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 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.