Friday, March 27, 2009
I've tried to convey my loathing of flying our local hub airline, Northwest, in at least a couple other posts. The Old Man, a WWII veteran of the US Army Air Corps, used to have the motto, "When the tail is red (NWAir's signature paint job), take the train instead". I've tried to do that but when they have direct flights at less cost than the other airlines, its tough to justify changing, especially for business travel. This was a business/pleasure trip to Colorado. Two days of meetings with customers and then up the hill to visit the VOR's sister, the ColoradoKid, and her family to do some telemark skiing on my K2 Totally Piste skis (pictured above).
It started out poorly. Because I had skis, I was forced to check baggage and was a bit startled when I learned that it would cost me $40 for my skis and gear bag. I also learned that when standing in slow moving lines, taking orders from low level uniformed officials, that the VOR really hates it when I makes noises like a sheep bleating. Guys, let me tell you that switching to dying calf noises is not what they have in mind as an alternative to the sheep bleats. We made it to Denver disaster free but my $40 luggage, skis in particular, did not. We landed at the start of a pretty decent blizzard and had to run down to Colorado Springs and then up to Boulder. The very best car for driving in blizzards is, of course, the rental car. There is no need to worry about jumping the frozen slush between lanes,bottoming out or sliding out on the shoulder when in a rental vehicle. We managed to reach Boulder from the Springs in 5 1/2 hours, a drive normally under 2 hours. The photo below is rush hour on Hwy 36 in downtown Boulder. The VOR was only mildy rattled from my rental car blizzard driving job and we checked into the motel, confident the desk clerk would say, "Oh, you're the guy whose skis were dropped off earlier". That was not the case however. I have to admire Northwest for their sheer genius in preventing a customer from speaking to a human being. Their contract courier, Compass was even better. I tried calling them and their toadies, Compass Delivery, a total of six times. Its pretty apparent that Compass Delivery won what must be a massive contract, delivering Northwest baggage screwups, by giving them a rock bottom price. I did finally get a humanoid at Northwest but had no luck at the delivery company. Neither did the person from Northwest. The informative NWA website had the same thing on it that my LIR form (Luggage Irregularity Recipt) had on it. The skis had arrived at 10am on Thursday and were 'out for delivery'. The skis finally arrived at our motel in Boulder 28 hours after they arrived at the airport, 24 hours after NWA said they would arrive, and two hours after checkout time. There was no skiing that day at all.
In the scheme of things this is small potatoes. I still think its miraculous that you can jump on a plane and get from Minneapolis to Denver in two hours. But there are some thing that should be jpretty much automatic. Electricity, (home) phone, cars starting, and your kayak floating are all things that occur successfully 99% of the time. If a person checks in the proper time before takeoff and has a direct flight it would seem pretty simple. I'm at roughly 65% on the times when I need to check bags. Again, not an earth shattering problem but one that tends to aggravate beyond the actual loss. I am sure however, that with the Delta merger and a much larger airline, things will improve immensely. Hahahahahah.....jeez I crack myself up sometimes.
Monday, March 23, 2009
The crew left from the Red Cliff Marina, the most central place to launch in the Apostle Islands National Park, and it was about 22 miles. The typical paddle route is to turn north at the end of the jetty and pass by the wreck of the Fedora near Red Cliff point. Paddlers then head east toward the Oak Island spit and then along the south shore of Oak. Another crossing is needed to get from Oak to Manitou and the Manitou Island Fish Camp. I would imagine the drivers swung around Manitou Rock to avoid the shallow water and thin ice between the rock and the island. The rock probably smells just fine this time of year, unlike the summer when its a roost for gulls and cormorants that don't mind ignoring the adage not to 'foul your own nest'. From there the kayak (or car) has to do another crossing to Otter Island and around the east side of Otter for another crossing to Rocky Island. The Rocky Island spit is one of my favorite sites in the park and I'd love to see what it looked like in the winter. The course then goes up the east shore of Rocky, which is a favorite sailboat anchorage when there is a west wind, and past the newly designated Rocky Island Historic District fishing camps. After rounding the long, narrow point on the north end of Rocky, the route swings to the northwest and Devils is visible, all by itself, about 4 miles away. Or maybe not visible, since we've made this crossing in the fog at least 3 times. There was no fog on the ice however, and the auto expedition arrived at the north end of Devils Island, lighthouse, sea caves, and all.
No one that I've talked to remembers the ice ever being thick and consistent enough to drive to Devils Island, and that includes folks who have lived up there for decades. Everyone I've spoken or corresponded with is also aggravated that no one told them about this trip....including Yours Truly. Seeing the island, trees, beaches, and the sea caves in the winter is a completely different experience from the summer view and the folks that made it out should consider themselves very lucky to have had what would appear to be a once in a lifetime experience. Apparently open water was only about a quarter mile to the north, a fact confirmed by the sat photo from that day. Its too bad that no one informed NOAA because they could have zipped out and fixed the weather station. I wonder if the wilderness regulations will let them use wheeled vehicles to get from the dock up to the lighthouse. It should be interesting to find out later in the spring. For now we're just waiting for the ice to melt or at least break up so we can launch and get our butts back in the kayak seat. Congrats once again to the Devils ice road expedition. I'd credit the photos but I have no idea who took them. I guess thats part of the fun.
Friday, March 20, 2009
No shit, judge? You mean those groups wanted you (the law) to help stop the virus BEFORE it actually spreads to Lake Superior?? There certainly can't be any law in our myriad of local, state, provincal, or national environmental regulations that would give any of the pile of agencies charged with protecting or enforcing water quality standards the authority to deal with this problem, right? Wait a minute.....I seem to recall just a couple instances where the prophylactic approach is used. I get a big fine if the DNR finds a sliver of milfoil on my kayak, paddle, or any other gear when I go from lake to lake. That fine is also imposed if I dump my minnows into a lake that I'm fishing on. If I throw a couple shovels full of dirt into an area of my property that the DNR has decided is a wetland, there are about 10 statutes they can bring to bear on me. On a much broader scale, I think the Department of Homeland Security was created to help prevent people from flying airplanes into buildings rather than to catch and prosecute them after they have done so. No Judge Rosenbaum, I have to think there are all sorts of legal means that could be used to help prevent the spread of VHS into Gitchee Gumee. I'd like to read your 16 page brief on the subject if I could get my hands on it. It seems to me that this concept of the prophylactic approach has all sorts of useful legal precedent.
On the technological front, a reseacher at one of my favorite spots on the lake, Houghton, MI, has come up with what seems to be a cheap and effective approach to sanitizing ballast water. I have a number of friends and relatives who have graduated from Michigan Tech University and I was alerted to this research by that noted MTU grad and protector of the public health, Nan. David Hand of MTU, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is working on a simple and effective way to treat ballast water with household bleach. We homebrewers have known for years that a weak solution of bleach will kill bacteria that can cause off flavors and screw up fermentation in beer, and it would make complete sense that it could do the same with a virus in ballast water. It might even kill a few other nasty organisms that we haven't even identified as a problem yet. The bleach can then be neutralized by a number of compounds, including Vitamin C, before its discharged in port. I'm sure more testing would be needed but it seems like that is already underway with the NPS on Isle Royale (headquartered in Houghton, by the way) and the American Steamship Company, as I had mentioned in a previous post.
I sincerely and feverently hope that something can be done to stop VHS and the other invasives that sneak into the Great Lakes on the average of one every seven months. It will take cooperation between the government, commercial concerns, and the public and it will likely not be cheap, easy, or painless, which seems to be the way the public prefers its solutions these days. Like Professor Hand, I love to fish Isle Royale. I do it from my kayak rather than a power boat because devices with motors generally hate me, but we love to chase the same fish. The Lake Superior northern in the photo is not suffering from VHS but rather a bacterial infection called lympho sarcoma. It appears in cold water and sloughs off in warmer temps. The northern as well as the lake trout in the other photo are great examples of the Lake Superior fishery. I would hope that the 'powers that be' can recognize the importance of this fishery and act to protect it before its too late. We want to keep these species and quality of fish available and healthy for future generations.
P.S. There is an excellent explanation of the whole mess in the Ashland Daily Press
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I think this is my third ice related post of the season and I promise it will be the last. Unless of course, something unusually noteworthy or stupid occurs and I can't help myself. Those of you in warmer climes probably don't understand the fascination that we northerners have with the water when it becomes solid. In addition to cooling your Irish whisky and keeping your beer cold, it can provide a means to catch fish without a boat, cause damage to bodily parts when you fall on it (ankle is about 75% back, thanks for asking), and allow you to go places it would be impossible to reach in the summer. The latter is what popped into my head when I read RangerBob's post about the Madeline Island residents who formed a caravan and drove out to Devils Island last weekend.
It sounded like a great time. Beer and brats on the ice with about 60 participants on a nice sunny day. In contrast to the guys in Ohio who jumped the large crack to get out to fish, this expedition was a bit more carefully planned and executed. These folks have to deal with ice travel as a daily fact of life for about a third of the year and generally have a good feel for it. Right now there is roughly a yard (or meter) of solid ice around most of the Apostles. From Bayfield to the Devils Island light is 22 miles and its roughly the same from LaPointe on Madeline Island. Had I known about this trip I would have most certainly blown off Canoecopia and headed for the park. My hat is off to the organizers of this adventure. I can only hope RangerBob is able to track down some photos from the event. His blog post has some excellent images taken by a Coast Guardsman stationed there in the 1960's.
According to NOAA, the maxium ice cover on Superior this season was on March 3rd. The sat photo of the entire lake was taken on that day. Normally the lake freezes over completely every 20 years but it was frozen pretty much solid in 2003 so we are a bit ahead of that schedule. Maybe some of those wolves on Isle Royale can return to the mainland via the same route they took out there in the 1940's. We even have a back up Coast Guard icebreaker headed our way from its home port in Maine for the start of the shipping season. The Thunder Bay will be joining the other three USCG icebreakers that are working to bust out shipping lanes for the 'opener' the end of this month. You can watch the Alder breaking ice in Duluth Harbor here. Warmer weather and winds from the south and southwest typically move the ice around and help break it up faster. It will be interesting to hear when the ice road to Madeline Island closes this year and the wind sleds come out. Who knows, it could be a record year.
Canoecopia gave me the paddling fever but its still not too late to play on the ice. Like anything outdoors however, a bit of planning, risk analysis, and 'what if' planning is essential. The mud season is upon us down here in the Twin Cities but, as a number of the SKOAC Renegades that are heading north to ski this weekend can attest, winter ain't quite over yet around Lake Superior.
P.S. As a followup to an earlier post, our buddies in Madison are blissfully moving forward with their stringent ballast water regulations. Gov. Jim ".08" Doyle is very proud of the state new permit program. Unfortunately for folks in the Port of Superior, all it likely will do is cause ships to dock in Duluth on the other side of the harbor. Then we have that pesky 'kid pissing in one end of the pool' problem. The one mildly positive item in the article stated that the Obama administration was having the EPA look into the water quality issue. Now maybe if they talk with Canada as well something constructive can be done. In the meantime, fine job Gov. Doyle! You've developed standards that no existing technology can meet and should be able to drive international trade out of Wisconsin's ports when the permit system goes into place.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I have a couple personal Catch 22 stories of government agencies contradicting themselves, with me and a friend of mine acting as the wheat between the millstones of government intransigence and conflicting regulations. Unfortunately, I can't go into them because I need to make sure the statute of limitations have expired. All I can say is that one incident involves elm wood and the other a part time 'wetland'.
Enter the new ballast water regulations. Each state is very different which means that a saltie (ocean going vessel) entering the Great Lakes has to get a fistful of permits before they can even think about it. Some of the state regulations don't even exempt lakers, ships that never leave the Great Lakes. While its true that some species are only in the eastern end of the lake its only a matter of time before they naturally migrate in this direction. If piecemeal regulation like this actually provided any benefits I guess I would be in favor. It is however, like allowing little kids to only piss in the shallow end of the pool; chances are the problem is going to reach the folks in the deep end eventually. I'm not sure if the legislators wanted a gold star from the Sierra Club or just what the thought process was. I'd like to see some sort of effective program to eliminate invasive species as much or maybe more than the next guy. After all, its my playground they are screwing with here!
On a positive and poorly reported note, the NPS is working with a shipping company, the American Steamship Company, to come up with a way to sterilize the ballast tanks of ships from high risk ports. They will use a dye rather than a true biocide for the test and introduce it into ballast tanks at a lower Great Lakes port and then pump them in Superior harbor. The DNR has to approve the test however, no sure thing by any stretch, but its great to see the cooperation between the government and the private stake holders and at least they seem to be addressing the problem. This is how it should work rather than our business as usual adversarial situation. Meanwhile, the shipping season will open later this month and it does not appear that anything will change from last year or from 1959 for that matter, when the St Lawrence Seaway opened. Wonder what the next disastrous plant or animal will be that stows away? I'm sure we'll find out pretty damn quickly. I'm not sure which of these disastrous non native species is my favorite. The sea lamprey has history and its sheer devastation of the commercial fishing industry in its resume' but the zebra mussell is coming on fast, screwing up everything it can affix itself to. Alewives are a dark horse, but my childhood memory of taking the ferry from Ludington, MI to Kewanee, WI as a kid, and sailing through a virtually unbroken raft of dead and stinking alewives along the way make them a sentimental favorite for me. I think the legislators in those 4 states, the federal level, and Canada as well, should get some sort of large, contractually guarenteed bonus for the yeoman's work they did on this issue. After all, thats kind of how it works these days, right?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Our intrepid trio will be heading out around 2pm tomorrow with an ETA at one of Madison's fabled 'fish frys' at approximately 6pm. As late as last week we had all decided that we really didn't need anything but at our trip planning meeting Tuesday night at Grumpy's, that seemed to change a bit. Perhaps we we from giddy the double good fortune of having tater tot hotdish as the hotdish de jour, and seeing Summit Winter Ale reappear on tap handle row. Or maybe it was extreme patriotism and a desire to help jumpstart the economy with some gratuitious consumer spending. In any event, I suddenly recalled that I really needed one of those CLC foam seats since I plan to rip the miserable ABS seat out of the Ore Freighter and replace it. RonO remembered that the Eastern Horizons DVD would have its debut and figured he needed it to complement his This is the Sea collection. The VOR was holding out but I reminded her of a couple of vendors that piqued her interest so we shall see.
One of the main draws of the event is talking with old paddling friends and making new ones. In that vein, a few of us will be adjourning to our traditional Madison happy hour venue, the Crystal Corner, late Saturday afternoon. It features a lovely old horseshoe bar and had been a fixture on that corner since before WW II. It's pretty much a come one, come all event and there is no finer way to wash the kayak dust from your throat and take a load off feet that are aching from tromping the aisles of Canoecopia. If you plan on eating, this is the neighborhood as well, Not a Perkins, TGI Fridays, or sports bar within miles. As I mentioned above, I hope to see some old friends and meet some new ones. Only two days to go!
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
We await yet another storm of the century here in the Twin Cites of Minneapolis and St Paul. The papers, radio, and TV are absolutely breathless about the possibility. We were supposed to get a few inches on Sunday but it hardly managed to even get cloudy. I've had my low slung, two wheel drive VW Passat since 2003 and never once have I had a problem getting around in the numerous "blizzards" that we've had in the past six years. It's supposed to hit this afternoon but I'm not holding my breath. If they track the trails after this 100% certain storm I can get in a bit more skiing..........
.........at Elm Creek Park Reserve. I went over there last night and it was kind of pathetic. The artificial snow is still piled high on the 2.5k loop that they maintain, but the rest of the area is pretty much brown. Its just a ribbon of white snaking through the landscape and there weren't many folks still interested in skiing. Normally if I arrive late I need to use the auxiliary parking but I pulled right up to the building. Even my normally loyal SKOAC Renegade compadre's all seemed to have something to do other than ski last night. I will see a couple of them tonite at Grumpy's, including RonO, as we need to plan our weekend assault on Madison for..........
.......Canoecopia! As much as my brain needs a bit more skiing before it can shift to paddling, the pressure is there to get the boat out. On my way to Elm Creek last night, reveling in the daylight savings time 6pm sunshine, I noticed that the Mississippi River was wide open. I also got an email from GalwayGuy in St Louis, who says he can't pass an open lake without thinking about rolling in it and breaking in the new tuliq. Maybe Canoecopia with its paddle saturated ambiance, including some interaction with the yahoos in the above picture, will switch my mind from snow to open water. Still the official start of the paddle season for me is when the waters of Gitchee Gumee first slosh around the bottom of my boat..............
........and, as you saw from yesterday's post, its gonna be awhile before anyone paddles out to Sand or Oak Island. Still, the NOAA nearshore forecast begins around St Patricks Day again and by that time I'll be fantasizing about blue water, sandy beaches, and getting the tuliq wet. For now, I think I'll just savor the transition.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Last Thursday the NOAA satellite took a bunch of photos of the ice on Lake Superior and AstroBob discovered them and linked them on his blog site. I also attached a Goggle Earth image to help make the scale and locations more apparent. What's very apparent is that winter is far from over on Gitchee Gumee and that there is still a ton, several tons actually, of ice on the lake.
Ice cover is crucial on Gitchee Gumee. In addition to creating that famed ice road from Bayfield to Madeline Island, a substantial cover of ice on the lake slows down evaporation and keeps the lake level higher. Its been pretty low the last couple of years and my guess is that we will gain back a bit of what was lost with a good ice year like this one. The lake rarely freezes over completely and speculation is that when it froze completely in 1940, wolves on the Canadian mainland took the opportunity to stroll out to Isle Royale. The predator/prey relationship between the moose and wolves out there has been studied extensively since 1958 and is the longest running study of a wildlife population in the world. And lets not forget our old buddies the ice fisherman. Click on the map and you can see that the Apostle Islands and Chequamagon Bay are pretty much iced in solid, with 2'-3' of ice in many spots. This is enough ice to support a railroad boxcar. The problem is that the ice tends to crack and move around a lot, a fact thats clearly visible in the image as well. Thats precisely how the guys on Lake Erie got their little ride on the ice flow last month. From the looks of the picture, it would appear a person could paddle off Duluth harbor or along the north shore if they were OK with 32F (oC) water and air temp that is significantly less than that most of the time. The problem is that a steady south wind would push most of those floating pieces of ice right up against the north shore. It would be really good to have a landing spot picked out because if that happened the shore would look kind of like this..........
I think I'll wait until there are just little chunks of ice floating around in the lake. The local lakes and the rivers will have opened up well before Lake Superior and that has satisfied me in past years. Still, when I'm skiing at Spirit Mountain in Duluth and look down at all that open water just off the breakwater that marks the entry to the ship canal, I do get that urge to throw a boat in. Who knows, this might be the year.
Friday, March 6, 2009
I just spent most of the week in Memphis at a conference dedicated to furthering my professional development. When we arrived, the city still had 6” of snow from a weekend storm, the existence of which made most residents feel violated since it had hung around for 3 days rather than melting immediately as it was supposed to. One of the conference activities was a tour of the massive Federal Express central hub, an activity that cost thirty bucks, required a background check, and was eagerly anticipated by several colleagues. I tried to imagine what might be interesting about watching boxes fly around on computer controlled conveyers, being scanned, routed, and processed, but my imagination failed me. A couple other folks were headed for Graceland but apparently they don’t let you see the toilet that Elvis toppled off so I passed on that as well. I finally decided to stroll over to the Sun Records recording studio and conned one of my associates into joining me.
I’ve always been a history nut and that’s what I received my degree in, even though my current job is about as far from history as it possibly could be. Some places are so saturated with history that when I traveled there I could feel it, places like Gettysburg, Winter Palace square in St Petersburg, and the Cabinet War Rooms in London. Sun Records was one of those spots. With a major assist from the blues (Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf recorded there in the early days), this was where rock n roll was born. We took the tour, looked at the old concert posters and memorabilia, watched video clips, and listened to some vintage audio. Then we went down to the studio, a very tiny store front. The big moment at Sun was when a young Elvis Presley strolled in, recorded a song for his mother, and took off into rock n roll history. Johnny Cash recorded there and part of the recent movie, Walk the Line, was set there. Carl Perkins, the only true songwriter in the bunch, was one of the early artists as was the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis. The music was clean and the instrumentation was basic. None of that Phil Spector wall of sound crap, just a guitar, stand up bass, and drums. And a piano of course, when the Killer was in the room. One of the classic pictures was the one of the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’, a December afternoon in 1956 when Carl Perkins, Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Johnny Cash all happened to be in the studio at the same time. They jammed, bs’ed, and generally had a good time. Sam Phillips happened to have the tape rolling and the very unpolished and raw recording is now available on CD.
I got back to the hotel and listened to the wondrous tales of packages, fleets of aircraft, and computer precision that awed the FedX tourists. A number of folks were planning on hitting a couple of the hyped Memphis rib joints but I had a few friends from the area, guys that know my aversion to chain restaurants and ‘tasteful presentation’, tell me that I needed to hit Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. We did and it was great. Dingy, dive type of joint with Styrofoam plates and a plastic spork to eat with, but the spicy fried chicken, beans, slaw, and homemade pies were otherworldly. I left a message for another buddy to meet us there and he picked it up while riding on the trolley. When he told his companions, “Olson wants us to meet him at some crazy dive joint called Gus’s”, the trolley drivers head spun around and he announced, “Now that’s some damn good fried chicken!”. He dropped them off right at the front door.
I guess the food experience as well as the music experience can be either be clean and basic or overproduced. There is certainly a market for both and a number of people at this event had a wonderful time at both the FedX tour and the tourist rib joints. And if I recall, Phil Spector does have a music award or two. But I can’t help wonder if folks would listen, taste, and process the information going to their brains with a bit more care and thought, that we might not be stuck with some of the crap that we are stuck with. In a number of different fields besides food and music as well.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
As I had mentioned in an earlier post, my ankles have been abused for years by sports requiring me to leap into the air and then attempt to land. On three other occasions the treatment was to put a plaster cast on the beat up appendage, the theory being that if you gave the joint time to rest and heal for a few weeks, it would be much better off. On my previous ligament tear, my doc told me that he was casting it because he knew I wouldn't listen to his advice and rest it. He said his goal was to immobilize me. He did show me how to fillet the Y bones out of a northern while his intern was casting the ankle, so I guess I got something positive out of the treatment. It took a good six weeks however, for the ankle to stop feeling like a flat tire with no spring and poor lateral stability. When the cast came off I couldn't even walk on it for an hour; it just felt dead.
Fast forward to 2009. Even though I self diagnosed the injury, I did call the doc so see what the 'current' treatment should be. After all, if it was caused by a small toad or dwarf rather than demonic posession, I needed to know. RICE (rest, ice compression, and elevation) for 72 hours followed by stretching, rotation, picking up batteries with the toes, etc., was the prescription. In other words, work the damn thing to break lesions, increase strenght and flexibility, and get back to normal activities as soon as possible. With all the ankle injuries suffered over the years, it puzzles me why this wasn't researched about the time Jim Thorpe was winning the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. But it sounded good to me so I painfully yanked on my skate boots Saturday and headed for the ski trail.
I went a nice, slow 8 kilometers with a little up and a little downhill. I iced the ankle in the parking lot and washed down two Ibuprofen with two Sierra Nevada Pale Ales. Suprisingly, it felt pretty good; good enough so when I got a call from the GraciousPartier, informing me that the Vasaloppet trails had been groomed and were immaculate, I immediately began laying the groundwork with the VOR for a Sunday day trip north. It was a sunny 10F (-12C) and the interconnected loops allowed me to go as far as I wanted to, which turned out to be around 13-14k. The VOR and I did a nice loop on the Beaver Dam trail, met her brother and nephew out making wood, and returned to the camp to find TheLegend and a couple friends enjoying some adult beverage and snacks. The VOR called the GraciousPartier and she was at the camp in about 15 minutes with beverage resupply. This was a real feat since she was about a half hour away, but she does hate missing a party and was anxious to make up for lost time.
I guess there is no real moral to this story since this particular injury treatment is likely the only one that has changed or will change in the near future. All I know is that instead of limping around with a cast for three weeks and then hobbling around with a 'flat tire' ankle for another three weeks, it feels pretty damn good. Its still stiff, slightly swollen, and multi colored but I feel likel I'm a month ahead of the other incidents. I may get some more skiing in yet!