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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

The Practical Paddler

Full Circle — Spring Gleaning Made Simple

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

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 flotation.

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.

Got It Covered!

No one in his right mind wants to revisit the Great Depression. But it can't be denied that the men and women who lived through this grim time learned to make do with very little. There's no reason why we shouldn't follow their example, is there? A lot of our "junk" can be recycled into useful gear. And best of all, it's usually free. That's one offer I can't afford to refuse. Can you?

Copyright 2004 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.
















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