Thursday, July 31, 2008

New addition

After whining about a rolling boat for a couple years now I finally pulled the trigger and bought a Valley Q boat. I blame a number of factors but the main factor was that Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium up in Grand Marais a couple weeks back. I borrowed one of the demo Q boats from the Valley guy and worked with Mike M and Roy on chest sculls, static braces, and the angel roll. While I was far from perfecting those techniques, the feel of the low volume Q boat was a big improvement over the Ore Freighter, my Aquanaut HV. I still need the ore boat for my creature comforts on trips so what to do? Enter factor two, the sale of my Feathercraft Big Kahuna to the ZumbroFallsImpressionist. The ZFI is a former co worker, Sierra Club activist, Prius owner, hugger of trees, landscape artist, and all round good person. The sheer green-ness and sustainability of the Kahuna, which could be packed in the Prius, no wind resistance to reduce mileage, light weight, etc. made it the perfect boat for Ms ZFI. Factor three was the Q Boat itself. RonO, paddling buddy and fellow beer afficianado, had actually ordered this very boat in the winter of 2007 from Midnight Sun. After playing with another friends Q Boat he came to the realization that it just would not hold the necessary creature comforts for extended paddles and switched to a Nordkapp. Changed horses in midstream as they say. The boat came in, Midnight Sun went out of business, and Midwest Mountaineering inherited the Q Boat. Midwest is arguably our finest paddle shop in the Twin City area. They do a lot of education, sponsor events, and are a great local resource. Peter, Jerome, and Guy are great guys to work with and knowledgeable paddlers as well. When I saw that they had marked down the price on the Q Boat and a couple of others, the rusty wheels began to turn in my brain again.

Malcom Gladwell defines the tipping point as, "the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable". Factor four in this process, the true tipping point, came when the VOR and I began to discuss new windows and French doors for the patio. When the decision to visit the Renewal by Anderson showroom was made I knew I had to act and act quickly. The laws of economics are unbreakable. I stopped down at Midwest on my lunch hour and came back to work with a boat on my roof.

So far, I'm more than happy with the Q Boat. I managed to hit 3 out of 4 reverse sweep rolls in it the first time out and do a passable chest scull, skills which had eluded me in both the Aquanaut HV and the Avocet. It also, at 18' and 21" wide seems fast. We shall see since I will be paddling it in the Two Harbors Kayak Festival's Betty's Pie 5 mile race this weekend. As I've said before, sea kayaks are like hunting rifles; you always have more than you need but never as many as you want. I'm proud to do my small part to stimulate the economy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


On Sunday night RonO, GalwayGuy, and I headed over to Long Lake to play in the water. It was here that I fully developed my Age Inverse Theory of Kayak Rolling, which I explained to GG. It postulates that a 54 year old guy has approximately 22 rolls in him before his form begins to fail and he's forced to the shore for a beer. A 22 year old guy has roughly 54 rolls in him before the same phenomena occurs. After fleshing out this theory and asking GG to complete his 32 additional rolls closer to shore, Ron and I sat down on the beach with a couple of Newcastles to act as spotters. It was a beautiful summer evening, perfect in almost every way until the jet ski rolled up.

Long lake has special regulations on the weekends. No wake before noon and after 6pm. This allows kayakers, canoeists, sailors, and wind surfers some time to play without the large convoluted waves from criss crossing power craft wakes. So when these knuckleheads rolled in we wondered what they were up to. What they were up to was blissfully ignoring the large sign with the no wake rules on it. This mid 20's guy with his bikini clad hottie girlfriend just fired the thing up and took off wide open across the lake. Ron and I grumbled, took another sip of brown ale and agreed that 'someone oughta turn em in'. About this time 3 guys in an older speedboat with a 85hp Johnson, early 70's vintage, launched also. After tinkering with the motor they roared off also, just as the jet ski came back to the dock. Two minutes later the Ramsey Co water patrol showed up. Someone had indeed called, likely a homeowner on the west side of the lake (the east is all county park), pissed off that their long awaited quiet evening on the deck had been violated.

Justice did not prevail however. When No1 son played hockey he had a keen sense of justice. If he was cheap-shotted and no penalty was called he would bide his time, sometimes for a couple of periods. I would know with certainty that at some point in the game the unpunished offender would be ground into the boards, speared, or have an elbow insinuated into his neck area. No1 son, of course, would be caught and sent to the penalty box for two minutes while the instigator got off with nothing more than a few bumps and abrasions. So it went on the lake. The jet skiers quickly loaded up and got out of there, since the deputies never saw them violating the rule. The guys in the speedboat got the warning. As it turned out, the boat and motor has just been purchased and these guys had just spent a couple of hours getting it running. They literally had the thing opened up for 2 minutes to test the engine while the jet skiers had been out there doing mindless figure eights for at least 15 or 20 minutes. I sidled up to the deputy and pointed that out, at which point he asked if we were the ones that called. I told him no and explained my theory for a jet ski season, much like deer season, where you could take one jet skier per season (either sex) with an option for additional bonus tags. He laughed, nodded, and I hope this bit of humor got the boys in the speedboat their warning rather than an expensive ticket. They should have been out there earlier but when tinkering with a 35 year old Johnson outboard things don't always operate on a schedule.

Silbs had an excellent post today on the crowded lakes around metro areas. Within the Minnneapolis/StPaul area we have a number of lakes that have 5hp or electric motors only regulations. With the literally hundreds of lakes within an hours drive this does not impose much hardship and makes it easy for we people powered watercraft owners to get in a little exhaust free activity. When the lakes are limited and crowded however, there needs to be some sort of compromise rules of use. Those who know me well are likely spitting up coffee and clutching their sides as they laugh convulsively about my advocacy of rules. I've been known to bend and ignore a few over the years, ones that I feel are particularly egregious, but never ones that would directly impinge on or impact others. Next time something like this occurs, I may be the one that calls the water patrol.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Round Gitchee Gumee

One of the most beautiful and spectacular spots on Lake Superior is the Rock Island Lodge, owned and operated by the folks at Naturally Superior Adventures. It sits on a rocky point at the mouth of the Michipicoten River near Wawa, ON, with sand beach extending to the south and the highlands of Mountain Ash Hill, Bare Summit, and Paugon Hill to the west. Naturally Superior is a superb kayak outfitter, teaching and instruction center, and workshop sponsor. Check out their blog and website. They are a quality business with friendly folks, a professional demeanor, and an accommodating philosophy of operation. I can't say enough good things and neither can the Toronto Star or National Geographic.

As we sat on the deck, right on the rocky edge of Gitchee Gumee, enjoying two fine porters, Summit Great Northern and Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, we watched two paddlers headed our way from a long ways off. They crossed the tricky and steep water at the mouth of the river and landed literally at our feet. When I asked them where they paddled from they told me, "Thunder Bay". We had stumbled upon (or vice versa) Karl Wilson and Dave Mcgratten, on the last leg of their Big Water Expedition, a kayak circumnavigation of Lake Superior. We chatted a bit, pointed them toward the beach where they could set up their tents, and offered them beers when they got settled in. I'm sure they had put on serious miles (kilometers in Canada) that day and must have crashed because we didn't see them again until morning.

Paddling around the lake is something I've always thought about. Since the most vacation I've had in a row since I was 18 was 10 days, I think it may need to wait until I'm retired if I'm going to seriously consider it. In the interim, I have a map of Lake Superior on the wall of my office and add the stretches of shoreline I've paddled with a red pen. I would like to get those beers to Karl and Dave however. From the SPOT tracker map it would appear they are almost to the Sleeping Giant. I guess I'll need to look them up next time I'm up Thunder Bay way.

P.S. Be sure to check out a new (to me anyhow) magazine that is published by a couple in Thunder Bay, Superior Outdoors. It comes out twice a year, the photography and stories are excellent, and yes, I am now a subscriber.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The year of the vermin

Its been an interesting year, vermin wise, for the Voice of Reason. It began on the Mississippi River, scene of a recent Sea Kayaker article, "Paddling the Pools", with a vicious and unprovoked carp attack. A few short weeks later on Manitou Island, we were awakened by the KingOfIronwoodIsland, informing us that a large black bear was sitting on his butt 20 yards away staring at us. Even though this boy was the cause of Manitou Island being closed, his presence didn't alarm the VOR nearly as much as the carp. Or the snakes on the next trip. Her and MrEngineerGear, another snakeophobe, noticed a snake slithering through the water near Stockton Island and shared a mutual shudder of horror. The very next day we stopped on Hermit Island for lunch and the VOR sat down on a very comfy log. As she munched her lunch she looked down between her feet and saw the fellow in the photo. A jack-in-the-box could not have come off the log faster. To her credit her snake scream this time did not compare to the one at Pictured Rocks the year before when I was sure she had come on a drowned and partially eaten corpse; it was however just a good sized bull snake.

On the trip around Gitchee Gumee we did encounter one bear, no snakes, and no carp. We did encounter the smallest and arguably most insidious vermin of all however. The gnat, cousin of the black fly and close relative of the hated mosquito. For some reason these pests seem attracted to the females that I paddle with regularly. GurneyGranny is extremely anti-insect and actually suggested moving the 4th of July trip off the Apostles to an inland lake due to an alarmist bug report from some semi reliable friend. I remember the BessemerConvivialist in the Keewenaw, neoprene clad legs covered with black flies and a sour expression on her face. I do have a simple theory for this phenomona however. They simply smell better than I do. Flowers give off scents and have colors that attract insects to cross pollinate them. Women slather on moisturizers and other mysterious creams and lotions made from herbal/floral extracts and favor colorful, stylish gear. Why then, are they surprised that the bugs are drawn to them? Note the way the flies love the yellow life jacket in the photo. I guess I should thank them for luring the bugs away from me but I've found that biting my tongue on this issue is the most prudent path, especially when they are at their orneriest in the heat of insect battle.

We stopped at the northenmost point on Lake Superior and wandered out on to a beautiful overlook. Unfortunately the gnats found it attractive also and the little buggers nailed us both a number of times before we fled. I had a couple of bites that were aggravating but nothing like the VOR. That afternoon she looked like Rocky Balboa in the 13th round against Apollo Creed after his eye had been swollen shut. "Yo Mick, I can't see, you need to cut it!". She rallied nicely however and both the eye and gnat induced cauliflower ear had healed nicely by the time we got to the symposium in Grand Marais.

I guess if you are spending time in the natural environment you need to deal with the natural environment. I had a guy on Isle Royale in 1975 offer me $40 for my mosquito headnet. It was late May and the mosquito hatch was unbelievable. This would be $152.56 in 2008 dollars and he said he'd offer more but that was all the money he had. In a textbook example of market economics I refused him. My discomfort for the rest of the trip was worth considerably more than $40. To the credit of all three of the afflicted women mentioned in the post, they soldier on with kayak camping, adapting and developing better and more effective means to deal with insects and other vermin. Now if I can only develop and market a snake detector........

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Music on the water; fish in the water

My nine days on and around Lake Superior have left me in a peaceful zen-like state for th e most part. A lack of traffic, electronic devices, noise, and people in general has me in a fine state of mind. Yesterday, technology malfunction and the accompanying effort to rectify it almost catapulted me right back into the normal mildly aggravated state of urban angst. Cell phone failure had me at the local Verizon office, featuring an ambiance much like the bar scene in the original Star Wars movie, and I could feel the aggravation rising in me like the thermometer on a sweltering summer day. What kept me calm (actually calmer, I guess) was the fact that I would be on the water by 6:00pm that evening.

The Voice of Reason and her sisters are huge fans of MIchael Monroe, a folk singer from Grand Marais, MN. Last summer I was abandoned, blissfully rolling the Aquanaut in the middle of Grand Marais harbor, while the VOR and TheMayor raced across the water after hearing Mr. Monroe’s dulcet tones from a beach near town. GalwayGuy on the other hand, rolls his eyes when Michael’s name is even mentioned. I personally claim neutrality, my own little Monroe Doctrine as it were, although one more rendition of Cat Steven’s…ah,sorry… Yusef Islam’s… Moonshadow might drive me into the GG camp. In any event, Michael Monroe was playing at Talley’s, a bar and grill on White Bear Lake and we could not miss him. We rounded up a half dozen folks and paddled over to watch and listen from the relative comfort of our kayaks.

There are far worse ways to spend a summer evening. The protocol on these musical kayak events at Talley’s is to bring adult beverages and some hors’ de ouvres to share. The boats are tethered together in a commandeered slip, the goodies are produced, and we settle in for the music. Paddle floats and bilge pumps are replaced by corkscrews, cheese knives, and olive jars. The stray wine or beer bottle may be seen peeking out of the day hatches. Spray skirts are popped and goodies are passed from boat to boat. Inevitably something hits the water and when it does the fish are ready.

The Olympus 790 is a nice little point and shoot digital camera that’s waterproof and shockproof, two features that make it perfect for kayakers. When the water’s too rough or the weather’s too wet to pull out the Nikon SLR this little guy works well. Last night as the panfish began taking crumbs off the surface, I just stuck the camera in the water and got some nice images of bluegills and pumpkinseed sunfish flitting around just below the surface with the Valley and Capella boats in the background.

It was the perfect summer evening for lounging on the water. The once more laboriously replaced cell phone lured a couple more friends and their dog down to the docks. More importantly, the rejuvenating power of the water kept my head in the spot that my trip around the big lake had put it into. And I shall work diligently to keep it there!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Trains, art, and the Luftwaffe

On a very remote stretch of the lake west of Marathon lies the peninsula containing Ney Provincial park. Even today it’s off the beaten track and not one of Ontario’s most heavily visited parks by any stretch of the imagination. The VOR and I headed down there because it looked like a great jumping off point for a day trip to Pic Island. I’m sort of the Will Rogers of Lake Superior Islands; he never met a man he didn't like and I never met a Lake Superior island I didn’t like. The plan was to launch in the river and paddle up near the island. Before any plans were implemented however, we stopped at the park visitor’s center and discovered that during WW II the park has been a POW camp for German’s captured by the British.

By 1940 Britain was overflowing with German POW’s and wanted to get them as far away from the continent and possible escape as they could. There were few places farther away from anything than the northern shore of Lake Superior. The highway wasn’t completed until the late ‘50’s and the only transport was the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Prisoners began arriving, mostly Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe officers at first and later in the war members of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Security didn’t have to really be too tight because there was nowhere to escape to. From time to time prisoners would sneak off, only to return a couple of days later, unrecognizeable due to hundreds of black fly bites. One guy carefully whittled a pair of skate blades, planning on skating to America. I can only imagine his disappointment when he discovered that Lake Superior very rarely freezes over completely in the winter. Due to the manpower shortage, prisoners were allowed to work on the lumberjack crews for wages. After the war many did not want to go back to Germany and several returned to Canada and lived out their lives there. No sign of the camp remains other than a few foundations. It was leveled in the 50’s when the park was founded.

Before the POW's came to Neys it was visited by another much smaller group, the artists known as the Group of Seven. Lawren Harris was particularly enthralled with the landscape in the area and produced a series of paintings of Pic Island, an island which we unfortunately will need to visit on our next trip.

We launched in the Little Pic river and paddled out into the lake, islands on the brain. A combination of dense fog, an aggravating swell with chop on top of it, and some shoals that we saw on the map and could hear but not see, made us decide to turn around and see how far we could get up the river. Once again the lake proved to be the boss. On the way downriver we had the good fortune to see a Canadian Pacific freight emerge from the fog and cross the high trestle bridge over the river. Most of the towns on the Canadian North Shore of Lake Superior are a result of the Canadian Pacific rail line, whose steam engines needed water and coal every 30 miles or so. The rail line across Canada that was completed in the 1880’s. All rail freight moving from the Canadian west coast to east coast and vice versa uses this line so you don’t have to wait very long for a train. The same rail line that no doubt brought a group of artists to the area in the 1920's, an unwilling bunch of German POW’s to the area two decades later, and a couple of Gitchee Gumee loving kayaers 68 years after that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back Home

We are back in the land of easy internet access, fast food, and gainful employment. Frankly I would have been good for a couple more weeks on Lake Superior. I plan on posting on different elements of the trip over the next couple of weeks as I mentally digest things. Today I want to throw out a plug for attending seminars and symposiums. I have to also confess that I discovered I've been doing most everything incrementally wrong for quite some time now. I hope the stuff I learned in Grand Marais has me back on track.

Last weekend was the 24th Annual Great Lakes Sea Kayak Grand Marais, MI. I tried to remember the last seminar I attended and I think it was three years ago. I definitely have fallen behind! There seems to be a lot more traditional paddlers, men and an increasing number of women, and a corresponding number of excellent instructors. I discovered over the course of three days that I was wasting a lot of extra energy on my forward stroke, that my paddle angle was slightly wrong on my standard Greenland roll, my angel roll rated a 2 out of 10 on form, and I’m still clueless on any forward finishing rolls. Progress was made on the forward stoke thanks to Doug V, enough to win a medal in the harbor race Saturday night. Sure, it was the old guy class but in the two lapped figure eight race I managed not to get lapped by the winners and that made me happy. My angel roll looks and feels better thanks to Mike M, my standard roll is smoother, and my side scull is a bit more effortless thanks to Roy. I’ll be damned if I can hit one of those diabolical forward finishers however. Always something to work on. As usual we met lots of fellow kayakers of all skill levels from all over the Midwest. The setup in Grand Marais is perfect. The campground is next to the community rec center where the registration and off water programs are held. The rec center is a block and a half from the water and the instruction/demo beach, which is a half a block from the brewpub/restaurant. The brewpub is a half block from a great breakfast joint. They have secure kayak parking area by the beach which means there is really no need to get in your car once you take your boat off the roof. The practical effect of this setup is to have lots of people walking around, talking to and meeting other people. When the basic human needs of food, sleep, kayaking, and beer can be met in a two and a half block radius wonderful things happen. I got to reacquaint with fellow bloggers Silbs, JB, and Derrick, as well as meeting KayakWendy who had driven down from eastern Ontario for the event. We met Rick from northern Illinios who is as passionate about Lake Superior as I am. Rob from Virginia, MN, who paddled the Slates with BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi, heard my name when I went to retrieve my race medal and introduced himself. At the pasty dinner we sat with a couple from Minocqua, WI, Paul and Deb, who are actually long distance SKOAC members.and who will be on an upcoming Apostles trip with the crew. On the more reknowned side, we had a nice chat with both presenters at the wine and cheese party Friday night. Sam Crowley of Marquette, MI recapped his Irish circumnavigation of last summer. I asked him if he ever determined if Irish Guinness was better than US Guinness and he felt there was a difference but much additional research would be needed. I offered full support and assistance. Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw were in town from Wales to show images and footage of their trip around New Zealand’s south island earlier this year. I can’t wait for the DVD. They also hit our ‘home waters’ a bit. Justine and Barry got a nice paddle at Pictured Rocks and are hitting Devils Island in the Apostles this week before returning to Wales. Maybe Lake Superior will make This is the Sea IV.

As I mentioned we can't say enough about the instructors. The VOR refined her forward stroke and and did advanced traditional strokes with Bonnie, Doug, and Lynn. She wound up with a spankin' new Betsie Bay paddle also, a sweet piece of gear. Women on the Water was popular as well with the ever energetic Gail from Living Adventures as co-leader. I of course, was banned from that particular event but was instructing my new Men in the Brewpub course simultaneously. As part ot my continuing education, I worked with Doug, Roy, and Mike M on the above mentioned flawed techniques. ChrisG had alerted Roy to my presence at the event and he tracked me down on the beach. The beauty of the traditional paddle discipline is that its not dogmatic; everyone has a slightly different take on it which is how it should be. Being able to weave your own nuances around the basic elements makes it more personal and actually introduces a bit of art into the process. It wonderful stuff. The bottom line is that we both have a bunch of stuff to practice and work on, definitely a labor of love. There is already talk of next years event, the 25th anniversary.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rossport and the Gunilda

Rossport, Ontario is one of my all time favorite spots on Lake Superior. It’s in the middle of the Rossport archipelago, an island chain stretching from the Slate Islands in the east to Silver Islet in the west, a distance of over 100 miles. It’s a former fishing village with a number of B&B’s and a couple fine restaurants, no chain stores, and an excellent marina for power and sailboaters alike. It’s a superb anchorage which was why oil baron William Harkness and his opulent yacht, the Gunilda, were steaming in this direction in August of 1911.

Harkness was one of old John D Rockefeller’s partners in Standard Oil and one of the richest men in the world at the time. He was taking his family and some of his cronies to fish speckled trout (the famous Coaster Brookies) in Nipigon Bay. Rossport was and is right on the tracks of the Canadian Pacific railroad and the logical place to stock provisions. The problem began when Bill balked at paying the local pilots to guide the Gunilda into port past some treacherous shoals. He didn’t become rich by paying outrageous fees to unwashed locals, by god, and decided to have his crew bring the yacht into port. This was a bad idea because the Gunilda stuck a reef and settled on it, unable to move. A telegram was sent to Thunder Bay (Port Arthur and Fort William at that time) to dispatch a tug. When the tug arrived a few days later, the captain took one look at the precarious position of the Gunilda and informed Harkness that another tug would be needed because when he pulled the ship off the reef the other tug would need to pull it into shallow water or it would sink in 300’(100 meters) of Gitchee Gumee’s depths. It was very apparent, to Mr Harkness anyway, that the tug captain was trying to screw him too, as had the local pilots. He ordered the captain to pull the Gunilda off the reef and it promptly sank in 300’ of water. Harkness headed back to New York, presumably to buy another yacht (easy come, easy go) and the Gunilda remained on the bottom.

In the 60’s some guys threw a grappling hook over the side of a barge and managed to break off the foremast of the ship and drag it to the surface. It now stands in the front yard of the Rossport Inn, a nicely restored railroad hotel from the 1880’s. Scuba diving was becoming more sophisticated at the time and a couple divers managed to dive the wreck but there were fatalities. The mast has a plaque dedicated to the memory of Charles King Hague, a 24 year old who died diving the wreck in 1970. With better air mixtures and equipment, more experienced divers are diving the wreck. Jacques Cousteau himself called it the best preserved shipwreck in the world and the fresh, cold, oxygen poor water of Lake Superior has preserved it perfectly, even down to the paint on the bowsprit. A few years ago we were in Rossport kayaking and talked to some fellows from Tennessee that drove up to dive the wreck. The video they took was spectuacular. As they explained that they were able to spend 15 minutes on the wreck in a three hour dive I offered my opinion that they were nuts diving that deep. One of them turned to me and asked if we were the guys that they saw off the Battle Island lighthouse ‘in them long skinny kayaks?’. When I said yes he offered his opinion in his Tennessee accent that ‘ya’all are the guys that’s nuts’!

We took a nice evening paddle, hitting four of the small islands and got back to Rossport expecting we would be eating cold turkey wraps. The owners of the Serendipity Gardens were just closing but whipped us up a nice supper and we stayed at their excellent guest house. Canadian hospitality at its finest. It also allowed us to have a nice talk with the owners, who live in Rossport year round. The ski trail begins at the guesthouse; you never know when a person might decide to head north next winter.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vacation begins!

Lake Superior greeted us with some big water and thunderstorms as we rolled into Grand Marais, MN for the VOR's family's annual campout. After the storm passed I completed a rigorous mental risk assessment and decided those inviting 4' - 6' rollers that were crashing on the breakwater needed to be tested. The MayorOfTurtleRiver was up on the breakwater with the camera when a couple folks commented, "Wow, look at that! I wonder who the dumb ass in the kayak is?". Rather than defending me she told them,"I don't know but he must be a real idiot". It was, of course, more fun than a roller coaster. At one point I was in a trough where I could just barely see the top of the harbor lighthouse and was getting 20-30 yard rides on some of the bigger swells. Click on the picture to see the idiot in the waves.

That evening found us at the camp of the VOR's brother, the TireKing. Its a great location at the end of a sketchy dirt path, well off the power grid, and is powered by a solar panel/battery setup. The sauna at our hunting camp is done one better by his wood fired hot tub. This handy unit uses lake water and has a submerged wood stove that heats the water. TheLegend attempted to operate it a while back and, when he found the water a bit lukewarm, stoked the fire "a little". This is a man who believes the words 'small' and 'fire' should never be used in the same sentence. He told me that when he came back an hour later, "you could have scalded a pig in the darn thing".

Sunday found us on the border visiting Grand Portage State Park. We met and talked with the park's interpretive guy, Travis Novitsky. Travis also happens to be a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and a superb photographer. As I looked at his images, I realized that he was even more hooked in the Lake Superior country than I was. Be sure to take the time to look at his images, they are unbelievable. The Pileated Woodpecker and the dumb Ruffed Grouse are among my favorites.

We crossed the border into Canada and got one of the few surly border guys employed by Canadian Customs. Usually those guys emigrate, become US citizens, and work for the US Customs. The US guys seem to save their most cutting, sarcastic, and lecturing comments for returning US citizens. On my return from England one time, I was busted by the USDA fruit sniffing beagle but that's another post. I can't wait to get to the Soo in a few days. Meanwhile, the VOR and I spent the night on a 38' DownEaster sailboat at the Thunder Bay marina. I stumbled on this as I hunted for a place for Sunday night, knowing the length of the 'Minnesota goodbye' might get us into town after dark. Capt Gregory had a charter going out to the Welcome Islands on his other boat and got us settled in. Had we gotten to town a bit earlier, we could have done the cruise and the B&B deal. Its a wonderful concept.

Off to Rossport! I don't know when next I'll get online but with paddling and relaxing being the priorities, I guess I'm not too worried about it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hometown knuckleheads

A fellow from my hometown, a guy in his early 20's, was out in a canoe with his cousin when they decided to light off some fireworks. Its not clear what the firework was but we must assume it was a 'multiple report' type of device. The first one went off and the combination of the concussion and unstable canoe deck tipped it over and fired the second report into his foot. On the positive side, it also blasted a hole in the canoe which allowed our hero to cool his mangled foot in the water. Knowing O'Neill Creek and the Chippewa River well, I'm not sure I'd cool a wounded anything in that water but that's beside the point. A quick run to the hospital in Eau Claire and then transfer to the burn unit at Hennepin County Medical Center should enable him to walk normally again. Apparently he was cut loose from the hospital yesterday, on crutches and carrying a vacuum device to keep the wound clean and prevent infection.

Reading the story made me think that could have been me at age 23, perhaps in the identical location. On the scale of stupid things I did in my late teens and early 20's it would probably rank within shouting distance of the top but certainly not at the pinnacle of stupidity. I think adolescent boys simply need to play more pool and become good at the game. A good pool player can look past that first easy shot and try to anticipate the shot that will set him up to sink a few more balls. In other words weigh possible options on what might happen next. Whether its risk management for a kayak group or lighting the fuse on the Roman Candle sitting in the bottom of a canoe, people need to be able to weigh the available information, visualize what might happen next, decide the likelihood of the worst case scenario, and evaluate whether its worth the risk. For example, I'm sitting here with an Exploding Bin Laden Noggin in my hand. On Osama's robe it clearly says "Explosive! Emits shower of sparks. Place on level surface. Light fuse and run away". Had Moe and Larry read this instruction they could have ran a scenario through their heads of, .....'hmmm, shower of sparks in close quarters, surface is not level, and we can't run away once we light it. Since we are violating every admonition on the device maybe we shouldn't light the damn thing'. That was not done however and the ER got another customer. The article does not state the contents of the canoeists cooler but I have a pretty fair idea and will consider it a contributing factor.

I was involved in a fireworks related ER trip a number of years ago. We were at my sisters cabin, lighting off fireworks and the neighbors father/grandpa was visiting with his hunting dog. Every time an explosive went off the poor dog ran down to the lake looking for the duck that should certainly be falling from the sky. I'm sure Molitor (the dog) thought these guys are the absolute worst shots in the world. He was very agitated and grandpa kept smacking him and telling him to settle down. A good pool player would have either put the dog in the house or car, or perhaps sat down near the dog and comforted him. Grandpa must have spent his time in the bar playing cards instead of pool however, and he paid the price. Someone lit a 7 ball Roman Candle on the beach and Molitor saw his chance. Here was something he could grab! The dog ran down, grabbed the firework in his mouth, and proudly began strolling up the beach, colored fireballs blasting out the now horizontal end of the device. Spectators were scattering and hitting the dirt and grandpa had seen enough. He grabbed Molitor and smacked him upside the head, yelling at the top of his lungs. Unfortunately for grandpa Molitor had enough also. He spun his head around and bit off grandpa's little finger at the second knuckle. The yelling and smacking stopped, grandpa turned white, and the trip to the ER was inititiated. In another judgemental error, the ladies left me in charge of the little kids while they headed off with grandpa. As the father of two rather rough young boys, how was I to know that suggesting a scavenger hunt on the beach for grandpa's finger would cause weeping and wailing among the little girls? The hunt did take place, divided along gender lines of course, but Molitor must have gulped right after he snapped because the missing digit was never located.

A wise man once warned us to not go anywhere physically that we had not already been mentally. In other words look ahead and try to visualize the consequences of your actions. Looking ahead while wearing 'beer goggles' is not generally a clear view so avoid that also. We want those ER docs snoozing and not working. And a happy belated 4th of July to everyone!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lake Superior Circle Tour

Last Tuesday, July 1, a couple from Ashland, WI left Bayfield for a planned circumnavigation of Lake Superior via sea kayak. They are paddling counter clockwise and you can follow their progress here. On Friday the VoiceOfReason and I will be leaving St Anthony and circumnavigating Lake Superior clockwise via Volkswagon with the occasional paddle interlude thrown in. There is no real plan other than Grand Marais events on both ends of the trip. The VOR's family has their annual family campout in Grand Marais, MN this weekend which coincides with the Grand Marais Art Festival. If you recall, at last years art festival I was able to get a picture of the art festival from a stool in the Gunflint Tavern. I hope to spend a similar amount of time at this years event and am looking forward to partying with TheGraciousPartier, MayorOfTurtleRiver, Nipper, TheLegend, and the entire cast of characters, some of whom I've not seen since this winters -16F(-27C) fun at the Mora Vasaloppet. GalwayGuy, GuitarMatt, and AnselAlec will be heading up early tomorrow to nab the choice lakeside campsites.

The plan is to drift around the Canadian north shore of the lake, like the eagle feather in the photo, with stops in some of our favorite spots like Thunder Bay and Rossport. I'm also looking forward to a night or two in Wawa with the folks at Naturally Superior Adventures. The whole area from Terrace Bay to Sault Ste. Marie is new territory for me. I remember doing the Soo Locks boat tour at about age 10 on a family vacation. Those were the good old days of sitting in the way back of the '59 Ford Country Squire wagon, sans seat belts of course, tormenting my two younger sisters as the old man smoked Camel straights and issued threats like, "If I have to pull this car over you'll all have red asses". Fortunately all three of us survived these careless automotive practices and the practically criminal (these days anyhow) disregard for the effects of second hand smoke. On this trip I have no plans to smoke Camels or leave the seat belts unbuckled.

On the back end of the trip is the 24th Annual Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Marais, MI. Apparently grand marais means 'great marsh' or 'big swamp' in French. My guess is that of the many big swamps in the area, that these two in Minnesota and Michigan were notable enough to acquire the moniker. I attended this event once a couple years ago and had a great time. The small village has both an excellent diner and an even finer brewpub. I just hope that we are signed up for the damn thing. There was no multiple option on the online credit card sign up so DaveO paid twice and there is no record of the VOR. I called and also emailed to make sure things were straight but no response has been received at this time. The silver lining of having two DaveO's would be that I would have my name in the prize drawing twice. The downside would likely be when a person named DaveO attempted to sign up for the Women on the Water class; my guess is that things might get ugly. Many years ago some buddies of mine attempted to run the Bonnie Bell 10k road race, an all womens run, while dressed (poorly) in drag. They were removed by race marshals and their was a bit of ugliness.

There may be a post or two along the way or their may not. May paddle a lot, maybe not so much. Like the feather we hope to drift around the lake in a true vacation mode, picking up on the interesting opportunities that present themselves. Mentally I'm already about to Duluth and its only Wednesday. Hope I can hang on for two more days!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day trip to Devils

After a visit from some of our Renegade buddies on Rocky, our crew saddled up for a day trip to Devils Island on unbelievably calm seas. The main draw on Devils is the sea caves, by far the best in the islands, and if there are any seas at all from a 180 degree radius from west/north/east you realize very quickly how they were formed and why they are so large. If you attempted to venture inside with any sort of wave activity you would be like that pair of colored underwear that you watch tumbling around in the front loading washing machine at the laundromat. We were psyched by the calm waters and a chance to play in the caves.

Devils Island is farthest out in the lake as well as the farthest north of the Apostles archipelago. The climate is so inhospitable for most of the year that the entire north half of the island is true boreal forest. Like a true northern latitude area there are fewer species but more individuals. No deer or bear out there and plenty of the increasingly rare Canadian Yew ( like candy for the deer) to prove it. They do have black flies however. We had GurneyGranny on suicide watch but she made it through the lighthouse tour without going insane. The lighthouse volunteer told us of two guys from Missouri who came to fix the NOAA weather station, which seems to always be on the fritz. Even though they had heavy repair gear, they literally ran the mile from the south landing up to the lighthouse to avoid being consumed by black flies.

The lighthouse has been there since 1891 and had a third order Frensel lens installed in 1901. the US Coast Guard removed the lens in 1989 and local citizens and friends of the park got it returned, as I understand it, by sueing in Federal court. Since no one seems to know where most of the Fresnel lenses went after the Coast Guard removed them and they are irreplaceable, this was a good move. The tower itself was reinforced after light keepers complained that the fall and winter winds made it sway so much it was impossible to get up there to service the light. The keepers quarters are two very nice Queen Anne style houses and the view across the lake to Minnesota's North Shore are spectacular.

And then there are the caves. RonO and BemidjiIntelOfficer have some great shots of the caves on their blog; that crew was there the day before (BessemerConvivialist, ManFromSnowyLegs, and BemidjiIntelOfficer) were the ones that paid us the morning visit on their way to Oak. Rather than babble more, here are a few shots.

On the rocks where you haul out there are etchings, including one of a stylized Devil. According to my ultimate Apostles history source RangerBob, the devil was there in 1925 already and was described in an interview with the son of lighthouse keeper Hans Christensen,who arrived on Devils with his family in 1925. He also stated that the carving had been done by a woman but we have no way of verifying that statement. On the tip of the island is an eagle (photo from RangerBob) that we likely walked right by, as well as the 13 with the swoosh which seems to allude to devilish activity.

Its a great spot made better by the effort that it takes to get there plus the uncertainty of the weather once you actually do. We got lucky, the stars aligned this time and we were able to land, tour the light and its up close Fresnel lens, and also paddle the caves. We also got back to camp which can sometimes be dicey since the weather out there can turn in an instant. A wonderful all around day.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Breakthrough kayaking gear invented

We had an excellent weekend in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The weather was close to perfect, the insects tolerable (except for GurneyGranny), and the winds fairly cooperative. A more detailed report will have to wait however, because a revolutionary breakthrough in kayaking equipment has burst on the paddling scene.

After a long day of paddling it is always nice to have an adult beverage. If you land near a pub you can stroll up the way and enjoy a cold pint. This is unfortunately not the case on wilderness islands. Until now, cans of beer and/or bag wine with the odd flask of Irish whiskey tossed in has been norm for wilderness trips. The KingOfIronwoodIsland has thrown that all of that out the window however, with his new invention, the Bag-O-Beer. He carefully cleaned out a couple of old wine bags and procured a funnel that fit in the spout, which also holds the wine bag valve open. A growler of South Shore Nut Brown Ale was purchased at the South Shore brewery. He then siphoned the beer into the bag, being careful to start with all the air squeezed out of the bag. The air tight, pressurized bag was then stored on the bottom of the kayak in contact with the hull and the 40F (4C) water of Lake Superior. When we arrived on York Island he pulled out the first bag and it was quickly drained. Being a crafty veteran he didn't reveal the existence of a second bag. The second bag was produced on Rocky Island the next night and, although the carbonation had lessened, it was still head and shoulders above canned beer. The only thing needed was a third 'control group' bag to assess the flavor profile from the first night to the third. We hope that small problem is rectified for the next trip and volunteered to be part of the test group.

Not only is this invention a beer lovers dream, it is also green and sustainable as hell. Sustainablity is in the news as you can see from The Onion's Green Issue, which cannot be found online since its an "All paper salute to the environment". Instead of unsightly cans littering the camp there is a small, portable, reusable bag that can be refilled with beer time and time again. I plan on submitting the King's invention to the ISPO Outdoor Awards, IOPP's Award for Packaging Innovation, the Alliance for Sustainability Award and any other award I deem appropriate. I know he certainly won't submit the applications. As you can see from the picture, he's far too lazy to even get out of his chair to photograph the spectacular sunset over Devil's Island. Maybe he's afraid that the small amount of South Shore Nut Brown in the bag will disappear in his absence. Now if he can only invent an adapter so the bags can be filled directly from the tap we are home free!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tomorrow we leave for the Apostle Island National Lakeshore for our usual 4th of July paddle trip. We will have most of the usual suspects but will not be going to the usual place. We normally spend one night on Manitou Island because its a lovely, isolated site with a perfect sunset view and a fine hiking trail down to the historic fish camp. I got a call Sunday from a nice woman with the National Park Service asking me if I would be interested in changing my permit to a camp other than Manitou. I asked her why but new the answer before she even opened her mouth. Bear trouble.

Readers of this blog will recall the bear experiences of last 4th of July and this May on Manitou. It would appear that the bear have a regular route down the hill to the beach and then down toward the fish camp. According to a couple folks I talked to at NPS HQ in Bayfield, some Girl Scouts had a bear (some said two bears) that was reluctant to leave the area and then the next day a volunteer at the fish camp was trapped in the outhouse for a time. I offered to switch to York if some flexibility could be granted regarding number of people/tents in a site and that was acceptable. Given the makeup of the merged groups (me, VOR, BemidjiIntelOfficer, ManFromSnowyLegs, BessemerConvivialist, RonO, KingOfIronwoodIsland, GurneyGranny, and PodMan) it seems fairly certain that a pre 4th of July party could erupt.

It may be faulty memory on my part, but it seems that 10 years ago when I began lurking around these islands on a regular basis there was never an island closing, especially the entire island. When the mainland trail and the campsite at the end of it were closed earlier this year it was remarkable enough to make the Chicago Tribune. The trail as I understand it, is open now but Hermit Island is still closed to backcountry permits and has been for a year. In 2003 seven bears were trapped on Oak Island and relocated on the mainland and the island (Oak is a BIG island), was closed for a month to visitors. Basswood was also closed in 2006; we camped there the last day it was open.

I'm not sure why the rash of island closings in the last few years has occurred. More aggressive bears, more conservative park policies, dumber backcountry campers, fear of the plaintiffs bar, or a combination of all of those could be contributing factors. A few years back our hunting camp in western Bayfield County was the site of bear relocation due to its remote venue. We suddenly had a rash of 'juvenile delinquent' bears that were more aggressive, did the 'false charge' thing in an attempt to intimidate us, and exhibited other behavior unusual for 'wild' bears. aMaybe these Oak Island troublemakers were part of the group. When the PodMan had a bear do the false charge while cutting wood near the camp he calmly reported the incident, although admitted that adrenaline did peak. If some newbie had the same thing happen I can imagine the breathless report of being attacked and forced to flee by a gigantic bruin with gleaming claws and dripping jaws, barely escaping with their lives. I always get a kick out of the manly bear hunter who shoots some poor bear from a tree while its eating Twinkies from his bait pile 25 yards away. He then has it mounted on its hind legs with claws extended and teeth bared. I'll spare you my opinion on that sort of thing. All I would ask is that these situations and incidents be investigated and evaluated by professionals before closing islands. I don't think that exaggerated tales from spooked campers is enough to warrant closing an island for an entire summer. The other responsibility is for the kayakers and hikers themselves. Keep your food secure, know what to do when the bear shows up, and use your common sense. The advice in the NPS publication on Oak Island, linked above, is excellent. I've heard of idiots that tried to make the bear go away by throwing food at it. These guys should be covered with honey and tied to a tree. If we as backcountry campers use our heads, the park service digs a bit deeper on bear reports, and the additional bear boxes are installed to help reduce temptation, I would hope we could get through a season with no island closings. I'd include reasonable behavior on the part of plaintiffs attorneys in the possible solutions but I quit believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny decades ago.

Any Apostle Islands bear stories from blog readers would be appreciated. Meanwhile, camp smart, secure your food, and have a wonderful 4th of July celebration.