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
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
Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same
Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate
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.
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
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
I have loved Paddling.net 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
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!
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
I enjoyed your articles on integrating bikes with paddling [see list
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.
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
Them's the Brakes
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
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
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.
Do You Want Chips with That?
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
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
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
When a Fire's Not Enough
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.
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.
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