Our Readers Write
An Appetite for Summer
May 30, 2006
There's no mistaking the signs. Young Canada
geese are swimming behind their parents in sheltered waters. Wood ducks are
prospecting for nest holes, and loons are guarding their eggs. On the forest
floor, the trilliums have already bloomed and faded, along with bloodroot and
hepatica, while the aptly-named Canada mayflower is coming into its prime.
And that's not all. Gas prices are up. Way up. Yep. There's no doubt about
it. Summer's come to Canoe Country at last.
What a difference four months makes. When "Our Readers Write"
appeared in this space, spring was still a distant prospect in the
borderlands of northern North America. Now it's history. Still, this isn't
the time to mourn spring's passing. I'd rather look to the future. With
summer's arrival, paddlers' horizons widen. Plans for Big Trips
come together, while Weekend
Adventures become frequent treats. And long or short, all these outings
have one thing in common the need to eat. Like armies, paddlers travel
on their stomachs. So it comes as no surprise that letters about food
dominate this month's "Readers Write." It's a subject dear to every
canoeist's and kayaker's heart.
In fact, paddlers' appetites often seem to grow with eating. And
Paddling.net always does its best to make sure that no paddler gets up
from the table hungry. That's why there's now a regular food columnist at
GuideLines. In the
months to come, Anne Desjardins will be offering a growing menu of
mouth-watering treats to fuel our engines, along with plenty of advice on
matters pertaining to good nutrition and healthy eating. So there's no reason
why any regular visitor to the Web's best paddling site should ever again be
at a loss to answer the perennial question, "What's for dinner?" Of course,
In the Same Boat readers have a lot of good ideas of their own on the
subject. Just read on.
And speaking of reading on, we're sorry to say that we've once more fallen
behind in answering our correspondence. Far behind. Our excuses? A new
day job and a couple of book projects that have finally gotten traction
not to mention the irresistible pull of the soft summer air, the call
of the open road, and the exhilaration of free-flowing water. But if you've
been waiting for what seems like forever to hear back from us, please don't
give up hope. We're going to knuckle down and clear our In-Trays. Soon. We
Now it's time to serve up this month's "Readers Write." Bon
Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest,
In the Same Boat
Keeping Food Fresher, Longer
I love your articles. I'm always learning something new that I can use the
next time out. I just finished "One Pot Meals
Made Easy" and the related piece on cheese, and
a thought occurred to me. One great way to keep cheese, or anything else, for
an extended period is by vacuum-sealing it. Do it before you leave home with
a FoodSaver®. The smaller model isn't that expensive and will do a great
job. In fact, you can seal each meal individually rather than just putting
them in plastic bags. The bags are completely waterproof and will keep food
from spoiling a lot longer.
Of course, if you really want to get fancy you can purchase
FoodSaver® plastic containers (three different sizes) with a lid that
hooks up to a vacuum line. That way it's easier to make up a stew or whatever
and seal it with the liquid. Then all you have to do is dump the whole works
in one of Farwell's "double-duty" Sigg pots and you can retain every bit of
home-made flavor. Mmmm! (That's just a little joke. As my daughter would say,
"Very little, Dad!")
Thanks for all the great ideas. Keep up the good work!
Sounds like a real "tripsaver" to me, Larry, with the important caveat
that anaerobic bacteria, including the justly feared Clostridium
botulinum, flourish in low-oxygen environments. If you exercise the same
care in selecting and preparing foods for sealing that you would in canning,
however, all should be well.
Thanks for the tip and enjoy the summer!
Still More Greens to Go
Hello again, Tamia!
Just a few comments around "Salad Days
Greens (and More) to Go." Consider dehydrating shredded cabbage. I
use prepackaged coleslaw mix. Start rehydrating it at lunch and by dinnertime
it is ready and has all the crunch of fresh cabbage. We always add sunflower
seeds and sometimes carry croutons. My favorite dressing is portion-control
packets of Ranch, but we also make our own vinegar and oil on-site or repack
store-bought dressing in 8-oz Nalgene® bottles. This salad option keeps
forever in the field. Also, anyone who likes bread-and-butter pickles has to
try dehydrating them. They rehydrate well and have the same crunch and flavor
as right out of the jar.
What a toothsome suggestion, Ron. Thanks!
A Tasty Tour de France
I grew up with those big
rounds of Cheddar you knew, too. If cheese dries out or hardens while
stored in a cool place, it is great toasted over the fire on a long fork and
plonked on a slice of toast. In France we ate it for alfresco lunches with
bread and fruit, getting whatever the region was known for and listening to
the recommendations of the salesclerks. Cheese has also gone with us on
Sierra Club week-long trips, chosen from big-city specialty stores for lots
of variety in degree of softness and flavor. Oddly, the Cheddar that I loved
from childhood did not pique the taste buds of my companions, and I had a big
chunk to take home. You were right about the keeping qualities, though. Early
in the week we had soft brie, them moved on to blue cheese and Edam, and
finally to the Cheddar and Parmesans. The array of breads, crackers, and
crispbreads that appeared to complement these lunches was eye-opening as
well. That might be an idea for another column.
Thanks for a "keeper" article.
You're welcome, Betsy and thank you, both for the tips and
for your evocative trips down memory lane. Not only did you make my mouth
water with the account of your Tour des Fromages, but I've never seen a
better testament to the incredible versatility of cheese as a backcountry
In Praise of the Simple Life
I've never understood others' drive for food diversity on river trips. I
just haven't ever gotten tired of cheese, dry
sausage, and maybe peanut butter on heavy bread, mixed with a little
The combination of fat, salt, and majestic flavor (if you pay enough for
the wedge of cheese, that is) seems to be perfect for tripping.
We're of a mind, Fred mostly. While there are times when I
"live large" in the backcountry, I'm happiest with simple fare. It's
difficult to improve on good bread, good cheese and hard sausage and
Farwell probably couldn't survive without peanut butter. Come to think of it,
maybe the secret is the silt.
In any case, the simple life has a lot going for it. In fact, I've just
written a column on that very subject.
After the Meal Burning Issues
I was shocked to read your claim that burning garbage "is now
discouraged." [See "Mopping-Up
Operations" -ed.] Especially if you are in bear or raccoon or ant
country (who is not?) and have established fire pits, incinerating all trash
is the only safe way to go. Burning "tin" food cans removes all temptation to
varmints to seek them and lick them. You can then pack out all smashed and
burned (and now sterilized) metal containers.
I was also surprised to read that you recommend
cast iron. I avoid cast iron when camping, unless all cooking will be
from a car. Stainless steel and titanium pots are much lighter. I even have a
thick cast-aluminum Dutch oven that is better than cast iron, because it is
You make some very good points, Cal. In fact, both burying (which I
advocate in my article, though with many qualifications and caveats) and
burning run counter to the doctrines of "no-trace" camping, and for roughly
the same reason: neither method can be relied upon to discourage foraging
animals and eliminate environmental or health hazards. Buried food waste is
often some would say always, though this hasn't been my
experience discovered and dug up, and burning seldom if ever destroys
all traces of food residue. Established fire pits present the greatest
problem, unfortunately. They're often close to tent sites, for one thing, and
not many campers understand how hot a fire it takes to "incinerate" garbage,
nor do they realize that some trash (foil envelopes, for example) won't burn
to ash at any temperature likely to be reached in a typical open fire. The
result, at least in heavily used areas, is often little better than an open
garbage pit a noxious nuisance and a guarantor of sleepless nights.
By contrast, when and where burying food waste (never cans, of course!) is
legal, it at least eliminates the fire risk
associated with burning garbage, while placing any attractive nuisance at
some distance from sleeping campers. As you suggest in your letter, however,
the best solution and the only one permitted by regulation in a
growing number of parks and reserves is probably to sequester food
waste and other trash in airtight containers and pack it all out, along with
more-or-less solid human waste as well. The limitations of this approach
are obvious, but I suppose it's the price we have to pay for the growing
popularity of backcountry recreation. Our towns and cities are often
hard-pressed to find cost-effective ways to dispose of garbage (and human
waste, for that matter) safely. It's probably too much to hope that
wilderness parks can do a better job.
You're right about cast iron, too: it certainly ain't light. But if I'm
humping a 105-pound canoe over the portages as I've been known to do
from time to time the extra five pounds of a cast-iron skillet don't
add much to my total load. Of course, I don't always pack iron. I own both
aluminum and stainless steel pots, a spun-aluminum dutch oven, and a gem of a
light Sigg steel frying pan. These have also seen plenty of use over the
trip is different. I take what I think I'll need, or what I fancy.
Sometimes, though certainly not always, that's cast iron.
Thanks for writing. The subject of backcountry garbage disposal is a
difficult one, rife with contradictions and ambiguities, and it certainly
deserves more attention than it's gotten heretofore in "Our Readers Write."
Your letter has helped to change that.
An Old Soldier Fades Away
Some time ago one of your articles made mention of "wellies," or
Wellingtons, to wear canoeing [see "In Wellington's
Footsteps" -ed.]. From your description, these are not the
leather slip-on boots that are normally referred to as Wellingtons. I've
watched the English comedy series Last of the Summer Wine, and one of
the characters wears wellies. They look similar to the high rubber boots many
farmhands wear in our area of the country. I've had that kind of "farm" boots
and wouldn't care to wear them canoeing or farming for that matter.
They are good waterproof boots, but they're heavy, awkward and not all that
comfortable walking in.
From what you've described, real wellies are lighter, and portages on wet
and slippery trails can be made easier. So I'm assuming that they have an
adequate tread on them for good traction. For years I've worn a "farm and
ranch" slip-on leather boot made by the Georgia Boot Company, both while
working on a farm and while canoeing. I just treat them with SNO-SEAL®,
and they are waterproof enough to stand in foot-deep water. They are also
lightweight, and they breathe, so that my feet don't sweat in them. But they
are lacking good tread for trail walking. I suppose I could replace the sole
with a Vibram®-type lug sole, but I have been lax in doing so.
I've not been successful in finding a supplier on the Internet for the
type of Wellingtons you described in your article. I would greatly appreciate
any information you could provide as to where those boots might be available
here in the States.
I hope you have better luck than I've had, G.F.. Wellies (as you rightly
inferred, this is short for Wellingtons, though the historic connection with
the Iron Duke isn't altogether obvious) are indeed knee-high rubber boots,
but their resemblance to barn boots is only skin deep, despite the fact that
they are often worn by British farmers. They're no heavier than most
light hiking boots, they fit snugly around the ankle and calf so
snugly that getting them off over sweat-soaked socks can be a chore
and the uppers are quite flexible. They also have a lugged sole that gives a
good purchase on most surfaces other than wet wood and algae-covered rocks.
I've worn wellies walking survey lines from dawn to dusk without suffering a
single blister, and they've kept my feet reasonably comfortable in
temperatures from 95 degrees Fahrenheit right down to minus 10 or so. For
best results, I recommend medium-heavy wool socks. And it's good to take your
wellies off at noon to let your feet breathe for a while. A change of socks is
mighty welcome when you put your boots back on, too.
Of course, not everyone likes the idea of wearing rubber boots for hours
at a time, but they work for me. Or, more accurately, they worked for
me. Past tense. Wellies were long my favorite canoeing wear for most anything
except "serious" whitewater. But the problem now is finding a pair at a
reasonable price. L.L. Bean seems to have dropped inexpensive wellies
from its catalog for good, and real British wellies cost as much as many
high-status running shoes. No well-dressed Brit
wears anything else on the grouse moors, it seems, and they've also become
part of the weekend uniform of the Landy (as in Land Rover) aristocracy,
including most of the sportier members of the British royal family. Wellies'
price now reflects the company they keep, I guess. In any case, they're
priced well out of my reach. That's a problem. Having worn my last pair of
cheap wellies to tatters, and having no wish to go into debt to buy a pair of
rubber boots (even if there is a royal crest on the box), I've now come full
circle, falling back on light nylon-and-leather hiking boots for most
backcountry walking, paddling, and portaging. My feet get wet, obviously, but
I've gotten used to it. Watching me pour water out of my shoes for the
umpteenth time, however, Farwell was inspired to go one step further. He now
sandals from ice-out to freeze-up, both on and off the water, and adjusts
to changes in temperature by changing his socks, progressing from neoprene to
none as the mercury rises. He claims that the sandals are working out well,
although he, too, misses his wellies.
The upshot? If wellies don't move down-market again, and soon, I may just
give sandals a try myself.
A Passion for the Wild
I returned from paddling around Cape Romano near Marco Island last
November, and in September I completed a trip to Everglades City, my two
favorite places in the world. I am an angler by passion, second only to my
love of nature. On my trip to Romano, I saw peregrine falcons, bald eagles,
manatees, tarpon, roseate spoonbills and lots of the regular birds. (And
I caught 22 snook!) I've paddled small boats all my life, but I'm new to kayaking.
I absolutely love it, and especially southwest Florida (as far away from
civilization as I can get). Jet-skis were a menace around Marco Island,
I really enjoyed your article about the Everglades [see "The Joy of
Swamps" -ed.]. Thank goodness everybody doesn't love it like we do,
or we'd have to take a number.
Have you visited Corkscrew Swamp? It's a foot adventure. Go early for the
best wildlife viewing and take a camera and a tripod, and you can get some
wonderful photos. You'll have low light, but the critters are very
cooperative and usually sit still for a slow shutter.
The nemesis of most of my adventures is having to wait for a ramp or park
to "open" to be able to get going. I'm accustomed to starting long before
dawn to get to where I want to be when the sun rises.
Glad you liked "The Joy of Swamps," Ron. A kayak is a wonderful
tool for exploring the world's watery corners, and few of those corners are
as rich or as fascinating as a swamp. But that's not news to you, is it?
And no, although I've spent time in Big Cypress Swamp, I've never visited
the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Not yet. So it's something for me to look
forward to. You better believe I'll get up early when I do!
Thanks for sharing your passion for wild places.
A passion for wild places and the creatures who call them home that
seems like a high note to end on, doesn't it? And let's hope that the day
when we all have to take a number to visit our favorite places
won't come anytime soon. As always, our heartfelt thanks to everyone who sent
us their comments and questions, not to mention the many hints and tips. Keep
it up. After all, it's "Our Readers Write."
Editors' note: As we mentioned
last time, we assume that it's OK to reprint any letter we receive,
unless the writer tells us otherwise. All letters are subject to
editing before publication, and we reserve the right to add links to articles
or other resources where appropriate. Please note that we receive more
letters than we can reprint, and sometimes we get more than we can answer
promptly. So if you've waited a while and you still haven't heard back from
us, don't give up. Send us a heads-up, instead. We'd certainly appreciate the
Copyright © 2006 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights