Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 recap and reflections



No one can predict with any sort of certainty at all how a year will unfold.  Some years plod along in relative predictability while others veer off in directions that are completely unexpected.  This year seemed to have a bit more veering than most.

2012 was by far the worst winter that I can remember.  Those who should emigrate to Arizona, Florida, or California thought it the best winter in memory but our group of friends was disheartened and disappointed by the complete and utter lack of snow.  Races were cancelled and people were forced to come up with other more unattractive options to stay sane.  The silver lining this year was that with the lack of skiing we made  time to take a harder look at retirement home options up in the Bayfield peninsula.  Almost before we knew it, we were the proud owners of what we feel is the perfect house in Washburn, WI.  It features plenty of land, miniscule yard to mow, it’s energy efficient, and almost 100% compliant with my friend Woody’s real estate requirement, a riff on ‘location, location, location’, the PWS Doctrine. This postulates that the only true test of whether or not you have enough privacy is whether you can ‘pee where you stand’ when out working in the yard.  We got the place in time for our beloved mutt Rookie to hang out in for a couple of months before he headed to that big dog park in the sky and he enjoyed it greatly. Bicycling is excellent right out the back door and the hiking is pretty good as well.  The house and its accompanying activity prevented bow hunting for deer this year but there is always next year.  Gun season threw me a curve with no venison in the freezer  but the BearWhisperer and I recovered nicely during the late muzzleloading season.  Even with home owning the VOR and I did get out to New York to visit my son and his wife and enjoy St Patricks Day at St Patricks.  The annual pre Christmas trip was to Maine this year and came off quite nicely once again.

Even with all the other things going on it was a pretty good kayak season.  The first Lake Superior paddle was earlier than in past years and other than sleeping in the bed at the new joint rather than in a tent on some island, it was a pretty good year.  I wasn’t able to put the miles on that occur in a ‘normal’ year but the opportunity to drive three and a half minutes to launch at Thompson West End Park or the coal dock in Washburn certainly made things simpler.  Pod and I visited the ore dock before it is completely torn down and marveled at this piece of early 20th century technology.  It will be missed in Ashland.  This year resulted in fishing two friends out of the drink in some 3’ to 5’ stuff in locations 150 miles apart on the south shore of Gitchee Gumee.  Both swimmers and rescuer performed quite well in the big water, thank you.  It’s great to paddle with trained and competent companions.  Like skiing, if you don’t go over now and then you just ain’t trying hard enough.  We even got to paddle in a bit of salt water this year when our intrepid trio headed up to Homer, AK to visit RonO.  The ocean was indeed the boss and a tidal paddling seminar we had planned to attend got cancelled but the BadHatter and I still got to play in some nasty stuff with Tom Pogson from the Alaska Kayak School.  This was one of his last events in the Homer area before he moved to Kodiak Island.  We were honored to paddle and enjoy adult beverages with Tom. I also did some instruction this summer, both with our SKOAC group and also at the GLSKS up in Grand Marais, MI.  While I am still at the junior assistant instructor level I keep learning and often wonder if the students or me are learning more.  When it comes to Lake Superior kayaking this season however, I keep coming back to the untimely demise of Bob Weitzel, ‘one of us’, a man that perished off Pigeon Point on the US/Canadian border in June.  It was a sobering dose of reality to those of us who begin to get a bit cocky about our skill level every time we go out in bigger or nastier water and emerge unscathed.  It also underscores the old sailors adage, centuries old, “When at sea, the number is three”.  Bob was remembered at the GLSKS in a Sunday morning eulogy delivered by Bonnie Perry at that mornings service and Blessing of the Boats.  I figured that would be an appropriate way to end this post and the year. Thanks to Bill Thompson at Downwind Sports in Marquette for forwarding the transcript.

Have you noticed that the world is crazy? Have you noticed that the world is amazing? Have you noticed that there are things, events that happen that inspire and enliven us? And that there are things that take place that terrify us? Bob Weitzal’s death while paddling on this great lake, this inland sea was, for me, an intersection of those two things: paddling solo on this liquid goddess and dying alone on this irascible sea. I heard news of a paddler’s death on Lake Superior and I was saddened. A couple of days later I did some reading about the person who had died and by the second paragraph of the article I had realized the man who had died had been a student of mine. A student of mine at a four day joint Paddle Canada/BCU class I had co-taught the summer before. For four days I’d hung out with him: morning, noon and night in what is the crucible of an intense class for both students and coaches alike. In those four days I came to know something of Bob’s passion, desire and determination. Suddenly, his death became personal. As many of you know, I’m an Episcopal priest (All Saints’ Chicago). I have some thoughts, beliefs and ultimately hopes on what happens to us when we die. Regardless of what I may believe happens to us after death–if I’m honest–death scares me. What I know is that one out of one of us dies. Death scares me. But what I know is that I do not want to live my life afraid of death. Because that’s not living that is dying day by day, bit by bit. When I paddle ( I suspect this was true for Bob and perhaps for many of us) –when I paddle I am more alive then any other place in my life. Every time our paddles dip into the water, as I breathe in and out and I know that I am alive, its then that I am aware of being closest to the transcendent and holy. The ancient celts talk about thin places–where it is possible to move through from the secular to the sacred, from the profane to the profound–well paddling is one of those “thin places” it is one such portal. I think Bob knew that and on good days I do too. My hope for us, in this crazy world, is that we too, all of us, will know it. Rest in Peace Bob.

Whether your 2013 plods or veers, have fun, keep your eyes open, and paddle and play safely.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Voyageurs Nat'l Park-the race for campsites

With the holiday chaos of travel, work crap, and a geometric progression of absolutely essential holiday errands, I have not been paying proper attention to essential kayak issues. It took an email from the UndergroundHippie, my paddle buddy in Omaha, NE to inform me that Voyageurs National Park is planning a campsite fee system similar to the Apostles and will be holding hearings.  The first one is in fact tonite, Saturday 22 December at the Maple Grove Parks & Rec Community Center, 6:30 to 7:30.  If you can't make it, and I can't since we are four hours away, there is a suggestion line, 218.283.6708.

I may be generalizing here, but I'm thinking that there may be more paddler support for this plan than motor boaters. There are a ton of campsites, some of them down narrow fingers, others on the far side of large islands, and many of them separated by a fair distance. Unless you are in an 18 foot deep V powerboat with a 115hp four stroke Honda.  Then it ain't far at all. It's possible to check out a dozen sites for vacancy in about 20 minutes. That is not the case when paddling a canoe or kayak.  When a specific destination is in mind and is reached after a 15 or 20 mile paddle, it ends to disappoint and/or piss off said paddlers when a houseboat is hauled up on the beach in the site.  What the hell do you need with a campsite if you have a houseboat anyhow?  The real aggravating scenario is when you see your desired tent free campsite a half mile in the distance.  As you close to within 400 yards, said 115hp Honda roars past you and grabs the site.

I know it's the holidays and it's busy but give the park a call. I think it's a fair and equitable plan and it has worked pretty decently in the Apostles.  It levels the playing field between outboard motor and Greenland stick and enables efficient trip planning.

Have a Merry Christmas and a lucid New Year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Preparation.....or maybe not

 Back in the early '70's a couple buddies of mine, Roger and 'Dad', reached the ill conceived decision to split a four way hit of Windowpane acid (yup, that's LSD folks) before the Wisconsin fishing opener.  They were having a wonderful time, completely oblivious to the DNR wardens that were checking licenses, lifejackets, and stringers, going from boat to boat in a small group of about a dozen boats fishing the flats.  It was not until the warden actually put his hand out and touched the gunwale of their boat and said, "Good morning guys, we're just conducting a safety check this morning" that they realized what was going on.  The giggling immediately turned to a look of sheer panic.  When asked to show their lifejackets and check their fish, the wardens might as well have been speaking Swahili.  When asked for his license, Dad took his wallet out, looked at it without opening it, and suggested, "Just arrest us and we'll come down Monday and straighten it out".  Friends in a couple of the other boats were laughing so hard that they almost fell out and soiled their trousers.  The moral of this story is that the boys, due to harsh chemicals admittedly, were totally and completely unprepared for a pretty common experience on fishing opener, even though they had participated in a number of openers which included the warden experience.  After driving in three snowstorms this season, it's very apparent that a fair percentage of drivers in the three states I've experienced, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and just last weekend Maine, are equally as surprised, unprepared, and clueless about driving in the snow as the two psychedelic fishermen were when the wardens drifted over.

Most of us have the forethought to prepare for the season or activity that is staring us in the face.  I've mentioned before how my short attention span embraces the change of season and how much I enjoy the getting ready part.  Whether its testing my drysuit in March, base waxing my skis in November, or sighting in my rifle in October, those preparation steps are crucial both for avoiding surprises and safely enjoying the sport or activity.  A leak in the drysuit crotch, skis that feel like they have an 80 grit sandpaper base or a rifle that's not 'on the paper' can ruin an outing or worse.  Ask the GurneyGranny, who dutifully sighted in her .257 Roberts before deer season and found it off by at least a foot at 50 yards.  Had she not done her homework, a certain 8pt buck would be residing in the woods rather than residing on a plate, medium rare, with a nice brown sauce reduction.  No matter which activity it is, I always seem to find stuff that either doesn't work, fit, or needs some sort of tweak. Careful people also run through a sort of mental progression when returning to an activity that they have not participated in for several months.  Whether its 'big toe, little toe' on the telemark turns, 'three appendages on the tree' when entering or exiting the tree stand, or 'rotate that torso' when jumping into the sea kayak again in March, most folks mentally refresh their mental and muscle memory after a layoff from said activity.  This does not seem to be the case with driving in the snow.
 I could launch into a tirade about the idiots on the road but we've all been there.  The people who either ignore the snow and continue to go 65mph and those who are like a fisherman on acid and slow down to 25mph on the highway.  Usually its the interaction of these two extremes that keep the wreckers and body shops humming and most of it could be avoided by a bit of physical and mental prep for what is sure to come for those of us in the Geat Lakes states.  Scraper, snow brush, and jumper cables are minimal prep around here.  Also, if you are driving on 'all weather' tires or especially the trendy low profile tires, you sir or ma'am are screwed.  Bridgestone Blizzaks, Michelin X-Ice, or Dunlop Winter Sport will make your life unbelievably easier on snow or ice.  It's all about control and if you don't have snow tires even four wheel drive is not going to help you.  Mentally walking through speed, following distances, and the mental simulation of 'where will I go if this guy in front of me spins out' are things that need to run through the old mental computer.

Let's see if we can prepare for winter and winter driving like most of us prepare for our seasonal activites.  Thoughtful physical preparation and the equally important mental preparation will get us into the winter driving season a leg up on our fellow motorists.  As far as those fellow motorists, give them a wide, wide berth and be content in the knowledge that they are supporting and perhaps even creating jobs in the towing and body shop repair industries.  Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and keep it between those painted lines.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tradition? Deer, wolves, and a few roosters

With the traditional Wisconsin deer hunting season over, my thoughts usually turn directly to the ski season.  I have my Welch Village passes, BDahlieOfMahtomedi is heavily into dryland training, and ABR cross country ski area in Ironwood, MI is open and rolling.  This year though, two hunting opportunities cropped up and I took advantage of both of them.  One was the muzzleloading deer season, a hunt that requires traditional guns with 19th century technology that fire a single shot.  The second was a pheasant hunt set up by a co worker with a buddy that's a passionate upland bird dog trainer and hunter.  Both are very traditional hunting activities yet both have that little bit of technology creep that worries me.  Both offer a bit of insight and relate in different ways to the ongoing wolf hunting saga in Wisconsin, a story that is heating up with a hearing on the motion to ban the use of dogs on 20 December as well as a move by the DNR to make the 'emergency' wolf hunt rules permanent.

I came home from deer camp with no venison this year for the first time in years.  The BearWhisperer had told me he was purchasing a muzzleloader and planning to head out to camp for a day last weekend.  I jumped on the opportunity to join him, was given dispensation by the VOR, and broke out my little used Hawken replica rifle.  Fans of the film Jeremiah Johnson will recognize the Hawken as the gun that JJ (Robert Redford) took from frozen, dead Hatchet Jack, whom he encountered with his last will and testament pinned on his chest.  It's state of the art circa 1830's technology and fit what I felt was the spirit of the hunt.  When I tried to buy round balls and greased patches at my local sporting goods store however, I got the blank look.  They had percussion caps but no round balls and no tins of FF black powder.  Apparently now teflon coated 'maxi balls' preclude the need for patches and powder comes in 50 grain capsules.  They no longer have external hammers but some sort of inline ignition system, some even electronic, that is faster and more reliable.  Also, in Wisconsin hunters can use a scope on their muzzleloaders.  I don't think Jeremiah had to choose between a Leupold or a Bushnell for his rifle.  All these techno enhancements are to make it easier to fill your deer tag.  After all, it shouldn't actually be work or require any skill, practice, or marksmanship to shoot a deer during this traditional season, right?  That seems to be the DNR attitude anyhow.  I climbed up in my stand at the crack of 10am on Sunday and at 12:15 managed to take a nice basket rack six point (oh, all right, a tine was broken off...five point) buck with my hopelessly archaic rifle.  One shot, the buck ran about 50 yards, and then as we say it was all about 'guttin and draggin'.  I had sighted the rifle in the day before with Pod and RangerMark and it paid off.  There was a certain amount of satisfaction and sense of 'fair chase', not to mention a bit of a nod to Jeremiah and his hunting tools.

The pheasant hunt was along similar lines.  No stainless autoloading shotguns with composite stocks or red dot electronic sights, just wooden stocked pumps and doubles and a great wintry afternoon hunting pheasants and chukar partridge over some really superb bird dogs.  We walked the fields, shot some birds, missed some birds, and were happily tired when we were done. At the post hunt discussion over some Leinenkugels I raised the topic of wolves and bird dogs.  The immediate response was 'any wolf that gets close to my dog is a dead wolf'. No arguement there. I also asked them what they thought about wolf traps set up to lure canines, wolves, coyotes, (bird dogs?), and if they knew how to get their dog out of a wolf trap.  This brought some hemming and hawing  but the real thought provoker was wolves chased and hunted by dogs that would become conditioned to think that dogs were their enemies. Since the bear and wanna be wolf hunters that use dogs claim that success rate on either species with dogs is very low it would seem that most of the time the wolves would be chased by dogs and escape.  This conditioning, in my opinion, would not be good news for Springer, Labs, Goldens, and even trusty American Water Spaniels that were out hunting for grouse, pheasant, and woodcock.  I'm not sure any consensus was reached or that any minds were changed on the issue but thought was indeed provoked.  Hunters love their bird dogs.

From muzzloaders with electronic ignition and scopes, to motorized spinning winged duck decoys to running bear/wolf dogs with gps collars and ATV's and four wheel drive chase vehicles, there seems to be a trend to use technology to make hunting easier and less work and then attempting to defend and justify it as 'traditional' hunting values.  There are a certain number of hunters who just want to go out and shoot a deer, grouse, or duck limit and get it over with so they can brag in the bar.  Apparently there are a number of politicians, especially in Wisconsin, who are listening.  Fair chase seems to be more and more of an archaic notion that is superseded by the need to shoot the biggest buck or the largest limit of ducks in the shortest amount of time with the most high tech equipment to help conform to our busy modern schedules.  I officially call bullshit on this concept. True fair chase and tradition have had a place in the Wisconsin hunting community for decades and have been passed down through families and hunting camps over the years and it needs to stay that way.

Enter the wolf hunt updates.  There is a motion due to be heard in Dane Co Circuit Court on 20 December to ban the use of dogs in wolf hunting.  Before that hearing however, the DNR is taking comments on the use of dogs for bear hunting.  It's common knowledge that the bear hunting groups and their lobbyist wrote the wolf hunting regulations for the DNR and the Walker administration.  You can comment on the bear hunting with dogs issue between now and December 10th.  Just drop a note to Laurie Ross, the Natural Resources Board Liaison, at laurie.ross@wisconsin.gov or give her a call at 608.267.7420.  If you dislike the idea of chasing bears up a tree with a pack of dogs followed via 4 wheeler or pickup, now is the time to let the DNR know.  Cathy Sepp, the DNR secretary, also wants to make that crazy set of wolf hunting regulations permanent and a series of hearings will be held in early 2013 for public input.  My guess is that they won't make a hell of a lot of difference but it feels good to attend and get your opinion out in public.  I liken the whole public hearing process to one of those car seats with the steering wheels that kids had before the current armored, titanium, terminally padded car seat monstrosities now used.  Every once in a while a kid would turn the wheel in the same direction as their parent turned the car and it made them think they were driving when, of course, we all knew who was actually doing the driving. Still it's good to stand up there and let them know what we think.

As I've said before, I'm not against shooting a few wolves but lets give them a bit of a chance.  Read the technique for hunting wolves with dogs that a proponent of the activity outlines in this Wisconsin State Journal article.  Put the gps collars on the dogs, split up with your ATV's or 4WD pickups, and when the dog chases the wolf to the guys who raced ahead they shoot it.  A guy might not even need to wear boots if you could shoot the wolf from the pickup bed when it crossed a road.  I didn't make this crap up, read the article.  Its an interesting headline by the way since DNR has already closed two zones and 90 out of 116 remaining wolves available for the quota have been killed.  So I guess you really don't need dogs to hunt wolves after all.  Or at least evidence, a little utilized resource in this whole controversy, would seem to indicate that.
 In this last image we have Marley, the Iron County grouse hunting machine and a good lookin' boy if ever there was one, checking out a wolf kill on our land in Bayfield County.  We went seven for ten this year in the deer hunting department and it would appear that the wolf pack in our area did OK as well.  Lets rethink the wolf hunting regulations, base them on some sort of science and evidence, and keep the dogs flushing grouse and retrieving the mallards and bluebills.  It's Wisconsin hunting tradition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Deer season results - 2012

Preliminary Wisconsin deer season results are in and it would appear that both the number of hunters and the deer harvest are up.  So much for the massive wolf over population decimating the deer herd it would appear.  The state sold roughly 650,000 licenses, including some $5 bargain licenses for first time buyers.  The KingOfIronwoodIsland and I got the 'bargain' $160 non-resident licenses but that's beside the point.  Hunters took about 115,000 bucks and 130,000 antlerless deer, roughly 8% more than last year.  That's a success rate of around 35%.  Our hunting crew up in western Bayfield County fared better, with a 60% success rate.  I suspect that one of the reasons is that most of us spent the better part of the week in the woods.  Not many deer walk past the camp or bar stools

One of the deer theories that has gained popularity in recent years is Quality Deer Management.  The theory is that if you take the larger bucks and anterless deer, and leave the younger bucks that not only will hunters start seeing larger bucks but the herd will be healthier.  Instead of one dominant buck breeding multiple does, more younger bucks have the opportunity to breed which tends to prevent the deer family tree from becoming circular due to inbreeding.  This was a concept that many of us embraced intellectually but we still saw horns and shot.  The real breakthrough came when Pod declared our new porch/barroom to be the "Eight or Better Lounge".  In order to have a rack put up on the porch it needed to have 8 points or better.  Suddenly most of the camp was enthusiastically behind the QDM concept.  Plus there is competition at camp in everything from who stokes the sauna, pumps water, or does the dishes so the big buck competition is a logical outcome.  The other reason to wait for the larger buck is because many of us don't want the hunt to be over.

In our area there are usually more anterless permits available than there are purchasers.  It used to be that the old timers told us, 'when you shoot a doe you kill lots of deer'.  These were the same characters that had the 'camp meat' doe hanging on their pole the Friday night before the season but it was still a pervasive idea up north.  In our area we see perhaps a dozen antlerless deer for every buck. If you fill your tag on opening day with a smaller deer the hunt is pretty much over.  For those of us that only hunt opening weekend and then dutifully head into work Monday that's what needs to be done.  The majority of us that are at camp for the duration of the nine day season can be more selective.  In my case this year, too selective.  By the time I had decided on the last Saturday to shoot the first deer that came by, all I saw were two little bucks and I couldn't bring myself to do it.  Still, it was a good week of hunting.  We name our stands and I spent quality time in the Buckhole, Wounded Knee, White Pine, Ian's Blind, Twin Towers, and Buckskins NW.  I saw lots of deer and a number of other creatures over the week.  We got our 15" snow dump on Thanksgiving evening but until then it was relatively bluebird weather and it made being up in a tree a very pleasant experience.




Our final total was six deer, four bucks and two does.  RawhidePhil got on the board first with an 8pt on opening afternoon and the GurneyGranny followed around 4pm with a near identical 8 pointer.  Earlier in the day MattyA had harvested his traditional 'pepperoni doe' that would be made into pepperoni at the legendary Trinko's meat market.  MadCityMary took a fork the next day before leaving for Boston, and the BearWhisperer shot another 8 point Black Friday buck the day after Thanksgiving.  We had fun field dressing and dragging that boy out of the woods in the dark. The KingOfIronwood promptly climbed up in his stand, an all too familiar event, and filled his pricey non resident tag with a doe the next day.  By this time in the season all the older and larger bucks seem to have gone nocturnal.  The only time they are seen is on the game camera.  All of the bucks except the small one were seen chasing does.  We males tend to get single minded in our pursuit of female companionship and these guys paid for that and wound up in the freezer.

All is not lost for me however.  Muzzleloading season continues through 5 December for my continued pursuit of that hormone and antibiotic free, natural diet, lean Wisconsin venison.  No feedlots, no water pollution, no disease, just clean red meat for the year.  Congratulations to all my fellow hunters that filled their tags.  I hope to join you before the year is over.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Transition

What you are looking at in the image above is, "A wintry mix with a chance of 1 to 3 inches of snow accumulation".  I'm sure there is some after the fact explanation involving jet streams and el nino as to why it turned into 15" of nice fluffy powder but we really didn't care.  Once the harrowing Thanksgiving drive back from turkey in Mora was complete and the VOR, sister LeatherMargie, and I settled in  at camp with large glasses of Black Bush to watch the snow fall rather than battle it in the car, all was well with the world.  Next mornings hunt would mark the change from sound based to visual.  The thick blanket of snow would turn the listening game into a visual exercise.

The fall woods in Superior country is far from quiet.  Once a person is settled into their stand and the rhythms of the woods get back to normal there is nothing but sounds. Wind in the balsams, black spruce, and white pine is constant background but everything from mice and voles to the big mammals are making noise as well.  A mouse or vole scurrying across the leaves can be heard perfectly from 15' up in the tree.  Red squirrels are noisy, both in their movements and the scolding we hunters receive when they come face to face with us in 'their' tree.  The sound of bark and wood hitting the ground usually means looking up and seeing porky, a bundle of quills, gnawing on some tree thirty feet off the ground. I wish I could speak crow because they have an amazing vocabulary.  Check out the Gifts of the Crow, an wonderful book on crow behavior.  The only crow language I know is the raucous, maniacally excited, "Hey, we found an owl, get over here and help harass it!!" scream/call.  The barred owl on the other hand is as quiet as a woodland creature can get.  Other than it's, 'who, who, who cooks for you' call, it is entirely silent and makes zero sound as it flies through the forest.  The coyotes howl from time to time and I heard one lone wolf howl, but the sound we really listen for is the crunch, crunch, crunch of the deer coming through the woods.  They are almost impossible to see in the fall woods if they aren't moving and sounds like crunching leaves and breaking sticks are what we key on.  Until we get 15" of snow that is, with another three added Saturday for good measure.




 Now it's all sight and keeping the eyes peeled.  Nothing stands out like a brown deer on white snow.  They can be spotted easily before they spot you and the game is changed in the favor of the hunter.  The crows and ravens are still talking, and the chickadees that land on the stand seem to kick up their 6 note call when the snow hits, but most of the noise and sound is dampened.  So I'm sure you're wondering......did you guys get any deer?  Broken out by gender, our women hunters scored a perfect 100% for bucks on the pole.  The guys weighed in at a respectable 50% success.  Four bucks, two does, and more to follow on that in another post.  It seems funny to be working on a computer after nine days in the 19th century and this is invariably the worst and most jarring Monday work return of the year after being thrust into a completely different sights and sounds scenario to what I've been used to, but I guess it is  what it is.  Another Wisconsin deer gun season is in the books, our 30th year up on Reefer Creek, and we have snow on the ground.  All is right with the world in my book.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Anticipation

I woke up at roughly 4am this morning.  That's not uncommon and I usually fall right back to sleep after glancing at the clock and hitting the mental 'two hour snooze' alarm.  This morning my brain refused to be put back into sleep mode however.  It kept running over the check list of stuff I had to pack, stops I'd have to make, and loose ends I still have to tie up before I can leave for deer camp after work today.  So I got up, poured a cup of coffee, and had at it.  This blog post will just be one more thing I can check off in my single minded drive to get the hell out of the city and back up to Reefer Creek.

Like a lot of folks, I have that love/hate relationship with getting ready to set off on a major trip.  Perhaps if I was a  bit more organized the hate thing might be mitigated but I'm not, and most likely never will be any more organized.  Trips where you actually need to be self sufficient and that require specific interrelated gear are usually the most stressful.  If a person has a kayak and no spray skirt, a cook stove but no propane, or a rifle but no ammo, then they are pretty much screwed.  I have a sort of half assed check list but my main method of remembering stuff is to mentally walk myself through the process of getting ready to perform the activity, whether it be kayaking, deer hunting, or skiing.  I imagine myself getting dressed, gathering my gear, and literally getting into my boat or climbing up into my tree stand.  It's worked pretty well and I've rarely forgotten anything crucial.  Yeah, I should make a list and as my mental acuity plummets in my later years I most likely will have to.  But for now I mentally pull on my woolies, pants, sweater, swampers, and orange wool coat, take out my rifle, load the correct shells, put on my safety harness and fanny pack with knife, rope, and latex gloves, and climb up into my tree.  I would just rather run this check list at 6am than at 4am.

Part of the excitement is the excitement of the new season.  Whether it's loading up the kayak gear for the first open water trip to Lake Superior in April, tuning up the ski equipment for that first run of the year, or hauling out the hunting gear, the joy and discovery and of starting a new season never gets old.  I fondled the old LL Bean '40's vintage hunting knife that my grandpa gave me, took a nice big nose hit of my Bemidji woolen orange mackinac with the woodsy smell and the blood on the cuffs, and checked the pockets of my orange Duluth Pack for forgotten treasures, both cool and disgusting.  Tomorrow night I will be at camp, listening to the old stories, drinking beer and eating the traditional burritos (we all hope, anyway).  Saturday morning a touch before dawn, I will be climbing my tree in hopes of venison in the freezer.  I am going to have to say that deer camp feeling trumps the first kayak trip, opening fishing, or the first time I click the bindings on the cross country skis.  It's as good as it gets and I'm outta here, destination northern Wisconsin and the 19th century, in about ten hours.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a calm, sane, relatively non commercia lBlack Friday. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

When the gales of November come early

Actually the gales did not come early this year for our 8th annual Gales of November paddle.  The event has found a home on Goose Island on Lake Minnetonka and has kind of settled on the Thursday closest to the anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on 10 November. Weather has been a crap shoot over the years, with everything from 65F, sunny and flat calm, to horizontal snow being driven by a 20 knot northwest wind. It's a testimonial to the paddlers that have regularly attended that said attendance has not varied too much due to weather conditions.  What has impacted attendance is that pesky activity called work, the main thing that limits and inhibits all types of paddling.

As we sat around the fire in relatively balmy conditions after a nice paddle of an hour and a half or so, methods of disengagement from our vocational activities was discussed. I was a bit disappointed to hear that pretty much everyone just said, "I"m outta here this afternoon".  Heck,  I even threw up a photo of a car, suspiciously similar to my car, with a Valley Aquanaut on the roof and the teaser, "it  would appear to me that hooky is in the afternoon plan". It's just a bit more delicious to sneak out but I guess that the eight of us all possessed the flexibility to just head out for the rare afternoon work week paddle. As the rare sales guy who disdains golf, even in scrambles events which allow a second shot from the fairway rather than some guys back yard, another tee box, or the creek, I look at the rare afternoon of kayaking as a make up for the time I could have wasted on the golf course.  Heck, if you want to use the argument that lots of business takes place on the golf course, I could tell you about the roll ling student up at the GLSKS that turned out to be in management at a company we were looking to do business with. Given my intense work focus, even when out playing, I didn't even realize it until a couple weeks later but that's OK. I did approach one of my cohorts with a work question at our post paddle event at The Narrows Saloon, but I doubt that he has a solid memory of the conversation. I don't think I'll attempt to write off my beer and Dirty Stew on such a slender business connection. What I really need to do is interview those who didn't make it, those for whom work loomed more importantly than the tradition, camaraderie, and mental health benefits of an afternoon on the water.  A couple folks showed up that couldn't paddle but enjoyed the happy hour with the crew, a plan that's perfectly acceptable.




This is pretty much the end of the open water paddling season around here.  Gitchee Gumee will remain open until well into January and this year I've vowed to get out on the water if the snow refuses to cooperate, as it did last winter.  Pool sessions have already begun and at least a couple warm water paddle trips are being organized. At our place in Washburn the view of Gitchee Gumee was restored with one wind storm and we can now see the lake and the city lights of Ashland across the bay.  With any luck we will be skiing across that bay in three short months.  Once again the change of seasons in the Great Lakes region give we individuals with painfully short attention spans a reason to continue.  Embrace the change and enjoy the next season that's in the on deck circle.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Wolf Killing Begins



The wolf hunt has begun in Wisconsin and begins Saturday in Minnesota.  Minnesota seems to be a bit more conservative and cautious but then it would appear that their wildlife biologists and wolf experts actually had some say in the setup of the season, unlike my home state.  In Minnesota the 'harvest quota', a polite and inoffensive euphemism for how many wolves they plan on killing, is roughly 13%, 400 out of 3,000 total.  In my Wisconsin, where the regulations were pretty much written by a guy from a bear hunters advocacy group, it's damn near a quarter, 24%. As of Halloween Day, 44 wolves have been killed, 27 by trapping, 17 by rifle.  In addition, 74 more had been killed outside the wolf hunting season by federal wildlife services employees and landowners. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, in Wisconsin you can pretty much use any method you can think of to kill a wolf.  Bait, electronic calls, trap, hunt at night, and even run them with dogs if a lawsuit gets thrown out.  More on the dog aspect a bit later.  Trapping is by far the most effective method.  One grouse hunters dog has already been caught in a wolf trap and the story is here.  All kosher, according to the law, and the dog was unharmed (according to the owner, not the dog).  As a guy who has trapped both gophers and some beaver over the years, I can't get all holier than thou on the trapping thing. My opinion is that there is no long standing tradition of wolf trapping in the state, other than by the wildlife pros, and with all the other trapping possibilities I guess I fail to see how adding wolf trapping will enhance the outdoor experience.  The same point could be made about running wolves with dogs, an activity where the down side outweighs the upside considerably.
  
There is currently a lawsuit pending against the use of dogs, a suit which I believe will be heard on 20 December.  Hunting wolves with dogs stinks on a number of malodorous levels.  We are the only state, including Alaska and the western states, which is even thinking about allowing it.  When the bear dog guys train dogs, basically letting a pack of hounds run wild over the countryside, regularly disturbing certain people's relaxing happy hour reverie, they tree the bear, the owner says 'good dogs', drags them back to their pickup truck kennels, and then wait for the season to open so they can shoot the hapless bear out of the tree. Training dogs to hunt wolves would seem to inevitably result in a pitched battle between two groups of canines, an event that might please and excite Michael Vick, but not most people, especially the groups that filed the lawsuit, the Northwoods Alliance, National Wolf Watchers, and state animal welfare organizations.  Also, if I'm out for a relaxing afternoon of grouse hunting with my dog, and the pack of wolf dogs comes barreling through, what's to say that a dog fight won't break out between these unfamiliar canines?  If I'm standing there with a shotgun, watching a pack of dogs attack my dog, my only decision would be whether I had enough shotgun shells with the right size pellets to quickly and decisively rectify the situation.  That of course, would be bad news for all dogs and humans concerned.  Right now there do not seem to be any rules on when they can train, how many dogs can be used, or where they can be trained. Apparently soon a person can even run their dogs and hunt in the state parks in Wisconsin.  That should be great for skiers, hikers, and other state park users.  From a completely selfish standpoint, I don't want packs of dogs running through the woods where I am deer hunting, grouse hunting, or even making firewood.  Once again, Wisconsin seems to be the only state where this is even considered, not surprising given the way the wolf hunting regulations were formulated.

I think the classic hunting tradition in Wisconsin is being hijacked by some sort of redneck, whack job- type lobby coalition.  I love to hunt, my son loves to hunt, and my dad, grandfathers, uncles, etc. loved to hunt.  I used to trap and likely would again if I found a couple dozen of my lumber sized aspen lying on the ground with just the tops gone as I did a few years back.  I don't even mind 'new' species being opened up to hunting, especially large bearded birds that gobble.  But lets have the wildlife professionals recommend and set the seasons and rules.  And for God's sake, lets not turn this into another bleeding heart liberal nut case vs. Teabagger maniac political issue.  I am very near having my head explode with that crap and may need to go to the titanium stocking cap to prevent it. I hope I can make it through the next week.  We might want to look west to Minnesota, a state which retained it's wolf population when the rest of the lower 48 exterminated theirs, and see how their limited gun hunt goes.  Unless the agenda is to eliminate all the wolves once again, a goal that many of the gutless comment posters, afraid to use their real names on various pro wolf hunt websites, advocate.   Take the political bullshit out, let the pros do their job, and give us concerned grouse and deer hunters some hope that our tradition, the tradition of crisp fall afternoons in the grouse woods, rainy mornings in the duck blind, and cozy snowy days at the deer camp, will survive and flourish into the future.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Another tour boat story



 I was just informed by my sister and a couple other folks that I hadn't posted since 3 October and that I needed to get off my ass.  Had I been sitting on my ass I most likely would have cranked out a couple posts but that scourge of my many avocations, work, has kept me a bit busier than I would like.  I even missed Blog Action Day.  I had a great topic too, one that illustrated the 'Power of We' quite nicely.  It's never too late however, and the post about community effort and action is coincidentally about a  tour boat, as was my last post.  Instead of a brand spanking new state of the art boat like the Superior Queen in the prior post, this is about a tour boat that was launched in 1906. And scuttled and sunk in 1926.


Around the turn of the last century Minneapolis and St Paul had a really nice 'light rail' system, referred to as streetcars in those days.  People were moved around town as well as out of town and one of the prime destinations was the vacation and resort area of Lake Minnetonka about a dozen miles west of the cities. There were resorts, amusement parks, and hotels and the best way for the public to access them was by water. Thus a half dozen steam powered boats were built that  looked like the streetcars.  This plan worked great until Henry Ford made sure that everyone had a car.  Twenty years after they were built most of the boats were hauled out on to Lake Minnetonka, filled with ballast, and sunk in one of the deepest parts of the lake.

In 1980 a determined diver found one of the boats and it was raised from the bottom of the lake, its cypress hull in fairly decent shape after fifty plus years in the mud at the bottom.  An all volunteer corporation was formed and restoration began in 1990 with the first public cruise in 1996. Where we became involved was in the annual removal of the Minnehaha from the lake and into it's winter storage facility.  We were tipped off to this annual ritual by SkipperCharlie and BlueberryBets who lured us to Excelsior by sweetening the pot with a trip to the new Excelsior Brewing Compnay tap room after the boat was retrieved.

It was quite the exercise.  In an all volunteer organization there never seems to be a shortage of opinions and this was no exception.  The goal was to float the 55 ton boat onto a custom trailer and haul it overland to its storage facility about a quarter mile away.  This  would be done, in keeping with the vintage theme of the whole exercise, with what appeared to be a World War II era two and a half ton wrecker.  Winches anchored the wrecker to the Minnehaha on the back end and a large tracked crane on the front end.  The boat would be pulled carefully on to a homemade trailer and then slowly hauled up to the hanger style boathouse.  It seemed fairly straightforward but then the best laid plans of mice and men.........

After much yelling, pushing, and adjusting the Minnehaha was finally on the trailer and the extraction process began.  What became apparent as the boat came out of the water was that it was a bit skewed on the trailer and it was also running up the ramp a bit too much to one side.  It was then backed back down, refloated, and the process was repeated.  This time the trailer with its 55 ton load became stuck in the lake and the long tongue was bent and a couple axles on the trailer were badly bent as well.  This forced the volunteer group to stop, get the gear fixed, and live to fight another day.

The Power of We in this case has not only raised the boat from the bottom of the lake, but also restored it, maintained it, operated it for the enjoyment of the public, and hauled it in and out of storage every fall and spring since 1996. Once the initial excitement of finding the boat was over, momentum needed to be maintained for restoration, operation, and maintenance.  That has been done and lots of people have enjoyed tooling around the lake in a piece of living history. It was great to experience the camaraderie, mild anarchy, and the obvious community support involved in extracting the Minnehaha. The only blot on the morning's activity was some jerk in a high end black 4WD vehicle, some said the owner of the land, marina, dredge operation, or some such thing, that at least twice came screaming up in his luxury ride and got out to yell at the volunteers for egregious crimes like standing in the wrong place, parking to close to the water, etc.  I guess, as my grandpa pointed out, there are just a lot more horses asses than there are horses.  The people doing the work seemed to take it in stride, which is the mark of a good group of volunteers, the ability to move forward in the face of criticism and naysayers.

Ending the day with some cask ale and pumpkin balancing at the Excelsior Brewing Co. was just the icing on the cake. It was great to see the old boat, check out the exposed workings of the steam engine, and take in the positive vibes of a great annual community event.  The Power of We at it's finest.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Three Hour Tour

We got out on the big lake last weekend and hit about a half dozen islands in the Apostle chain.  It was the absolute peak of color in the Bayfield Peninsula (sorry Applefest fans.....), and the fall weather was sunny, crisp, and absolutely perfect.  Our collective butts were not sitting in the water however, but several feet off it in the Superior Queen, a tour boat just built and purchased this year by the Apostle Islands Cruise Service.  The reason said butts were not in the water is that TheLegend and GraciousPartier, parents of the VOR, were in town for a weekend of fall color, apples, and some R&R.  We thought about breaking out the double, the Lead Banana (Aleut II) but figured the tour just might cover a bit more ground than we could paddling.

I had been on this tour before.  When the AINL was created  by the hard work of Senator Gaylord Nelson and a stroke of Tricky Dick's pen in 1970, the Old Man decided that we needed to head north and check this new park out.  My grandfather used to fish out of Cornucopia but the St Lawrence Seaway, also known as the sea lamprey/invasive species highway, pretty much put an end to that before I was old enough to tag along. This was my first real trip to the area.  As a sullen, uncommunicative, and preoccupied 16 year old, I had minimal interest in heading up there with my two younger sisters, but the terms of my indenture required my attendance.  I do vaguely recall it was kind of fun and that the islands and their sandstone outcroppings impressed me.  Little did I know.......

Saturdays trip was a nice change of pace. A person can see a lot more 15 feet off the water than sitting in it.  The VOR and I both remarked that it was like fast forward on a DVD.  Things moved a lot faster at 20mph than they do at 4mph.  TheLegend volunteers at a nursing home, where he actually 'outranks' a few of the residents and immediately realized that a tour of the Apostles would make a perfect topic for the Monday men's club gathering. Immediate research began. One of the aspects of the trip that we both enjoyed was seeing the islands through the perspective of people who had not been out there a hundred times.  Questions about the quarries on Hermit, the Manitou Fish Camp, and Devil's island caves and lighthouse, made us realize other views that people might have about the park that don't involve hammering a kayak into 15 knot winds to get to the next campsite.  The GP also remarked that after years of hearing about the various islands that we found ourselves on, it was fun to see them and appreciate just what we were talking about.

The tour was very good, well narrated, and absolutely worth the forty bucks.  I was more than a little amused when I read some of the comments, most of which were very positive, on the TripAdvisor website.  One only gave the tour three stars because it was' chilly and blustery out'.  On Lake Superior?  No shit??  One woman awarded one star and complained that she bought a coupon, drove 90 miles, and was told she needed a reservation.  On a cruise boat that holds 120 people, in a national lakeshore, during tourist season? Ya think!?  Another complained that the glass bottom boat didn't have a 'real' glass bottom, just two viewing wells, and furthermore the wrecks just were not very interesting.  I imagine she envisioned an entire glass hull as the boat cruised over wrecks of Spanish galleons, doubloons scattered on the bottom, with pirate cutlassess and skeletons littering the deck.  Oh wait, I guess we are on Lake Superior.  Our Saturday group of 'tourii' did not exhibit any of this sort of angst or cluelessness however.  It was an upbeat and jovial group and on a glorious fall weekend like the last one, a person would be hard pressed to find anything to complain about.

During this trip we did not see a single kayak, either at any of the campsites (believe me I checked with the binoculars) and we passed Basswood, Oak Spit, Manitou, Otter, Rocky Spit, York, and Devils. I don't think all the paddlers were on the boat ride with us but it felt like lots of paddlers missed the perfect fall weekend.  While I don't think the boat cruise will become an annual event, it was great to show the in-laws our little Lake Superior playground.  While I'm far too lazy to throw a comment up on TripAdvisor, I would have to give this cruise the maximum number of stars.  Its a wonderful three hour overview of the island, lighthouses, history, and natural beauty that make the AINL one of our favorite places.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tides and Yurts

Even though I feel the pressure of a couple tirades building, the MN and WI wolf hunt developments being one, and the travesty I witnessed on Monday Night Football the other night being another, I figure I better riff a bit more on the Alaska trip while it is still fresh in my memory.  There was lots of stuff that was fairly amazing to we guys from salt and shark free waters, stuff that makes me want to head back just as soon as I can pull it off.

Once the gale force winds died down we prepared to get out on the water and do some camping.  We did not have to pack tents, sleeping pads, and other camping gear for Delta Airline to abuse since we were going to reserve a yurt that was installed and maintained by a vendor to the Kachemak Bay state park we planned to visit.  A quick aside on airlines.  Travelers between Alaskan cities do not need to remove shoes, belts, watches, and pocket knives to board the aircraft.   We flew Era Airline from Anchorage to Homer and suffered a minor mechanical issue that forced us to return to Anchorage and change planes.  To compensate us for the inconvenience, Era Airlines served free beer.  Cans of Bud Lite or Miller Genuine Draft you ask?  Hell no.  The stewardess reached down and pulled out growlers of Denali Brewing Twister Creek IPA and started pouring.  We were happily stunned; was this some paralell dimension where the airlines actually gave a shit about their passengers or what?




 RonO thought it wise to take the water taxi over to the other side of the bay and we were on board with that.  They dropped our gear off at the yurt on aptly named Kayak Beach and then took us up to the head of Tutka Bay, about a ten mile run. We used Ron's two NDK boats and were provided two more, the NDK Explorers that had been used for the 2012 Aleutian Expedition, courtesy of Tom Pogson at the Alaska Kayak School. The tide, a neap tide apparently, only about half the size of the nineteen footer on the day of our arrival, was ebbing.  Our exploration of Tutka Bay Lagoon in those conditions meant we were paddling 'upstream' as opposed to downstream on a rising tide.  A 'river' that changes course and speed of the flow every six hours or so is pretty cool stuff for we big lake paddlers.  There was fishing along the way with handlines as well as on the end of the Homer spit earlier with traditional rods and reels.  We caught fish, recognized about half of em, and ate the ones that we thought we knew.  The flounders were recognizable and tasty.  We of course, thought they were 'little halibut' but were quickly disabused of that idea.  We thought we caught a nice Ling Cod and ate that as well but no one was really sure if it was a cod or not; it was delicious whatever it was.

We did not have to find a tent site, set up tents,  inflate sleeping pads, or hang the tarp so this afforded more time, perhaps too much time, for an extended, scenic, and somewhat raucuous happy hour. Supper was late and I don't recall exactly what it wa,s but then it was a couple weeks ago.  Morning found us tanned and well rested and fully 50% of the group paddled out and explored Yukon Island, Elephant Rock, and Sadie Cove.  Shore lunch was caught and devoured along with the traditional fried potatoes and we enjoyed the company of the next night's yurt occupants, two young sisters and the bf of one of them. 

It was an abbreviated although excellent little overnight.  We loved playing in the salt water with the tides and catching fish whose species we had no clue in hell about.  The scenery wherever we looked was breathtaking and the weather, 50F with a bit of drizzle now and then, was an absolute joy for we parched, 90F hating midwesterners.  While I don't see this being added to the long list of 'annuals' (technically however, it was the annual fall trip, a staple on the calendar since the late '90's) I really would like to go back.