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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

And So to Bed

A Place for Everything.…

By Tamia Nelson

August 5, 2003

My grandfather — my other grandfather, the one who wasn't an Adirondack guide — served in the Coast Guard in his youth. And like most folks who are well into their second half-century, he had a vast store of anecdotes. One of his favorites began, "'A place for everything, and everything in its place.' That's what they told us in the Coast Guard, and.…"

The story wound its way through numberless variations, but the ending was always the same: a guided tour of my grandfather's house. True to his word, everything had its place. There was the flashlight on the bedside table, within easy reach should something go bump in the night. (My grandfather always paused to switch it on, proving to any doubters that the batteries were fresh. "Be prepared" ran a close second to "a place for everything" in his repertoire.) Next came the portable radio for weather bulletins and breaking news. It too had fresh batteries. And then there were his shoes and socks, neatly lined up beside the bed, ready to slip into at a moment's notice. A bathrobe hung next to the door. Should disaster strike in the night, my grandfather would be dressed to meet it.

The tour continued through each room of the rambling old farmhouse. Afterward, while my grandmother served up slices of cake — preparing for emergencies was Man's Work; a woman's place was at her post in the kitchen — my grandfather would fix his audience with his eye, wag his finger, and gravely intone, "You never know what's going to happen here in the country. You have to be ready for anything."

In all honesty, I soon grew tired of this oft-repeated lecture, and I got heartily sick of hearing that there was a place for everything. Still, I had to admit that my grandfather followed his own advice. Whenever a thunderstorm or blizzard knocked out power in the middle of the night, some sixth sense would awaken him. In no time at all, he'd be out of bed, making the rounds of the house, flashlight in hand, knocking on bedroom doors and checking to see that all was well. It was eerily reassuring.

Happily, we paddlers don't often have to worry about power outages in the backcountry. But that doesn't mean there'll never come a time when you need to get out of your sleeping bag and move about camp in a hurry, long after the sun's gone down. After all, many folks can't make it through even a quiet night without having to answer nature's call. "A place for everything and everything in its place" is a motto worth heeding, even in the bush.

Want to avoid unpleasant surprises in the dark? Then get into the habit of squaring away your campsite before hitting the sack. It's good to have a plan. I find it useful to work from a mental checklist, going through each heading on the list just before turning in. You'll have your own list, of course, but here's mine.

Boats and Gear

Most canoeists and kayakers haul their boats ashore at the end of the day. Unless you're paddling a log dugout or other heavy craft, this makes a lot of sense. Boats left in the water or beached within reach of the tide have a nasty habit of drifting away in the night. If you do opt to tie up to a dock or moor your boat offshore, however, be certain that all your knots are secure and your anchor, if any, is well set. (WARNING Few small anchors can be relied upon to hold if the wind shifts or the tide turns. If you must anchor out, it's wise to sleep aboard your boat. You may wake up a mile or more from where you went to bed, but at least you'll have your boat with you when you open your eyes.)

Have you opted to beach your boat, instead? I'm with you there. But be sure to bail your boat dry before hauling it out of the water. Your back will thank you — and so will your boat. Then, once you're both on land, make sure that all float bags and other gear are well-secured. Coil your bow and stern lines, too. Canoes are best stored "bottoms up," overturned and allowed to come to rest on one gunwale, with their bilges angled toward the prevailing wind. A light breeze can lift a pack canoe, and a gale can make even a freighter take flight. To get the most from whatever level ground you have, nest all the canoes in your party together, well away from any trails. Lastly, if you're the belt-and-suspenders type, or if strong winds are likely, lash the nested canoes down. It's a nuisance, to be sure, but it's less of a nuisance than running around in the dark, driving stakes and lashing guys during a sudden three-o'clock-in-the-morning thunderstorm!

Ashore, as afloat, kayaks are most comfortable resting right-side up. If you don't want to give free passage to rainwater, insects, and small mammals — not to mention the odd snake or scorpion — it's a good idea to close the cockpit with a fitted cover. (If you lose your cockpit cover, a piece of heavy plastic sheet will do in a pinch. Just lash it to the cockpit rim.) Kayaks can fly, too, so be sure you tie them down. If you have long painters fitted, it's easy to do: pair the boats off, secure the painters fore-and-aft, and then stretch each boat's painter over its neighbor. Stake the painters down at the bight and you're done. Paddles and other loose gear can be placed between the boats.

Putting Your Kayaks to Bed

Easy, isn't it?

Paddles and poles can be laid on the ground under (or between) canoes, as well. Whatever you do, don't leave them lying across the path to the privy, or leaning against trees or rocks. To avoid tempting porcupines and other salt-hungry nibblers into mischief, rinse the dried sweat off grips and shafts.

Kitchen Matters

Fire and food are the main concerns here. Drown your campfire before turning in. If, like many paddlers, you prefer a portable stove, be sure it's cool, and then refill it before stowing it away in your pack. Extinguish any lanterns, too, and don't leave lighters or matches lying around. Put them where you can find them easily, somewhere they'll be sheltered from the rain. (Matches can also attract nocturnal nibblers. They're best stored in a metal or hard plastic match-safe.)

And speaking of uninvited guests, a clean camp is your best guarantee of an uninterrupted night's sleep. Gut fish far from any likely camp site. Wash all your cookware and utensils every night, and dump the dirty water in a shallow (6-inch) "cat hole" at least 150 feet from camp, lakeshore, or riverbank. (Fill in the hole immediately afterward.) Never burn food or garbage in your fireplace, and don't take food into your tent or sleeping bag. Farwell broke this rule only once. He awoke to see a skunk sitting just beyond the foot of his sleeping bag, carefully unbuckling the straps on his duffle. The skunk then extracted the remains of Farwell's lunch and settled down to enjoy a good meal. After he finished, he snuffled companionably about the tent for a few minutes before saying goodnight and waddling off. Farwell resumed breathing shortly thereafter. It could have been worse. It could have been a bear.

Ah, yes. Bears. In bear country — and most North American canoe country is also bear country — it's best to double-bag food and to hang all food packs. This also ensures that the resident squirrels and other diminutive camp-followers get some much-needed exercise. But hanging may not be enough. In many popular parks, the bears are now accomplished riggers and steeplejacks, capable of getting into even the most ingeniously suspended pack in a matter of a few minutes at most. Only tough plastic drums will discourage these Artful Dodgers. And what if, despite your best efforts, a bear asserts a claim to your food stores? Don't argue the point. Chances are good that he's bigger than you are, and he's almost certainly better armed. Better to miss a few meals than to become part of bruin's midnight snack.

Do I have to remind you not to deliberately feed wildlife? Ever? Under any circumstances? I didn't think I did.

Common Areas

OK. Food packs get hung high. Any other packs that don't go into the tent can be stored under (or in) your boats, or under a well-guyed tarp. Don't leave loose gear lying around. Maps, notebooks, cameras, and binoculars are much too valuable to trust to the mercy of the wind and the rain, not to mention the discretion of inquisitive passers-by, both two- and four-legged.

Personal Space

Rinse the sweat off your life jackets, dry them, and then tuck them into a boat or a pack. (A freshwater rinse is a good idea after a day on the ocean, too.) Hang any wet clothes on a line strung under a tarp. Use clothespins if you have them. If not, twist two lines together and catch the clothes between the two. I usually put wet or muddy boots just outside the tent door, someplace where they're out of the way, yet sheltered by the fly and still accessible.

Don't forget to check the guy lines on your tent and tarp before calling it a day. Taut but not drum-tight is right, though if either tarp or tent is cotton, it pays to slacken the guys a bit. Even if you don't expect rain, cotton swells (and shrinks) in the humid night air. Under some conditions, this may be enough to yank tent pins right out of the ground or tear the fabric of a tent. Once you're in your sleeping bag, place eyeglasses and flashlight near at hand. Net storage-hammocks are good for this. And make sure your flashlight works!

A personal hygiene note for women only: Don't try to burn soiled sanitary napkins or tampons, and don't bury them. Store them in sturdy, doubled, sealed plastic bags, or — even better — in an air-tight, screw-top plastic jar. Do NOT keep them in your tent. Hanging is best.


It's a long way from the wilds of New Jersey to a riverbank camp on the Canadian Shield, but my grandfather's maxim is no less valid for all that. A place for everything, and everything in its place. Compulsive organizers are on to something. That midnight dash to the privy is less likely to end in a slip-and-fall if you're wearing your glasses and your flashlight's in your hand, rather than in some dark corner of the tent. You'll sleep better when you get back, too, knowing that you won't be invited to join a grumpy bear for an early breakfast. At least I know I will. 'Night, all!

Copyright 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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