Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Weekend update

Wood has been made, potential kayakers have had training, and Sand Island has been circumnavigated. Five hours of work with two splitters produced several face cords of fine mixed hardwood to get us through the winter at camp. I wonder how long we will continue to see black ash in the pile with the Emerald Ash Borer lurking across the border in the UP? Another beloved exotic to raise hell with the environment. Upon arrival at camp we discovered a non exotic species that had raised some hell with one of the cabins. Mr. Porkie had gnawed a large hole in a cabin, likely to enjoy the tasty resin or plywood glue. The camp tribunal convened at the Bar That Never Closes and immediately issued a death sentence for any porcupines found within a '40' of the camp. I always enjoy Kiwibird's blog, especially the pragmatic New Zealand attitude toward invasive species like bunnies and the NZ possum. That same pragmatic attitude exists at CampO. Around midnight the 12 gauge barked and porkie was given a burial that St Francis would have been proud of. I had been in bed for about a half hour at that point but forensic evidence discovered the next morning (an empty Padron tequila bottle, pizza remains, robust coals in the lodge fireplace) indicated a porcupine necropsy discussion which ended around 4-5am. The crew was a bit thin at 7am when the first splitter fired up but by 10am all hands were up and stacking wood. I would imagine that making wood could be the perfect prescription for tequila poisoning, illustrated in the photo below, combining the soothing roar of the splitter with some hard labor in the fresh air.

After some kayak instruction on Lake O, the VOR and I headed over to Bayfield to paddle and rendezvous with a trio of instructor candidates who were taking the ACA classes at Living Adventure in Red Cliff. Jill, ChrisE, and RonO were preparing for the exam this fall. We are long overdue for a wind free weekend and this was not it. My natural inclination to make a crossing was gently vetoed by the Voice of Reason. She not only pointed out the correct way to go around Basswood Island (if we decided to do it) given the wind direction, but also reminded me of the cursing on my part that would likely ensue once we rounded the south tip and had to head for Bayfield in the 25mph, gusting to 35mph, west wind. Another prime example of why she is the Voice of Reason. We had a lovely paddle up the coast from Bayfield, past Roy's Point, Red Cliff, and the ACA students until we reached the wreck of the Fedora. With an additional two feet sticking out of the water it was pretty impressive. Which begs the question, where did 18"- 24" of Lake Superior water go, but that was and is another post. On Memorial Day itself the wind died down to about a 15 knot easterly breeze which allowed us to do the 14 mile paddle around Sand Island. There was a full parking lot when we launched at around 10:30 but by the time we got back we were the only car. Some folks need to get back home early to kick back but our philosophy is to live the weekend, as well as life, to the fullest. This year was the lightest Memorial Day traffic I have even seen in almost 30 years of making the pilgimage north. Cool weather, a chance of rain, high gas prices, and tinder dry conditions made for a disappointing weekend for northern businesses. We were able to book a cabin for one night last Thursday at the excellent Woodside Cottages near Bayfield. Unheard of most normal years.

Keep on paddling and savor the official start of summer in the north country.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Memorial Day weekend

Sometime later today the Voice of Reason and I will head for Northern Wisconsin and the annual wood making day at CampO. This is a festive event with about 4 hours of actual splitting and stacking and then another 8 hours of beer drinking to discuss the results at The Bar That Never Closes. Its always a dynamic event as we have a number of Croatians involved. Their interactions make it very clear why Yugoslavia disintegrated. We are always happy to make it through the weekend with no fist fights or loss of appendages. This camp was originally built so the mining executives from the Goegebic range would have a place to drink and carouse with Hurley's finest courtesans in the '40's. It has been a Peace Corp training camp, a sports camp, the starting point of the Paavo Nurmi marathon, and the site of Olympic Biathlon training back in the late '60's. A group of friends rescued it from back taxes and county takeover 20 years ago and we've been working on it ever since. No central heat and a voracious wood burning lodge, sauna, and numerous cabins means many cords of firewood need to be split and stacked and this is the weekend to do it. I will be conducting a little beginning Lake Superior kayaking class on the inland lake between the wood splitting and the beer drinking on Saturday afternoon. Three buddies from the Ashland-Ironwood area want to get into the sport. Its nice because they are all well aware of what Gitchee Gumee can do to the overconfident or unaware boater and thats a damn good start. After that its over to the Apostles for the rest of the weekend to rendezvous with RonO and 2 other friends that are taking the ACA instructor training up at Living Adventures in Red Cliff. I suppose Sam, Chuck, and Ronnnie would be better off with a 'real' instructor but as I told them, they will be getting training thats worth exactly what they will be paying for it.

I wish everyone an enjoyable weekend and to keep in mind, "there is no such thing as bad weather, only piss poor gear".

Monday, May 21, 2007

Nice Rack!

Most kayak damage, according to expert sources that escape me right now, comes from attempting to get the things from your home to the water on top of your car. I will confess to nearly breaking my Aquanaut in half last summer but thats another post. Everyone remembers the days of lashing the canoe to the roof and the gray foam pieces tied down with that cheap nylon rope. Back in the days of cars with rain gutters you could get a fairly economical rack that would actually hold your skis/bike/boat on your roof very solidly. The advent of the gutter less car, in my opinion, was the event the fueled the rise of the $400 Yakima and Thule systems. I have friends with factory racks on their vehicles and you can still rig a decent carrier using the foam and straps with that type of setup. Most of us however, get to choose between round and square, the Thule and the Yakima. Which is the best? I'd like to hear some opinions. Hully rollers vs the Thule slide system, vertical unit vs the standard setup......? To me its kind of like like Schlitz vs Pabst, Ford vs Chevy, or any other mass marketing induced preference. I've heard people cite differences but I just can't seem to get my arms around them. Is there any enlightenment from rabid fans of one system or the other? I own a Thule simply because they were on sale when I decided I needed a high end rack. And that, I suspect, may be the case with most people.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Zen of kayaking

I've been told that I'm easily aggravated. Driving a motor vehicle is a particular aggravation. Like most drivers I am firmly convinced that anyone that drives faster than me is a maniac and anyone that drives slower is suffering from senility. My friends from northern Wisconsin are convinced that we "citidiots" will all have an aneurysm burst at some point on the overcrowded freeways. Drive throughs are another prime source of aggravation. The guy in front of you at the drive through teller that appears to be closing a home mortgage using the little pneumatic tube is a particular joy. So is the yahoo in the long line at the fast food drive through at lunch that gets up to the window and then looks at the menu board like its printed in arabic. I want to leap out of my car (always the one right behind him) and grab him in a Homer Simpson-like choke hold and scream, "You've sat in line for 10 minutes and the menu here has been the same since the Johnson administration.....WTF are you trying to decide!!!!".

The one thing that has never aggravated me is kayaking. When I'm in my boat with my spray skirt snapped down life is always good. A stout headwind, 'the wind in your teeth' as my headgear challenged buddy ToddM would say, can be a bit frustrating but that is much different from being aggravated. Sea kayaking can be challenging, frightening, exhilarating, relaxing, zen-like, calming, and even boring at times. But thankfully its never aggravating. I do recall one time when, after a Inland Sea Society Symposium in Bayfield we paddled past the priest, minister, rabbi, and Anishnabe medicine man standing at the end of the jetty for the Blessing of the Fleet. This tradition goes back several years and after you paddle past the arrayed holy men you figure you must be covered.....right? About an hour later while crossing from the Sioux River to Long Island my skeg cable broke. Deep in the recesses of my brain I felt the I-94/First Bank Drive Thru/McDonalds aggravation synapses begin to fire. For some reason, likely the beautiful weather, spectacular view, and my companion (the VOR), they receded. While I don't know the real reason why I find kayaking to be aggravation free I do know that I'm not going to let that fact bother (or aggravate) me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bad Headgear

"You get by with a little help from your friends" - John Lennon (and a bit of Joe Cocker)

Its good to have friends and one of the reasons is because its just plain fun to abuse them. These two dapper gentlemen are founding members of our annual fall post Labor Day kayak trip and, like me, passionate believers in proper kayaking headgear. As one would imagine there has been a difference of opinion regarding various hats. The gentleman on the right, MarkE, favors the patio umbrella style of headgear. This is a well engineered Tilley product with the standard front and back chin/neck straps to keep it lashed to your head in windy conditions and green fabric under the brim to cut glare from the water. The problem with Marks hat however, is the brim. If you look at the Tilley website and sort by brim size the only thing larger than the one on Mark's noggin is the 10 x 12 tarp. In a strong wind I think there could be a Flying Nun type of incident or, at a minimum, strained neck muscles.

While this hat is unusual at least its functional. The second hat in the photo is simply ludicrous. The legend on this hat read 'Acadia National Park'. The shameless park concessionaire that pocketed Todd's hard earned cash must have had difficulty not falling to the floor in convulsive laughter. Just watching him try it on and thinking, "That guy's not really going to buy that......is he? I thought sure we'd be sending those to the Salvation Army at the end of the season" must have made that clerks day. This hat is obviously an irregular since no photo of it exists sitting squarely on Todd's head. This is not your stylish gangsta look but more of a 'where did I put my pocket protector and multi function calculator' kind of look. Its made of some sort of silky fake nylon/rayon type of fabric that both absorbs water and offers an SPF of about -15. No sun protection for your ears and neck.....in short, you couldn't find a worse hat for paddling. Careful review of the photo below will confirm everything I've said. You will note however, that both sunglasses lenses are present. I am happy to report that this abomonation was lost in the fall of 2005 somewhere in the Apostle Island's Gaylord Nelson Wilderness area. Contrary to accusations, neither Mark nor I burned it or weighted it with rocks and pitched it into 180' of water during a crossing. I think that perhaps the hat gods had simply said enough is enough and vaporized the thing. My Filson has been ridiculed (previous post) and Mark's Tilley has been snickered at but nothing will ever replace 'ol blue' as an object of our derision. See you on the water gents!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mad City paddle

I headed down to Madison this weekend with the Voice of Reason to paddle, visit friends/ family, hit the farmers market, and secure a decent bike for the VOR's pedaling comfort. Son Erik is a fountain of bike knowledge and assisted with fit, style of bike, and some wheelin' and dealin'. He and his lady friend Kathryn also helped us with the cask ale and fish fry at Wonders Pub on Friday night. He who journeys to Wisconsin and spurns the Friday fish is an idiot.

After a fine Madison morning with breakfast at the Comeback Inn, a visit to the Farmers Market, and a visit to a paddling buddy who broke his ankle and then had his wife break hers 3 weeks later (!!), we headed over to Rutabaga for an afternoon paddle. The joint was hoppin' and they are nice enough to allow you to launch there as long as you park on the street and wear your life jacket when you launch and return. My buddy ToddM joined us on this urban paddle. Todd is stalwart of our annual fall trip and an outspoken advocate of the plastic boat. He paddles a Prijon, being a good German, and scorns the careful exits that we gel coated glass boat owners make from our craft. With him the motto is 'accelerate to ramming speed!' no matter if the beach is sand, cobbles, or a concrete boat landing. Then you just grab the toggle and reef it up on the beach. I personally have never had trouble landing my glass boat even on the cobble beaches of the Canadian Shield rock landings on northern Lake Superior. Those boats are a lot tougher than you think. Plus, they just aren't that hard to patch up. Todd of course, is the guy who was marveling at the unusual light as we crossed from Stockton to Manitou Island in fairly tricky conditions a couple years back. The reason for the unusual light, upon closer inspection, is that one of his sunglasses lenses had fallen out. None of us told him, of course, because it was too rough to take a picture and we felt we definitely needed a picture of this when we landed.

But glass vs plastic boats and oblivious paddle buddies is another post. We paddled down the Yahara River into Lake Waubesa. The river and lake are disturbingly algae ridden, even at this early date. There was a big feature in the State Journal on Sunday about the condition of the Yahara watershed and the critical point that has reached. I guess that between the dairy farms and the idiots who insist on the perfect lawn the algae bloom doesn't seem that mysterious to me. We paddled to the Green Lantern bar and disembarked for some Capital Island wheat and the Capital Amber. The Voice of Reason suggested that maybe we didn't need two pitchers of beer before climbing back in the boats but we scoffed. Plus we had the invaluable assistance with the pitchers from my friend Woody, who had met us via land. At this point I felt it was time to don my tuliq and practice my offside roll. Once again the VOR thought it an ill conceived plan. After screwing up 3 rolls (although if you wind up vertical I guess they aren't that screwed up) it was time to head for the barn. After the Minneapolis chain of lakes last week and the Madison chain this weekend, I'm ready for the cold water, lack of civilization, and the lack of temptation of Gitchee Gumee.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Good Headgear

One of the most crucial pieces of outdoor gear is the one you use to protect your critical skull/brain area. Simply put, you need a damn good hat. When its hot in the summer and the sun is beating down I use a wide brimmed Tilley. This hat was invented by a Canadian sailor and provides shade as well as cooling, and is lashed to your head front and back so its almost impossible for it to blow off. My favorite hat for all other times of the year, much to some peoples discomfort, is my Filson duck hunter.

In literature, many characters have been villified for their choice of headgear. Lippy, the bartender/pianer' player in "Lonesome Dove", had his ratty bowler described as looking like it 'was et by a heifer'. Ignatius Reilley, anti hero of "Confederacy of Dunces" is described as having 'A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head'. My Filson has been described as ratty, doofus-like, disturbing, filthy, and ridiculous. It is however, the most versatile piece of headgear ever invented. It is tough oiled canvas duck cloth on the outside and virgin wool (insert your own sheep joke here) on the inside. Its cool in the spring and fall and toasty in the winter. You can have the flaps up and wear it like a baseball cap, partial flaps for that 38F water of a spring paddle on Gitchee Gumee, or fully down and closed for Thanksgiving morning in your deer stand. And rest assured, it ain't comin' off! Wool, unlike many of the new fleece-like petroleum based fabrics, stays warm when wet. It also becomes more insulating when you wash it while fleece loses its insulating properties. Not that I've ever washed my beloved Filson however. This might explain some of the comments. After surfing one too many times at the mouth of the Brule last April I found myself inverted with my Filson clad head grinding into the alluvial sand of the Brule. I wore that soaking wet hat for the rest of the afternoon and I was toasty warm, albeit a bit damp. This involutary bath also prompted me to buy a drysuit but thats a different post. Lets just say I had to wait a bit to urinate because I'd lost the tweezers in my Swiss Army knife.

My recommendation is that whether your paddling, fishing, grouse hunting, telemark skiing, bow hunting, or just working in the woods, this is the perfect hat!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Risk assessment

I just returned from a fine long paddling weekend with RonO to the south shore of Lake Superior and points east. The lake is alarmingly low,with much real estate visible that I have never seen in 40 odd years of hanging around the south shore. We launched with a bit of difficulty from a slough that was formed behind a tombolo-type beach and paddled out the river opening into the open lake. Things were relaxed and easy until we rounded a small point.

We had picked this spot because we thought it was sheltered from the "small craft advisory, winds from the northeast 20-25 knots, waves 3-5 feet" that NOAA had promised us from their Duluth station. Ron and I are pretty compatible paddlers and are at a similar skill level. We met while attending Wednesday night skill sessions and their accompanying post paddle beer debriefings. We kinda figured out the rolling and bracing stuff at the same time and set off on some weekend paddles with the SKOAC renegade group. Its always fun to find someone that you are comfortable with on both personal and skill levels. Anyway, as we blissfully paddled along, congratulating ourselves on our inspired choice of paddling venues, we rounded the small point and hit the precise conditions that Duluth NOAA had predicted. Except we got a bit of clapotis thrown in to stir the pot, wind blowing the tops off the waves as they built, and the beloved Three Sisters wave sets so common on Lake Superior. Every so often I could hear the smack of Ron's boat hitting the water as he fell off the crest of a building wave. This was indeed fun stuff, the kind of sharpened senses fun that a good intermediate skier has when he decides to take a mogul run or two to push his skill envelope. After about 5-10 minutes of this (the waves hadn't quite 'turned the minutes to hours' but time did slow) I thought to myself that turning around and heading back might not be the easiest feat but that we should probably do it. Just about then Ron hollered over, "When do you figure we should turn around?". I replied, "Right now if this wasn't so damn much fun". So we made the 180 degree turn in a gingerly fashion and paddle/surfed back to the lee of the point. When we got back to our sandwiches and cooler we talked about the thought processes that brought us both to the same conclusion at the same time. We were both on the same wavelength. 38 degree water, building seas, clapotis extending out further and further from the cliffs, being washed into the cliffs if we had trouble, and a general dislike of freezing our butts off. Another consideration was lack of a third paddler. 'When at sea, the number is three' would not occur until my friend Todd rolled in from Madison the next day. So with a combination of reason and intuition we headed back. Just one of those times when, as it says on the top of this blog, good judgement comes from experience.