Our Readers Write
From Pesto to PFDs
By Tamia Nelson
October 29, 2002
Our mailbag continues to delight, not to mention
amaze, amuse, and instruct. Reading our mail is a perk of the job, in short,
and it's a pleasure that grows in the sharing. So here are a few of the many
letters that are too good to keep to ourselves. (Some have been edited for
continuity's sake.) First, however, it's time to visit
The Department of Corrections
In my article on pasta for
paddlers I commented that "pesto
means 'sauce' in Italian." Wrong!
Fortunately, a sharp-eyed reader set me straight. Sauce is salsa.
Pesto comes from the verb meaning "pounded." So a proper pesto is a
sauce made by pounding the ingredients, rather than chopping them.
OK. When you're negotiating the shoal waters of a language that's not your
own, you have to use your noodle! And while we're on the subject of pasta,
John Lohde of Ancient Florida Eco Tours had a great suggestion for
constructing a portable pasta-safe:
Loved your article. I operate a small kayak eco tour biz and I am always
looking for culinary surprises for my clients. In days gone by I was a
backcountry ranger with the National Park Service and spent a lot of time in
the bush. To protect stick noodles from breaking I always did an additional
step after breaking them in half as you described. I saved the core from a
roll of paper towels. I would bag enough to fit in the cut-down roll. After
storing it in a ziplock baggie I stuffed the pasta into the cardboard core and
transported it with more confidence. On the water I do the same, but I add an
additional baggie for added insurance.
In the end the pasta is still breakable but you have to work at it. One
other neat benefit: the empty paper towel roll makes great fire tinder.
Keep up the good work!
We'll do our best, Johnand thanks! As important as good food is to
paddlers, though, thirst is a
dangerous thing, and clean water's important to everyone. Not
surprisingly, our earlier articles on
the subject continue to generate mail. Canadian paddler Brian Wilson
makes the point that infections which would pose little or no risk to paddlers
close to home can be life-threatening in the back of beyond, and that solo
travelers are especially vulnerable. It's a point that's well worth
Is It Safe?
In summer 1999, Canadian Forces Search and Rescue, responding to an
Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) signal, located an unconscious solo
canoeist on the banks of the Kazan River in what is now Nunavut. On an
extended canoe trip, he had become infected with giardiasis and had gradually
lost strength until he realized he was unable to go on, or even stay
conscious. Before lapsing into semi-consciousness, he had triggered the ELT
and so saved his own life. His infection was treated easily, once he was
returned to civilization and a hospital, but it could just as easily have
killed him in the wild.
Of course, not all of us plan to travel to Nunavutformerly the
eastern part of Canada's Northwest Territoriesanytime soon. But there's
a nearly unknown country much closer to home: the kingdom of
the night. It's a challenging place to explore, though, and paddlers need
all the help they can get. Vernon, a paddler from Louisiana, has a
couple of ideas for improving the odds:
The Eyes Have It!
Here are two additional techniques that help you see in the dark
(REF Department of the Army Pamphlet 350-43)
OFF-CENTER VISION The technique of keeping attention focused on
an object without looking directly at it. When you look directly at an object,
the image is focused on the cone region of the eye, which is not as sensitive
at night. Looking slightly to the right or left of the object, or above or
below it, focuses the image on the light-sensitive rods. Usually 6-10 degrees
off center works.
SCANNING VISION Similar to off-center vision, but you move your
eyes in short, abrupt, irregular movements over and around the object. The
visual purple in the rod cells bleaches or "blacks out" after 4-10 seconds,
causing the object to disappear. Moving your gaze allows "new" rod cells to
come into use, and exhausted ones to recover. Hold your gaze in each position
for only a few seconds. It is best to practice this to gain confidence. It is
next to impossible to see while your eyes are in motion, and with too much
movement you could get dizzy.
I see what you're getting at, Vernon, and it's very good advice. But what
happens when you want a change from exploring the night? That's easy. Punt!
(Or pole, if you prefer.) Happily, it turns out that this "dying" art is alive
and well, as one South Florida reader wrote to tell us. He also suggested a
source of ready-made poles:
Poling with a Purpose
Enjoyed your column on poling. "Flats" boats in South Florida
(shallow-draft outboard-powered fishing boats) routinely use the poling
technique. This makes it possible to fish shallow water without damaging sea
grass, and it allows anglers to get within casting distance of fish without
spooking them with engine noise.
The good news for paddlecraft enthusiasts is that polesin fiberglass,
Kevlar® and carbon fiberare readily available. Check any South
Florida fishing or boating supplier.
Nor was that all. Joe Schultz told us how he solved a problem with
his Sylvester pole, and recommended a poling book into the bargain. I haven't
seen the book, but since Joe's recommendation was later seconded by David
Sinish, former National Poling Champion, it's a safe bet that it's a good one.
(David adds that the current state of the art in poling is now "light-years
ahead" of the Beletz brothers. I can see I have a lot of catching up to do!)
I have had a Sylvester pole for some years. I too don't care for the
method used to join the two halves together. I wrapped a piece of duct tape
around the screws to keep them from coming loose.
I also have read the book Canoe Poling by the Beletz brothers. There
is an even better and more recent book about canoe poling called The Basic
Essentials of Canoe Poling, by Harry Rock, chairman of the National Poling
Committee of the American Canoe Association. Apparently it is out of print,
but it can be purchased used.
So poling's alive and well, and that's very good to hear. I'd been afraid
'umble tarp was another victim of changing recreational fashions. But I
was wrong about this, too, it seems. Walt set me straightand
alerted me to a new source of supply for traditionally-minded paddlers, into
Diamond in the Rough
Diamond flies are a staple of the guys who reenact the "longhunters,"
men such as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton. Stake one corner to the ground,
take the diametrically opposite corner and tie it to an upright at a
convenient height, then stake the two adjacent corners down, and
Voila!you've got a tent. You can get three guys and their gear under a
10' x 10' diamond. They're crowded, but dry, or at least they are if they pick
their ground carefully. The tarps are usually prepared with linseed oil and
red oxide pigment. (They smell like hell.)
My 15' x 15' diamond flyit was made by Panther Primitives, but any
square or rectangular tarp will dohas added loops to allow it to be
erected as a "lean-pi," a lopsided pyramid. Rigged as a lean-pi, it will sleep
5 and has door flaps on it. It weighs about 15 pounds, not counting stakes,
single rope, and poles. You don't necessarily need poles, though: you can also
tie it off to a tree trunk.
Reenacting and canoeing/kayaking frequently have a synergy for me; ways of
living in the outdoors as a primitive reenactor transfer easily to kayaking.
See you on a river!
I hope so, Walt! Of course, not everything you find on a river is fun. Sweepers and
strainers, for example. They don't always look dangerous, but they can
kill. What to do? Well, every paddler knows that a properly-fitted, high-quality
life jacket is her most important piece of gear. It won't do you any good
in your pack, however, so it has to be easy to put on. And it has to stay on
in the water, too. But how many paddlers realize that it can be just as
important to be able to take your life jacket off quickly, as well?
Alastair Dent, an Australian paddler now living and working in the UK,
tells us why:
Whispering Death Averted
Many years ago, I was keen on kayak racing. I owned a couple of boats,
and trained mostly in a down-river racer. (These aren't common nowadays
they are very narrow, tippy and fast kayaks, meant for racing down through
I trained each day on a river that ran near my parent's farm. In winter,
this river ran fast and deep. In summer, it was nearly dry (this is in
Australia). The fluctuating water level meant that it was full of
treesbig, small, tangled, dead and living. No rapids, but have you ever
tried paddling through tangles of trees in fast water? Worse than weirs or
Anyway, being young and foolish, I trained alone. There was a particularly
difficult bita gap between fallen trees, not quite as long as my kayak.
To negotiate it, I had to paddle into the gap, swing the bow over, and paddle
hard to get around the end of one of the trees. Not too hard going downriver,
but damn difficult going upriver. A sensible person might have portaged
aroundbut I haven't mentioned the 20-foot vertical banks, have I?
Anyway, one day the river was a little fuller than usual, I was a little
tired after a morning's work on the farm, and I misjudged it coming back
upriver. The bow swung around, and there I was stuck against the tree trunk.
"Great," I thought, "I'll have to clamber out onto the tree trunk"
a big tree
"and go around again." Then I realized that I was sinking. The
current going under the tree trunk was strong enough that it was pulling my
entire boat down with it. I had a moment or two to panic, and then I was over.
I exited the boat, and realized that I couldn't get back to the surface. My
PFD was doing its jobexcept that I was now under the tree trunk.
The combination of the current and PFD had me trapped. I panicked, thrashed at
the waterand nothing happened. Enough time went by for me to calm down
and think (good thing I could hold my breath for about 2 minutes back then).
Then I realized I still had my paddle in my hand. I tried bracing it across
the current, so that it pulled me down. It worked! I felt the trunk
scrape past me, and I popped up on the other side.
Lessons to learn from this: When I bought the PFD the salesman said that
its only defect was that it was difficult to remove in a hurry. I couldn't see
why that was a problem at the time
. If I had been able to pull it off
quickly, I could have escaped the tree more quickly.
And lesson #2? Don't paddle alone!
A narrow escape to be sure, Alastair, but a happy ending nonetheless. And
speaking of happy endings, it's time for me to wrap this up. Look for more of
soon. Until then, keep readingand keep writing to tell us what's on your
mind. It's Our Readers Write!
Copyright © 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights