Saturday, February 28, 2009

Delicate American asses

The timber sale up at the deer camp seems to be stalled. Pulp prices are depressed and the loggers must be reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which remind us daily just how damn tough things really are. When I read the toilet paper article in the former of those fine, polar opposite publications, I was puzzled as to why pulp prices were down, since we wimpy Americans insist on soft toilet tissue made from virgin pulp to wipe our delicate behinds.

I admit that I never knew we used virgin pulp to make toilet paper, and it's disturbing to me on a number of levels. When they ruthlessly chopped down the great white pine forests of the Great Lakes states in the latter 19th and early 20th century, the logs were mostly used for saw timber and built the majority of cities in the midwest including Minneapolis/St Paul, St Louis, and Chicago. My relatives on both the Scandanavian and Irish sides of the family assisted greatly in this large scale leveling of the forests in northern Wisconsin, working as loggers, sawmill workers, and lumber yard help. Logging practices have progressed significantly since then and clear cutting is generally only used when the owner wants the stand to regenerate as aspen. Or when a large conglomerate like Plum Creek, owner of over a quarter million acres of Wisconsin, clear cuts the stand, douses it with herbicide to make sure that none of the natural vegetation begins to grow, and plants row upon boring row of the fast growing but unappealing red pine. No matter how the timber is cut, it would be nice to believe that your wood is being used to construct homes, panel offices, or build decks, things that are permanent and contribute to our quality of life. The image of some fat slob wiping his ass with toilet paper made from my forest is not a comforting or fulfilling one. I can't imagine what the KingOfIronwoodIsland must think. The photo below is of his bowstand, formerly a secluded, secretive site, deep in the woods, where a number of deer have been missed and some harvested (including by yours truly, who stumbled across it and marked it on the gps). After the timber sale a person could drive a VW Passat to the stand and the lack of cover makes it look more like the crows nest on a ship than a deer stand. As a solid Yooper guy, he may become homicidal when he learns that his deer blind has been destroyed so that some yuppie can wipe his delicate ass with nice, soft, Charmin.

During the Brezhnev era I had the privelege of spending a few weeks in the Soviet Union. We were warned to bring lots of toilet paper because the stuff over there was like 120 grit sand paper. I ignored the advice and brought albums and blue jeans instead, the black market proceeds of which allowed me, a poor college student, to live like a king while I was there. The toilet paper just wasn't that bad; they have the same trees as we do and, biologically speaking, the same rear ends. Before the 'invention' of toilet paper people survived quite nicely with last years Sears catalog sitting in the outhouse. I still remember the novelty 'electric toilet paper' on the wall of my aunt and uncles outhouse near Chetek, WI, another homespun method of finishing your bidness.

Toughen up people! For gods sake lets not be such simpering, whining, wimps about everything, especially the lowly product that we wipe our butts with. “No forest of any kind should be used to make toilet paper,” said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist and waste expert with the Natural Resource Defense Council. I agree with Dr Herhkowitz. Check out the Greenpeace guide to recycled toilet paper and give it a try. I certainly plan on it and may even issue a report on a future blog post. Unless there is popular outcry not to, of course. Seriously, give the recycled a try. I'm sure civilization as well as your behind will be the better for it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pulling in our horns?

Fat Tuesday began with a fine jazz concert at the VOR's place of employment, and moved to Grumpy's Bar with a five buck Guinness pint-keep the glass-pre St Pats promo. There was optimistic talk about the first Apostle Islands trip of the year in early April and the fact that last year's first campsite still had picnic table high snow on it. And I still got home in time to catch The Speech.

With massive federal dollars heading in all directions, its going to be tough to avoid 'drunken sailor in the whorehouse' spending no matter what anyone says. These are our dollars of course, or at least those of us on the 'producer' side of the equation. I joined the members of the audience who hooted in derision when President Obama stated that all earmarks had been removed from this bill. That being said, I think that more than a few cutbacks (best of luck on cutting those agricultural subsidies, origin of the term 'pork barrel') need to be made in addition to the deluge of federal manna from heaven. I read an interesting opinion piece in the St Paul paper about a couple of possible axe worthy programs that are administered by the National Park Service and it provoked some interesting discussion.

We apparently have NPS administered National River and Recreation Areas and the National Heritage Areas. I don't believe I've ever been to a National Heritage area but apparently I live in a National River and Recreation Area, the Mississippi NRRA. The main thing that always amazes me is the convoluted mish mash of overlapping jurisdictions on these things. Were I ever to get the nerve to execute my anti cliff jumping ban protest at St Croix Falls on the Wild and Scenic St Croix River, I could be arrested by any one of a number of agencies. NPS LE personnel, St Croix County sheriff, Chisago County sheriff, Taylors Falls city cops, St Croix Falls city cops, Minnesota State Patrol, Wisconsin State Patrol, or DNR personnel from Minnesota or Wisconsin. Somehow, that makes no sense and I'm from here! Imagine trying to explain this to a foreign visitor. My Irish cycling buddy, BobbyPaul from Cumbria, Northern England, was in the country on a cultural exchange a few years back. I was showing him northern Wisconsin sites like Madeline Island, the Reefer Creek deer camp, Apostle Islands sea caves, and Patsy's Bar in Washburn. One of the things that amazed him, along with attractive female bartenders and "bloody huge lorries", was that very same jurisdictional concept. As a proud member of the Cumbria Constabulary, he found it difficult to comprehend why we needed a half dozen agencies doing pretty much the same thing. The discussion was prompted as we drove through the soverign nation of Bad River and I told him that if he got pissed off and decided to punch me that he could be arrested by at least 7 or 8 different agencies.
In our very own Mississippi NRRA we have well over a dozen city, regional, and state parks and historical sites along the river. Coon Rapids dam, Islands of Peace, Boom Island, Historic Mills District, Ft Snelling State Park, Pike Island, HIdden Falls, and probably a dozen more I've forgotten. What value does the National Park Service add by making the area a NRRA? And who the hell is in charge of what? Rather than a bunch of signs proclaiming the Mississippi NRRA and a lovely visitors center in the science museum, I guess I'd rather see the couple million bucks (a small rounding error in the billions we're debating nationally) go to my buddies up in the Apostle Islands, Voyageurs, Isle Royale, or Pictured Rocks.

Read the article and let me know what you think; I would find it very interesting to hear some other opinions. And please contact your national elected officials and plead with them to let me jump off those cliffs in Interstate Park once again. I'll be careful, I promise!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rolling and (ski) racing

Since I can't do anything that requires vigorous two legged mobility for a bit, I was forced to risk acute chlorine poisoning on Sunday morning. I loaded up the Q boat and headed over to the Brooklyn Center pool for the second and hopefully last time this season. I managed to hit a couple of rusty sweep rolls, angel rolls on both sides, a reverse sweep, and had a brief glimmer of what I need to do to hit a stick roll after recalling a luncheon conversation I had with Silbs several months back. It was kinda fun to get back in the boat and I even managed to rinse most of the toxic chlorine off my boat and gear using a plastic garbage pail and fresh water from the shower. By my guess we should be rolling in Lake Calhoun in a hair under 8 weeks, maybe less if spring cooperates a bit. Even though it was only 12F (-11C) the sun is getting higher in the sky and its warmth kept our fingers from freezing as we tied the boats on our car roofs. This same warmth and a couple inches of fresh snow made the American Birkebeiner up in Hayward a bit warmer and a bit slower than last year but it did not affect the drama of two neck and neck finishes in the race.

In the 50k freestyle women's division, Rebecca Dussalt of Gunnison, CO defeated Holly Brooks of Anchorage, AK by half a ski boot as they both dove across the line at the finish. A photo was needed to determine the winner of that race. In the men's 54k Classical race, the question of whether Norwegian cross country legend, Bjorn Daehlie, planned to treat this as an exhibition or not was answered on Main Street in Hayward. The scene was described best by the winner, Gus Kaeding, from Marquette, MI.........

“We were coming across the lake, and I’m sure, as anyone who has skied the Birkie knows, there are a lot of thoughts going through your head coming across the lake because there is nothing much else out there,” Kaeding said. “So about 1K to go, I looked around, and it was just me and Bjorn, and I said to myself, ‘Holy Cow! I’m leading Bjorn Daehlie.’

“And I bet you that Bjorn was not thinking, ‘Holy cow! I’m behind Gus Kaeding.’”

“Obviously, it was an honor, and Bjorn pushed me hard and with about 10 feet, I thought he had me, but I dug deep and found another gear.”

Kaeding wound up beating Daehlie by the razor thin margin of 1/10 of a second. I'm sure the reports will be rolling in fromfrom my friends and acquaintances that skied the race but the snow and weather looked to be excellent. It was everything I had expected it would be and it would have been great to have been there watching from my favorite viewing area, the front steps of the Anglers Bar. Maybe next year I can train and be in shape for the grueling a Prince Haakon 8k or even maybe the 23k Kortaloppet. I've got an entire kayak season ahead of me before I need to think about that; we shall see.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pissed off in my Lazy Boy

Its about 9am on a beautiful morning after a nice 4" snowfall and the temperature is 19F (-7C). In other words, its probably the most perfect day of the winter to head out and get some kilometers in on the cross country ski trails. So why am I drinking coffee in my lounger, you ask? Because I tore up my GD, flocking ankle when I fell on the ice walking to my car after work last night.

Because I am a tall individual, 6'4", I have had a lot of experience with torn ligaments from playing sports where you have to leap into the air. The problem is not the leaping but always seems to arise with the coming down part. This time was completely different. I was strolling out to my car with visions of cask Two Hearted Ale dancing around my head, savoring the fact that it was Friday night and the next day RonO and I would be heading north to skate the Vasaloppet loops for several enjoyable kilometers. Snow was coming down and covered the patches of ice that the unseasonable warm spell had provided us with. My foot just went out from under me and when I attempted to recover I went down with my left anke folded under and my entire weight on it. There was a nice 'pop', a sound I'd heard before, and I knew I was screwed.

I am in the midst of Plan B as we speak. A large pot of coffee and the Canoecopia flyer have kept me occupied for a bit. I am listening to the Birkie broadcast on WOJB 88.9FM, the Anishnabe public radio station on the Lac Court Oteilles Rez, south of Hayward, WI. I'd like to hear how both the real and the pseudo Bjorn Daehlie(s) do in the race. This blog post took a solid 15 minutes. After that I'm lost. A person doesn't realize how active they are until they have their wings clipped. Beer consumption comes to mind but I need to wait until at least noon for propriety's sake.

I'm sure I'll think of something. There must be some home related task that I would be avoiding by heading north to ski. Meanwhile, Canoecopia looks really interesting this year. Even though I really don't need anything,other than a CLC foam seat for when I rip the inadequate Valley seat out of my Aquanaut, I'm sure I'm good to drop fifty bucks on some new, essential piece of gear that I really need. Just the cameraderie with fellow paddlers makes it worth price of admission. Meanwhile, I'm sure I'll think of something to keep me occupied for a few days. I just hope its something thats at least semi positive and productive.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The real Bjorn Daehlie's in Wisconsin

BjornDaehlieOfMahtomedi, my kayak, ski, and adult beverage buddy, is on his way to Cable, WI for the event that earned him his blog name, the American Birkebeiner ski race. He's been training to the point of swearing off those adult beverages we both love (I've gone out of my way to torment him about that) and I'm certain he will have a fine race with the fast conditions that are expected. Joining him and the thousands of skiers that will leave Telemark for the 53k trek to Hayward tomorrow will be the real Bjorn Daehlie, owner of 8 Olympic gold medals and forty plus world cup wins.

Daehlie is by far the biggest name ever to ski the Birkie. This is a guy who can't go to a restaurant in northern Europe without being besieged by autograph and photo seekers. The way he wound up in northern Wisconsin is not by the usual route. Daehlies mother suffers from MS and he made the acquaintance of Dr. Ian Duncan, a world class MS researcher and avid cross country skier thats works out of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Dr. Duncan met Bjorn Daehlie and had the opportunity to ski with him. “It would be like playing golf with Tiger Woods or playing basketball with Michael Jordan,” Duncan said. “I was almost hyperventilating when I was skiing with him. It was such an incredible experience.” This connection resulted in Daehlie skiing the Birkie and the also having MS as the official race charity this year. Skiers that manage to raise $2,500 had the oppportunity to ski with him yesterday. He will also be raffling off his race skis tomorrow to raise additional money. Organizers expect over $50,000 to be raised for MS research.
This whole thing might sound like an exhibition ski or a training run. He may be 42 years old and retired but as a fellow Norwegian said, Bjorn Daehlie does not ski exhibitions. Even though he is complaining about his lack of training and saying he doesn't have any big goals, he also made a telling comment yesterday. "When I'm having a starter's bib on, I think I can't have a training trip". Most of my buddies skiing the race have entered the 50k skate race. When I asked them why they aren't in the 53k classic so they could 'get a piece' of Mr Daehlie, I've received no adequate responses. I had a similar opportunity many years ago when I was foolish enough to run road races. I happened to be entered in the same race as John Walker, the legendary New Zealand distance runner. I did have a goal however. The race was a 10k, 2 laps around a 5k lake. My goal was not to be lapped by Mr Walker and I was able to achieve it, although not by a large margin. On of my friends has a goal of finishing within an hour of Bjorn, an admirable and possibly achievable mark. As Dr. Duncan alluded , for me it would be hard not to enter that 53k Classic just to say you had skied with the best. I'd like to be able to say I played catch with Hank Aaron (screw that Bond's fellow) or took a skate with Gordie Howe. I will be an hour north of town tomorrow however, skiing the Vasaloppet loops with RonO. You can bet we will be checking the results when we get back however.

It will be a great race and a great party in Hayward as it always is. Having a great skier and a greater person like Bjorn Daehlie there can only be icing on the cake.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Break in at the deer shack

To celebrate President's Day we played hookey from work. A foursome headed north to the Vasaloppet practice loops, a series of 4 connected ski trails laid out, cleared, and mostly maintained by the Legend and the GraciousPartier. The two trail founders joined us at the cabin for a healthful and nutritious lunch of bratwurst, chips and salsa, and South Shore Nut Brown Ale. We had skied about 20k in the morning and the Memorial trail with its up and down switchback curves was beckoning for our afternoon ski. The old classic deer shack was on the trail and the Legend wanted to show my sister (blog name is coming!) and UncleRick how deer were hunted in the good old days. He has often remarked that if the walls could talk there would be a lot of people in a lot of trouble. We skied over to the shack, took our ski off and walked in. It was apparent that something was amiss when we noticed the broken window and glass all over the floor of the camp.

It was pretty quick detective work to discover the culprit. The broken window was high up and had a circular hole in it. No human could have entered through that hole. The glass was strewn across half the cabin which meant it had to be a pretty good impact, like maybe a softball being thrown through the window. We did not find a softball however, just a kamakazie grouse. He was all the way across the room, laying under the wood stove and frozen stiff as a board. As anyone that has hunted and missed grouse can attest, these guys can fly about 20mph and will induce a mild heart stoppage when they flush from cover. Given the forensic evidence, we figured the grouse was going full speed, hit the window, bounced off the table, and slid under the stove.

The floor was swept up, the Vasaloppet memorabilia and deer racks on the wall were admired, and we packed up and headed out on the Memorial Trail. The Legend packed up his "cargo" on the six wheeler and headed back to the cabin, a structure that the GraciousPartier had insisted on as an alternative to the masculine yet 'homey' deer shack. A minimal amount of deceased animal parts are allowed in the new cabin and the consumption of kippered snacks is absolutely banned. Also, to the best of my knowledge, a punch has never been thrown in the cabin. The deer shack on the other hand, has a pair of bronzed boxing gloves. This trophy was awarded to the camp member that met three criteria: 1) Became involved in a fist fight, 2) Over something stupid, 3) And managed to draw blood. Its that kind of cameraderie and camp tradition that keeps us deer hunters coming back to the camp year after year.

The Memorial trail was excellent and still tracked with double classical, triple in some spots, track from the 42k classic race a week before. Around here we have no snow and the Birkie skiers have been going around the 2.5k loop at Elm Creek just like rats in a psych lab maze. Little do they realize that a mere hour north of them there are nearly 25k of excellent, non boring, completely wooded trails. Shhh, don't tell em......this will be our little secret.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Making tracks

The Book Across the Bay turned into the Book Along the Bay on Saturday night in Washburn. Warm weather earlier in the week had melted all the snow and the organizers worked like dogs to get 7k of 'snow cone' ice for an out and back course. Even though the course was icy, glare ice icy in some spots, I didn't hear any whining. They were unable to set classical track on the ground up snow but folks sucked it up and skied the course anyway. Classical, skating, snowshoes, runners, and walkers. Everyone had a good time and rolled with the punches. A guy planted his pole and I ran the tip of my ski right through the basket. Rather than getting pissed we just stopped, yanked the pole off my ski, told each other, "I've never seen that happen before", and wished each other a good race. I think the folks up in the northland are a bit more adaptable than we 'sophisticated urbanites'.

When skiing the Twin Cities metro area at the Three Rivers Parks or even the golf courses, I hear constant whimpering about the condition of the track. I suppose when paying between $4 and $7 to ski the area a person has the right to gripe about conditions. They do have the conditions prominently posted however so if a person looks at 'fair' conditions and chooses not to pay to ski, that is an option. I think part of the issue, and we're talking classical here, is that the skis are so skinny now that they can only function on perfect tracks but attitude is another, more important, factor. On Saturday morning the Podman, YewGuruJim, and I bushwhacked along a beautiful ridge to scout out a possible new ski trail. We ran through blackberry patches with their accompanying thorns, got whipped in the face by balsam branches, got our skis stuck in the underbrush, and had a great time exploring the terrain and enjoying the view. On Sunday, we broke trail up to beautiful Sparrow Falls on Mud Creek (note: NOT the real name of the venue; native brook trout exist in catchable/sustainable numbers on this stream and the name must not be divulged publicly). Once again we had a great ski as well as the one thing you absolutely can't get at the Three Rivers Parks; solitude.

When a person gets off the perfectly groomed, predetermined, and often government subsidized trail loops, there is a whole new world of skiing to discover. Sure, there are pitfalls and you may scratch your skis or your face, but there is a certain joy in going wherever one wishes to go. It's easy to come upon an insurmoutable hill or gorge, be forced to backtrack, or fall over when you hit deep snow or patches of ice. Thats what makes skiing as well as life, interesting. Is this sounding like social commentary? OK, I plead guilty. I have had a ton of fun this year on those tracked, groomed, subsidized, and well used trail loops. A lot of time and effort goes into them and they provide a great place to ski for a lot of people as well as being an asset to improve public health. I ski on them most of the time and enjoy the hell out of them, especially Vasaloppet practice loops north of Mora. It don't get any better! But every so often I would suggest grabbing the trusty compass and a couple friends, and heading off into the woods. The rewards that can be found there will be surprising. Get off the track and see how good it feels and how much fun it can be to ski a bit of 'freestyle'.

We all hope that next years Book Across the Bay will have lots of snow and run the normal course from Ashland to Washburn. But I'll remember this one as well, as the race that was pulled off even though conditions were nearly impossible and where skiers took it in stride, adapted, and just had fun anyway. If people had that attitude with more endeavors, the world would be a much better place.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Community effort

At 6pm tomorrow evening a couple thousand of us will be lined up for the Book Across the Bay, a cross country ski race/tour that was started as a fund raiser for the Tri County Medical Society and the Friends of the Washburn Public Library. Just last weekend we participated in a similar community effort, the Mora Vasaloppet. Thousands of volunteers work to pull off these events and we 'civilians' support them by giving them our registration fees and skiing the race. This years Vasaloppet came off perfectly with excellent snow and temperatures in the high 20F (-2C) range. Things are not going quite so well for the BATB.

Starting last Monday our weather went to hell. A certain reknowned blogger in the Baraboo area and his Milwaukee anti-snow soulmate, consider this warming and snow melting trend to be a very positive event. Most of us winter sports fans consider it a disaster. I managed to get in 10k last night at a local ski area that has made tons of artificial snow but all of their 'natural' snow trails were closed. They say the eskimos have dozens of words for snow. The word for last nights frozen, thawed, refrozen, and then ground up snow was 'snow cone'. It was exactly like skiing on a snow cone before they pour the fake raspberry syrup over it. Crappy is about the best thing I can say about it. The problem they have encountered in Chequamagon Bay is that the snow melted and there were giant puddles on the lake; the good news is that the ice is still 2 feet thick. The other problem is that the hundreds of luminaries that mark the course, ice candles made by partially freezing a 5 gallon pail of water, all melted. Rumor is that the call went out for mason jars to use as substitutes. At least if I hit one of them this year I won't go down like a sack of potatoes and break my binding like I did last year. Fortunately, it has gotten colder as the week went on, allowing the BATB folks to use grooming equipment like the pisten bully to grind up ice and turn it into snow, the same kind of snow cone snow I skied on last evening. They hope they will have six striding tracks and an 18' skate lane by race time tomorrow. The plan is to shorten the race but thats OK too.

No matter the snow condition it will be a fine event. Several friends as well as my sister and hubby will be participating and when good people are around its hard not to have a good time. Even the KingofIronwoodI is planning on making the race this year. He had planned on it last year but woke up with a mysterious virus, likely contracted at the Bell Chalet bar the evening before. By the time his immune system, aided by vast amounts of liquid and aspirin, had fought off the insidious 'bug', it was too late to make the starting line. One can only hope this year he fares better. The Ashland and Washburn community in the bay area comes together to pull off this event and we are all glad they do. It helps give us that positive attitude toward winter that's essential to stay sane as we watch the days get longer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ice Follies

When living in this part of the world, a person has to embrace the ice. This weekend promises to be a veritable festival of ice with the Book Across the Bay ski race across Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay, a possible snowshoe trip (across the ice) to the mainland sea caves in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and a hoped for (shhh....don't mention this to the VOR!) trip across the ice road to Madeline Island. Ice fishing is onne of the more popular ice based activities around here, a sport I've kind of lost contact with over the years. My dad was a rabid ice fisherman, a guy known for getting on the ice as soon as it was possible, for the legendary early season bite. I don't think even the old man would have followed the 134 guys out on to Lake Erie last weekend though.

Our story begins with an exceptional walleye bite on Lake Erie, a lake that has literally come back from the dead. One of my favorite beers is Burning River Pale Ale, a Great Lakes Brewing product that commemorates the day in 1969 when the Cuyahoga River started on fire a short distance from where it enters Lake Erie. Since that black day the lake has rallied, become much cleaner, and supports one of the best walleye populations in the Great Lakes region. Some of the most productive walleye spawing grounds are on the reefs created by dumping the remains of the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the "mistake by the lake", into Lake Erie. This ice fishing misadventure took place west of there near Oak Park, Ohio, roughly 85 miles southeast of Detroit. Apparently fisherman had been catching walleyes like crazy and wanted to get farther out in the lake. When they encountered a large crack (around here we call them pressure ridges) they put wooden pallets across it so they could drive their ATV's or snowmobiles further out on the lake. Apparently 135 people were out on the ice when a combination of warm temperatures and strong winds caused the ice to break off and drift out into the open lake. One guy died and another was fished out of the lake as a combination of Coast Guard helicopters, air boats, and private craft ferryed people off the ice.

Falling through the ice is shocking, numbing, and mildly terrifying. I know this from experience. When I was in high school, Half Moon lake,a cutoff meander of the Chippewa River, was in danger of a major winter kill due to a long winter with heavy snow cover which causes oxygen depletion. When the springs near the Rod & Gun club opened the ice, it seemed like every distressed fish in the lake was there, gasping for air. Since many of these fish would die anyway, the DNR decided you could net one 5 gallon pail full of fish, game fish excluded. Several dozen of us pulled on the chest waders, grabbed the long handled smelt nets, and headed for the hole. With long handled nets the waders really weren't needed because the ice was thick enough to stand on the edge and net the fish without breaking long as people stayed spread out. As I happily filled my pail with bluegills, crappies, perch, and a carp or two, I suddenly noticed I was flanked by two grade school kids and a guy I assumed to be grandpa behind me, asking me how I was doing. As I started to say, "Get the hell away from...." I saw the ice crack behind grandpa and suddenly the 4 of us were on a 10 foot by 10 foot tilting oval, which we very quickly slid off into the frigid water. As every person who has ever donned a pair of chest waders knows, the water will invariably be 2" deeper than the waders are high. As the water flooded in, reaching and shriveling sensitive bodily parts, I grabbed the two kids when they popped to the surface and set them up on the edge of the ice where it was solid. I climbed up myself, secretly hoping the idiot grandpa was gasping for air on the bottom, but saw that others had hauled his sorry ass out as well. I laid on my back on the ice with my feet in the air, letting the water drain out of the waders. I 'squished' the quarter mile to my car, net and fish bucket in hand, fired up the heater to melting level on the '60 Chevy Biscayne, and drove home naked. Nothing like a little hypothermia to slow down the brain function.

The boys out on the Lake Erie ice chunk had it much more comfortable. After being evacuated they were lined up and their names were taken down by the authorities so they could be heavily fined if they were stupid enough to do it again. The rescue not only cost thousands of taxpayer dollars but also endangered the rescuers. Sheriff Bob Bratton of Ottowa County Ohio summed it up best. "I have no problem with people ice fishing, but these idiots should realize that when you see open water, you should not build a bridge and cross it," he said. "It's a shame you can't arrest people for stupidity." Sorry Sheriff, we would need to increase jail space exponentially if that were allowed in this country.

I am certain this weekend will have no mishaps of that nature. After my dunking I was and am a bit more cautious and realize that on Lake Superior a change in the weather can break off a huge chunk of ice and blow it out into open water; Canada here we come. The ice is lots of fun to play on, as the two ice maidens above can attest, and has a lot more uses than simply cooling your cocktail. Just use your head and ask yourself if Sheriff Bratton would have grounds to arrest you for stupidity before you set foot on the frozen water

Monday, February 9, 2009

Vasaloppet '09 - Perfect is the word

When the dynamite was detonated to start this years Vasaloppet (and I love that touch; no wimpy starters pistol or irritating electronic beep here!) the temperature was 35F warmer than the same time last year. The weather was perfect, the trail groomed to a 'T', and the mood of the skiers was very festive. The ambiance was so appealing that BDahlieOfMahtomedi almost sabotaged the 58k relay race effort of the SKOAC Renegades the day before.

Normally with the SKOAC Renegades team, sabotage would consist of overserving the weak willed members with fine ales and red wine the night before the race, but this year it was the lure of the northern trail loops combined with the fact that BDahlie did not ski the race. 'Saving himself for the Birkie' was the excuse. The trails on Saturday were irresistable though, and everytime we got back to the Legend & GraciousPartier's cabin, the demand for 'one more loop, this is too perfect to waste' went up and we all bit and went out and skiied another loop. When we realized we had done over 20k the day before the race we figured it was time to head for the spaghetti feed that TheLegend and GP host at their home in Mora.

I had the first leg of the race and figured I was moving at a pretty good pace in the middle of the pack. That was just until I got to the 35k/58k split however, and all of my 'pack' went left and I headed to the right by myself on the 58k. After passing the first blueberry soup stop I did actually get in front of a dozen or so soup afficianados and headed past the cabin. I did crack up TheLegend when I cruised by and asked if Chad Giese (five time race winner) had gone past yet. He hollered back that he loved my racing pants. I passed a couple of guys who were also wearing relay bibs before I hit the chip exchange point and handed off to the ManFromSnowyLegs, who took off for the second exchange point. He skied a phenomonal classical leg, so fast that he 'collapsed' at the end, and handed off to the IrishPirate who is seen skating off down the trail on the top photo. The Pirate and I skated our legs while the MSFL, BessemerConvivialist, and the VoiceOfReason all skied classical. Team breakdown consisted of two testosterone and three estrogen members. The BC took the hand off from the IrishPirate and the VOR skied the anchor leg into downtown Mora, where the finish runs right down Main Street. We improved on last years frigid time considerably and finished ninth overall among the relay teams entered. We thought that a moral victory after learning of teams of high school racers finishing ahead of us. The combined 'experience' of our team was 236 years, which had to put us right up there in the most elderly relay team category.

Anyone who has any thoughts of skiing a cross country race should give this one a try. There seems to be something for everyone from the kids mini loppet on Saturday to Sunday's 13k, 42k classical, 35k freestyle, 58k freestyle,and of course the 58k relay. The organization after 35 years is superb and the hospitality second to none. The fact that over 100 landowners allow the race to pass through their land is a testament to the community spirit of the event. It is a fun race to watch as well and when the weather cooperates as it did this weekend, there is no better way to spend a winter weekend in Minnesota.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Brand name gear

This week I pulled the trigger on some new skate skis that actually fit me properly and I'll be picking them up at Finn Sisu today. The shop offered 30% off on a coupon in our race packet on Sunday and I decided it was time. My current skate skis are used, $50 end of the season REI rental skis, and their purchase was strongly suggested by No1 son, who skied for the Wisconsin Badger team at the time. "Give it a try dad, you'll really like it, you can really fly". And you can really fly if you're a wiry, 20 year old, physically fit college racer. My problem at 225#'s and 55 years old, is that I have a Coupe de Ville body with a 4 cylinder engine under the hood. Still its fun and at times you do feel like you're flying. When I divulged my purchase to BDahlieOfMahtomedi over some fine ales at Grumpy's on Tuesday night, he immediately quizzed me on what I had purchased. He has two daughters that ski so his VISA card is on permanent file at Finn Sisu and his ski gear knowledge is legendary (I actually asked them if I could use his VISA number and they said they liked the idea but didn't think so). I told him I had settled on some Atomics and he immediately quizzed me as to which one of the numerous models I had purchased. When I told him I had no idea whatsoever, he was stunned by my ignorance. When he next asked about the brand of boot I bought, I had to tell him, "the comfortable ones".

I'm kind of schizo when it comes to whether or not I care about brand names. My main goal is function and I really could care less what the name on the gear is as long as it works well. I'm not as logophobic as RangerMark, who dutifully removes the logo stickers from any gear that it can be removed from, but I really could not give a rat's scabby behind whose name is on my gear as long as it performs well. Once I do find a brand that performs well and offers good value though, I tend to stick to it and look there first when I'm in the market for new stuff. Ruger firearms, Filson wool gear, Smart Wool socks and undergarments, and Valley kayaks have served me well over the years and I'll tend to hang with them. In the old days, the car you drove, the cigarettes you smoked, and the beer you drank all tended to be based upon advertising and whether or not the companies were able to steer you toward their brand in the first place. Friends and family were a big influence in that initial steering as well. The Old Man liked Leinenkugels beer and General Motors cars and I'll have to admit that my American made vehicles have been Chevy's and GMC's and that numerous cases of Leinies have graced my fridge over the years.

I think consumers are a little more savvy these days and more interested in performance, especially the folks looking for outdoor gear. People that pay big bucks for a bag that has "Coach" on it, or a pair of impossibly cruel shoes that say "Jimmy Choo" are beyond redemption and always will be. Some tried and true outdoor brands have developed a following and good brand identity but with the internet its much easier for new companies to develop a buzz about their brand and debut new, innovative products that challenge the status quo. Who would have thought that with all the polypropylene, capilene, duratherm, gore-tex, et al, that good old fashioned wool would suddenly be the hot fabric? Yet Icebreaker, Smart Wool and others have mounted a relatively low key marketing effort that has reinvented this venerable, effective,and sustainable fabric and made it just that. Of course curmudgeonly dinosaurs like myself never really got away from wool and view its trendy new image with some bemusement. So go the consumer trends in the 21st century.

Buy new gear, fix up old gear, buy brand names, try the new stuff, heck, go backpacking in those functionally impossible Jimmy Choo shoes if you want to. Just get whats comfortable for you, fits you well, and makes you feel good when you use it. Value is a personal thing and if you feel your gear gives you good value that's whats important.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The City of Lakes Loppet

The SKOAC Renegades completed their first ski race of the season this weekend, with the more ambitious folks skiing the 25k Classic and those of us with perhaps less ambition and more sense doing the 10k tour. The VOR and I missed the start by 13 minutes due to a log jam at the shuttle bus but it was booked as a 'tour' rather than a 'race anyhow. Anytime you have people moving in an organized fashion toward the same end point however, there will be racing. I managed to disable my thumb after crashing into a knucklehead who somehow got turned completely sideways on a small bridge in the golf course segment. I may have uttered a couple of phrases that were incompatible with the outdoor family fun theme of the event but I did get up and keep skiing. The real family fun was the night before, with a few thousand people strapping on the skis and touring the candle lit luminaries on Lake of the Isles, an event (the Luminary Loppet) that we all participated in as well.

The organizers laid out an interesting race course which keeps skiers in the woods for almost the entire race, even though it cuts right through the city of Minneapolis. The woods and park system are a testament to Theodore Wirth, the father of city parks in this country, and the race appropriately began at the park that bears his name. It wound through the park, over I-394, and out on to the city lake chain. After passing a couple hundred people, thumb throbbing, I decided it was time to just enjoy the day and make this a leisurely 10k ski rather than a run for time. The city lakes of Brownie, Cedar, Isles, and Calhoun are where a fair number of our Wednesday night paddles are held. Since I had images from the kayak season, I thought I'd try to capture a few when I was standing on the water rather than floating in it. It was a fun concept to think about and I've included a few solid vs liquid water shots here. The two small bottom shots are from different sides of the two bridges between Isles and Calhoun.

As I skied up Lagoon Ave to the finish line, I saw BDahlie and the IrishPirate. Competitor that he is, Mr Dahlie seemed concerned that I stopped to chat instead of V2-ing like a maniac to the finish line. I did finish eventually and came back and watched the rest of the crew cross the line. Once everyone was in, the Renegades adjourned to Figlio's for Bloody Mary's and other healthful post race refreshments. It was a bit jarring to see all these fit and healthy skiers walking around uptown rather than the usual assortment of characters, but I'm sure the usual characters were thinking exactly the same thing.

It was a fine tuneup for the Mora Vasaloppet, which will be run this weekend. Five of us will be sking the 58k relay and the ambitious RonO will be tackling the 42k Classic. Tomorrow night is the official handing out of the race legs at Grumpy's hotdish night. The shortest is 7k, the longest 15.5k. Lets just say people have NOT been lobbying me to give them the 15.5k leg but I'm sure it will all work out in the end. Our goal, if we ever have a goal, is to top our 7th place finish last year. With more teams entered I'm not holding my breath, but its nice to have goals. The unspoken goal is, of course, to have a good time and I feel strongly that it will be achieved once again.