BY DOUG COOMER
It’s a late fall or early winter Saturday morning in the Midwest.
You get out of bed, plant your bare feet on a cold floor, throw on some socks or slippers and head for the thermostat.
You push the up button a few times before grabbing a cup of hot coffee.
Another weekend you won’t be paddling has arrived.
Lakes are frozen over, and if the rivers aren’t, their ultra-cold water makes them extremely dangerous.
With no imminent plans of getting the canoe or kayak out on the water, I always end up going through withdrawal symptoms.
At times like this, it’s good to remember the Kenneth Grahame (1908) line from the book “The Wind in the Willows.”
“Believe me, my friend, there is nothing … absolutely nothing … half so much doing as simply messing about in boats.”
I would add, messing about with things which have to do with boats is a damn fine time as well.
That being said, this time of year doesn’t have to be devoid of activities related to paddling.
In fact, there are a myriad of things you can mess around with which help you through the down days – it’s time to do some gear maintenance.
I enjoy working in the garage no matter what I happen to be tinkering with, so this is my go-to habitat when I need a little motivation.
I head to garage, fire up some tunes, drag all my paddling gear out and get started.
The first thing I always do is unstuff any items that are stuffed when packed – sleeping bags, pads and tents.
Normally, I unpack these guys after returning from a trip to clean and dry them out.
Sometimes I pack them back up, so they are ready to go at a moment’s notice if the chance to use them presents itself.
For the winter, they all get unpacked, hung up and placed in front of a fan so they get as dry as possible.
I let them hang or simply leave them loosely piled up.
This will greatly extend their life and keep them from developing mold and mildew.
Check with the manufacture’s tag or go online and carefully follow any washing and cleaning directions and they will last a lifetime.
Additionally, now is the time to fix any issues you may have with leaks, tears or troublesome zippers.
Next is the cooking/kitchen gear.
I have an NRS Bolder Box I use for a kitchen kit (or wannigan) I really like.
Get out whatever you use to cook with and give it a once over.
Stoves and burners are not something you normally carry a backup for, so it pays to make sure they are working properly.
Take any dehydrated foods out (good ones are expensive) and store them in a cool, dry place.
These guys can last up to 10 years if you treat them right.
Replace any utensils you’ve lost or broken and give everything else a good cleaning.
Wash and completely dry shoes, boots, waders, sandals, etc. and oil if required.
I highly recommend Nikwax Tech Wash for washing and prolonging the waterproofing qualities of clothing and equipment.
Get rid of old batteries in radios and other items and replace with fresh ones.
Have a look at your vehicle’s roof racks or whatever you use to transport your boat – make sure things are tight and make adjustments if needed.
Knives, axes and hatchets should be sharpened and oiled.
If you enjoy and participate in the great sport of fishing, then it’s time to restock the tackle box, check out fishing poles and get some new line on your reels.
Inspect all ropes carefully and make sure they are in good condition and replace if they look worn.
If you have floating ropes, make sure they float. Ropes can save your life or someone else’s.
I am sentimental about my wooden paddles. They have been with me for a long time. When practical, I will always choose a wooden paddle over a man-made product.
Every year, I check them for cracks and wear and some new varnish is applied to the tips almost every winter.
Last but not least, are the boats themselves.
Give them a thorough cleaning and make sure all screws are tight, all rivets are in place, deck lines and rigging are in good working condition and check carefully for any signs of wear on the hull.
Canoes and kayaks are made of a multitude of materials both old and new and each has specific instructions on how to care for them.
It’s a good idea to follow these to the letter because depending on type of material, they can represent a substantial investment.
Because you are in the garage, you might as well throw in some exercises to keep yourself in good condition for next season.
In fact, it’s a fantastic idea to make this a regular habit – it’s good for the mind and the body.
Once you leave the garage and head back inside the house, it’s time to wade through the collection of books you have on camping and paddling because there is always something new to learn.
My favorite part of winter is planning for trips in the spring.
Having a map laid out on the kitchen table and dreaming about new places to paddle is as good as it gets.
You could also say the hell with winter and plan a trip someplace where the weather is warm.
The bonus part about taking another trip is you get to do the stuff you did all over again.