Roof-Rack Observation

-- Last Updated: Sep-25-16 1:17 PM EST --

Hi everyone. I haven't been on here for a couple months or so (yesterday I logged on for the first time in ages). I see a few posts here about roof racks, and it reminded me of something I saw recently.

Last week, I went with a few P-netters and a few other friends up to the Boundary Waters (for those who remember "duggae", he lives there now), and then to the Bois Brule River in northern Wisconsin. When driving near the Boundary Waters, it seemed that about every third car had a canoe on top, which is the kind of thing you never see most places. Among them, two carrying methods predominated, neither of which is all that common most other places.

The most common method was foam blocks and totally inadequate tie-downs. I honestly saw hundreds of cars, usually with a beautiful Wenonah cruiser of some sort on the roof, with the boat totally cockeyed, having the front end being about two or three feet off-center in one direction and the rear end being off-center by the same amount in the other direction. I get the feeling that for most of the people who go up there, it's their once-a-year trip and they don't carry canoes at any other time. I can't imagine a person being so lackadaisical about securing boats on the roof if it was something they did on a regular basis.

The other method I saw more than ever before was a big, rugged, tall wooden rack that simply sat on the floor of a pickup bed. I suppose they were attached in some way, but this wasn't visible. Most of these racks were made entirely out of 4x4 lumber. Again, I think this is probably a system that people come up with for their once-a-year trips, which is easily transferable over the years from one truck to the next, and requires no time at all to install or remove. At least with this method, the load always looked secure.

Honestly, based on the boat-carrying systems (especially the canoes on foam blocks which were always shifted far out of alignment), I don't believe there are many "paddlers" in the Boundary Waters. Related to that is that I didn't see anyone canoeing on the lakes who actually looked like they knew how to paddle, so I guess it makes sense. Still, it surprised me how the vast majority of the boats being carried in that area were barely attached to the car at all.

I Really Miss the Days…
…when I made 2-3 trips a year up there. Since 2004, it’s been infrequent, but I have noticed a difference in the people “Tripping” up there.

It definitely seems like fewer whom do the canoe tripping several times a year and stay out for a week or so? Seems to be more and more whom buy “Disposable” China Mart gear and go for a few days then pitch said gear in a dumpster or leave it at their last campsite? I believe these are indisputable facts?

As for the causes, IMHO multiple factors are involved? Certainly there are more whom have less interest or connection to the “Natural” world. But IMHO, other socioeconomic factors are also at work?

When I was a younger man, a “Professional” person with a good work ethic could reasonably expect to get a job with a reputable company that would provide affordable health care insurance, vacation time, and a reliable salary, and could afford reputable outdoors gear. They could also expect to return from their vacation with the assurance that their place of employment would be there when they RETURNED from that vacation in the north woods. Many of those things WE took for granted are no longer so. It’s a much “Crueler” world out there for the age group whom would be doing the majority of tripping in our day. Take a look around at the put ins and trail heads. A lot higher percentage of us gray-hair or no-hair individuals than there used to be.

related question:
Was it overall more crowded or less crowded than you’ve found it in the past?

Interesting observation
Now, explain this to me…

When I first got into paddling, the very first time around, and with no mentor or other guidance - I made a roof rack that held my boat quite secure. The need for such was obvious to me, and satisfying that need didn’t require any special knowledge or skill - as opposed to the paddling itself.

I never considered myself to be more than average in this wisdom. Securing a load just seems like common sense. I know I have seen isolated examples of evidence of lacking such (like the mattress that blew out of a pickup and flew into my windshield because it wasn’t tied down at all), but how does one explain such common lack of sense?

I really don’t know
I grew up having a father who fixed stuff and built stuff, and I seem to have learned to have a similar mindset, which is why I also can’t imagine why so many people are happy to do a halfway job of securing their boat on the roof. One possibility I can think of though, is that a few decades ago, when cars had rain gutters, there were lots of bargain brands of roof racks that were very cheap, very strong, and very simple to install and use. That’s no longer the case, so maybe a modern person having the mindset of putting minimal effort into figuring out how to attach a boat gets worse results today than was the case years ago.

Oh, and there are still good racks, but they cost a fortune in comparison with the old ones, and they can’t be bought at the corner hardware store (or the modern big-box store). The average non-serious paddler probably won’t even know they exist, or they won’t want to spend the money for once-a-year usage.

Very true.
Everyone I saw looked to be close to retirement age or already retired. When I was there in about 1981, everyone I saw was in their early 20s, so there’s been a huge change in demographics!

They say it’s more crowded…
… but I can’t agree or disagree based on my own experience. I was only there once before, and I was backpacking on a trail that had been abandoned by the Forest Service (that trail, the Kekekabic, has recently been taken over by a private group and is now popular enough that you need reservations to use it). Anyway, hiking the trail and spending limited amounts of time near lakes provided a completely different “sample” of the paddling population than paddling. I do hear people say, though, that putting three or more portages between you and your access point really thins out the crowds.

Observing ejections of Darwin’s…
…unnatural selections.

Having witnessed as well as heard horror stories of so many roadside ejective disasters (the cartwheeling mattresses of Sealy’s Velocipedics, the I-I-I-95 Ways to Shoulder Furniture Store Ugly Display Responsibility, the Sanford and SON-OF-A-GUN, There Goes My Salvage), I was determined, even in my impoverished nascent days of canoe-car-topping, not to be the guilty party of some insurance nightmare, 20-car pileup and vehicular manslaughter.

That is why when I made that awkward, non-racked traipse in off-white F-150 out I-70 at 65-to-70 into Western Maryland Foothills, my 85-pound Uberbot Royalex canoe, cocked with bow skyward above cab and stern perched over raised tailgate (a mighty MPG suck she was) was lashed down with two-lines forward, three lines aft, and two ratchet straps both port and starboard hooking under metal wheel wells. I just couldn’t stomach the thought of this abominable green beast go’n on an untethered Nantucket sleigh ride (without me) towards some dinghy of a Datsun’s approach. Hell, I figured if the freakish coalescence of some bat-out-hell semi-tanker passage (chasing Dennis Weaver in a roadside Duel, no doubt) met some direct head-on derecho-of-doom, at least the Uberbot wasn’t gonna go la chaisse-galerie on me. Hell no! She was gonna end-up more like Gregory Peck’s harpoon-line-entwisted Ahab, stuck fast aside my Moby Ford, flapping a bent thwart of, “Into the breach, boys,” to astonished family sedan operators braking they’re panicked pull-offs to port. The same operators watching my malformed roadside attraction passing on as they shook their sweaty foreheads in agreement with the signage affixed to rear taigate (clandestinely placed there my “dear” friend Mike McCrea) reading, “Poor White Trash Canoe Club.”

Fortunately, I’ve come up slightly in the world, and the F-150 has given way to E-150, with a slightly less frightening roof-rack construct. And, McCrea’s magnetized signs don’t stick to the doors! (Not that that would stop him.)

Now, as to that last question:

Lack of common sense,

from cell-to-cell towers intense,

calling most off course with their no remorse

thinking mistakes are barely cents,

and that knowledge ain’t worth dime,

if the acquisition robs self time,

falling in the trap they might call on app,

and dead zones fill up simple minds

same folks?
Think about it, GuideBoatGuy: those 25 year olds you saw in 1981 would now be 60. So you may be seeing the surviving cohort of that original bunch.

Judging from the trends in questions I see posted on outdoor recreation forums, one of the things that seems to be keeping younger people from participating in extended wilderness outings is their apparent reluctance, even pathological inability, to separate themselves from electronic devices and constant digital connectivity.

When people used to have questions about wilderness sports they would call or go to a outfitter shop, like the ones I worked at through the 1970’s, an era when backpacking, climbing and backcountry canoeing seemed to hit their zenith. The questions back in those days were overwhelmingly about what tent would be most weatherproof, what pack would be most comfortable with a load, which boots would be suitable, which boat would suit the waters they intended to explore and which sleeping bag would be warmest.

Today the bulk of questions are about how can they charge their cellphone and laptop in the woods. (Second most common is what caliber of gun they should carry to shoot an attacking bear or human rapist, neither of which unarmed little me has encountered in over 45 years of backcountry exploration.)

I often get the feeling that many, if not most, modern outdoor recreationalists are more interested in collecting selfies of doing “cool stuff” to post on their social media than they are of actually immersing themselves in or enjoying the outings. I kayak frequently on local rivers and a couple of several mile long lakes – invariably there is a crowd of paddlers within about a quarter mile range of the launch ramp, but I have the rest of the waterway virtually to myself.

thank you
Good point about assessing the boating popularity from a hiking perspective.

A friend who seldom canoes but who is a regular backpacker asked me to join him on a trip there. I have no canoe camping experience but plenty of kayak camping experience. We’re targeting next year and are considering this time of year…

True story
Mazda (not the most commmon manufacturer)


Used Thule crossbars: $50

Used Thule Fit kit for Mazda 3: $45

Used Thule Feet or Towers: $78

Good example
I still bet that the average once-a-year tripper doesn’t even know that such racks are available. I am guessing that not many people would go searching for something they’ve never thought about in the first place, or maybe in their ignorance they think that such specialized racks are difficult to work with or might damage their car. I don’t know, but for whatever reason, most of the people I saw up there are not using roof racks.

I can’t explain it

– Last Updated: Sep-26-16 5:34 PM EST –

I see the same thing around here that you described, but it's usually from rec boat owners. I'd just assumed that novices don't know and care less. But I'm surprised to hear about more serious boaters being so careless.

remote tripping
Somewhat OT, but I remember an incident from some years ago that I think illustrates how too many people view “wilderness”. My friend Al and 3 of his buddies spent nearly a month canoeing and portaging through a trackless area of central Ontario. Al had shot lots of photos and a bunch of people he worked with asked to see them. After passing the pics around and telling them a bit about the trip he reported that one of his co-workers said “One thing I can’t figure out is how you got your rig up there.” Several others chimed in that they were wondering that too. When Al asked what he meant, the guy said “I mean I didn’t see any roads or trails to those campsites and lakes you were at – how did you get all your truck with all your gear up there?” When Al explained that they had transported everything for 26 days by boat and overland carrying packs on their backs and canoes on their shoulders the guy answered “I know you’re kidding me, nobody could do that…”

There is also the factor in vacation zones of places who rent kayaks and canoes but don’t provide any kind of roof rack to haul them, as well as rental properties equipped with boats for which visitors may not have proper set ups to haul such.

I do agree that the pre-aerodynamic car design era, when all cars had substantial roof gutters, and a set of Quik’n’Easy brackets was under $25 made hauling heavy stuff a whole lot easier. My trusty Q ‘n’ E’s, with their home made treated 2 x 4 crossbars, went from a '55 Chevy wagon to a '70 Maverick, to a '72 Volvo to an '87 and a ‘95 Dodge Caravan. I was very sorry to have to retire them when they no longer fit on any of my or my friends’ vehicles.

Decent Racks…
…were cheaper, weren’t they? As you mentioned, with vehicles with rain gutters, you weren’t limited to a couple brands.

As for the 2x4 rack, one of my friends has a nice home made one. He’s pretty handy and uses it quite a bit. And I always modified mine for better clearance. I think I might have an example?

I think there ARE more people in the BWCAW near the EP’s especially with rec kayaks and now SUP boards? But a few portages in and the big crowds disappear, or at least where I go.

Been a long time…
since I’ve been up there, but it would surprise me that very many people are carrying their own canoes up there from very far away. I’d bet it’s a combination of people within a couple hours’ drive of the Boundary Waters, along with what somebody else mentioned, a lot of people renting canoes from a livery that doesn’t provide a shuttle. Coming from the Ozarks, where canoe liveries ALWAYS provide the shuttle as part of their service, I was surprised to find that liveries in many places expect you to carry the canoe you rent. I’ve rented kayaks from a local place on the Yellowstone River, and they provice the shuttle for an extra, rather steep fee. Otherwise, you do it yourself, and lots of people aren’t willing to pay the extra, so you see some “creative” ways of carrying both kayaks and rafts.

I bought a new pickup a few months ago, and the first thing I did after making the decision to buy it was to figure out exactly what kind of canoe racks I would put on it. They had to be sturdy, positively attach to the truck bed, sit higher than the cab, and most difficult of all, they had to work with the tonneau cover I also wanted on the truck.

On the other hand, I have a Prius that I occasionally haul a canoe on. I had brand name rack system for the previous Prius we owned, but they didn’t work with the new one. So instead I’ve opted for the foam blocks. However, with my pathological fear of losing a canoe off the car, I’ve taken the time to figure out how to tie that thing down securely in conjunction with the blocks.

…“Racking capability” is the first thing I check too when considering a new vehicle

I made the rack for my F150 from
26 and 24.The uprights were cut to fit in the stake pockets. They were bolted to braces between them. A few tiedowns and it was solid as a rock.

So maybe it was the same people 35 years later?