Our Readers Write
January 29, 2013
General Winter took his time invading our corner of Canoe Country this year, and for a while it looked as if we might not have to endure the chilly presence of his army of occupation. But then the general mounted a massive frontal assault on the back of a fierce nor'easter, and within a day his troops controlled all the terrain. So it's snow fun or no fun for the next couple of months. Not that this is a bad thing, really. We both enjoy padding about on snowshoes, revisiting our summer haunts and seeing how different they look when wearing a mantle of white. The River, too, takes on a new persona, more Crystal Palace than "strong brown god," though I'm afraid that The River's god was shackled more than a century ago, with new manacles being forged within living memory. Of course, he breaks free from his fetters from time to time, reminding anyone who cares to see that the titan of old can still rage. And will, again.
But not in the depths of winter. When the last "Readers Write" aired, the subject was camping in comfort. This time around the focus has shifted to cooking, with an emphasis on comfort foods. Hmm… Maybe the gist of the message hasn't changed as much as all that. In any case, winter's a good time to test recipes that you're thinking about taking with you into the backcountry. And after you eat the results of your Test Kitchen labors, you'll want to burn off a few hundred calories. Unfortunately, you can't paddle a frozen river, and going nowhere on a treadmill or exercise bike gets old mighty quickly. How about going for a walk, then? Snowshoes are easy to master, and they'll take you almost anywhere — something that can't be said for cross‑country skis.
And this, in a nutshell, is why we favor snowshoes over skis. The joy of exploring the snow‑covered landscape grows in proportion to your distance from a groomed trail. Moreover, if that trail sees much snowmobile traffic, the air quality also improves as the distance increases. That said, the snowshoer who ventures off the beaten track without a third (and sometimes a fourth) leg can spend a lot of time floundering fruitlessly in the drifts. Which is where our second subject comes in: trekking poles. The addition of a basket makes a trekking pole into a ski pole, and trekking poles can be used in many other ways, too, as our readers' letters make clear. The moral of their stories? Don't leave home without one — or better yet, two. We couldn't agree more.
That's enough by way of introduction, I think. It's "Our Readers Write," after all. So here goes…
— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat
Trekking Poles, Rain or Shine (or Snow)
Tamia's article "From Cow Cane to Trekking Pole" struck a chord with several readers:
I have been using trekking poles for many years and have encouraged others to try them, whether rain or shine, for just walking about in the neighborhood or in the great outdoors. Though I am in my mid‑60s, I also use mine for power‑walking which gets the heart rate up and helps to keep my weight down. When walking in the woods, as noted in your writings, they're also great for balance. I will add, however, that of the adjustable trekking poles, those with a flip‑lock mechanism hold their position much better than the twist‑lock tighteners, which can eventually self‑destruct and will usually do so while trekking. Murphy's Law!
I've always favored flip‑lock mechanisms, too, Shirley, whether on trekking poles or camera tripods. For one thing, they're easier to operate if you're wearing gloves or mittens. And there's a nice either‑or quality about a flip‑lock. It's either locked, or it's not. No ambiguity there. Getting twist‑locks snugged down, on the other hand, is a bit of a black art. Too little twist, and the lock slips. Too much, and it jams. Still, some folks seem to have the knack. I'm envious.
When Is a Prop More Than a Prop?
I just wanted to say thanks for your great articles, which I've been enjoying. The one on trekking poles inspired me to reply, since I bought a pair of so‑called "Nordic walking poles" about two years ago. They give a very good upper‑body workout if you walk similarly to nordic skiing, and the wrist loops allow you to relax your hand and not drop a pole. I have not used them in heavy snow due to the speeding snowmobiles that take over our winter trail, but on bare ground they are fun.
I agree with you that some of the high‑tech stuff is silly bells and whistles, and not worth paying a lot extra. My adjustable poles came from Canadian Tire (a chain of hardware stores) and cost about CAD40. I think they're aluminum, and reasonably light. Whacking an aggressive dog or coyote would probably ruin them, though that's preferable to being chewed up! So I've cut two applewood sucker sticks and will let them season for homemade trekking poles. I'm going to cut them to the length of the other poles, peel them with a drawknife, attach loops to the thick ends, and fit metal bands (lengths of copper pipe?) to the thinner ends. They'll allow me to feel safer when I'm out alone. Aggressive coyotes are plentiful here; one came onto our neighbor's doorstep and grabbed her little dog as she was letting it out for a pee. She was right there and grabbed the other end of her dog, kicking the coyote to make it let go. We hear the coyotes howl at night.
I'm a great believer in DIY, Wilma, and I like wooden props of all sorts. (I still miss my laminated‑wood ice ax, and you should hear Farwell rhapsodize about his Tonkin bamboo ski poles.) There's no doubt that a walking stick or trekking pole is a comfort in close encounters of the wrong kind, as well. The cane I favor for summer walks used to do double duty guiding high‑spirited bulls around a cattle barn. It works pretty well redirecting the energies of overly frisky dogs, too.
Speaking of dogs… I hope your neighbor's dog is none the worse for wear after playing the part of the rope in a tug of war. Happily, I've never had any run‑ins with "God's dog," myself. Though packs of coyotes frequent my neck of the woods — I often hear them chorusing on winter nights — they don't seem overly keen to strike up a closer acquaintance. And that's just as well, I suppose.
Rebar — The Ultimate Walking Stick?
I really enjoyed your article about poles, and at 65, I would not walk in the woods without them. My son recently walked the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia with a pair from Walmart at a cost of about USD13. They were a couple of inches shorter at the end of his trek than at the beginning, but they did the job at significantly less cost than the hi‑tech LEKI poles, albeit being somewhat heavier. Cheaper still is the story of the guy who walked the Trail with a 6‑foot piece of rebar — apparently weighing about 11 pounds — as his hiking staff. His picture is on the wall in the Walasi‑Yi Interpretive Center near Blood Mountain in North Georgia. I'm not sure of his rationale, but I'll bet he had arms of steel to go with the rebar by the time he finished.
I'd seen inexpensive trekking poles at Walmart and wondered how well they'd hold up in use, Larry. Given your son's experience, it sounds like my doubts were groundless. I don't need to ask if the rebar walking stick held up, though, do I?
Hearty Eating, the Gluten‑Free Way
After swinging a rebar trekking pole all day long, you'd need a hearty meal to replenish your energy. This can be a problem even for folks like Farwell who eat anything, but for gluten‑intolerant backcountry explorers, it's a double challenge. Tamia touched on the subject in "The Gluten‑Free Paddler." And later, with the help of readers, she compiled a follow‑up article. But as the next letter shows, the subject is far from exhausted.
Regarding gluten‑free camp dishes, there are two that I can add.
I'm really surprised paella has never come up. Maybe because of prep time and heat control? It really is at its core an ideal camp dish, though. It's even traditionally made over an open fire! Yes, you need a big, shallow metal pan, but a 10‑inch cast‑iron skillet will make a nice paella to feed four people (or two hungry all‑day paddlers), and a 12‑inch will feed five to six (or three, respectively). And other than containing no rye, wheat or barley (short‑grain rice is the mode), there are recipes containing just about everything else: snails, clams, oysters, squid, shrimp, lobster, fish, sausage, chicken, rabbit, beans, peas, bell pepper, chilies, tomato, mushrooms… You name it. Like cooking in a wok, everything is made right in one pan. The oils from the meat sauté the veggies. The juices from the veggies and the oil season the stock for the rice. And traditionally everybody eats straight from the paella pan, so there's only one dish to take care of. You ended up with rice toasted to the bottom? Great! That's actually a Valencian delicacy — you did it right. I'm still new to paella myself, but I'm in love with it and its possibilities.
Second, consider the humble chickpea. There's falafel, roasted chickpeas as snack‑like nuts, chickpeas as a protein‑filled meat substitute in dishes. It's listed as one of the world's natural super‑foods, for goodness' sake. There's also chickpea flour that can be used to coat veggies or meat for frying (look up pakoras) or to make a bread which has many names and variations throughout the Mediterranean, India, and even Argentina (by way of Italian immigrants). Look up socca, farinata, calentita, fainá, panelle, panissa and panissette to name a few. Many recipes require ovens or deep friers, but some can be prepared in a camp skillet. Farinata is a crepe‑like bread that can have ingredients folded in like a quesadilla or omelette. You can use chickpea flour to make a type of polenta, then allow it to set up in a mold. Take it with you as you would a semi‑soft cheese, slice and pan‑fry as panissa. Search for recipes using gram, chana dal, besan, ceci, garbanzo, or chickpea flour. It's all the same thing.
Thanks for the tantalizing inventory of possibilities, Jim. Who said that gluten‑free eating had to be a hardship tour? (I'm very fond of chickpeas, myself, though I find I can't think of them without conjuring up Monsieur Chickpea from Marcel Pagnol's lyrical novelJean de Florette.)
The Ultimate Camp Comfort Foods?
Peanut Butter and Mac and Cheese, of Course!
Macaroni and cheese is a perennially popular cold‑season comfort food. It's also a camp staple. Tamia's article "Mac and Cheese — Thinking Outside the Box" inspired so many reader letters that they led to a follow‑up article. But this wasn't the end of the story.
Just as I was about to pitch the case of mac and cheese I got from Costco, your article is causing me to think it through. After reading about a paddling journey through Canada, where the paddler ate a lot of mac and cheese, I started cruising the center aisles of the supermarket (I usually zip through the perimeter of the store). Couldn't find the simple mac and cheese there, but found an extended family‑size bundle at Costco. Took one box on a camping trip, and my husband and I both rejected it as a meal. You have given our boxes of mac and cheese a reprieve until I try your camp recipes.
I used a pat of butter (which I kept in a cooler) and the one‑cup size of UHT milk you mentioned in your article. I bring these for our breakfast cereal. Publix sells Horizon organic and Natrel Lil' Milk. Parmalat distributes one‑quart packs of UHT milk, available even at Walmart.
Peanut butter is always a camp staple — we like it on celery sticks, apple wedges or crackers. A new product called PB2 (powdered peanut butter) says it has 85% less fat (1.5 g) and about 2 grams less of protein (2‑tablespoon serving), and less sodium than regular peanut butter. Peanuts are slow‑roasted, then pressed to remove most of the oils and fat. PB2 retains the taste of peanut butter, though not the creaminess. It comes in regular and chocolate (with even less fat). I tried it on two grandchildren, ages 10 and 3, and they both were found in the kitchen reconstituting it themselves after I gave them the initial sample (2 tablespoons of powder and 1 tablespoon of water, then mix). I don't have the chocolate information because I gave them the (plastic) jar. I also gave jars of both the regular and chocolate to a friend who said her kids liked it and didn't think it wasn't peanut butter. She's taking the jars to a meeting of a citywide (Tallahassee) anti‑obesity group this morning to try another taste test. It does not need to be refrigerated after opening — a perfect camp food: light and protein‑rich, with minimal sodium.
You may have saved me money by suggesting new ways to try the rejected plain Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, so I think I'll get me another jar of the chocolate PB2 — it has endless possibilities. And I'm going to try the regular PB2 with Thai dishes. My daughter plans to add that to the smoothies for her kids; they like to put peanut butter in their smoothies. I get PB2 at my local natural foods co‑op, since Publix has told me that they do not sell powdered peanut butter (as though they would stoop so low).
Your articles are a delight and inspiration.
Thanks, Marylyn — though we couldn't do this without you and all our other readers, of course. I hope you find a way to make the boxed mac and cheese palatable.
I'm intrigued by the idea of powdered peanut butter. It sounds like something that will be welcomed by paddlers everywhere. I'm going to get some and give it a try myself.
Have You Seed This? Chia Energy Drink
Eating on the go is hard enough for walkers and cyclists, but paddlers face added challenges. (It takes two hands to paddle, right?) Which means that food and drink have to slip down fast and easy under way. Here's a new discovery from a regular Same Boat reader that might just fit the bill:
I'm just back from a week's kayaking with friends in Pukaskwa National Park on the north shore of Lake Superior, and I've found an on‑water drink which was of major help in keeping my energy up on long (about 40 km) paddling days.
Dump a couple of tablespoons full of chia seeds in a small Nalgene bottle, add something to give the drink a taste — like some fruit crystals from Bulk Barn — add something more to make the drink a bit sweet (a tablespoon full of brown sugar, stevia, etc.), fill the bottle with water, and shake vigorously. Then shake vigorously several times more over the next 10 minutes or so to discourage the chia from clumping. Sipped throughout the paddling day, this gives one a constant boost of energy. My colleagues on the trip also gobbled or drank chia and were pleased with the results. See what you think.
We certainly will, Anna. And you've got the last word for the second time running. Is this a first? It could be. Anyway, we'll give your chia drink a try during one of the marathon snow‑shoveling sessions that look like becoming the norm this winter. We could both use the extra energy.
As always, our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who's taken the time to write. And if you have something on your mind, but haven't yet put nominal pen to virtual paper, why not do it today? We're only a click away. "Our Readers Write" will be back in April, by which time General Winter will almost certainly be in full retreat. Oh, for the sound of rushing water, newly freed from its icy prison. We can't wait!
Referenced Articles From In the Same Boat
- "From Cow Cane to Trekking Pole"
- "The Gluten‑Free Paddler"
- "Gluten Freedom: Something for Everyone"
- "Mac and Cheese — Thinking Outside the Box"
- "More Mac and Cheese, Please"
- And if you want to know more about what's on other paddlers' minds, check out the "Our Readers Write" archive, a Paddling.net index with links to all 48 earlier editions of this regular feature from In the Same Boat.
A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we 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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