Our Readers Write
From the Earthy to the Sublime
A Paddling Salmagundi
July 31, 2007
Summer is well under way in Canoe Country. July
Fourth and Canada Day have come and gone, and there's only one more big holiday
weekend before the school year starts. But that doesn't mean the fun is over,
does it? And not all of the action is outdoors. Even now, at the height of the
paddling season, folks find time to write to In the Same Boat. What's on
their minds? All manner of interesting things. The length of this week's column
reflects the range of topics and the volume of mail. Read on.
And speaking of our mail, the letters you see reprinted here are just a
sample. Maybe your letter is among them. Then again, maybe it's not. Maybe
you've written to us and haven't gotten a reply. If so, please accept our
apologies. We, too, have been making the most of the all-too-brief interval
between ice-out and freeze-up, and unanswered letters are piling up in our
In-Baskets. Your letter may be among these. Rest assured that we do our
best to answer every piece of mail we receive, and sooner or later we will!
Now let's dive right in and see what our readers are writing.
Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest,
In the Same Boat
The Perils of Answering Nature's Call in a Kilt
I was just reading "When You Gotta
Go" and ran across this bit: "You may come to appreciate the kilt."
As an avid kiltsman, and a pooper for some 34 years now, I can say with some
authority that pooping and kilts are much more of a logistical nightmare than
the layman might think. (Urinating whilst wearing the kilt is quite simple, on
the other hand.) Those pleats on the back of the kilt make it almost impossible
to get it out of the way of the upcoming mudslide. Think about it. With the
average modern kilt having four to five yards of fabric and the average man
having one yard of waistline, where does the rest of that fabric go? The
I generally wear pants on paddling trips. Sitting in a low canoe seat whilst
wearing the kilt is a sure way to offend, scare, titillate, or otherwise
disrupt anyone who might glance your way. Sitting on a regular chair can be
done modestly without issues, but low canoe seats are another story, especially
if you keep your feet close and your knees high. Even if the seats were high,
the motion that one goes through to sit down in a kilt without royally messing
up the pleats might very well tip a canoe over.
For shorter trips a Macabi Skirt® can work, but it might cause more
consternation in others than the more familiar kilt. For pooping, a Macabi
would actually be easier because it is not pleated.
Thanks for giving me the
on kilts, Magnus! I'll pass the word along.
You Kneed to Know This Kayaking Can be
article about knees. Women have more knee problems than men (another highly
annoying part of our physiology). The physical therapist who helped me rehab
after an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) replacement and a couple of torn
cartilages (I used to play rugby 'nuff said?) told me about kayaking.
Yes, I have to be careful about moving boats, etc., but kayaking allows me to
get out to the "wilder" places that you don't get to by car. I enjoy your
I'm glad you liked "Tales From the Gimpy Knee Club," Pat. And while knee
surgery isn't much fun, it's great to hear that it was instrumental in bringing
you to kayaking. As you rightly observe, nothing beats paddling for getting in
touch with the wild side, however "civilized" the body of water that's under
your keel at any given moment.
More on Hydrotherapy
Nice article on the subject of
sore backs. One more tip: swimming is good also for the lower back.
Kayaking is unique in that if paddling is done correctly it involves core torso
muscles even more than the arms. Problem is, the torso rotation can put a real
strain on lower back anatomy that isn't used to such rotation. To make matters
worse, as we age the upper torso stiffens up, and the older citizens who rotate
their torsos while paddling may be putting more torque on the lower spine than
is good, resulting in injury and pain.
Swimming as therapy sounds good to me, Gene, especially on those days when
it's 90-plus degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. And it's a natural for paddlers,
too. Your cautionary notes about torso rotation also drive home the point that
no paddler of any age should ignore persistent pain. When your back's on
the line, it's always good to get advice from a health professional. In fact,
that's also the message of the next reader's letter, as well.
Back to Backs
It is good to know others suffer too and still manage to get out paddling.
Two things I would like to add to "My Aching
Back!" The first is to dress warmly, as letting your sore back get cold
will cause things to stiffen up, which will just make it worse. This is most
important, as I discovered in one flare-up from an old injury. I had made
things worse by paddling an empty canoe into the wind, and felt OK, as I was
very warmly dressed. An hour or so later when we headed for home, however, I
sat still in the car and peeled off my layers. I eventually got cold and
cramped up. Once I was able to get out of the car, it took me a good 20 minutes
to make it 10 meters into the house. I spent a week on my in-laws' living-room
floor recovering. Three cheers for Therm-a-Rest® mattresses!
I am sure if I had stayed warm, even over-warm, and taken some Advil®,
or similar painkiller or anti-inflammatory, I would have had a much easier
The second addition I'd make to your article is that if you have a back
injury, go see a physiotherapist. Their whole purpose is to understand the
limitations your injury is causing you and help you work back to a semblance of
normal. I have seen many doctors and specialists, but none was able to provide
me with any information as useful as my first physiotherapist. She taught me
what I was not allowed to do, and how I should approach things in a
safer, better way.
On a whole 'nother note, I just realized, when looking at your archives, that there is
enough reading material there to keep me occupied for weeks. I set it as my
default page when I open a new browser window.
I'm very glad you're finding plenty to read in our archives, Dave. Your
story, however, is a harrowing one. I can second your advice about the
importance of keeping your back warm, and while I've never needed to consult a
physiotherapist, your experience reminds us all of the importance of finding a
health advisor who takes the time to listen. Thanks for writing!
One More BeSOTed Paddler!
Just read "Making Your Own
Beginners' Luck" and wanted to say thanks. I have been on the "sit-on"
versus "sit-in" fence for my first kayak purchase, and reading your article on
sit-on-tops pushed me in the right direction.
It's always good to hear that an article has helped a reader out, Doug. Let
us know how you like your new boat.
A Very SAD Tale, Indeed
We must be close to the same age, and the trajectories of our lives sound
very similar. (Mine sounds more nearly ballistic, but I digress.) This might
explain why I feel I have to respond to so many of your columns.
With respect to "Buddy Can You
Spare the Time?" I'm a mechanical engineer, and I fit perfectly the
demographic that sacrifices a couple of carbon-Kevlar® hulls so it can own
a Rolex. But I don't. At each stage of development of the wristwatch, I've
happily put the old one in the desk drawer to get the latest that keeps time
better than a Rolex and that costs about what it would cost to insure and ship
a Rolex home for periodic maintenance.
My latest is a Casio G-Shock that has all the wonderful attributes of its
forebears but now synchs to WWV every morning
and is fitted with a solar battery charger. It works great.
Except in Alaska. First, there's no WWV signal, so I have to set time the
old-fashioned way. Second, it gets Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD). For a
couple of months around the winter solstice, the solar charger lets me down,
leaving a blank screen until I prop it up in front of my desk lamp for a couple
of hours. Even though Alaska has almost caught up to the Outside in hours of
daylight by the end of February, the watch still spends its days under the
sweater, parka, and mitt cuffs.
I live in Connecticut, but I got an excuse to spend late spring in
Fairbanks. This late in the year, I planned on scoring credit for an Alaska
winter without the suffering. Think again! I landed in a near record cold snap
that has had nightly lows of -40 degrees Fahrenheit and daily highs of -15
degrees Fahrenheit for the last ten days.
And my watch face is blank.
Gosh, Fred, I can't say I've ever owned a watch that was afflicted with SAD.
On the other hand, maybe that's what troubled my Timex®. In any case, it's
finally stopped counting down the seconds though I can't tell you how
much I'm looking forward to setting it back when Daylight Savings Time ends!
Still, another reader may have found the solution to the problem.
Sometimes the Answer is a Question
Great article ["Buddy, Can You
Spare the Time?"]. Thanks. I just have to ask one thing: have you tried
taking out the battery?
Nope, Fred, I didn't think of that! (Brain fade? Probably.) But I'll
certainly try it the next time.
Hidden in Plain Sight
Plain Sight" Now that's what I'm talking about. Tell us more,
and MORE of all our world's majesty and splendor to behold that we may be
humbled by its creation, and to me, by its Creator! Very nice, Tamia. Very nice
Even as a little boy on my swing, I would gaze up, outward, and all around
me, with a burning question in my mind and soul: Where did this all come from,
how did this all become what I see?
Thanks for your kind words, Dan. Wonderment is often the beginning of
knowledge, I think. At least it was in my case. And I'll be writing more
geology articles in the coming months.
Remembrance of Potholes Past
and Outs of Potholes" brought back memories. The best potholes in the
Carolinas are now flooded! They were part of the Keowee River, and they were
large enough for a grown man to swim thru them. If you're interested in seeing
old films of kids swimming the potholes, contact Frank Bell, Jr., at Camp
Mondamin in Tuxedo, North Carolina.
There are pictures
of the Keowee River from the 1960s on the Camp Mondamin website. Where
the kids are swimming and standing around is where the potholes were.
Thanks for the memories,
I'm glad my article awakened fond memories, Harding, and thank you
for the link to the Keowee River photos. (A cautionary note for younger readers
looking at these photographs: Life jackets are rarely seen in paddling photos
from the 1960s. But they're regarded as essential wear today and for
good reason.) Potholes seem to make a lasting impression on all paddlers, as
the next letter shows.
A Mystery No More
As an Adirondack transplant in Florida, I now have a mystery solved I
know how the rounded cobbles got in those holes. Thank you for your article
["The Ins and
Outs of Potholes]. Have you published a book? As an older, now
recreation-only kayaker, I love to discuss books. I paddle with Lars Anderson's
"Wanna Go?" crew and I can thank Paddling.net for helping me make
connections when I moved here. I love history, archeology, and everything
nature. My first Key paddle was exciting with the dolphins and BIG fish
a-jumpin'. Thank you again for the insight about those cobbles.
Glad I could help, Caren. I'm delighted my article dispelled the mystery of
the stones in the holes. Now, to answer your question: No, we haven't
published a book. Yet. But at long last one's in the works. Stay tuned.
It's also great to hear that Paddling.net has helped you hook up with
other paddlers, and that you're finding so much to see in and around Florida's
waterways. My visits there have always proved to be too short. I'm hoping to
Potholes With a Difference
A very fun and informative piece on
The first time I saw potholes (that I recognized as such) was on a trip
for WORK down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church
River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho. I was traveling with the River
Manager and we came upon a big stretch with lots of potholes, and he explained
how they came about.
The Middle Fork also has massive high-water stages at spring melt, and the
River Manager explained the situation as you did. But there seems a twist
there, in that these potholes seemed to be (often) in RV-sized boulders as
well. And with the sediment movement of the river it certainly could push large
cobble-sized rocks downriver, sometimes catching in the holes. Sometimes the
holes had their grinding material replaced, with the cobble- or pea-sized ones
being carried out and later replaced by others. The manager said they spin
round and round. With the huge boulders with the potholes, a difference was
that sometimes the holes would bore all the way through the rock. I am sure
some of those potholed big boulders could be turned over by the river forces,
and new potholes formed on the new skyward-facing surface. Interesting when
those holes connect with the old ones and create something like L-shaped
potholes (looking at a cross-section).
Ain't Nature grand?
I'm glad you enjoyed "The Ins and Outs of Potholes," James. (Stone is a
wonderful surname for any student of geology!) I envy you your working trip
down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and I'd have loved to have seen those
potholed boulders. In fact, I have noticed similar potholes in large boulders
in Adirondack rivers, and I mentioned them in the draft of my article. But they
mysteriously disappeared later, during the editorial process. (Are you reading
this, Farwell?) Luckily, though, your letter fills this gaping hole in my
narrative. Thanks, James!
More Than Skin Deep
Thank you for "The Noxious Twins
Poison Ivy and Poison Oak." I work for a store that sells whitewater
equipment and have enjoyed your stories immensely. I just read your article on
poison ivy and poison oak. I've never been able to identify those plants,
though I've been lucky enough to have had only one brush with them. I wanted to
share the remedy I used as it seemed to help. I heard about it from my
mother-in-law. You take water in a pot and add white vinegar I think we
used between one-half cup and one cup of vinegar in a quart saucepan. We
heated the water on the stove to about as hot as we could stand, soaked a cloth
in the water, and then draped the cloth across the affected area. It stung a
little, and felt like I was scratching that whole area all at once (glorious!),
and then the itch would go away for a while. If memory serves it only went away
for 15 minutes or so, but at that point anything was better than the misery I
was in. This will most likely not be much use on the water, but for paddlers
who go home at the end of the day it might help.
Thank you again.
NRS Customer Service
It's good to know you enjoy our articles, George. I've never used a
vinegar-and-hot-water wash as a treatment for poison-ivy dermatitis, but then
I've never been much bothered by either poison ivy or poison oak. For those who
are, though, your mother-in-law's remedy certainly seems like it would be worth
trying, especially as it's close to one of the recommendations of a paddling
physician. Read on
A Doctor Takes on Poison Ivy
First, a compliment on your articles. Always well written with a comfortable
blend of technical information and descriptive, casual style. I look forward to
your notes, and have saved many in a trip-planning "cookbook" of sorts.
Second, a couple of anecdotal thoughts on poison ivy . Your comment [in "The Noxious Twins
Poison Ivy and Poison Oak"] that "the rash will be a memory in a
week" is a bit of an understatement, and probably applies only to the very
localized reaction, as you alluded to. In my experience, it is more commonly a
two- to three-week monster, and possibly even longer. I've made the mistake of
prescribing a short course of steroids only to see it come roaring back 3-4
days after discontinuation. If you are in the category of needing oral steroids
for disseminated rash (or inhalational), I've found a tapered 21-day course
fits the bill, and eliminates a frustrating rebound.
You're absolutely correct that urushiol is a good traveler, and I would add
a hardy resident, as well. I've treated National Guard troops who had, the year
before, crawled straightaway into their sleeping bags on a cold summer night
after a day in the woods. The following year, a change in temps might have them
stripping down to their briefs, or less, only to meet the urushiol of the year
before. Lesson learned? Do not take your exterior layer to bed, and the
annual soapy-water 'bag wash is still a good idea if done in accordance
with the specific manufacturer's recommended cleaning technique, of course.
As for the relief methods, Benadryl® was overlooked. I always have some
in the pack, not so much for the "itchies" of poison ivy, but for the potential
allergic reaction, food reaction, or bee sting that might just as easily be
encountered, particularly when traveling with kids. One should however be aware
that Benadryl is a sedative, and canoeing after taking Benadryl is akin to DWI.
It should therefore be avoided if at all possible during the day, but might
provide some needed nighttime relief. You are correct that plain water can
spread the urushiol, but after the absorption phase (most in 10 minutes, some
up to 2-3 hours), a bath as hot as tolerated helps relieve skin histamines (the
cause of the itchies), and may provide a few hours of relief as well. There is
some thought that even a late washing (2-3 hours) with soap and water may
reduce the overall severity. Clean it off as quick as possible.
I'm no dermatologist, just an everyday Emergency Room doc. No great answers,
just a few additional thoughts. Great articles. Keep up the good work.
Dr. Scott Knutson
Thanks for taking the time to write in response to "The Noxious Twins,"
Scott. It's very good to have a physician's perspective, especially when paired
with such detailed (and thoughtful) recommendations. I'm adding your letter to
my own backcountry "cookbook," as insurance against the day when I lose my
relative immunity to the evil effects of the noxious twins.
Sometimes It's All Right to be "All Wet"
The biggest mistake I see newbies make in entering or
exiting their kayaks is trying to stay completely dry. The last couple of
people I have helped I made walk out into knee-deep water first. It eliminates
a lot of trouble. People try all kinds of strange stuff just to avoid getting
their toes wet. Once they are wet, however, they tend to be a lot more
Excellent point, Lazlow. Kayaking means getting wet. It's best not to fight
it. Go with the flow, I say.
Triumph in Adversity
Ins and Outs of Kayaking," you missed my entry procedure. First, though, a
brief explanation. I have a very bad back, arthritis (especially in the knees),
no facial bones (one hit to my face and I'm a goner), and a host of other
medical problems. I can only paddle flatwater, due to these and other
I find it easiest to straddle my kayak, sit on the rear deck, lift both legs
into the cockpit, then slide forward into the seat. I can also do this from
either side, just lifting one leg at a time into the cockpit. Unfortunately, I
haven't perfected getting out of my 'yak yet. My many cases of sitting
down in the water, or dumping myself out in three to four inches of water have
given good laughs to many people.
By the way, kayaking is the only sport I have found that I am able to do
during the past 17 years. Isn't it a wonderful sport?
Thank you for the many articles you have written on Paddling.net. I
have gained many insights and much knowledge from them in my three years of
'yakking with my family.
I don't think I've ever encountered a better example of determination
triumphing over adversity, Bob. Kayaking is indeed a wonderful sport, and if
our articles have helped you, I couldn't be happier. I would, however, add one
cautionary note: While most modern kayaks will easily support a paddler sitting
on the rear deck, some ultralight layups may not. Readers who want to try Bob's
entry method and it's one I've used myself from time to time
should therefore test their decks first, just to be sure they'll bear the
Another Way In
Ins and Outs of Kayaking," LOL! I enjoyed your informative
instructional. I have tried the "bridge" methods and they work OK, but I
developed my own way of getting into my little boat. I grasp the coaming, keep
my backside facing the cockpit, and slowly just fall in backwards! I let my
feet hang over the side until I get my paddle ready. (I always use a paddle
leash, though what I'd better start using is a dang boat leash!) So far,
this method of entry and exit has worked just great for me. Haven't missed the
seat a single time. I just have to hit the seat I couldn't stand
the laughter of those who may be watching if, or when, I do miss. When I first
started paddling, I thought about getting the boat in perfect alignment with
myself, running out to it and just diving in. But there was always the matter
of something called boat movement. With the ever-present wind or current, I
just didn't want to take a chance of missing on my "dive."
Anyway, as always, I enjoyed your article. I definitely have to learn a
better way of getting OUT in a steep drop-off at shore. The bridge methods will
do the trick
We kayakers certainly do give bystanders a good show, don't we Kent? But
that doesn't matter. We always have the last laugh kayaking's just so
darned much fun!
Keeping that Showroom Shine
I am a relatively new kayaker who just bought a Subaru Outback wagon and
J-style carriers to cartop my Manitou 13. I have a question regarding
tie-downs to the front bumper. I understand the mechanics of
car-topping, but what I'm wondering is this: How can I insure that I don't
damage the paint on the hood where the straps contact it?
Also, someone told me to make sure that I put a couple twists in each strap
in order to prevent vibration. I wasn't aware of the need to do that but it
That's a great car you've got there, Ed. My sister has an Outback, and she
wouldn't own any other. My favorite way of cushioning straps in places where
they run over the hood of a car is to cut four-foot lengths of foam
pipe-insulation into one-foot (or longer) segments, slip a segment over each
strap just where it comes into contact with the sheet metal, and then tape the
precut longitudinal seams closed. Once the strap is cinched down, the pressure
prevents the foam insulation from slipping around. (Keep a couple of spares in
the car, though just in in case.) You could also use soft fleece sleeves
like those sold for padding shoulder belts.
Of course, no padding will do any good if it's gritty, so be sure to
wash the road dirt off from time to time.
The Magic of the North
Congratulations on a wonderful essay on the magic of the
North. I have been blessed with many experiences of northern life and
travel. Indeed you are faced with the diametrically opposed realities of modern
northern life and the spiritual connection with the bush.
The two places that represent my northern dream the best are the stretch of
the Yukon river between Carmacks and Dawson and the Algonquin Highlands west of
the park. Here is where my soul resides. Robert Service's poem "The Land of
Beyond" best sums up my feeling for the bush and bush travel.
I have read and had read to me all of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and
Amazons tales, and these tales helped awaken in me a love of camping and
mucking about in small boats. May I also be so bold to suggest: Cache Lake
Country by John J. Rowlands and The Incomplete Anglers by
John D. Robbins. Both of these are fabulous tales of the North.
I look forward to your essays with each issue of PaddleNews. Keep up
the good work; you are an inspiration to those of who spend too much time
behind a desk, yet yearn for the North.
Woodside National Historic Site of Canada
I'm delighted that you enjoyed "Up North," Rob. Though I haven't (yet) read
Robbins' The Incomplete Anglers, I did read Rowlands' Cache Lake
Country some years back and found it fascinating. I'm also a great fan of
Arthur Ransome, and there are few poets who can capture the spirit of North as
well as Robert Service did. Thanks for your letter!
The Lure of the North
North" Wonderfully written, but only because it was experienced
first. Your piece will resonate deeply with everyone who has even a smidgeon of
wanderlust in their heart.
Thanks so much for your kind words, Bob. I'm very pleased you enjoyed "Up
The call of the wild North land could there be any better note to end
on? I don't think so. As always, our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who
took the time to send us their reflections, comments and questions, as well as
their hints and tips. Please keep it up. After all, it's "Our Readers Write."
A little fine print: We'll assume that it's OK to reprint any
letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for
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edited for length and clarity, and we'll add links to articles or other
resources wherever and whenever appropriate.
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