Thursday, May 30, 2013

Scout Training

There has not been a lot of paddling in the past couple weeks for a variety of reasons that I won't go into here. The continuing weirdness of our non spring, including a 9000 acre forest fire in northern Wisconsin, and then a biblical rain event that washed away a number of vulnerable hillsides, has transitioned the ice choked fishing opener into an weirdly schizophrenic early summer type thing.  It's been so strange that I was forced to schedule a pool session (collective gasp from the readers!).  Don't worry though, it was at the Bayfield Rec Center pool, that 82F, salt water gem only 15 minutes from our joint in Washburn.  I had agreed to help a Boy Scout troop get ready for a paddle trip and a week ago Sunday evening we all got our salt water bath. 

I was a Boy Scout, a proud member of Troop 133 in Eau Claire, WI.  We were certainly the most 'outdoorsy' troop in the council as our Scoutmaster, DonR, had some land outside of town with a shack and a nice fire ring.  No church basements for 133, we met out there 12 months out of the year with the only cancellations due to thunderstorms or anything lower than -10F.  Good training for winter camping I suppose.  I never got a whiff of Eagle, only made it to Star, and blame the opposite sex and the Schlitz Brewing Co for my sudden lack of interest in camping with a bunch of guys under adult supervision.  It did however, teach me how to camp and nourished a life long interest in camping and the outdoors, experiences that I would not have had in the family as the US Army had quickly cured the Old Man of any interest he may have had in camping in tents. I was really interested to meet these guys and see just how the average Scout compared with the range of altar boys through delinquents that we had in our Troop.  I am very happy to report that things have not changed all that much. 
I think we had around nine boys and a couple adult leaders, one of which was a kayaker.  I figured with only an hour, that a quick intro to the boat and then getting right into wet exits and T-rescues was the best use of time.  Everyone was anxious to get wet and  I had a number of volunteers to be the first person to tip over in the water after watching my dry land wet exit demo.  There were some constants, things that we see with adult learners as well.  Most guys tried to pull the spray skirt straight back, even after I had emphasized it needs to go forward and up.  Almost everyone banged on the boat with one hand since the other one was firmly grasping the grab loop of the skirt.  One thing that was different however, was that everyone tipped over with very little drama.  In an adult group at least one or more folks will have serious trepidation about the wet exit, some to the point of having to do it with the skirt loose to gain confidence.  I am sure the peer group pressure with all their buddies watching from the side of the pool is what facilitated those quick wet exits.  I know for certain that the catcalls, smart remarks, and merciless abuse from my peers in Troop 133 would have made me set aside any wet exit angst and get on with it.  I was somehow reassured to see the same dynamic in effect here.  T-rescues were a bit sloppy but in the interest of getting everyone into both the swimmer and rescuer position, we moved fairly quickly since our hour was winding down.  Nuances, refinements, and minor corrections will take place on Long Lake when the water gets above 65F.  My faith in teenage boys was reaffirmed both by the fun that they seemed to have at the pool session and also when I caught a wet towel  being rolled up in the locker room in preparation for snapping an unsuspecting ass.  Some things never change and never should.

I'm sure that with the recent controversial ruling on gays in scout troops, people are anticipating an editorial comment on my part.  It's not a bridge to die on in my opinion and I think Big Gay Al, the former Scoutmaster of the South Park Mountain Scouts Troop had a good take on the subject in the (always) politically incorrect episode entitled, "Cripple Fight".  Dogmatic positions and inflexible rhetoric makes both sides look as stupid as, well, as stupid as the US Congress. I know that I really enjoyed the interaction with the guys and am looking forward to more on the water training and maybe a game or two.  My buddy Chuck up in St Cloud took his Troop on an Apostles trip a couple years back and offered me some good insight as well as some pretty fun skill building games.  Because in the end the reason we work on and develop the skills is to have good, safe fun on the water.  Working with the young guys reminds me that fun in a kayak is indeed the goal that we should all be striving for.
(Since I was kind of busy instructing, the images are not of the pool session but of a trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in 1968, good 'ol Troop 133 in the flesh)


Thursday, May 9, 2013

One Last Blast: BBI 2013

Last weekend winter gave us what we all hope was it's last shot in honor of the Annual Bark Bay Fishing Invitation at CampO in Iron County, WI.  I arrived in Washburn Friday night and was forced to plow 10" of snow in order to get into the garage for some needed equipment organization.  The stated plan was to throw the Delphin on the roof, head to camp, and then meet a couple buddies for some Lake Superior whitewater Saturday at the mouth of the Montreal River, where the normal flow of 3,000cfs was at 7,000cfs plus.  As Mr. R. Burns wrote however, "The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry".

A Chamber of Commerce-like road report on the twisty, hilly, five mile gravel run into camp was issued early Friday by MrSafety, a man who's motto, "If you took time to do everything safe, nothing would get done", has been tested time and again.  Careful research on my part revealed that a culvert was plugged, the creek was flowing across the road, and there were at least two washouts, all disconcerting news for a guy with a front wheel drive VW Jetta wagon.  My caution was prompted by news that the KingOfIronWoodIsland had left his Jetta oil pan on a similar road at the deer camp the weekend before.  Since Jetta oil pan constuction is very similar to those foil turkey roasting pans that we buy around Thanksgiving, I was a bit concerned.  A quick call to camp was answered by RawhidePhil who confirmed that several fishermen had arrived but none in 2WD cars.  Actually one tried but Charlie got stuck a half mile off the blacktop and was forced to walk the rest of the 4.5 miles to camp.  I decided what the hell and headed around the large 'Road Closed' barricade, kept the wheels turning at about 20mph, and blew through the three major obstacle points.  It was one of those drives when, for some reason, you need to turn the radio off to concentrate.  But I made it.

Winter reasserted itself the next morning when my two paddling buddies informed me that an ice storm Friday night in the Bayfield Peninsula had completely destroyed any paddling ardor they had for the Montreal.  I walked out to my car and found that in order to get the kayak straps off my roof rack I would need a hammer to chip the ice off and some other implement to remove the residual ice so the straps could be pulled though the buckles. I thought about it for a minute, did a brief cost/benefit analysis on a solo trip back down the gravel road to the lake, and then walked back in the lodge and poured a generous shot of Knob Creek into my coffee.  The activity for the rest of the day can be gleaned fairly accurately from the accompanying images.  For the first time since 1996 there was ice on the lake, ice that supported ice fishermen I may add.  For the first time that I can remember on opening day of Wisconsin's fishing season, a memory that goes back to roughly 1962, we had a foot of snow in the woods as well.  Enterprising fishermen hit the ice and some of those that didn't grab the auger and jigging sticks headed out on snowshoes.  A substantial majority however, did not venture too far from the keg(s).  Pod brewed an excellent Maibock in honor of the spring that hadn't appeared yet and an extremely laid back day developed at CampO. As usual healthful and nutritious dining took place as well.

I blew out of camp early Sunday morning, picked up the VOR in Washburn and we paddled out of Bayfield toward Basswood Island.  Her new drysuit was tested and other than the inevitable tight neck gasket was given the thumbs up.  I hated missing the Montreal mouth when it was rockin' but rolling with the punches is about all a person can do because the lake and the weather are indeed the boss.  We got a paddle in and there is no such thing as a bad paddle.  There is always next weekend, next week, and next year for those spring activities. Now about that smelt run........