Monday, December 31, 2007

Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua

Through the miracles of technology I'm posting from the Podman and GurneyGranny's estate in suburban Cedar, WI. We are smack in the middle of a winter wonderland and the snow is perfect. Podman went overboard this fall and used the 1951 Ford 8N tractor with a brush hog to crisscross the 80 acres with a maze of fine XC ski trails.

But it hasn't all been outdoor fun, there have been cultural activities. On Sunday night we hit the historic Ironwood Theater and watched a performance of the Big Top Chautauqua Blue Canvas Orchestra in the vintage 1920's Italian Renaissance style theater. I've listened to them for years, mainly because my old college roomate and current hunting camp partner, RawhidePhil, is an actor, performer, and Operations Manager of the troupe. They are fabulous and in the summer you can hear everyone from Merle Haggard to Arlo Guthrie to Garrison Keillor on the stage of the big blue tent on the shores of my favorite lake (guess which one?). They also have excellent house shows combining music, slides, and multimedia production. Keeper of the Light is a personal favorite.

We were not always so supportive of Rawhide Phils musical career. On more than one occasion in the close confines of our 20 x 24 hunting camp, RP was grabbed by the scruff of his neck as he practiced the same chord over and over and over. "You little SOB, if you don't play a song pretty soon I'll break that flocking guitar over your head". Nonetheless music and culture prevailed and he's now an integral part of the company. Catch em if you're paddling the Apostles this summer at the tent or listen on Wisconsin Public Radio. Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Off to Big Snow country

I'm motivating to get saddled up to head for Big Snow country, the western part of Michigans Upper Peninsula and northeast Wisconsin. One final post of 2007. Cold northwest winds sweep across Lake Superior and pick up moisture from its unfrozen 32F water. When it hits the south shore, roughly from Ashland to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the air and land mass are much colder than 32F water and the collected moisture drops as snow. Hundreds of inches per year. As you note in the picture of the 'snow pole' near Calumet, MI, average snowfall is somewhere between 4 meters and 10 meters (roughly 13 to 31 feet). This makes for great fun in the snow although driving can be a challenge. The top photo is of PodMan and I attempting to break out of CampO on the same snowstorm weekend in 1999, a storm where passengers in Detroit sued Northwest Airlines for false imprisonment after keeping them locked in aircraft on the tarmac for up to 10 hours. Another uglier memory of that weekend was listening to the Packers lose to San Fransisco in the playoffs on a last minute Terrell Owens (NOT my favorite guy!) TD pass as we struggled to get to the plowed roads.

The VOR and I will join many of our paddling friends on skinny skis, rather than in kayaks on Gitchee Gumee, for some good exercise, good food, hot sauna's, and general cameraderie. Happy New Year everyone, we'll see you in 2008.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paddling partners

I had a comment on my kayak fishing post a couple weeks back by a fellow who was aggravated by people who join a kayak tour and then proceed to slow things down by meandering back and forth in search of fish. I also read a Danish blog about a fellow who joined a tour organized for 'intermediate' paddlers. He had apparently just picked up his boat and hadn't really even had it on the ocean yet. The guy who posted said he withdrew from the tour after one day because of it.

My dad always used to say, "I'll go fishing with anyone but I'm damn particular about who I'll hunt with". The implication is that the greater risk of being around a bunch of guys with guns makes it imperative that you know their abilities and, maybe even more importantly, their mindset and how they will react in stressful situations. I have a similar attitude toward kayaking on Lake Superior. I want to know who I'm paddling with, their abilities and experience, and how they will react "when the waves turn the minutes to hours". Similar goals for the tour is imperative also. Fish vs sightseeing and a relaxing tour vs hammering it are things that need to be worked out before launching. I am relatively notorious for avoiding the 'come one come all' club or symposium events involving crossings on Gitchee Gumee. While the motto on the masthead of my blog is "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment", I would prefer that folks gain the experience in a more controlled environment and not when the lake turns from calm to 2' to 3' chop in a half hour. The success and enjoyment of a multi day tour is dependent upon everyone having a relatively similar level of competence or at least a rough understanding of when we paddle and when we decide that we're windbound. We have all had the agreeable paddling partner who agrees to launch when conditions are marginal and then, when you paddle next to them and ask how its going, give you the "OK" but are unable to turn their head to look at you because their shoulder and neck muscles are too tense to do so. So how do you evaluate the skill of your paddle buddies? Hell I don't know. Paddle with them, see if they are interested in practicing skills with you, listen to stories about other trips they have been on, and trust your gut reaction. This spring, on our way to the prestigious Bark Bay Fishing Invitational, RonO and I paddled out of the mouth of the Bark River and into Lake Superior. We were in a wind shadow and when we came around a small point (in the background of the photo) we were exposed to a nasty northeast wind and some 3' to 4' closely spaced waves that were getting their tops blown off by the wind. After about 5 minutes I thought, "This sucks. We should probably turn around before we get too much farther into it". As I turned my head to communicate this profound thought to Ron he said, "This sucks. We should maybe think about turning around". Great minds don't always think this much alike but I guess its a level of mutual awareness that you can aspire to when you choose your paddling partners.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Life is good

Christmas is over and all have seemed to have survived it in fine form. Friends and family gathered in my hometown about 100 miles east of our present abode on Sunday and we toasted the holidays at a local Irish pub until the wee hours on Sunday. This greatly reduces the stress on my sister, who feels that if her home is not Martha Stewart-like for company (including her ne'er do well older brother-yours truly) the world will come crashing down. We had an old fashioned miserable drive over with blowing snow, a stout and very brisk northwest wind, and cars in the ditch. No1 son encountered the same on the way up from Madison and No2 had the worst of it coming over from Green Bay. The VOR was very pleased to win the 'how many knuckleheads in the ditch' contest that we started when a guy in a pickup spun out in front of us. We noticed that 80% of the ditch occupants were 4 wheel drive SUV's and trucks. Remember boys, them 4WD units don't do a dern thing for brakin' on ice!
On Christmas Eve the relatives came to us for once. They were drawn by the VOR's debut in the Christmas Choir at 5pm mass, broadcast on public access TV, and a nice pile of home baked treats. Christmas Day brought the best treat of all. Instead of gathering at someones house and going into a food coma on the couch watching some meaningless football game, we all headed for the woods and the rustic ambiance of The VOR's parents 'cabin'. I've been instructed its NOT a deer camp, even though deer are hunted there. That would imply a certain decorating (or lack of decorating) scheme and this is definitely not that. Skiing, snowshoeing, a turkey on the grill, more food than an army could eat, and a roaring bonfire made for the perfect Christmas. I hope everyone had an equally rewarding Christmas holiday.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Canoecopia blogger rendezvous?

Today is the winter solstice and already people are posting about Canoecopia in Madison next March. Derrick had a post already as did RonO. I was corresponding about it with Rene Seindal to encourage him to present on kayaking Italy. Apparently the lineup is already set in the fall so it may be next year before we hear about Sardinia and the canals of Venice, but there is plenty of good stuff as Derrick and Ron point out. Like the Kites on Ice celebration in the photo above, Canoecopia is an event that perfectly suits the city of Madison, WI. People like to be outdoors and are very accepting of people powered sports and the folks who enjoy them. In fact on the same weekend as Canoecopia, Budget Bikes has their big spring sale in the building across the street. Madison is a wonderful venue for these events. Downtown is on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona which makes for some very scenic walks, most of which are dominated by the imposing dome of the state capitol, which is only 3’ shorter than its almost identical counterpart in Washington DC. The drinking and dining downtown is special also. Its hard to find a chain establishment downtown or on the east side, and I consider that to be a positive thing. If you’re dying for Applebees, Perkins, or TGI Friday’s, you will need to head out on the south beltline toward the West Towne Mall. Madison is also the microbrewed beer capital of the state. Most decent (read: non “sports”) downtown and neighborhood bars have at least a half dozen tap handles; usually 2/3 of those are real beers that actually have flavor as opposed to the bland, frigid, and anemic lightness of the BudMillerCoors Light genre.

Which is a round about way at getting to the gist of this post. By then most of us northern kayakers will be slightly stir crazy as well as chlorinated beyond government allowed ppm levels. I thought I would throw out the idea of a Bloggers Rendezvous at the Canoecopia event to kick off the season. This could be as simple as a table out in the foyer area and should certainly include some adult beverages, perhaps a Happy Hour, after the show closes. I can think of at least a dozen or so people who I’ve been reading for the past year that I’d like to shake hands with and hoist a Winter Ale or bock to toast the upcoming paddle season. Any feedback on that concept from my fellow kayak bloggers? RonO, Alex, and myself are in…….let me know who is interested and what format you’d like it to take place in and I’ll see what I can do. I know there are some folks out there that are tight with our buddies at Rutabaga and I’d be happy to follow up on any ideas might come up.

And, as Ogden Nash put it, “Merry Christmas to nearly everybody!”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kromer Mania

I am now officially the Imelda Marcos of Kromer caps. The Kromer is a venerable northwoods tradition, invented by a railroad engineer named George Kromer in Milwaukee around the turn of the last century, 1903 to be exact. He got tired of the wind blowing his baseball cap off in the rail yard and had his wife sew some flaps on it to keep it on his head and keep his ears warm. The rest, as they say, is history. Even our most famous Wisconsin serial killer, Ed Gein, the man who inspired Hitchcock's "Psycho", was a fan. Here's Ed, photographed in a stylish plaid Kromer. They are still made in the USA, in Ironwood, Michigan (the Upper Peninsula), and can be seen all over the place on the heads of people who spend a lot of time outdoors.

There is even a Stormy Kromer Pursuit Ski Race in Iron County where all finishers get, you guessed it, a specially monogrammed Kromer. The expansion of my Kromer collection began last year at deer camp. My friend RangerMark, had wandered out to see how we were doing. I came strolling in the door with my original red Kromer perched on my head, and he set down his beer, carefully and deliberately placed his blaze orange DNR warden hat on his head, and said, “Olson, that hat's not legal for deer gun hunting”. He then took his warden hat off and had another swig of Leinenkugels. The GurneyGranny, a law abiding hunter and a frequent and vocal critic of my edge-of-legality hunting clothes, gave me a bright blaze orange Kromer for Christmas. On an early spring kayak trip this season, I realized the only headgear I had packed was my Tilley; all cotton and perfect for the summer but miserable when cold wet weather might be encountered. We stopped in Duluth with the intention of picking up a cheap stocking cap but they had a blue Kromer at the Duluth Pack store for 60% off. I was unable to resist. The same snug fit that kept Georges original Kromer on in the rail yard keeps the hat firmly on your head on a windy kayak day on Lake Superior. Then, right before the Annual Grouse kill outing I got an email from the Madison contingent informing me of an article in the Milwaukee Journal about a brand new Lambeau Field Kromer. They suggested that this could be the perfect hat for a venerable event like the GrouseKill (once again this year no grouse were killed or even inconvenienced). This was actually a coup de etat for Mr. Jacquart up in Ironwood because NFL licensing is a byzantine and time consuming maze of rules, regulation, kickbacks, and other obstacles. The main one being that if you offer an item with a team logo you need to have it available for all the teams. I’m sure Jacquart realized that a Tampa Bay Bucaneers or Arizona Cardinals Kromer might not be a huge seller. Packer fans continued to clamor for the hat however, and a compromise deal was reached where a Lambeau Field Kromer would be offered, for sale only at the Packer Pro Shop at Lambeau Field. When our company CFO announced that she, her husband, and another couple were making their first pilgrimage to Lambeau for the Raiders game, my steel trap memory dredged up the Journal Sentinel story and I am now a four Kromer man. In my defense however, they are far cheaper than kayaks and I seem to have fourof those too. Plus the enjoyment I get wearing the hat in this den of Viking fans more than makes up for the NFL premium I had to pay for this fine piece of headgear. Maye I should sign up for that Stormy Kromer pursuit race; five Kromers-hmmmmmm.

And for some strange reason that I can't explain, being in a post with Ed Gein disturbs me a lot less than sharing one with the BessemerConvivialist in a heretical PINK Kromer!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kayak Fishing Tragedy

I read an article today about a fellow who died last month on Lake Ontario while fishing in his kayak. The story is attached. As a fellow kayak fisherman, my sympathies go out to his family and, as always, I wonder what could have been done differently to prevent the accident.

Adam Bolonsky had a post on his superb blog on the difference mentally between kayak fishermen and kayak touring paddlers. When touring, the focus typically is on the paddling, the scenery, the destination, and other things on top of the water. When you’re fishing you have a single minded focus on what it takes to catch fish. The structure of the bottom, the temperature of the water, what lure you have on, how deep its running, fish marked on your fish locator, and the reefs and structure on your chart. Most of my paddling partners other than the FrugalFisherman and the VOR at times, want no part of fishing. They are however, happy to eat the fish. I must confess and set the record straight however, that on our Slate Islands trip the FrugalFisherman, an active member of Trout Unlimited and a guy who’s goal is 200 fishing days in a calendar year, was out fished (as was I) by the Voice of Reason and TheCommish. This time we were the ones that were happy to eat the Lake Trout, Steelhead, and Chinook salmon that they had hauled out of Lake Superior.

This single minded fishing focus can cause you to lose concentration on essential aspects of kayaking….like staying in an upright position. I like to troll and meander as I paddle when touring. My companions know that I’ll likely be bringing up the rear or maybe wandering off course toward an attractive looking reef and not to be too concerned. You do however, kind of lose track of the changing conditions in your single minded pursuit of fish. RonO, TheCommish, and I had our first extended Lake Superior day trip in early May this spring. We paddled from Bayfield to Madeline Island, crossed from the south tip of Madeline to Long Island, and then landed at the town of Washburn. As we crossed the shallow point between Madeline and Long Island, my buddies told me later that they became a bit concerned with the following seas that were building to 3-4’. On Lake Superior every so often you get a 3 wave set, the Three Sisters, that can take you from steady 3’ swells up to 6 ‘or 7’. Not a problem in open water but not good if it breaks over and around you from behind in the shallows. This is what RonO and TheCommish were thinking as they slowly put some distance between themselves and me. At the same time I was thinking that the rapid transition from deep to shallow water was the perfect place for Coho and Chinook salmon to be lurking, probably in the company of large, voracious Steelhead and Brown Trout. Eventually, as my buddies got further and further ahead and I had to pop a couple of low braces, I noticed that the waves had gotten much steeper and closer together. Suddenly I had an epiphany: the WORST thing that could happen at this point would be to hook a fish. This would mean setting my paddle down, leaning forward to grab the rod out of the rod holder, and likely going for a ride in a direction I didn’t want to go. This would not be a very stable scenario in these conditions. I immediately reeled in and increased my speed to catch the boys, who by now were approaching the Long Island light and looking for a place to land. RonO made the comment, “You must be a lot more confident of your brace than I am to fish in those conditions”. I replied, “No, just a lot dumber than you are”.

From all reports the victim in this tragedy, TitoWoody (aka Serge LaPointe) was a good paddler, safety conscious, excellent fisherman, and all round good guy. The posts on the various kayak fishing sites all attest to that. He was found near his boat with his dry suit intact on Lake Ontario in conditions of 65-84 km/hr winds, snow squalls, and 3-5 meter seas. I didn’t know the man or what he was thinking when he launched. I suspect he could have been in that ‘competent/unconscious’ mode that the risk management people talk about; skilled and trained but not really focusing on the situation at hand. We’ve all been there many times. Fortunately for most of us, we walked away with a story instead of an ending like this one. I just want to make the point that when you’re fishing from your kayak you need to focus on the kayak part of it and not be obsessed with the fishing part. I am as guilty as or guiltier of this than the next guy. In the spring of 2006 I was rolled by a wave while fishing the mouth of the Brule River on western Lake Superior. The lesson I learned at the time (April) was that dry suits are much, much better than wetsuits when the water is 35F. What I should have learned, and hope I’ve learned from this tragedy, is to stay on the shore, have a beer, and wait for another day. No fish is worth risking your life. In other words, as our buddy Silbs says, paddle safe!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Jury duty.....

.....or, more correctly, non jury duty. With the lakes being frozen there will be times when this blog veers away from kayaking and this is one of 'em! When I was summoned last week, I thought it would not only be a way to do my part to affirm the rule of law in Ramsey County, but also be an interesting way to observe the legal system. So far it has been as interesting as watching paint dry or bridge rust. Any lofty, idealistic ideas about civic duty are quickly and efficiently crushed. There are a couple things they could do to make it duller, more boring, and bigger a waste of time but I don’t want to mention them in a public forum for fear they would implement them. Although they haven’t really implemented anything new since the Truman administration so I don’t know what would make me think my little critique would make them do so now. The way the system works is to send a summons in the mail along with a questionnaire that you fill out and send in. You are asked to report to the courthouse--in my case Ramsey County in downtown St Paul--at 8:30am on Monday morning. I join the rush hour migration downtown and park in the last spot on the 12th floor of a parking ramp approximately 16 miles from the courthouse. Upon arrival at the courthouse I go through a security system that would make Homeland Security beam with satisfaction. I’m relieved of 3 pen knives (one on my key ring, one on my money clip, and one just for fun), all with vicious looking ¾” blades that could certainly leave a mark, were I to go berserk. The metal snap buttons on my coat set off the alarm so my arms are extended, legs spread and I’m wanded front and back by the bored and surly security woman who grunts “OK” at me as I’m sent on my way. I then descend into the basement, the very bowels of the courthouse, to the jury room which has been modeled after a Department of Motor Vehicle waiting room with stylish ‘60’s vintage institutional furniture arranged in precise geometric patterns. I don’t need to take a number but I do need to have my summons scanned for attendance; they don’t actually call out your name and have you raise your hand until you are selected to be on a panel. I guess I need to retract the Truman administration crack; bar codes actually came into common usage during the Carter administration. You’re then given a ‘pool number’ in case one of the many cases that prosecutors and defense attorneys have procrastinated over for months needs to go to jury trial. A short orientation film is shown. Production values of this 10 minute epic brought back memories of elementary school filmstrips like “Hydrogen: An Interesting Gas” or “Romania: Jewel of the Balkans”. And then you sit and wait. And wait and wait and wait. If you’re lucky you aren’t sitting next to the obnoxious guy recapping his medical history or the woman who has ‘just the cutest cats.’ I was lucky enough to nab a 1983 National Geographic off the magazine rack which enlightened me about life in East Germany behind the Iron Curtain. You can’t have a cell phone; that would be contempt of court if you’re caught. Actually you could have one but you’d need to run the 16 miles back to the parking ramp to stash it in your car if your group was called and there wouldn’t be time for that because the important and busy court (the guys who had those months to settle this case) must not be kept waiting. You could maybe get some work done on your computer since, in most cases, your employer is covering you for doing your civic duty, but there is, of course, no wireless internet available. Nor are there electrical outlets available to recharge the battery on the computer; they all look like Clark Griswolds outlets in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. At roughly 11 am on the third day, some of the groups are excused. The rest of us have a lunch break and then report back to exercise our gluteus muscles for the rest of the day. Nothing happens and I arrive at work around 4 pm, pissed and aggravated at wasting another entire work day, as well as 3 days behind during the busy holiday season. And then you do it again the very next day.

Now that I’ve finished savaging the jury system, I figure some constructive suggestions might be in order. In another life I actually worked in the DA’s office in a western Wisconsin county and got to observe this process from the inside. Which of course, means that even though I sat in the jury pool dutifully day after day, I would likely be instantly struck from the panel by the defense attorney once he learned of this little tidbit. Anyhow, here we go:

-Perhaps have some screening questions on the questionnaire that would eliminate people who have no chance in hell at getting on a criminal panel. Like me. My DA service plus getting burglarized as well as assaulted in my checkered past have made me a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ guy. Any defense attorney worth his fee would strike my rear end from a panel immediately.

-A semi convenient parking area. Since the size of the pool is roughly the same every single week of the year and since a fairly stable percentage of these folk drive, would it make sense to have a parking area reserved for jurors? Judges and lawyers sure as hell seem to have one.

-Allow people to be productive and get some work done. Have a secure area where cell phones can be stored if you go to court. Join the mid 90’s and get a wireless hookup. Throw in a couple more Clark Griswold style electrical connections so you can charge your laptop. Maybe have a quiet work area where you don’t have to listen to the inane babble of some of the more socially challenged of your fellow inmates.

-A paging system with a 30 minute time limit to report. Even restaurants have those blinking pagers that they hand you so you don’t need to sit in a crowded bar or waiting area. Plus that new innovative technology, the cell phone, might even be utilized! It could be a horrible inconvenience to the court if they had to wait 30 minutes for the jury panel to report (those guys who had months to settle this case, remember?) but I really do think they would live.

-Volunteers? This is a bit like golf. Although I have no interest in it, there seem to be plenty of people who do. Somehow the ‘jury of your peers’ thing doesn’t seem to be in play anyhow. As I look around the room I see a bunch of roughly late 20’s to middle aged white people, a very different demographic from the majority of Ramsey County defendants. The idea of a professional jury is problematic but my guess is that there would be enough people to rotate on a several-year basis at the worst.

-A bit more human courtesy and information. I don’t want a mint on my pillow, an egg in my beer, or even complimentary coffee. I just don’t want to be droned at, ordered around, or treated like cattle being routed into the stockyard pen. Selma and Patty, Homer Simpson’s sisters-in-law, are an all- too-true caricature of any public interaction we have with a lot of government employees. And for god sakes, give us a bit of an explanation of whats going on. Don’t be like the airlines when a flight is delayed or cancelled and make up stories as they pop into your head.

This may sound like petulant whining, but there is serious room for improvement in this process. If the general population begins to regard jury service as a pain in the ass there will be serious consequences for the justice system. Google ‘avoid jury duty’ and see how many hits you get and the organizations that are hosting the websites. Not good. Even though a 1964 Chevy and a 2007 Honda Accord both get you around, I would think that the efficiency, safety, and comfort of the Honda would be preferable in most cases. Lets put some thought into our 1964 Chevy jury system and see if we can’t make it a bit more user friendly. Its the cornerstone of Rule of Law and should be a positive experience, not an ordeal.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Hey, I was thinkin' about buying a kayak and......

How many times have we heard this from friends, relatives, and co workers? Almost as many as "whats your favorite beer?". The answer is very similiar; depends on what you're doing. On the beer question, ifI just get through mowing the lawn on a 90F day the answer is Leinenkugels, an American pilsner. If I'm enjoying the fireplace on a a -10F wintry evening I will certainly require a Summit Winter Ale, a dark, rich, malty ale. Kayaks are the same way; depends on what your doing with it. I've had that question come up twice this week, amazing because the lakes around here have become a bit stiff this time of year. One has been an ongoing search by long time hunting buddy, the BearTrackingTeacher. The other was sent in by No1 sons former roommate, good buddy, and general raconteur', LordHayden. BearTrack actually lives in Washburn, WI, a town right on Lake Superior, and had been infected with the kayak bug which he caught from several friends that I've infected over the years. LordHayden is in the Monterey, CA area performing some obtuse geographic/geologic study on the local flora and fauna. Both would rather not spend the big $$ for a fiberglass boat and both need a craft that handles on big water. LordHayden, a known angler, might consider a sit on top, depending on water temp in that area. BearTrack almost certainly needs a 16' or better rotomolded boat with spray skirt, etc. The one thing I told them both is to paddle a bunch of boats. Almost certainly neither will do it for a number of reasons. So whats a guy to do? I guess based on body size, what I think they will be using the boat for mostly, temperament, and amount of $$ in the pocket I just throw out a couple boats for them to look for. Hook em up with, CraigsList, reputable retailers (Midnight Sun is selling P&H roto Capella's, brand new, $850.....see previous posts) and turn em loose. I hate to tell them something from a position of pseudo-expertise and then have them unhappy with the choice but I guess a imperfect boat is better than no boat. Heck, just do like the rest of us addicts and expand the fleet! I did tell them both that if they got into a boat that they had to promise me that they would never attempt to reserve the campsite on (name withheld for security reasons) Island in the Apostles during the month of September.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Let the racing season begin!

A group of we frustrated kayakers met at Baker Park Reserve on Saturday morning for the first cross country ski outing of the season. RonO organized the event, which was close to his home, with promises of a good local Irish pub nearby for apres’ ski ambiance and a pint of Guinness. It became very apparent very early that sitting on our hind ends in a kayak from March through November had not done a thing for our ski conditioning. Even our upper body muscles, which we felt were more than up to the task, rebelled at this unfamiliar activity. I, with sunny optimism, brought both classical and skating skis, figuring I could do my own little pursuit type endeavor. After all, I had skied two days a month of so ago out in Colorado with No1 son. In reality it was a Donner party-like ordeal where our confidence far outweighed our endurance. The weather was perfect for cross country skiing, just a breath of wind and about 8F, which allowed us to use the more friendly green and blue waxes and avoid the sticky reds and klister waxes. At that temperature the snow talks to you, crunches and ‘squeaks’ in a unique way, when its compressed by your skis. We were not listening however. Our tongues were hanging out as we sweated profusely, stopped frequently, and wondered why we hadn’t taken the short loop. This of course was after we’d taken a ‘practice’ lap with me on classical skis and RonO and TheManFromSnowyLegs trying skate skis for the very first time. I learned from the MFSL that there is not a lot of snow in Adelaide, Australia and that an inch of snow, which occurs every decade or so, makes the front page of the paper. This made it even more impressive that he had the curiosity, courage, or maybe just plain ignorance to strap on the tricky skate skis.

Which brings us to the gist of this post. Five of us kayak folks, a number of which raced kayaks at Two Harbors this summer, agreed to sign up for the 58k relay in the Mora Vasaloppet ski race on 10 February. This is a race that the father of the VOR and The Mayor helped to found and that he has skied in (along with every other race in the World Loppet series) a number of times. My guess is that at age 78 he could still kick our collective rear ends, especially after Saturdays debacle. That outing made it painfully (literally!) apparent that we have a long, long way to go. We’ve not properly evaluated the female members of the racing team, the Voice of Reason and the Bessemer Convivialist, but my educated guess is that they will make the same sucking sound that we did when they finally strap em on. So...... in the next 7 or 8 weeks we are going to need to make remarkable progress in order to avoid humiliation. One of us will need to ski the triumphant final leg of the relay down the main street of Mora which, in a totally counter intuitive move in these parts, they cover with snow for the race finish. My guess is that unless we start some serious training it will be a question of who HAS to ski the final leg rather than who GETS to ski it. Wish us luck!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The sun sets at Midnight Sun

RangerMark called from Chicago last night with the news that Midnight Sun, an outdoor adventure store on the waterfront in Duluth, is closing. The Duluth News Tribune has a bare bones article and the Midnight Sun website politely thanks customers for their support.

I had first heard of Midnight Sun from the MayorOfTurtleRiver (the VOR's sister) at our annual Grand Marais campout. It was a vague report at best, folks she had cross country ski raced with (and against) were opening a outdoor store somewhere in Canal Park. Armed with this info and no name I was unable to find it until I made a second and more concerted attempt. It was a wonderful store with high end merchandise in the old Endion Station building at the northern edge of Canal Park. The five co-owners were biathalon skiiers, kayakers, and generally knowledgeable outdoor folks that were extremely helpful and customer oriented. So customer oriented in fact, that RonO, RonS from Novorca Paddles, the VOR, and yours truly all bought boats from them in the past couple of years. They were the dealers for Valley and P&H, arguably some of the finest sea kayaks made. The photo at the top of this post is me after breaking my greenland stick while test paddling the Valley Aquanaut. I am standing right in front of the store and thats Gitchee Gumee herself in the background. I wound up buying the boat, figuring that if I can roll this thing up with half a paddle that is a very good omen. One of the great things about the store was that you could test paddle any boat by carrying it 50 yards down to the lake. There is much to be said for testing a prospective boat in Lake Superior, especially when you're right in the open lake with swells, wind, and even (and I can attest to this personally) dumping surf. When my seat broke, an apparent epidemic among Valley boats, they replaced it at no charge. I can't think of anything more to say other than good luck to Peder, Siri, Cory, Kara, and Chad. Best of luck in future endeavors and, to steal the last line from your farewell, I'll see you on the trails, slopes, and water!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Pearl Harbor Day

Its the day after the 66th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. I was thinking of that as I looked at the picture of my dad and the A-20 aircraft he crewed in that hangs over my fireplace. I can't remember how many WWII veterans are dying each day but the number is staggering. My father passed away 8 years ago and with him went all the stories that he didn't tell any of us. Like most of the WWII guys I had the opportunity to know, he just didn't talk about it. When the star studded Darryl Zanuck epic The Longest Day came out to commemorate the 20th anniversary of D-Day my dad and I went to see it. At age 9 I was full of questions, including "Dad, where were you on D-Day?" The one word reply was, "England". This was not entirely true however since the 416th bomb group flew two missions to France that day against the Argentan cross roads, which was crammed with German armor trying to reach the beaches, and the Serquex rail marshalling yard behind Utah beach. This I learned by research of course, not from the 'horses mouth'. Another tidbit was learned as I sat and watched the painfully stupid TV show Hogan's Hero's. The old man's comment was, "I'll bet your godfather's not sitting there watching this crap". Huh, what? Why wouldn't Owen be watching!? "Because he spent 14 months in one of those goddamn Luft Stalags after he got shot down." Of course I had no idea that my laid back, mild mannered godfather, Owen, had been a waist gunner on a B-24 that had been shot down over Germany in early 1944.

Just like I had no idea that my youngest sisters godfather, Lloyd, had been a navigator on the USS Lexington when it was sunk in the Coral Sea, or that Mac our neighbor had been with Merrills Marauders in Burma, or that my dads buddy Cully had been in the same PT boat squadron in the Solomons that President Kennedy had served in with PT-109. The attitude seemed to be why bother talking about this stuff, it happened decades ago; and especially why talk to an overly inquisitive 9 or 10 year old kid? These guys are literally a dying breed and if you're going to talk to them about their experiences, now is the time. I managed to sit my dad down and went through his WWII scrapbook that my Aunt Margaret had put together with him.

We had a couple bottles of Leinenkugels beer and he opened up a bit and I got a solid hours worth of info.

I guess my point is that if you know one of these vets talk to em sooner rather than later. They are living history, full of fascinating stories and information and tommorow may very well be too late.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The sausage is in!

Much as wine connoisseurs anticipate the arrival of this years nouveau beaujolais, we deer hunters await the yearly call from the meat market, "Hey, come on down and pick up your venison sausage, its all done." The way we do it at Reefer Creek camp is to field dress the deer in the woods and drag it back to camp where we skin the deer and completely bone out the meat on the picnic table. Anything that looks like a steak, chop, or roast is packaged and marked and any trim or off cuts go into the sausage bag.

The boned out carcass is left up in a tree for the Black Capped Chickadees to feed on over the winter. The fat and protein left on the bones keeps them warm as they winter in the area and in the spring the bones are taken down for other scavengers such as coyotes and fishers to feed on. The hides are usually donated to a program called Hides for Habitat. The sausage trim is then taken to one of many fine sausage makers in the area and combined with either pork or beef depending on whats being made, resulting in about twice as much sausage as the weight of trim you brought in. Our camp favors Jim's Meat Market in Iron River, WI and I personally like the Ukranian meat market, Kramarczuks, in northeast Minneapolis.

I got 'the call' on Monday, got over to pick up the sausage on Wednesday and after a couple hours with the Foodsaver sealer it was all freezer ready. The beer sticks however, need to be hung and dried for awhile. This causes great interest, salivating, slobbering, and angst on the part of Rookie, the part Australian Shepherd/part god knows what canine that lives here.

The same single minded enthusiasm for the beer sticks shared by Rookie and I is not quite as apparent in the Voice of Reason. The first question upon her arrival was, "How long do those beer sticks have to hang there?" The inference is that holiday guests might not enjoy the butcher chic ambiance nearly as much as Rookie and I do. She also made the point that the normal smells that people like around the holidays are scented candles, piney Christmas trees, cinnamon sticks and that sort of thing. Not so much garlic saturated meat sticks. She also pointed out that on the Wild Women kayak trip which she organized, foodstuffs like hummus, pita bread, goat cheese and sun dried tomato were enjoyed and there was not a single beer stick, string cheese, or big hunk of bread anywhere to be found at lunchtime. I personally would weaken, tip over, and not have the strength to roll up or wet exit on a prison camp-like diet of that nature but I'm told that all the WW functioned very well on it. In any event the bounty of this years deer hunt will be enjoyed on a regular basis until it runs out and next falls deer season rolls around. My personal hunting ethic is that I don't hunt anything I don't enjoy consuming and in this case that presents no ethical problem at all.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Snow!! And soon an ice road

Glorious snow! We got what appeared to be about 6" or so on Saturday and with any luck at all it should stay to form a nice base for winter fun. While Lake Superior does not quite look like the above photo, taken last February in the Porcupine Mountains State Park, it will be in a couple short months. One of the more interesting phenomona on Lake Superior is the Madeline Island ice road. The ferry plies its way between Bayfield and Madeline Island on a daily basis for most of the year. Even after the lake freezes the ferry can still break about 6" or so of ice and continues to do so on its daily trip. At some point after the first of the year the ice just gets to thick. The diesels overheat and the ferry needs to take a couple of breaks in the 3 mile crossing. By then the ice is plenty thick to route the road from the Bayfield beach, launch site for many kayak expeditions to the Apostles, to the boat landing in Madeline Island. The ice road usually opens the day after the ferry quits, typically around 10 January although later the past couple of years. Sometimes, mainly in the spring breakup, a windsled is used to make the crossing.

The ice road is actually designated as an extension of Wisconsin County Highway H and your car insurance is in effect as are all other traffic long as you stay on the marked road. The road is monitored and marked with evergreen trees for when blowing snow and other nasty weather make visibility a challenge. You wouldn't want to go driving off toward Canada! Every now and then cars stray off the road and find themselves in 150' feet of water. Dragging them out is expensive and the DNR is pretty adamant about hauling a oil and gas filled car off the bottom of the lake. My friend RangerMark crosses to Madeline Island on a daily basis. A couple years back some guys ignored the signs and strayed on to some slushy ice and got stuck. They walked out to the island and when they got back to their car there was only a hole in the ice. Cars don't normally just crash through the ice; it usually takes about 10 minutes. RangerMark punched the spot into his gps as he peered down the hole on the day it happened. Good thing too, since he was the only one who did and it would have been real tough to find the vehicle in 190' of water without a good starting point.

We were remarking over breakfast that it feels like a normal winter. Snow during deer season, skim ice on the pond, and now a significant snow weeks before Christmas. If this holds up we'll all be skiing and snowshoeing before we know it. And maybe even inhaling a little chlorine at the pool now and then......

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chlorine phobia

Our buddy Silbs posted this week urging everyone 'into the pool' since our lakes have become a bit stiff to padde in. While he and I are normally completely in sync on kayak and other crucial world issues, I'm afraid we are 180 degrees opposite on this one. I hate the pool. I hate the fetid, humid chlorine smell, the sharp 90 degree angles, the stinging eyes, the hard tile, and particlularly the chlorine itself. I think it stemmed from those swimming lessons I was forced to take as a small child. I've always had a stubborn anti authority streak and refused to learn to swim and pass the Red Cross tests at the YMCA pool but easily learned in Prairie Lake later that summer. I also have this belief that everything has its season. Its one of the main reasons I live in the northland. These days I look wistfully at my cross country skis when I leave for work and anxiously check the weather forecast, hoping for winter storm warnings. Just like I eyeball those kayaks in March, waiting for the lakes to soften up. When my two boys played sports, especially hockey, there was the pressure to sign up for spring league, interim league, summer league, and the fall warm up camps. I always encouraged them to grab the baseball, soccer ball, football, and especially the cross country skis and canoe paddle, and enjoy the different seasons....screw the year round mono sports obsession.

The sad and somewhat hypocritical truth however, is that I will most certainly attend some pool sessions because I'm just too addicted to being upside down in those damn skinny boats. Plus my paddle buddies will be there and GalwayGuy is literally inches from his norsaq roll. It kinda like when someone offers you a light beer. You smile, say thanks, drink it, and remember that excellent glass of Guiness you had the day before. You realize that there will soon be another glass of Guiness set in front of you and that it will taste even better in comparision to the inferior experience you just had.

Just be sure to wash that stinkin' chlorine off your gear!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Big, Bad Wolf

The founder of our deer camp, DrDon'tThrowThatAway, was stillhunting along the north boundary of the property when he encountered our neighbor to the north. Upon exchanging the usual pleasantries he asked how the deer season was going he was told that, "Goddamn wolves ate all the deer". This was met with much derisive laughter back at our camp when the story was related. I'd seen 8 deer that day, GurneyGranny had seen a similar amount and one guy had seen 17! After it snowed there were feeding areas that looked like a cattle feed lot.

It seems that there are always a certain number of rednecks who want the wolves eradicated again. Deer hunters, especially the ones who just aren't that competent, find the wolves to be a good excuse for their lack of success. Farmers tend to blame them for any livestock depredation too. A guy who had several sheep killed in his pasture complained to the DNR who quickly discovered that it was his renters Rotweiller and not the wolves who had been out killing his sheep. A wolf kill is unmistakeable. They always eat what they kill because they frankly just aren't that successful in bringing down big game. Usually you find a 6' area of deer hair, a foot or two of vertebra, and and part of a skull. After one particularly hard winter with a lot of snow in March, when the deer are most vunerable after going through the winter, we found over 20 winter killed deer carcasses and 3 wolf kills on the property. Draw your own conclusions from that.

At our camp we enjoy having them around and GG and PodMan went to the training offered by the Timberwolf Alliance, a program through Northland College, and are now the official wolf survey folks for our little area of the county. This involves heading up to camp after it snows for some XC skiing or snowshoeing to check the wolf movement. As you can imagine this is tough duty but someone has to do it. I've selflessly volunteered for a number of tracking sessions. The more you learn about the animal the more you appreciate how it fits in and the 'wildness' that it brings to the area. It sends shivers up and down your spine to hear them howl when you're sitting in your stand, its getting dark, and you know you have to walk through the woods back to camp. We are happy to have them around and are happy to share the deer with them.

Note: the deer in the pictures are not only alive and not eaten by wolves but were actually in the area where we heard them howling.

Monday, November 26, 2007

How I spent my Thanksgiving Day

Most of the deer camp roused at about 5:30am after the customary early evening and energy sapping hot sauna. The big blue ceramic coffee pot was fired up and GurneyGranny's cinnamon rolls were slid into the 1921 Detroit Jewel propane oven. We lit a couple of the Humphrey propane lights and started organizing our hunting gear with the goal of being up in our respective trees shortly after dawn. As I walked out on the deck the moon was still up and a thin line of light was becoming visible across the creek to the east. I manned my tree until about 9:30 and then took a little walk. I found the wolf tracks in the spot where we had heard them howling the previous afternoon and also cut bear tracks that were almost as big as my hand. I think we may have caught his picture on the game camera which had been placed on one of the gut piles.

I headed back to camp, being careful not to take an unexpected swim in the creek since the snow had coated the rocks nicely. I stoked the pot belly stove and prepared to butcher the deer I had taken the day before. This was carefully calculated so I would be working on the venison while the Packers played the Lions in the traditional Thankgiving game. The KingofIronwoodIsland, a kayak and hunting/fishing buddy, is an avid Lions fan in a den of Packer fans so the game was a must to listen to and attempt to watch on the 6" black and white battery powered TV.

After the Packers easily handled the Motor City Kitties and His Majesty was properly abused, I put the finishing touches on the venison and put the turkey on the Weber. The afternoon plan was to stroll out to one of the more obscure stands with my rifle and primarily my camera. A relaxing afternoon sit as the sun went down and a stroll back to camp in the dark ended the hunting portion of Thanksgiving Day. The trimmin's were cooked on the Detroit Jewel, the 18 pound bird hauled off the grill, and we all enjoyed a candle light turkey dinner followed by a hot sauna and an early bedtime.

The only actual downside of this Thanksgiving Day was that the Voice of Reason was with her sons and folks in Mora instead of at camp. She also had feverishly transformed our kitchen into Home and Garden-like showpiece while I was out in the woods, a very astute move on her part. Thanksgiving Day felt like it must have decades ago with no airport lines, phones, cars, or electronic noise (the 6" B&W is only allowed on during Packer games and the World Series). Water is hand pumped, wood is cut and burned, good friends are present, and life is very simple. Not a bad way to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. Happy Holidays everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gales of November III: kayak symmetry

It would appear that the 2007 kayak season will end much as it began, with temps in the 30's, a 30-35 knot northwest wind, and horizontal sleet flurries. RonO, the ManFromSnowyLegs, and I began the season that way on Lake Waconia and may have ended it that way on Lake Minnetonka. Seven hardy souls launched from Mound at about 2pm on Wednesday and paddled to Goose Island for a chilly picnic. Instead of camping gear we had the hatches loaded with firewood as well as the customary food and beverages. The launch site was in a lee and deceptively calm but when we got out into the bay we got surf-able swells which prompted the IrishPirate to remark, "This is nearing the limits of my comfort zone". We got a late start and just missed CaptainAnnapolis, who had got out there early and started a fire. We could see him paddling away but the miracle of cell phones got him turned around and back at the festivities. Had he turned his head 45 degrees to the left he would have spotted the flotilla frantically trying to overtake him.....gotta check your 'six' more often I guess. Knowing the proclivities of this group when bonfires, wine, and good food are involved, we all had headlamps for the inevitiable paddle in the dark back to the launch. Minnetonka is far from a wilderness lake so there was plenty of light to see. We also had the lake to ourselves except for a few muskie fishermen.

This third annual Gales of November paddle (scheduled for the closest mutually agreeable date to the anniversary of when the 'Fitz' went down on 10 November 1975) was the first one where there was an actual near gale. The other two were done in bluebird weather. A little cold weather shakedown like this is good to check your gear out in case you decided that a late November LakeSuperior trip was a good idea. RonO checked the western lake Superior buoy before I picked him up and discovered 7.5 foot seas with 5 second intervals. Probably a good day to be on Minnetonka. My Reed tuliq worked perfectly as did the various dry suits. Extremities were a problem. The BessemerConvivialist purchased pogies and didn't wear them until the return trip. She pronounced her curved finger gloves only 'OK' after 3 fingers finally decided to warm up just before we landed on the paddle out to the island. The pogies were declared to be "oh my god, unbelievably warm!" on the return trip. The BC did have some foot gear issues however, which prompted her to beg me to sit on her feet, penguin and egg-like, to warm them up. Bottom line: if you paddle in cold water invest in Chota or some other high mukluk! Getting anything wet in those conditions is a very bad idea.

Blog note: I will be at the deer camp, chasing the elusive Reefer Buck until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The beauty of the place is no electricity, running water, or central heat. Its a vacation in the 19th century. Electronic devices, other than gps units and weather radios, are banned. The one exception is that a 5" screen, battery operated black and white TV is allowed for Packer games and the World Series. My next post will likely be 10 days from now. Enjoy the holidays!

Credits: All photos courtesy of BjornDahlieofMahtomedi, whose local high school football club, Mahtomedi of course, just qualified for the state finals.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Warm fingers

Last Saturday I sat up in my tree stand and watched the snow come down hard. I was about 15' up in a balsam tree, two miles as the crow flies from Lake Superior, holding on to a cold bow while I awaited the arrival of the trophy buck. He did not arrive and sitting motionless in the snow is not particularly conducive to staying warm. Nonetheless, my hands were nice and toasty in my thick wool trigger mitts. Its not quite that simple when you're paddling this time of year.

Tommorow is our 3rd annual Gales of November paddle and I need to figure out which hand warming system I'll be using. Even though you are moving and working it seems like your hands are invariably wet. Paddling with a Greenland stick does not help matters at all, although simple 'O' rings, laying smack on the Bayfield Peninsula in the photo, eliminate 85% of the drippage and don't really inhibit needed sliding strokes all that much. You do still need to keep your hands warm however. My favorite is still my pogies, near Devils Island on the map/photo. You do need to take your hands out for any extended paddle work but you can still feel the warmth of the wood and take advantage of having your fingers together to keep themselves warm. They do get wet however. In the lower right hand corner, covering Ashland and the Bad River Reservation, we have the nice loose neoprene gloves made by Chota. Good gloves, easy on and off, but its very easy to get water sloshing around inside. Another pair of curved finger, velcro wrist banded Chota gloves, are seen in the Brule/Port Wing area of the picture. These are a major pain in the ass to get on and off and almost impossible to turn inside out to dry properly. Woe be it to the paddler who forgets and puts these on before securing their spray skirt. Finally, up in the BWCA/Quantico area we have the NRS 'Titanium' neoprene mittens. While your fingers are in contact with one another and warm these things are as difficult to get on an off as the curved finger gloves. Even after you gnaw your second mitten on, using your teeth to pull it on and secure the velcro on both the mitten and your dry suit, chances are good you will still get water inside.

My conclusion: Stick with the pogies. Most of the time your hands are on the same spot of your paddle anyhow and it just feels right to have your hands on the wood. Differing and controversial opinions are welcome.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Goodbye old buddy...

On Wednesday morning the garbage truck hauled away my trusty, faithful, and absurdly comfy blue recliner. Every guy out there knows how he feels about 'his chair'. Archie Bunker's is in the Smithsonian; mine is now in a landfill near Blaine, MN. When I suggested that I sell it on CraigsList or even Twin Cities Free Market I was met by universal laughter and derision. I will have to admit that in cross examination I would not fare very well.......

"Is is true that ethnic food from most of the nations on earth has been spilled on this chair"
"Is it true that beer and other adult beverages from several states and nations have also soiled this piece of furniture"
"Yes (sigh)"
"Is the chair in perfect working order"
"Not quite; I had to put on some oversized bolts when I stripped the....."
"Just answer the question Mr Olson"
"Does it match any other piece of furniture, carpet, drapes, artwork, or anything else in your dwelling even remotely"
"Well, not really, no"

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the blog reading community, I rest my case!"

In any event, I never looked at the color, stains, minor operational quirks, or other cosmetic frailties; I just sat there and watched TV or read while enjoying my post work beer. So on Tuesday night, on the curb next to the garbage cans, I had one last beer with my old buddy before he was 'put to sleep' by the Waste Management sanitation engineering staff. I'm sure my new leather, lovely looking recliner will eventually conform to the shape of my ass and provide the same enjoyment (plus it has the Stainguard Protection Package!) as 'ol Blue' but for now I just need to raise a toast to my faithful chair and savor the memories. Bon voyage old buddy.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Last Lake Superior rolls of the season

On our way back from the Grouse Kill the boys and I hit Bark Bay for what we expect will be the last Lake Superior paddle of the '07 season. Bark Bay is one of the most intriguing spots on the South Shore. It is a large horseshoe bay between Cornucopia and Herbster, WI. and has the classic tombolo sandspit with a slough behind it that occurs on sandy areas facing northeast on Lake Superior. There are identical features on many of the Apostles, most notably Stockton and Madeline Islands, and they are formed when the November storms hammer the shore. It can seen well on both the map and the photo. The photo is looking east toward the Bark river with the lake on the left and slough on the right.

That slough is full of migrating waterfowl, cool bogs and hummocks, and (don't tell anyone!) big predator fish in the spring. The other great thing is that the Bark River is usually running high enough so you can paddle out of the slough and right into Lake Superior. If you can't paddle anywhere else on a windy day you can usually get out on to Bark Slough and its large enough and interesting enough to spend an afternoon or three. Bark Bay itself is protected enough in three directions but if you get a north or northeast wind things get interesting. With the Bark River flowing north into the lake and the swells rolling in against the river current you can get some big steep breaking waves. As you paddle along in the slough the wind in the white pines and the waves crashing on the beach 50 yards away are almost deafening.

Sunday we launched from the DNR landing and took a leisurely paddle through the slough, out the river channel, and into the lake. The sky was deep blue and the air was so clear you could see Eagle and Sand Islands on the western end of the Apostles. We all knew it was likely the last Lake Superior paddle of the year and when GalwayGuy said something about rolling, RonO commented that, "It just must be done". So we landed on the beach, stowed our gear, and paddled out to test the waters. Amazingly enough, Lake Superior weighed in at 48F, which was 6 degrees warmer than Lake O; more water to cool down I guess. In any event, here are the rollers: