I know I had promised 'more from Grand Marais' in the last post but somehow I got kinda busy. Between coaching the various courses, schmoozing with old friends, meeting new ones, and continual quality control checks on the Cabin Fever ESB at the Dunes Saloon, I ran short on time. Falling into bed and then getting up and doing it again the next day was pretty much the routine. On Friday morning I had the opportunity to be a tour leader, even if it was by default.
After the coaches meeting on Thursday night, a fine event at which pizza and a keg of the above mentioned ESB were served, I was informed by Coaching Czar Mr. Kelly Blades that I would be assisting on the Au Sable dunes tour, a role I'd performed many times. Assisting on a guided tour pretty much consists of cruising along in your role of sweep or on one of the flanks, paddling around to everyone, answering questions, and generally keeping an eye on things. Decisions are made by the team and the model works well. When I rolled into the community center at 6:45am on Friday however, I was informed that the scheduled tour leader, fellow Minnesotan MrBionicKnee, was needed in another coaching capacity and that I would be flying solo. I initially only had three tour participants so no problem but we added a couple of folks who decided that the 7 mile dunes tour looked better than the 18 mile Miners Castle tour on a hot day. I was handed my tour group dry bag (map, first aid kit, and extra toilet paper), talked with the group about skill levels and goals for the morning, and we launched and paddled out past the breakwater into the flat calm lake.
It was pretty easy to assess paddling skills and techniques as we headed out of the harbor. Some folks had decent strokes, others were working on their strokes and, as usual in a beginners group, there was a fair amount of arm paddling. This of course, made keeping the group relatively tight an interesting proposition for one guy. Given the flat lake risk levels were low and it was easy to stay within shouting distance. I've noticed in every group I've paddled in that some people like to hug the shore and others like to be out in the lake a distance. We chose what I thought was a happy medium.
The Au Sable dunes are spectacular. They rise at least 300' high straight up from the lake and a kayak is dwarfed when at the base. Once we cleared the breakwater the entire panorama of the dunes was visible to the west. Our first stop as we headed toward the dunes was the Au Sable River. Had I read the description of the tour on the brochure, I would have realized that this was an official lunch stop and the official turn around for this tour. We were also supposed to hike to the Au Sable Falls. We had begun paddling at 7:45 and it was a bit before 9am, a tad early for lunch. Given the choice of hiking to the falls or paddling a bit farther down the dunes the consensus was to hit the water. Everyone looked strong, the weather was bluebird perfect, and the clear water was beckoning. I reminded everyone that we needed to go back the same way and we cruised down the shore a bit more to where the dunes were there tallest. Another break was taken and I decided this was far enough. I did a little navigation demo and used the two visible light houses at Au Sable Point and the Grand Marais harbor breakwater to fix our position on the map and we headed for home. As we headed back and a bit of an offshore wind riffled the lake and I kept paddling around and chatting with the folks and everyone looked good. We did have an out to cut a couple miles off the return trip by carrying the boats from the beach up to the campground and it was decided to take the out since we had gone a bit farther than scheduled and everyone could still have plenty of time for lunch and a bit of rest before the afternoon instruction. Actually carrying the boats across the beach and up the steps was the most strenuous part of the trip. Lots of smiles and discussion as we packed things up and I checked the map and let folks know we actually paddled about 10 miles, which brought a few more smiles.
The 'guided tour' seemed to go pretty well. Like a lot of things at symposiums there was some reaction and adaptation. The scheduled falls hike morphed into some more paddling, a logical development since this was indeed a kayaking symposium. I offered a few suggestions on strokes and other things but I figured if people were interested they would ask since we were touring and not in a course. Another coach would have been nice if the conditions had picked up a bit but not necessary in the flat lake, another good decision based on the realities of the day. I also realized it was really good we had the bail out option since people who are getting tired might not necessarily let me know for fear of slowing down the group, even if I asked out of earshot of the rest. I offered a tow to one of the crew but was told, "I'm not that tired". I even needed the towing practice but oh well. I did hear a couple folks were tired and took the afternoon off but I saw others on the beach ready to go at 1:30. Again, options, adaptation, and adjustments. I had a healthful burger at The Dunes and was off to coach Traditional Bracing and Rolling. More to follow.