The Practical Paddler
Full Circle Spring Gleaning Made Simple
By Tamia Nelson
March 16, 2004
When I was growing up, most adults had bitter memories of the
Great Depression, and those memories shaped their lives. Even prosperous farmers dressed in
rags only one stage removed from complete disintegration. When they came into town on market
day, they'd pause in front of every store window. Some would only shake their heads, but
others would mutter something to themselves. We kids would edge closer, anxious to hear
whatever these ancient sages had to say. More often than not it was a simple sing-song rhyme:
"Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without." Then the baleful bard would glare at the
nearest kid's shiny new bike and stamp off to make another deposit at the bank.
Times change. The Great Depression has dropped below the horizon of common experience.
Good riddance, I say. I've never been a great believer in the idea that suffering builds
character. Still, the village ancients of my youth had a point. Long before the word
"recycling" entered the language, they'd learned the value of thrift in a hard school.
We might as well profit from what they endured. Are you about to embark on your spring
cleaning? Are you sick of the clutter in the shed, garage, or basement? Believe me, I
understand. Sometimes I get so tired of the mess that I attack the offending room or building
with a "take no prisoners" attitude. Who needs all those widgets, anyway? They take up space,
collect dust, and I never seem to find a need for them. Into the trash bin they go. And then,
not long thereafter, I find that I desperately need a widget. Too late.
Take it from me. Don't be too hasty to throw things out. You never know which of them
might be useful. All sorts of items can be given new life and augment your paddling gear into
the bargain. Call it recycling.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Is there a CD in your mail every month,
offering you 1000 free hours of Internet access, on condition that you use them in the next
two weeks? I've been throwing these out. Not Art Denney, though. He
uses them for signal mirrors. Great idea!
That's just the beginning. Do you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner? Have you tried boxed
wine? If so, then you know that the wine is dispensed from heavy-duty plastic bladders. After
the last drop of wine is swallowed, don't throw away the bladder. Rinse it out, dry it
thoroughly, and recycle it.
Wine bladders have to be one of the best inventions of modern times, right up there with
the remote control's MUTE button. They make great bulk food and water bags. Need cheap flotation for your
boat? Inflate salvaged wine bladders and you've got it. A partially inflated wine bladder
makes a terrific seat cushion, as well, but mind the spigot! It used to be the case that wine
was dispensed through a simple, low-profile rubber valve. Today, wine bladders are outfitted
with hard plastic spigots with push buttons or twist knobs. Sitting on one would be a pain in
the butt. There was a time when I had a small box full of the rubber valves, but I tossed
them into the trash. I wish I hadn't.
The new, improved spigots can be difficult to remove, but a simple tool can come to your
rescue. Remember when your local hardware store was a family operation and not a Big Box?
They used to give you one of these handy gadgets whenever you bought a can of paint. If you
have one, don't throw it away. Mine has a bottle opener on one end and a pry bar on the
other, and it's perfect for tackling recalcitrant wine spigots.
The HyperMart is a happy hunting ground for thrifty paddlers. The long loaves of Italian
bread I buy are sold in heavy-duty plastic bags which are perfect for bulk foods. Flour,
sugar, coffee, tea
all carry very well inside doubled bread bags. Best of all, they're
free. Don't neglect the produce department, either. I slip bananas, apples, and other produce
into plastic bags torn from the bulk rolls conveniently placed throughout the department.
When I get home, the bags are put aside to be used to contain food on the trail.
Before purging the garage of shipping boxes and packing materials, think twice. Some
shipping materials can be harvested for use as paddling gear. Mail-order companies ship items
in boxes stuffed with large air-filled pillows. The resourceful paddler will use these for
I bet that if you've got a pile of discarded building materials out in the garage, it
contains the makings of a new boat rack. And if you've been thinking about building a
wannigan or bulkhead, you'll need some sheets of
plywood. You may find all the plywood you need in the "scraps" pile that's destined for
the recycling center. Do you use battered, holey aluminum pie tins to corral screws and
nails? If you can spare a few, turn them into deadmen. The next time
you go camping on a beach,
you'll be glad you brought them along.
Recycling found materials needn't be complicated. When I needed a cockpit cover for my first kayak,
manufactured ones were hard to find, and they cost more than I wanted to pay. One day, while
rummaging through my box of make-and-mend materials spare zippers, nylon threads in
colors to match gear, hook-and-loop tape, and ripstop patches I came across a sheet of
coated nylon taffeta. The edges were slightly frayed, but heat-sealing them would take care
of that. I knew I'd found my cockpit cover.
The illustration shows how I did it. The fabric overlapped the cockpit by at least two
inches. Originally, I thought I'd sew a tunnel seam around the perimeter to hold a bungee,
just like the real thing. When I made the trial fitting using a length of braided nylon cord,
however, I realized that this wouldn't be necessary. I tied a figure-eight
loop in one end of the nylon cord, threaded the other end through the loop, and pulled
the cord taut under the coaming, locking it in place with two half
hitches. (I doubled the bitter end before tying the second hitch, making an
easy-to-release slip knot.) After tugging on the fabric edges to smooth out wrinkles, I was
ready for a trial run. The road test went off smoothly. My new cockpit cover was bomb-proof.
So what if it was inelegant? The cover had cost me nothing.