Monday, March 25, 2013

The Other Side of the Island

The last line in the previous post was prophetic.  I hit 'publish' on the post and almost at the same time received a text from ChrisG in Bayfield asking if I was up for taking the ice road over to Madeline and launching at the Town Park on Saturday.  I figured I might as well since the boat would be sitting on the roof rack waiting to go down to Iowa to paddle Red Rocks over Easter weekend.  The plan was firmed up and we met at the Beach Club in LaPointe at one pm.  You have to like a joint that doesn't mind three guys pulling on dry suits in their bar room, no matter what the bartender and patrons are quietly thinking about their sanity.

The normally arduous boat hump from the parking lot to the beach at the Town Park was made much easier by the fact that kayaks could be pulled like sleds in the snow.  The ice berm where the waves had piled up the plate ice on the beach wasn't too high and launching wasn't that tough.  ChrisG opted for the seal launch and RobR and I just jumped in the water and into our boats.  This was not Meyers Beach on a July weekend; we did not have to wait for a launch or parking spot.  We cut across Big Bay to the  point where the ice sculpture and mini caves began.  ChrisG had a pebble in his skeg and asked if I'd reach down and free it.  Being the good friend that I am I said hell no, my gloves aren't that waterproof.  We stopped on the edge of the ice for some knife work, freed the skeg, and then continued up the shore.

The ice was amazing.  It was so clear and so blue that the images don't do justice.  Breaking waves had coated the shoreline and everything on it with a skim of ice and that alone was worth the price of admission.  When we reached the point and the cave area, a constant feature on all islands and mainland areas where sandstone rock faces the northeast, we found a miniature of what is typically seen at the mainland sea caves, a wonderful park feature that once again this year  had inadequate ice to walk out for a visit.  We played in the caves for a bit and then continued on around Madeline Island in a counter clockwise direction.  We heard a shout from the top of the cliff and found RangerMark, former Czar of Big Bay State Park, along with the GreenThumbChef on their cross country skis.  It is most definitely that 'tween season' on Gitchee Gumee.  At some point we expected to hit the pack ice between Madeline and the point of Long Island but we didn't get that far.  We did hit a 30-40 yard wide band of floating ice pack that stretched east as far as we could see.  There was a light swell out of the northeast and the ice undulated as we attempted to use our craft as ice breakers and punch through. It's fun for about two minutes and then it gets old.  At that point we decided it was a good time to head back to Town Park beach and then the welcoming arms of the Beach Club and some lovely South Shore Nut Brown Ale.  There was a failed seal landing attempt and then we all just jumped in the water, water that even with two pairs of socks, a dry suit, and neoprene booties was very brisk. More boat schlepping and in no time we had a cold one in front of us, which tasted great even though we were admittedly a bit cold ourselves.  We made it back to Bayfield on the ice road, which can close at any time. This might be for a few hours, days, or the season and it had closed mid week last week due to blowing and drifting snow.  At that point you get a ride to Bayfield on the windsled and can come back and get your car when the road opens back up in a few hours, days or weeks when the ferry begins to run.

It was a fine adventure and I'm glad Chris and Rob  thought of me when the scheme was hatched.  It's always a bit shaky when getting back into that 21' wide boat after the winter layoff but it only takes aa hundred yards or so before the muscle memory kicks in and it all comes back.  When at sea the number is three and it was good to have that paddling troika in place.  My drysuit worked great, my glove and headgear were perfectly adequate, and it was a very comfortable first paddle of the season. This is the third Palm Sunday paddle on the big lake, previous ones being with GalwayGuy and ChrisG and one with MrEngineeerGear.  With Palm Sunday a moving target conditions can vary greatly.  I guess that's just part of the fun living  in this part of the world.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, March 22, 2013

More ice road fun

Both before and after the annual St Patrick's Day party at the Frontier Bar last weekend,  SSMatt and I drove the ice road from Bayfield over to LaPointe on Madeline Island.  As in past escapades of this type, the VOR refused to join us with her usual irrefutable logic.  "There are things I have to do, like go to work.  One of the things I don't have to do is drive over 165' deep Lake Superior water on a few inches of frozen water".  I guess I can't argue with that.  Matt and I cruised over before the party and had a beer at the Beach Club, it's namesake beach covered with snow and abutted by frozen water.  The next day, bloodied yet unbowed by the Bushmills that was served up along with the music at the Frontier the night before, we had RangerMark join us for a return trip to the island.

RangerMark used to work on the island and had to get there via ferry, wind sled, or ice road for years.  The road is a boon for islanders during its short annual lifespan.  For that limited time of the year they can move freely back and forth to the mainland without worrying about schedules or cost, hauling stuff that was too bulky or too expensive to move via ferry boat.  Anyone who had spent any time on Madeline Island has raced down to the dock to avoid missing the last ferry of the day at some point.  Most of us have made it.  In addition to being convenient, driving on ice is just plain fun.  In the golden age of rear wheel drive cars, a turn of the wheel and application of some gas could have you careening across the ice in circles instantly.  These days with the front wheel drive cars, one needs to hammer the emergency brake to get the vehicle sideways on the ice.  It is still great fun and I firmly believe great practice if a driver ever loses traction for real on a snow covered highway.

There is a large sign at both ends of the road saying 'travel at your own risk'.  Those like the VOR choose not to risk it.  Like kayaking and many other endeavors risk analysis and management is a valuable skill.  It had snowed the night before and we noticed that the ice road had been nicely plowed.  The inarguable fact that it had not been above freezing for a week, combined with a heavy snowplow crossing the road a couple hours earlier made for an easy decision to head out on the ice.  We also saw two pickups and fish houses just off the road.  When we got closer I realized that it was Charly Ray, ISS head and former czar of the Living Forest Co-op, the group that assisted us with our timber sale.  The fish were not biting but we agreed that it was a great day to be out on the ice.  We did notice that the road had been re-routed a bit past the fishermen.  The ice can be like the tectonic plates in the earth.  Fault lines can cause the ice to buckle and heave with wind, waves, and expansion and contraction.  This often results in a cannon like crack or boom, very disconcerting for those uninitiated in the ways of frozen water.

The key is to stay on the road.  RangerMark tells the story of the kids driving on the ice road and practicing their Louies, Shitties, or whatever the vernacular term was for spinning your car in circles as described above.  They careened over the plow berm, off the road, and came to rest, stuck in a snowbank.  They got out and trudged to Madeline Island to get help to pull the car out.  When they got back the car was gone.  Stolen? Nope, bottom of the lake in 100' of water. Cars generally don't just crack through the ice.  First the wheels break through, the frame begins to settle, and eventually, like the scene in the movie Titanic, the car slips below the ice.  Veteran ice road drivers take the precaution of removing the seat belts and rolling the windows down, just in case (Insert VOR shaking head right here).  RangerMark was actually the hero in this case because the next time he drove to work he stopped and punched a gps reading next to the hole.  When the thaw came the DNR was on the kids to get the car out of there.  Unfortunately they didn't know just exactly where it was.  Enter RM.  Between divers and barges with winches it cost around $6,000 to drag the car out.  Moral of the story: Always stay on the ice road.  It is checked several times a day.  The usual reason for closing is a gigantic pressure heave that can't be dealt with or ice melting away from the shore, logically the thinnest point and the first to thaw.

This is another low ice year on the lake.  That can be seen in the sat photo image.  We could have easily driven across the ice road, headed to Big Bay State Park on the east side of the island, and seal launched through the shore ice and had a lovely paddle in open water.  I suspect the same thing could have been done Meyers Beach and the mainland sea caves.  This weekend is Palm Sunday.  GalwayGuy, ChrisG, and I visited Eagle Island on that day a couple years back.  MrEngineerGear and I did the same thing two years ago.  The Coho Salmon are biting through the ice in the bay and that may trump any thoughts of paddling.  I do need to move some boats this weekend however;  you just never know what could happen when I get that Explorer on my shoulder.......

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Canoecopia debriefing

This is a bit belated due to a bidness trip to Louisville, Looavull, Lewisville, Luhvul, pick your pronunciation, but a few days of reflection can help clarify thoughts and observations.  At this point I could launch into an anti Delta Airlines rant about losing my bag on a one way flight with no layovers but I think I'll save that for my work blog.  Since I spent a considerable amount of time at both venues standing at a booth with a name badge around my neck, that's probably as good a place as any to begin the discussion.

I spent lots of quality time helping to man the Bad River Watershed booth at Canoecopia and had nothing but positive response to the message and the concerns about the mining bill that was railroaded through Wisconsin's one party government system.  Once it was passed in the Duma it was quickly rubber stamped the next week by the Chairman of the Central Committee. Canoecopia fell between those two events, a fact that at least 70% of the booth visitors were aware of.  The display of aquatic insects that are present in cold, clear, clean water was a great idea and most people looked at the nymphs and wet and dry flies (can you tell I fly fish), bugs actually called macroinvetrebrates, and understood the 'canary in the coal mine' concept regarding these insects and water quality.  Big thanks to Darren Bush for finding the BRWA not only a booth at the last minute, but a booth next to Paddling,net and their constant drawings and across from Wenonah/Current Designs.  That's what the retailers refer to as a high traffic area.  When I thanked him he said very simply, "It's important".  Very well stated.

We did get a chance to wander the show as well, accompanied by our buddy the UndergroundHippie from Omaha, who braved winter storms to make the 15 hour round trip.  At least he didn't lose his luggage en route.  Standing in one place made it pretty easy to run into dozens of friends, including an old college buddy from Racine that I hadn't seen for 35 years.  I don't recall anything amazing new products although there were some nice riffs on existing stuff as well as some new hulls in the boat area.  Seeing both Chesapeake and Pygmy kit boat folks there was great.  Son CptO and I built a CLC 17LT back in 1999, a fun father/son project that resulted in a great boat. Both booths had great buzz and constant traffic.  For some reason people just can't resist caressing a nicely varnished wooden boat and  I am no exception.  There was not much Greenland gear there, although friends Christopher Crowhurst and Ron Steinwell had paddles and rolling paraphernalia and there was one other paddle maker, although no sign of Brooks or Reed Chillcheater in the place.  I guess we are a small, devoted lunatic fringe and it's probably good that we stay that way.

Many people have written that Canocopia is all about community and I have to agree with that assessment.  Between running into paddling cronies, attending the many presentations, and lusting after new gear, my paddling interest was certainly kindled for the 2013 liquid water season.  I still plan to sneak across the ice road to Madeline Island this weekend at some point before or after the annual Frontier Bar St Pat's party, but I will also get the boats and gear ready for the first paddle trip of the year, which is Red Rocks Lake in Iowa over Easter.  I also pulled the trigger, after having an iPhone with the credit card reader app waved at me by Keith Wikle every time I saw him, on attending the Gales Storm Gathering in October in my home waters of the Apostle Islands.  I'm already looking forward to that and hoping for foul weather.   Bill Thompson and Mr. K Blades were also there and reminded me that the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, the granddaddy of em all on the Great Lakes, was open for registration.  Bill was there promoting Ladies of the Lake, another fine event, this year on Drummond Island.  I also need to give Northwest Canoe some business with the cracked deck on my Explorer.  I told Dennis at NW that I would be a much more careful paddler if not for him, and that I wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.  They also had a nice booth at Canoecopia, yet another example of the community of paddlers.

Thanks for all the support for the Bad River Watershed, it was great seeing everyone, and look out paddling season, here we come!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bad River Watershed - ours or 'Mine'?

There are tree hugging environmentalists that are opposed to any mine in almost a knee jerk fashion, even though they directly benefit from the products of the mine.  On the other side the rabid 'screw the environment, jobs, jobs, jobs!' group never met a corporation they didn't like. What's good for GM is good for America!  There can be a middle ground however.  There is nothing inherently wrong with an iron mine.  As long as the mining companies play by the rules.  The problem with GTAC and the proposed northern Wisconsin mine is that they are working hard and throwing wheelbarrows of cash at Wisconsin legislators to legislate away the most important rules and safeguards.

To reduce the issue to a personal scale, let's say I have a unique, custom one of a kind dining room set that I'm willing to sell.  I advertise on Craig's List that I will let it go for $1000.  The only call I get is from a Mr. G. Tack. He tells me that he would love the dining room set and that he's the only one that can properly use it or efficiently remove it from my home.  He offers me $500 and informs me that due to the new TRA, the Table Recovery Act that just passed the State Legislature and was signed by the Governor, he would have to take $200 of that, 40%, and give it to the neighborhood association on the other side of town.  I have fond memories of selling another dining room set decades ago, and I've been strapped for cash for awhile so I agree.  On the appointed day, Mr. Tack show up with his crew to remove the large dining room set from my house. He'd suggested to me that he might use the neighborhood kids and pay them to help with the removal work but when the time came he told me that is was far too technical and difficult, and that the neighborhood kids really weren't qualified to help. Unfortunately things don't go well.  They knock the molding off my door, put a chair leg through the window, and punch a couple big holes in the sheet rock. A couple of them have tar on their boots and track it all over my carpeting. Even worse, a few days after they leave, I find that a couple of them have crapped down my well!  I complain to one of my buddies and he says I'm an idiot, that these guys have done the same thing time and time again.  I told him that I'd read a few things like that but it was in a differnt state and the guy in those cases was named Mr. Cline.  Same guy my buddy says, why do you think he changed his name? That's bullshit I say, I'm gonna sue! Well, it would appear that the Table Recovery Act prohibits any attempts to recover for the damage that they caused to my home or anyone else's home.  So I'm stuck with $300 for a dining room set that was worth $1000 and I've got $1500 worth of damages to my house.  Oh, one more thing.  They ain't making any new dining room sets like the one I 'sold'.  Looks like I'll be counting that $300, which will soon be gone, while I sit on the floor eating my supper.

If one reads the massive bill, a couple hundred pages, you will quickly realize that analagy isn't very far off.  One of the key proponents,  Sen. Tom Tiffany, says wording changes in the legislation were designed to protect the state from a legal challenge.  “We are simply being honest,” Tiffany says. “There will be some impacts but they will be limited. Changing the word 'unnecessary' to 'necessary' lets the judge know it was the Legislature’s intent that there will be some adverse impacts."  In other words, its designed to protect both GTAC as well as the state after they laid down and rolled over on the deal.  And it would appear that they won't even get a treat after rolling over!  Here is how the iron ore deal works in Minnesota: Mines and facilities used in the production of taconite are exempt from the property tax. In lieu of the property tax, the iron mining industry pays a production tax based on the tons of taconite produced. The industry is also exempt from the corporate franchise tax and instead pays an occupation tax In Minnesota the public gets roughly $2.50 a ton for ore and no property tax is paid as noted above. The spot price for taconite is around $150/ton. That comes to 1.5% tax.  What's the sales tax percentage in your state?  What percentage of your income is your property tax?  Hell, the Wisconsin bill doesn't even have the tonnage tax!  That was thrown out in favor of a 'net proceeds tax' which gives GTAC a much greater latitude for cooking the books and tax avoidance.  The fact is that the US has enough iron ore for our usage for the next 100 years.  The spot market price mentioned above allude to the "62% Fe iron ore cfr North China".  Gosh, I wonder where most of that iron ore will go? The Chinese will almost surely be using it for consumer goods, much as the Japanese used our scrap steel in the 1930's for consumer goods, like the toaster at right.  Follow the money folks, it's always good advice.  In this case the money flows pretty strongly in a single direction.

Many of us are heading to Canoecopia on Friday to drool over new boats and gear, connect with friends, tell lies, drink beer, and talk smart.  There is one other thing you can add to that list.  Stop by the Bad River Watershed Association booth and help with the effort to baseline the streams, rivers, and lakes in the watershed.  It's right next to the booth and its kayak drawing and across from Wenonah Canoe.  It's manned and womanned by the people who live in the area and is supported by many of the 'downstream' stakeholders, including the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  For the cost of lunch and a couple beers you can join up and support the science of the issue rather than follow the money.

Since the '70's I have carried a tin cup on my deck when I've been out in the lake.  If I am more than a mile offshore I drink the lake water by dipping said cup.  Whether this is recommended or not, I've never had an issue.  It does my heart and mind good to enjoy clean, fresh, cool water from the largest freshwater lake on the planet.  My simple goal is to work to help insure our ability to dip our collective cups into the lake for future generations.  If you are at Canoecopia or even if you aren't, help support the effort to keep the lake pristine.  See you in Madison!