Friday, September 30, 2011

Animal Rescue

I confessed in an earlier post that I thought I might be a camp stove whore. Our trip to Red Rocks last weekend made me realize an even more disturbing personal trait. It would seem that I'm a speciesist. I found out that I "assign different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership". I made this disturbing personal revelation as I watched my paddle companions attempt to rescue a skunk who had gotten itself stuck on a limestone ledge on the north side of Red Rocks Lake.

I believe I noticed the thing first and made the comment, "Hey look, a dead skunk on that ledge". Poor Pepe LePew was looking waterlogged andmotionless but he got to his feet when the boats got closer. Immediately the female component of the group, The VoiceOfReason, Dogs4Bird1, and DebBrunch began the 'oh, isn't he cute, we need to help him' litany. The males, with one very notable exception, were all for either paddling on or mercy skunk euthanasia. And so the rescue began.

This is not the first story I've heard about strong, some would say ridiculous, efforts to rescue vermin. Our good friend in Madison, StHollyOfAssissi, told us about almost sucking up a baby mouse in her vacuum and taking it first to the vet and then to.....only in Madison folks, only in Madison.....some sort of rodent rescue place that actually had a lactating female mouse on site. You can't make shit like that up people, you just can't. The FrugalFisherman and I speculated that this 'rodent rescue facility' was probably located right next door to the Madison Herpetological Society, a wisecrack that was met with a stony look from St Holly. She also took a dead chicken in to the UW Vet School for an autopsy rather than stewing it in broth with some savory vegetables, but chicken are not vermin so I digress.

There were some hikers on the shore and they were recruited to assist in the rescue. It was thought that throwing some branches down might give the dimwitted and malodorous critter the idea that it could climb up the log. Of course no one was even sure if a skunk could climb since most of us had only seen them waddling along or flattened on the highway. I looked over, nodded at DocNordkapp, and he and I paddled off toward the setting sun. He confided to me that the year before he had been involved in a three hour rescue attempt with Dogs4Bird1 of a young raccoon. He persuaded her that if he left a granola bar for it to regain its strength, that it would swim to safety. Needless to say when they came back a week later there was poor Rocky, bloated and floating in the lake. Doc wanted no part of a repeat performance with a skunk and 'took the fifth' with any opinions on the rescue. Meanwhile our buddy Rich was formulating a rescue scenario with the ladies. It was his 65th birthday and I had no idea that he was in fact.....the VerminWhisperer!

I found out that the VerminWhisperer had not only rescued a stranded mouse ala' St. Holly, but in his most impressive vermin preservation effort, had actually carried a turkey vulture to safety on the end of his paddle! One of the first thing's out of the VOR's mouth when she saw poor Pepe's predicament was, "Hand me your spare paddle!". Huh? What!? Hand you my paddle!? She explained she planned to rescue the skunk with her paddle and then use mine to paddle with. So my choice was driving four hours home with either a reeking Werner paddle or a putrid Betsie Bay paddle in the car? That's when Doc and I decided to distance ourselves from the rescue attempt.

We think the story had a happy ending. After the women threw enough logs and branches down the cliff to construct a replica of Boonesborough, Pepe LePew became startled and jumped in the water and started swimming away. I guess we didn't know the damn things could swim either. The VerminWhisperer gently steered Pepe toward safety with his paddle. No odor, other than the usual ones, were detected when he rejoined the group. We figure that either Pepe was curled up in his den, had bitten a small child and given him rabies, or got run over on the highway after he trudged up the hill.

The day ended as we paddled past a bunch of vultures tearing at some dead rodent on a rocky beach. The VerminWhisperer hollered, "How's it goin' Frank!?" and one of the vultures banked in our direction, a sort of salute. I guess that, like Daniel in the Lion's Den, befriending some of the more repulsive of God's creatures just may pay off in the end. Happy 65th buddy, you're the only guy I know that spent his rescuing a skunk. And if you are laying in the desert with an empty canteen, buzzzards circling overhead, I can only hope one of them is your buddy Frank.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Peace Tree: Discovering the tree and the beer

The weekend found us in the Red Rocks Reservoir area, the largest lake in Iowa at 15,000 acres at normal level, considerably more (or less) depending on rainfall and the Army Corps of Engineers, who constructed and run the dam that formed the lake. The scenery is excellent with unusual rock formations, mixed hardwoods, plenty of migrating waterfowl, and very few power boats in the fall. There is even the opportunity to rescue vermin along the lakeshore, but more on that in another post. This particular post is about a giant Sycamore tree, 325 years old before it was drowned when the Red Rocks dam was completed in 1969, and the brewery that is named after it.

We paddled Saturday and Sunday with eight of us launching Saturday from Elk Rock State Park. The park is at the south end of a mile long bridge (clocked on the VW's odometer) that carries Hwy 14 across the reservoir. Just west of the bridge, near the middle of the lake in about 10 feet of water, is the stump of the Peace Tree, sticking out of the water about six feet. In the 1840's it is believed that the tree, a couple hundred years old then, marked the Red Rock Line, the demarcation line between tribal lands to the west of the pre reservoir Des Moines River and the white settlement area to the east.It was a well known meeting and trading place for white and native Americans. The archaeological assessment in the link was to determine the historical significance of the tree, albeit over 20 years after the dam was completed and the area was flooded. Part of the draw of historical locations, particularly living (or formerly living in this case) reminders of history, is the speculation about all the dealings and personalities that passed by or stopped at the tree. The Treaty Oak in Austin, TX is another such tree. The Peace Tree is well known in the area, so well known that a small brewpub that was founded last year used the tree as its company name.

Peace Tree Brewing is less than a dozen miles south of the tree in Knoxville, IA. The brewery is in a converted Nash Rambler dealership on the main drag in Knoxville, a town known for as the host of the Sprint Car Nationals. I'm not sure why the founder chose the Peace Tree over the sprint cars as the brewery name but I like the choice. I like the brewery and its product as well. We met there Friday night when the VOR and I rolled into town and tried several of their beers. No food is served here but they have the menus from several local restaurants and food can be ordered in, in our case a couple large pizzas. The one thing I noticed about the beers is that they seem to be true to style, or at least my idea of beer styles. I sampled a very nice crisp and refreshing Kolsch, their wonderfully balanced IPA, a fine red ale, and a sneaky 8.5% ABV unfiltered Belgian Ale, the Blonde Fatale shown in the image right. Some brewpubs and neighborhood bars just have a feel to them, an unpretentious, 'theme' free (eg sports bar, 'fern' bar, fake Irish pub, etc.), relaxing and homey vibe. Peace Tree has the feel and its a lovely place to drink beer.

The Red Rocks Reservoir was a lovely place to paddle also. The big fluctuation in water level makes for interesting rock formations being alternately exposed and under water. This year the water was at 'normal pool' level and last year it was way down for dam repair. Only a couple short months earlier the water was several feet higher as evidenced by driftwood and the obvious vegetation line. The lake has a few homes on it but most are set well back due to the wildly varying water levels. There is plenty of fetch for some wave action and the sheer cliffs offer some nice clapotis when the wind is right. We had a little 10 knot north/northeast going which gave us a little bounce by the cliffs, just enough for a taste of excitement in spots. It was great to see the Iowa/Nebraska gang and ooh and aah over the new Valley boats that had been added to the fleet. I would have to say the most interesting event of the paddling segment of the weekend was the dramatic animal rescue that took place on Saturday. That however, needs to be completely fleshed out in a separate post. Look for it here soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Think globally, drink locally

I noticed that my last several posts were all about kayaking which is perfectly normal since its prime paddle season. I have been consuming some beer as well and with a bit of luck and perhaps the investment of a few bucks I might be consuming more locally brewed beer in one of the most unlikely places for a brewpub, South Minneapolis. Unlike Northeast Minneapolis where bars alternate with churches on every block of 4th St NE from Broadway to Lowry Ave, the upright Scandinavian Lutherans in the southern part of town have pretty much limited the beer drinking opportunities to a few 3.2 bars on the periphery of the area. This could change if the Smokehouse Brewpub gets off the ground.

The reason that Smokehouse as well as Fulton Brewery are even considering building facilities in Minneapolis is because of the passage of the Minnesota Pint Law, a law which allows breweries to sell pints of their own beer on their own premises. As John Tevlin, business columnist for the Star Tribune, wrote in his story on the new venture, "This is made possible by a new law that allows pints of beer to be sold at breweries in Minnesota, just like in many civilized countries". If a couple friends stop over on Sunday to watch the Packer-Bear game though, you still ain't gonna get a six pack in this state but one hurdle at a time I guess. The interesting thing about the Smokehouse project is the community investment aspect. With cash being tight these days, the three partners are selling shares or memberships to raise the seed capital, at which point Park Midway Bank in St Paul will lend them the rest of the money. It sounds like the vision is a neighborhood brewpub with smoked food that is made on the premises. Jon Tevlin's linked story above explains the concept in greater detail. What's not to like? They will still need to run the brain numbing, insanely complicated, and stultifying gamut of Minneapolis city inspectors, which should add at least six months to their tentative opening date, but I have to give them credit for the effort and wish them well. Up in Brooklyn Park, Surly Brewing, the folks that got the common sense Pint Law jump started, is planning a huge brewery complex where they will indeed be selling their own pints.

Overall beer sales in the US dropped last year while craft beer sales rose 11%. I would hope that more people are turning to beers with actual flavor rather than the over carbonated, 'only tastes good when ice cold' BudMiller products. In the 'think globally, drink locally' concept, we have more and more choices every week. A few weeks back we hit Black Rock brewpub in Marquette, MI. Tomorrow we are off to Red Rocks lake near Pella, IA and there have been promises of a trip to the Peace Tree Brewery near Knoxville. A certain Iowa paddler (I won't point any fingers Doc) claims he's been hiding a couple Blonde Fatale's in his fridge since he forgot to pack them for the trip to Gitchee Gumee in August. The trend of small, independent local breweries continues. It would seem like the BudMiller's acquisitions of local favorites like Red Hook and Leinenkugels has slowed as well as the expansion of chain brewpubs like Granite City and Rock Bottom. It's great that these organizations have realized that there is a growing market in craft beer but because of their desire to appeal to a broad range of the public, they just don't brew many interesting or assertive beers. I'll take a decent neighborhood bar with a half dozen tap handles that includes Summit Extra Pale, Bell's Two Hearted, and maybe Guiness every time over the brewpub chain.

There should be plenty of kayaking in the next few weeks before frost hits, leaves turn color and dropping, and horny bucks drive me up into my tree stand with my trusty bow. In most paddling venues including Iowa this weekend, Marquette, MI for the Gales event next month, and of course the Thirsty Pagan fueled run to the Apostles, good beer in friendly local bars and brewpubs is available to add to the total experience of the paddling road trip. Be sure to stop and smell the hops along the way.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Am I a campstove ho'?

On our recent fall trip to the Canadian north shore, the BadHatter brought along the most ridiculous camp stove that I think I've ever seen on a kayak trip. It was actually one of those butane burning chafing dish warmers that is seen on a buffet line. Its about the size of an attache case and was in a plastic case that had to be lashed to the back deck of his trusty Prijon. It was bulky but I have to admit it was like cooking on the burner at home. Complete flame control from simmer to boil, a large stable base, and a reliable fuel supply. As I mentally compared it against the campstoves I own and have used I came to a startling realization. I think I might be a camp stove whore.
I dug out the majority of stoves that I have around the joint and came up with a nice collection. I still have the old man's WWII Coleman one burner that he used pretty much exclusively to make hot coffee while ice fishing. Next was the Svea, state of the art in 1970 and still in everyday use by my buddy LoneRangerRob. The Svea used the warmth of your hands to force the gas through the orifice to light and warm the generator. There was a Peak One in there for quite awhile but it died and was buried. The MSR, the one that sounds like a F-14 Tomcat fighter warming up for a carrier takeoff, is in the mix as is the minimalist alcohol burning soda pop can rig. Last but not least is the MSR butane stove, my current 'state of the art'.For car camping nothing beats the venerable two burner Coleman, a stove that can't be broken. The stove I brought on this recent trip for backup was yet another permutation, one that would complement the BadHatter's buffet special, RangerMark's MSR, and RickH's JetBoil. It's called the LittleBug Senior.

The LittleBug is made in Bemidji, MN and can burn either wood or denatured alcohol. It folds down to a shape that conforms almost perfectly to the hull of a sea kayak. If you paddle a hard chined boat the shape can easily be shimmed to fit your hull with a full can of beer under either side. She packs down pretty small. In an area where deadfalls or driftwood are plentiful there is no need for alcohol, as stove fuel anyway. With the alcohol option and/or a fire pan it can be the prefect Leave No Trace stove. For we pyromaniacs that need a fire when camping this will fulfill that need as well. While it does require tending, as any fire worth its salt does, its' pretty darn efficient and a good choice if you have fire ready cookware. I carry it in a brown paper bag with a light nylon cover. A quick rub in the sand and most of the soot is off and the bag protects the nylon cover from what's left. The company also donates a percentage of its profit to environmantal causes, just another good reason to support them.

While the JetBoil is interesting and super efficient, it needs the specialized cookware and doesn't really seem to like to simmer, a crucial trait if a person wants to actually cook versus dumping Mountain House School Paste Stroganoff into the water and waiting 5 minutes for it to coagulate. Maybe when we '60's Boy Scout-type dinosaurs that need a fire and a cast iron dutch oven become extinct the JetBoil will rule the roost. For the time being however, I'll stick to the butane MSR with frequent wood backup. I think it makes the camping experience.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sauna Islands again

The annual Fall Trip found us back at the Sauna Islands between the US-Canadian border on the Pigeon River and Thunder Bay, ON. The three stalwarts, RangerMark, the BadHatter, and I were joined by RickH as he worked on another leg of his two weeks per summer goal of paddling around Lake Superior, which he will complete with three more week long segments if my memory is correct. It was the most beautiful weather and water that any paddler could hope for and we dawdled from island to island from just south of Thunder Bay to Little Pigeon Bay on the border. Other than the popular sauna on the eastern tip of Thompson Island, where we ran into two native Finlanders drinking cans of Bud and enjoying the heat, we only saw three other people on the entire trip but they were an interesting trio.

We had just finished a healthful lunch of sausage, cheese, and pretzels, washed down by a fine lake temperature Surly Bitter, and I had launched to get a little more fishing in at the prescribed trolling speed of 2mph before the rest of the armada caught up. I saw paddle flashes ahead and a large double and a single were heading my way. When I was able to make out the headgear on a couple of the paddlers I thought I might be seeing the first Muslim paddlers that I've ever encountered on the water but I was wrong. It was just protective headgear which covered the neck and lower part of the face from the sun. The boats had Canoeing Down Under logos on them and the first words out of the paddlers mouths confirmed that this was indeed a Australian group. It turns out that Terry is the owner of a popular kayak and canoe shop in Perth, AU. He has done several long expeditions including the entire Mississippi, Yukon, and McKenzie Rivers. His two companions, Alaine and Leo, had joined him a few weeks back as he paddled the old fur trade route from the eastern edge of the Canadian Rockies to Montreal. Portaging a kayak is not something I ever want to do but apparently they had done so innumerable times, each one a three trip carry. We immediately felt at home with the group and kind of wished we were going in the same direction so we could hear more about the trip but that was not the case. We steered them in the direction of Smooth Rock camp on Spar Island, told them there was beer resupply in Silver Islet, and encouraged a stop at the Rossport Inn and Serendipity B&B when they got to that point. We wished them the best of luck and safe paddling. They commented that they had heard about Lake Superiors reputation but had nothing but flat calm and a bit of chop since they launched from Grand Portage. We told them we hoped that would continue but Tuesdays forecast looks like Gitchee Gumee may become a bit angry.

Fish were biting as well. Not a lake trout to be seen this trip but we did catch and dine upon Rainbow Trout, Steelhead if you prefer. It seems that even the spawning run is a bit behind this year. RangerMark got the prize winner, which was poached in white wine and lemon juice with fresh herbs and roasted root veggies as the side. The BadHatter is known for his Caesar salads and pulled one out for the feast. No dehydrated beef stroganoff for this crew. Nor were there any reservations required for this trip. I know I've written about this before but its refreshing to stop at the border, pick up our fishing licenses and Crown camping permits, and be turned loose. There were a couple campsites on the Thunder Bay side of Pie Island that were trashed but not any of the remote beaches on the outer islands had any signs of overuse at all. It was apparent that folks had camped there but no garbage, live trees with branches lopped off, or massive fire pits full of burnt cans. I guess if a person is going to paddle out that way they have enough pride, ambition, and sense of community to police their campsites. A large storm last October left a bunch of trees down and the driftwood supply for fires and dutch oven cookery seemed endless. As much as I love to paddle the Apostles, this laissez-faire trip always recharges my camping fervor. I also got to meet up with two more friends on either ends of the trip. I met Bryan Hansel in Grand Marais harbor on the way up and we paddled around Artists Points and then repeatedly tipped over in front of the Gunflint Tavern, clad in our tuliqs. He has some great shots from Grand Marais of the fire that's burning southeast of Ely in the BWCA. On the back end, I stopped at Grand Portage State Park and BS'ed with Travis Novitsky a bit. He had finally seen one of the AINL's Lake is the Boss T Shirts and asked me if I heisted the name from there. I told him that both me and the NPS had lifted the phrase from Julian Nelson, the old fisherman and former Bayfield mayor, who is still with us at 90 plus. He also showed me an incredible Northern Lights time lapse that he had done the night before while I was snugly in my tent sleeping. While I would have immediately gotten up to watch, this video is the next best thing.

I never cease to marvel at the connections that kayaking seems to throw our way. We are off to Iowa in a couple weeks and then a crew will be heading to Marquette for the Gales event. Bow deer and grouse opens Saturday but I haven't 'entered the rut' for that activity yet. It needs to freeze at night, a few leaves need to turn color and drop, and there can be no insect life in my bow stand. There is plenty of paddling left in the Great Lakes region folks. Get out there and enjoy it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Black Rocks

This weekend found the VOR and I in Marquette, MI on a Labor Day 'just for the hell of it' adventure. The only real item on the agenda was to visit Black Rocks. Both Black Rocks actually, the spot in Presque Isle Park where people can still legally jump off a cliff into Lake Superior, and the nano brewery a block south of Downwind Sports on Third St (The Village) in Marquette. I attempted to paddle to Black Rocks and around the park Sunday morning but a gale warning, waves that built to 8' over the course of the afternoon, blinding horizontal rain, and valuable counsel from TheVoiceOfReason ('Glad you were smart enough to turn around and not a dumb ass'), convinced me that visiting both Black Rocks venues on foot would be the prudent plan.

I've loved jumping off high spots into the water since I was a kid. Cliffs, bridges, and railroad trestles were all fair game. I don't believe it was ever legit to jump off any bridges but it was tolerated by the authorities. Interstate Park on the St Croix River used to allow jumping off the cliffs on the Wisconsin side but that particular pleasure was banned after an accident a few years back. When safety and freedom collide these days it seems freedom never has a chance. It was a moot point on Sunday because the lake was rockin' and rollin' and the waves crashing around Black Rocks were spectacular.

The Black Rocks nano brewery was very enjoyable as well. An old two story four square frame house was converted into a brewery, bar, and outdoor patio. It's only open from 5-10pm or 'until the beer runs out'. They had four beers on tap when we strolled in and ran out of the wheat beer while we were there, which caused it to be crossed off the beer list on the board. They had an ESB in the fermenter but much to my disappointment would not be tapping it until later in the week. We both agreed that the place had fine beer, a really great vibe, and fit the neighborhood perfectly. Their logo incorporated the black and orange of the Black Rocks cliff in the park and the joint is truly a neighborhood bar and gathering place.

Labor Day brought decreasing wind and waves but the big swells were still plenty good to surf. There were 4 or 5 board surfers, a guy surfing his stand up paddleboard, and one lone kayak, a guy in one of the new P&H Delphins. More on that later, I gotta get packed and head for my short week in Canada. Gonna meet RangerMark and the BadHatter at the classic Superior, WI dive bar, The Anchor, at high noon.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fifty Lakes - One Island

As a Lake Superior nut, a GitcheeGumeeGuy, I've always been fascinated with Isle Royale. I first visited in 1974 and was hiking the island when President Nixon resigned. It was quite a surprise when I got back on the boat to Houghton and heard about it since I'd been out there for 10 days. The hazy image above of some of the island's lakes was taken on that very trip with the reliable Kodak Instamatic 104. I've only kayaked there one time and have the island on the very short list for next season. It's relatively inaccessibility, retained wilderness flavor, the continuing moose/wolf drama, and the continuing NPS/historical stakeholders drama make it one of the most interesting places on Lake Superior on a number of levels. One other feature of Isle Royale that people tend to overlook are the numerous inland lakes. Some are classic eutrophic lakes with weeds, algae, northern pike and warm water species and others are clear, cold, nutrient poor lakes with lake trout, cisco, and those type of fish. The Michigan DNR has not messed with these lakes at all. There is a fellow, possibly out there right now, named George Desort from Houghton, MI that is filming and writing about those very lakes on the largest island on the largest lake in the world.

I was made aware of this project by a noted Washburn, WI paddler, pictured lurking in a tree in the image left. You can read about the project and donate to it in this link. For the next two weeks there are matching funds available so pull the trigger if you want to get in and support this project. One of the more interesting trips that can be done on Isle Royale is to portage the width of the island from lake to lake. The ferry service out of Grand Portage will drop people off, along with their canoes or kayaks, at a number of spots on the island. One of the more interesting routs is from McCargo Cove to Chippewa Harbor via Chickenbone, Livermore, and Ritchie lakes. It takes a determined paddler to hauls their boat over the Greenstone Ridge but it can and has been done. I'm really looking forward to the results of Georges project.

The VOR and I are headed to Marquette for the Labor Day weekend and I'll be taking off for the Canadian North Shore Tuesday. If the weather cooperates, Isle Royale will be clearly visible to the east of our paddling location, just as it is above. Blog posts may be few and far between but, as the tag line on my business emails has warned for the past week, "I will be in an area refreshingly free of wifi or cell towers so please contact Customer Service if you have an issue that can't wait. Enjoy the long weekend".