Friday, September 12, 2008
The Joy of Saunas
Two of the annual events that I've attended for a couple decades, the Wisconsin fishing opener and the annual Grouse Kill weekend (no grouse have been harmed or even inconvenienced at this event for years) have taken on a bit of a kayak flavor. Even though the first is in early May and the latter in early November we still paddle and work on our rolls. The main reason for this, even though the water is usually ice cream headache cold, is the close proximity of a nice hot sauna to the water. Within minutes a near frozen carcass is warm and comfy again.
I am a huge fan of wood fired saunas. The smell, the nature of the heat, the pumping of the water, and the ritual of building and stoking the fire make it a perfect way to enjoy a cool fall day. Two of my favorites are at Camp O, site of the above mentioned events, and at our hunting camp on Reefer Creek in northern Wisconsin. I suspect that I will be slipping into the Reefer Creek sauna around 9pm this very evening in fact. The only one that I had seen at a commercial establishment however, was at the Rossport Inn on the Canadian north shore of Lake Superior. I figured that maybe a lawyer shortage in northwest Ontario made having a facility where the great unwashed could work with fire, hot stoves and near 200F heat made them less susceptible to insurance claims and lawsuits. That theory was blown out of the water in the last month when I discovered not one but two wood fired commercial saunas in Minnesota, also known as the State Where Nothing is Allowed.
We visited the Baptism River Inn near Tettagouche State Park on Minnesota's north shore and found a whimsical and efficient wood fired sauna. The VOR commented that the Grinch could have owned this structure. It had a stove that was fed from the outside and a hand pump inside the sauna house. It was insulated very tightly and got hot rapidly. My key indicator of heat, the dragons breath test, was achieved in about 45 mintues. This is where a person blows on their arm from a distance of about a foot. If it burns, the temp is around 180F, perfect to sweat out those accumulated toxins.
At the Traditional Gathering last weekend another wood fired gem was discovered. The Crow Wing Crest Lodge has an ancient sauna that looks positively neanderthal. The stove is covered with rocks and takes forever to get hot. Once its hot however, its stays that way for a long time. Once again this was a popular spot for pre and post rolling activities as well as warming up that wet, cold, damp neoprene before putting it back on for the days work. As with the other three saunas mentoined, this one is located right near the lake so one can leap into the cooling water between bouts of sweating. When the sauna is over and the two heating and cooling cycles of the body are done, your body feels cleaner than it ever has before. Chlorinated hot tubs do nothing for me nor do the electric 'warm but not' hot hotel saunas. Give me a blistering wood fired sauna and I am a happy guy. The searing heat, convivial atmosphere, and smells and feel make it the perfect end to a fall day.