Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chlorine phobia

Our buddy Silbs posted this week urging everyone 'into the pool' since our lakes have become a bit stiff to padde in. While he and I are normally completely in sync on kayak and other crucial world issues, I'm afraid we are 180 degrees opposite on this one. I hate the pool. I hate the fetid, humid chlorine smell, the sharp 90 degree angles, the stinging eyes, the hard tile, and particlularly the chlorine itself. I think it stemmed from those swimming lessons I was forced to take as a small child. I've always had a stubborn anti authority streak and refused to learn to swim and pass the Red Cross tests at the YMCA pool but easily learned in Prairie Lake later that summer. I also have this belief that everything has its season. Its one of the main reasons I live in the northland. These days I look wistfully at my cross country skis when I leave for work and anxiously check the weather forecast, hoping for winter storm warnings. Just like I eyeball those kayaks in March, waiting for the lakes to soften up. When my two boys played sports, especially hockey, there was the pressure to sign up for spring league, interim league, summer league, and the fall warm up camps. I always encouraged them to grab the baseball, soccer ball, football, and especially the cross country skis and canoe paddle, and enjoy the different seasons....screw the year round mono sports obsession.

The sad and somewhat hypocritical truth however, is that I will most certainly attend some pool sessions because I'm just too addicted to being upside down in those damn skinny boats. Plus my paddle buddies will be there and GalwayGuy is literally inches from his norsaq roll. It kinda like when someone offers you a light beer. You smile, say thanks, drink it, and remember that excellent glass of Guiness you had the day before. You realize that there will soon be another glass of Guiness set in front of you and that it will taste even better in comparision to the inferior experience you just had.

Just be sure to wash that stinkin' chlorine off your gear!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Big, Bad Wolf

The founder of our deer camp, DrDon'tThrowThatAway, was stillhunting along the north boundary of the property when he encountered our neighbor to the north. Upon exchanging the usual pleasantries he asked how the deer season was going he was told that, "Goddamn wolves ate all the deer". This was met with much derisive laughter back at our camp when the story was related. I'd seen 8 deer that day, GurneyGranny had seen a similar amount and one guy had seen 17! After it snowed there were feeding areas that looked like a cattle feed lot.

It seems that there are always a certain number of rednecks who want the wolves eradicated again. Deer hunters, especially the ones who just aren't that competent, find the wolves to be a good excuse for their lack of success. Farmers tend to blame them for any livestock depredation too. A guy who had several sheep killed in his pasture complained to the DNR who quickly discovered that it was his renters Rotweiller and not the wolves who had been out killing his sheep. A wolf kill is unmistakeable. They always eat what they kill because they frankly just aren't that successful in bringing down big game. Usually you find a 6' area of deer hair, a foot or two of vertebra, and and part of a skull. After one particularly hard winter with a lot of snow in March, when the deer are most vunerable after going through the winter, we found over 20 winter killed deer carcasses and 3 wolf kills on the property. Draw your own conclusions from that.

At our camp we enjoy having them around and GG and PodMan went to the training offered by the Timberwolf Alliance, a program through Northland College, and are now the official wolf survey folks for our little area of the county. This involves heading up to camp after it snows for some XC skiing or snowshoeing to check the wolf movement. As you can imagine this is tough duty but someone has to do it. I've selflessly volunteered for a number of tracking sessions. The more you learn about the animal the more you appreciate how it fits in and the 'wildness' that it brings to the area. It sends shivers up and down your spine to hear them howl when you're sitting in your stand, its getting dark, and you know you have to walk through the woods back to camp. We are happy to have them around and are happy to share the deer with them.

Note: the deer in the pictures are not only alive and not eaten by wolves but were actually in the area where we heard them howling.

Monday, November 26, 2007

How I spent my Thanksgiving Day

Most of the deer camp roused at about 5:30am after the customary early evening and energy sapping hot sauna. The big blue ceramic coffee pot was fired up and GurneyGranny's cinnamon rolls were slid into the 1921 Detroit Jewel propane oven. We lit a couple of the Humphrey propane lights and started organizing our hunting gear with the goal of being up in our respective trees shortly after dawn. As I walked out on the deck the moon was still up and a thin line of light was becoming visible across the creek to the east. I manned my tree until about 9:30 and then took a little walk. I found the wolf tracks in the spot where we had heard them howling the previous afternoon and also cut bear tracks that were almost as big as my hand. I think we may have caught his picture on the game camera which had been placed on one of the gut piles.

I headed back to camp, being careful not to take an unexpected swim in the creek since the snow had coated the rocks nicely. I stoked the pot belly stove and prepared to butcher the deer I had taken the day before. This was carefully calculated so I would be working on the venison while the Packers played the Lions in the traditional Thankgiving game. The KingofIronwoodIsland, a kayak and hunting/fishing buddy, is an avid Lions fan in a den of Packer fans so the game was a must to listen to and attempt to watch on the 6" black and white battery powered TV.

After the Packers easily handled the Motor City Kitties and His Majesty was properly abused, I put the finishing touches on the venison and put the turkey on the Weber. The afternoon plan was to stroll out to one of the more obscure stands with my rifle and primarily my camera. A relaxing afternoon sit as the sun went down and a stroll back to camp in the dark ended the hunting portion of Thanksgiving Day. The trimmin's were cooked on the Detroit Jewel, the 18 pound bird hauled off the grill, and we all enjoyed a candle light turkey dinner followed by a hot sauna and an early bedtime.

The only actual downside of this Thanksgiving Day was that the Voice of Reason was with her sons and folks in Mora instead of at camp. She also had feverishly transformed our kitchen into Home and Garden-like showpiece while I was out in the woods, a very astute move on her part. Thanksgiving Day felt like it must have decades ago with no airport lines, phones, cars, or electronic noise (the 6" B&W is only allowed on during Packer games and the World Series). Water is hand pumped, wood is cut and burned, good friends are present, and life is very simple. Not a bad way to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. Happy Holidays everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gales of November III: kayak symmetry

It would appear that the 2007 kayak season will end much as it began, with temps in the 30's, a 30-35 knot northwest wind, and horizontal sleet flurries. RonO, the ManFromSnowyLegs, and I began the season that way on Lake Waconia and may have ended it that way on Lake Minnetonka. Seven hardy souls launched from Mound at about 2pm on Wednesday and paddled to Goose Island for a chilly picnic. Instead of camping gear we had the hatches loaded with firewood as well as the customary food and beverages. The launch site was in a lee and deceptively calm but when we got out into the bay we got surf-able swells which prompted the IrishPirate to remark, "This is nearing the limits of my comfort zone". We got a late start and just missed CaptainAnnapolis, who had got out there early and started a fire. We could see him paddling away but the miracle of cell phones got him turned around and back at the festivities. Had he turned his head 45 degrees to the left he would have spotted the flotilla frantically trying to overtake him.....gotta check your 'six' more often I guess. Knowing the proclivities of this group when bonfires, wine, and good food are involved, we all had headlamps for the inevitiable paddle in the dark back to the launch. Minnetonka is far from a wilderness lake so there was plenty of light to see. We also had the lake to ourselves except for a few muskie fishermen.

This third annual Gales of November paddle (scheduled for the closest mutually agreeable date to the anniversary of when the 'Fitz' went down on 10 November 1975) was the first one where there was an actual near gale. The other two were done in bluebird weather. A little cold weather shakedown like this is good to check your gear out in case you decided that a late November LakeSuperior trip was a good idea. RonO checked the western lake Superior buoy before I picked him up and discovered 7.5 foot seas with 5 second intervals. Probably a good day to be on Minnetonka. My Reed tuliq worked perfectly as did the various dry suits. Extremities were a problem. The BessemerConvivialist purchased pogies and didn't wear them until the return trip. She pronounced her curved finger gloves only 'OK' after 3 fingers finally decided to warm up just before we landed on the paddle out to the island. The pogies were declared to be "oh my god, unbelievably warm!" on the return trip. The BC did have some foot gear issues however, which prompted her to beg me to sit on her feet, penguin and egg-like, to warm them up. Bottom line: if you paddle in cold water invest in Chota or some other high mukluk! Getting anything wet in those conditions is a very bad idea.

Blog note: I will be at the deer camp, chasing the elusive Reefer Buck until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The beauty of the place is no electricity, running water, or central heat. Its a vacation in the 19th century. Electronic devices, other than gps units and weather radios, are banned. The one exception is that a 5" screen, battery operated black and white TV is allowed for Packer games and the World Series. My next post will likely be 10 days from now. Enjoy the holidays!

Credits: All photos courtesy of BjornDahlieofMahtomedi, whose local high school football club, Mahtomedi of course, just qualified for the state finals.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Warm fingers

Last Saturday I sat up in my tree stand and watched the snow come down hard. I was about 15' up in a balsam tree, two miles as the crow flies from Lake Superior, holding on to a cold bow while I awaited the arrival of the trophy buck. He did not arrive and sitting motionless in the snow is not particularly conducive to staying warm. Nonetheless, my hands were nice and toasty in my thick wool trigger mitts. Its not quite that simple when you're paddling this time of year.

Tommorow is our 3rd annual Gales of November paddle and I need to figure out which hand warming system I'll be using. Even though you are moving and working it seems like your hands are invariably wet. Paddling with a Greenland stick does not help matters at all, although simple 'O' rings, laying smack on the Bayfield Peninsula in the photo, eliminate 85% of the drippage and don't really inhibit needed sliding strokes all that much. You do still need to keep your hands warm however. My favorite is still my pogies, near Devils Island on the map/photo. You do need to take your hands out for any extended paddle work but you can still feel the warmth of the wood and take advantage of having your fingers together to keep themselves warm. They do get wet however. In the lower right hand corner, covering Ashland and the Bad River Reservation, we have the nice loose neoprene gloves made by Chota. Good gloves, easy on and off, but its very easy to get water sloshing around inside. Another pair of curved finger, velcro wrist banded Chota gloves, are seen in the Brule/Port Wing area of the picture. These are a major pain in the ass to get on and off and almost impossible to turn inside out to dry properly. Woe be it to the paddler who forgets and puts these on before securing their spray skirt. Finally, up in the BWCA/Quantico area we have the NRS 'Titanium' neoprene mittens. While your fingers are in contact with one another and warm these things are as difficult to get on an off as the curved finger gloves. Even after you gnaw your second mitten on, using your teeth to pull it on and secure the velcro on both the mitten and your dry suit, chances are good you will still get water inside.

My conclusion: Stick with the pogies. Most of the time your hands are on the same spot of your paddle anyhow and it just feels right to have your hands on the wood. Differing and controversial opinions are welcome.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Goodbye old buddy...

On Wednesday morning the garbage truck hauled away my trusty, faithful, and absurdly comfy blue recliner. Every guy out there knows how he feels about 'his chair'. Archie Bunker's is in the Smithsonian; mine is now in a landfill near Blaine, MN. When I suggested that I sell it on CraigsList or even Twin Cities Free Market I was met by universal laughter and derision. I will have to admit that in cross examination I would not fare very well.......

"Is is true that ethnic food from most of the nations on earth has been spilled on this chair"
"Is it true that beer and other adult beverages from several states and nations have also soiled this piece of furniture"
"Yes (sigh)"
"Is the chair in perfect working order"
"Not quite; I had to put on some oversized bolts when I stripped the....."
"Just answer the question Mr Olson"
"Does it match any other piece of furniture, carpet, drapes, artwork, or anything else in your dwelling even remotely"
"Well, not really, no"

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the blog reading community, I rest my case!"

In any event, I never looked at the color, stains, minor operational quirks, or other cosmetic frailties; I just sat there and watched TV or read while enjoying my post work beer. So on Tuesday night, on the curb next to the garbage cans, I had one last beer with my old buddy before he was 'put to sleep' by the Waste Management sanitation engineering staff. I'm sure my new leather, lovely looking recliner will eventually conform to the shape of my ass and provide the same enjoyment (plus it has the Stainguard Protection Package!) as 'ol Blue' but for now I just need to raise a toast to my faithful chair and savor the memories. Bon voyage old buddy.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Last Lake Superior rolls of the season

On our way back from the Grouse Kill the boys and I hit Bark Bay for what we expect will be the last Lake Superior paddle of the '07 season. Bark Bay is one of the most intriguing spots on the South Shore. It is a large horseshoe bay between Cornucopia and Herbster, WI. and has the classic tombolo sandspit with a slough behind it that occurs on sandy areas facing northeast on Lake Superior. There are identical features on many of the Apostles, most notably Stockton and Madeline Islands, and they are formed when the November storms hammer the shore. It can seen well on both the map and the photo. The photo is looking east toward the Bark river with the lake on the left and slough on the right.

That slough is full of migrating waterfowl, cool bogs and hummocks, and (don't tell anyone!) big predator fish in the spring. The other great thing is that the Bark River is usually running high enough so you can paddle out of the slough and right into Lake Superior. If you can't paddle anywhere else on a windy day you can usually get out on to Bark Slough and its large enough and interesting enough to spend an afternoon or three. Bark Bay itself is protected enough in three directions but if you get a north or northeast wind things get interesting. With the Bark River flowing north into the lake and the swells rolling in against the river current you can get some big steep breaking waves. As you paddle along in the slough the wind in the white pines and the waves crashing on the beach 50 yards away are almost deafening.

Sunday we launched from the DNR landing and took a leisurely paddle through the slough, out the river channel, and into the lake. The sky was deep blue and the air was so clear you could see Eagle and Sand Islands on the western end of the Apostles. We all knew it was likely the last Lake Superior paddle of the year and when GalwayGuy said something about rolling, RonO commented that, "It just must be done". So we landed on the beach, stowed our gear, and paddled out to test the waters. Amazingly enough, Lake Superior weighed in at 48F, which was 6 degrees warmer than Lake O; more water to cool down I guess. In any event, here are the rollers:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Cold water rolling and the sauna

Saturday at the Annual Grouse Kill event, four of us went out to work on our rolls in beautiful Lake O. As usual at this affair, no grouse were even threatened and the temperature of the air was identical to that of the water, roughly 42F. We had three dry suit wearers and me in my tuliq. GalwayGuy worked on his Norsaq (stick) rolls and came within inches (see photo) of hitting one. I did a couple basic layback rolls and a couple angel rolls and RonO did a couple laybacks, a forward roll and who knows what else. The ManFromSnowyLegs, the only non Greenland paddler, did a couple of rolls sans headgear and quickly headed for the beach with a classic ice cream headache. Fortunately for all of us, the sauna was only 30 feet from the beach, stoked and pushing 185F. The warm body parts and the frozen body parts quickly equalized in the dry heat.

The sauna is a tradition in the northland. Finnish immigrants came here to work the mines in the 19th century and introduced the sauna which was quickly embraced by the rest of us chronically chilly snow belt dwellers. I much prefer it to the hot tub and its accompanying chemicals added to prevent nasty stuff from blooming in the water. The sweat and rinse process really cleans your skin and I've never felt cleaner than when I've strolled out of a sauna, especially a classic wood fired setup. On Saturday it provided the perfect finish for an afternoon of playing in the cold water. It also helped explain to the non paddling, beer drinking spectators on the hill just how and why we would choose to tip over a perfectly upright kayak in a cold November lake in northern Wisconsin.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Lake Superior report card

This evening I will pick up the SKOAC club trailer and swing by the hanger to grab RonO's boat and then head over to friendly Fridley to load up the ManFromSnowyLeg's craft. The VOR has consented to let son GalwayGuy use her beloved blue Avocet if he promises not to beat it up; there was a spare paddle scratching incident this summer that still causes sullen moments when recalled. We will be heading north to the Annual Grouse Kill, an event where no grouse has been harmed for a decade or so but the name remains. The scheme is for some Lake Superior paddling near Saxon Harbor and what could likely be the last rolling session in the inland lake that Camp O sits on. Good food and an adult beverage or two may be consumed also.

Since this could quite possibly be the last kayak trip to the big lake before it becomes too solid to paddle on, I thought it would be a good time to look at the report card. A group of scientists, meeting Monday at the "Making a Great Lake Superior" conference in Duluth, handed out some mixed grades. Most agreed that development along the shores could be the greatest threat. Pollution, rising temperatures, and invasive species are also a threat to the worlds largest lake and its cold and very sensitive ecosystem. I noticed that a trucker was fined for transporting a large water pump from the east coast that had roughly 5,000 Zebra Mussels (a very prolific Euro import that got over here in the ballast water of some freighter). As usual we are still the worst enemy of the lakes health. That being said, many of the scientists at the meeting agreed that the lake is generally in good health. Toxic pollutants have decreased yearly in recent years and the fish communities in the middle of the lake are very robust. Most of the areas of concern are the tributaties and near shore areas, once again the areas that we homo sapiens have relatively easy access to. So lets try to look past the end of our noses, use our heads, and do our personal bit to make sure this wonderful resource maintains its luster and mystique for years to come.