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In the cold, eat well and drink too!

Last month, I couldn't believe my good fortune when I was able to paddle along the mighty and icy Saint-Lawrence River in February for the first time in my paddling life. This month, I have to be honest: it's back to business as usual. The deep freeze has returned, with a vengeance, but so too has my desire to keep exploring paddling as a new extreme winter sport... Why not find a bit of help and solace in our food and drink supply to help us adjust again to more extreme weather conditions…

Mistake number one: most paddlers (including me) forget to drink in cold weather, which in turn brings on a fair share of physical problems like exhaustion, headaches and dizziness. All these are symptoms of simple dehydration. In cold weather, not only do we burn more calories but we perspire even more than under the hottest California sun. Why? Elementary my dear Watson! Cold air is dryer than warm air. As a result, greater quantities of liquids need to be evacuated by the respiratory tract in order to allow the air that is coming in to be constantly humidified and warmed to the body's temperature. Actually, the steam that comes out of your mouth when you breathe outside in winter is simply water evaporating. With strenuous effort, you can lose as much as half a gallon a day.

Water, water...

But I don't know if you've ever tried to open your poly water bottle that's been secured under a triple row of bungie cords on your kayak deck while wearing a pair of gloves covered with poogies. Tricky, to say the least... The ideal way to adapt is to use an insulated camel pack that any cross-country skier has in his arsenal. They're a breeze to use in winter paddling because you wear them under your jacket, which prevents the water from freezing. It's a good idea to add one third orange juice and a pinch of salt to your water supply to help replace the electrolytes that have been lost through perspiration (sodium, magnesium and the like). Aim to drink at least one cup of liquid for every 20 minutes of paddling in cold conditions, which translates roughly in 5 large sips. Leave it in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.

Ideally, you should bring along a thermos of hot liquid because it's comforting and also easier for your body to utilize the heat that's in it and absorb it without having to use additional energy to warm the liquid you absorb. Although alcoholic beverages like hot wine or mulled cider may sound appealing, it is far from ideal because alcohol, coupled with the cold and physical effort, will dehydrate your body even more. You risk feeling drunk and disoriented after just a few sips because alcohol tends to constrict the blood vessels, which drives to hypothermia. Leave the hot toddy to your return home in front of a hot fire. Instead, take along slightly sweet tea, Chai or lemonade, vegetable broth, or even coffee with hot milk.

How to eat quickly and sufficiently in the cold

Mistake number two: many paddlers don't eat because foods have a tendency to freeze at temperatures lower than 30 degrees F. It is crucial to eat on a regular basis just as you would drink because you body needs more calories in cold temperature. For instance, people who are part of polar expeditions eat between 6000 to 8000 calories a day compared to 2000 calories on average. I'm not saying you should try to adopt such a high caloric ratio for your two hour kayak tour in the salt marsh. But you definitely have to carry something that is easy to eat and sustaining as well. After many trials and errors I decided that new style Gorp is the simplest option because nuts and dry fruit are less prone to freezing and provide a lot of energy in no time. You can mix in Jerky or lean dry salami pieces to complement the protein-fat content and to add a bit of variety. These meats are interesting, as long as you can keep them close to a source of heat, namely your body or a thermos bottle filled with hot liquid. A cereal bar made with a bit of good fat can also do the job but be aware that it tends to solidify easily in the cold. Risky business for your teeth... Another interesting food source is hard cheese because it contains proteins and fat. Finally, believe it or not, crystallized ginger is a quick way to warm you up because it has what is called thermogenesis power, which means it quickly elevates the body temperature, just like Cayenne pepper. So why not combine all these ingredients to create different versions of the ever popular and easy to carry GORP?


Three of my favorite GORP (good old raisins and peanuts)

Gorp # 1

  • One cup tamari almonds
  • one cup dry apricots, sliced
  • one cup dry dates, sliced
  • one cup bite-size dry pineapples
  • one cup bite-size beef jerky

Mix all ingredients. Carry with you in a plastic bag.

Gorp # 2

  • one cup salted cashew nuts
  • one cup dry cranberries
  • one cup bite-size dry pears,
  • one cup bite-size dry papayas
  • one cup bite-size Cheddar cheese
  • 4 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

Mix all ingredients together. Carry with you in a plastic bag.

Gorp # 3

  • One cup Pecan nuts
  • One cup bite-size dry salami
  • One cup bite-size dry apples
  • One cup whole wheat croutons
  • One cup bite-size dry mangoes

Mix all ingredients together. Carry with you in a plastic bag.

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