Our Readers Write
Dark-Adapted Eyes, Folding Money, Culture Tripping, and More
By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest
It's always fun to get mail, and we really enjoy the letters we
receive from our readers. Every week brings something new. You
challenge us, you teach us, and you encourage us. You even correct our
mistakes! It's been two months since the debut of "Our Readers Write."
Here's just a sample of what you've had to say to us since then, along
with our replies. (As before, we've edited both your letters and our
replies for clarity and brevity.)
Through a Glass, Brightly
Two comments on "Binoculars
for Paddlers (Part 2)":
- I have a pair of 10 x 25 Tasco binoculars. Is the small
(25-mm diameter) objective lens the reason that in the late afternoon
it is hard to see into shadows? Images are not sharp and are hard to
make out. Would that still be a problem with a larger objective lens,
say 30 mm or more?
- I was always told that on a bright moonlit night you could burn
your eyes by watching the moon through binoculars for any length of
time. Is this true?
Howdy, Ric! It's good to hear from you. And you're right:
10 x 25s are marginal glasses for twilight and
nighttime use, though they're fine general-purpose binoculars for less
demanding applications. What makes a good night glass, then? The
classic answer is the 7 x 50, but in fact good-quality
7 x 35s, 8 x 40s, and 10 x 40s will all
Why is this? Given comparable optical quality, low light
performance is indicated by the ratio of objective lens diameter
(measured in millimeters) to magnification. This ratio (usually known
as a binocular's "exit pupil") determines the size of the cone of
light emerging from the eyepiece. Since the maximum opening of the
pupil of a young, dark-adapted human eye is some 7 mm, a
7 x 50 binocular (exit pupil of 50 divided by 7, or
approximately 7.1 mm) achieves something like the theoretical
limit of usable brightness. I'm afraid, however, that our eyes don't
age gracefully. Forty-year-old pupils, for example, are doing well if
they open more than 4 or 5 mm!
The moral of the story? If you're young and if you want a true
night glass, get a 7 x 50. (I've read very good things about
the Fuji Polaris, though at over three pounds they're not lightweights
-- and at around $600 they're certainly not cheap!) If you're heading
into middle age, though, you'll probably do fine with a pair of
7 x 35s or 8 x 40s. You certainly won't be giving
anything up. The noted author and amateur astronomer Leslie Peltier
(The Binocular Stargazer) actually preferred 7 x 35s
to 7 x 50s, and my Bushnell Custom 8 x 36s have
done me proud for years. They're also both lighter and cheaper than
the Fuji 7 x 50s, even if they're not so weatherproof.
Now, to your second point. Will you damage your eyes by looking at
the full moon with binoculars? In a word, NO. As bright as it appears
to us, the full moon is only about one one-millionth as bright as the
sun. It is true that its shadowless glare makes the full moon a
relatively poor observational object, however. If you want to see the
lunar mountains and craters most clearly, it's best to limit your
observations to periods several days before or after full, and then to
look along the "terminator," the line separating light from dark. This
is the place where lunar shadows are longest, and where features
appear in greatest relief.
Hope this helps. Take care!
Canoe or Kayak or Something Else?
Question: I read the recent review of the Aerius foldable kayak.
Sounds GREAT. As you know, I have three years of canoeing under my
belt. A foldable would be a new adventure (as would any kayak). What's
the biggest difference between canoeing and kayaking? Lastly, I was
blown away by the cost of the new foldables. (I paid less for my son's
first car last week!) What company could you recommend that makes
economical but good foldables? Also, where's the best source for used
hope all is well with you and Tamia.
It's very good to hear from you again, Jeff. Hope you and yours
are keeping well. The "biggest difference between canoeing and
kayaking"? That's a tough one. There are a lot of differences, but I'd
be hard pressed to pick the biggest. Happily, Tamia's explored the
question at some length in the column, so why not take a look at:
or Kayak? A Guide for First-Time Buyers"
of a Vision: The Kayak Comes Back"
Flip Side of Kayaks: Why You Might Want to Consider a Canoe
Too much to take in at once? OK. In a few words, and subject to
many qualifications, kayaks are cramped, awkward to load, and wet,
butin competent handsagile and very seaworthy. Canoes, on
the other hand, are roomy, easy to load, and comparatively dry (at
least you're not always sitting in a puddle!), but also
somewhat less responsive and much quicker to swamp in rough water.
The two craft do have a very different "feel," of course. In a
canoe, you're on the water; in a kayak, more often than not,
you're in the water. Some folks like this. Some don't.
A few cautionary words: Many of the perceived differences between
canoes and kayaks can be explained by the fact that most kayaks are
solo craft and most canoes are tandems. Compare a typical recreational
kayak to a small solo pack canoe, paddled with a double-blade. You'll
find less difference between the two than you might think. Ditto a
tandem kayak and a typical two-man touring canoe.
The last word? If you think you might be interested in kayaking,
rent one or twoa couple of solos one day and a tandem the next,
sayand try it out for yourself. That's the best way to see if
there's a kayak in your future!
FOLDING MONEY. A good, cheap folding kayak is in the same category
as a good, cheap double shotgunit simply doesn't exist. Folbot
(yes, that's FolBOT) probably makes the least expensive,
widely-available folding kayaks, but at $1200 to $2000 they're not
exactly cheap, are they? All you can do is keep your eye on the
Classifieds and hope to get lucky. Check your local Pennysaver,
too. You never know what someone may find in the attic.
An important question: Do you really need a folding kayak? If you
have a car rack for your canoe, and if you usually drive to the water,
then a folding kayak is just a waste of money. With the right cradles,
it's as easy to carry a rigid kayak on your car as it is to carry a
On the other hand, if you want the portability of a
foldableif, for example, you're about to leave on a bus tour of
South America and you'd like to take a boat alongtake a look at
inflatable kayaks. They're not all toys, and some are
surprisingly cheap. Stearns makes a solo inflatable that sells for
only $300 (the tandem is $100 more). I've heard good things about it.
Ask around. Someone you know may have paddled one. Better yet, see if
you can find one to paddle yourself. There's no better way to get to
know a boatany boat!
Hope this helps. Keep us posted on your search
"Culture Tripping" Across the Pond
Tamia got a bit ahead of my meaning when she mentioned my
description of Sweden's Dalsland in "The
Wilderness Mystique." She is quite right about there being no
wilderness there, but I wrote this only to warn people against
expecting that kind of adventure on European waters. People from
America will find very little real wilderness anywhere in Europe.
(Personally I don't care. My roughest canoeing expedition was in the
Ardennen in Belgium, when the shops where I expected to buy food
weren't there anymore!)
Actually, a lot of my paddling friends regularly visit America in
order to paddle in wilderness areas. I have been to the States, too,
but that was to learn more about canoes and canoeing for research for
the book that I wrote about canoeing. Perhaps I will do it again for
the same reason.
As for wilderness tripping, in Europe we have something else that I
sometimes call "culture tripping." We have rivers that are good to
paddle, with nice landscapes and interesting cities to visit along the
- the Gudenå in Denmark
- the Semois in Belgium
- the Lahn and the Danube (Donau) in Germany
- the Dordogne and possibly the Allier in France.
And not to forget the province Friesland in the Netherlands! Lots
and lots of lakes and small canals and some rivers. You have to share
those waterways with other kinds of boaters, but if you want to
experience what Holland is like from the water, this is the way to
At the moment I am heavily involved in writing a book about
canoeing, an instructor's manual for our Dutch Canoe Union (Nederlandse Kano Bond). Still enjoy your
other articles! Got me thinking about my own small mono spyglass that
I never take along, but
It's good to hear from you again, Dirk. "Wilderness" is such a
slippery word, isn't it? To the informed (and alert) paddler, there
probably isn't a square mile of country outside Antarctica that
doesn't bear clear evidence of human imprint, but we persist in
pursuing "wilderness experiences" nonetheless. I suppose this reflects
our desire to get away from it allto escape the urban landscapes
that most of us call home for most of the year. Uncrowded places are
seen as wildernesses, even if they have a 10,000-year-long history of
human use and occupation. And crowded places are seen as something
else, even though many "wilderness" parks in North America are very
crowded indeed, at least during the summer holiday season.
When all is said and done, wilderness is a state of mind. Tamia and
I prefer to take our wilderness where we find it.
I like the notion of "culture tripping." (Not surprisingI was
an archaeologist for more than ten years.) Still, I'm not sure it
would work in America. The problem is a simple one: few of our urban
rivers are pleasant places to paddle. Things may now be changing for
the better, though. I hope so.
Thanks again for writing. Tamia and I aren't quite rich enough to
afford a holiday trip across the Pond anytime soon, but we'd both love
to spend a year (or three) paddling, sailing and walking through
Europe. Maybe someday!
Letter of a Lifetime!
Thank you for the intriguing, delightful story.
I haven't paid enough attention to the delivery dates for PaddleNews
to know when the next one will be delivered to my computer. So every
day I wonder if this will be the day when the next chapter in your
story will show up.
A question: Is this the first place that "Trip of a Lifetime" has
been published, or is it in print anywhere for purchase?
Either way, you and Farwell have me hooked. Thanks again and happy
What a wonderful letter, Tom! I'm delighted that you're enjoying
"Trip of a Lifetime."
Now, to answer your questions:
Our column goes on-line every Tuesday. That's when the current
chapter of "Trip" will debut each week, though we'll be interrupting
the narrative once every month or so for other fare.
And, yes, this is the first time that it's been published. While
we've other novels (and proposals) under consideration by a number of
publishers, "Trip of a Lifetime" is a Paddling.net exclusive. We'd
like to see it in print someday, of course, but that day's a long way
off, I'm afraid.
OK. There are a lot more letters in our In-Tray, but we've run out
of room (and time). Next week, we'll be rejoining Ed and Brenna as
they get ready for their "Trip of a Lifetime." In the meantime,
though, please keep writing. Tell us what you're thinking. It's a
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