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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

Buddy, Can you spare a Light? Plus
When to Fold 'Em and How to Hold 'Em
(And Tow 'Em and Stop 'Em)

November 30, 2004

Winter. The season of hard water. It's not most paddlers' favorite time, but the cold days and long nights have their compensations. After all, what would the streams be like in spring without the melting winter snowpack? Low and slow, that's what. Of course, not all canoeists and kayakers pack it in when the last needle falls from the tamaracks. Some are paddling as we write, even in the frozen north, and they'll probably keep at it until the last bit of open water closes in.

They're the hardy ones. For the rest of us, winter is the time to get the skis out of the closet and loosen the straps on the bike helmet to accommodate a balaklava. It's also the time to catch up on our correspondence. We need it. Our virtual mailbag is seldom empty for very long, and the three months since the last "Our Readers Write" have been particularly busy. We're still answering letters. If only we could write as fast as we can read! (And while we're on the subject of our tardiness, our heartfelt apologies to Dick Patterson of Calgary, Alberta, who wrote to us in connection with "The View from Hubbert's Peak." Farwell's belated reply bounced, but we'd like Dick to know that his note was very much appreciated. Hope the message gets through.)

Moving on, here's just a small sample of what other paddlers have been good enough to send our way lately. We're sure you'll enjoy them all as much as we have.

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate

Dear Farwell,

In "In the Bag? Folding Kayaks and Canoes" you state:

[F]olders can take some getting used to. They have to be assembled and disassembled each time they're used. It's not hard to do, but it takes a little practice to get it right. And it takes some time — typically 15-30 minutes. If you usually arrive at the put-in half an hour after everyone else, a folder isn't the best boat for you.

But just because a folding kayak can be taken apart and reassembled, does not mean that it has to be taken apart and reassembled. A folding kayak can be kept assembled for long periods of time, but still retain the ability to be taken apart when the need arrises.

Also, my Klepper has been dragged over rocky shores, etc., with little harm, so I think your article at least slightly exaggerates the "looking after" aspect. Indeed, I'm not sure most fiberglass boats would hold up as well.

Terry Alford

• • •

Farwell replies:

Right on, Terry! And while I suspect that most boaters will continue to prefer hard-shell canoes and kayaks to their folding counterparts, I can't see any reason to alter the conclusion of my original article: "Few boats…are more versatile [than folders] — or more fun to paddle."

That said, folders ARE designed to fold, and other qualities are sacrificed to this end — economy, if nothing else. Any boater who keeps his folding kayak or canoe fully assembled is forgoing one of the boat's principal virtues, and perhaps risking damage, as well. I've seen a fair number of folders with hogged keels, a defect their owners ruefully attributed to car-topping the fully-assembled craft for long distances at freeway speeds. It should also be borne in mind that metal fittings (and frames) can corrode over time, particularly if a boat is often used in salt water and stored in a hot climate. A folder that's been left assembled for too long under these conditions may suffer a certain stiffening of the joints. In extreme cases, it may even cease to be a folding boat.

The durability question is a complex one. I suspect that both folders and hardshells hold up about equally well under everyday wear and tear, but that folders are more likely to sustain damage when subjected to extreme forces (in pitchpoling, say) or gross abuse (bridging a heavily loaded boat between two rocks, for instance). Folders will also require more frequent routine maintenance than most hardshells, including varnishing (wooden frames only), rinsing in fresh water after every saltwater excursion or beach outing, and airing before (folded) storage.

On the other hand, folders may well be easier than hardshells to put right when things go wrong, with many repairs requiring no more than a patch, a tube of cement, and perhaps a needle and palm. Moreover, parts for folders are almost infinitely replaceable, giving old and infirm boats a new lease on life. Even if the result is a little like grandpa's ax — after 90 years, his old double-bit is going strong, though it's had three new helves and two new heads — you'll still have a serviceable, seaworthy craft. And that's what counts.

All Packed Up and Ready to Go

Dear Tamia,

I have loved since I found it! I have recommended it to several paddlers. Your stories are entertaining, and I especially recommend you to people who are learning, as your descriptions are really informative. The article on ferrying around difficult bends had great pictures describing the process. My husband and I have learned entirely by trial and error, so any chance to teach folks how to get around tricky bends is useful. I think the first thing any new paddlers should be taught is the "Whoa, buggy!" — that is, how to successfully stop a canoe. Would have been great to know our first trip out, preferably before our tutorial with Mr.Strainer, a tough taskmaster to be sure!

With reference to the importance of pre-trip planning, which you mention in "Moving On," my husband and I have only been paddling a few years, but last year, after forgetting several items we consider essential, we put together a dedicated float-trip bag. It now contains all our "must-haves" on the river. It is the first thing in the truck, and restocked after every trip. Makes packing very easy, and you know where the essentials are in an emergency.

And while I'm on the subject, back-up is never a bad idea, first-aid kits especially. If space permits, an extra pack with a few bandages, triple antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory in a second dry bag isn't such a bad idea. Throw in some waterproof matches, and you are set. Thanks again for all your great info. Keep it up!

Stephanie Waggoner

PS Your local pharmacy is a great source of waterproof containers. Ask for large Ziplock®-type bags and/or large (empty) prescription bottles. (Potassium bottles are great.)

The Road Less Traveled By

Hi, Tamia!

I enjoyed your articles on integrating bikes with paddling [see list below].

Some years ago a friend and I used a "bike shuttle" to paddle the Hillsborough River near Tampa, Florida. We drove to the launch point (Hillsborough River State Park). Then we put my old Peugeot road bike in the canoe. When we got to the take-out at Sergeant's Park, I simply pedaled the six miles back to the launch point. On the way, in a field, a horse gave me quite a run for it. He (she?) raced me the length of the field. I was quite concerned when the field came to an abrupt end at a fence, but the horse simply veered off to the right, just in time to avoid crashing.

More recently, I made a trailer out of some salvaged bike parts for my British sea kayak. I'm towing this with a discarded Italian folding bike the eleven blocks to the boat ramp on the Manatee River in Bradenton.

David Riman
Bradenton, Florida

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks, David. Glad you've enjoyed the articles. A folding bike makes a lot of sense for any paddler — how come I never find good stuff like that at the local landfill? — and it sounds like your do-it-yourself boat trailer is just the ticket for a real no-octane trip, too. I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see a lot more amphibious paddlers in the years to come. After all, how often do you get a chance to combine two great sports — and get to thumb your nose at each gas pump you pass, into the bargain? (Readers who haven't yet tasted the joys — and occasional frustrations — of amphibious paddling may find the following articles useful: "On Your Bike?," "Bikes for Boaters," "Outfitting for Adventure," and "There IS a Free Launch.")

Them's the Brakes

Dear Tamia,

Enjoyed "Paddlers' Wheels" but you shouldn't pooh-pooh disc brakes. I have mechanical (nearly maintenance-free) disc brakes by Avid on my Giant Rainier. I really like those brakes. They work great when wet and the pads are pretty cheap. They lasted about two seasons of casual riding. And NO drippy lines.


Paul A. Stradley

• • •

Tamia replies:

Sure sounds like a better disc brake to me, Paul. And thanks for the heads-up. While I won't be replacing my linear brakes right away — if the brake ain't broke, why fix it, right? — I'll certainly give mechanical discs a look when I'm next in the market.

Changing tacks, now: "One Match is All You Need," my recent article on fire-making, really lit up our virtual switchboard. A few of your hints and tips follow.

Up to Scratch? Where to Find a Better Match

Tamia, get yourself some lifeboat matches from Brigade Quartermaster. They won't blow out in a wind, and their case is waterproof until opened. Good gear, and good folks to deal with.


A Really Hot Tip

Hi, Tamia!

I enjoyed your article and thought I'd pass along a tip I've found very useful. Instead of using bark, etc., I've been making my own fire-starters for the past few years. They're simple to make. First, I cut some corrugated cardboard into strips approximately 1.5 inch x 4 inches. Then, after melting a block of paraffin wax (VERY carefully) in a double boiler, I dip the strips into the wax about halfway, then set them aside to cool. They pack flat in a plastic sandwich baggy, and you can easily carry more then you need. When ready to light, I make a little tear in the cardboard near the wax, light it and place it into the prepared kindling. It'll burn very hot for a few minutes, and using them you can (almost) guarantee a one-match fire.

Happy paddling,

Dave Sargant

Do You Want Chips with That?

Dear Tamia,

I got to thinking about your article. Something I heard about several years ago and have tried successfully a couple of times is using potato or corn chips as tinder in starting a fire. You want to make sure you have a couple of bags of the good greasy kind with you! The baked kind don't work nearly as well. It is interesting to note that really oily chips seem to light easier with matches rather than a butane lighter. I think the butane lighter burns off the oil too fast.

Doritos® and Fritos® work well. Ruffles® are quite good, too.

You can have a snack/fire-starter in your camp kit. Try it. You'll be surprised!

Whit Patrick
Newport, Oregon

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks, Whit. I tried it. It worked for me, too. And, yes, I was surprised. There's one problem, though — I tend to scoff the chips before I get a chance to use them as fire-starters! What's that old saying? "You can't eat your cake and have it, too"? Right on. Still, I can't think of a tastier example of multi-tasking.

When a Fire's Not Enough

Hi, Tamia!

Nice article on fire building. Your examples were classics. One word of additional help to those who want to build fires right away is to consider the conditions around you. Sometimes it's more prudent to erect/build a shelter first, particularly in survival situations. Obviously once the tent's pitched, or the poncho lean-to is made, the warming fire is a must. I guess my point is to remind people that if they don't have a shelter built, and the weather worsens before a fire is made, you have just created a new problem. So, shelters first (again, talking more survival, critical situations, not a weekend camping trip) and then go for the utility or traditional fire.

Tom Watson

• • •

Tamia replies:

Good point, Tom, and one we've made from time to time ourselves, most recently in "Smoothing It." Then again, sound advice can't be repeated too often, can it?

That's all for now. Our thanks go out to everyone who took the time to write. Please keep telling us what's on your mind. It's Our Readers Write!

Editors' note: No letter appears in "Our Readers Write" without the author's permission, and all letters are subject to editing before publication. We receive many more letters than we can reprint here, but we do our best to answer every one we get. We sometimes fall behind, though. Please bear with us.

Copyright 2004 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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