Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The weekend ski report

The annual Intensive Training weekend found most of us wondering whether we would even be skiing because the trail conditions were so marginal.  The Birkie Tour was cancelled a week ago Saturday and the trails were pretty much skating rinks.  I guess all that it took was the ManFromSnowyLegs and I loading up the car and heading north for the snow to begin to fall.  We stopped at our favorite joint, the Trailways Inn south of Hayward, for supper and by the time we left driving had become exciting.  The rest of the gang rolled in and we headed for our favorite classical trail system, the Rock Lake loops, on Friday morning after an evening of beer, insults and loud complaints and accusations at the card table.

We were pretty sure that the US Forest Service would have not groomed the trails and we were spot on with that prediction.  There was about 6" of new snow on top of the ice however, and we had a wonderful day, even though we had to break trail.  The WoodFondlingBarrister is a man who favors, some say demands, perfectly set track and  even he had a good time in the woods.  These trails are narrow single track classical trails and the scenery is spectacular.  An area we call the White Pine Cathederal was breathtaking with it's towering canopy still snow covered from the night before. Classical style seems much more amenable to 'stopping and smelling the roses', and we stopped plenty to enjoy the brisk and snowy 12F day.  A little known post ski trick is to pay $5 and use the hot tub and pool facilities across the road at the Lakewoods resort; more on that later.

Saturday the group scattered.  The WFB absolutely required good track and lured the FamousCrimminalDefense attorney up to Mount Ashwabay with him.  Pod, the KingOfIronwoodIsland, and Spools headed back to Rock Lake to tackle the Holy Grail, the 16k loop, and the MFSL and I headed to the North End trails so we could skate and classical as well.  The snow was soft, I was soft, and my skis had wrong and not enough wax for cold temps with new snow.  The trail was 12k but under the conditions, including the 1,500 plus feet of vertical, it felt like about 30k.  The snow was soft but everything was covered, rolled, and the ice did not show through.  Even the actual Birkie and Kortie trails were nice, although soft.  We discovered that the Telemark lodge also had that same $5 health club deal.  We also noted that their sauna worked perfectly and that the Telemark hot tub had nordic skiers in it.  I'm going to throw out a generalization here but I've noticed that the average cross country skier generally appears a bit more fit and has a slightly different body type than the average snowmobiler.  I personally know exceptions but as a general rule.......Anyway, we had a lovely hot tub soak and nice conversation with some folks from Sparta, WI and some women from a Milwaukee ski club at Telemark on an annual ski trip.  In a controlled experiment we also discovered that while 4%ABV Bitter American froze in the car while we skied, that the 5.7% ABV Indeed Day Tripper stayed nicely liquid.  Ain't science wonderful?  Meanwhile back at Lakewoods the hot tub was a far different experience.  A group of couples, fresh off the snowmobile trails joined the boys for their soak.  From the Kings description, any one of them, male or female, could have easily blocked BJ Raji or Clay Matthews.  He also offered the opinion that they had been drinking for a fair period before entering the hot tub. Not quite as relaxing as our experience but variety can indeed be the spice of life.

We finished the weekend with the Washburn Pursuit: 5k skate at Mt Ashwabay, 5k classic at the same venue, and a pint of Widow Maker and a Patsy burger at the bar of the same name.  There is far more snow in Ashland, Washburn, and Bayfield (hint:if you take the first couple letters of each city you come up with.....Ashwabay!) than even 30 minutes south of there.  We did manage to get pulled over for speeding and, deja vu from the drive up, hit snow about halfway home.  35W had the 25-35mph crawl so we slid over to Old 61 where we could careen down the snow  covered roads at a more appropriate 50mph or so.

Even with marginal driving I have to say bring on the snow!  I think more will be needed before the Birkie and the 5" or so will help the Vasaloppet trail, which is scheduled in two weeks.  The Book Across the Bay is in three weeks and we can only hope that none of those crappy hot days or rain storms will screw up any of those races.  This was the first decent weekend of what we all hope will be many more this ski season.  That is, after all, why we live up here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When at ski, the number is three - Rescue in the Northwoods

The above rule applies to sea kayaking and has been borne out countless times, including several incidents that I've personally been involved in.  I never thought much about it when cross country skiing however, simply because the risk factors we think about in sea kayaking, drowning, being blown out to sea, and other water related aspects just aren't there in the woods.  A couple are though, and hypothermia and remote locations with marginal access are most definitely cross country ski risks in many of northern Wisconsin areas.  As we learned from first hand experience on Saturday. 
Five of us headed to the Valhalla ski area in the Chequamagon National Forest for a short 6 or 7k afternoon ski before tying into some happy hour cheer and whipping up a nice supper.    We split up at a trail junction with a couple folks opting for a slightly shorter and somewhat less hilly loop.  I was with the threesome that took the longer route.  All was well until KK fell at the top of a long hill and yelled to her hubby and I, who were in the lead, for help.  I skied back and KK, a physicians assistant in 'real life', told us she couldn't feel or move her lower leg and it felt like she had broken her femur. After less than 60 seconds of consultation we decided that BK would stay with his wife and that I ski back to get help.  We had a cell phone but no service. I skied the 2k back to the parking lot as fast as I've ever skied and arrived, drenched with sweat, to find the other couple, BS and JS, just getting back to the parking area.  Still no cell service so I jumped in the car with BS and we headed for the closest help.  Fortunately, as a Wisconsin boy, I knew the location of the closest bar, where we called 911 on the landline.  We drove back to the parking lot in heinous disregard of the posted speed limit and BS headed back up the trail with blankets to KK's location which I had pointed out to him on the map.  A Bayfield Co. Deputy arrived very shortly after we got back and the Washburn Ambulance with both a Bombadier type vehicle and a snowmobile with a rescue sled showed up a short time later.  At least a half hour had passed and all I could think of was KK lying in the snow on a windy hillside with a broken leg. I told the paramedics on the snowmobile that I would show them how to get to KK back in the woods and they agreed.  Maybe 40 minutes had elapsed at this point, it's tough to tell.  We reached KK and BK and I'm not sure which of us were the most relieved. The paramedic did a quick check and went back to the sled. I heard him call for a helicopter evac to Duluth and to have an ortho surgeon ready. Unfortunately our balmy 25F day at the start of our ski had rapidly deteriorated.  The wind had kicked up to 20-25mph, the temperature had dropped ten degrees, and it had begun to flurry.  No helicopter would be heading our way.  BS then showed up at the top of the hill with he blankets.  After what had to be an excruciatingly painful stabilizing of the leg and loading on to the sled, we slowly made our way to the parking lot to avoid any unnecessary jarring and jostling. KK was loaded into the waiting ambulance where she was warmed up and stabilized.  I helped load the sled and gear and waited for BK and BS to ski out. The ambulance was still there when they arrived and BK was able to accompany his wife to the ER at St Lukes in Duluth. 

Lots of stuff went right, some could have been done better, and lessons were learned by Yours Truly.  The Bayfield Co sheriff's deputy was there faster than I could have imagined. I can't say enough about the professionalism and responsiveness of the Washburn Volunteer Ambulance Service.   They were there in no time, had all the right gear for the job, and coordinated the rescue very well. Ashland EMTs handled things when we got back to the parking lot and it sounded like a smooth trip to Duluth where surgery was successfully performed.  As I mentally walked through the afternoon, several times, a few things jumped out.

I did not wear my regular fanny pack, the one with the space blanket, candle, matches, stuffed down sweater, etc.  After all, it was just a short afternoon jaunt.  I could have utilized almost all of that stuff.  A gps would have been nice as well. I could have punched the coordinates and handed off the exact location.  Being the only one with the exact location, and only having it in my head was a troublesome thought.  I was able to point out the exact spot on a paper map to the EMTs and the comment was made, most likely from experience, that 'there are quite a few people that couldn't do that'.  Learn to read a map, carry one with you, and pay attention to where you are.  The cell phone was useless and I don't plan on a SAT phone for skiing; maybe a SPOT tracker but in this case the run to the bar seemed quicker.  Why I thought that BS needed to ride shotgun to the bar escapes me at this point.  He was working the cell phone, looking for bars/signal but we hit the bar before we had any coverage.  Having him ski out with the blankets immediately would have been the prudent thing to do.  JS could have came along to work the phone but we thought having someone in the parking lot in case help arrived was important.  Heading for the bar and it's landline was the best choice there since there were no houses in the National Forest; we did not even pass another car on that stretch.  BS heading out with more blankets was a good move as well. I was more than a little worried about hypothermia at that point.  As I write this post its -9F with a 10mph wind; I'm glad those were not the conditions on Saturday.  I couldn't go back with the blankets since I was the guy who knew precisely where she was, but we agreed that getting more insulation out there was critical with the dropping temp. I think the most crucial thing for getting KK out of the woods was having three of us.  Had she been alone she would have waited 45 minutes for the next skier to pass by, which one did when we were loading KK on the sled.  Two would have meant that the only recourse would have been to leave her there alone, cold and injured, to get help. This would be a poor choice, one that would be very tough to make.

Next weekend is our annual Intensive Training weekend.  We ski in spots with longer trails that are far more remote than the Valhalla loops.  11k thru 16k loops with some tough terrain.  Last Saturdays events and lessons will be in the forefront of our 'preflight' planning before we head out the door.  When at all possible, when we ski, the number will be three. My ‘survival’ fanny pack will be the big one that holds more than just extra wax, a cork, and a bottle of water.  We will communicate which trail we are on and give a reasonable time that we will be back at the parking lot.    

The VOR and I visited BK and KK in the hospital in Duluth yesterday.  KK had a long rod and some screws holding her femur together; “First broken bone ever and it has to be the biggest one in the body” was her comment.  I saw the x-ray and cringed a bit.  A clean break with jagged bone tips and a couple of cracks to go along with it.  She was up and moving however, and learning to use the walker and negotiate stairs.  The doctors say a complete recovery with no restrictions is the prognosis.  She is indeed a very tough lady.  Hubby BK was happy to change out of his ski boots after a couple days since details like a change of clothes were not on our radar as the ambulance sped off from Valhalla to Duluth. 

Play safe in the woods people.  Stuff is going to happen and it’s so much easier if you have a couple of things in place to deal with it.  Especially if it’s cold like it is this week in the Great Lakes states.  Perhaps when it’s below zero having a beer in that local bar is preferable to racing in to grab the phone for a 911 call.  Whatever you decide, please use your brain and think ahead a bit.  And be sure to get out there and have some good, safe fun in the snow.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Breakwater in Grand Marais, MI

A copy of the fine publication, 'The Great Lakes Pilot' showed up in the house over the holidays.  The headline story was the celebration in Grand Marais, MI when the final rock showed up to complete the long awaited breakwater in the harbor, the only decent harbor of refuge along the 'shipwreck coast' between Sault St. Marie and Munising.  As usual the GLP did not pull any punches with the story lead, "Finally!  Five decades and hundreds of thousands of wasted bureaucratic US Army Corp of Engineers dollars later; the people of Grand Marais never gave up".  The story of the town attempting to get funding for this necessary project, the tragedy that jump started this successful effort, and the national campaign to make people aware of the issue have been publicized in many places, including this blog.

All of us that attended the 2009 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Marais will recall Jack Hubbard's impassioned speech at the pasty dinner, the kind of passion and committment that only a guy that lost three friends as a result of the deteriorated harbor can bring to the table.  In the end a combination of the Readers Digest grant and some heat from the states elected officials caused the Feds to do the right thing and restore the harbor.  Relentless and steady pressure, pretty much since the last time the harbor was upgraded during the Roosevelt administration, was what it took to turn the vast ore freighter that is the Federal bureaucracy.

This summer after the chaos and fun filled days of the GLSKS in July, a bunch of us rented a place in Munising to kick back and enjoy the week after the sympsosium.  Sometime midweek the BadHatter and I, along with his empathetic spouse StHollyOfAssisi, headed up to Grand Marais to see what the town was like without a couple hundred kayakers milling around, and to play in the anticipated 5-7 footers out of the northeast.  We also had a chance to check out the progress on the breakwater up close and personal.  It was instructive checking out all the heavy equipment and the gigantic rocks that they were piling into the lake.  The crew was not working that day because of the very thing that we drove up there for, wind and waves.  St Holly decided to stay in the harbor and the BadHatter and I paddled out past the end of the breakwater into the open lake.  5-7' was an optimistic forecast and the biggest stuff we saw was around 5' or so.  When these waves hit he end of the new breakwater however, they would steepen, get higher, and afford us some outstanding surf rides.  On one of them the BadHatter took a relatively spectacular endo that yanked him right out of the boat.  We executed a relatively decent rescue as we were washed into the harbor and immediately headed out for more.  Old guys like us only have a finite amount of runs into the wind though, and there is no tow rope or chairlift like there is at the ski hill to ease our 'uphill' struggles.  Once we were happily exhausted we collected St Holly and headed directly for the Dunes Saloon where we met the rest of the crew that had biked up part of the new blacktop road from Munising to Grand Marais.  Fresh Lake Superior Whitefish and a couple pints of Cabin Fever ESB made for a really nice end to a great afternoon.  We all agreed that we were anxious to see the completed breakwater when we head up for the 2013 GLSKS.  If Bill Thompson, GLSKS Grand Poobah, or the often inscrutable, sometimes sadistic Mr. Kelly Blades are reading this, I would suggest 'Breakwater Surfing 101' as a possible course offering.  Heck, I'll bet Keith Wikle and Ray Boucher would be happy to teach the thing!

The moral of the story of course, is that after years of lobbying, begging, cajoling, and finally a national campaign via Readers Digest to publicize the issue, the deal got done in Grand Marais harbor.  Sadly, it also took at least three lives to punctuate the situation.  One might extrapolate this tenacious public effort to our ongoing wolf hunting with dogs debate.  I guess a person of group just needs to keep on 'em.  In any event the harbor of refuge has been restored in Grand Marais and a safe place to land on that 90 mile long shipwreck coast is in place.  Nicely done, strong work by the folks up in Grand Marais.  I can't wait for July.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Release the hounds!

Last Friday Judge Peter Anderson ruled on the motion to ban the use of dogs for wolf hunting. Not Irish Wolfhounds like the good looking boy with No.2 son above, but packs of hound breeds trained for bear hunting. It was a mixed message from the judge, one that really didn't please either the DNR, who wanted no restrictions on anything, or the plaintiffs who wanted a total ban on the use of dogs to hunt wolves.  You can read the story here from the Milwaukee Journal and some blog commentary here from the same paper.  Judge Anderson said that "There is no evidence that there is a safe way to undertake training of dogs to hunt wolves. The agency (DNR) had authority to put in place rules, but it failed to act".  In another comment on training he said that, "It is not sufficient for the agency to disregard all the evidence on this issue, or more specifically, to do nothing".  He then turned around and dismissed the motion, which allows the hunting of wolves with dogs to begin next season.  In a nutshell you can't train the dogs but you can hunt wolves with them during the 2013 season.

It sounds to me that next fall in northern Wisconsin is gonna feature a few dog fights unless something changes. It's a bit puzzling to me how the same logic that Judge Anderson used to ban the unrestricted training of dogs would not apply to the actual hunting of wolves with dogs.  Once again, it is inevitable that there will be dog fights with wolves, especially when the wolves are cornered.  These dogs will be running through rough country in pursuit of the wolves where ATV's or 4WD pickups, the primary means of conveyance for both wolf and bear dog hunters, have difficulty navigating.  When the wolf has finally had enough and decides it's time to kick some hound ass, its going to take some time for the 'hunters' with their radio tracking devices to get to the scene so they can 'humanely' dispatch the poor wolf.  The real kick in the collective taxpayer's hind end is that when  one of these inevitable dog fights occur, we get to pay for the dog if it's killed!  You can't make that stuff up, you just can't.  Here is the DNR's own site on 'Dog depredation by wolves in Wisconsin'.  It would seem that DNR head Cathy Stepp and her bear dog buddies that came up with this unlimited dog training rule (actually it isn't really a rule, it's a lack of a rule as Judge Anderson pointed out) completely missed reading the publication that her own agency put out.  It would seem that the DNR has recognized and tracked these wolf/dog fights and has even generated maps of areas to avoid.  Here is what Ms. Stepp's agency publication tells us about wolves and how they behave when they perceive threats, especially from other canines:  As with other wild canids, wolves are very territorial and will guard their territories from other wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs. Wolves are probably most aggressive toward strange wolves and dogs at den and rendezvous sites when their pups are small, during the breeding season in January and February, and when they are protecting a fresh kill. Wolf packs have pups in spring and then later will use rendezvous sites from mid May to late September, after the pups are big enough to leave their den. Adult wolves are very defensive of pups at rendezvous sites and will attack other predators, including dogs, that get too close to the rendezvous site or the pups.  To help prevent these encounters the DNR has created 'wolf caution areas' and a very good, common sense set of guidelines on how to best avoid those areas.  Enter the wolf hunter with his dog pack, gps radio collars, Toyota Tundra pickup, and six pack of Old Milwaukee Lite.  How do you think he is going to utilize that publication/website and its accompanying maps?  You think maybe he's going to let the dogs out smack dab in the middle of the caution area so they can get on some wolf scent?  To use a common phrase from my junior high bus rides, no shit Sherlock, of course he is.  Then when his Plott, Walker, Redbone, or other breed gets ripped up, we get to pay for it.  There is another unintended piece of fallout from this whole wolf hunting thing.  People who have tracked wolves every winter, trained by the Timberwolf Alliance in Tomahawk, WI, to assist the DNR in wolf monitoring, have told the DNR that they will not be tracking wolves this winter because the information, most certainly public like the caution maps, can be obtained by wolf hunters to help them more easily kill wolves.  This would include our group and hunting camp in the area of the Flag River pack in western Bayfield Co.
As usual, the state legislature created the mess and they can most certainly clean it up.  I would appear from objective evidence that wolf hunters did pretty well this year without dogs and in fact the season closed way early when the quota was reached.  There will almost certainly be a bill introduced shortly that calls for a ban on wolf hunting with dogs.  Put a little heat on them.  Tell Ms. State Senator and Mr. State Representative just what you think of this situation.  See if we can generate some of the same righteous indignation that we did when it came out that Michael Vick was sponsoring dog fights. Heck, maybe if that same logic was applied regarding aiding, abetting, and sponsoring dog fights and extrapolated to this situation, Cathy Stepp might be doing some time in Taycheedah Women's Correctional Institiution, a fine facility that I've personally visited and still makes me shudder 35 years later.  Send those state legislators a letter, email, or give them a call.  Or all three. This should not be any sort of party line thing.  From what I've seen everyone from bleeding heart liberals to reactionary red neck conservatives loves dogs.  I can guar-damn-tee ya, if this hunt goes through you are going to be buying some dead dogs with your Wisconsin tax dollars.  I can't recall hunting over many dogs that weren't faithful, loyal, and put out a good effort in the field.  These dogs deserve better than this poorly thought out wolf hunt is going to give them. 

(Photo credits: some guy in No2 son's unit; Wisconsin DNR)

This just in.  Plaintiffs in the wolf hunting with dogs motion, the one ruled on last Friday per the above story, have asked the judge to reconsider.  They will be filing a motion which asks him to review his own decision rather than appealing it at a higher level.

Monday, January 7, 2013

More specialized paddling gear

As I paged through my February edition of Sea Kayaker magazine I noticed that we can now purchase a 'Voyageur PFD for seniors', a new product from MTI adventure wear.  Since the mean age of touring sea kayakers is approximately 67 years old and I've been a doddering member of AARP for five years myself, I thought I'd check out the features on this new piece of gear.  I'm not sure how the 'high back' features benefits we ancients, maybe it prevents our head from lolling back if we doze off during a crossing, but the long yellow zipper pulls are an obvious asset for locating zippers if we don't have our trifocal Ray Ban's on.  This lifejacket does have an expandable pocket for said Ray Ban's however, as well as a big fleece lined pocket for arthritic fingers and a large patch on the front to keep the paddlers name, address, and phone number handy in case it was forgotten during a 'senior moment'.  As innovative as these features are, I don't think they go quite far enough and I have a couple suggestions for added features.

I see a spot for a whistle on the left breast pocket.  If they added one of those seven day pill containers underneath it, I think that would really benefit we geriatrics.  Along those lines, embedding a couple of carbon fiber paddles and a having a plug in port like the iPad connector in many new cars would allow the paramedics to just plug the defibrillator in, yell 'clear', and nail the unconscious paddler with the voltage.  One of the crucial issues concerning we senior paddlers is incontinence on a long crossing.  While many males have perfected the 'peeing brace', opening the spray skirt and locating one's unit while wearing a wet or dry suit can be problematic and very difficult in rough seas.  I would suggest a detachable leg catheter bag on the back of the lifejacket that can be used in conjunction with a condom catheter (sorry ladies, I don't think the Foley cath would be a good choice for this feature) to offer peace of mind on the long crossings.  Finally, some sort of inflatable lumbar support for our weak backs would really make this a lifejacket that we paddlers in our dotage could get behind.

I like MTI and think they make a fine lifejacket, but I couldn't leave the bat on my shoulder when I saw this new marketing attempt.  Way back in 2008 I did a post on specialized marketing for ridiculous things like socks. If you are thinking of a new pfd and like the features on the Voyager, by all means buy it.  If you have a perfectly good lifejacket that's comfortable and function on the other hand, I don't think you need to run out and grab this one to enhance your senior paddling experience.  I witnessed what I think was the ultimate in multi function outdoor gear on Saturday night as I watched the Packers school the Vikings at the Frontier Bar in scenic downtown Cedar, WI.  At halftime of the game the WoodFondlingBarrister walked into the bar.  He had arrived via snow machine but did not look the part of the typical 'belthead', a endearing nickname that we 'tree huggers' (XC skiers) have for our snowmobile riding brethren. Gleaming full face helmets, clothing in colors not found in nature, and multiple corporate logos ala' NASCAR is the typical snowmobile clothing. The WFB strolled in with a set of canvas coveralls, accented by a shapeless logo free blue jacket, and a stocking cap topped by a bicycle helmet.  Since there were no other snowmobilers in there to see it, we were forced to remark on his outfit and not in a positive, life affirming manner.  Nonetheless he assured us that his thrown together ensemble had gotten him from home to the Frontier and he was pretty confident that it would get him back. 

Good gear is what works for you.  Form, fit, and function with the strong emphasis on the latter two is a good mantra when choosing new gear.  It's obvious that the WoodFondlingBarrister placed 0% emphasis on form but the somewhat ludicrous gear did the trick.  In the end I guess that's what we need in outdoor gear although if a couple extra bucks nets you a bit of 'form' that's all good as well.