Monday, March 31, 2008

Gear multitasking


My annual dividend from REI was burning a hole in my pocket and there was also the offer of 20% off on any one item through 30 March to sweeten the deal. So I headed off to the Bloomington store on Saturday to help stimulate the economy. My Columbia convertible pants, purchased on Silk Road in Beijing for next to nothing, had finally fallen apart earlier in the winter making outdoor pants something I actually needed rather than just wanted. I was drawn to a pair of Mountain Hardware Navigation Pants, a "mid-weight soft shell hiking pant with 4 way stretch and articulated knees". And some cool zip out gaiters on the ankles I might add. Perfect for the tick season. I always hate to buy stuff with just one use however, so I asked the clerk if these pants, both moisture and wind resistant, would be good for skiing? "Oh no, these are for hiking. I'd recommend you look at the North Face Gore-tex blah, blah, blah designed specifically for skiing". So I bought the pants. And immediately wore them skiing the next day. Well, not immediately I guess. First I wore them to the Back to the Shack Party, hosted by TheLegend and TheGraciousPartier to celebrate a successful Vasaloppet and the semi official end of winter. I can honestly report that not only are they a fine telemark skiing pant with the built in boot gaiter, but they are also a superb beer drinking pant. Spilled lager beads up nicely on the water resistant surface if you should inadvertantly miss your mouth while raising your beer bottle.

More and more we are encouraged by the marketeers to purchase super specialized gear for various activities that we engage in. Something tells me this might be a need on the part of outdoor gear manufacturers to sell more gear rather than our need for this 'specialized' equipment. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I invested in a kayak helmet to protect my favorite organ from damage during surfing practice. I wore this 'kayak' helmet skiing in Colorado over Easter. I thought it functioned perfectly well as a ski helmet, much as my Mountain Hardware specialized hiking pants functioned perfectly as skiing and beer drinking pants. I did get one comment on the chair lift from an observant gear head but otherwise my multiuse ploy worked fine. It must have been that "Ski Loveland" sticker I slapped on the back to throw people off.


The most transparent ploy to sell more product is the specialized sock market. The first decision when purchasing from a major wool sock manufacturer is whether you want 'performance' socks or 'lifestyle' socks. Then the choice becomes a dizzying array of hiking, light hiking, running, biking, walking, hunting, skiing, snowboarding, and yes, even fishing socks. If you pulled all of these socks out of the dryer at once it would be impossible to tell them apart. You would be even more hard pressed to differentiate when they are actually on your feet. I'm going to come clean, much like Eliot Spitzer, and confess that I've been completely unfaithful to any one sock genre'. I've hunted in skiing socks, walked in cycling socks, kayaked in running socks, and (sob!) even skied in snowboarding socks! Does that make me a bad person? It might make me a cynical person, a person disdainful of our 'marketing professionals', or even a cheap ass person but I don't think it alters my karma or place in the universe. If you feel the need to invest in gear thats marketed specifically for your focused, specific sport go nuts! Just remember that you're reading a post from a guy who thinks that a Filson duck hunting cap is the perfect headgear for almost every occasion and that a little duct tape can add ambiance and accessorize almost any garment. And did I mention that duck decoy gloves work well for paddling? It would be wonderful to hear some other gear multitasking success stories too.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two of my favorite things

Today was the last day of the downhill ski season at Spirit Mountain in Duluth, MN. We headed down the hill to the Thirsty Pagan brewpub and BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi noticed the beer poster below with a unique image in the beer foam. Two of my favorite things in the world, Lake Superior and fine craft beer, made even better by the fact that we are on the cusp of spring in the northland.


The aerial lift bridge is painted and operational once again. Empty rail cars that held taconite pellets were headed back up to the iron range and lake freighters full of ore are headed downlake, passing under the lift bridge and out into the open lake. And as you can see from the photo below, taken on the chair lift, the big lake is wide open once you get beyond the harbor. It seems that a Lake Superior paddle might only be a couple weeks off. On a more local note, there is a small wager between a few of us paddlers as to when the ice will go out on Lake Calhoun, a local lake that many of us train on. I have April 12th, less than two weeks away. I'm hopeful but not confident. But I am indeed ready for spring.


P.S. Another sure sign of spring......our very first Small Craft Advisory!!

SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT THROUGH TUESDAY
AFTERNOON


THIS AFTERNOON
NE WIND 20 TO 25 KT. SNOW DEVELOPING. AREAS OF BLOWING
SNOW. WAVES 2 TO 4 FT BUILDING TO 3 TO 5 FT IN THE AFTERNOON.

TONIGHT
NE WIND 20 TO 25 KT. AREAS OF BLOWING SNOW THROUGH THE
NIGHT. SNOW IN THE EVENING. SNOW LIKELY AFTER MIDNIGHT. WAVES
3 TO 5 FT. A SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY MAY BE NEEDED.

TUESDAY
N WIND 15 TO 20 KT BECOMING NW 10 TO 15 KT IN THE
AFTERNOON. A CHANCE OF SNOW IN THE MORNING. WAVES 3 TO 5 FT
SUBSIDING TO 2 TO 4 FT IN THE AFTERNOON.



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Near tragedy on the Chippewa River

My hometown paper, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, had a story yesterday about a guy that was fished out of the Chippewa River after overturning his recreational kayak and getting stuck in an eddy in the middle of the river. I spent many an illicit hour on and in that river as a kid, despite the constant admonitions from my mother not to go near it. Neither her or my grandparents could swim and one of my grandfathers siblings drowned in the river during the end of the logging boom around World War I. Which is a good segue into the main point of this post: Don't play the game unless you know the rules.


We learned most of the rules when we were kids. Don't go in the water if you can't swim, keep an eye on the gates of the Paper Mill Dam when you were below it, stay off the sandstone ledge when it got slippery with algae in the summer, and head for Half Moon Lake in the spring when the water in the river was raging. The river was no place to be that time of year, other than fishing from the banks, with its freezing cold water and strong current.

Kayaking this time of the year in northern Wisconsin has rules that shouldn't be broken also. Rule No. 1 is to dress for immersion. No 2 would be to have the skills and the gear to do a self rescue and get back in the boat. Or have a bombproof roll. Rule 3 through 10 would be dress for immersion again. This fellow went over, got caught in the eddy (an eddy I know well; great fishing spot) and couldn't get to shore. In the 20-30 minutes he was in the water his core temperature dropped to 91.4 degrees (33C). At that point extremities would be completely numb, confusion would be setting in, and the third stage of hypothermia with its respiratory distress, possible collapse, and unconsciousness is right around the corner.


The other thing that can be disastrous in situations like this is when small mistakes compound. In this case it appeared that no spray skirt was used, no paddle float was present, no wet suit or dry suit worn, no fellow paddlers to assist, and of course, the water was around 35F(1.6C). Had this guy been a couple of miles downstream, south of town, we likely would have been reading about a fatality. In this case luck was with him since he got stuck in an eddy where the early season fishing is great and its right behind the city shops. Fisherman and city employees called the fire department who rescued him. In his defense, he did do some things right. He had on a life jacket, a good stocking cap to prevent heat loss, and he stayed with the boat rather than trying to negotiate the current. Click on the Leader-Telegram video for a view of the whole rescue.

The other thing he needed was some awareness of the possible problems he might encounter. The old adage of 'go there mentally before you go there physically' would apply here. Another skill that would have kept him out of the paper would have been a solid roll and/or the wet exit and reentry skills that would get him back in the boat. Also, if not for the hydraulics of that eddy he could have floated downstream and stood up in about 75 yards.

As I've noted in previous posts, I don't know how to get to these folks and educate them about the dangers of paddling this time of year. Apparently the fishermen has spotted this fellow on the river a number of times already this season so there may have been a false sense of security about the whole adventure (wonder if 'watch the gates on the Paper Mill Dam' was one of his rules?). The other bad thing is that once again a "kayaker" is hauled out of the water rather than an "inexperienced guy attempting to kayak". A sublte difference but all kayakers know what I'm talking about. If anyone out there knows Chad, have him get in touch. It would be great after a motivating experience like this to help turn him into a true kayaker.

P.S. Confirming existence of the small world theory, the photo used was taken by my high school classmate, Steve Kinderman. The map of the area was furnished by my fellow tall, lanky crony LorenB, who still lives in EC and will soon have an appropriate 'blog name'. Thanks guys.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How good do you want to be?

I spent most of Easter Sunday skiing Loveland with GalwayGuy, GuitarMatt, TheColoradoKid, and JeremiahJohnstone. It was pretty apparent that skill wise (and age wise, of course) I was solidly in the back of the pack. JJ and CK would be firmly in the expert ski category and I'm firmly entrenched in the steady intermediate group. I can get down almost anything but look like a snowplowing, jump turning knucklehead while doing it. When the bumps in the mogul field are all the size of Volkswagon Beetles I tend to slide over to the intermediate cruisers. And I'm just fine with that. When it comes to tele skiing my goal is to get better and more confident as the season goes on but the old dog is not looking to learn any new tricks in that particular discipline. I did wear a helmet for the first time, a good thing on some of the 'nice' runs that JJ took me on, but my desire to hammer the double diamond steeps just isn't there in the telemark skiing sport.


Not so with kayak touring. I'm thinking about both ACA and BCU training this summer. I want to get my forward stroke down and more efficient, learn a few more of the tougher Greenland rolls, and maybe pass a bit of knowledge on to others. I also want to paddle some big swells on Lake Superior and hone my surfing skills at the same time.

Why the difference in the two disciplines? I'm trying to figure that one out myself. Maybe I've been at the skiing thing so long that I'm content with where I'm at. I notice my speed did pick up a bit with the helmet, although as JJ led me through the 'easy glades' I kept humming "I Got You Babe" as I thought of poor Sonny and his tree encounter (CK: "She took you guys down that crap?"). Those trees just don't move much when you hit em. Maybe in the sport of kayaking I see the potential to paddle more water in more conditions, become more a part of the boat, and also help a few other folks get introduced to the sport. Plus I have a bunch of friends with the same attitude and drive to get better; peer group pressure can be a powerful motivator. It is also just plain fun. Not that skiing isn't but spending all day on the bumps is tough on the ancient knees and joints.


With any weather cooperation at all we should be on Superior in the next couple weeks. the Apostles might take another month or so. Once that paddle dips in fresh water for the first time this season look out! I'm hoping for a great year on the water and continuous improvement over the course of the season as well as that good, clean fun we all crave.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

National Park head scratching

The classic comment in the movie All the Presidents Men was uttered by 'Deep Throat' who said, "Follow the money." A number of stories have fallen into my lap in the past week and I need help making sense of it all. The parks have been underfunded for years. Last year President Bush announced a budget with a matching fund program that could pour an additional $3 billion bucks into the park coffers over a ten year span. Last week I read an article in the Ashland Daily Press about a new historic conservancy group forming in the Apostle Islands which seems to be in an old fashioned pissing match with the park administration. I also read an article about a disabled rights group in San Francisco that's filed a class action suit against the National Park Service for inadequate access to the facilities at Golden Gate National Park. Finally, a group of concerned kayakers, led by CASKA in Chicago are collecting funds to put bear boxes on more of the Apostle Islands that don't currently have them. The Friends of the Apostle Islands Nat'l Lakeshore have offered matching fund up to $500 per box in a dedicated bear box fund. (OK, OK, I promise; no more hot links for the rest of the post!).


Soooo.....lets see. The chronically underfunded parks seem to have a few more bucks coming in and the administration plan seems to be to encourage more private funding and matching fund setups. Friends groups and special interests seem to be prepared to pitch in. It would be interesting to see the plan that is or isn't in place to administer and account for the money that is donated for specific purposes. A more important question is whether or not special interests are a good or a bad thing. Special interests by their very definition have focused and specific interests. When I kayak to Outer Island I have a special interest in sticking my food in a nice safe bear box in the campsite rather than trudging into the woods with my mildly intoxicated cronies at dusk, looking for a suitable tree to pitch a rock into with a rope attached and hoping it doesn't come back down on someones head. Wilderness advocates on the other hand, might be dead set against a bear box, or a picnic table, or any man made structures and want to offer earmarked funds to have them eradicated. This of course would put them in direct conflict with the newly formed Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy, who wants to preserve the brownstone quarries, fish camps, lumber camps, and other evidence of the thousands of years of human habitation in the Apostles. And should there be wheelchair access to said facilities? Wilderness advocates might well argue no. They managed to get all the old traditional portage rests torn down in the BWCA, they wouldn't want a paved, graded path. Historic preservationists might say that it compromises historic integrity. The key paragraph in the Ashland Daily Press article on the NPS/Historic Conservancy urination contest was, "In order for the conservancy or any other group to provide assistance — either financially or through materials and labor — to the Park Service, a formal agreement must be signed. Apostle Islands currently has two agreements with the Friends of the Apostle Islands and the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation". In a nutshell, you can't give em money unless you are 'approved'. How do you get approved? Who is involved? Certainly banks of government legal types, administrators, bureaucrats and such. And how much does personal bias, political bias, and personality play into the mix? If the park superintendent is a kayaker or maybe a amateur cigarette boat racer does that subtly color the decision?


Sorry folks, I have no answers whatsoever today. I just want to know roughly how it works and how specific special interests are weighed and dealt with. Any insight from readers would be greatly appreciated. And I'd also really like to know what a bear box actually costs. We've received numbers from $500 to $1200 from various folks. When I buy something I really like to take a peek at the price tag first. I purchased a helmet at Canoecopia this year. I hope that I'll be able to use it for surfing and not have to bring it on tours for bear box installation safety. I really like the matching funds concept. I sincerely hope the administration of the National Park Service can make it work.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Exotics





As it turns out I wouldn't have needed my skis today anyhow. I'm sitting at 9,500' (2,900m) with a mild case of altitude sickness, viewing the beautiful mountain scenery rather than playing on it. It's not fair, I didn't even have a beer last night! I will be on my game tommorow however.

As I did my daily newspaper check the Duluth News Tribune informed me that its the 20th anniversary of the discovery of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. St Louis Bay in the Port of Duluth is lousy with them. As most of you know, they came in when ocean going ships, 'salties', dumped their ballast water that they picked up in Hamburg, Bremen or some other European port. Like most of the exotics they crowd out other more (much more) desirable native species. Lampreys are the classic ocean invader, a parasitic eel that pretty much destroyed the lake trout fishery in Lake Superior. Alewife are another species that showed up when the St Lawrence Seaway opened up. At one time they made up 90% of the biomass of Lake Michigan. When I was a kid we took the car ferry from Manitowoc, WI to Ludington, MI across Lake Michigan; my dad would avoid Chicago at all costs. From one side to the other the lake was covered with dead alewives. For some kids in eastern Wisconsin, their first paying job was shoveling dead alewives into dumpsters so people could use the beaches without becoming nauseated.

So What is To Be Done, to quote V.I.Lenin? Lampreys have been under control for quite a while, mainly with lampricides, lamprey weirs (barriers) and traps, and by releasing sterile males into the population. Alewife have been controlled by the introduction of large predators like salmon and steelhead. Zebra mussels, our two decade 'birthday boys' , really aren't controlled. They just chip em out of things like water intakes and the like. The real question is how to deal with the root cause of over 50% of these non native invasive species - the dumping of contaminated ballast water from ocean going vessels. In the past 20 years nothing has been done, no major regulation about ballast water treatment to kill the living organisms in ballast tanks has been passed. Meanwhile at least 20 new exotics have been introduced. Port and shipping people oppose this of course, because it costs money. Right now they exchange ballast water at sea and claim that reduces the exotics by a large percentage. Those of us who have been anywhere near a boat landing in the midwest however, know that one little piece of milfoil on a prop, trailer, or even a skeg rope can infect an entire lake with this invasive weed, which is also here courtesy of ballast tanks on ocean going vessels.

So Great Lakes Commission, US Feds, and Canadian national government......how about getting our thumbs out of our respective posteriors and get some legislation passed? There was an excellent article published in the Milwaukee Journal three plus years ago that factors the sport fisherman into the arguments along with the shipping interests and the environmentalists. The fact is that even though dozens of exotic non native species are here, we need to immediately put a cork in the bottle to make sure that no more of them show up that could be even more destructive than the ones that are here. As Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildfie Federation says in the Duluth News Tribune article, "Invasive species are pollution that reproduces". It would do us well to remember that at the beginning of the 2008 fishing season.

Photo Credits: Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Take the train instead

Dateline: Idaho Springs, CO

I actually began this post a couple weeks ago as I was returning from San Antonio on a NW flight that had been delayed due to an inch of snow in Dallas. It was going to be an anti Northwest Airlines rant but I figured whats the point. After all, this is a Lake Superior related blog. But after flying to Denver this afternoon my loathing of NWA has been renewed.

First a short recap of San Antonio. We pushed off (so we could be marked as ‘on time’ of course)and sat on the tarmac for an hour because of a ‘radar outage’ at O’Hare. This made us miss our connecting flight. Two of us were in exactly the same position; my buddy was charged $25 to rebook and I was rebooked for free. Why? No explanation. On our return trip our flight got cancelled due to the inch of snow in Dallas. No available flights out that night so we were told to find a hotel, no compensation due to an ‘act of god’, and we would get booked the next morning. At 5am we arose and headed for the airport and an endless line at security. When we got up to the front of the line the TSA “boarding pass and ID” guy looked at our boarding passes and pointed to the Terrorist Suspect/Cavity Search line for “additional screening”. Apparently when we were rebooked the ticket showed up as a last minute one way flight. As did half the tickets in the airport. We stood in the slowest moving line in history with geriatric couples, women with babies, airline employees, and even a guy from the TSA trying to get to work. As we got to within sight of where we would have our privates fondled and carry on luggage savaged the guy behind us said, “Oh shit, Barney Fife”. Sure enough, there he was, adam’s apple bobbing, barking out orders, nervously eyeballing we suspected Al Queda sleeper cell members. As I stood with my arms and legs spread, belongings strewn, and Barney explaining my right to a private screening and that he would be using the back of his hand to check for blocks of C4 plastique taped behind my gonads, I turned to him and told him, “I’ll drop my pants and boxers right here it it will get me to my gate on time”. I was also thinking that I wished my hand was where Barney’s was on the NW ticket agent that rebooked our flight and got us into this situation.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I’d vowed to fly anyone else but NWA but they finally came through with a credit that I’d been battling them for after 10 months of haggling. My father’s warning was playing in the back of my mind as I booked the flight however. The Old Man crewed in A-20 and A-26 medium attack bombers in the ETO during WWII. After the war he had his private pilots license until we kids came along but he flew for about 10 years and was generally involved in aviation. His adage, born of experience, was, “If the tail is red, take the train instead”. The NWA trademark of course, is the bright red tail. He had another military phrase he used to refer to Northwest which began with the word ‘cluster’ but this is a family blog. Things went very smoothly on the flight to Denver. It was like old Westerns though; things were quiet, too quiet. We landed on time, headed for the baggage carousel and got our bags. Skis would soon follow…….right? Wrong. They put them on the wrong plane. When would they be here? About 2 hours. Could you deliver them? Sure, tomorrow afternoon after you waste a day of your ski trip. Apology? Compensation? Sorry, here’s a $5 food voucher so you can buy a doughnut in a place where everything is eight bucks. Five people you say? Oh heck, here are a couple more vouchers, go crazy! Whats that big pile of luggage over there? Oh that’s stuff that was on your flight that should have been on the flight your skis are on.

Is there a moral, some insight, or even a point to this diatribe? Not really, it just makes me feel good to publicly air this extremely soiled laundry. I am certain that there are many fine and dedicated employees at Northwest airlines and I know some of them personally. There are also fine, dedicated people that work for the Department of Motor Vehicles where you renew your license and tabs but that sure as hell doesn’t make it an efficient, accountable, well run, and customer saavy organization. In the past 12 months I’ve had 6 NWA round trip flights, 12 segments. Three of those segments have gone relatively flawlessly. Nine have had lost luggage, been late, rerouted, luggage rerouted, no crew, no plane, flight cancelled, etc. That’s a .250 average, decent for a defensive shortstop but really crappy for a service business.

I suppose I need to link this to Lake Superior in some fashion. Hence the picture, taken from the NW flight from Gatwick to Minneapolis (luggage delivered to my home the next day of course) over the Sibley peninsula north of Thunder Bay. It was late February and there was still plenty of ice on the lake and you can clearly see Tee Harbor down near the end of the peninsula. Fortunately I can load up my boat and drive there in about 5 ½ hours. Trusting my Feathercraft to the NWA baggage system however, is not something I’m prepared to do any time soon. Take the train instead!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lake Superior first hand view


GuitarMatt, TheManFromSnowyLegs, and I headed to Duluth for some telemark/downhill/snowboard activity at Spirit Mountain on Sunday. We got there just in time to see the Mesabi Miner leave the Superior Entry on its way to Marquette, MI with a load of coal at around 11:30am. Temps were balmy at around 27F (-2C) and both the snow and the lift lines at Spirit were both very tolerable.


Around mid afternoon we need a food and beer break and headed down the hill to Canal Park. The aerial lift bridge is still being painted and won't be finished until around 22 March. They can't paint it during the shipping season (it keeps going up and down, you know) and as a result had to swath it in a canvas tent so they could warm it up enough for the paint to dry. Hence the Mesabi Miner steaming out the Superior Entry. The other motive for our trip down the hill was to see just exactly how much ice was along the shore and brainstorm a bit about how a guy could get a boat in the water. As you can see there is a crust of ice along the shore, some floating ice, and then open water. There was a steady east wind, a precursor of the snow that was forecast for today. A bit of northwest or south wind and that floating ice is gone. Dry suit, a short gorilla walk with the knuckles.....hmmmm.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bayfield City Dock webcam

Even though I stated on Monday that I had gone for the last local cross country ski of the season I made myself a liar this morning with a fine outing at a local golf course. It got down to around 20F(-7C) last night, forming a hard crust on top of the snow that was perfect for skate skiing. The warm 50F(10C) weather last week had melted a lot of snow, leaving patches of bare grass and small rivulets of water that you had to navigate but that just made it more fun. The hard crust on the snow and absence of a trail to follow gave the sensation of flying rather than skiing across the snow. Tomorrow a few of us will drive up to Duluth for a day trip to ski Spirit Mountain and hopefully watch the Mesabi Miner steam out of Duluth harbor for Marquette, officially marking the beginning of the shipping season, resumption of the Nearshore Forecast from NOAA, and the 'keep a close eye on the south shore so we can paddle' watch.

I've relied on RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef to keep me apprised of the ice conditions for some possible ice floe paddling next month. The most recent report from the GTC was, "Most of the snow is melted off the ice, no open water is visible from the house and the ice road is still open". Their home is on high ground between Washburn and Bayfield. Now a new tool has appeared so we all can keep an eye on the Chequamagon Bay ice. The Bayfield web cam, which I've linked on the 'kayak blogs and other useful links' part of my blog, looks out at Madeline Island from the City Dock. If you watch the camera long enough you will see cars driving across the ice road to and from Lapointe on Madeline Island. I noticed the link on the Friends of the Apostle Islands website and was also informed of it by kyker13 (Steve) who we met down at Canoecopia. So the countdown begins. When will our hulls first be wetted by the cold clear waters of Gitchee Gumee? Stay tuned for further developments.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Another call to get wet.


By far the most entertaining event of the Canoecopia was "We don't need no stinkin' badges", a rescue demo put on by Kelly Blades and Danny Mongo. Although I didn't know it at the time we encountered the 'Mongo party' waiting for their table at the Weary Traveler, a freehouse in Madison's fun and eclectic Willy St neighborhood. When the hostess called for the 'Mongo party' I turned and noticed a goateed fellow in a fur coat and Cat in the Hat style tophat. It seemed to fit in perfectly on Willy St.


This sense of style and fun was apparent in the demo that the guys did last weekend. While it was lots of fun and funny as hell, the overriding theme was that if you need to wet exit, get back in your boat as soon as possible any way you can. The classic T rescue where you dump the boat out, swing it around, and have the rescuee clamber up on the back deck and slide in seemed to take forever (as the crowd chanted off the ever mounting seconds). The concept that you'll never get all the water out anyway was a sound one also. Get em in the boat, stay rafted up, and start pumping. As I mentioned in a previous post on getting wet, its a tough sell getting people to play around and practice this stuff. Alex mentioned that when they teach whitewater kayaking they, "often refer to kayaking as a "swimming sport" and even go so far as to swim through easier rapids with our kayaks to show them that there's very little to be scared of". We sea kayakers need to do a lot more of that sort of thing. It is unbelievably crucial when the water is cold that you get back in your boat fast. Small motor control, eg. fingers to grip paddle blades and deck lines, can disappear in about 120 seconds in 35F (1C) water. I know Kelly attempts to get folks in the water, as he did this weekend, when he teaches at seminars and we should applaud both the effort and the concept he is trying to get across. Plus, its one hell of a lot of fun.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring on Lake Superior

I took a break from my Canoecopia fueled kayak lust last night and did what could be the last cross country ski outing of the season with RonO and TheManFromSnowyLegs. The trails were nice but very slow as were we for the most part. I've got a couple more telemark ski trips on the calendar but with 50F(10C) outside today the snow will not be on the ground for very long. Apparently the ice is on its way out also.

(Photo courtesy of Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune)

The Duluth News Tribune reported today that the Coast Guard Cutter Alder began operations in Duluth harbor. She will break ice in the harbor and then out the Superior Entry into the lake today. The CO of the Alder, Lt Cmdr Kevin Worth, says ice in the harbor is 20"-36" (nearly a meter) thick. The plan is for the first ship of the season, the 1,004' Mesabi Miner, to leave Duluth sometime this weekend with a load of coal bound for Marquette, MI. Satellite photos indicate the lake is 80-90% covered with ice as far as Two Harbors, roughly 25 miles (42K) up the shore. This is the third most ice cover in the last 20 years.

Still, if they are breaking ice, thousand footers are starting to move, and the pack ice is blowing around the lake, this can only mean the the breakup is a few weeks off. RonO, GG & I alerted RangerMark that we wanted the arctic experience this spring of paddling amongst the ice floes. Since his trip to work each day involves either the ice road, wind sled, or car ferry, depending upon the state of the water/ice between Bayfield and Madeline Island, we felt he would be the perfect source for up to the minute conditions. Getting the first Apostle Islands camping permit of the year however, has no interest for me at all. RonO and RonS did that last year and nearly froze to death. Fellow SKOAC members Rich and Sarah were right behind them with permit #2. A warm fire, an adult beverage, and a nice sauna are my idea of the perfect end to a day outside in the cold.

There have been many personal adventures and learning experiences associated with the first Lake Superior paddle of the year. Dumping with my fishing gear at the mouth of the Brule River, hitting the big rollers in Bark Bay with RonO, paddling the ice filled sea caves in May, snapping my Greenland paddle while test paddling my Aquanaut HV, and surfing from Bayfield to Washburn, also with RonO and TheCommish, while foolishly attempting to fish are all fond memories. The learning experience on about half of these adventures was to dress for immersion. The Brule episode taught me that a dry suit would be a really, really good thing for a guy like me. You don't really appreciate the operating principle of a wetsuit until that thin layer of 35F(1C) water seeps in to be warmed. Like skiing however, if you don't 'fall' once in awhile you just aren't trying hard enough to improve. The Greenland principle, reiterated by Dubside in his demo/talk, of being comfortable with and embracing the water is a valuable one to keep in mind. If you do that and remember the principle of not going anywhere physically that you haven't already been mentally, your spring experiences in the big lake will be both safe and enjoyable. I can't wait!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dubside in Madison

One of the Canoecopia events that GalwayGuy, RonO, and I were anticipating was Dubside's first trip to Wisconsin. We all paddle mainly with Greenland sticks and it seemed like whenever we stopped going forward this summer we were upside down. I invested in Dubside's Greenland rolling video and we were anxious to see the man in person. On Saturday we almost didn't make it. The line snaked out the door of the pool and down the hallway and being early for events is not something I'm famous for. Fortunately we snuck in by the skin of our teeth and were able to watch the demo along with a capacity crowd.


Dubside is a smaller guy than I'd envisioned, probably 5'8" or so. He is very limber and claims that if you could improve your paddling with one word, that word would be yoga. Flexibility seems to be the key to successful rolling. He never came close to missing a roll in his demo and this included rolling with a brick in each hand and also passing a lit candle over the hull of his boat while inverted and then hand rolling back up, candle still lit. I've always thought that a good rolling boat would help me and to a certain extent I think it would. The VOR's Avocet seems to come around effortlessly compared to my Aquanaut HV, which I affectionately refer to as the ore freighter. Watching Dubside's video however, makes it apparent that technique and flexibility are the key. When he straps himself into a large unwieldy sit on top and rolls the damn thing first try the point is driven home.


After watching his demo I also checked out his boat very carefully. He paddles a Feathercraft Wisper with a very low stern deck and thigh braces. Viewing abovementioned video a few months caused me to call Feathercraft and spring for bracing bars and a rolling rib. I have yet to try them, given my well known aversion to immersing me or my gear in chlorine. I emailed Reed Chillcheater right after the lakes froze, inquiring about the effects of chlorine on my beloved tuliq. Jo Reed responded and told me that repeated pool usage would cut the effective life in half. After that tidbit said tuliq or Feathercraft Big Kahuna will never see chlorine again! I gave Dubside a hand hauling his boat into a room set aside for that purpose after the demo. I asked him how he kept the foot pegs on his boat from 'drooping'. He explained that I needed to drill a hole in the pegs and run a line up to the gunwhales of the boat. Now why the hell didn't I think of that a couple years ago instead of attempting to contort my big toe under the offending peg to flip it back up? He also showed me the new rig in the Wisper, which is a flexible bar that you put your feet on. When I asked him about the visible protrusion in the bottom of his boat was when he rolled he told us, "My feet". Now thats solid bracing. I also noticed that he had his sponsons inflated all the way. When Bonnie (our favorite river rat) asked about rolling a Khats (actually not rolling it) I suggested she cheat and deflate the sponsons. She did so and said it made rolling much easier and planned on slowly inflating them as she figured the boat out. The Feathercraft are rock solid with the sponsons inflated, as TheMayor discovered when we were rounding Hat Point near Grand Portage on Lake Superior in some nasty clapotis. I can't wait to get my Kahuna retrofitted and into the soon to be icy albeit liquid waters of one of our local inland lakes.

It was a great demo and especially pertinent to those of us who are struggling with the diabolical norsaq stick and various butterfly and shotgun rolls. As we watched Dubside go through his rolling repitoire Silbs and I exchanged comments like "thats just wrong!" and "yeah, SO wrong!" as we felt both admiration and envy for what this guy has accomplished. And GalwayGuy was more than happy to get a photo op with our diminutive fellow Greenland fan from Seattle.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

OK, maybe just a couple things....

I flew back from San Antonio Friday morning, jumped in the car with GalwayGuy and drove the 4 hours to Madison for Canoecopia. We rendezvoused with several of the cast of characters in this blog including but not limited to No1 son, the FrugalFisherman, RangerMark, and RonO. As we dined on the traditional Friday night Wisconsin fish fry, a pre VaticanII ritual that we Cheeseheads still embrace, we were approached by a fellow who identified himself as Joshua from the GB Regulators and his wife. Its always great to meet the folks that you've only know as an online presence over the years and he wouldn't be the last. At the Dubside rolling session I sat down next to Derrick and a fellow who looked suspiciously like Silbs. Sure enough! I also met his fellow kayak and Irish whisky afficianado JB at the Door County Symposium booth (closed circuit to JB and Silbs: Bushmills 1608 is out, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Bushmills distilling license; need I say more?). Its amazing how personalities come through in ones writing; I felt like I'd known these folks for years. Here is a shot of DaveO, Derrick, Silbs, and RonO, none of which appear as though they have spent any money yet.

Which brings me to the title of the post. I really didn't need anything. I had shopping explained to me by a world class practitioner, who we shall call "Karen" a few years back after her hubby and I had purchased some sale athletic shoes. If I buy a $100 item on sale for $75, I've just made $25. I could then take that $25 and go out and have a couple beers and maybe dinner. Milton Friedman might quibble with the concept but its worked successfully for Karen for literally decades. I had been commissioned to purchase a Kokotat Tropos paddle jacket for the KingOfIronwoodIsland so I knew the card would have to be unlimbered. As I strolled by the NRS booth I noticed 'brain buckets' for 25% off. Had I had one along at the tip of the Keewenaw last fall I would have attempted some surfing in the swells....OK, I'm in. The Lake Superior room at our home has a watercolor of some petroglyphs and pictographs done by Geri Schrab. So I nabbed 3 8x10 reproductions, a ploy recognized instantly by GalwayGuy when he commented, "At least she won't think all we did was talk kayaks and drink beer". Seriously, we both really enjoy her work. Lastly I was seduced by the Icebreaker booth, the purveyors of fine New Zealand wool. I've been a wool fan for decades. Clothing made from plastic had never intrigued me much. The brands I've supported over the years have been Filson, Bemidji Woolen, Kromer, and SmartWool and they have served me well. Sure, I've had polyprop underlayers once they figured out how to avoid that stench they used to have in the old days, but I've still favored natural fabrics. Unfortunately I've tested the axiom that wool still insulates when wet many times over the years and the wool has come through flawlessly. Once again the lure of 25% off and the "Karen Doctrine" cause the card to come out. I didn't buy any dedicated kayak gear however, although GalwayGuy and I did talk about upgrading the Skerry to a P&H Capella 166.......hmmmm.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mayor wins race, big time service award

The Mayor of Turtle River won the Wood & Wool 12k retro cross country ski race in Bemidji last weekend . At the awards ceremony she not only received her first place award for winning the race but was also presented with the Johnson/Jarvi award for contributions to Bemidji area skiing. It might have slipped by her that she even won the award as she was in deep conversation (NOT an unusual event) with some folks, but she heard the word ‘Vasaloppet’ and that got her attention. The other thing that really got her attention was that her parents, TheLegend and the GraciousPartier had come to town for the event. TheLegend was very proud of the way they had infiltrated Bemidji the night before without being detected. Since TheMayor knows everyone in town it was indeed quite a feat. As he sat at the banquet waiting for the award, hand covering the side of his face, TheLegend told the guy next to him, “I’m not being anti-social; no one’s supposed to know we’re here”. TheMayor was well deserving of the award, having spent countless hours promoting and coaching skiing over the years. And the Wood & Wool event was the logical extension of her Vasaloppet race, where she skied on the same skis wearing some of the same wool clothing that The Legend had worn in the first race in 1973.


Old gear is fun. Whether its wooden skis or a wooden Greenland paddle, using the old tried and true gear has a very strong appeal to a number of people. I don’t begrudge the high tech skis, boats, paddles, etc. Everyone wants to go faster, lighter and be more efficient. Wood & Wool however, has a much better ring to it than Kevlar & Carbon fiber or Plastic & Polyethylene. Sometimes you don’t want to go the fastest or be the most efficient, you just want some good feel. Wooden classical skis have such a nice smooth kick, compared to the abrupt kick/glide transition of the plastic skis, that they are a joy to ski on. In the old days, my basement used to be the scene of an early November Pine Tar Party. The smell of pine tar as you warmed it in with the propane torch, mingled with the hoppy aroma of several fine pale ales, served as the reminder that winter and the ski season was just a couple weeks away. Kayaks can be the same way. The feel of my Chesapeake LT-17 with its hard chine and no rudder or skeg is much different than any plastic or glass boat. And a skin boat with the feel of the waves alive beneath you is a very relaxing feel that kind of bonds you with the water. I still love my Rossingnol carbon skate skis and my Valley Aquanaut but every once in awhile a person needs to go back to the roots of the sport and just enjoy the feeling.

Congrats again to the Mayor. We’re off to Canoecopia to most certainly not buy anything tomorrow. I am in San Antonio, hoping that the flight delays that plagued us on the way down will allow me to get home and get some sleep before the big event in Madison. A man, of course, needs his sleep if he has to walk around all day and not buy anything.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

More gear? Not on my deck!

As RonO and I discussed Canoecopia over some fine wine on Saturday we both said that we were going down to Madison to see what was new and see old friends. We weren't going to buy anything; and then we laughed. Yeah, right! I am sure there are people who have the willpower to stroll out of there with there hands in their pockets but I'm not one of them. It seems like there is always something whether a cool new pair of gloves, a new chart you have to have, or maybe even a new paddle jacket. One of the greatest Canoecopia's I ever attended was with my buddy the FrugalFisherman as he wrestled with the inner demon of fundamental cheapness, agonizing over the decision to finally pull the trigger on a brand new Prijon touring boat. Once the water converts to liquid form again around here the question will once again become, "Where do I put that gear?".


There is the minimalist approach to sea kayak touring and then there is my approach. I backpacked for years and it was pounded into my head that if you bring an extra 2 ounce fork, that it takes a mere 8 steps before you've turned that 2 ounces into an extra pound. Hence the invention of the ludicrous 'spork'. When sea kayaking I embrace the notion that gear is essentially weightless if its floating in your boat. I can't imagine the barbarity of setting off on a trip without my trusty camp chair, 12" cast aluminum dutch oven, or my Kelly Kettle for boiling water. Or a judicious supply of beer and wine for that matter. Once you've embraced the anti-minimalist philosophy the question becomes where to put gear. As you can see from the above photo, the FrugalFisherman has no problem loading the Prijon deck like the Beverly Hillbillies loaded their truck. This can result in problems however, especially if you get waves breaking over your deck or a beam wind. Gear may wind up overboard or you may wind up practicing your combat roll if the wind catches you just right (or wrong). I personally like having a nice clean deck but I've found that is impossible on a trip. Spare paddle and usually paddle float and bilge pump are alway on my back deck along with the camping chair. The front deck typically has either my deck bag with 35mm camera and lenses or my fishing gear. I don't particularly enjoy that scenario but if I want to take pictures on the water and keep the camera dry with my spray skirt intact the options are limited. I've found that the Sagebrush deck bag works great for electronic gear and also doubles as a day pack with the optional lumbar support system. It also locks solidly to the deck with a 4 point restraint system. If you plan to carry anything on your deck you better make damn sure its attached to something. It took me 3 pieces of gear plunging to the bottom of Lake Superior before I figured out and internalized this basic sea kayaking principle.


Its a matter of personal preference whether you are a kayaking minimalist or a pack rat. But when you have a pile of gear sitting on the shore next to your boat, wondering where it will all go, its nice to have that deck option in your back pocket, as well as the backup option of cramming it into your cockpit, behind your seat, ahead of your feet, and between your legs on those days when the sea torments those with extra gear on their decks.