Friday, September 26, 2008

Back to Voyageurs

A group of five of us are taking what I sense will be the last overnight kayak trip of the season. We will be heading back to the sometimes politically incorrect Voyageurs National Park. This time however, we will be paddling in the area of Unsighted Porcine Narrows in the Crane Lake area instead of Unsighted Native American Narrows near Namaken. The fall colors should be spectacular and I hope the fish are in the mood to surrender to me en masse'. More to follow upon our return.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

On the Empire Builder

The original Empire Builder was the old robber baron, James J. Hill himself. Hill opened the northern route of the Great Northern railroad to the Pacific Northwest in the latter part of the 19th century. Today's Amtrak route from Chicago to Seattle is named after him and follows virtually the same route. Due to air fare jumps, a chance to road trip with colleagues, and my general aggravation with flying I decided to take the train back to Minneapolis from the deadly boring trade show in Chicago I had attended. The Empire Builder would make the trip in about 8 hours. I got the roomette sleeper which allowed me to work offline on the laptop, read, snooze, lounge, and savor the bottle of wine I picked up before I left Chicago. I had my 6'4" frame sprawled out, papers, books, and laptop strewn around on my little desk, and no fat guy wedged into the seat next to me dueling me for the armrest. Shoes off, feet up, and I was livin' large. It would be a pretty damn good trip.

Not having to wait in the security line like sheep at the slaughterhouse was gratifying as was walking on to the train with my shoes on, boarding pass not in hand, laptop in its case, and a breathtakingly sharp jackknife in my pocket. A person could wander the length of the train or sit in the observation car and chat with fellow passengers. It was definitely a melting pot and everyone seemed to be a a good mood. I talked with a fellow who had boarded in upstate New York on his way to Seattle; he seemed a bit toasty and had two days to travel yet. I discussed jazz and writing with a woman on her way to St Paul and sat across from a couple Amish girls quietly whispering back and forth. Two Native American guys were were heading to Spokane on their way home.

For supper a time slot is selected and a table for four was filled up with the first four people that show up. A couple train travelers I know considered this to be the highlight of their trip, meeting new and interesting people. That scenario began well when I was seated with a couple older ladies from Williston, ND. We chatted about mutual North Dakota experiences and connections and then they seated the fourth person at the table; The Babbler. She was one of the dullest human beings I've ever seen outside a funeral chapel and every sentence began with "my son" or "my daughter". Anything that was said, any topic that was introduced, could be linked to the life experiences of her offspring and it would be related to us in a voice that sounded like Alvin of the Chipmunks would sound had he taken some heavy amphetamines. I began to throw out more and more unusual topics, just to see how she could link them to her son and daughter and one of the ND ladies picked up on the game. "You ladies were in Milwaukee eh? Hell of a thing with that Jeffery Dahmer, understand he was bludgeoned to death in prison". Babbler: "My daughter was in Milwaukee, working on her Masters". Next attempt: "What do all the Russian-German people in western North Dakota think of Putin and the Georgia thing?". Babbler: "My son was in Russia presenting a paper". Damn! After The Babbler effortlessly tied 3 or 4 more remarks to her amazing youth, I excused myself and headed back to the compartment to polish off the rest of the wine and watch the Mississippi River glide by the window.

Amtrak is on the upswing and I'll most definitely ride the train again. There have been some great improvements in both equipment and staff since I last rode from San Antonio up to Tyler, TX although we haven't caught up with the European or English trains quite yet. It is a very amenable way to travel however and a fine way to thumb your nose at the airlines and all the humiliating and unnecessary bullshit they make you endure for the privilege of sitting in their arid, disease ridden cabins in their ergonomically abominable seats. As mentioned in a previous post my father used to say, If the tail's red, take the train instead". Dad, I finally followed your advice this time and it worked out pretty well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Two good steps to protect the Great Lakes

As I sit in Chicago, nowhere near Lake Michigan, preparing for one of the most boring trade shows in the history of mankind, I read that two pieces of legislation designed to protect the Great Lakes watershed have moved forward. The first is the Great Lakes Compact which is nearing the end of its torturous journey to keep outside interests from sucking vast quantities of water out of the lakes. The other is a measure passed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to require ships to treat ballast water they release to make sure that invasive species are not hitchhiking as they have so many times in the past.

The Great Lakes Compact is the most amazing piece of legislation in my opinion. It had to be crafted so it passed the legislatures and was signed by the governors of 8 states and 2 Canadian provinces. It then had to pass the US Senate, the House, and be signed by the President. All that remains to be done is for Bush to sign the thing and he claims that he will. Like all legislation its a compromise but a pretty damn good start. You can peruse the particulars here. When you consider the gauntlet of US Democrats and Republicans, Canadian Liberals and Conservatives, and various special interests and right/left wing nut cases that this thing had to get through, its pretty impressive that it passed. A few years back I cast an absentee ballot for the Minnesota gubernatorial race since I would be bowhunting on the Tuesday of the election. A friend who used to be a DFL senator (the Democratic Farmer-Labor party are our very own homegrown Minnesota Democrats) asked who I voted for and I told him Jesse Ventura. He told me, "You can't be serious!? We'd have a Democratic senate, a Republican house, and an independent governor; nothing will ever get done!" My response was, "So.....what is the problem?". In this case however, a decent piece of legislation with international significance made it through and the Great Lakes will be better for it.

The other measure is a Minnesota Pollution Control regulation to force ships to treat their ballast water before releasing it into Minnesota waters. Ballast water has been the main source of destructive non-native pests like the sea lamprey, Eurasian Milfoil, Zebra Mussels, a slew of other nasty European imports. This regulation will be completely ineffective of course, unless Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario decide to issue similar rules. If they don't it will be like a rule requiring that small children only pee in the shallow end of the pool. One would hope the states, and maybe even the Feds, would realize this and pass similar regulations before the implementation date of 2016. Unfortunately in many cases the cat is already out of the bag but I think an effective rear guard action will help prevent future hitchhikers from entering the watershed. I'm sure a letter or two to the powers that be couldn't hurt in promoting this important piece of legislation. For me, all it took was seeing a lamprey slither between my boots at the mouth of the Brule as I launched my boat to remind me of how destructive these invasive pests can be.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The game of musical boats

After selling one boat and buying two this summer, I'm pretty sure my boat swapping is over for the year. Not so for my fellow paddlers however. The BemidjiIntelOfficer tested and purchased a Valley Aquanaut demo on Saturday and RonO has decided its time to move the Romany S. Both boats were viewed and paddled on a unseasonably warm afternoon on the Minneapolis chain of lakes yesterday. After battling our way through sailboats, windsurfers, rec kayaks, paddle boats, fishing boats, and the occasional bobbing head of the long distance swimmer, we arrived at Cedar Lake in relative peace and quiet and were able to discuss the dynamics of the buy/sell decision.

Some people are analytical, some emotional, some impulsive, and most are a combination of the three when it comes to a new kayak. For me the idea kind of lurks in the back of my mind, in the periphery of conscious thought, until something brings it to the forefront. In the case of the Capella at the auction this spring, it was GalwayGuy's need for a better boat (that I could borrow from time to time, of course), the competitive juices of the auction, and the fact that my bidding nemesis quit long before I would have. The Q boat involved a much more analytical process. I had paddled the boat a couple years back before purchasing the Aquanaut HV and found it too small and a bit squirrelly. At that time though, I was in the market for a multiple day expedition boat with some load capacity; if I don't have my dutch oven, folding chair, and a respectable amount of beer on a trip I get surly. The Aquanaut HV fit well, handled well, and could carry the gear. As I began to work on more and more rolls it became apparent that my 'ore freighter' was the main limiting factor. There were many rolls that myself and GalwayGuy could do easily in the VOR's Avocet that I couldn't get close on in the Aquanaut. Then after one of us (I'm certain it was him!) broke the seat on the Avocet and the VOR banned both of us from tipping the thing over any more. I also was required to install a new seat in the Avocet, even though I'm certain it wasn't my 225# frame twisting around in the cockpit that caused the failure. Earlier this summer, a 45 minute stretch in the Q boat at the Great Lakes Symposium in Grand Marais, MI made me look at it in a whole new light. It handled well, rolled superbly, and fit snugly and comfortably. When the Big Kahuna sold and the Q boat turned up at Midwest Mountaineering the stars were aligned and the purchase fell into place logically as well as emotionally.

The 'BIO' was in the market and had looked at and tested boats as varied as the Impex Force Cat 3 and the CD Solstice GTS. She said that when she sat in the Aquanaut and paddled it that it just felt right as well as being narrower, faster, and more stable than her current boat. RonO was on the demo mission also and rolled the boat, paddled it, and pronounced it a fine craft. On the same day the Aquanaut was purchased Ron put the Romany S on The trouble is that with all the discussion of this particluar boat on P-net, we're not sure what boat it really is. Apparently neither does anyone in the message string. The discussion reminds me of trying to swallow a piece of toast while suffering from a hangover. You keep chewing and chewing on the thing but are never ready to swallow. We had to chuckle at the arguing back and forth and frankly, who cares? Its a great boat from a reputable manufacturer, well built, and it surfs and tracks great. If you jump in it, find that it fits, and like the way it handles, grab it. In the end thats what buying a new boat is all about.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cell phone angst

I got a new cell phone yesterday. This was the 5th phone I've had since I got the amazing Palm Treo in April of last year. Various defects, breakdowns, freezeups, and unrepairable flaws caused the phone to be replaced under warranty four times. Up until this point, the most unreliable piece of equipment that I'd ever owned was a 1973 Harley Davidson XLCH Sportster. It only started when it wanted to, parts vibrated off, replacement parts were unavailable, and it was uncomfortable as hell to ride. Once when it refused to start I took a large rope and tied the front forks to my buddy's '64 Chevy bumper and tried push (drag) start it. It refused to fire. After I sold that piece of crap I rode Honda's, Kawasaki's, and Moto Guzzi's. I figured those bandits in Milwaukee owed me something for my suffering and I have not been on a Harley since.

The Palm Treo has replaced the Harley on the gold medal stand as the Absolutely Worst Piece of Gear I've owned. The one good thing about the Harley Sportster was that I didn't have to sign a two year contract to ride it. I was pretty sure I was stuck with the cell phone but its amazing what negotiation leavened with a bit of anger, humor, and threats can accomplish. I now have a different phone as well as the old one that doesn't work. I wanted to take the Treo phone on a one way ride to the hunting camp and perform an experiment to analyze the results of a collision between a 235 gr .45ACP slug and a Palm Treo phone, but Bob our IT guy, a man who is unflappable in the face of electronic intransigence, insists it has some value. The ManFromSnowyLegs, an esteeemed and estimable engineer, thought my experiement had much more value, both intrinsically and as a cleansing experience, than anything IT could do with the phone. Lately however, I've been questioning the value of cell phones in general.

Several years ago at our hunting camp on Reefer Creek, one of the four Coatian brothers, a lawyer by trade, strolled into camp with a lunch pail sized black bag and announced he had a cell phone capable of making and receiving calls from the camp. The camp is well off the grid, both phone and electrical , and is also in the absolute middle of nowhere. The last mile in has grass growing in the middle of the dirt road (in the places that don't have bottomless puddles) and the camp itself is a quarter mile walk up a trail from where the cars are parked. I can't remember exactly which right thinking individual asked to see the phone. When he got it in his hands he kicked open the door, pitched the phone into the snowbank, and announced that cell phones were officially banned from the camp. It was kind of a moot point anyhow because there is still no coverage there or within several miles but the action was applauded by those of us who savored the feeling of being unreachable.

I am resigned to the fact that I need one for work. One that can show me my email when I'm on the road is nice also but when I'm on my time the phone is strictly for my convenience. A lot of people who call are offended when I tell them I simply didn't answer their call. When I'm eating, driving, talking with someone, watching the Packers, relaxing, walking the dog, or even reading a book, chances are very, very good that I won't pick the damn thing up. Also, most of the areas where I go for relaxation don't have coverage. I usually stick the thing in my possibles bag when I'm paddling, just in case someone decides to break into my car, something that actually occurred with the first 'lunch box' phone my company thrust upon me but it does not get turned on. Seems the VHF radio is much more effective on much of Lake Superior plus everyone within range can hear it and respond. The one time I had to make an emergency call my VHF radio summoned the Coast Guard and all was well.

On one of my many aggravated trips to the Verizon store, I noticed that you could get a phone for your kid that had a gps feature that allowed you to see exactly where they were at any time. This would not have been a good thing at all for the 16 year old DaveO. I had my buddy the Commish, master of the Cous Cous, tell me his 15 year old daughter had racked up something like 1,000 text messages in a month. Thats about 30 per day. Her and her friends would sit in the car when he was driving them to some event and text rather than talk. I would think this would foster a nation of introverted nerds but what do I know?

Bottom line: I gotta have one for work, they are convenient at times personally,but cannot be relied upon. I still hope to set up, execute, and record my Colt/Treo experiment for the good of mankind but it will require more negotiation with Bob in our IT department. Maybe I'll give him a call on the ol' cell phone.......

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Too nice for Grumpys

On most 'regular' Tuesday nights either RonO or I will fire off an email with the single word, hotdish. This refers to the Tuesday happy hour tradition of fine microbrewed beers and a dollar bowl of hotdish at Grumpy's Bar in Northeast Minneapolis. Such fine traditional Minnesota hotdishes such as Tater Tot, Wild Rice, or beef noodle can be had for a buck. You never know which one will be in the giant roaster but you simply can't go wrong. Today however, I made the mistake of venturing outside for lunch.

It was likely one of the last 80F days of the year, sunny and a light breeze. When I came back to work, the email I sent had 4 words; Rolling at Long Lake? Ron said he had exactly the same idea after he ventured over to the hanger over the noon hour, but I had beaten him to the punch. We arrived and launched a bit before 6pm and began to loosen up.

We had both learned a number of new techniques and refined some old ones at the Traditional Gathering in Akeley the weekend before last. We wanted to practice and work with them a bit before the water around here become too stiff to practice in. The day after Thanksgiving has always been the traditional first day of ice fishing and that's about 9 weeks away. Everything was working, except maybe some of the newer 'other side' stuff but the static brace still eluded me. I had just been corresponding with Stevie in Brooklyn (note his lovely static brace in his blog photo) and that was one of the topics. He said he had practiced for years before he finally got it and claimed that tall and broad shouldered guys had more trouble with the maneuver. Since I am the former but could never be accused of being the latter, I had at least a half of an excuse. Nonetheless I keep attempting it and keep slowly sinking like the Titanic until I'm in the perfect position to angel roll back to the surface. Last night was no exception. Until Ron had me try his carbon fiber greenland paddle. He claimed it had more flotation that my basswood version and, by god, he was right! Not only did the elusive static brace appear but I could feel my paddle hand floating to the surface as I lay on the water, free hand pulling on the bottom of the boat in an attempt to keep my hull flatter on the water.

I had heard of 'cheater boats', the most famous of which is the Yost (above) built by ChrisG and now owned by Alex. Ron said he was doing stick rolls, hand rolls, and all sorts of things he had no business doing in this amazing craft. I have never heard of a 'cheater paddle' though. One of these days when I have a few hundred spare bucks laying around (yeah, right!) I'll need to get in touch with RonS at Novorca and explore the carbon fiber possibility once again. Until then, when I need a dose of static brace confidence, I'll just borrow Ron's stick. I suspect that will occur this very evening on Calhoun as the weather is carbon copy of yesterday.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Did the Voyageurs eat cous cous?

I'm in the not at all uncomfortable position of being about a week behind on the blogging front because of too many paddle opportunities. Last weekend the Commish and I left the Traditional Gathering and headed for the Ash River put in at Voyageurs National Park. The VoiceOfReason, MayorOfTurtleRiver, RangerMark, and the FrugalFisherman had already arrived and spent a night camped in the park. I was skeptical about the rendezvous plan but we hit our crew on the very first campsite that we were instructed to try. The group was out on a day paddlewhen we arrived but the gear was familiar and we pulled in. It was most definitely September weather in border country with sun and rain alternating on an almost hourly basis. Like my buddy in Cumbria, northern England says however, there is no such thing as bad weather, only crappy gear. We have good gear and were plenty comfortable.

The Fall trip is a tradition going back maybe 20 years or so. The FrugalFisherman and I worked together at a county District Attorney's office in western Wisconsin in the mid 70's and have stayed in touch. I was first invited in 2001 and we wound up leaving Isle Royale on 9/11. There was uncertaintly as to whether the Voyageur II would be able to land due to all ports of entry being shut down but since this particular vessel was 1 of 2 using the Grand Portage marina, it was able to dock. Subsequent fall trips have been to the Slate Islands, the Apostles, Rossport, ON, and Voyageurs. The most memorable event that occurred on the last Voyageurs fall trip was when the GreenThumbChef (the only charter member who could not make it this time), grabbed what appeared to be a water bottle to make up some pancake mix. I thought the pancakes had an unusual tang to them but kept eating. TheCommish, he of the delicate palate, took a couple bites and asked the GTC which water bottle she used. It turned out that the Nalgene bottle she had grabbed did not contain water but Tanqeray Gin; and it really didn't taste all that bad. Coincidentally, this years most memorable moment also featured both food and the Commish.

The Mayor had to head off to work but the rest of us packed up for a leisurely paddle to the Wolf Pack Island group on Lake Namakan. But not before we took a photo of the two sisters and I with the VOR's unsecured boat floating out into Lost Lake in the background. We had a a nice paddle in sunny weather and a wonderful lunch as we headed over to the Wolf Pack Islands, where we set up camp and engaged in a fine happy hour. It was the Commish's night to cook but uncharacteristically he didn't have his usual well thought out and delicious meal. He was forced to improvise for some unknown reason, and the result was interesting. Bavarian knockwurst, sliced up and prepared with north Indian curry spices in a sea of Cous Cous. Call me sheltered, but I had never eaten this style of Cous Cous before. Truth be known, I don't even know what the hell Cous Cous is and reading the Wikipedia article didn't really enlighten me that much. I do know that none of us will forget this particular meal however. To begin with this was not an appealing looking pot of chow. It kind of looked like someone had thrown a bunch of sausage into a kids sandbox and then scooped it into a pot. The taste would not cause Wolfgang Puck to ask for the recipe either. But both of those negative attributes pale compared to the gastro intestinal havoc that this supper wreaked. We all went to bed full and feeling nourished but before dawn broke I heard the zipper of the FrugalFishermans tent and hurried footsteps up the hill to the throne.

Voyageurs Park features a fire ring, picnic table, and vault toilets at a number of paddle in sites. The toilet consists of a large tank or vault with a seat on top and no walls or roof. Liberating, airy, and boasting a wonderful view in good weather, these facilities are a bit wet and depressing in the rain. This particular privy offered a majestic view of Lake Namakan and the Canadian border a short half mile to the north. That morning the view was most definitely secondary. As I lay smiling smugly in my sleeping bag I suddenly realized that I had best head up the hill as quickly as humanly possible. As I took off up the path I heard, "Olson, are you heading up the hill?" "Yup." "Damn it!". It was like a revolving door. Our lone female member, the VOR, asked that I monitor the path and prevent anxious fellow paddlers from rushing the throne while she was up there. In one particularly poignant moment I heard the Commish yell, "Is anyone up there?" The FrugalFisherman answered, "I'll be done in a minute"and the response was, "I don't have a minute, followed by the sound of a body crashing through the underbrush. I'm sure you get the picture and I will spare readers any more graphic details.

There was debate as to which component of this delicate feast caused the multiple hill climbs. In my opinion, I've had plenty of sausage and curry in the past with no problems whatsoever. That points my finger squarely at Cous Cous being the culprit. I thought of checking with the CDC in Atlanta but I fear the outbreak would be too insignificant to be of interest. So for now me and my fellow paddlers are sticking to our firm belief that Cous Cous is certainly to blame for this gastric indignity and that the Commish had better come up with some savory and spectacular supper that will make up for this years near disaster. Fortunately, by about 10am when we took off in opposite directions, systems seemed to be back on an even keel. And we even let the Commish come out from behind the tree for the group picture.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Joy of Saunas

Two of the annual events that I've attended for a couple decades, the Wisconsin fishing opener and the annual Grouse Kill weekend (no grouse have been harmed or even inconvenienced at this event for years) have taken on a bit of a kayak flavor. Even though the first is in early May and the latter in early November we still paddle and work on our rolls. The main reason for this, even though the water is usually ice cream headache cold, is the close proximity of a nice hot sauna to the water. Within minutes a near frozen carcass is warm and comfy again.

I am a huge fan of wood fired saunas. The smell, the nature of the heat, the pumping of the water, and the ritual of building and stoking the fire make it a perfect way to enjoy a cool fall day. Two of my favorites are at Camp O, site of the above mentioned events, and at our hunting camp on Reefer Creek in northern Wisconsin. I suspect that I will be slipping into the Reefer Creek sauna around 9pm this very evening in fact. The only one that I had seen at a commercial establishment however, was at the Rossport Inn on the Canadian north shore of Lake Superior. I figured that maybe a lawyer shortage in northwest Ontario made having a facility where the great unwashed could work with fire, hot stoves and near 200F heat made them less susceptible to insurance claims and lawsuits. That theory was blown out of the water in the last month when I discovered not one but two wood fired commercial saunas in Minnesota, also known as the State Where Nothing is Allowed.

We visited the Baptism River Inn near Tettagouche State Park on Minnesota's north shore and found a whimsical and efficient wood fired sauna. The VOR commented that the Grinch could have owned this structure. It had a stove that was fed from the outside and a hand pump inside the sauna house. It was insulated very tightly and got hot rapidly. My key indicator of heat, the dragons breath test, was achieved in about 45 mintues. This is where a person blows on their arm from a distance of about a foot. If it burns, the temp is around 180F, perfect to sweat out those accumulated toxins.

At the Traditional Gathering last weekend another wood fired gem was discovered. The Crow Wing Crest Lodge has an ancient sauna that looks positively neanderthal. The stove is covered with rocks and takes forever to get hot. Once its hot however, its stays that way for a long time. Once again this was a popular spot for pre and post rolling activities as well as warming up that wet, cold, damp neoprene before putting it back on for the days work. As with the other three saunas mentoined, this one is located right near the lake so one can leap into the cooling water between bouts of sweating. When the sauna is over and the two heating and cooling cycles of the body are done, your body feels cleaner than it ever has before. Chlorinated hot tubs do nothing for me nor do the electric 'warm but not' hot hotel saunas. Give me a blistering wood fired sauna and I am a happy guy. The searing heat, convivial atmosphere, and smells and feel make it the perfect end to a fall day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Traditional Paddlers Gathering

Last Thursday the Commish and FrugalFisherman arrived at our place in St Anthony, staging for our annual fall paddle trip. This year the Commish and I would head for the traditional gathering in Akeley, MN and the VOR and FF would head up to Voyageurs National Park to rendezvous with RangerMark and the MayorOfTurtleRiver. We would meet up with them on Sunday. In my estimation this rendevous had about a 50-50 chance of success in the land of no cell phone coverage but we would give it our best shot.

The Commish has a kinda sorta on again, off again roll and was interested in perfecting a bombproof standard roll. Given the skinny paddle luminaries that would be in attendance, along with many of our local uber-mentors, I convinced him this would be the perfect place to get it done. My interest was in making my forward finishing rolls a bit more solid and a bit less painful, and also working on my chest scull and the aggravating static brace.

RonO, the Commish, and I set out for Akeley and arrived mid afternoon but not before a stop at Morey's Fish in Motley, MN for some pickled herring, smoked lake herring, smoked salmon, whitefish pate, and some sashimi grade tuna (along with ginger and wasabi, of course). Those staples, along with an enviable supply of micro brewed beers, had us in fine shape for a weekend of rolling. We settled into our lakeside cabin and commenced to 'Gather'.

Everything about the weekend was excellent. The accomadations were super, the location was perfect, the cameraderie wonderful, and the mentoring was helpful, patient, and effective. The Commish worried that he would stick out like an African American at a KKK rally with his voluminous plastic boat but he had nothing to worry about. They stuck him in a Qajaq USA tuliq, wedged him in a skin boat, and Cheri had him rolling it in a half hour. He then moved to his beloved 95 pound, 3' wide (OK, OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little) Prijon and successfully rolled that also. I worked with Dennis, Dan, and Turner a bit and got my forward stuff and the chest scull going. The static brace not so much. But, as that great philosopher MeatLoaf once said, two outta three ain't bad. Turner's forward stroke instruction was an eye opener for me as well. I'd learned the BCU style of bow rudder and sculling draw and when I saw the greenland version of the same two strokes it was apparent that this was the more natural, intuitive, and effective way to move the boat. Everyone was tired and, in my case, a bit sore by the time the paddling sessions were over but we managed to suck it up and make it to the big white tent for happy hour. There were feats of strength and agility, good natured competitions, smart talk, and an adult beverage or two. We almost lost Jeff, our medical director, after he was pulled off a pail but fatalites in general were limited. With all the harpoons flying around the next day I think we were fortunate that no one was wounded other than the inflatable killer whale that served as the target. RonO made the harpoon finals and also picked up a skin boat in the silent auction, a pretty good weekend in my book.

The style of instruction at this event really appealed to my natural anti authoritarian nature. Rather than the normal seminar schedule/set up with fixed and rigid times, subject matter, and instructor/student interaction, the mentors worked with whatever folks wanted to learn or improve. Also, people knew a bit more about certain techniques would assist those who needed help, even though they were not 'certified' in any way. There seems to be no star rating system in the world of skinny stick paddling, its a completely merit based community and by the end of the weekend the collective paddling skills of the group of 50 people had been raised significantly. Both the Commish and I agreed we would be back next year. Special thanks to Dave and Jo and also Chris and Alex for all their hard work in pulling this thing off. It is indeed a fine event.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Another paddle weekendf and a brush with Republicans

We're off to Akeley, MN for the Traditional Paddlers Gathering and then to Voyageurs National Park for what will be a fine long weekend. The Commish and FrugalFisherman arrived late last night from Madison and, in what should be a logistical snarl, we will all split up and then rendezvous somewhere in Voyageurs with RangerMark and possibly the MayorOfTurtleRiver. We shall see if this rendezvous in the land of no cell phone coverage can come off or not. I would say 'cautiously optimistic' would be the best we could hope for.

Yesterday afternoon I offered to go over to St Paul to pick up a boat that had become airborne from a car roof at relatively high speed. It had been repaired flawlessly at Northwest Canoe in downtown St Paul. RonO and I need to deliver it to our Brainerd buddy, ChrisG, at the Gathering and I thought that waiting around until 10am this morning, when Northwest opened, would cut into our serious rolling time. This would normally be a half hour round trip but, as some of you will recall, we had a national political event in town. My mission was two fold; get the kayak and avoid Republicans, anarchists, and heavily armed government forces. I knew my destination and was confident of my ability to 'make a move' as they say if I was confronted with roadblocks and/or urine hurling, malodorous vandals. As it turned I avoided neither and the trip was like a video game where you had to jump over and around obstacles. The first thing was that 3 exits off I-94 were closed and only convention delegate laden buses could use them. There were riot cops at each exit to make sure that kayak retrieving riff raff didn't attempt to slink off the freeway and then take a back alley to their destination. No problem. Even though the streets "were laid out by drunken Irishmen", as our former Gov, Jesse "The Mind" Ventura stated, I had a plan. Shortly after I got off at 7th St there was a traffic jam. I got out and looked ahead and either a Pearl Jam concert had just let out or these were the foul mouthed, smelly anarchists I was trying to avoid. Seems like they had a meeting at Mear's Park every evening; isn't a 'meeting' of 'anarchists' oxymoronic? About a half dozen of them tied up traffic for a couple of minutes and moved on. I went a couple more blocks and ran into a gaggle of riot police staging in the farmers market. I had an instant flashback to an incident when I was in Londonderry, Northern Ireland 8 years ago. A bomb threat had been phoned into a pub where my buddy from Cumbria and I were headed. Bomb squads, riot police, and helicopters all converged. These guys looked like they were just kicking back and taking a break however, and seemed oblivious to the quickly moving anarchists up the street. I arrived at Northwest safe and sound and was able to grab the kayak, take a quick tour of the shop, and pick my way back to work. ChrisG, you will be plying me with beers this weekend!

I will now cease blogging since RonO will be here in a half hour and we need to head north. I won't be anywhere near St Paul until the middle of next week. Things should have calmed down by then.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Solo paddle

Yesterday I took my first solo Lake Superior paddle in quite some time. The VOR wanted to knock off a chunk of the Lake Superior Hiking Trail, a 200 plus mile trail that follows the ridgeline above Lake Superior on Minnesota's North Shore. I just needed more time on the big water, especially since I noticed that many leaves that had already turned color. I was dropped at the mouth of the Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park and agreed to be back there in 3 hours or so.

A solo paddle on Lake Superior always makes a person a bit more cautious. The wind and waves are evaluated a bit more carefully and you run through the mental checklist of all the things you might need to have. Timing is everything of course, and the final run through of my mental checklist was about the time the VOR was driving up the hill and out of the park. I realized that my bilge pump, paddle float, and spare paddle were all heading for the Caribou River. Now the question, from a risk management standpoint, was do I still paddle or do I stay and practice rolls for 3 hours at the mouth of the Baptism?

I really wanted to paddle; had that not been the case I would have been lacing up the hiking boots for the near vertical climb up the spur trail to the main Lake Superior Hiking Trail. This may have caused a bit of rationalization in my risk assessment but I think I was fairly honest with myself. Air temp was about 70F and the water was about 62F. I had my neoprene vest and shorts on so I was good there. Wind was onshore, about 120 degrees off from the direction the NWS kept insistently reporting on the weather radio, and the waves 1' - 3'. I had the radio, gps, compass, water, and all that good stuff. My sturdy basswood Greenland stick would take a major trauma to break and I have a couple solid rolls on both sides. The shore however, is dominated by Shovel Point and Palisade Head, both towering cliffs of rock with no place to land. There are a few small cobble beaches but even the mouth of the Baptism is a cleft between the rocks. In the final assessment I went for it.

It was a great time. Paddling solo once in awhile let you immerse yourself in the enjoyment of the moment without having to worry about group dynamics. 90% of the time I like to paddle with other folks but I do enjoy a good solitary paddle every now and then. I did stay out of the clapotis that extended a couple hundred yards out from the cliffs and was happy to note the stray groups of hikers and climbers along the shore, many of whom would venture a wave. It was bouncy and the Q Boat is not nearly the stable photographic platform that the Ore Freighter (Aquanaut HV) provides but I got some decent shots of the cliffs anyhow. Then it was back up the Baptism to brush up on a roll or two for this weekends Traditional Gathering in northern Minnesota. I hope I'm at the point where I'm doing the rolls that I think I know decently so I don't have to spend time refining them. I'd like to put a few new ones in the repitoire if thats possible. I will not be working on the offside reverse sweep though; I know for a fact that one is physically impossible. But all that is next weekend; the past weekend was great and I was happy with my risk assessment decision. Apparently things went well up on the hiking trail also and we were able to recount the days events over South Shore Brown ale and fresh (caught that morning) lake herring in a small throwback restaurant on the north shore. It was a superb Labor Day.