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By DAVID SMITH
An eight-day kayak trip sounds easy enough, but then again I have to carry everything I could possibly need in a 14-foot-long Current Design Kestrel. Finite space, meet my need to pack for a long trip.
I have my pride, and paddling down the river with a floating flea market attached to the outside of my kayak is not my first choice. And there is also the safety issue of making it top-heavy. That has to be avoided. I need to be able to turn a corner without rolling.
So, how did I come to be faced with this dilemma? I have been graciously allowed to accompany three members of the Rhode Island Canoe & Kayak Association on their quest to “Paddle Across Rhode Island” beginning July 6. As a freelance writer it sounded too good to pass up. The group is paddling from the Massachusetts border to where the Pawcatuck River meets Little Narragansett Bay in Watch Hill. They have estimated it to be 101 miles.
I have camped for one or two nights on paddles along rivers in the past so I wasn’t starting from a position of ignorance. But I knew there is going to have to be some compromises. For one thing, I need to stow a kayak cart for long portages, one of which is 9 miles. The cart weighs at least 7 pounds. Luckily, it breaks down and one part will fit behind my seat. The wheels will go inside the back compartment, but that leaves less room for other gear.
Weight is definitely going to be an issue, and titanium accessories are only one small step. I have read about backpackers who worry about mere ounces and have gone so far as to cut the handle off a toothbrush and take dehydrated meals out of “heavy” foil pouches and put them in plastic bags.
I don’t own a scale. I’ll have to wing it.
For one thing, this trip just needs a sleeping bag liner. My Big Agnes Emerald Mountain tent weighs about 3 pounds (with titanium stakes), so I’m good there. I usually carry two GSI Outdoors micro-tables but I will only bring one. I need to keep my food off the ground when I am cooking.
I will need to carry three days of water, because filtering a supply from the Blackstone River and other waterways in Providence is not my first choice. I figure between the three 48-ounce Nalgene bottles and my Camelbak I should be all set. We will refill at various portage points.
Clothes are easy. It’s July. I will wash one shirt and wear the spare. One pair of shorts should be fine. I do need my hiking shoes for those portages and a pair of socks. Water shoes are fine for launching and short walks, but a long trek ... no.
My first-aid kit is a must. The guys suggested that I could leave that home because they would have one. It wouldn’t seem right. Of all the things I carry, I have spent a lot of time on my first-aid kit. I don’t want to be miles and hours from the nearest help wondering why I didn’t spend $12 for a package of Quikclot. I hope I never have to use it, and when the package expires I will gladly dispose of it. But what price do you put on your health?
I have grazed my thumb with a pruning saw while in the swamp. Luckily, I pulled out my kit, cleaned it, put on some antibiotic and wrapped it with tape. My kit is going with me. If I have to, I will leave that extra bag of cookies at home.
And that brings me to food. I won’t be bringing a small cooler with me on this trip. For one thing, what’s the point? And another is I don’t have room.
Let me just say up front that I hate most dehydrated food. It tastes awful. How can you screw up a simple meal of spaghetti and sauce? When I tried it the other day, it wasn’t even spaghetti. It was spiral pasta. I tried some other meals and was equally disappointed.
I always bring food that I normally would eat and this trip will be no exception. Well, there is one exception. I am bringing dehydrated packages of blueberry granola. Add some water and it makes a nice breakfast.
Take a walk in the supermarket and you will find a fascinating array of prepared foods, including rice and even cooked chicken in a pouch. I usually take the rice, add the pouch of chicken and rehydrate some vegetables and mix it all together. It’s at least palatable with the right sauce. I can do the same with different flavors of packaged rice and noodles at $1 a package, compared to the $6 to $8 for the dehydrated varieties.
For a change of pace from plain water, I plan on filling a 16-ounce bottle with water in the morning and throwing in a peach-flavored tea bag and a bit of sugar. It will be a nice break at lunch, which should be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I don’t want to paddle all day and have to settle for dehydrated food. If it takes a bit longer to prepare and I have to clean up a few utensils afterwards I am good with that.
The real test will be when I put everything in dry bags and pack my kayak for a trial run. I will find out quickly what is essential. The trick is that I can’t pack it tight. When you have to break camp and put stuff back in the kayak it never fits the same way. Things get separated, not rolled as tight. I will also have to contend with a bag of garbage. Luckily there will be spots along the way to dispose of it.
The other guys on the trip are paddling canoes, and they have a lot of storage room. It sounds like they are bringing a lot of “comfort” items. That’s OK. My comfort items are my Neo-air mattress and my Nemo pillow. They will definitely survive the cut. And somewhere I have to find room for at least one bag of those chocolate chip cookies. Breakfast bars are good but they get old in a hurry. I have never met a cookie I didn’t like.
Oh, and I have to buy a three-pack of chocolate milk that doesn’t have to be refrigerated. If I cool it in the river it will be a blessing. I once brought them on a scouting trip and by the end of the three-day outing I could have sold them for $5 a carton.
Yikes, I need to go pack. Where’s my revised list?
Freelance writer David Smith is a frequent ecoRI News contributor. In his spare time, the Westerly resident can be found kayaking and fishing in southern Rhode Island.