Monday, April 30, 2007

Oudoor Expo

Saturday morning dawned clear and balmy, almost the exactly the opposite of last years weather. Canoes and kayaks of every shape, form, and condition were sitting on the triangle across from the Midwest Mountaineering store on the West Bank for folks to sit in, measure, heft, and generally fondle. In the bottom picture a noted local paddler is looking with puzzlement at a bloated double "canoeyak" (??), trimmed out nicely with a duct tape flourish. There were definitely some interesting items including a pristine 2000 vintage Chesapeake LT17 kit that the purchaser hadn't gotten around to opening in the last seven years! Good weather and large crowds spelled a sellers market. I saw a couple of good buys but for the most part people got caught up in the competitive auction fever, a disease I'm very familiar with, having contracted it during a land auction in Bayfield County. The difference is they ain't making any more land but they are making plenty of kayaks. There were plenty of new boat owners with smiles on their faces however, so all was well.

It was a tough day to be inside but I did attend a couple of seminars including the always entertaining Cliff Jacobson. I also did a stint at the SKOAC booth. As you can see, one difference from the Canoecopia show is the refreshments. Instead of cereal based $4 hotdogs and $5 128 oz Cokes they were thoughtful enough to have Famous Dave's BBQ and Summit Extra Pale Ale in the refreshment stand, which was located outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Not much opportunity to do that in the Dane County Coliseum (or whatever they call it now) but there could be improvements in the refreshment quality at Canoecopia.

There didn't seem to be too much new stuff at the expo but I still found myself walking out the door with a LittleBug alcohol/wood stove, a Cooke Custom Sewing screen lean to, and sundry books, bottles, and lights. I guess you always seem to have more gear than you need but not as much as you want. Plus a guy needs to upgrade now and then, right?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Kayak Demo Night

As I mentioned, several of us SKOAC'ers acted as safety boaters last night at the kayak/canoe demo on Lake Calhoun. Many renowned bloggers were in attendance including RonO, RonS, Alex, Aras, and myself. It was a boring night with only one real deep water capsize in a solo canoe. The guy was testing the secondary stability and found out precisely how much there was. The selection of boats to test paddle was fairly disappointing. Lots of rec boats on the Eddyline/CD Kestrel mode. The British must have offended us or something because other than a stray Romany or two there were no Valley or P&H boats like there were last year. Nothing to trigger my "I need that boat" synapses. After RonO and I found the free hot dogs we climbed back into the boats and paddled out, hoping that 8pm would arrive so we could quench our parched throats at the local establishment. Safety boating is like watching paint dry or a bridge rust. I've never been a lifeguard but it must be the same, only there you get a few scantily clad bodies to distract you from time to time. The boredom was broken when Alex decided to do a couple of rolls. Its difficult to see rookies in distress when upside down but I guess watching the paint and the bridge had gotten to him. As a boy when I did something that was not quite in line with conventional etiquette I would tell my mom, "But Danny did it!". Her inevitable reply would be, "If Danny went out and played in the middle of Highway 12 would you do it too!?" My usual smart assed answer was, "of course I would". So I reached in my day hatch and exchanged my life jacket (pfd indeed!) with its safety oriented knife, tow belt, whistle, etc for my tuliq and was quickly inverted also. I glanced over at RonO and RonS and saw hats being stowed and neoprene hoods being tugged on. This actually pleased some of the rookie test paddlers. As I was doing a side scull, a father in a canoe with his small son asked me if I could do a 'full roll'. I told him I normally only do command performance rolls for sailboaters with cold imported beer but that I would make an exception for youth education. When I came up the little boy had a big grin on his face and that "I'm gonna do that someday" look in his eye. Kinda made the evening worthwhile. The Newcastle was good later too!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rookie paddlers

On Thursday members of our kayak club, SKOAC, will be acting as safety boats at the annual Midwest Mountaineering boat demo at Lake Calhoun. A post by Silbs the other day got me thinking about rookie paddlers. I took the two yahoos in the picture (the one on the left being a very close relative) on a Stockton Island trip up in the Apostles a couple years back and it was obvious 100 yards into the paddle that we would be good to go. Some people just seem to be naturals at balancing and moving their boat. With some you look at the tension in the neck, stiffness of the back, and the fixed forward gaze and ask, "So how ya doin'?" Without turning their head to look at you they answer, "Fine". Chances are they will be executing a perfect "half roll" before the paddle is over.

It gives me satisfaction introducing people to the sport and watching them improve their skills. On the other hand, when I call the NPS in Bayfield and am told that exactly none of the island sites I want are available it makes me question my laissez faire philosophy. So as I prowl the outer perimeter of the demo area on Thursday night, trying to predict the folks that will go home wet, I will wonder which one of them I may encounter this summer, occupying my favorite site on York Island some Friday night.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Cold water cold?

I am sitting here after a restless night with that most aggravating of maladies, the spring cold. After surviving the entire winter in excellent health here I sit with a stuffed up nose, scratchy throat, and low grade fever. This brings up the age old question: can you get a cold from being cold? My mother, grandmother, and all other female relatives certainly were convinced of that fact. They also were certain that if you went swimming in under an hour after you've eaten, that you would be afflicted by stomach cramps and drown immediately. When my Reed tuliq arrived last week I immediately took it out and rolled the boat in some nice, cold, non chlorinated fresh water. Was it cold? Hell yes. I was out last Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The water and the sky were clear, a fingernail moon sat in the western sky, and my forward stroke was slowly coming back. On a couple of the days it was so warm with the tuliq that I rolled every 5 minutes or so. The cycle of uncomfortably warm then cold repeated itself dozens of times, much to my satisfaction. When I mentioned Wednesday to my buddies that I felt a cold coming on they were unanimous. "Of course you're getting a cold Olson.....only a moron would repeatedly submerge himself in 45F water". While that may be true I don't think it can cause a cold. I've got a pretty good idea where the cold originated but I ain't pointing any fingers. So on a beautiful Saturday with forecast highs of 75F, a light breeze, and blue skies I'll be sitting here with Kleenex, orange juice, and zinc tablets watching playoff hockey hell I will, I'm going paddling!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tuliq mania

Last week my eagerly awaited Reed tuliq arrived via the Royal Mail. I had first tried this wonderous garment when Greg Stamer let me use his at the post Caneoecopia rollling session up in Baraboo. I will also admit to noticing the Reed evening dress that Freya Hoffmeister wore to the film premier at the High Noon Saloon but I digress. The tuliq showed up before they said it would, the customer service was excellent, and, most importantly, it fit perfectly. This is huge for me because virtually nothing I have fits perfectly. When you are 6'4", 225#, and have 37" sleeves you are grateful when things even kinda fit. After sending in a dozen or so different measurements as well as a tracing of the cockpit coaming of my Aquanaut, my tuliq showed up fitting perfectly and ahead of schedule. The only other custom garment I own are some silk pajamas that I bought in the Haidian section of Beijing when my eldest son Erik was studying at the Language Institute so I felt I was due.

I was soon on Long Lake, which trusty trout fishing stream thermometer told me was at 45F. I did 3 or 4 screw rolls and only had 3 or 4 TBSP of water in my cockpit! Much better than the spray skirt. I had a minor malfunction when my swim mask didn't quite fit right with my face opening on the hood but I guess my sensitive eyeballs can take a bit of murky Long Lake water once in awhile. I paddled with it for awhile and it was comfortable enough and had good flexibility. The next day on White Bear Lake however, the air temp was around 65F and it was way too hot unless I rolled every 10 minutes or so. Never the less this will be the perfect setup for Lake Superior which I will be visiting this weekend if the stars align. And for rolling practice I do believe this Reed ChillCheater tuliq can't be beat!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kayak Cookin'

Unless you're on a long expedition there is no need to eat dehydrated crap while kayaking. Lots of real food keeps just fine for 3-4 days including most vegetables and smoked meat products. Every year I have a substantial proportion of my venison made into pepper sticks at Jim's Meats in Iron River, WI. They are so good at it and the products are so popular among hunters, that Jim has become "the Venison Nazi". "Have your trim here on January 14th sausage for you!" Also, everything weighs the same once its floating in your kayak. Freeboard is highly overrated.

The one indispensable cooking tool is my trusty cast aluminum dutch oven. I learned how to use on while in the Boy Scouts in the late '60's and have been a fan ever since. We would car camp at state parks when the boys were young and dine on roast beef, potatoes and gravy or curried chicken breasts with onion and red and green peppers. Our neighbors would be looking over and inhaling, as they charred their weenies on a stick, wondering where the hell this bounty had materialized from. I hate to aggravate the 'Leave No Trace' crew but I need a campfire, both intellectually and emotionally, when I'm camping. There is always plenty of deadfall available if you walk a bit and I don't think Our Mother the Earth minds if we burn a little dead wood.

There are a number of sizes of dutch oven and two are pictured in the photo. This was a venison stew with fresh veggies on the bottom and brownies in the top one. Fresh homemade biscuits during berry season are a hit also. The cast aluminum is lighter and seems to work just as well as the cast iron. The big one on the bottom comes along when we have both a large crew and a double with some extra space to stow it. The lid can be used as a frying pan and the bottom as a boiling pot or also a fry pan. Get the camping style ones with the lip to hold coals on top (remember: twice as many coals on top as on the bottom) and the feet to hold it up off the coals and allow air to circulate. Once you play around with this venerable and wonderful utensil you will wonder how you ever survived without one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New York, New York

My Madison, WI associates and I survived a trip to the Big Apple over the Easter weekend. One of the elements in my blog description was beer drinking. If the implication was that it was only beer drinking on Lake Superior I apologize for the deception. One of the goals of the weekend was to sample every cask conditioned ale on Manhattan with a couple in Brooklyn thrown in for variety. I'm sorry to say we missed achieving our goal but only by a couple. The selection was OK but not great and most of the establishments had more than one beer engine but usually only one cask ale tapped.

I know that at least a couple of the folks that read this blog have a passing interest in aircraft so I included a shot of my son Ian (aka SSgt Olson) on the bridge of the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, which is tied up on the Hudson River, north of Chelsea Piers. They have turned it into a static display with several aircraft, including the Concorde which you could tour. Now that plane IS a flying tube. It does however, simply reek of speed.

So its back to Minneapolis, slightly the worse for wear, and off to northern Wisconsin this weekend. A couple friends are taking a chainsaw course sponsored by the Living Forest Co-op, (of which I am a member in good standing) and I thought it would be a good idea to retire some bad habits. Unlike the stereotype of the tree hugging kayaker, I have been known to cut down a few. I guess I'm an old fashioned Aldo Leopold-style conservationist rather than a Wilderness Society type. The looks of confusion I get as I head north on 35W with two kayaks and an ATV trailered behind my car are classic. My boat will be on the roof and I hope to sneak in a Meyers Beach sea caves or a short hop out to Basswood early Sunday morning on the way back. Dipping the boat in Gitchee Gumee will be the true kayak opener! Paddle smart.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Folding Boats

One of my friends at Canoecopia asked me why I have three boats. My response was because I sold two. I'm down to my Valley Aquanaut HV, a CLC 17 LT that No. 2 son and I built, and my Feathercraft Big Kahuna. This is the boat that that Dubside, noted Greenland afficianado, learned to roll in. I am heading out to New York City tomorrow for a long Easter weekend with some buddies from Madison and to visit that very same kayak building son . I'd like to take the Feathercraft but the cold weather, a Yankees home stand, and the certain pursuit of some good cask ale will not leave much time to paddle. I always thought it would be cool to paddle around Manhattan and plan on doing it sometime, just not this time. Manhattan Kayak Co actually does a 3.5 hour paddle tour around the Statue of Liberty,, which I would really enjoy assuming the anti-terrorist forces out there recognized us as friendlies. I've taken the kayak on a number of business trips and its worked well to get me some exercise, attitude adjustment, and to keep me out of the hotel bars after the days work is done. The most interesting and exotic trip was Puerto Rico. The photo is from a beach on the La Cordillera islands off Fajardo, PR. I had paddled out there from the harbor and kicked back on the beach for the afternoon. Putting the thing together is a definite conversation starter since most of the kayaks there, if there are any, are sit on tops. I was fairly cautious since my knowledge of tides and currents is rudimentary at best but there were plenty of boats and people in the area so my behind was covered.

While at Canoecopia I also checked out the new Trak folding boat. I don't need anther one but this thing has some very interesting characteristics. It fits like a regular kayak, seems very strong, has no sponsons to blow up, and you can change the shape of the rocker like an trimming an airplane. Very cool. Derrick Mayoleth tested one in the pool at Canoecopia and has some video on his blog. The Trak website is

Let the paddling season begin!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Cold hands and Inaugural Antics

We Minnesota types, excited that the water had softened up early this year, organized the inaugural paddle of the year yesterday. RonO, ChrisE, and myself headed for Lake Waconia. I was accompanied by the VoiceOfReason and her nifty blue and yellow Avocet. When we hit the landing she took one look at the 37F registered on the car thermometer, the 20 knot wind, the whitecaps, and the horizontal rain and said simply, "I'm out. I want my first paddle of the year to be fun". Sage wisdom which we menly men failed to heed. We battled out and back around Waconia's only island and pretty much had enough. Ron took my photo in front of the last big pile of ice and snow to be seen anywhere on the lake and we agreed that some of the horizontal raindrops that hit us were kinda hard....sleet maybe? As we neared the landing I noticed Chris practicing his high brace. No, he's gone over! Some very steep and close together 3' waves, combined with being rusty were the culprits. This won't happen to me I thought as I maneuvered to land and was shortly in the water too. Ron, not one to be odd man out, shortly was upside down also. Moe, Larry, and Curly could not have done it better. The VoiceOf Reason stood on the shore and didn't say anything. We did, however, receive "The Look". And we deserved it.

Which beings me to cold hands. I tried out my new NRS neoprene Toaster Mitts and was not impressed. NRS, a fine company which has provided me with many a functional piece of gear says these, "Toaster Mitts offer the warmth of Mambas with the feel of gloves". Well kinda sorta. You can't get your spray skirt on easily and, when used with a dry suit, you need to do the double velcro, overlap cuff, more velcro dance which makes it impossible to get them off if you need any fine motor control with your fingers. Like for properly securing your spray skirt. Once you get one of them lashed on to your hand getting the other one on is problematic. I have a pair of gloves that uses the same setup which is a similar pain in the ass only with colder fingers. I have some much looser gloves that tend to fill up with water quickly. I had water sloshing around in the mittens after about 10 minutes of paddling. I pretty much use a Greenland stick and gloves/mittens limit your ability to do a sliding stroke effecively. I love to use pogies since you have great paddle feel and your hands are toasty. However you ain't sliding anywhere with the pogies strapped to your paddle in a fixed position. A veteran Greenland paddler from Duluth said he just took his hands out of the pogies to get out on the end of the paddle. I don't see this working well in any emergency situation however. Reed makes a glove that comes up over the elbow and, since I have a tuliq on order with them (It won't look nearly as good as it does on Freya....and thanks to Greg Stamer for letting me try his out) I could easily tack one of these on to the VISA but I'm still torn. Rather than buying a pair of every kind of kayak hand covering on the planet, I'd welcome some feedback, epecially from folks who use those funny looking 2 x 4 paddles. What do ya'll think!?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Official kayak season opener

At an informal gathering of the SKOAC Renegade group at the official SKOAC pub (Grumpy's in NE Mpls, it was decided that the crew would hit Lake Waconia today for a 10 mile circumnavigation. This will be the initial shakedown cruise that will officially start the 2007 kayak season and, for me, be the end of the hated chlorine season. It has been raining here for a couple of days and with any luck it has been raining in the Lake Superior basin also. Tom P, a lifelong Ashland, WI resident, says that the lake is the lowest he's seen it with flats visible in Chequamagon Bay that have never been exposed before. This time of year the north flowing streams in Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland, and Iron counties can reach a raging flood stage in a matter of hours with the rain and snowmelt combination and we hope that will erase some of that 18" deficit.

The photo is of the Sibley peninsula and the Sleeping Giant, taken from the window of my Mpls bound jet on the way back from London Gatwick. Tee Harbor is clearly visible and you can just make out the contours of the Sleeping Giant at the end of the peninsula. Lots of moving ice which will soon be gone as well. Time to hit the water!