In Need of Instruction
A dud watch battery did the trick. My watch isn't very complicated, but I can never remember how to set the time and date after a battery change. At home I just pull out the little sheet of instructions that came with it. Once I've found a magnifying glass to enlarge the tiny print and translated the text into readable English, I'm good to go. But what if my watch packed it in on a trip? What then? Would I remember every detail of the multi‑step setup? Probably not. And the same thing could be said about the manuals for my digital SLR and GPS. I seldom need to consult these instructions, but when I do, I really do.
In the past, I've had to trust to luck, guessing which manuals I'd need to bring along on a trip and hoping that I'd guessed right. This hasn't been entirely satisfactory. Instruction sheets and manuals — even the 268‑page tome that accompanied my SLR — tend to be small things, easily lost in a pack or left behind at a campsite. And to make matters worse, they're printed on paper that's little better than bum wad. A few drops of moisture and they start to dissolve.
But then I realized I could put my collection of manuals on my Kindle. This was a eureka moment. Many manufacturers make PDF versions of their user guides and manuals available for the price of a click, and the Kindle has no trouble digesting and displaying most PDFs. You can guess the result. I now have a library of instruction sheets and product manuals at my fingertips, even in the backcountry. As long as my Kindle keeps working — so far it's performed flawlessly, but if it ever stops I can always borrow Farwell's — I've got almost everything from cameras to cookers covered. Problem solved.
Then I explored the further implications of my belated epiphany. Since the Kindle handles PDFs so well, and since the 16‑level grayscale display does a pretty good job with all sorts of embedded images, I figured I didn't have to limit myself to user manuals and maps. I generate a lot of PDFs myself, particularly when planning trips. Why not put these on my Kindle, too? Why not, indeed! And here are just a few of the possibilities:
Route Directions and Cue Sheets Often the trickiest piece of navigation on a trip is getting to the put‑in. Written directions help. A lot. And turn‑by‑turn cue sheets are invaluable for the cycling leg of any amphibious jaunt. Then there's difficult whitewater. This deserves some cue sheets of its own, especially if it's been a while since you ran the drop(s) in question. Of course, you'll be sure to scout, too. Rivers are living things. They change from one year to the next. Moreover, as the flood surging past my doorstep today proves, heavy rain — or the decisions of distant engineers — can turn a trickle into a torrent in a matter of hours.
Still, if you take their limitations into account, there's no denying that cue sheets are very useful things, on and off the water. You'll probably want paper copies for times when you venture out into harm's way, but a waterproof pouch will do much to make your Kindle into an all‑terrain, all‑weather navigation aid. And even if you (sensibly) prefer to keep it tucked safely away while you tackle the rough stuff, having backup copies of all your cue sheets on the Kindle can't hurt, can it?
Contact Information Getting away from it all doesn't mean you won't need to keep in touch. The Kindle is a great place to store an electronic address book, with the phone numbers and e‑mail addresses of colleagues, friends, and relatives, not to mention campgrounds, motels, and favorite eateries. You probably have many of these on your cell phone, but a PDF list can be a lot more comprehensive. You can keep bookmarks for useful websites in the Kindle's browser, too. Saves a lot of typing.
Checklists and Recipes This is self‑explanatory, right? And the Kindle makes keeping track of that 10‑page gear list easier than ever. I also load working copies of In the Same Boat articles on my Kindle. Then I can review and annotate them in camp. Well, that's the idea, anyway. There are always rainy days…
Does all this sound too good to be true? It's not. But first you have to generate the PDFs, and if you don't work regularly with documents, or if you aren't familiar with the process of converting text files to PDF, the whole thing can seem like a conjuring trick. Yet this is magic for the masses. I'll suggest a simple workflow approach in a minute. First, though, a few words on …
Finding and Downloading PDF Manuals
The manufacturers' websites are the places to start. More and more of them are making their entire libraries of manuals and user guides, both past and present, available as PDFs. You may have to hunt a bit to find them, but they're probably there. (And if they're not? Send an e‑mail off to the manufacturer.) A case in point: I wanted a PDF manual for my GPS, so I headed over to the Garmin site, then clicked the link for the Support page. Once there, I followed the prompts to get the manual I needed. Here's a screenshot of the downloads page: