Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lake effect snow

I was digging around in some old files and came across this satellite photo that TheCommish sent me of a massive lake effect snowstorm that covered most of the Great Lakes states. I believe this photo is of the blizzard of 1999 when Northwest Airlines, who I am at war with at present, was sued for 'imprisoning' people for up to 8 1/2 hours in aircraft that had been routed into Detroit even though no gates were available to deplane the passengers.

The average surface lake temperature at this point in the winter is about 33.9F(1.05C) and there is less ice than last year. This means the cold winds can sweep out of the northwest as they are in the photo, pick up moisture, and dump it as snow once it hits the colder land. In the photo the north shore of Lake Superior is snow free and northern Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan are getting hammered. You can see the snow taper off so that most of eastern Wisconsin, Door County, Green Bay, and Milwaukee are relatively snow free. The cold air then hits Lake Michigan, picks up more moisture and dumps it all the way through Michigan, Ohio, and into Pennsylvania.

Spring is indeed on the way, Canoecopia is just around the corner, and some lakes should be open in another month. We here in the midwest are aware however, that the usual state hockey tournament blizzard is right around the corner and that winter will most certainly have one last blast....or two.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Spirit Mountain and a great brewpub

Saturday found me, Galway guy, and younger brother GuitarMatt schussing down the slopes at the Spirit Mountain ski area in Duluth, MN. You Colorado folks have some great views in the mountains but you ain't looking out at Duluth harbor and Lake Superior as you cruise down the hill. You may have a tad bit more vertical than 800' also, but we won't go into that. After all the cross country skiing the past month we figured it was time for a little lift served fun. GG had conventional dowhill skis, I had telemark skis, and GM was knuckle draggin' (snowboarding). We were a diverse group. Weather was perfect but the sky was a bit hazy. Normally you can see well up the north shore and quite a ways up the south shore as well but today we had to be content with the blue ribbon of unfrozen lake beyond Park Point and the lift bridge. We didn't go down to the water but it appeared that you could have slid a boat in on the lake side of Park Point. I do fear becoming like the kids who are stuck in hockey all year round however, and will continue to keep my seasons straight and stick to my skis and avoid the kayak until an 'appropriate' time. Although the idea of a ski/kayak weekend has a certain symmetry to it......RonO?.

Dusk came and the conditions were far too perfect to quit, even though my aging carcass needed a break. I suggested to my companions, 32 and 34 years younger than me respectively, that beer and pizza might be a good break for my aging legs and then we could head back and knock off a couple hours of night sking. So we headed across the Richard I. Bong bridge to Superior, WI and the Thirsty Pagan brewpub. As some of you may have gleaned from this blog I really appreciate a good brewpub. Two buddies and I went to England a couple years back, expressly for a real ale pub crawl and were so into the mission that I had to pry them away from a pint of Sheperd Neame's Spitfire ale to walk around the corner to view Buckingham Palace. Single minded focus like that can be appreciated. I like good beer and the Thirsty Pagan did not disappoint. As you can see from the beer menu they have a variety of styles from the light 'Ultra Fat Ass' to the very assertive 'Capitalist Pig', an excellent Russian Imperial Stout. This is not the corporate brewpub like the Granite City or Rockbottom chains. You can tell that by the names of the beer. The Thirsty Pagan has that old time Wisconsin tavern ambiance with families eating together, a few regulars, friendly staff that understands customers are the reason they are employed, and vintage beer signs from around the state. It also has no TV, subdued music, and bands on weekends. It is non smoking until 9pm when the bands start, an excellent and refreshing compromise in times when people feel that legislative edict (especially we legislation loving Minnesotans) is the only way to enforce behaviors that they feel are 'good for you'. As the owners put it on their website, "We are a non-smoking brewery until 9 PM. We like it, and since we own it, that's nice". We didn't make it to 9pm though, and headed back to Spirit Mountain for another 90 minutes of skiing, reinforced with pizza and the beer-fueled belief that we were much better skiers than when we had left for the brewpub.

For a thought provoking treatise on the relation of economic theory regarding free beer, please check out No1 son's first blog entry on his EO Update site. And if you're in the Twin Ports check out the Thirsty Pagan as well as Sustenance Artisan Breads down the street in the old City Hall. Both feature wonderful handmade products that will make you swear off Wonder Bread and BudMiller for life.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sustainability and tree hugging

I went to a panel discussion on sustainability in packaging at General Mills on Tuesday evening. The panel was made up of experts from such companies as General Mills, EcoLab, Aveda, Eureka Recycling, Natureworks, and others. A couple of times the comment was made that, 'by implementing this small change we saved an entire forest'. These earnest and committed panelists had no way of knowing that right in their midst sat a man whose forest was being cut down literally as they spoke.

We people powered sports advocates such as kayakers, hikers, bikers, cross country skiers, and climbers are all lumped together and viewed as tree huggers and environmentalists. This dynamic is apparent on I-35W as I head north, expanding my carbon footprint, toward the Promised Land of Lake Superior. GMC Suburbans hauling snowmobiles and ATV's disdainfully fly past we granola munchers in Subaru's and Toyota's with our roof racks full of bikes, skis, and kayaks. Our fellow 'right thinking' outdoor lovers on the other hand, give us that little head nod and finger wave that lets us know we are part of the club. As a guy who has been accused of stirring the pot a bit, I love it when I'm heading to up to the hunting camp in the fall for some multitasking. I usually have a couple kayaks on the roof of my VW and am pulling my Honda ATV on a trailer with a chainsaw strapped to the back rack. I've received some of the funniest looks from people as they go past. Its like they can't categorize what they are seeing and it appears to frustrate them.

About a year ago we contacted the Living Forest Cooperative to help us set up a timber sale. Over 60% of the forests in Wisconsin are privately owned and this does not include the land owned by the big private timber companies. An organization called the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association offers both a forum and an educational component for these landowners. Our land is two miles from the south shore of Lake Superior and we have a nice mix of aspen, balsam, spruce, oak, maple, white and red pine, as well as some ash. Our goal is to manage our forest in a sustainable (there's that word again) fashion in order to maximize wildlife, keep the woods healthy, and make a couple of bucks for the essentials in life, like low volume rolling kayaks. By focusing on selectively cutting the aspen and large balsam and leaving the hardwoods and other conifers we can have our cake and eat it too. This means a nice, albeit more open, forest with trees reseeding and regenerating in the cleared areas. New aspen saplings make an environment rich in food and cover for everything from rabbits to deer and wolves. In about 10 years it will be time for another harvest. And possibly another new kayak! Mature forests are wonderful and should be preserved. The ancient stand of hemlocks in the Porcupine Mountains, pictured below, is awesome. But nothing lives there except black bears and red squirrels. Wildlife needs new growth.

I wanted to tell the esteemed panelists Tuesday that while 'saving a forest' is an admirable idea, that the old fashioned idea of conservation, first articulated by that legendary University of Wisconsin professor, Aldo Leopold, in his Sand County Almanac is an even more noble concept. Sustainablity is great but it can't let it turn into an environmentalist buzzword. We need to couch the concept in terms that will embrace both the guy in the Suburban as well as the guy in the Subaru. Everyones grandkids will be needing toilet paper and by using our head and the venerable and inclusive concept of conservation, we can make sure they have both a clean behind and a lovely forest to enjoy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Let's get 'em wet!

This spring when the ice decides to go out I will begin my 12th season of paddling a kayak. Over the years I've paddled with a number of people and developed a sense as to whether they are comfortable in their boats or not. The key indicator seems to be whether or not they have come to grips with the possibility of going over. The only way to get comfortable with that possibility is to go over on purpose, time and time again. Getting people to realize that and then actually get in the water, get wet, and 'become one with their boat' can be a tough sell.

I can empathize with that desire to remain upright at all costs. In the spring of 1997 I went over about 100 yards after setting my butt in a kayak for the very first time. I was overconfident, bordering on cocky, and Lake Superior was very cold in May. I completed the 4 hour training session, did my wet exits and assisted & unassisted reentry, and vowed that remaining upright would be a cornerstone of my kayaking career. I think that a lot of folks have this attitude for one reason or another and that it severely limits their enjoyment as well as the kind of conditions they are comfortable paddling in. I've seen a number of exercises and fun things you can do that involve crawling around your boat. RonO mentions in a post that he has worked with Kelly Blades at the Washburn Symposium and that, "Getting out of the boat, and spending an hour fooling around climbing on, over, under, and everything but what it was intended for can do much for your comfort level". This is indeed the key but how can we get people interested in and willing to get wet? Telling them that 'it's good for them' is as effective as when my mother used that line to get me to eat liver. Maybe tell them that we are going swimming and then throw the boat on the roof? Hypnosis? Bribery?? It is a crucial component to becoming a better and more self confident paddler and any ideas on the subject would be welcome.

The other part of it, the logical extension I guess, is when you are playing in the water you need to do it in realistic conditions. By that I mean conditions that you actually might go over in. We all love to practice on nice flat calm inland lakes in the summer but the likelihood of going over in those conditions is minimal. We have actually cancelled after work paddle sessions because it was too windy. My thought is that this is exactly when you want to go out and check your skills. Last fall on the tip of the Keewenaw we were windbound as a violent front moved through the area from the northwest. As we lounged in camp I thought what a great opportunity this would be to see if I could actually roll the boat in these conditions. As I pulled on my tuliq the smart remarks were flying like, "I get dibs on his folding chef knife" and "Can I have your boat when they recover it in Marquette?". I had a fun and exhilarating time however, and learned that I could indeed brace and roll in nasty conditions.

My goal this summer is to help make my friends better paddlers while becoming better myself. I hope we all can become more comfortable in and out of our boats and that the mysteries of the static brace, forward sweep roll, and the diabolical norsaq stick will reveal themselves to me. In the meantime, my plan is to get wet!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Our temporary road

The photo above was taken from the Island Queen, the ferry that takes you from Bayfield, WI to Madeline Island in the summer months. The photo below is taken from roughly the same spot from my Volkswagon as I crossed the ice road which opened about 2 weeks ago.

I've been fascinated with lake ice since I was a kid. When I was a young boy my family would go ice fishing for panfish almost every weekend in the winter. My dad had a belief, correct I may add, that the fish always bit better just after the ice froze. We would be shuffling on to 2-3" of ice with snowshoes (to better distribute our weight), life jackets, and homemade ice picks; two hardened nails embedded in a 5" piece of hardwood broom handle. We would wear two of these around our necks on a string so if you did go through the ice and into the lake you could haul yourself out of the water and back up on the ice. The rule of thumb, which is very conservative since it comes a liability conscious government agency, is 4" to walk, 5" for snowmobiles or ATV's, and 8-12" for cars and light trucks. Neither my dad, me, or my high school buddy, the MadDog, abided much by these guidelines. We took MadDog's father Willy's Chevy van, loaded with every tool he had (he was a carpenter), out on Half Moon Lake just so we could say we were the first ones on the ice that season. I also recall spinning down the lake at 60+ mph in his 1972 Gremlin. We would get the car up to 60 or 70mph on the ice, before the lake was snow covered, spin the wheel and let 'er spin. I'm sure you are all wondering but no, I only fell through the ic once and that incident had nothing to do with thin ice. It could be another post however

Driving on the ice, like skiing and kayaking, seems to be hard wired into my genetic makeup. Driving on the side expanse of a lake frees you from the constraints of roads and being channeled in directions you really don't want to go. Travel in any direction is fine and the environment isn't torn up like it can be when snowmobiles and ATV's decide to do the same thing. This freedom of movement is not the case on Lake Superior however. The ice is constantly moving and shifting and at any time you can have a crack, or 'pressure ridge' form which you may not be able to cross. The worst case scenario is when people venture out for salmon and trout fishing in the spring. If the wind shifts you can find yourself on a gigantic ice floe, headed for Canada.

Ice roads in the winter are nothing new. In fact one of the most famous ice roads in history was the one across Lake Ladoga, the Road of Life (Дорога жизни, doroga zhizni), during the Seige of Leningrad. When the Nazi's surrounded the city in 1941, the ice road was the only way for supplies to get in and civilians to get out of the city. The Road of Life lasted from Nov 20th to April 24th. The Madeline Island road last only a matter of weeks. During this time the island gets an influx of visitors, mostly because its now free to get there. The weather is unpredictable in the spring and a large portion of Lake Superior is open and ice free. As I described with the hapless fisherman above, spring winds can blow the ice road apart in a matter of hours. The Christmas tree in the top photo is one of dozens that mark the road. If the wind and snow are blowing so hard you can't see the next tree, then its time to head back to solid land. Even so, having a road beats the ferry or the ice sled and everyone from school kids to the folks who work on the mainland, or vice versa, has just a little bit easier time getting around the area when the ice road is in operation.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Book Across the Bay - Skiing Lake Superior

For the second weekend in a row we watched a small community come together to pull off a major cross c0untry ski race. This weekend it was Ashland and Bayfield, WI for the Book Across the Bay, an event that crossed the ice Lake Superior's Chequamagon Bay from Ashland to Bayfield. The race began at 6:15pm on Saturday and the route was lit by ice luminaries. More on those lovely devices later.

We parked in Washburn and caught the big yellow school bus to the start area in Washburn. Being 6'4" tall, I chewed on my knees for the short trip, bringing back fond memories of my transportation during my junior high days. Around 2,000 people skied or snowshoed the race so our pre-registration at around noon paid off handsomely by allowing us to avoid the ever growing line, a line that overwhelmed the registration staff and forced a 15 minute delay of the start. My long time buddy and fellow hunting camp member, Rawhide Phil, was the emcee of the event and managed to entertain the crowd with his clever banter, some good music, and by smoothly hitting on a Polish woman as he interviewed her in front of 2,000 people. I told him at the finish line that he did a good job (with the emcee thing, that is) and that I was proud to know him. Since it was 44 degrees F warmer than at the Vasaloppet the weekend before, the delay didn't bother too many people. It did impact the race a bit however. At 6pm you could still see OK. By 6:15 with cloud cover and no moon or stars for illumination you couldn't really see much when the race finally started. There were the usual crashes and congestion until things sorted themselves out and the skaters got on track to the left of the luminaries and the classical skiers found the tracks to the right of the luminaries.

A luminary, for the uninitiated, is made by filling a 5 gallon pail with water and setting it outside to freeze. When it freezes partially the ice on the surface is broken, the remaining water poured out, and a lit candle is inserted, making a lovely lantern. 600 of these devices were made by volunteers and lit to illuminate the race course as is snaked across the bay to Washburn. For this race I had decided to skate ski. Due to the cold weather at the Vasaloppet I had classical skied and it had been the correct choice. Since it was warmer, snow conditions were a bit better, and the course was as flat as a pancake,I decided to skate. All was going well as I cruised along with a nice tail wind, passing some people and getting passed by others. Going well that is, until I hit the luminary. The same tail wind that had me sailing along so nicely had also blown out some of the luminaries. As I went to my right to pass some kid that I had already exchanged a half dozen passes with, I hit the luminary dead on with my right ski. A five gallon ice block with a lit candle makes a lovely lantern. With the candle extinguished, it serves roughly the same purpose as those German 'dragons tooth' tank traps did during World War II. I crashed, fell hard, and felt my binding come off. Since these weren't really release bindings I figured all was not well. I had snapped the foot plate out from under the toe clip, rendering it impossible to get back on. Not being an individual to bottle up my emotions, I began cursing like a sailor. Fortunately I rememberd I had a Leatherman tool which allowed me to clip off part of the plate and get my ski back on. It seemed like it took forever but it was likely a 5 minute or less operation. I got back on track, passed a few people that had gone by me as I lay cursing on the ice, and skated through the finish line, nicely lit with dozens of the dangerous luminaries. I waited for my companions to trickle in, listened to Rawhide Phil's post race commentary, and then headed to the tent for fine chili and superb South Shore Nut Brown Ale. The evening was recapped with pizza and a bit more Nut Brown at famous Washburn watering hole, Patsy's Bar.

Even with my equipment malfunction it was an excellent event. People had a great time, entire families skied the course, including babies being pulled on pulks, and it was an invigorating, well organized, and festive atmosphere. I'm a bit chagrined to admit that I hit another luminary on the way in as I passed another skier but, as in baseball, I guess it takes three strikes before you are 'out'.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Building the fleet

This weekend we will be skiing a race known as the Book Across the Bay (BATB). The race is 6.2 miles (10k) and crosses Chequamagon Bay from Ashland to Washburn, WI on the 34" (almost a meter) of ice that covers the bays of Lake Superior this time of year. This same area, just south of the Apostle Islands, was also the scene of my first Lake Superior paddle of the season last spring. Not far from there was where I first dipped a kayak paddle in Lake Superior and shortly after that purchased my first boat ten years ago.

Like most people my first boat was plastic. I bought a used CD Storm that had been used as a rental by one of the outfitters and was happy as a clam with that boat. Happy that is, until I traded boats with a guy who had a Solstice GTS high volume. Narrower, lighter, faster, and it tracked like a railroad train. I soon reached a deal with Dale Hedke, a former master builder with the Minnesota Canoe Association and owner of a great little shop called The Boat House. He had a blemished yet lovely blue Solstice GTS HV which soon found its way to my garage. About this time No2 son decided he needed a boat. Not until after I had traded the Storm away of course, but that is very characteristic of the high schooler's (non) thought process. Enter Dale once again. He is a superb boat builder and had the local Chesapeake Light Craft franchise and offered classes in their construction. Being a crafty father, I figured this was a great way to come up with an affordable boat and sneak 60 or so hours of quality time with No2 son. It worked to perfection and the boat performed very well including several Apostles trips and a trip to Isle Royale. If you look at it on the roof rack, driving down the street at 25mph, it is perfect and without blemish. I think my boat lust was satiated for a couple of years and then I discovered and paddled the British style boats with day hatch and skeg, courtesy of BjornDahlieOfM. I followed his lead and wound up buying the Derek Hutchinson designed Gulfstream from Ken Ketter, his demo, after the Two Harbors Kayak festival. The fleet was now at three. That winter at a pool session a guy had a Scirocco, the rotomolded version of the Gulfstream, and wanted to sell at a rock bottom price. Seems his wife had decided the boat was too big and didn't fit her. I came home that day with both the Gulfstream and Scirocco on the roof. Oh, I almost forgot. I travel a fair amount for work and a Feathercraft Big Kahuna had insinuated itself into the fleet and also into my checked baggage. Five boats now, guess I'd better downsize. GurneyGranny wanted a single and so did the PodMan. Good bye to the Gulfstream and the Solstice GTS HV, both to good homes where I get to visit and paddle them from time to time. Now I have the space to get a real British boat. Enter the Valley Aquanaut HV and good bye to the Scirocco which went down to Northern Iowa. The VOR picks up a Valley Avocet, we acquire an old Valley Skerry for GalwayGuy and the fleet is very quickly back at five boats. How the hell did that happen so quick?

And thats the sordid tale of my decade long boat addiction. Like fine rifles, when it comes to kayaks you always have more than you need but not as many as you want. I'd love to have a skin boat or a good low volume rolling boat where I could learn all those stick and hand rolls. There are also times where a good plastic boat is the only way to fly, especially on the rocky North Shore of Lake Superior or on some of those wide, rocky, and shallow rivers that defy logic and flow north into the lake. When I'm racing across the Chequamagon Bay on my skis Saturday night I'll be concentrating on my ski technique but in the back of my mind skin boats and low volume plastic kayaks will be dancing around in my brain. I'll be thinking of the giant candy store that is Canoecopia and how it will feel in about 10 weeks when my kayak is gliding across the same path that my skis are.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Shuttling Pointers: How I escaped humiliation on the Vasa trail

I've never been able to figure out why people find it so difficult to figure out a shuttle. Not the space shuttle, or the 'Super' bus that takes you from the airport to your downtown hotel, or even the little feathery badminton thing that you whack. No, I mean the relatively simple act of leaving a car or bike at the end of your one way paddle, hike, or ski trek so you can manage to get back to where you started. There are a number of people, many of which are friends of mine, that have all kinds of trouble with the concept. I was on an inner tube float trip down a local river when the the dreaded Shuttle Block struck my buddy. An inner tube float involves getting a couple of truck size inner tubes on a hot summer day and putting a cooler of ice cold beer in one and your rear end in the other and floating down a nice quiet stretch of water. We drove Dougie's car down, left it at the take out point, drove back up to the put in spot, and floated down. When we got through, tired, sunburned, and a bit tipsy, we looked to Dougie to shuttle us back up to get the other cars so we could load the gear. When we told him to start the car and lets get rolling we got that puzzled look you get from your dog when it kind of cocks its head, knowing something sounds familiar, but not really knowing what it is. "Jeez, I locked my keys in Dave's car so I wouldn't lose em on the river". The poster boy for not understanding the shuttle concept.

When the shuttle discussion for the relay began, I kind of tuned it out with no small amount of disdain. It was a five person team. The BessemerConvivialist had the starting leg, I did the second leg, RonO the third, TheManFromSnowyLegs the fourth, and the VoiceOfReason was the anchor for the triumphant entry into downtown Mora and the cheering crowds of her hometown. Team director, shuttle coordinator, and official team photographer was none other than the BemidjiIntelOfficer. As the shuttle discussion dragged on I made the smart ass remark, "I wonder if Eisenhower had it this tough on D-Day". Ha Ha!

Sunday morning dawned -20F(-29C) with a stiff breeze. Word arrived at the house that the race was definitely on, a severe disappointment to a couple of team members. We saddled up anyway and headed to the start line with the shuttle plan firmly in place. We all hit the start, cheered on the BC as well as the Irish Pirate & BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi, who were skiing the entire 35k race, and I headed for my designated relay point. The second relay point where the second leg of the race started, skied by the second skiier.....yours truly. We got down there in plenty of time and I put my skis on and began testing the wax and getting warmed up. For some reason, the BemidjiIntelOfficer pulled up; I figured she just wanted to watch the exchange before she headed down to the third relay point where the third skier left from. I didn't pay much attention to the animated discussion that the BIO and VOR were having until the VOR came running over, "Hey, HEY! Mr. Shuttle Master! You're at the wrong relay exchange point!!". Impossible. I'm the second skier so I-should-be-at-the-sec......oh, son of a bi....; I need to be at the FIRST exchange point! I pitched my skis in the rocket box, leaped in the car with RonO and the VoiceOfReason, and took off at breakneck speed for the first relay point, muttering every curse that I knew under my breath (OK, maybe they were all out know). Fortunately we had our get of jail free pass, the relay team vehicle pass to get us through the traffic points. I knew that if the BessemerConvivialist arrived at the relay point after a strong effort in the cold weather and I was not ready and waiting to 'take the baton', that I would be abused like a rented mule for years to come. Especially after my remarks of the evening before. I did make it in time however and as she skied up, all frosty, smiling, and breathing hard, I leaned over, gave her a hug, and whispered, "You ain't gonna believe how I almost flocked this one up!", and took off in the general direction of Mora.

In the end we all survived, took 7th overall, and managed to hit all of the relay exchanges perfectly. Ok, I missed the MFSL/VOR exchange but they made it and thats the important part. I was down by the soup stop at the bottom of a hill hoping to wave to the Renegades at the top of the hill when the MFSL came through but in the end RonO had to come down and inform me that the exchange had been made 10 minutes ago and why don't we head downtown and watch the finish. So thats exactly what we did and cheered the VoiceOfReason across the finish line and heard our names read on the PA system. And the BemidjiIntelOfficer had that little Mona Lisa smile every time she looked in my direction for the rest of the day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Cold Sunday in Mora

The SKOAC Renegades completed their first nordic ski race, the Mora Vasaloppet, in -16F(-27C) temperatures with wind chills in the -45F range (-43C). The original 58k length of the race was actually shortened to 35 k in order to concentrate the number of medical personnel and rest stops as well as decrease the time that people were actually exposed to these dangerous conditions. The one nice thing was that most of the time the wind was from behind, over your right shoulder, as you skiied the course. For those of you thinking of filing petitions in Hennepin County Court to have the entire Renegade team committed, it really wasn't that bad. To quote a buddy from Cumbria, Northern England, "There's no such thing as bad weather mate, only p*ss poor gear". People layered up, put Dermatone or vaseline on any exposed skin and once they got moving all was well. Some unfortunates decided to put moleskin and even duct tape on their cheeks and noses; watching them attempt to remove it at the finish line was an ugly scene indeed.

The Mora Vasaloppet was founded in 1973 with one of the driving forces being TheLegend, father of the Voice of Reason and TheMayor. In honor of her dads contribution, the Mayor decided to ski the race on her dads '73 vintage wood skis, clothing, and every Vasaloppet button since the race's inception. She was lookin' good and, though it pains me to admit it, beat the Renegade relay team to the finish line. The two women next to her in the photo are her sister and sister in law, both fromer kranskulla (garland girl in Swedish), an honorary position. They present the medals and preside over many events over the year. The Mayor and family, the SKOAC Renegades, and also the Bjorn Dahlie of Mahtomedi and the Irish Pirate all ate spaghetti and crashed at the home of the Legend and his wife, the GraciousPartyer on Saturday night. And we all waited to see if there would be a race in the morning.

This is a true community event with over 800 volunteers to help pull it off. It was well run and when the weather became ugly the Vasaloppet board of directors met to decide what to do. A majority of the board are skiiers and they consulted with a number of the elite racers to see what the consensus was. The decision to cut the race to 35k, not move the start time, and run all the races on the 35k course was the correct one. This allowed them to concentrate on re-grooming the 35k which had drifted badly overnight, and also focus emergency personnel, volunteers, bonfires, and other resources on a smaller, more manageable piece of trail. The other amazing thing was that they enumerated and justified their reasons for doing what they did on their website and took responsibility for the end results. Which were in my opinion, excellent. If you've ever had your airline flight delayed and dealt with the lack of information, misinformation, and general disinterest in your situation, this was 180 degrees the opposite. Everyone was friendly, upbeat, and seemed to be having a good time. By the time the racers had skiied down the Main street of town, covered with snow for the occasion, and crossed the finish line to get their medals, thoughts of cold weather had faded into the back of their minds and that post exertion euphoria had begun to set in. Ain't winter grand!

Friday, February 8, 2008

'Lake is the Boss' confession

OK, I've gotta come clean. I stole the name 'The Lake is the Boss' from a T-shirt. I actually bought the shirt which probably gives me absolutely no right to use the phrase but whatever. What I didn't realize is that the T-shirt folks lifted the line from the National Park Service, who used it in an orientation film that they made. The man who uttered the phrase was Julian Nelson.

Julian's exact quote was, ”The lake is the boss. No matter how big you are or what kind of a boat you’ve got, the lake is still the boss. Mother Nature dictates a lot of things". I emailed Ranger Bob for some background on Julian and also did some sleuthing on the net. Julian Nelson was born in Bayfield ninety plus years ago to Norwegian immigrant parents. He fished the Apostle Islands for many years commercially and his family had a camp on Stockton Island. In fact one of the most beautiful beaches in the islands or on Lake Superior for that matter is at Julian Bay, named after Mr. Nelson. After WW II he moved his fish camp to Rocky Island and continued to fish until the early '60's when lamprey eels, introduced when the St Lawrence Seaway was opened to the Atlantic, destroyed the native lake trout population. He served as mayor of Bayfield at the time when the National Lakeshore proposal was being debated. Even though it was fairly certain that his Rocky Island camp would be expropriated by the government and many locals who voted hated the idea, he came out in support of the proposal. Sure enough he lost the next election and was 'made an offer he couldn't refuse' by the park service for his Rocky Island camp. Just as an editorial aside, it seems funny that we buy out and get rid of the fisherman in the islands and then solicit funds and wring our hands over the lack of government funding to help reconstruct the Hokenson Fishery on Little Sand Bay and the Manitou Fish Camp on Manitou Island. If we had maybe worked out an equitable deal with them so they could stay, work, and maintain their authentic fish camps.......nah, never mind. Sorry I blew up.

Julian Nelson is still alive and kickin' in Bayfield at age 92 or so and serves on the board of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Ranger Bob said, "Personally, I regard Julian Nelson as a true 'profile in courage' and have met few men I admire more in my life". Dennis McCann, writing about Julian Bay in the Milwaukee Journal last summer said, "I even know Julian Nelson, the old commercial fisherman for whom the bay is named, a true gentleman". I would love to have the honor of meeting Mr Nelson and would like to personally thank him both for the slogan I heisted from him and his work to preserve the islands that we both love.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A working dog?

A birthday gift arrived in the mail yesterday from my two sons. It included some Dermatone products to slather on my face to avoid frostbite when the SKOAC Renegades hit the 58k relay race (or 'event' as the less competitive relay team members refer to it) at the Mora Vasaloppet on Sunday, as well as some pricey high flurocarbon glide ski wax to make me fly like the wind. What I could really have used were some human growth hormones, steroids, and blood doping paraphenalia but they were conspicuously absent. The other item in the birthday package was a dog pack.

It was a Jandd Mountaineering Kelev dog pack to be exact, "Simply the Finest since 1983" the tag proclaims. This is an idea whose time has come! My skijoring episodes with the Rook, analyzed in a previous post, had very mixed results. The poor boy is definitely not a member of Doggie Mensa and focus seemed to be a very large issue. This thing has great promise however. On day hikes I find myself carrying some extra water, dog food, and often a 'dog manure' container. I swore I would never be one of those guys trotting around the block with a sack of dog crap in my hand but that vow is sadly outdated. This dog pack has real potential. Not only can the Rook carry his own food, water, and malodorous by products, he can also carry some of the adult beverages necessary for a nice fall picnic in the woods. The first test will be at the Vasaloppet this weekend. I'm mentally preparing my list as I sit and write this post. The instructions say it is not recommended to carry more than 10% of the dogs weight unless approved by the dogs vet. This gives the Rook roughly 8 pounds to work with. Liquid generally weighs 8 pounds per gallon. You can do the math.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Madison weekend

I headed down to the Madison area for the 32nd Annual "Woodyfest" this weekend. My long time buddy has a party on his 8 acre place well south of Madison, on the first weekend of February every year. Those in warmer climates might think standing around a bonfire drinking beer in the snow is a version of hell but it is a very convivial experience, especially if the fire is of the Woodman's normal size. In past years he has invited the local volunteer fire chief and warned him that if reports of a garage on fire in Albion township came in that it was likely only the party. This is a chance to see old friends (some since the 2nd grade for me), new friends, and No1 son and his lady friend who were kind enough to not only host the old man at their place but also drive me to and from the party. The location of the annual fall kayak trip was discussed with Rossport, Georgian Bay. and kayaking the BWCA all thrown out. Much talk and few decisions but this was not the venue for momentous decisions of that nature. Its great to have an event that is on the same weekend every year so people, ranging from babies to retirees, can plan ahead and gather annually for some good clean fun.

The other event that took place over the weekend was the Madison Winter Fest. They bring in dump truck loads of snow and snow capitol square for high school and pro nordic ski races as well as snowboard demos and other activities. No1 son and I did a quick ski at Monona golf course to take advantage of the 4" or so of new snow that fell that morning and then headed down to the capitol. I had to think how great it must have been for these high school teams, many of which were from the northern part of the state, to compete at the very steps of the state capitol. It got me fired up for the Vasaloppet which the SKOAC Renegade Ski & Kayak team will be competing in this weekend.

Oh, and I had to stop by Rutabaga also. No Anas Acuta or Outer Island for me to sit in but Canoecopia is only a month away!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rail cars in Lake Superior

According to the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal, two rail cars derailed and rolled down a steep embankment in to Lake Superior near Rossport on 21 January. Fortunately they were full of wood pulp and not some noxious chemical but it still gives one pause.

I personally know exactly how many trains go through Rossport on a daily basis. Rossport is one of the most beautiful kayaking areas on Lake Superior. When we paddle out of Rossport we normally spend a night at the Rossport Inn, a historic railroad hotel built in 1884 by the Canadian Pacific, the very railroad whose two cars are sitting in the lake currently. At least a half dozen times during the night the CP freight train blows through town, sounding its whistle per the law, about 50 yards from the hotel's front door. This is the main rail line between eastern and western Canada so you can imagine the traffic.

As you would guess there are people who this disturbs greatly, both from a sleep and an aesthetic standpoint. I am not one of them. The railroad was there first and in fact, is the only reason there is a Rossport in the first place. It kind of like the Yuppies that move into their 1.2 acres estates in the country and then complain that the neighboring farm smells like cow manure. Or, one of our local classics, the 'cidiots' that move into their dream cul de sac next to the Rod and Gun Club and complain that they can hear people shooting. Well, no shit! (sorry, had to get the cow manure pun in there). There seems to be a growing trend to use the government to get your own way, with the Kelo vs New London, CT Supreme Court ruling being one of the most egregious examples. In a nutshell, the city condemned a bunch of working class homes so a developer could use the land for his massive property tax generating development project. If its OK to kick people out of their homes for more tax dollars why not do the same to the manure generating farmer, the noisy Rod & Gun Club, or the loud and dangerous Canadian Pacific Railroad? The article in the Chronicle Journal stated that, "Doug Yurick, co-ordinator of the federal marine conservation area program, said legislation governing the program does not give the government the authority to order CPR to move its rail line". I for one would sure as hell hope not. I could go on about the families that lived on Isle Royale or in the Apostles when those areas were designated national parks but that is a whole post on its own. We need to be very, very careful when we hear that its in the public good to deprive people of their property. And, as I alluded to in an earlier post on snowmobiles and cross country skiers, we need to work a bit harder at finding the middle ground on a number of these issues.