SOTs and inflatables more to their liking than hard‑shell boats, however. If you haven't read our articles on SOTs, take a look at "SOTto Voce? No Way!" and "Tips for First‑Time SOT Buyers."

These should help you decide between a SOT and an inflatable. (I've no experience with the Sevylor inflatable SOT, either, but it looks like an interesting hybrid.) Once you've drawn up a short list of likely candidates, check out the Reviews again and go shopping. Then, after you take possession of your new boat, drop us a line and let us know how you like it.

… And Steve did just that:

I bought the Qayak double, a great bargain with paddles for two. I paddled it with a friend who weighs 230 pounds, and I'm 200 pounds, which put us over the limit by 60 pounds. Still, we had no problems! This is a great value for USD259. It's probably similar to the Sevylor canoe, but it sits lower. It is double‑hulled and well built. I'll be getting a high‑volume electric pump, though — a big 'yak requires a lot of foot pumping!

Thanks again. Your article was inspiring.

The Art of Paddling

Dear Tamia,Eye and Hand

I just wanted to thank you for that amazing article about being an artist out on the water! ["Eye and Hand: Practical Art for Paddlers — First Strokes" –Editor] Like you, I started drawing at a very young age, and have continued to do so over the years. Last summer, at age 51, I started kayaking for the first time, and became totally in love with it! Not only that, but I watched a video by Bill Mason called Waterwalker, where he's on a beautiful journey up around Lake Superior in his solo canoe. On his way, he stopped by some rocks, pulled out a palette and paints, and began painting what he saw! (If you have never seen Bill Mason's art or videos, I encourage you to do so, and enjoy! He is deceased, but his family carries on his work.) I wept as I watched his canvas come to life, and I felt in my heart a sense of that's ME!

Since I just started paddling late last summer, I've only done one drawing while out paddling around. When stopped on a little island, I drew my kayak parked on the shore. But I am trying to hone my watercolor and drawing skills, and am excited for the water to thaw here in Wisconsin! I don't know where it will take me, or what God's divine purpose is in it, I only know I am compelled to be out in a kayak, capturing the Creator's beauty with my eye and hand!

I appreciate your encouragement for those who love the arts to use those gifts while enjoying the magnificent sport of paddling upon the waters. So, don't forget to set aside your camera once in a while and use the wonderful eye‑hand gift that God has given you!

With Warm Regards,
Naomi K.

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm delighted you've discovered the pleasures of paddling, Naomi, and that you're managing to combine your new interest with your old love. The out‑of‑doors beats any studio I've ever seen. And thank you for your encouragement. I'll be touching on watercolor painting later in the year as I continue my "Eye and Hand" series. Stay tuned.

English Muffin PBJ Bonk‑Busters

Hi, Tamia!

Nice work on bonk‑busters ["Alimentary, My Dear: Bonk-Busters!" –Editor]. I have found the ultimate in convenience in the PBJ arena. English muffins come in plastic bags of six. It's a nice convenient package. I like to toast up the muffins and spread the split halves with peanut butter and jelly while they're still hot. This is helpful when using the stir‑it‑yourself natural variety peanut butter that becomes smoother when it's heated. I then form sandwiches from the muffin halves, re‑stack the sandwiches in the original wrapper, then store them in the top of my pack. These are durable and will easily last a couple of days if not eaten sooner by envious travelmates. Lastly, when empty, you have an extra bag for packing out trash.

I took Fig Newtons along one time. A buddy saw them, grabbed one, and threw it in the woods as hard as he could. I asked what that was all about and he said, "Far Fig Newton." I hope the squirrels enjoyed it.


• • •

Tamia replies:

Sounds like a winner to me, Taj. I like you buddy's bilingual pun, too. ["Far Fig Newton" sounds a lot like Fahrvergnügen, a coined word that appeared in Volkswagen ads in the late '80s. It can be freely translated as "happy motoring." Which pretty well sums up the reasons why Fig Newtons make good "motor fuel" on amphibious jaunts. –Editor]

A Champagne Shore Lunch?

Dear Tamia,

I loved your hard‑water‑season "shore lunch" ["A Shore Lunch With a Difference" –Editor]. Good wine and cheese (try some St. Andre) make for fabulous gastronomy and even better conversation. My wife and I are big lovers of Champagne (or dry bubbly wine when feeling poor, plus it travels better), and we have enjoyed it all over north and central Ontario, in and out of canoes and beside our Jeep on old logging roads. I would suggest a selection of good dark chocolate and a sweet tangerine.

Rob Roe
Curator, Woodside National Historic Site of Canada
Kitchener, Ontario

• • •

Tamia replies:

Champagne with dark chocolate and citrus sounds pretty good to me, Rob, though I'd probably reserve it for an end‑of‑the‑day treat. Then I could do justice to the bottle without worrying about hitting every rock in the river afterward!

The Many Unsung Uses for Dental Floss

Hi, Tamia!

I've had some extensive dental work done this past year. To stave off any future reconstruction, I have started flossing regularly — not daily, but more regularly than in the past. This evening, I was wondering if you carry floss in your ditty bag. So I looked up your article ["Secrets of My Ditty Bag" –Editor]. I didn't see dental floss listed, but you might want to add it. Floss is great stuff: lightweight, strong, and it comes in its own handy‑dandy dispenser! I've used it to sew up a tear in a tent seam, to whip the ends of a rope, and to floss my teeth — although not the same piece for all three applications. Oh, yes, mint floss smells a bit better than tarred marline.

My ditty bag is no longer a bag, by the way. It is a 24" by 18" by 12" box. But then I'm usually traveling in an 18‑foot canoe with 10 to 20 people in my party.

As always, I enjoyed the article.

Art Denney

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks, Art. I do carry dental floss when camping, but not in my ditty bag. I keep it with my "health and comfort" items, instead, and I wrote about it in "The Whole Tooth: Backcountry Dental Care." Mostly I use floss for flossing. I have occasionally employed it for other tasks, but it's usually a last resort, since I'd rather not run out of floss and then have to clean my teeth with a strand of marline.

Changing tack now: That's quite a ditty box you have. Sounds like you're a "lumper" rather than a "splitter," determined to consolidate as many essentials as possible in a single container. I tend toward the other end of the spectrum, with a separate bag (or box) for each essential. The downside? Whichever bag I pull out of my pack is almost certain to be the wrong one!

… To which Art replied:

I carry floss in both my toiletry kit and my "stuff box." I am a lumper, but then again, I canoe camp in a party with several large boats; therefore, it is easier for me to pack one large stuff box. I am a splitter when it comes to matches, though.

Tarred marline for dislodging that tasty bit of tofu? Nope, I don't think I'd like that either!


Slow‑Motion Rapids


Mint‑flavored floss or tarred marline? The choice is yours. Anyway, Art gets the last word this time around. And we couldn't ask for a better way to tie up all the loose ends.

Speaking of loose ends… If you've written to us and are still waiting for an answer, or if you've given us permission to reprint a letter and haven't seen it yet, please hang in there. We're always playing catch‑up, but we never drop the ball. (At least we hope we won't.) Meanwhile, enjoy the Canoe Country summer, with all it has to offer — and don't hesitate to send us a note anytime. We always enjoy hearing from readers, even it does take us a while to get back to you. After all, it's "Our Readers Write"!

A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, 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. That's all it takes.) We will never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.

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