Friday, November 23, 2012
The Complete Wilderness Paddler
The Complete Wilderness Paddler, by James West Davidson and John Rugge
(246pp. and 3 appendices, 1975, by Vintage Books, Div. of Random House, NY)
The authors use a canoe trip on the Moisie River, one of the most beautiful rivers in North America, as the vehicle for teaching us everything we need to know to make any similar successful trip. The book is subtitled as a “detailed, working handbook on planning, outfitting, and conducting a canoe trip.” It cover sections on navigation, deciphering topographic maps, portaging, camping, and without a doubt, the best sections I’ve seen on reading rivers and learning how to plan descents, ferrying, lining, bracing, and maneuvering. Chapters cover everything from how to find a wilderness worthy of paddling, to managing capsizes and wilderness disasters. One of the sections I enjoyed most was on topographic maps. First they guide you through pointers on how to read them and what scales to use, but then give you sections of map to analyze. Then that is followed by an evaluation of what you learned, and what you missed. The appendices include one on paddle strokes, the ones you need to know and the useless ones you can ignore, a second on outfitting for any trip, and the third is a bibliography on rivers guides and other informational guides.
It’s unfortunate that the book hasn’t been revised. You soon find material that dates the book, like the aluminum canoe being the ultimate canoe to the advantages of the new 110 film. These points are minor and easily ignored, as the most valuable information on things like safety, wind and current, the behavior of whitewater, are timeless. Modern innovation has little impact on wilderness survival, and when it can contribute, for things like GPS or SPOT, or heaven forbid, smart phones, survival may still require knowledge of the basics for when the toys quit. Unlike some wonderful books that have gone out of print or become unavailable classics, The Complete Wilderness Paddler is still in print in paperback, and I’d recommend adding it to your reference library.