I made the trip north solo last weekend. It fun to do once in awhile since I'm pretty much in constant contact with people and need to let my brain relax and wander from time to time. Unless I'm listening to a specific program, I don't even have the radio on in the car. I tend to believe that my own daydreaming is more interesting than hearing Dire Strait's Sultans of Swing for the five thousandth time. When it comes to electronic background noise while outside hiking, paddling, biking, or skiing, I'm against it. I like to soak up the ambiance of the outdoors with all my senses and am genuinely puzzled by people who feel they need headphones to walk or bike around a lake. There are just too many sounds that would be missed, especially this time of year with the birds returning. The whole point of going solo is to get away from human interaction and reboot the head, so to speak.
Fridays trip north involved a couple stops that needed to be made as well as lunch with a couple buddies in Bayfield. One of the guys, the masked man in the photo, is busily sheet rocking, taping, and sanding as he creates Bayfield's newest kayak shop on Main Street from the ground up. He is, like yours truly, a weak willed individual and was easily diverted from his task and lured to Maggies with the promise of beer and chow. More on the new shop in a later post. With all my errands out of the way it was time to decide where to paddle. The west wind was blowing steadily which would have made the shore of Chequamagon Bay near Washburn the perfect spot. I could retrace on water the site of the Book Across the Bay's ski race in February and check out some of the stacks and sandstone cliffs south of town. The lure of the Montreal River was too great though. Wind or no wind I wanted to check out the river flow and get a bit of practice with eddy lines, standing waves, and ferrying in the Q boat. I had already learned that attempting to carve a turn in moving water by lifting a knee is problematic; better be damn sure your lifting the correct knee or you will meet the water in a suprisingly quick fashion. The only problem with my plan was the solo component. Its always nice to have backup when the plan is to push the envelope a bit.
I tend to be much more safety conscious when I'm solo. Anyone who isn't is a short step away from disaster. I'm much more of a 'pool player' when paddling solo and think through the possible scenarios and outcomes in an attempt to stay a couple shots ahead of myself. There was a couple in the marina parking lot that gave me a puzzled look as I pulled a tuliq on over my dry suit, but I was just covering all the bases and giving myself 'redundant systems' as the NASA guys say. Strapping my helmet on over the tuliq hood caused them to quickly move in the opposite direction but hey, I needed to cover my butt. I actually planned on screwing up in the current and going over a couple times and there are some large rocks at the mouth of the Montreal that could really relax my brain in a very negative way. As it turned out I didn't need any of it. The west wind died off and big gentle swells rolled eastward. The river flow was down so last years standing wave was a mere shell of itself and the short, steep waves where the swells pushed against the river current were 18" max. That left eddy lines and ferrying across the mouth of the river to keep me amused. And I was amused, for about an hour or so. The GurneyGranny claims I could have fun in a dark closet so I'm sure the fact that my simple mind was easily amuse won't surprise anyone, but I had hoped more for excitement than amusement. Maybe next year.
Part two of the solitude involved day paddles on Lake O. As one of the first guys to hit the sack at the relatively early (for this group) hour of 12:30am, I was also one of the first ones up. I plugged in the 30 cup vintage Maxwell House coffee percolator and headed for the water. I fired up the sauna in anticpation of some post paddle rolling. The boys had stoked it hard the night before and had it up to a blistering 225F (107C) and it was still at 100F (38C) when I relit the stove. There were complaints that they couldn't touch the water ladle or the caps on the water jugs at that temperature; no kidding! I paddled out and around the corner and once again was on a wilderness lake with no sign of human habitation. Not a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky made for perfect solitude. I can literally feel the worries disappear in a spot like this. As I paddled out of the small bay the solitude was broken by the arrival of the KingOfIronwoodIsland. He had the same idea and was also testing his new Immersion Research spray skirt that I had delivered. I managed to disturb his tranquility by inquiring about how things had gone the night before at the poker table, but the money that flew out of his pocket and across the table was quickly (OK, maybe not that quickly) forgotten on such a perfect morning. By the time we got back, tipped my boat over a few times, and took a sauna the camp was alive and breakfast was cooking. Back to the normal pace and hub bub of the Bark Bay Fishing Invitational. I enjoy all the rituals of the event but in my library of mental tape loops, the morning paddle on Lake O will be near the top of the list when I feel the need to go to that 'happy place'.