Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Penokee mine thoughts

The Annual 2013 Grouse Kill is in the books.  Most of the usual suspects made an appearance and Friday nights session ended at approximately 4:45 a.m., a time that I only know about through hearsay evidence.  Four of us who were nicely vertical at the noon hour decided it would be a good time to check out the proposed GTAC mine tailing and waste rock site which is only a short drive from camp. We were armed, although grouse loads would have been no match for the M4 carbines or H&K rifles carried by the Bulletproof security gang. Thankfully, no other souls were spotted on the hike.  Three grouse were flushed but none were harmed, and it was a lovely fall day in the woods
The area we explored was the spot where the giant waste rock mountain would be located.  It was partially cut over and markings on the trees suggest that a select cut of large oak trees is in the works.  There are plenty of streams in the area, some with names, some without, that feed the Tyler Forks River which meanders through the Penokee Range and dumps spectacularly into the Bad River at Copper Falls State Park.  The area we checked out was near Bull Gus Creek, named after an eccentric logger who lived in the area.  Apparently, folks who knew Bull Gus are still around and tell interesting, mostly true stories about the fellow.  His namesake creek is a nice little brook trout stream that originates in a large beaver pond in the highlands.  The dam is active and impressive at approximately fifteen feet high, and it releases water to the creek in a number of trickles--leaks in the dam, as it were.  This insures that the creek stays cold even in summer as the snow melt and cool water from the pond flow into the creek.  Brookies love cool water and trout fishermen love brookies.

Like many things regarding the mine, the State of Wisconsin seems to be bending over backwards to make sure it gets done.  The guy with the most supple spine, a guy who can almost touch his toes bending backwards, is Sen. Tom Tiffany of the Minocqua area.  Those of us who own land in the Managed Forest Land program receive a tax break in exchange for managing our timber.  We signed a contract stating that if we decided to pull our land out of the program, we would pay the state back the tax difference since we enrolled in the program.  All of the land proposed to be mined by GTAC is enrolled in this program allowing public access as one of the conditions of the MFL program.  Having people snooping around and taking pictures of erosion from core sampling and maybe even finding asbestos- bearing rocks (!) is certainly not what GTAC wants.  So a bill was introduced by the above mentioned supple-spined Senator to allow them to take their land out of MFL with no penalty.  After all, it's only about a million bucks in lost tax revenue.

Another good example of 'it's OK for you little people but not for us job creators' is the whole wetlands thing.  If you want to create a pond, much less fill one in, an incredible amount of paperwork and inspections are part of the process .  Contrary to GTAC President Bill Williams assertion in the Ironwood Daily Globe that the DNR is holding up the permitting process, it would appear instead that the dog ate GTAC's homework in the case.  The DNR is actually waiting for them to get their feces in a group, to use the polite phrase, and submit the required documentation for stormwater run-off, location of access roadssans wetlands, etc.  We as private citizens could literally not dump a pickup load of dirt in an area that had three cattails growing but these guys can destroy the entire watershed, including the area in the images, if this Republican-and-Tiffany-led-fast-track program goes through. 

I always thought Republicans were the party of local control and decentralized government oversight.  Yet our guy Sen. Tiffany introduced a bill to turn over local control of air and water monitoring, sampling, and blasting completely to the state DNR rather than townships and counties that are being affected.  Right now in my home town area of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls they are mining and hauling much of the sand deposited by the last glacier out to North Dakota and Texas for fracking in the oil fields.  Tiffanys fellow Republicans in those areas, what I would call traditional Republicans, have cried foul and are in favor of retaining local control.  It seems to me to be a fairly transparent scheme to centralize the activity in the DNR, appoint a pro developer as head of the DNR, and then cut funding so they don't have the resources to do the proper.......oh wait, I guess they already did that. 

Which brings up the grunerite issue.  Since you can't just back out of the MFL program immediately, and the rifle-toting, camouflaged guards from Bulletproof Security were found to be operating in Wisconsin illegally, people can still wander the land, fishing, bird hunting, and collecting things.  Like rocks.  I personally helped the FrugalFisherman collect several rocks, ignoring complaints from my back, when we were hiking on Saturday.  Apparently some of these rocks contain grunerite, an asbestos bearing rock. Noted geological experts like Senator Tiffany and Ms. Kolesar, chair of the Iron Co. "We Will Do Anything for a Mine" committee have observed that the grunerite was likely planted by mine opponents.  From the evidence so far it would seem to be a massive planting effort.  Science seems to be a four letter word in Wisconsin these days, even though it obviously has seven letters.  Geologists and other scientific experts seem to be ignored whether it about asbestos bearing rock, air quality from massive frac sand operations, or the wisdom of a wolf hunting season in the state.

The fact is that the very last thing on the minds of these giant corporations is worker safety.  It's been that way since the very start of the industrial revolution. I say that as the son and grandson of two guys who both died way too young after working at the US Rubber / Uniroyal tire plant for decades, both coincidentally from lung related ailments.  I don't think those diseases are hereditary.  It surely couldn't be the rubber dust, chemicals, and working conditions, right? However, Uniroyal brought jobs, jobs, jobs to the Chippewa Valley area, just like the frac sand operations.  Large corporations will only do what they are required to do, and they work diligently to eliminate pesky requirements that impact jobs and especially profits.  An excellent way to do that is to take away local control from those affected by the operations and put it in the hands of an underfunded state agency rather than encouraging a scientifically based collaboration between local entities and the DNR and even the Feds and the Tribe. 

One of my favorite beers is Keewenaw Brewing's Widow Maker, an excellent and very quaffable black ale brewed up in Houghton, MI,.  The beer takes its name from a drill. "The Widowmaker, a pneumatic drill that operated without benefit of water to lubricate the bit and cut the dust, was introduced to copper country mining in the late 1890's.  While greatly improving productivity, the drill became known as the "Widowmaker", killing many of the miners that used it from illnesses related to prolonged dust inhalation".  I have no information on when or what made the mine operators quit using the drill.

Lets open our collective eyes and do some strategic cost/benefit thinking on these issues.  We need some facts--scientific facts--not ideological propaganda put forth by the right or left.  It's the only way we will collectively win in the long run.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

'All you need to do is.........."

A number of years ago I was in a Friday night league on the company bowling team.  Through a scheduling quirk we had to bowl on Good Friday and my two Madison cronies, Woody and Davey, were in town for the long weekend.  Several pitchers of beer were consumed by bowlers and spectators and we enjoyed a fish fry after bowling.  I switched to water and the boys switched to bourbon.  Before we left the bar an off duty 2nd precinct cop warned us that there were DWI sweep operations all over town.  Sure enough, I was pulled over within a mile.  When Davey began talking about who was possibly in any shape to drive once I was invariably hauled off to jail, Woody, a lawyer by trade, spun around in the seat, glared at him, and uttered the now classic phrase. "David, all you need to do is shut the flock up!".  I passed the breathalyzer test, disappointing the officer who surely noted that the inside of the car smelled like a distillery that had four kegs of beer spilled on it's floor.  The phrase and it's abbreviation, STFU, has become a classic in certain circles.

Other than satisfying a pathological need to be outside, the other common thread of activities that I enjoy is that they are quiet.  This means mechanical noise, electronic noise, and more and more the free form stream of consciousness babbling of certain people is blessedly absent.  Kayaking, cross country skiing, deer hunting, cycling, and hiking all share the twin virtues of being outdoors and fairly quiet.  As I grow older and more curmudgeonly, my tolerance of unneeded aggravating noise decreases geometrically.  Public transportation is the worst.  I have found however, that once the polite, 'I'm trying to read', and 'I'm going to close my eyes for a couple minutes here' don't work on the plane or train that playing the STFU card is 100% effective.  My iPhone has every possible alert turned off and the ring is just the classic rotary phone ring.  When it's not on vibrate.  If your phone is set to alert you by beeping every time it receives an email, text, or news item, you sir or madam, are an obsessive asshole. In my opinion second hand noise is as aggravating as second hand smoke or being stuck in a room with a wearer of really bad perfume or cologne.  Padding Minnesota's north shore of Lake Superior is beautiful from the scenery standpoint but miserable from the Hwy 61 noise standpoint. Special mention goes to the wannabe Hells Angels on the Harleys who's motto, 'Loud pipes save lives' is as stupid as it is self centered and narcissistic. Special mention goes to the babblers, those people who need to STFU but just can't seem to make it happen.  I know several and go out of my way to limit my time with them and then only in large groups where they have numerous babble targets.  One of my favorite babblers is the one that shows up at kayak symposiums and instruction. The inevitable circle of introduction is where they surface.  My 'I'm Dave from St Anthony, been paddling for 17 years, need to work on my edging', is eclipsed by some dork that goes into how they got into kayaking, the boats they have owned, metaphysical basis for their kayaking, etc. I've never seen an instructor play the STFU card but have been tempted my self many, many times.  The one good thing when the group finally hits the water is that you know who to avoid and where to sit, or actually not sit, for the lunch break.  

But enough ranting, we've all been there.  There are the good sounds as well, the ones that take you to that calm and relaxing place where you forget about all the other aggravating noises.  The sound of the waves rebounding in the sea caves is one of my favorites and I have recorded it many times.  The crunchy squeaky sound of the 0F snow as we crunch across it in our ski boots and the sound the ski pole makes when it plants in that same cold snow.  The myriad of sounds in the woods when sitting quietly in the deer stand, birds and animals that are silent when you pass by and then forget you are there.  Then there are the exciting sounds like the reverb of a glass kayak slamming down on the next wave as you quarter upwind.  The hissing sound of your skis as you blow down a hill and carve a turn or two and the adrenaline grand daddy of them all.  The crunching sound heard in a deer stand and the realization that it isn't a squirrel but a deer approaching over your shoulder. 

It's time to quiet down people.  Relax, look around, listen to and enjoy your surroundings, and think of other people as you move through your day with your mechanical and electronic assists.  And please, I beg of you, try your best to STFU.  The world will be a better place if you do.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Three is a charm

The third annual Gales Storm Gathering finally geared up after a bluebird day on Friday.   Friday was OK though, as we pushed the edging envelope in preparation for some more active water and I had the pleasure of attending a navigation class put on by John Carmody.  John seemed a bit disappointed in the lack of tides, unlike his native Maine, but as usual I learned a bunch in both the morning and afternoon session.  Our crew from Olstone passed on the Legendary Waters chow and attended the almost mandatory Friday fish fry that Wisconsin is known for.  In retrospect it was a good choice and we hit the sack early in preparation for what Lake Superior had promised for the next morning, small craft warnings and gale force gusts.

Since we did not get near Legendary Waters the night before we had to rely on MrEngineerGear to sign us up.  We gave him a strong C+ in communication and were able to fill in the gap when Mr. Kochevar's administrative assistant, Mr. Castillo, texted us with precise launch info and timing.  We were patiently awaiting guidance at the Village Inn in Cornie; more on that later.  We launched from Bark Slough, a spot mentioned more than once in this space, and headed out the Bark River and into the big lake.  There is a shoulder on the east side, the Roman Point side, where nasty, bouncy, wavy fun has been had at in the past and that is where we headed.  Suddenly the fairly boring edging and 360 turns that Joe K had us practicing on the flat water became anything but boring in the clapotis and bumpy water off the shoulder.  One of those lightbulb moments; push the edging on flat water and more edge will occur when you really need it on active water.  Simple but when you see it and do it, like most instruction, it tends to sink in.  Head position, stuff happening under the deck, and paddle movement suddenly click if you did your time on flat water.  Meanwhile RoundtheLakeRick, his official new blog name after completing his ten year, two week at a time circumnavigation of Gitchee Gumee, had felt a bit ill that morning.  No, I had nothing to do with it nor did the food or adult beverages.  He was just a bit off and decided to kick back that morning.  He quickly rallied and decided that he needed to get on the water and launched and headed up Bark Point in the eastern lee toward the tip.  He reported that when he stuck his nose around the point the 20-25 knot SW wind with fetch all the way from Duluth had made the water way too much fun for a guy out solo.  Back on the other side of the bay we had started to play with some rock gardening.  Gel coat was deposited and the BadHatter, a man who totally disdains the plastic bottom of his Prijon, would have been proud of the abuse that many of the roto molded hulls took as we squeezed through openings and limboed under cave passages.  The weather God's had indeed given us a nice day of paddling.

When the days fun ended, eight of us including three instructors posing as students, our Illinois contingent of RLRick and BearBoxSteve, MrEngineerGear,  and WrongWayKennedy (sorry buddy, you never should have told me that BWCA story), and two paddling luminaries from Rutabaga in Madtown, headed to the Village Inn and ordered a pitcher of South Shore Nut Brown and began to dissect the day. I would have paid to have FivePieceRoy stroll in for the paddle discussion.  Some post Whistlestop marathoners rehydrating, what appeared to be a bachelorette party was staging, and before we knew what was happening a party had erupted in the Village Inn.  When the bar buys you a pitcher you know you're having fun.  Some fresh Whitefish sandwiches, a large pitcher of water, and we were off for Legendary Waters and the presentations.

When we arrived at the casino I was cornered by one Mr. B. Castillo who asked me what I thought of a Saxon Harbor to Little Girl Point paddle to conclude Sunday's session.  I thought it was brilliant and before we could say 'do they have Nut Brown here?' the majority of Gales attendees had signed up for the adventure. The next morning we headed to sunny Saxon Harbor, back road of course, and launched at the marina with brilliant sunny skies and a lake with a bit of west wind chop and less than 2' waves.  It was an uneventful paddle with some mini surfing off the mouth of the Montreal River on the Wisconsin/Michigan border and some fun at the waterfall below the power dam.  Some folks headed to Little Girl for a shuttle back to Saxon Harbor and others turned around and paddled back.  Handshakes, hugs, and another Gales was in the books.

For the third year in a row the fall winds cooperated somewhat with some 'Goldilocks' conditions to play in on Saturday; not too big and not too small, just right for many of the attendees. Coaching was superb, the 'herd of cats' syndrome was in play at times, and the camaraderie of paddlers was at it's usual fine level.   The local connection definitely helped shape the venue and find the active water.  I also have to give kudos to the Village Inn. In addition to an excellent tap selection they have gone a step beyond with their solid and imaginative menu.  You also can't beat fish that was hauled out of the lake hours earlier.  Legendary Waters was a great spot to concentrate people, the meeting and motel rooms were decent, and the launch area worked very well.  My fear when the fancy new casino went in was that kayaks would no longer be welcome.  Instead they left the beach intact and even allow us to shower after a long Apostles trip as part of the launch fee.  I did hear some complaints about calorie intake but the prudent kayaker always throws in extra chow.  The shutdown screwed many people from distant states and countries out of seeing highlights of this beautiful park, with the Oak Spit, mainland and Sand Island caves, and Balancing Rock off Basswood being just a few of the spots that people missed out on.  Remember who shut it down next fall folks, and make em' pay.  Many of us are looking forward to a return to Marquette next year and if I remember half of what I learned through the deer hunting and ski seasons, I will be happy.  Thanks to all for sharing another great weekend on the water.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Gales are here!

On Thursday I will be joining several of my fellow paddlers,  heading up to the Legendary Waters Casino for the start of the third annual Gales Storm Gathering. Our casa in Washburn will be turned into a bunkhouse for a handful of attendees and we sincerely hope that the weather Gods provide us with some sort of wind and waves, if not actual gales.

We also hope that said Gods did not get their dates confused.  Last weekend was supposed to be the balmy Indian summer weather for the big Apple Festival in Bayfield, WI.  My buddy from Minocqua, SilenceOfTheLambChops, was scheduled to crash at our place after manning his photo booth along the waterfront at the Apple Festival.  At some point in the day the gusting northeast wind shredded his tent and I got a FB message that he had said to hell with it and headed for home.  The tarp was blown off my wood pile, held down by split wood on the corners, which prompted me to check the nearshore for the night.  "Gale warning in effect through 10am Sunday morning, winds from the northeast 25-30mph, gusting to 40mph, waves 10-14' subsiding to 6-8' early morning".  There was even a queasy video on Youtube of 30 seconds worth of the normally placid Madeline Island Ferry crossing with the comment, "we had to turn into that one, it was a big one". That may have been too much gale for kayaking but in the Apostles there is always a lee.  It would have been fun to sneak out somewhere but it was not in the cards.
Besides the weather the other wild card for the weekend is the government shutdown.  Say and think what you will, but the fact is that the government had never been shut down before because a group of legislators insisted that a law that had been passed by Congress, ratified by an election, and signed by the President be repealed before they pass the budget.  Which of course is their main job. I guess I learned in junior high civics that if you wanted to change a law, you helped elect legislators that would enact that change.  So the AINL, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will be closed.  This means no visitor center in Bayfield, no launching at Meyers Beach, and supposedly we can't get within 440 yards, a quarter mile, of any of the islands other than Madeline.  This should not be a problem unless attendees have a burning desire to see the Fresnel lens in the visitor center.  There are actually only two official NPS launch sites, Meyers Beach and Little Sand Bay.  Apparently Meyers beach, which pretty much has a parking lot, pit toilet, and no staffing on site, has a chain across the entrance.  This must be to make a point (or due to the ephemeral 'liability issues' thing that people always throw out when they don't have anything better) because no staffing is needed there and other than the summer weekends there is no one representing the NPS down there anyway.  The other launch, Little Sand Bay, closes after Labor Day but they can't padlock that one because the Town of Russell operates a campground and launch right next door.  Every other launch site in the area from Bark Bay to Cornie Beach to Red Cliff to Bayfield and the Washburn coal dock are open for business.  There will be zero problems getting on the water folks.

I'm sure that a good time will be had by all no matter what the weather and state of the dysfunctional US Government is.  We missed the Gales event last year in Wawa and had our own gales event in Homer, AK where we were nearly blown off the water.  It will be quiet in the area with many establishments in Bayfield, Maggies and the Bayfield Inn being a couple of notable exceptions, shut down after Apple Fest weekend.  Washburn however will be open and one of it's newest establishments, The Snug, will be the unofficial HQ of the Washburn contingent to the Gales.  Most definitely 'good craic' as the Irish say and the sign over the urinal, "Don't piss off the fairies" is advice that should be taken to heart.  Patsy's Bar just down the block serves a burger that was voted Best on the Lake by Lake Superior Magazine.  Some great tap handles as well including Summit EPA and Keewenaw Widow Maker. Wood fired pizza at DaLous rounds out that excellent block in Washburn. As usual it will be fun seeing friends from around the Great Lakes and beyond and the coaching once again will be superb.  As my friend from Cumbria in northern England says, "No such thing as bad weather mate, only shitty gear". Bring on the weekend!