Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Superior Vista Cycling Tour

Cycling had never been a post topic in this blog about the goings on around Lake Superior so I would guess I'm overdue, especially given the friends and relatives that are heavily into this form of people powered transport.  Some long term friends alerted the VOR and I to the Superior Vista cycling tour of the Bayfield peninsula.  The more we talked about it the more we realized that we had other friends that volunteered and local businesses that we frequent that helped sponsor the event.  With an array of tours available from 13 to 100 miles we signed on and our gang of five opted for the 34 mile loop.  All of the tours begin and end at Thompson West End park in Washburn.  Since we had planned to be in that area anyway for the defunct/on hiatus (?) Inland Sea Symposium, it was simple to switch from the paddle to the bad bike shorts and helmet and tour the counryside.

Like most outdoor events in the area, the weather is the wild card.  Gloom and doom was forecast and a line of powerful thunderstorms savaged the Minnesota and Wisconsin area Friday night, just to remind us that Mother Nature was the boss.  Saturday morning dawned, a word that doesn't really describe the gradual lifting of nightfall in heavy fog, gray and dripping.  The VOR had volunteered to help with registration and MadCityMary had to run a wool cape down the hill at 7am to keep her warm as she sat at the registration table.  Northeast breezes over 40F lake water will tend to chill things out along Gitchee Gumee.  We were all pretty happy that it wasn't 85F and humid however, and ride was pretty comfortable with some minor layering adjustments. The routes, the rest stops, refreshments at the rest stops, and the folks volunteering at the rest stops were all top notch.  We saw lots of families including a foursome on a tandem with two kids bikes hooked on behind.  Would that make it a quadrem?  A few maniacs on the hundred treated it like a race but it was indeed a tour, if not one with any Superior vistas.  Fog kept visibility at around a quarter mile, 400 yards, which gave everything a soft and ephemeral sort of lighting and added to what we felt was wonderful ambiance.  Including stops and a short hike by the women at Long Lake to see the pink Ladyslippers that were in bloom, we took about five lazy hours to complete the 34 miles. The traffic was practically non existent and the roads were in excellent shape, even for our group members with distressingly skinny tires.  One of the unofficial stops was for adult refreshments at the Topside Bar out in the country on Ondassagon Rd.  When we walked in with our helmets and obvious bike gear, the lady tending bar pointed and said,  "bathrooms are right there".  When we responded that shots and beer was what we were after, the whole bar kind of perked up and started conversation.  Apparently when people on their $2,000 road bikes and colorful spandex Tour De France style Spandex gear stopped and used the bathroom, no purchases or at times even a polite thanks, it kind of grated on the group at the bar.  Rightly so in my opinion.  I've always thought that the people powered sports crowd were pretty much cheap SOB's with the old adage, 'they show up with a pair of underwear and twenty bucks in their pockets and don't change either' having more than a grain of truth.  A check of The Snug, DiLou's pizza, Patsy's Bar and the book store that evening did not turn up a single sign of any cars with bike racks or patrons who had ridden the tour.  Shame on us.  Enjoy the area and support the sponsors of the event.  Drop a couple bucks on the local merchants. For a paltry $25 we were treated like kings when we returned to Thompson park.  North Coast coffee, Hugo's pizza, Tetzners Dairy Ice Cream bars, and a host of other goodies were offered.  It is indeed a great event on a number of levels.

The group decided that this should join the ever growing list of annual events.  The back roads, county trunks, and even the gravel town roads on the Bayfield Peninsula are great for road biking and have a minimal amount of traffic.  I would estimate maybe two dozen cars in 34 miles and five hours of being on the road.  I can see some non tour event riding in the not too distant future and yet another opportunity for outdoor fun on the South Shore of our favorite lake.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Paddle Float or No?

Last Saturday found me at Long Lake, about ten miles west of Washburn, working with the Scouts again on 'real' water.  The now defunct Inland Sea Symposium used Long Lake as a rolling venue on years when the waters of Chequamagon Bay forgot to heat up properly by mid June.  It was a threatening day but the wind and rain spared us and we got in a nice 90 minute session.  We worked on getting in and out of the boats, proper adjustment of foot pegs and fit, moving the boat with various strokes, and we even did a T-Rescue.  What I didn't do, either at the pool or on Long Lake, was teach the venerable paddle float rescue (gasp!).

One of my favorite paddle float self rescue stories took place at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, an event that you should sign up for right now.  Justine Curgenven, accomplished This is the Sea series film maker and all round wonderful human being, was in attendance and working with folks on the beach.  When asked if she would demonstrate a paddle float rescue her comment was to the effect of 'A what? I don't believe I've ever done one'.  Apparently the BCU didn't, and perhaps still doesn't, require teaching the paddle float rescue.  BCU paddlers can weigh in with the current skinny on the topic. When we teach the rescue to beginning students, it is invariably on flat water, there is invariably a 'yellow rainbow' or two, and there is invariably a student asking, 'how the hell would I ever do this in rough water?'.  The latter is the question that I have always had.  If the water is rough enough to go over in the first place, the act of emptying the kayak and righting it, getting the float inflated and on the paddle, and then clambering up on the boat, which has likely refilled with water, and successfully snapping on the spray skirt can be a dicey proposition at best.  It is almost easier to teach the reentry and roll because the quirk that causes most rolling students to initially fail, muscling the paddle rather than working the lower body, actually works with a big yellow balloon stuck on the end of the paddle.  The boat is full of water but if you are attempting a paddle float reentry in rough water, chances are good your boat will be full of water in that scenario as well.

Will I wind up teaching the paddle float reentry to the Scouts in subsequent sessions?  Are you going to report me to the ACA?  Will there be fines and suspensions if I don't?  I honestly don't know whether I will work on the paddle float rentry with the boys.  If they have the other skills that they will need to utilize dialed in, then I will consider it.  Part of it is risk management and its close companion, failure mode evaluation and analysis.  We will be paddling as a group out to whichever island we manage to secure a campsite on.  We will not paddle if the wind is over around 10mph and group discipline will be ruthlessly maintained, much more than in the equivalent adult  group where self esteem issues are much more of a concern than with the Scouts.  We will play with some cowboy reentries as these guys are supple and athletic with a marvelous sense of balance.  We will most certainly do an 'all in' and let them figure out how to deal with it.  Since the Scout motto is Be Prepared I guess I have to at least demo the damn thing and see if any of em want to try it.

Even though I have a jaundiced view of the paddle float reentry, that is not to say a paddle float is worthless.  It's excellent to mark where your beer is cooling in the lake, demonstrated above by the BessemerConvivialist, and can make a fine emergency pillow or lower back support in a pinch.  It can also be a stabilization device.  On a crossing from Oak Island to Red Cliff Point a few years back a beginner paddler became freaked at the rebound waves coming off the point, freaked to the point of being frozen and unable to paddle.  His resourceful and more experienced companions inflated two paddle floats, stuck one on each paddle blade for bombproof stability, and clipped on a tow line until they cleared the cliffs.  Given the small space it requires, a paddle float is essential equipment along with the bilge pump.  I just have my doubts about its effectiveness in getting a beginning paddler back into the boat in anything other than small wind waves and fairly calm seas.  To teach the paddle float or not teach the paddle float, that is the question.