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On Snowshoes Our Readers Write

Winter Pleasures

January 31, 2012

Winter. It was slow in coming to our corner of Canoe Country, but it got here in the end. And spring can't come too soon. Of course, life doesn't stop just because local ponds and rivers are locked in ice. Winter has its delights, too, and that's what this edition of "Our Readers Write" is all about—exploring the pleasures of the off-season. Though we'll still spare a few words to look ahead to the time when the waters sing again.

The last "Our Readers Write" went online only two months ago, but there's no shortage of reader mail. And there's a wide range of topics, too, from the future of the Global Positioning System to the best way to assemble a personal survival kit to the joys of snowshoeing. So let's get started. Spring is on its way north. There's not a moment to be lost!

    — Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

If the Snowshoe Fits…

Dear Tamia,

A great article ["Snowshoeing Ups and Downs – Editor]. I bought a pair of snowshoes and am loving it. Even though I am a New York Upstater, I was never fond of the snow, but love the outdoors, so I had to find something to get my outdoor quotient until I can get to my true love of paddling! Nothing is more beautiful than hiking in the woods with snowshoes. It is a workout, but boy what fun!


Tamia replies:

I'm delighted that you've discovered the pleasures of snowshoeing, Debbie. When Farwell was a boy, he read a science-fiction classic called The Door Into Summer. I was never a sci-fi buff, myself, but I think of that book every time I strap on my snowshoes—with just one small change. My webbed feet are My Door Into Winter. And who needs fantasy fiction, anyway? Not when winter creates a fresh new world right on the doorstep every year. Not me, at any rate.

Power-Plant Cooling Ponds—Winter Oases in Unexpected Places

Hi, Tamia!

Last New Year's I told you about 'yakking on the cooling pond for the power plant at Portage Wisconsin. Why don't you tell others in your column to look for their nearest plant? Mine is 1½ to 2 hours from Milwaukee and worth the trip during the winter. The wife and I will pick an exceptionally warm winter day to go, especially if it gets up around 40. My buddy lives only 6 miles away from there and the lucky S.O.B. can hit it whenever he wants. Once you are on the water the cold weather really doesn't affect you unless the wind is blowing. Then the fog caused by warm water and cold air may start clinging, so you would need waterproofing. A raincoat is good. I have worn my parka but that's too warm. I don't remember the water temperature, but if you fall in, the water is a lot warmer than the air. There are kayakers who practice their rolls on New Year's no matter what the temperature. The shore around the plant is steep at the put-in and take out, so snow would be a problem. You need to be careful of the footing. Take-out isn't anything to worry about if it's cold because the pond heats some of the air around it. Us being old geezers (I'm 70) don't have any problems with footing, temperature, or length of the trip. What else are you going to do? Excuse me, I do ice fish!


Tamia replies:

A warm-water oasis in mid-winter? In the heart of Canoe Country? That sounds mighty good to me, Herb—though some power-plant administrators might have other ideas, I suppose. But it seems like the Portage folks take an enlightened approach to public relations. I'd still want to check the water temperature before I set off, however, and I'd wear a shorty wetsuit if it weren't truly balmy. Still, this would be a small price to pay for ice-free paddling in January. I'm envious.

"Polypro Pong"—Nameless Horror or Just a Horrible Name?

Hi, Tamia!

What is "polypro pong"? ["Headover Heels in Love—In Praise of the Neck Gaiter" – Editor"] I'm from California and Maryland, and am kinda old so I have to ask. Is it a "don't mention it" disease? Makes me wonder all sorts of things. Anyway, keep paddling, and come see the Chesapeake sometime.


Tamia replies:

Have no fear, Roger. Polypro pong might make you persona non grata is certain circles, but it's not a dread disease. "Pong" is a borrow-word from British English. It means a "strong, unpleasant smell." And polypro is, well, polypro. Or polypropylene—a favorite quick-drying fabric, often used by makers of high-tech sportswear. Some folks find that their polypro clothing soon acquires a persistent pong, one that no amount of washing and airing can remove. Others—and I'm one of the lucky ones—never seem to have a problem, even when they wear a polypro garment several times between washes. It's probably something to do with personal chemistry.

The Chesapeake is a wonderful place. Farwell spent some time exploring the Bay many years ago, and he'd like to go back. And when that time comes, I plan to go along. (If I don't beat him to the punch, so to speak.)

Is There a GPS in Our Future?

Dear Tamia,

Thanks for your article on GPSers and LightSquared. [Pathfinder or Paperweight? Does Your GPS Have a Future? – Editor] Besides being a kayaker, I am an avid geocacher, and our sport would be decimated without the use of our GPSs. Our sport leads us to many places that we would not see if we did not geocache. There are geocaches all over the world, and we have found them as near as down the street and as far away as Australia. I will be keeping tabs on how this plays out!

Jackie Colwell

Tamia replies:

Geocaching has certainly caught on in a big way, Jackie. My brother just got the bug, and now he's out logging caches every weekend. But geocaching is only one sport among many that will take a hit if the worst fears about LightSquared's impact are realized. (There'll be a lot of UPS drivers scratching their heads, too. And some pilots are going to go gray earlier than they'd expected.) The issue is now a confused tangle of claims and counterclaims, with the unfortunate possibility that politics will trump science when it comes to resolving the dispute. So… What does the future hold for GPS in the States? I wish I knew. And I wish I were more optimistic.

Virtual Voyages—Bringing the Wilderness Into Your Home

Tamia's article on the pleasures to found exploring the shelves of a good library, "Nature's An Open Book: Virtual Voyages," continues to be a hit with our readers. No surprise there. Our readers are, after all, readers. And here are two letters from these seasoned virtual voyagers…

Dear Tamia,

I recommend Peter C. Newman's books, starting with Company of Adventurers. This is the history of the Hudson Bay Company, which is the history of European exploration in northern North America.

Peter Davies

Tamia replies:

I couldn't agree more, Peter. In fact, I have both Company of Adventurers and Caesars of the Wilderness on a shelf near my desk. They're models of popular history, as entertaining as they are informative.

Dear Tamia,

The time of "boat hibernation" has come upon us here in Wisconsin. Sigh. I never used to be sad come winter, but since I've started kayaking, I have a hard time letting go of my little red boat until spring! So, I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your timely article about continuing the adventures through books and movies during the winter lull! I will certainly see if I can locate some of the ones you mentioned, along with anything else I can find. It's also a good time to research new places and gear on-line, as well as practice those eye-and-hand skills!

I thought you would be interested in a book that I found last year at a used book store. It's called Women and Wilderness. The title caught my eye! The author is Anne LaBastille, and the book is published by the Sierra Club. (She also wrote Woodswoman, which I haven't read yet.) This book contains the stories of 15 women who have made the wilderness their place of occupation, as well as having a passion for it. Everything from caves to mountains to underwater, these hearty women live and work in the remote outdoors arena. Fascinating, inspiring reading!

Thank you for all you do to encourage and inform and help those who love the outdoors, especially those who love to be on the water!


Tamia replies:

Though I haven't seen Women and Wilderness, Naomi, I read Woodswoman when it first appeared, and I was quite taken with the idea of living in a cabin in the woods. (The reality proved something of a mixed blessing, however.) Sadly, Anne LaBastille died just this last summer in a Plattsburgh, New York, nursing home—an unfortunate end for a woman who loved roaming free in wild places. But her books live on to inspire others.

What It Takes to Be a Survivor

Another of Tamia's articles, "Your Very Own Pocket Protector: The Survival Kit That's Always With You," proved a popular piece, and several readers shared their own ideas about putting a survival kit together. Here are two of their letters:

Hi, Tamia!

I just read your article and loved it. I've been pondering the personal survival kit dilemma (contents and features versus size) for some time now, and I've finally settled on something remarkably similar to your solution, though mine is certainly pricier. I was fortunate to learn my lessons the hard way, but without any serious or long-lasting negative consequences. I was doing my first-ever solo trip in the BWCA over Labor Day weekend 2010 (remember the storms that weekend?). I made a very questionable call to paddle in weather that should have kept me firmly on shore, and I found myself soaking wet, bruised, battered and miles from my camp (and the vast majority of my gear) late in the afternoon on a day when the overnight low was predicted to fall below freezing. That was when I discovered I had left my space blanket on the dining-room table.

I recovered my canoe, managed to make it back to my camp, and needless to say, I survived. And I darn near proved the maxim (to paraphrase Doug Ritter) that "If you don't have it on you, it can't help you." So I resolved never to go out again in such bad weather and without ALL the basic survival essentials. I went through several permutations, but here's what I wound up with:

  1. A Loksak ARM-PAK to keep everything in. I wound up with the military (-M) version, but the recreational version (-R) is a bit cheaper and just as useful. I wear mine on my calf instead of my arm. Five minutes after I put it on, I forget it's there.

  2. AMK original Pocket Survival Pak (I found one marked down to USD19 at a local sporting goods store). A very good collection of useful bits, and try as I might I could not achieve the same degree of compactness with anything I managed to put together.

  3. AMK Ultralight and Watertight .3 first aid kit

  4. Coghlan's emergency blanket, which I have vacuum packed to compress it even more.

  5. PrincetonTek LED light. This is OK, but could be slightly improved on; to keep the light on while I work, I have to keep it clamped between my teeth. Would prefer something equally small and bright, but with a regular on/off switch to give my jaw a break.

  6. Katadyn chlorine dioxide tablets. The PSP has a water container to use them in.

  7. Gerber Big Rock camp knife, in a sheath on my belt. The sheath that comes with it needs improvement as far as secure retention is concerned, but I love the knife itself.

Like you, I usually have a bandana, headnet and some extra munchies tucked in a pocket, and I always file a float plan. Unlike you, I just can't seem to develop the habit of keeping the map actually on my person; it's usually tied into the canoe. I know that won't help me when I go one way and the boat goes the other. Hmm, maybe I do need a lanyard for my GPS…

Jim McMahon
Crystal Lake, Illinois

Tamia replies:

Your Boundary Water (mis)adventure is one hell of a story, Jim—a cliffhanger with a happy ending. And you certainly put the experience to good use. Your survival kit is a model for us all to emulate.

Maps are a problem. If you tuck them away under your PFD—as I often do—they'll always be with you, but it's annoying to have to fish them out to check your bearings half a dozen times each hour. (And staying found really does require frequent map checks.) There's a fairly easy solution to the problem, though: Photocopy the map(s). Then tuck the original away, somewhere on your person, while you keep the copy—protected by a ziplock bag or waterproof mapcase—tied to a thwart, where it's easy to eyeball. Now you've got the best of both worlds, and all for the price of a photocopy.

Nice article, Tamia. There is a company called Northwater out of Canada. They make rescue and whitewater gear. They have a Guide Vest that fits over a PFD that is made to carry extra gear. It is mesh and weighs nothing. Nice for carrying things that do not fit in or on one's PFD. Also, I take my bandanna and fold it in a long narrow strip and tie it around my shoulder strap, one on each side. That way they are out of the way but still handy if I need one. The other things I have are pinned to my Tilley's hat—10 or so safety pins. I use a blanket safety pin as the securing device. And something that could double as one's sewing kit would be a needle or two and a small container of dental floss, either waxed or unwaxed. It is strong!

Do you carry a strobe all of the time? I have thought about getting one for my PFD.

Ric Olsen

Tamia replies:

Good to hear from you again, Ric. Your Guide Vest sounds a lot like the field vests I wore—and wore out!—in my 20 years doing geological surveys. I'd imagine that some of the vests made for anglers would serve pretty well to carry must-have items, too.

Mesh is great in hot weather—I always seemed to have my heavy canvas field vest when the temperature climbed into the high 90s—but it has one drawback when you're bushwhacking: It seems to reach out and grab every thorn and vine. Still, I often wished I had one.

We carry our bandannas in the same way. I guess great minds really do think alike. I don't always carry a strobe, though. My old ACR xenon strobe is very, very bright, but it's a bit of a brick, so it only goes along on trips that will take me out on waters frequented by big or fast (or big, fast) boats, particularly if I'm likely to encounter thick fog. My LED flashlight and headlamp both have a strobe mode, however, and I almost always have one or both of these on my person or in my pack. They can't hold a candle to the ACR in the brightness department, but they'd certainly be better than nothing in a hard chance. So maybe my answer to your question about always carrying a strobe is really a qualified Yes, rather than a flat No. You'll have to decide that one.


Follow the Star


And that's the last word. Ric always pins down the important points about any subject. (Funnily enough, a warm front is pushing north over the snow-covered slopes around me as I write this. The result? Fog. Ric must have second sight!) Thanks to everyone else who wrote, too. And if you have something you want to share—or something you need to get off your chest, for that matter—just drop us a line. Remember, it's "Our Readers Write."



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A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes.) We will never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.

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