Illustration: Aaron McKinney

(Ed’s note: In the interest of, you know, facilitating dialogue, we’ve decided to start rolling out one of the magazine’s longtime recurring features, “Ask Eddy,” here on the website; the latest, from the August 2011 issue, follows. We invite readers to submit future questions for Eddy’s consideration here, at our Facebook page or by regular ol’ email:

Could I outpaddle a polar bear?
People have clocked polar bears swimming at up to 6 miles per hour and a loaded expedition sea kayak tops out around 7, so yeah, you probably could get away. But polar bears have better things to do, says Kieran Mulvaney, author of The Great White Bear. "They are pretty risk-averse," he says, and their diet is almost 100 percent seal. So to a polar bear, humans are a serious wild card. One scientist scared off a curious bear just by unzipping his sleeping bag. Most polar explorers feel safe in camp if they've rigged a trip line to trigger flares or knock pots around. Many do carry firearms in polar bear country, though, "just in case they meet that one Jeffrey Dahmer bear," Mulvaney says. In that case, getting in your boat and paddling away is probably a solid defense—hunting from the water is never part of a polar bear's strategy. They take seals from land or ice, and when they are swimming, walruses and even beluga whales have no trouble driving them off. Eddy, of course, fears no bear, as he's been accepted into their totem brotherhood. At least he thinks that's what the Great White Bear spirit was saying when Eddy's vision quest was rudely interrupted by rangers last spring after a mere 54 hours. Apparently, visitors to Wisconsin State Parks are not welcome to hang naked from their heels on tree limbs overnight.

How do I build an emergency log raft?
Eddy's only experience with a log raft was the time he "borrowed" the floating dock from Camp Ketch-Un-Any and drifted down the Menominee River. But oil-drum floats and a waterslide lookout tower aren't probably what you had in mind, so Eddy asked Mike Lummino, owner of Bushcraft Northwest in Goldendale, Wash., what guidelines he has for raft building. "You'll want a minimum of 6-by-8 feet," he says, depending on the buoyancy of the logs you use. A bigger raft will float you higher and be more stable, he says, but will take more time and effort to move around. "Ninety percent of the job will be in finding your materials," he says. For structure, he suggests clamping the logs together with a pair of perpendicular poles at each end, one above and one below, and binding the two pole-ends tightly with rope or cord, or even strips of cloth. That way, you'll only need four lash points. None of that on hand? Twist willow branches to loosen their fibers into pliable cordage. Lastly, Lummino says, be sure to build your raft as close to the water as possible—even a small log raft can end up weighing hundreds of pounds.

Greenland-style kayak paddles: awesome or anachronism?
Marcel Rodriguez, a Greenland-style paddling enthusiast from Portland, Ore., admits that some paddling purists think Greenland-style paddlers are "a lot like people who dress up as knights at a Renaissance fair." Let them laugh, he says. The long, narrow Greenland sticks can hold their own against more familiar spoon-like Euro blades in just about any discipline. The speed record for rounding Vancouver Island was set with a Greenland-style paddle, and Rodriguez regularly uses his for surf paddling. Even in short sprints, like evading rogue polar bears, the paddles do just fine. Though they appear quite skinny, Greenland paddles have the same surface area as spoon-shaped blades, so they can pull just as much water. But because that surface area is spread into a longer blade (and overall paddle length), Rodriguez explains, the paddles "might not be ideal for shallow rivers." Where Greenland paddles kick ass, he says, is for people with shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries, and for people learning to roll. The paddles have no offset, providing a more ergonomic stroke, and don't require confusing arm positions to wrangle an Eskimo roll. "We can get most anyone rolling a kayak Greenland-style in 30 minutes," Rodriguez says. But how would the paddle fare in a battle royale vs. a Renaissance knight's broadsword? According to Frank, the Greenland-style dweeb who keeps tagging along with Eddy's Voyageur reenactors, it'd dominate. Eddy remains unconvinced.

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