Monday, August 31, 2009

The lake from above

Last weekend the VoiceOfReason's youngest brother, BeepBeep, was married on the shores of, you guessed it, Lake Superior. Even though he and his bride are from Colorado he was drawn back to Gitchee Gumee like so many of us are. The wedding was at the top of Moose Mountain at the Lutsen ski resort on the north shore of Minnesota. It was a first for many because we had to travel to the wedding and reception via four person gondola cars rather than the usual modes of transportation. It was also the first time in a long time that we kayakers had viewed the lake from a vantage point high above it rather than having our butts in our kayak seats, watching from 36" above its surface.

It was a very nice outdoor wedding and the weather cooperated quite nicely despite the forecast. The 30 knot north winds with the accompanying 6-8'waves and scattered showers didn't quite materialize and we actually got a paddle in before the ceremony at Grand Marais on Saturday morning. My paddling companion was JeremiahJohnstone, who had taken a break from chopping down invasive species in Canyon de Chelly National Monument to watch her brother get hitched. As I mentioned, we had some swells, chop, and maybe a 2 footer now and then but surfing the 6-8 footers was not in the cards Saturday morning. It was that on the water perspective that made looking at the same location from the lodge on top of Moose Mountain all that much more impressive.

We all took the gondola up to the top of the mountain, four at a time, and the wedding went off without a hitch. The skies even cooperated by clearing nicely at the end of the ceremony to coincide with the Beatles Here Comes the Sun playing on the sound system. Good food, an adult beverage or three, and some fine dance tunes made for a great night. The skies had cleared and the half moon rose over Lake Superior and at any one time there were a dozen people out on the deck gazing at the lake. At one point in the evening I was grabbed by TheMayor, who I believe had talked to everyone at the wedding at least 5 times by then. She dragged me out to the deck and told a couple from Kansas City, "This guy can tell you what those lights are" and headed back to the dance floor. I had my little 6x monocular in the camera bag and I'll be damned if we couldn't see the Devils and Outer Island lights from our vantage point, roughly 45 miles away. The red light on Devils is unmistakable. We could also see Grand Marais harbor, the little populated point, in the image at the top of the page.

On the way home we continued our elevated view of the lake theme and drove up to Palisade Head. From there we could see a number of the Apostles but other than Oak, the unique shape of Bear, and Sand it was tough to tell which was which. Next time I'll be smart enough to bring map and compass so we can take some bearings. This trip we were content to just 'hit the high points' on Lake Superior and next weekend will have our butts back in the water at lake level.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lead Banana Inc., LLC

RonO experienced a trying weekend up in the Apostles a couple days back. There was an inadvertent stabbing, not one but two broken paddles, a broken finger, seasickness, and an unconscionable amount of towing, an estimated 12 miles worth. Even so it was worth the trip because he retrieved our latest collective boat purchase, a Valley Aleut II tandem, the legendary Lead Banana.

If you will recall in an earlier post, RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef upgraded to exactly the same boat in the carbon fiber/kevlar layup. The upgrade was prompted by both the realization that they weren't getting any younger or stronger, and fact that the Aleut attacked a side mirror on the car when they were loading it up last year. They really love the boat. I christened the craft the Lead Banana after paddling with it on at least 8 fall trips over the past few years. The lowlight of any launch or landing always seemed to be getting the Banana into or out of the water, an effort that would be much easier with a pallbearer sized crew of eight. On the upside, its probably the most rough water worthy double made, and it holds a tremendous amount of gear. A double is always good on a trip because then you have a fall back if someone becomes injured or sick. They can be stuffed into in the front seat, which makes for a much easier tow assist if one person is actually paddling. It also has room for the 14" dutch oven, a vessel that addresses both quantity and quality when cooking outdoors.

After being denied in our racing attempt at Two Harbors a couple weeks back, we decided that a paddle around the Split Rock light with a take out at Silver Bay would be just the perfect alternative to racing. We managed to find some South Shore Nut Brown Ale on tap at the Cove Point Lodge and began to break down the weekend. I suggested that someone was going to get a hell of a deal when they bought the Lead Banana and the ManFromSnowyLegs suggested that SKOAC purchase the boat. RonO reminded him that the club basically has no money so that would be difficult at best. The MFSL then blurted out that the four of us should buy it. After five seconds of serious reflection, RonO, BDahlieOfMahtomedi, and I said hell yes, lets do it. I realize that many of you believe that no decision of this nature should be made without at least one female present (can you say Voice Of Reason?), but I think we did fine. Cash was anted up and the Lead Banana Corp was formed with 4 equal shares, right of first refusal for the other shareholders if someone wants out, and a solemn promise to carry the extra gear and beer supply on any and all trips.

This weekend the VOR's youngest brother, BeepBeep, will get married up at Lutsen. The Lead Banana will be on hand to introduce folks, especially the Colorado visitors, to Lake Superior. Even with their 'divorce boat' reputation,we feel that a double will be a nice addition to the respective fleets. After all, it worked for RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef all these years and they even got another one. Should be a piece of cake for we veteran paddlers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Mother Ship

A weekend visit to my sister and bro in law's cabin in Wisconsin's lake country would not be complete without a sunset cocktail cruise on the early '60 vintage homemade houseboat, the Windsor Castle. It was not named for the British royal family but rather the light Canadian whiskey that was named for the British royal family. Its an appropriate name given that the signature drink on the vessel for most people except me, is an Island Laker, a concoction involving Windsor, Coke, and a splash of cherry juice.

The Windsor Castle was built on the lake and has not left the lake since it was launched. UncleRick,my bro in law, bought it from its original owner and builder, Pete, a few years back. One of the reasons it hasn't left the lake is that its weight, according to a displacement test done by a qualified engineering graduate of Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI, is just under 10,000#'s. Five tons of fun. It is an extremely versatile and useful craft. In addition to a fine patio section on the bow for cocktailing, it has a refrigerator, sleeping quarters, and a ladder to the roof for additional seating and/or jumping off into the lake. I know that jumping off high places into a body of water is an activity frowned upon my certain elements of the NPS in a river unit near me, but if done safely it is indeed a cheap thrill. At any time you might see attractive women on the roof, the Queen of Island Lake on her throne, a subservient dock boy offering Her Majesty toilet facilities, or even Captain Dick manning the helm. What we had not seen up until this weekend was the Windsor Castle used as a kayaking mother ship.

After a long bike ride, the decision was made to cool off externally and internally with some swimming and either Bells Oberon or Surly Bitter Brewer. I really wanted to paddle a bit more but the lure of jumping off the roof of the Castle after a couple of beers was just too inviting. Then the light bulb came on in UncleRicks head and he suggested that we just set the Q boat on the Windsor Castle and launch out in the lake. Dilemma solved! A beer or two, soaking up essential Vitamin D from their sun, some rolling practice, and a visit by the neighbors in the pontoon boat made for a perfect northern Wisconsin afternoon. I explained the mother ship concept to UncleRick, where they charge big bucks in British Columbia and Alaska to take kayakers out, but he felt that Glacier Bay might be a bit more inviting and command a slightly higher price than the Island Lake chain. I had to agree but it was still an exceptional summer afternoon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Time for a plan

This is the first weekend in I can't remember how long when I woke up in my own bed and we're not paddling somewhere. But don't worry folks, in about an hour we're leaving for my sister and bro in law's cabin over in northwestern Wisconsin, kayaks and bikes strapped on the trusty VW wagon. This unaccustomed home life gives me a chance to enjoy a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading. One of the things I need to read, study actually, showed up in the mail yesterday. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Draft General Management Plan - Wilderness Management Plan - Environmental Impact Statement is now plopped in a prominent spot next to the LazyBoy for some serious study.

I've just skimmed the document so far but it would appear that four alternative plans are being proposed, with plan #2 being the 'preferred plan'. You can read all about them here. Public comment is open until October 23 and there will be public hearings around the area including Bayfield, Red Cliff, Superior, the Twin Cities, and Madison. I'm glad that I'm on the public comment end rather than the policy formulation end. My guess is that every advocacy group in the area will be crawling out of the woodwork. The Cigarette Boat Racing Association will be battling with the Wilderness Society, the ADA activists will want elevator shafts cobbled on to the lighthouses, sustainability advocates will want the entire park operation conveted to solar-wind-granola power, and I'm sure we kayakers will be able to come up with an off the wall idea or two as well. And its not just the public, its the Feds themselves, with their dizzying maze of often conflicting acts and regulations. The Wilderness Act, NPS Management Policies, The Organic Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, Invasive Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act...........OK, I'll stop now.......all need to be taken into account. It will be a very interesting and likely contentious process.

Right now my requests are modest. A couple of picnic tables at York, an outhouse at Lighthouse Bay, and self service underwater beer vending stations near each island campsite. As I read the document I'm sure I'll come up with a couple more. It will be an interesting process and I hope that there is productive commentary. The old saying, 'if you enjoy law and sausage, its best not to watch how either is made' might apply here but I trust, like sausage and at least a couple of laws, that the result will be a good one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Busted flat in Baton, Calumet

Fridays drive up to Copper Harbor involved a stop at the Michigan House Cafe & Brewpub for lunch and an attempt to drink a glass of their beer. Its a great joint in a stone building built during the copper boom of the 1890's, and the mural above is over the antique bar. I've stopped there a number of times but the brew house is so small that they always seemed to be out of their own beer when I was there. Being a goal oriented individual, I've managed to hit all 8 brewpubs/microbreweries in Michigan's UP. What I had not done was have a house brewed beer at all of them. Fortunately, this time the Michigan House was out of their pale ale but had their stout on tap. Mission accomplished! I was so excited about the beer and home cut french fries however, that I forgot to plug the parking meter. When we walked out both cars had bright yellow tickets under the windshield wipers.

In Minneapolis that means major bucks and I cringed a bit. The meter rate in a lot of areas is $1.50 an hour and if the meter expires its a $34 fine. The enforce the damn things until 10pm in most of the areas that you want to park in and I even got a ticket at 7pm on a Sunday night in a Park Board area. The spot I had parked in was near the University so I could have received my ticket from the university cops, the City of Minneapolis, the Park Police, and probably the sheriff, State Patrol, FBI, and Secret Service as well. With all those agencies to support, no wonder the fine is $34. We got to our cars and checked out the 'damages' on the ticket. Note the fine schedule below:

Three bucks! Now that's reasonable. We never even noticed the meters, which were tucked back against the buildings. That makes complete sense in an area that gets 300" of snow a year and needs to quickly and efficiently clear the sidewalks. The parking rate in downtown Calumet is 5 cents per half hour. One dime to park for a nice beer and sandwich at the brewpub. Since it was about 1pm and we wanted to hit the water, we tossed the tickets in our respective glove compartments and headed for the put in at Copper Harbor.

Fast forward to Sunday. We were driving back when I remembered the ticket. We looked for the Police Department but then noticed that the ticket could be inserted into a convenient Fine-O-Meter, in various locations. GalwayGuy jumped out at the first available Fine-O-Meter and we were on our way, free of any possible parking warrants that might be issued by the Village of Calumet. Just another of many reasons why the Keweenaw Peninsula is on the short list of my favorite places to visit.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Keweenaw Adventure (Company)

This weekend found us paddling in the Keweenaw for the second time this year. GalwayGuy is heading back to grad school in St Louis and this was his last weekend for a Lake Superior fix and some extended rolling. The VOR loves the area and some friends that we had met at the Grand Marais Symposium a couple years back, long distance SKOAC members from Lac du Flambeau, WI, wanted to head up there as well with someone who knew the area. The male half of this pair, SilenceOfTheLambchop, has earned his blog name well. On a club trip last year, he reached into the bottomless hatch of his CD Titan and pulled out a whole lamb for grilling and dining pleasure. On this trip, I looked at the mountain of lamb chops he had brought and wondered how the hell we were going to eat them all. Until I ate the first one, that is. We drove to the home of he and his spinner/weaver/paddler spouse, the CurrituckQueen, and set off bright and early Friday morning for Copper Harbor.

As I've said in previous posts, the Keweenaw is a great place to paddle, visit, and just hang out. No matter what the wind and waves are doing there is always some place to paddle, whether it be the north or south shore of Lake Superior (about a 30 minute drive apart) or inland Lake Fanny Hooe or Medora. The mountain and road biking is fabulous and a couple of bars only have Keweenaw Brewing and Bell's products on tap; no light beer! Its a little slice of heaven but you have to really want to go there since Copper Harbor is literally at the end of the road.

One of the guys that has worked tirelessly to promote the area and its people powered sports in all seasons is Sam Raymond, the owner of the Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor. I've run into Sam over the years at Canoecopia, Midwest Mountaineering's Expo's, and at his shop on the main drag of Copper Harbor. The sign in the photo pretty much sums it up. It doesn't mention the best glade skiing this side of Colorado at Mt Bohemia or the new cross country trails at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge just up the hill, but give it time. I always need to hit the shop for up to date info, those essential pieces of gear that I managed to forget, and general questions and BS. This year a T-shirt and mountain bike sticker destined for Portland,and an emergency KAC pint beer glass which was put into service about 45 seconds after leaving the shop, were the needed swag. Be sure to stop in when you make it up to Copper Harbor.
Gitchee Gumee graciously allowed us to explore the rocky northern shore and the forecast northeast wind for Saturday was predictably from dead west. This afforded us a nice leisurely paddle from Eagle Harbor to Agate Harbor. GG wore his tuliq most of the way and stopped for rolling every few minutes. We all hauled out at Agate Harbor for lunch and I decided to paddle the rest of the 8 miles back to Copper Harbor while the rest of the crew explored the fingers of Agate Harbor. It was a fine afternoon with some impromptu cliff jumping into the lake, one of my favorite activities, and the kind of relaxing evening that rewards a day of hard paddling. It gets tougher and tougher to come back.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Two Harbors Kayak Festival

After supporting the Point to LaPointe Open Water Swim last weekend, and testing the quality of the South Shore Nut Brown Ale and Whitefish basket at Mortys, RonO, the ManFromSnowyLegs, and I headed for the Two Harbors Kayak Festival. We had received a report from PeggyO (I'm working on a blog name, be patient) that the race, which was scheduled for Saturday morning, had been postponed until Sunday. We had high hopes of perhaps racing in the Betty's Pies 5 miler but it was not to be.

It was a confusing weekend to begin with. Normally in our tidy little world, the first weekend of August is the Two Harbors event and the second Saturday is the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival in Madison, WI. Knowing this well ahead of time caused the womyn to reserve the group site on Oak Island for their event back in January and we guys were salivating over the prospect of setting up our folding chairs next to the Real Ale tent at the beer fest and not moving until we were both satiated and saturated. The Two Harbors folks however, decided that their event was the first full weekend in August and Friday was 31 July. This caused the beer festival, the kayak festival, and the womyn's weekend to all fall on the same date. Our agonizing was ended when the Madison connection failed to get tickets for the beer fest. 5,000 tickets go on sale May 1st and are gone in approximately 3 hours. A person needs to line up at roughly 6am at one of the 5 outlets (mostly bars) for when the tickets go on sale at 10am. There is an email lottery for about 1500 tickets but that's a real crap shoot. Last year tickets were spotted on EBay and CraigsList for $150-$200. Even I can't drink that much beer! The WoodFondlingBarrister had asked me to safety boat and I figured to hell with Two Harbors if they wanted to throw us a curve on the dates. RonO and MFSL thought that supporting the swim sounded cool and off we went.

The race was cancelled on Friday night in light of the NOAA prediction of those 20-25 knot NE winds with waves 3'-5'. The organizers must have not realized that National Weather Service accuracy this year in local Lake Superior forecasts is roughly the same as a Major League Baseball lead off hitter, right around .318. We were happy because we thought we had the option of racing Sunday but BDahlieOfMahtomedi, who had arrived that afternoon as well, told us they would not take his $40 and had told him registration was closed. It normally closed the day before the race (Friday) but we figured that since it was still 'the day before the race' we were good. It was not to be. Instead we watched MrEngineerGear, PeggyO, my friend Pat from Thunder Bay, and a few other acquaintances get ready to race. The wind and waves were cooperative but it was so foggy that it made it tough to see 400 yards. This caused the race to be modified to hug the shore rather than cross the bay to the point, and also caused both the 5 mile and the 18 mile to be shortened a bit. In the end it came off and everyone did well.

Our entourage on the other hand, had a large breakfast at Betty's Pies and then paddled from Split Rock River up to Silver Bay Marina. This is a very scenic paddle past the Split Rock Lighthouse, Gold Point, and over the wreck of the Maderia, sunk in the legendary storm of 1905. There are precious few places to land and a weather eye is needed for this nine mile trip. Last Sunday GitcheeGumee gave us a lovely swell and a tailwind, and we played around in some rock gardens, gawked at the tourists at the lighthouse, and then capped the paddle off with beer and appetizers at Cove Point Pub. We were far from disappointed in not racing and actually hatched an idea to collectively purchase a boat over beers. More on that in another post. Even though the weekend began in mild confusion and disarray, everything, as usual, turned out just fine.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Honchos in the Apostles

As the story goes, Martin Hanson, the great northern Wisconsin conservationist, raconteur, and Progressive Democrat, helped orchestrate President Kennedy's trip to the Apostles in 1963. Sen.Gaylord Nelson, for whom the wilderness area is named, talked Kennedy into visiting the area in hopes of gaining national park status. Apparently Martin got in touch with every marina owner in the area and told them to kick the sailboat owners in the ass and get them out on the water when Kennedy, an avid sailor, flew over the area. It must have helped because we now enjoy the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Last Saturday high level national political attention returned. While a bunch of us were paddling for Madeline Island, herding swimmers, the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, and the House Appropriations Committe Chairman, Wisconsin Congressman Dave Obey were beginning a tour of the park.

The VoiceOfReason and the MayorOfTurtleRiver encountered the entourage at park HQ in Bayfield while picking up their permits. Predicatably, the exhibits in the small museum held more interest for them than the talking heads in the auditorium. That was probably a good thing because if the Mayor had struck up a conversation it could have severely delayed the start of the politico's tour. This was also the start of the 3rd Annual Womyn's (no men)Weekend Trip and they were on their way to meet MadCityMary at Red Cliff for the crossing to Oak Island, the first prong of a three wave female assault on the Oak spit. From reports in the Ashland Daily Press it sounds as though things went well on the tour. They hit the Raspberry Island light,Sand Island, the mainland sea caves, and the stunningly beautiful Julian Bay on Stockton. Park Super Bob Krumenaker wisely prepared a few different itineraries, being well aware that the Lake is the Boss. The forecast, which turned out to be slightly off (!) called for 20-25 knot northeast winds with waves 3-5'. What actually showed up at 6am was mild temps and a light breeze out of the NNE, perfect weather for the Point to LaPointe swim, wild Womyn, and politicians. My guess is that having the Interior Secretary and Congressman Obey heaving over the side of a park service boat might not have given them the best impression of the park. I had that happen to me during a UWEC geology Stockton Island field trip in 1975, where the perfect storm of large waves, a small boat, and a quart of blackberry brandy led me directly to the rail for most of the crossing back to Bayfield. It's no fun ladies and gentlemen. I guess the only thing I questioned about the report in the paper, as a militant omnivore, was the choice of hummus and veggie sandwiches for lunch. In an effort to promote local industry I think I would have offered a venison sausage sandwich from Jim's Meat Market in Iron River and a choice of either South Shore Brown Ale from the brewery in Ashland or some mead from the White River Winery in Iron River. I would have been honored to donate some venison beer sticks had I known, and Superintendent K could have used those savory and tangy treats to illustrate and educate Secretary Salazar on the deer predation problems for the Canadian Yew on York and Sand Islands. Check out the guilty looking Sand Island Yew killer below.

Its great to get some national recoginition for the park and also some greenbacks. It sounds like Congressman Obey has managed to secure $5 million bucks for lighthouse restoration as well. That is wonderful because they just ain't making lighthouses any more and we need to preserve the ones we have. The light on Outer, which takes a real effort to visit via kayak, seems close to falling into the lake because of the shore erosion. One would hope that the staffing, infrastructure, and lighthouse issues will benefit from the trip. The park is on my short list of things I don't mind spending my Federal tax dollars on and I can't help but think that people who have visited the area, including even politicians, feel the same.

UPDATE/NEWS FLASH: Apparently the Daily Press reporter must have received or saw someone receive a hummus and veggie sandwich. I just learned from one of the occupants of the three boat convoy that everyone got to pick their sandwich. This would make complete sense since Secretary Salazar is as rancher out in Colorado and, I would assume, a guy who has more than a passing acquaintance with a rare roast beef sandwich. I still like the idea of venison sausage and South Shore Brown Ale but a horseradish roast beef and swiss is much more soothing to my psyche than the idea of a bunch of guys eating hummus on Stockton Island.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Open water swimming

I read the article on kayakers supporting open water swims in February's Sea Kayaker magazine with a certain amount of disinterest. I hadn't heard much about open water swims in our area and didn't feel that things like the rip tide off Alcatraz, giant tankers, and sharks would concern me too much in the Lake Superior basin. Thing changed when the WoodFondlingBarrister asked me to be his personal kayak support person in the 4th Annual Point to LaPointe open water swim, a 2 mile race to Madeline Island from Bayfield, WI, on frigid Lake Superior. As a man who enjoys abusing his aging carcass with things like ski marathons and bike races that are way too long, his scheme did not surprise me in the least. Also, due to a series of screw ups, I had nothing going for the weekend. When I mentioned the event to RonO and the ManFromSnowyLegs they thought it sounded like fun as well and northward we went.
I don't voluntarily get up at 5am unless I'm attempting to put venison on the table but there I was, frying sausage for the crew. Both the swimmers and kayakers received their briefings at 6:30 and the 200 swimmers (including the character left) set off for Madeline Island. The forecast 20mph NE winds with waves 3'-5' was dead wrong once again, much to our complete surprise (!) and we had a light north breeze with some chop. The community swim began 10 minutes later and the WFB was chomping at the bit to let the personal physical abuse begin. All the swimmers wore skull caps of a color not found in nature with numbers to keep track of them. You can watch the start of the race here. It became apparent early that the WFB listed to the left when he swam and my main job became keeping him aimed toward the island and shielding him from the chop with the Q boat. That and feeding him what I can only assume were illegal steroids of some sort in small foil packets. I can't help believe that 'gel packets' of that nature are completely illegal and I feel bad about being an enabler. The swim went well and as we neared the finish line I began to get nervous. The WFB has been involved in several legal actions on the island and I feared a crowd on the bank with torches and pitchforks if word of his participation reaqched LaPointe. When I heard them announcing the names of the finishers on the PA as they crossed the line, I braced for the fusillade of bullets that was sure to come. Thankfully word must have not gotten out and the WoodFondlingBarrister finished in under two hours. The winner crossed in a blistering 43 minutes.

It was a surpisingly enjoyable event. Besides RonO and the MFSL, a number of other friends showed, including RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef (our Friday night hosts), Pod and the GurneyGranny (seen modeling the kayakers T-shirt), and a half dozen other paddling notables from around the area. The only glitch in the day was that by the time we got in line for breakfast it was gone. We were told our coupon would be honored at The Pub in LaPointe......which of course was not open. Pod reminded us that we were on the island where the rythmn's of life are a bit different so we paddled back to the old standby, Morty's in Bayfield. We all agreed that we would most definitely do the event again and there were even some ill advised statements by the MFSL that he would be interested in swimming next year. I think I'd probably bring the Ore Freighter, my Aquanaut HV, next time. The speed and nimble traits of the Q boat are kind of negated when there is a large barrister hanging from the back toggle, gulping steroid goo. I had my two piece Greenland stick on my front deck and warned him that if he became panicked, unruly, or flew into a steroid rage, I'd need to club him unconscious with the paddle and drag him to shore like a seal. I'll probably also rig some sort of container for coffee and doughnuts since one or two mph really doesn't requre much intense focus.

This was a multitasking weekend so we saddled up and headed over to Two Harbors for the Kayak Festival and race. We had gotten word that the race had been postponed until Sunday. Apparently the organizers had actually believed the NOAA forecast and called it on Friday night. Needless to say, there turned out to be no racing for us, but thats another post. It was another good weekend in the Apostles as the summer begins to wind down and I think we may have yet another annual event on the calendar.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The 'second shift' arrives and tent angst

We parted ways with the SKOAC Renegades on Sunday afternoon after lunching at the Sand Island dock. We then headed over to York to await the arrival of the 'second shift' on our permit, the crew from Des Moines and Omaha, guys that the VOR and friends had met while windbound on Sand Island during last years Womyn's (no men) Trip. KayakPoloBret, BillyMitchellSteve, and PaddlinJK showed up right around happy hour and we began to fortify ourselves for the trip to Devil's in the morning.

Monday dawned with a northeast breeze, 180 degrees opposite of the forecast southwest wind. Imagine that in the Apostles! We met the other two members of the group, DrBackCracker and ProfessorLichen, about a mile off York Island in a perfectly timed though haphazardly planned mid lake rendezvous. Lunch on Bear and then the short crossing to Devils made for a nice long paddle day. Five of us unloaded at the Devils campsite in preparation to head to the sea caves while Doc and the Professor waited. They were scheduled for South Twin that night. We had a great time in the caves as usual. I always take vicarious pleasure in watching other folks enjoy the caves for the first time and this was no exception. The beauty of the caves, the fabulous sound track of the waves bouncing around inside, and the effort it took to get there make the Devil's Island caves one of the most satisfying locations in the park. We landed, wandered up to the lighhouse and found Heidi, a 12 year volunteer we'd met before, and a Coast Guard crew replacing the light. It looked a bit more complicated than screwing in a light bulb but they had it well under control. We also had a lesson in unique lichens on the island from ProfLichen, an expert in the field. The wind was swinging to the northwest as predicted and the whitcaps were beginning to build as we decided to head back down the east side of the island rather than circumnavigating. Our lighthouse keeper, Heidi, suggested that might be a good plan. We arrived at camp around 5;30 and Doc and ProfLichen prepared to head for South Twin. We all lobbied them to stay with us since they already had 16 miles under their belts (none of us are college age guys), they were tired, it was late, the lake was kicking up, and we had the seven people permitted for the camp. There was one problem however. Too many tents.

The reason that they had not stayed with the five of us in the first place was the three tent limit per site. The rule was implemented to minimize impact on the campsites and general wear and tear on the areas. There are a couple problems however. I don't know of any kayakers that have a three or four person tent. As we all know, the tent manufacturers capacities are optimistic or based on camping trips made up entirely of jockeys. As we all know, a 4 person is really a two person plus gear. The human social factor is another issue. The odd number of seven folks per site would seem to require a couple of two person tents and a three person if you really wanted the full seven people. The three person tent concept is very problematic. If my sweetie and I are in the tent, listening to the waves lapping on the shore, I sure as hell don't want a third person of either gender in there. As far as three guys, the auditory and olfactory impact might be more than a man could bear. I visited the Soviet Union in 1976 and six of us guys were stuffed in a tiny triple bunk sleeper on a Russian train with barely room to move. We had gone to bed around 3am after sharing vodka, various pickled vegetables, and black bread with some Russian students. We had introduced them to the Cold War thawing wonder of Jack Daniels and I don't think any of us were feeling any pain. We overslept for breakfast of course, and one of our fellow travelers, a sweet young lady, was sent down to the sleeper to roust us. She politely knocked, slid open the door and began to say, "Guys its break....." before she was wracked by a fit of gagging, choking, and near retching. "How can you guys even breathe in there?" was her comment as she scurried away. I guess we had just become used to it. The other issue with three guys in a tent are comments like, 'was Bill's beard scratchy for you last night?'. Not that theres anything wrong with that. I will not comment on three women in a tent, thank you, no frame of reference whatsoever.

We did persuade the guys to stay, even though one of the crew works for the DNR in another state and thought it hypocritical to break a rule when his agency would insist on people respecting their rules. I suggested that looking at the scenario described above, tired, long day, waves builidng, and a two hour hump, it could officially be construed as a safety issue and that I considered them to be weather bound. The lake, as we know, is the boss and it was most definitley building and did so thoughout the night. Getting back to the tents, most folks have the very small single person backpacking tents which have a footprint very similar to a coffin. Mine even feels like a coffin and I've taken to sleeping in it with my hands folded across my chest. Perhaps a modification of the rule might be however many tents fit in the tent pad or tent area. Or dropping the number in a party to six. A party could have two big honkin' Walmart wall tents that would crush more vegetation than Paul Bunyan's boot while 4 or 5 small singles might take up considerably less space and have less impact. We all should know to pitch tents on the sand or hard areas and avoid the fragile beach grass and other vegetation. Just a few things to ponder.

All turned out well on Devil's that night, with an extra tent or two, and that forecast NW wind building to harass the VOR and I on our 14 mile slog back to Little Sand Bay. The group from Iowa and Nebraska continued on, now with the legal number of tents, and are coming off the water today. After 12 miles of headwind and 1-3' seas, the VOR and I were whipped by the time we got to the York spit and had lunch and a power nap. We AARP eligible paddlers felt better though, when a group of college students stopped and said they weren't going any further after paddling 6 miles from the Oak dock. We cruised into Little Sand Bay and made a beeline for Mortys Pub where we were discovered by Chris from Boreal Shores Kayaking. I guess we've become predictable or maybe just traditional. Morty's is always great and two local staples, South Shore Brown Ale and fresh Lake Superior Whitefish are a fitting as well as traditional end to a paddle trip in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fun bound

Our long weekend in the Apostles began with a night crossing. While I kind of enjoy a night crossing if the conditions allow one, the setting up camp in the dark aspect is not quite as enjoyable. When we looked at the next day's weather forecast however, it became apparent that getting out to Lighthouse Bay on Sand Island would be considerably easier before the weather blew up. It was a wise decision.

None of the group arose at the crack of dawn after arriving at 11pm and it was howling pretty good when we all got up. The decision of whether to go or stay was debated and postponed even though the BessemerConvivialist pointed out that if we could see the the whitecaps almost to the Minnesota shore that there was likely some pretty big water out there. The one thing that we all did agree on was that it was the perfect opportunity to work on our surfing skills. My Ore Freighter, the Aquanaut HV, doesn't surf as well as the Q boat but it was still great fun. The BC took out her new Cetus and RonO and LoneRangerRob were in their Nordkapps. BDahlieOfMahtomedi rounded out the group in his Impex Force4. We all got some great rides, most of us went over (some on purpose) and we were all fairly tired out by about 11am. Since we only had a short paddle to York we were still undecided on whether to go or stay. The VOR and LRR took a hike up to the Sand Island Light to see what everyone else on the island was doing but when I heard the pop and hiss of a Heineken can being opened that seemed to be the deciding vote that we were going to stay. The intrepid hikers returned from the lighthouse and informed us that the waves hitting the ledge by the light were sending spray 30' to 40' in the air and no one was going anywhere. Since we had been out paddling in the stuff already we really couldn't claim to be windbound so between the surfing, hiking, basking on rocks, and beers with lunch, we decided that we were funbound.

Once again the lake proved to be the boss and in more dramatic fashion than even the big waves she showed us. When we set up Friday night, our boats in the photo above were pulled up on the sand and we could easily walk around the back of them. By morning, the large berm that had been built up by the northeasters had been eroded by the northwest wind up to the day hatches on our boats. Gitchee Gumee has some interesting and unexpected tricks up her sleeve (including some fantastic sunsets), which is why no two trips to the same spot are ever alike. Which is just the way I like it.