The Things We Carry
A Paddler's Vade Mecum
The Secrets of My Getaway Pack
By Tamia Nelson
June 14, 2005
Could anything be better than a day on the water
that you hadn't counted on? It's the best kind of surprise. Maybe a lousy weather forecast
changes for the better at the last minute. Or the boss decides that the quarterly
report is good enough just the way it is. Or the foreman cancels all mandatory
overtime. Whatever the reason, you've been given that most precious of gifts:
free time. You can already hear the music of the water. But there's always a
catch somewhere, isn't there? Let's see
How Things Can Go Wrong
It's Friday morning. You're in your car on your way to work, creeping along at
the speed of a winded jogger past the latest five-car pile-up on the overpass,
while the air conditioner circulates the usual summertime blend of gasoline fumes
and hot tar. Then a chirpy voice on the radio tells you that a dry cold front is
moving across the state. The thunderstorms
that were forecast earlier aren't going to happen, it seems. The weekend is
looking great. Suddenly, you can see a canoe trip in your future and the
future is now. Only one thing still stands in the way. Work. But just as you
settle into your cubicle, your boss stops by to tell you the Friday afternoon
department meeting is cancelled. She's leaving early to beat the traffic on the
expressway. And it looks like you'll be right behind her.
You are. You make it home in record time. That's when things start going
wrong. Your gear is scattered all over the house. Your tent poles aren't in the
stuff sack with the tent, and the fly has a blown seam you forgot to stitch up. A
truckload of lumber is now stacked against the cradle in the garage where you
store your boat, and one of the locking knobs on your roof rack is broken. Worse
yet, you can't find the replacement you ordered after your last trip. Your spare
paddle is missing, too, and you don't remember that you loaned it to a friend
till you've searched for it frantically for nearly an hour. Then real disaster
strikes. You look in all the kitchen cupboards and you can't find any coffee. You
must have drunk the last cup in the house before you left for work.
Despite all this, you struggle to get it together. And you succeed. With the
sun only a hand's breadth above the horizon, you finish loading your boat
on the car and packing your gear in the trunk. You even find your spare
paddle, stepping right on it on your last trip out the door. It's just where your
friend dropped it off a couple of nights ago, in the shadowy corner under the
jack pine. Luckily, it isn't broken, so you throw it in the back seat. A few
minutes later and you're easing cautiously out of your garage. In your mind's
ear, you can already hear the loons calling across the lake. Then a car pulls up
the drive, blocking your escape. One look at the couple in the front seat tells
you all you need to know. It's Ronnie and Mildred, your old high-school buddies.
The vision of Lonely Lake that's kept you going all afternoon vanishes in an
instant. Its place is taken by images from the video diary of Ronnie and
Mildred's trip to Disney World, the centerpiece of their last unannounced visit.
You wonder what new treat is in store for you tonight. If only you'd been
Can you see yourself in this picture? I can, and I'll bet you're no different.
Most of us are inclined to put things off, and the list of deferred tasks often
includes many of the small chores needed to keep our paddling gear in top shape
and ready to go. This is only human nature, I suppose. But we pay a price in
missed opportunities nonetheless. So
What Can You Do About It?
That's an easy one. Get organized. Or, in Baden-Powell's timeless words, "Be
prepared!" Begin with your next postfloat
check. Clean and dry your gear as soon as possible. Make repairs promptly. Stow your boat and
accessories where you can get at them quickly and easily. And that's only the
beginning. Unless you live right on the water, you'll have to get yourself and
your boat to the put-in. If you go by car, keep your gas tank topped
up and don't neglect scheduled maintenance. Mechanical breakdowns are never
fun, but they're particularly trying when they happen on weekends, long miles
down some out-of-the-way forest road.
Or do you haul your
boat to the water behind a bicycle? OK.
You won't need to worry about gas, but your bike needs regular attention, too.
That's the reason for pre- and post-ride
checks. Don't skimp on either one. Trailside repairs aren't anybody's idea of
a good time, and not many bicycle shops offer road service.
Is that all? Not by a long shot. What about the dozens of items that you bring
along on even the shortest weekend
adventure? Tracking everything down at the last minute can really slow you
up. Remember Ronnie and Mildred. Minutes count. That's why it pays to keep
everything together in one place: a dry corner of a shed, say, or a shelf in the
garage, or a basement closet. Or you can go one step further and do what I do
It's simplicity itself. All that I need for a spur-of-the-moment getaway goes
in my favorite
pack, a roomy frameless rucksack, lined with a waterproof dry
bag. With my Getaway Pack, my boat, clothing to suit the season, my life jacket,
and a couple of paddles (single- or double-blade,
depending on the trip), I'm good to go at an hour's notice, anytime from mid-May to mid-October, for
an afternoon or a long weekend. To borrow Colin Fletcher's wonderfully apt
metaphor, my Getaway Pack is a house on my back. And here's the layout:
- Medicine Chest
- Hall Closet
Now let's look at the contents in more detail:
Bedroom Except for a few weeks in late May and early June
flies attack in hordes, a tarp is my
favorite minimalist shelter. In fact, even when the flies are out in force, a
light mosquito net makes the tarp into a pretty fair bedroom. Both tarp and net
go into my pack's inside back pocket, and the half-dozen nylon guys knotted to
the tarp's grommets make it a snap to rig a roomy canoe shelter.
A light plastic groundsheet protects the bottom of my two-and-one-half-pound
polyfill mummy bag from rising damp, while a featherweight three-quarter-length
Therm-a-Rest® mattress protects my bottom from bumps in the night.
The sleeping bag travels in a waterproof stuff sack lashed under the flap of my
pack, with the deflated Therm-a-Rest® wrapped tightly around it.
Wardrobe An ultralight poncho keeps the rain off back and
pack on the portage trail. It, too, stows in my pack's inside pocket. A change of
socks and underwear keeps me comfortable, a fleece vest and
hat keep me warm, a mosquito head net keeps me sane, and a pair of light
moccasin pacs keep my
feet dry in camp. A large cotton bandanna serves as headband, washcloth, and
towel, among many other things.
Kitchen At home I have a full batterie de cuisine,
but on weekend getaways I get by with a one-quart aluminum billy whose lid is
deep enough to double as a bowl, a metal pot-grip, a clip-together fork and
spoon, and a one-pint steel cup. When open fires are
unsafe or impractical, an alcohol
stove also comes along. Simple? You bet. And cheap, too. With the exception
of the billy and the cup, everything in my kitchen is military
Pantry I keep staple foods for three days in my Getaway Pack
at all times, replenishing them as needed immediately after each trip. Simple and good are
the only rules here. Drinking water's too
heavy to bring from home, though. So I get it from whatever floats my boat.
A bottle of
tetraglycine hydroperiodide tablets keeps most (but not all!) waterborne bugs
Medicine Chest This has first-aid supplies for both me and my boat. The
exact contents depend on what boat I'm favoring at the moment not to
mention the current state of my all-too-mortal frame but I never leave
home without duct tape and an elastic bandage, or without DEET-based insect
repellent and SPF30 sunscreen.
Hall Closet Here's where all those odds and ends that don't
belong anywhere else end up. A matchsafe or
butane lighter, a compass, and
a knife are
always in my pockets, as are a small waterproof
notebook and a pencil. My sunglasses seldom leave my eyes from sunup to
sundown, while my maps travel in a waterproof envelope tucked under the flap of
the pack (and tethered with a lanyard), where they're often joined by a sketch pad.
An LED headlamp (a technological marvel whose three AAA cells provide something
like 40 hours of useful light), a pair of compact
binoculars, folding reading glasses (for the fine print on the quads), and a
small roll of toilet paper also call my pack home. A couple of water bottles
round out the list one in use, the other in reserve. And that's it.
Of course, it isn't enough to have a list. After all, most paddlers have this
gear, and much more besides. But you won't be ready to beat Ronnie and Mildred to
the punch till you
Put It All Together
So pack your Getaway Bag. Today. And don't forget Murphy. Like it or not, he
comes along on every trip you take. Make it hard for him to give you grief. Line
all stuff sacks (even "waterproof" stuff sacks) with sturdy plastic bags. Then
check the contents of your pack immediately after every trip. That's the
time to replace the food you ate and anything else that you used up or wore out:
toilet paper, water purification tablets, flashlight batteries, socks.
sure to fix what's broken, too. Not tomorrow or the next day. Right now.
Is my Getaway Pack perfect? Obviously not. Every boater will have her own
ideas about what's essential for her. Just adapt. (Make sure you always
bring the Ten
Essentials, though.) Kayakers with skinny boats may prefer a deck bag to a
rucksack. Families will need more pots and a bigger tent. Couples can share some
common items. Ring the changes to suit your own sensibilities. But don't sweat
the little things, or quibble over half ounces. Take what you need, no
more and no less. The important thing is to be prepared.
Time, free time, is too precious to squander. Don't let it slip through your
fingers. Organize. Prepare. Be ready to grab your gear and head for the water at
an hour's notice. Make your boat shipshape, have your wheels at the ready, and
keep your Getaway Pack stocked and handy. It's your vade mecum (that's Latin for
"go with me") the passport that lets you cross the border from everyday to
holiday whenever and wherever you get the chance. So the next time Lady Luck
smiles, remember this: Ronnie and Mildred are on their way. There's not a moment
to be lost!
Copyright © 2005 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights