One of the most succinct comments/questions posed as this massive storm plowed through the Great Lakes area was posed by Alec BP, noted Chicago area paddler. 'With a record low pressure system working its way across the upper Midwest, which got stirred up more, the Great Lakes or the Great Lakes paddlers'? I would have to say it was a push, given the articles, blogs, Spacebook posts, and general buzz wherever paddlers get together. I know I've contributed to the din with a number of links, emails, and now a second post on the subject. Te buzz is only natural given the infrequent occurrence of a really big storm with really big waves. A big part of the attraction is the feeling of insignificance as we watch the waves crash and the trees blow over. The other factor of course, is the little voice in all of our heads saying, 'I can handle that....wait, maybe not.....oh heck yeah that would be fun'. It does sound like lots of surfing has taken place, especially the Michigan side of Lake Michigan and I'm just waiting to hear more about it.
The image at the top of the blog was shot by Bryan Hansel, a photographer,blogger, expedition paddler, and guide in Grand Marais, MN. The 'calm' image is one that I shot in July. I don't think anyone was walking out to the lighthouse on Tuesday or Wednesday. In fact it takes a close look to see that there even is a breakwater in Bryan's shot. For more of Bryans storm images, you can look here. Or on MPR's Updraft blog, the Duluth News Tribune, and various news stations around the area. Nicely done sir!
This blog preaches paddle safety, thinking ahead, and having the courage to 'abort the mission' when conditions warrant. That being said, there are those times when a person is stuck in the middle of it and all that can be done is to hang on, wait things out, and remember your training. One of the best descriptions of such an event is by Jack Gordon in a piece called "Milksop Nation" for which he won the Economist's Shell writing prize in 2002. The essay has to to with the flawed theory that we need to give up freedom to help insure safety, but the conclusion speaks to the power and memorable nature of storms, in this case on Lake Superior:
"Safety is a fine thing, but as an obsession it rots the soul. If I should live to be ninety, and I am called upon to attest to the other nursing-home residents that my life was about something racier than guessing right on the butter vs. margarine conundrum, I will speak of that thunderstorm on Lake Superior. I'll describe the touch-and-go struggle to keep the boat pointed just enough off the wind to maintain headway, and the jackhammer pounding of a madly luffing mainsail trying to spill a 75-knot gale. I'll talk about the way we huddled in the cockpit with our eyes rigidly forward because looking aft would mean another lightning-illuminated glimpse of the dinghy we towed, risen completely out of the water and twirling like a propeller on the end of its line.
Pleasant though many of them were, with the cheese and crackers and such, I doubt I'll have much to say about the hours I spent on Superior with the sails furled, motoring in perfect safety through flat water and dead air".
Paddle hard, paddle safe, paddle smart, and continue to appreciate the many moods of Ma Natures as she wows us with fabulous displays like one earlier this week.