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IS IT REALLY POSSIBLE TO CRUISE DOWN THE MISSISSIPPI ON A SIMPLE RAFT, A LA HUCK FIN?

Illustration: a kayaker in St. LouisAccording to U.S. Coast Guard regulations, as long as a craft doesn't pose a danger to other vessels and has flotation devices and a night light, any wannabe Huck Finn can float down Ol' Man River. But forget feeling "mighty free and easy and comfortable"—floating the Mississippi in a tiny craft is a potentially dangerous undertaking. And forget the log raft and pole; you want a vessel that you can power and maneuver effectively—a canoe, for example. "The trip is really hard work," says Eddy L. Harris, author of Mississippi Solo, an account of his two-month canoe trip down the river. "You need both mental and physical tenacity to stick it out." Give your arms a rest by rigging a simple triangular, or lateen, sail to the front of the canoe. But more often than not, the wind won't be your helper. "In the summer, the predominant wind along the river is from the southwest," says Thom Burns, publisher of the Midwest sailing magazine Northern Breezes. "If you don't have a leeboard [a movable plank lowered from the side of the hull], you'll get blown straight to shore." An outrigger will add even more stability. Finally, barge traffic is a constant hazard. Says Harris, "On lazy days, you'll think you have the river to yourself. Then, suddenly, you turn around and there's a stack of barges breathing down your neck. It's up to you to get out the way." The American Canoe Association (www.acanet.org) has advice on how to choose a craft; SailBoats to Go (www.sailboatstogo.com) sells ready-made and customized boats.

AFTER A LONG HIKE RECENTLY, THE SKIN ON MY PALMS AND THE SOLES OF MY FEET STARTED PEELING. FRIENDS SAID IT WAS AN EARLY FORM OF SCURVY, COULD THEY BE RIGHT?

"Unless this hike lasted several months and took place on a desert island with no fruit trees," says Michael J. Manyak, M.D., a board member of the Explorers Club, "you didn't have scurvy." Shedding skin—along with bleeding gums, loose teeth, and internal hemorrhaging—is indeed a symptom of scurvy, once the scourge of mariners. But after 1753, when a Scottish naval surgeon determined that the disease was caused by the lack of a nutrient found in abundance in citrus fruits—a compound later dubbed vitamin C—the prevalence of scurvy began to plummet. "Most people today are too conscious of their diet to get it," Manyak says. "And most store-bought food is already fortified with vitamin C." So what was wrong with your skin? You might want to put down that orange before reading on. "Most likely, it was a fungal infection," says Edgar Maeyens, M.D., a dermatologist and member of the Wilderness Medical Society. In other words, a case of athlete's foot and, well, athlete's hand. The fungus thrives in moist environments like that of a hiking boot and can be easily spread to the hands thanks in part to a common hikers' treatment philosophy: "Maybe if I rub it, it will feel better." The remedy? A topical preparation like Desenex or a prescription pill.


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August 2004



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