Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Real Time Wave Unit is Online

One of the most visited attractions in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are the mainland sea caves which are accessed from Meyers Beach. In the good old days there was just a pothole pocked dirt road down there, an outhouse, and a marginal parking lot. These days its a lovely blacktopped road with vault toilets, painted lines for proper parking, a parking fee, weekend rangers on duty, and a nice display at the top of the stairs where you descend down to the beach to launch. The popularity of the sea caves and heavy usage of the launch is the reason for the improvements. That same popularity is also the reason for the ranger and the display.

The display warns of the potential nasty conditions that can result in the short one plus mile paddle to visit the caves. It tells of a young man, a very fit soccer player at my alma mater of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who died when he capsized near the caves in large,confused clapotis waves. Even though it was August he perished from hypothermia after three plus hours in the water. Rescuers had a hellish time reaching him because of the wave action. That was in 2004. The same thing occurred in 2007 to a fellow from Brule, WI. Almost any day of the summer you can see people down there, heading out to the caves in rec boats with no spray skirts, cotton T-shirts, and no paddle float or bilge pump to help get their asses back in the boat if they go over. This the very site where I argued with an idiot who was heading out there sporting the gear I described above. I had actually capsized while surfing in that day but had my wetsuit on. OK, OK, I may have been screwing around a bit as well, but the waves were 1-3 footers and the wind was westerly which meant much larger waves once a paddler cleared Mawikwe Point. It was only when I got this 'Lighten up dude, I know what I'm doing' macho man to discuss the launch/no launch issue while standing knee deep in the bone chilling June water that he relented and took my advice to head to Bark Bay for some safer communing with nature. Rangers at the parking area have told me they encounter the same thing on a daily basis.

To help give people real time, useful, and accurate information on conditions at the caves, a number of groups have helped fund and implement the RTOS, the Real Time Wave Observation System, which has also been added to the links on the right side of the blog. I went in and played with it and its a pretty cool website. Unlike the NOAA nearshore forecast this is real time and precise. It has the groups that were involved in funding and implementing the project, the real time wave and wind data, a wave plot of 4 hrs, 2 days, and 10 days, and even an hourly picture of the caves. Assuming a person can get cell coverage from the beach, they could view the actual conditions at the time on their smart phone.

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. You can show a potential paddler what it looks like at their destination but you can't make em stay on the beach. Education efforts continue to help people make informed decisions on whether or not to launch. At the ISS Kayak Symposium earlier in June, there was a presentation put on jointly by the NPS and USCG from Bayfield. When the two gents in the above image were setting up there were only 3 people in the audience. I headed out to try to round some more folks up but it was unnecessary. By the time I got back it was standing room only, well over 50 people, listening intently and asking all kinds of questions about the fatalities that had occurred last fall and then again just the week before the symposium. They were preaching to the choir, folks that had invested the time and money go get better at their sport but it was great to see them there and hear things from the perspective of the guys who are going to have to get your bacon out of the fire if you screw up.

Check out the RTWOS, send a link to friends, and let people know its out there. If we keep talking maybe more and more people will listen. I can't come up with any better way to get the word out than one on one interaction. As the famous Milwaukee blogger writes when he closes his posts, "Paddle Safe".

Friday, June 24, 2011

Two sweet expeditions

If you think I'm going to write about Freya and her South America deal or Chris Duff on his way from Scotland to Iceland via rowboat you will be disappointed. This post is about a couple of more accessible adventures undertaken by a couple of midwestern guys. Coincidentally, the last I heard both were windbound at about the same place on the Keweenaw peninsula with 6'-8' seas out of the northeast, the same winds that deposited most of the wrecks along that jagged coast over the years.

Bryan Hansel lives in Grand Marais, MN and is a photographer, blogger, kayaker, and pretty much anything else needed to get by in a area that's breathtakingly beautiful but not necessarily an employment mecca. Bryan had a few weeks available and decided to paddle all the way up the Michigan shore of Lake Huron, across the Straits of Mackinac, up the St Mary's river and into Superior. From there he paddled the shipwreck coast past Grand Marais (site of the upcoming GLSKS) and Pictured Rocks, past Marquette, and up the Keweenaw to Copper Harbor. The last I heard he was waiting out the northeast blow and it's accompanying 6-8 footers and plans on taking the ferry to Isle Royale and then paddle home to Grand Marais, MN.

Some of you might remember my friend Rick from the ISS kayak symposium a couple years ago. Rick is from northern Illinois and is in the process of paddling around Lake Superior in week long chunks, two weeks per year. He spoke to the symposium crowd in 2009 at Stage North about paddling to Washburn from Superior, WI.,through the Apostles and around Madeline Island to get to Thompson's West End Park, site of the kayak fun. I got a text from him and his son in law earlier this week when they were windbound in a primitive camp on Jacob's Creek just east of Eagle River, MN. The first night they bushwhacked to M 28 and got a lift to a bible camp where they had supper. A second night forced a call to an Eagle River bar, asking if there was a patron who could serve as their taxi service. No true Yooper is going to let a couple guys sit in their tent during a gale with no beer, especially if it results in free beer for them, and the guys were promptly picked up and enjoyed beers and supper in a warm tavern.

The big expeditions are fun to read about and fun to follow in these days of connectivity and Twitter mania. They show us what is possible if a human being has the will and the skills to hammer out these epic paddles. But the fact is that 99 44/100% of us aren't going to even get past the stage of thinking about a journey like that. Bryan and Ricks adventures on the other hand, make me think about why I couldn't do something like that. The main obstacle right now is time and committments, but that's what makes Rick's plan attractive, the ability to break it down into chunks and knock off one or two a year. When I don't have to worry about my vocation any more and can devote full bore focus on my avocations, that paddle for a month scheme sounds pretty inviting. I am sure I'm not the only one out there in the blogosphere with those kinds of thoughts racing around in their heads.

We have a group up on Sand Island this weekend, a kind of 'graduation' for those that took the day long SKOAC beginning sea kayak class earlier this month. For a lot of those folks the crossing from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island will be the most exciting paddle so far in their paddling lives. The Sand Island sea caves and lighthouse will be frosting on the cake. As we become more experienced we need more challenges to get that same 'wow factor' but its still out there and does not need to be consumed in gigantic doses. Best of luck to our two Great Lakes kayak adventurers. I hope to have a adult beverage or two with both of you before this summer is history.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let's sign up for a tour

One of the first things that happens at every symposium that I've ever attended is tour day. I've always thought it would be good to do the tour after everyone had worked on their strokes, wet exits, and other skills refinements but logistics trumps logic. People need to get back to their daily grind and a tour on the last day would not be smart. There is a lot that goes into setting up and pulling off a tour however, and most people whether they be instructors or symposium attendees, don't realize all the thought and planning that takes place before and during a tour.

Categorizing the group is always tough. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. People rarely self select themselves at the skill level they are really at. The more conservative tend to denigrate their own skills and the more optimistic tend to feel that they are better than they really are. Not surprisingly, I've found this break to fall along gender lines. Attractive and fit women look into the mirror and think 'Oh God I'm so fat!'. Guys with beer bellies that should have a name of their own do the same thing and think 'Lookin' good dude!'. It kinda works the same with self assessment of paddle skills. Picking the route, scenery component of the route, and distance is the easy part. Adjusting pace and keeping a large diverse group together and interested is the toughest part of any tour.

This year was no different from two years ago on the same trip, the Raspberry Island intermediate tour. The tour had 3 crossings from a mile to three miles and a potentially nasty stretch of water, the always unpredictable Point Detour. I believe Point Detour was named when 19th century ships captains were warned to detour around that particular headland on their way into Chequamagon Bay. We had 8 coaches on the tour and 20 participants. Our fearless leader was the ElyFlash, noted paddler, biker, and Outward Bound/NOLS dude from prestigious Vermillion CC in Ely, MN. The weather report from NOAA was dense fog and winds from the northeast increasing to 10-15 knots and waves building to 1-3'. Solidly intermediate conditions in our estimation,but we would need to observe the group to see if we really had intermediate paddlers that could handle the potential quartering 3 footers from the stern and the clapotis that would surround Point Detour on the way back.

I drew the short straw and led the first leg, hugging the shore line from Little Sand Bay up to Point Detour and a fog crossing of a mile to the York Island spit. Of the 19 particpants about 6 had compasses and maybe 4 had maps. I told them that even though this was a guided tour that its always a good idea to be proactive and bring those two things, along with a watch, so they could 'follow along at home' as the old game show hosts used to say. We launched like a herd of turtles and set off for Point Detour at a steady 3 mph pace. I was in the lead and had people who insisted on getting in front of me as well as paddlers strung out 100 yards behind me. Eight coaches was not too many at this point. Not surprisingly there was a bit of whining about our snails pace on the front and when we reached Point Detour we had one woman who decided she needed to turn back. More on that later.

I took a bearing, let the group know what it was, 20 degrees north, and set off for York. I was disappointed when the fog lifted about 2 minutes into the paddle and we could see the spit under a mile away. One of the coaches had headed back to LSB with the paddler that opted out and the seven that were left moved around and shepherded the group to York. This is always a great opportunity to answer questions, work on some stroke stuff, and generally talk paddling smack back and forth. In a stunning reversal of the weather forecast it was flat calm and the sun came out. We headed for the Raspberry Island light which we could view clearly in the non fog, and saw the Island Princess, which we feared was going to run us over in the dense fog two years ago, and had an easy crossing. Some toured the light and others kicked back and took a power nap. We took some nice shots of the lighthouse from the water and headed into our last crossing of the day from Raspberry to Point Detour. The wind had freshened to about 6-7 mph which kicked our speed up to well over 4mph with the trailing seas. It also gave us just a bit of clapotis, bounce waves, to play in off Point Detour.

Flexibility and adaptation is a crucial element of these tours. Had it gotten too windy we would have cut thing short based upon the expert judgement of the ElyFlash. Had it been just too nasty and the forecast too daunting we might have had a venue change to more sheltered waters. I offered to lead the group to Bark Bay Slough and then the Village Inn Bar in Cornie if we had to move to an alternative but that did not happen. The one adaptation that did occur was the woman that headed back to LSB with one of the coaches, who just happened to be raconteur and fellow blogger from the Milwaukee area, Silbs. I almost expected the paddler who turned back to be a bit sheepish when I asked how it went but she was positively bubbly and buoyant when she related how her day had gone. Now some of us that know know Dick might shudder at the thought of several one on one hours with him, but the fact is that he is a superb Level 4 open water ACA instructor. They worked on strokes, speed, paddle cadence, rotation, and he even switched her to a smaller blade paddle, more of a touring blade, that's a bit easier to pull through the water. Her speed and confidence on the water increased significantly.

The key thing on the tour was that everyone had a good time and paddled safely. Some people quizzed me on the navigation thing, others played with paddle strokes, a little fun in the bounce waves, and we all got a good taste of the varying moods of Gitchee Gumee. One woman got some nice private lessons and everyone left LSB for Washburn feeling pretty good about the day. I guess in the end that's what its all about.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Return from Washburn

Four days of training, coaching, island hopping, and simply having fun have left me with some sore muscles and a very malodorous vehicle. Drizzle made drying wet neoprene a bit problematic but as usual the paddling, schmoozing, food, music, adult beverages, and general ambiance of the Inland Sea Society's Kayak Symposium was excellent. In the next couple days I'll attempt to post a couple more reports and some photos but for now a brief overview will have to work.

Wednesday night found us at Living Adventures Inc. for some preliminary dry land training. I discovered that I was an Spontaneous Motivator in my coaching style, as opposed to a Driver, Relationship Master, or Architect & Analyst. Apparently many cult leaders have this leadership style so please refuse any Kool-Aid if I offer you. I was able to spontaneously motivate an instructor migration to Morty's Pub to watch the end of the one sided game 7 of this years Stanley Cup and enjoy some delicious Whitefish and South Shore Brown Ale. I guess there is something to that profiling exercise.

Thursday was spent training and modeling strokes and then getting instant feedback via video. It was a great way to emphasize the kayak learning progression of pointing out strengths, then some weaknesses, and developing a couple of take aways from the skill being practiced. Friday was tour day and 8 of us coaches guided 20 folks on the Little Sand Bay to Point Detour to York and Raspberry Islands and back, the Isle de Framboise tour in keeping with the French motif of the weekend. Good learning with some fog and navigation, awareness of paddling speed, some wave and reflection wave experiences, and some great scenery along the way. Saturday was rolling instruction with a bit of lecturing on Wind, Waves, and Weather with my senior associate Silbs, and then hip snaps and braces in the afternoon. Read his spot on description of the instructor training. Chicken Provencal and a great Celtic band followed by free South Shore beer was wonderful for some and way too much temptation for others. Sunday dawned (or maybe 'nooned' for some) with drizzle, 50ish temps and a full group of folks that wanted to brush up on one skill or another. A lovely brunch and we were off to our respective homes which included WI, MN, IL, MI, IA, CA in the US as well as Manitoba, Ontario, and BC in Canada. The Canadiens actually swept the raffle with the grand prize Seaward kayak heading to Winnipeg and a sweet skin boat, centerpiece of the auction, heading over to Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa, ON. It's always good to the crew from Wawa (closed circuit to Megan: Cute baby; forgot to get my fleece from you!).

The collective knowledge, students willing to learn and try new things, and the general positive vibe, no matter the weather, is what makes these events. If you like to paddle and have never attended one, it is so worth it. We've all watched students 'click' on certain skills and it makes both students and instructors feel great. Door County and Grand Marais are on the docket next month. Come on up, over, or wherever. Its the most fun you'll have sitting down.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Off to Washburn

I will be attempting to head north today at the crack of noon in order to make an instructor training session at Living Adventures in beautiful downtown Red Cliff, WI at 6pm. Do not attempt to launch your kayak at Red Cliff Marina this summer however, as it is being turned into a large casino and is a major construction zone. When I called the AINL they told me that they really had not had much communication from the tribe and were not sure exactly when the launch site would be available again. The casino is kind of puzzling in such a lovely location because every casino I've ever set foot in (for concerts or to gorge like an ancient Roman at the sumptuous buffets) goes to great pains to make sure folks don't look outside. That might distract one from shoving money in the slots or hitting 17 at the blackjack table.
The instructor session this evening is the kick off of the Inland Sea Society's Kayak Symposium. As in years past it will be a great weekend. I do believe a person can register on the spot so if time opens up or the inclination to learn some new stuff, no matter what level you are at, strikes you please head north. The Friday tours look to be excellent and the sessions both on and off the water will be as well. This year some folks from Brittany will be over here imparting a bit of French kayaking knowledge and techniques. We will also be drinking some fine wines, meads from the winery in Iron River, beer from Bo at the South Shore Brewery (mmm.....Nut Brown Ale!), and some great food. Fine food, fine adult beverage, and fine paddling; how can you not be all over this thing? Plus it's a fund raiser for the Inland Sea Society, a group active in Lake Superior watershed conservation. Food, beverage, paddling, and a good cause!? Come on people, we want to see you this weekend. I promise that we(most of us) won't make you roll around on the grass like dogs while we sit on a park bench observing. Come on up and lets have some fun!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Training and balance

We did our annual SKOAC beginners course on Bush Lake in Bloomington yesterday, basking in the sun that NOAA assured us would not appear, and introducing a dozen plus folks to the fun and challenge of coastal kayaking. This was my first stint coaching at this class and it proved to be a very enjoyable day. With the tragedy earlier in the week, the three of us debated about if, when, and how long we should discuss what happened. Consensus was yes, at lunch, and for a few minutes during the wind, waves, and weather segment of the course.

Everyone was a bit early and we spent the first hour or so on land going over boats, paddles, clothing and gear as the air and water warmed a bit. There was the usual trepidation about tipping over for the first time with the spray skirt on and wet exiting but everyone did well. I always think about getting people in the water to roll around and get wet before this part of the course but it seems like we never do it. Paddle float reentries went well too, with everyone from age 21 through the mid fifties exhibiting the upper body strength and flexibility needed to get up on their back deck and into the boat. No yellow rainbows observed. The assisted reentry pointed out why its so much better to paddle with companions that can get your butt out of the water quickly, with minimal energy expended, and significantly less pumping. Since the name of the club is the Superior Kayak and Outdoor Adventure Club, SKOAC, we tried to relate what was going on in the 70F flat waters of Bush Lake with the 47F waters and not always so flat waters of Gitchee Gumee. The 'graduation' for some members of the class will be out intro trip in two weeks from Little Sand Bay out to Sand Island, ironically the same route as the ill fated group on Wednesday. The hands on experience and coaching comments set the stage for our luncheon discussion of that situation.

By the time we got through charts and navigation, signaling devices, and into wind and waves it was time to talk about last Wednesdays tragedy. The difficult part about discussing a kayak fatality is walking the line between scaring people away from the sport and being Mayor Larry Vaughn from the movie Jaws. "I'm pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have, in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But, as you see, it's a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means "friendship". Even with just 4 hours of coaching most people were able to point out the problems with Wednesdays tragic crossing and discuss them intelligently. By discussing the situation we would hope that people would begin to move from the 'unconscious incompetent' to the 'conscious incompetent' category in the sport of coastal kayaking. I have a friend who rock climbs. I am a classic 'unconscious incompetent' regarding that sport, meaning I don't know anything about it and I have no idea how much there is that I don't know about. Were I to take a course in rock climbing, I would hope to move into the 'conscious incompetent' range, where I still wouldn't know a damn thing about rock climbing but the instruction would make me conscious and aware of how much I didn't know and the implications of not knowing. The hope would be that knowledge of my own ignorance would prevent me from heading to Palisade Head in the rain with a harness that didn't fit, some WalMart rope, and my buddy holding the belay line in one hand with a beer in the other.

It was gratifying to see the discussion and the student/coach interaction as the information sunk in. Our afternoon consisted of strokes, moving the boat in all directions, and some low bracing. We ended on time and about half the class had things they had to get to and the other half went for a paddle around the lake, learning on the move. This weekend we will be heading up to the Inland Sea Society's kayak symposium on Lake Superior. How things are handled and taught up there is up to greater kayaking minds than mine. But the one thing that we hammered at our class was personal responsibility. We encouraged students to think for themselves, develop their skills, provide input, and take responsibility on trips. If a paddler plans to not bring a map and compass on a trip because someone else will have them, or rely on someone else's spare paddle, radio, or first aid kit, then they need to be on an outfitted and guided trip. We all want to paddle with peers or groups where the abilities are known, and not be nursemaids or mother hens. Trips need a designated leader but the hope is that the leader will be more like an infantry squad leader, leading trained individuals with common attitudes and experiences rather than like a junior high lunch room monitor attempting to corral a group of diverse individuals with different goals and motivations. Like many endeavors in life, thinking ahead like a good pool player, and taking the time to become familiar with the various skills and variables will make coastal kayaking a much more enjoyable and safer sport. Those that spent the time and money to do that last Saturday and those that will do it in Washburn this weekend will find themselves ahead of the game and on track for a safe and enjoyable time on the big lake.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Deja Vu off Sand Island

I normally enjoy an early morning of blogging with a cup of coffee but this morning I woke up feeling like I had a 9am appointment at the dentist for a root canal. Another death has occurred involving people attempting to paddle from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island. When a friend up north sent me the early reports yesterday morning I sat at my desk feeling sick to my stomach. Four young college age guys from southern Minnesota attempted to cross from LSB to Sand in building seas and icy cold Lake Superior water. A lack of awareness, improper and inadequate equipment, and once again bad decisions that build upon one another cost a young guy his life.

Like every other incident of this nature the imprudent decisions accumulate and build upon one another until overcoming them is not an option. The Finlanders up north tell you that when your truck gets stuck in 2 wheel drive, you put in into four wheel and get the hell out of there, you don't use the 4 WD to get yourself in deeper. Lack of training, lack of equipment like bilge pump & paddle float, spray skirts, bulkheads/flotation, or a VHF radio for instant communication, and a lack of local knowledge of the largest and potentially nastiest lake on planet earth all piled up until a bad outcome was about all that could happen. The other factor was likely the feeling of invincibility that all young guys have at that age. I know that mindset very well because I had it.

In 1975 in a plan eerily reminiscent of this ill fated kayak trip, a couple roomates and a buddy and I decided to go backpacking on Isle Royale. I was the 'experieneced' guy having been out there before. In reality I could barely take care of myself much less 3 other guy who said they had backpacked but had actually only managed a couple day hikes in the mountains with packs on their backs. We were dumped off at McCargo Cove in mid May for the hike back to Windigo with woefully inadequate food, cotton clothing, crappy rain gear at best, no insect repellent, and our invincible attitude that only 20 year old boys can have. I knew we were in trouble when the guys started bitching about how heavy their packs were about a mile in. They had of course brought way too much gear including a guitar and a fiddle, and had no idea what carrying them on their backs for 30 miles would entail. I also had to explain that if they fastened the hip belts on their packs and distributed some of the weight it might not feel so heavy. The trip was pretty much a disaster with blisters, insect bites, near hypothermia from soaked cotten, and far too few calories (whiskey has very few calories and a Mountain House 'meal for 4' back then was really designed for four 10 yr old kids) had us limping into Windigo looking more than bedraggled. Everything that could have gone wrong did but other than the possiblity of stumbling off a cliff the stakes were far, far lower than trying to cross 3 miles of open 47F degree water with 50 miles of fetch.

So again I ask, what the hell can we do to prevent this? There are blunt and graphic signs at Meyers Beach about the dangers and the example of the fellow that perished there a few years back. Rangers ask questions and warn paddlers of the dangers. The Coast Guard has a great new brochure on the dangers of paddling the lake. Clubs conduct training sessions and we kayakers will all be answering questions and discussing the situation at work today. One of my fellow instructors got a call from the NPS last fall asking him if his October trip went OK. Maybe they checked an online phone directory or used his license plate to get his number. The authorities are acutely aware of the issue. There is a ton of info out there and a bunch of people willing to provide it. The problem is whether the people shoving off into Gitchee Gumee will listen. I've had Meyers Beach rangers and volunteers tell me that people have told them to 'quit hassling me' in offended tones as they asked questions and inquired about their preparedness. "I know what I'm doing" is a phrase I've heard when a cursory glance at the paddler and their gear tells me that they in fact have no GD idea what they are doing as they stand at the edge of brink, Lake Superior, and look out over the water. I am almost 100% certain that the 21 year old DaveO would have insisted that he knew what he was doing and defiantly insisted that he quit being hassled.

We had a social paddle last night with 3 of the folks that will be teaching our intro course on Saturday. The 'graduation' from that course will be a trip to Sand Island on the last weekend of June, the very same route as the 4 fellows on the Wednesday trip. We plan on explaining and dissecting what happened, how we would handle a similar situation, the built in safeguards and fail safe features of a properly equipped Lake Superior trip, and the the 'weakest link' concept of a paddle expedition. It's too late for the young guy from southern Minnesota and I think that the entire Great Lakes paddling tribe extends its sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of young Mr. Dammen. We need to vow 'never again' and redouble our efforts to make people aware of the possible ramifications of venturing out that big, nasty, unpredictable, wonderful, and awe inspiring body of fresh water, Lake Superior.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Instruction season opener

We love our openers up here in the northland. Fishing season, hunting season, baseball opening day, thoroughbred horse racing, as well as many other events have that exciting opening day vibe. Next Saturday will be the beginning sea kayaking instruction opener for my SKOAC Club. 'Graduation' is a trip to the Apostle Islands two weeks after for some open water and crossing experience. The other club I belong to, ISK (both links on the list to the right) kicked off instruction last Saturday. All of the events mentioned above require lots of preparation and planning and a kayaking class is no exception. Both days this weekend were spent in the water with one more day of splashing to follow on Wednesday. We're rusty but things are coming along nicely.

On Saturday the BessemerConvivialist and I went down to the Minneapolis chain of lakes. Both clubs have lots of paddle events there and frankly by about mid June I'm so bored with it I could cry. The people watching is excellent however, the TinFish has superb lunches right on the water, and the water quality in Calhoun is excellent for practice. Its just the water temperature this time of year that's a bit on the chilly side. Sunday found the ManFromSnowyLegs, WingmanBrian, and I on Long Lake, a lake that has minimal people watching and no food but decent water quality and much warmer water. What it also has is an inflow creek, Rice Creek, that's rockin' this time of year. We played in the current and the MFSL joined me in the exclusive 'I hit a combat roll after screwing up in Rice Creek' club. There are two club members right now with the potential for more on Wednesday. We paddled and played but we also did a bunch of wet exit, solo reentry, and a few different assisted reentries. The discussion and critiquing made me realize that paddling is much more jazz that classicalmusic, more hockey than ballet when it comes to forms and techniques.

We all realize that their are certain constants and principles when paddling. Steve Scherrer has his great list of seven principles. They are rotation, balance, edging, bracing, upper and lower body separation, blade angle-grip/slip, and shaft angle-high/low. I would add one more: Have lots of fun. This ain't golf folks; if your hand is at chin level instead of shoulder level on your paddle stroke you ain't gonna hook your kayak into the rough. If you favor the heel hook over the more standard paddle float reentry, the Romanian judge will not deduct style points from your score. Too often I've seen people that have been far too worried about doing something we demonstrate and teach perfectly rather than just getting the basics down and refining them on the fly. Just paddle. As far as rescues, the deal is to get your rear end back in your boat as quickly and efficiently as possible and that means different things for different people. The two familiar yahoos in the image above demonstrated that perfectly at a Canoecopia event a few years back. It appeared that they had the fun component down pat.

This will be year two of teaching for me. I was thrown into the major leagues at the GLSKS last year after having my ACA Level 3 cert for exactly 3 weeks. My goal, while assisting long time paddling gurus like Mr. Scherrer and Ben Lowry, was to keep my mouth shut, help ride herd on the class, and model what they taught. Then it was back to the minor leagues with our SKOAC group instruction and some traditional stuff. I'm looking forward to the instruction season and hope that I am able to impart that 'paddling is fun' component to our students. It sure is fun for me and I hope the fun is infectious.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Return to Copper Harbor

After a break of a few years we returned to Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw for the Memorial Day weekend. The VoiceOfReason and I met MrEngineerGear and his lady friend the RockClimbingOboist for a weekend of whatever R&R the weather and the lake offered us. Kayaks, mountain bikes, hiking boots, and a worthy beer and wine selection were all alive and in the potential mix. As it turned out, kayaking was the best choice and Gitchee Gumee showed us many faces over the three days.

Ms. RCO is a new paddler but a veteran outdoors person. Wet exits and rudimentary paddle stroke training had been done at Long Lake and we would be watching Gitchee Gumee carefully in this land of the hundred mile fetch in 3 directions. In addition to experienced companions she had an ace in the hole, the venerable QCC kayak. The fit was not perfect but the QCC is nearly impossible to tip over and tracks like a railroad train. RonO, MrEngineerGear and I were at Long Lake last year when I felt that I needed to roll the QCC. Those two stood on shore and Ron told MrEG, "Just watch; he'll hit the first one then get lazy and miss the second one". Which of course, is exactly what happened, to the tune of much raucous laughter on shore. Our Keweenaw padding went fine however and everyone was well within their comfort zone for 98% of the trip. The 2% may have occured when having too much fun amongst the dragons teeth rock outcroppings in 1-3 footers, resulting in an invigorating adrenaline rush.

With a new paddler my brain always reverts back to my first few times on Superior. Depending on her mood she can be intimidating. We saw three distinct moods last weekend. Saturday was as flat as I've seen the lake on the Keweenaw shore, so flat that we located the City of St Joseph, a pulp hauling vessel that sunk in 1942 after her rudder malfunctioned. The VOR commented that we hadn't been out on those rocky reefs before and I pointed out that on previous trips the wind and waves would have caused our chances of joining the City of St Joseph to increase considerably. Sunday gave us a 10-15mph west wind and seas building to 1-3'. I'm sure we all remember the first time that 3 footer lifted up our stern and caused our kayak to yaw about 75 degrees. I had warned MsRCO and she did quite nicely in QCC. We had crossed Copper Harbor earlier and the VoiceOfReason, once again cementing her blog name, suggested that maybe this was time to end MsRCO's testing of her Avocet and get her back in the QCC. Moving from the BMW 320i to the '89 Cadillac Coupe de Ville was a great idea and our downwind leg went nicely. Normally on Lake Superior the wind builds and then begins to drop in the late afternoon. Gitchee Gumee must have took pity on us though, because after lunch at around 2pm it dropped to 7-8mph and just a bit of 'walleye chop' for waves.

It was the perfect progression for learning and becoming confident on the lake. Back at our '40's vintage cabin we kicked off happy hour and grilled steaks. Meanwhile Copper Harbor was hoppin'. Sam from the Keweenaw Adventure Company had organized the IMBA Great Lakes mountain bike summit with a bunch of national attendees and was running shuttles and tours up to the trailhead at the spectacular CCC constructed Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. I strolled down to the general store (no chain's of any kind north of Calumet) and saw a bunch of insipid six packs of beer lined up on the floor. The owner said he was clearing them out and adding more micros. Just when I didn't think it could get any better, he informed me that the abandoned building across the street would soon house a brewpub! I was now officially giddy. Kayak and mountain bike in the summer, Isle Royale embarkation point, plenty of hunting in the fall, groomed classic ski trails in the winter as well as the best glade skiing east of the Rockies at Mt Bohemia, new brewpub, a disdain for Budmiller lite.....we may need to relocate. At dusk the sun came out, which sent us scurrying up Brockway Mountain to catch the sun setting over Lake Superior and distant Isle Royale as well as a nice view of Copper Harbor. It was a great 3 days that could have easily been two weeks. We can't wait to return.