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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

A Few Words From the Texas Hills
And Two Notes From Nanaimo

May 31, 2005

At last! Summer's come to North America, and paddlers are making the most of it. As departure dates loom nearer, routes are scrutinized and tweaked, travel arrangements finalized, and piles of gear crammed hastily into bulging packs and bags. It's a hectic time, and in the midst of all the hubbub and hustle it's hard to keep our eyes on the prize. That's why we need to take a break now and then, to step back and remind ourselves what it's all about. This week we do just that, with a little help — make that a lot of help — from two paddlers at opposite points of the compass, as they reflect on the joys of seasons past and present, on good water, good food and good company, and on the good life in general. Not to mention turkeys and toothpaste. And paddling, of course. Always paddling. That's why we're here, after all.

It's quite a departure from earlier editions of "Our Readers Write," but if you're ready to slow down and drift with the current as it winds around the bends, we're betting you'll enjoy it. We certainly have.

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

First, however, a cautionary word. Although there's nothing in these letters to make a dominie (or even a member of the Federal Communication Commission) blush, they're nonetheless adult fare. Some of the things our readers have written about might well prove dangerous, at least on a bad day. Like riding a motorcycle at speed down country roads. Or paddling an open canoe, solo, in tidal waters. Or raising turkeys. You probably already knew this, of course. Be guided accordingly. You only get one stake in the game of life, right? So if you don't want the first hand you're dealt to be the last one you play — and who does? — don't bet against the odds. 'Nuff said, I'm sure. Now here are…

A Few Words From the Texas Hills

Good grief, Tamia!

I just read "Holding Our Water." It is great work as usual, with good research and presentation and getting down to the real problems and solutions of something as basic as the fluid of life. As a retired (almost) engineer I do relish a writer who can get down to solutions and not simply roll out endless entanglements to ensnare a hapless reader like a cod in a net. Coming to the end of your article, I had to look again at the author's name to verify it really was your voice I'd been reading, not some adventurous young fellow's. I am proud of all your real-planet-earth childhood and beyond exploits, if I might say especially for a "girl" (sorry, I'm an old cod and couldn't help throwing that in). Thanks for sharing yourself and your water-toting experiences. I related to many of them.

Oh, yes, how are you and Farwell doing? Good, I can only trust for it is long time no hear. I have missed reading you lately but will try to get caught up. I've been off doing other things: working, purchasing a motorcycle gift to myself on the occasion of his 65th, raising turkeys (those gosh-dang endangered-species bigbirds are a failed experiment sooner to go into the freezer than later) and cows, gardens, etc..

I am no doubt getting paranoid (that doesn't mean they're not out to get me you know) as the years roll on, but have begun lately to avoid plastic-to-food contact whenever possible. I mean WHEN-EVER possible, as it seems increasingly difficult to find any food products packaged in glass, and even fresh produce we are expected to shove into plastic bags for the trip home, and after cleaning into other plastic bags. All these plastics in our food chain are not doing us humans any favors, I'm afraid, with many downside effects showing up, subtle, near term, long term, and otherwise. The point of saying this is to throw in the thought that those old stainless canteens you described are probably much more health-friendly than any plastic water container, "food grade" or otherwise. If this is true then one is forced to the conclusion that almost the whole bottled water industry is eliminated from our source of safe water, and most bulk containers are not best for storage or use. My solution, since I cannot strike water from the rock as a modern Moses (one presumes that divinely supplied water would be the pure stuff), is a top-grade water filter (yes, I'm afraid it is constructed of mostly plastic — there's always a fly in the ointment) on my tap and good old wide mouth Kerr® quart jars from the back closet or from the local discount store. That's my input for whatever it's worth.

I hope I'm wrong about plastic, but am no longer willing to take the chance. From now on it is stainless canteens and transport vessels for me on hiking and kayaking adventures. Yes, this is less convenient than commercially bottled water, but we humans often must make the less-convenient choice to protect health and sanity as best we can; the bottom line is it's up to us, no one else can or will do it for us; we alone are keeper of the gateway into our stomachs (and our minds). At least bottling one's own water — once the filter is paid for — is a step toward Ben Franklin's penny earned and toward self-sufficiency. We are fundamentally launched alone into this grand adventure of life, and I for one am so grateful to have been given the trust and opportunity of managing it myself. What I hate most in life is being patronized, and this real and often-harsh Universe certainly does not do that to us. As Joseph Campbell (one of my heroes) said, there is a terrible truth to life: that in order to live, we must feed off other life. He added the insight that this terribleness lays a finger of grandeur on life, and I agree. If other life is to die for our survival, then what does that say about the importance of our stewardship of that life? We may not recall having volunteered for this assignment of life, but that does not let us off the hook from taking up the reins offered us in a responsible way.

Speaking of health, last February my body had grown pudgy again from holiday feasting, and I was walking like Tim Conway's Old Man caricature, literally. I was depressed at my inability to control my appetite and its quite apparent acceleration of my aging process. Then one day a ray of light dawned as I was browsing the Internet for longevity articles. I ran across research reports on how restricted-calorie diet experiments have dramatically extended the life span and life quality of every species of animal and insect researched. Other papers reported on the research in the race to find drugs to mimic a restricted-calorie diet's effect on the human body, so that we could eat our cake and not have its result. Other reports listed research on "super foods" that offered the highest nutritional content and disease-deterring effects, with low calories. Within the week I had put myself on a 1600-calorie/day-or-less diet (with more or less success but not doing badly on balance), eating "super foods," those low in fat and high in nutrition, as much as possible: walnuts, almonds, oranges, onions, pumpkin (did you know that young Jack Be Nimble pumpkins can be used like squash and are delicious?), salmon, eggs, raisins, beans, spinach, turkey, whole oats, blueberries, blackberries, whole-grain bread, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, tomatoes, apples, sweet potatoes, etc.. All of it as fresh as possible (preferably eaten raw) and organic, and preferably from my own garden, and please not in plastic containers, and not cooked in aluminum.

The key feature of preparing this food is this: less processing is better; raw is best, commercial pre-cooking, grinding, rolling, pulverizing, preserving (whatever) is worst. You get the picture. I'm totally off white flower and sugars. When I want sweet I use only honey. NO soda pop or junk food, period. (OK, I eat a Watsonburger about once a week, without fries and with coffee, just to keep from being translated to heaven prematurely; and, oh yes, my wife does still fix biscuits on Sunday mornings.) For spread I eat cow's butter, sparingly, and for cooking, extra-virgin olive oil. I drink only filtered water, hopefully three quarts a day; with a tad of unfiltered, organic, apple-cider vinegar added (helps you absorb vitamins I've read). I also drink good herb teas often. I have cut way back on salt, and now use only sea salt, unrefined, with no anti-clumping metals added. And finally, I take vitamins (in moderation) and two garlic cloves a day (fresh, chopped into thin slices and swallowed with water like pills). Sorry if I smell like a freight train, but that's better than rigor mortis, isn't it? So I'm down from 245 max to 165 pounds now, for the first time since high school. (I'm five feet, ten and one-half inches tall — don't forget that last half inch.) And my left arthritic knee has largely cleared up, I can wash between my shoulder blades, my blood pressure is down to 122/75 for the first time since 1965, and I generally feel 10 years younger except when that Valkyrie bike is between my legs; then I feel 25 years old, no lie.

My exercise comes with our tiny amateur farm, with eight cows and 21 acres and walkabouts down the hill with the twin pups to the tank ("pond" to you Yanks) in the cool of the evenings to feed the koi (and turtles). About five times a week, we have recently begun doing a quick warm-up followed by a session in our newly acquired sauna (far-infrared heat only), for about 30 minutes at 132 degrees Fahrenheit, and then a hot shower to rinse away the sweated-out waste (as William F. Buckley, Jr., says in his autobiography, horse sweat seems wholesome but human sweat we usually quick-step to make less concentrated). Using the sauna requires study and care to replenish elements our bodies may well need to have replaced. I am using less soap, olive-oil soap only and very sparingly. I use no conditioners or colognes, and even avoid deodorants when possible. (Need to find some less-chemical product here — wouldn't it be great if women really are stimulated by the smell of a sweaty man?!). For toothpaste I use baking soda (this is my own crackpot idea, gleaned from my father, who used it from youth and lived to be 87 with all his teeth), followed by a dilute-vinegar mouth rinse (now that's an interesting sensation). Since I am unwilling to spread pesticides and the odd chemical on the sensitive organ of my skin, I cover up from the bugs and from the sun; it can be done with just a bit of care, such as long-sleeve shirts and long pants (why do American men insist on looking ridiculous in Bermuda shorts?), large brimmed hats, and full helmet with UV visor when on the motorcycle (some plastic exposure is better than other exposures; you puts your money down and plays your bets). If all this sounds paranoid then it probably is, but at 65 I'm through eating and drinking and dressing for Southern Living, or even for The New Yorker, bless their pea-pickin' hearts. But paranoid or not, for the first time in my life I am giving my body fuel as I have always wished I could, as one would responsibly fuel a fine-tuned, sensitive machine, rather than treating my body as a human garbage-disposal.

From now on I am what I eat and drink. I'm out to be Thoreau's man: the one whose gross body used to reveal his gross spirit. You know, I like myself so much better now. I cannot tell you how much. And I thank heaven for the willpower or sheer terror or whatever for this new place I've come to. And a great side benefit I've discovered is that food tastes great when you're hungry: any food. At my old weight I took no joy in eating even excellent meals, but now a good slice of Ezekiel Bread and mild onion is a gourmet feast, and sneaking a teaspoon of peanut butter (forbidden but indulged) is peeking over the curtains into ecstasy! There is much to be said for staying on the lean edge of our appetites, a truth that we Americans are sorely tempted every day by super-abundance to assign to the scrap heap of history or to evolution. What a tragedy for art in all its enfoldments, and for life's enjoyments (the art of walking the path of the true human being), and even for law and governance and civility. May we never find ourselves at the curse of our gifts, is my prayer for all of us.

At this moment I think how often in my life I have sailed past my halcyon hours and not known them at the time, and would not have believed them to be pinnacle experiences had someone attempted to point it out. I remember, for instance, a certain autumn Saturday afternoon in 1959, on a back country road outside Tulsa, a journey beyond the veil of passion.…. But I digress.

Oh, yes, if we could just get the kayaks out on the lakes or rivers more often! (I've heard tell that some folks even live near the ocean.) And speaking of plastics and messing about on the water, kayaks and sailboats are one place I can fully accept plastic. (Just let the new sailboat outgas a year or two before sleeping overnight inside her with hatches closed.) Not many things, not even the motorcycle, beat sitting in my seventeen-foot "Tupperware" sea-going Necky Looksha IV on choppy water with wind and spray in my face and paddling power pulsing in my body. In that cockpit I don't feel 65 or even 25; I feel of no age at all. I am floating free on the waters of Planet Earth in a craft of ancient-modern human art, at one with wind and sky and sun and water and human capabilities and limitations. The fish and I are of a shared environment; we both breathe the element oxygen. They swim there; I swim here; each at home on our side of the liquid-to-gas boundary, separated only by a thin skin of polyethylene. (One of my dreams is to one day paddle close enough to a sounding whale to look into his or her eye.) [Editor's note: To avoid running afoul of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it's important to let the whale take the initiative in any such encounter. Better yet, keep your distance and use your binoculars.] In the kayak all sense is new; no longer are my feet crunching down on solid earth by the interaction of gravity and my own mass and energy, in motion by the laws of inertia and my inward sense of balance, in a perpetually arrested (we hope) fall. Gliding in a kayak is as close as I will come in this lifetime to my recurring sleep-dream of spreading my arms and flying. Could we not agree here that plastic comes to heaven's intended use (all things have a purpose, don't they?), just as chrome and gasoline and leather were created for motorcycles, and computers for 3-D solid design modeling and instant communications. By the by, I am working on designing a motorcycle trailer to carry my kayak to Lake Texoma or the Red River, but am doubtful it will ever be practical because of wind gusts and gawkers. What do you think?

Ah, the autumn days are upon us even in Texas, when the paddling rises to its pinnacle for me, with a thermos (glass or stainless) of coffee and a good sweater (cotton or wool) standing by. May we cast off into the waters of the deeps and see what halcyon moments or what big medicine life has in store for us who have the good dispositions and equipments and environments to seek it out. There will be rained-in and snowed-in Saturday afternoons enough and to spare when we are not called to get off our duffs, and if we are lucky there will be good health and warm hearth and books and brew and dog and cat, and a good partner too, and we can gaze out the windows feeling snug, musing of those nearer-perfect moments, when we were out there.…

And finally, in defense of reasonableness over a suspected case of early-onset senility, or worse (mental illness), let me say that I fully realize the long years of my life when I felt invincible and glibly lived: laying in the sun wet with lotions just for the sunburn (but alas, my Scotch-Irish skin does not tan); cooking in aluminum and Teflon-coated pans; happily drinking any tap water; moving into brand-new houses the day after the paint dried and the carpet was tacked down; eating more than my fill of anything I wanted (more gravy please, and another big slice of pecan pie with three dollops of chocolate-caramel ice cream); gulping sixteen-ounce Cokes from yellow plastic, piling on iodized salt and artificial butter and mayo and floating my pancakes in syrups and jellies; and buying larger clothes every year. But when one goes through a few years of beginning to wheeze and shuffle and limp after reaching sixty, and one's younger brother dies of heart trouble, and your doctor just shrugs and suggests handfuls of anti-inflammatory pills, then the years ahead take on a troubled tinge and one casts about for solutions, and you make whatever adjustments seem reasonable. Yes, you err on the side of caution, but since when was that a fault? Actually my dear old Dad had shown me the way, eating fresh vegetables and fruits sensibly and sparingly all his life, shunning junk foods, red meats, alcohol, and soft drinks. He lived happily to a spry 87, working in his gardens the day he died. So I readily admit that old age has forced me into finally treating my body with the respect it wanted all along. Would to heaven I could have awakened sooner. And as to the motorcycle at age 65…what would you suggest, that I wait until I'm 70?

Now if we can just squeak through this election season without, as Thoreau observes dead-on, the sewers of the town flooding through our homes!

Stop this already-too-long rant right now, John Winston. Go feed the turkeys and coax them out of the yard, away from Dora's grandfather's petunias. Good grief!

My regards,

John Caywood
Hill Farm, Texas

Two Notes From Nanaimo

Hello Tamia and Farwell,

I just discovered your writing on What great stuff! I am a new canoeist, just bought my first boat three months ago. Sold a sailboat — wife went out once and got seasick, teen son thought dad's cruising sailboat boring. I wanted a boat I could use the way I use a bicycle; keep it in the garage, cartop on impulse to a likely place, get a couple of hour's exercise, occasionally go for a longer "tour."

I had not seen "Solo v. Tandem," but it was just the dilemma I faced in the spring. (I do know enough about boat design to understand flatwater tripper vs. whitewater play boat, rocker, tumblehome, etc..) In the end I went to the spring sale at Western Canoeing and Kayaking (makers of Clipper canoes), a day trip from my Vancouver Island home to Abbotsford on the lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada. They were very knowledgeable and helpful, and I wound up buying a delightful compromise tandem/solo, their Tripper-S. It is a foot shorter than their classic Tripper model. Tumblehome amidships with an angled solo kneeling thwart as well as two low bucket or tractor seats. In the first weeks I got out on the water more than I had in the sailboat in two and a half years! However, a dedicated solo boat may be in my future because I have now been out over 40 times and only had a passenger six of those times: son three times, wife a couple of times, and corralled a visiting brother once. Paddling solo has the usual drawbacks of single-handing a tandem but to a lesser degree. Yesterday, British Columbia Day, a statutory holiday, I was out with the sea-kayakers in Newcastle channel and Nanaimo harbour. Stiff head wind outbound and contrary tidal current. Hard work, but I passed some inexperienced kayakers under the tutelage of an outfitter's guide. I employ an old trick in these conditions: water ballast. A couple of folding water bags, bow and stern, add maybe 60-70 pounds holding the ends in the water and supplying much-needed momentum. My boat is a clear Kevlar® "ultralight," only 48.5 pounds on the builder's scales complete with three seats.

And I forgot to mention the other appeal of water ballast: it won't sink you should your canoe be swamped. It retains neutral buoyancy when submerged. Of course, as I think of improving self-rescue odds, I realize the ballast bags would still probably best be jettisoned before trying to free the canoe of water. That would most likely not be too difficult even from swimming around the swamped canoe. One must perform the hoped-for self-rescue expeditiously in our frigid waters. They aren't like a summer stream or lake.

While I have been on the salt water a couple of times — we are, after all, surrounded by the stuff — I have delighted in the discovery of numerous lakes and rivers on the island. Vancouver Island is fringed by small islands, but is, itself, close to 500 kilometers (300 miles) in length. However, in order to visit the small islands more I am investigating supplemental flotation. As you will understand, canoe information is not easy to come by when you live in the heart of kayak country/waters. So your article on flotation was again much appreciated.

I will look forward enthusiastically to any forthcoming articles on coastal canoeing. As you can imagine, the reaction to the idea here, mostly from kayakers, is one of incredulity, if not disdain. However, even last Monday I encountered several other open canoes on the salt water in the channel and in Nanaimo harbour. And as long as twenty years ago I knew a Washington state couple who shipped their large touring canoe as deck cargo on a coastal ferry to Southeastern Alaska. Then they proceeded over several weeks to canoe back down the coast of British Columbia to their home on the Puget Sound. They traveled the relatively sheltered waters of the Inside Passage, protected from the greatest of the Pacific's seas by the islands, large and small, that sprinkle our coastline. Doubtless, others have done the same. It would be wonderful if you could unearth some of these adventurers' tales for your articles on coastal canoeing.

I am rambling on. So, let me just say what a great job you are doing and what a service it is to people like myself.

Thank you.

Paul Glassen
Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

And, from a later letter…

I wrote a while ago about my initial experiences paddling my first canoe — purchased last spring. As I mentioned then, in the first several dozen times on the water I had a companion only half a dozen times. Moreover, as a solo, I found the Tripper-S a bit of a handful in winds, and that made me reluctant to get on the water even on days when the conditions were really quite safe.

While shopping before buying the Tripper-S, I had seen a sweet little We•no•nah Vagabond at a shop in Victoria. I think it might even be what is called a "pack boat." It is 14'6" x 29" with bow and stern heights several inches lower than the Tripper-S for importantly less windage. Built of ABS, it was only a few pounds lighter than the Kevlar® (read "expensive") Tripper-S despite the difference in size. But also due to the ABS, it was less than half the price (and on sale because they were closing out their We•no•nah line). And, of course, it is ABS durable so I need not fear rocky shorelines and even some beginner experience on shallow rivers.

The little Vagabond's ability to keep going in wind has led me to venture more onto the surrounding "saltchuck." I celebrated my 59th birthday recently with a four-hour circumnavigation of Newcastle Island between Nanaimo harbour and Departure Bay. Ironically, I am taking the smaller boat into higher wind and wave conditions than I would the larger boat — at least paddling solo. I have increased my chances of self-rescuing by adding a single float bag under the solo web seat and I have end bags on order. More practice is planned when the weather is warm enough.

It is a fascinating delight how adventuresome one feels making landfall on a rocky island in the Strait of Georgia knowing that no one with more boat than an easily-lifted canoe or kayak could safely land here. I hop from my able little craft, quickly lift it a few feet up over the rocks above the water, and I am free to explore a small island that surely must rarely experience a human footfall. However, non-human beings clearly find it a useful place to visit. Scattered about in the brush a hundred feet above the waterline are abundant shells of things like chitons and even an occasional small bird-bone where flying gourmands have made their meal atop the island. A fifteen-minute walk allows me to reach the far end of the island from where I have landed. The height is perfect for a binocular scan of surrounding islands and even the entrance to Malaspina Strait behind Texada Island twenty kilometers across Georgia Strait. I take a few hand-held compass directions to compare with my chart later on. Upon returning to my landing site I am amazed to find a cactus pod stuck in the side of my wellington. Some of these little islands are in a micro-climate created by the proximity of the big-island mountains to weather of them. Dry areas are created by the same adiabatic weather system that makes the ocean side of Vancouver Island's mountains a rain forest. After a snack and a cup of tea I re-launch and discover I can circumnavigate the island faster than I could walk it. Then it is downwind and some experimental surfing homeward bound. In only 45 minutes of vigorous paddling I am back to the marina at Schooner cove, returned from my "wilderness" adventure!

From the Texas hills to Texada Island in half an hour or less — who could ask for more, eh? Our heartfelt thanks to John and Paul, along with everyone else who's taken the time to e-mail us. Keep telling us what's on your mind. After all, it's "Our Readers Write"!

Editorial note: No letter appears in "Our Readers Write" without the author's permission, and all letters are subject to editing for clarity and continuity. Links, when present, are added by the editors. While we receive many more letters than we can reprint here, we do our best to answer each and every one we get. We sometimes fall behind, however, and mail occasionally gets lost in transit. So if a couple of weeks have gone by since you wrote, and you haven't heard back from us, don't give up. Send us a heads-up, instead. We'd appreciate it.

Copyright 2005 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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