Saturday, May 31, 2008

The search for continuing education

Last summer RonO, TheManFromSnowyLegs, and the BessemerConvivialist completed the IDW and the ICE and were made official ACA instructors. I even did my little part by plying them with venison shish kabobs and beer after a particularly grueling session. Their success and the obvious increase in paddling knowledge made me to decide to do the same thing. Apparently though, their are several people with the same idea who don't procrastinate to the extent that I do. When I attempted to register for the course at Living Adventures in Red Cliff I was told they were full and that I would be put on a waiting list. I had inquired earlier and spoke to both instructors about taking the IDW and then taking the ICE at a later date since I have a long standing commitment the weekend after Labor Day when the ICE is given. Money talks however, and I neglected to come through with the credit card number and was shut out. No problem methinks, I'll just find another instructor course. A call to Nancy at Rutabaga informed me that yes they were holding the classes but they were full also. A quick check of the ACA website revealed a class on Isle Royale the end of June and while the thought of 6 days on Isle Royale quickened my pulse, I have other commitments then,paddle commitments, of course. Rumors of a offering in Ely at Vermillion Community College the end of September are floating around but nothing official on the ACA site as yet.

I suppose as a member of modern society I should come up with someone to blame, picket the ACA, or maybe form a victims group composed of those who were denied continuing kayak education. The sad fact however, is that if I had got off my lazy ass a month or so earlier I would be up on Lake Superior right now. The bright spot in this scenario is that there are lots and lots of people willing to expend time and money to hone their skills and instruct the flood of novice kayakers that are entering the sport. Personally, not being at the instructor class will allow me to attend BjornDahliOfMahtomedi's monumental 5 decade paddle/adult beverage celebration, the VOR's nephews graduation, and then get on a plane to visit No2 son, Lt.O, in Brooklyn tomorrow. I guess a guy has to have 'Plan B' in place at all times. Next year however, I'm all over the instructor plan. Ely, MN is lovely in the fall if that class comes through also. But at that time of year I need to pull my weight at the deer camp so once again options need to be weighed. There does not seem to be a lack of things to do in the Great Lakes region, that much is certain.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

City Bridges

Last night I returned to Lake Calhoun, which is kind of the default lake for after work paddling. Its in the heart of Minneapolis, central for city dweller and suburbanite alike, and there is enough scenery (both human and natural) to keep a paddler interested. ISK holds their traditional Wednesday night paddles there. The weather was absolutely perfect last night, 65F (`19C) with a light southeast breeze, minimal humidity and the late May sun shining brightly. In fact it was so comfortable that I just couldn't bring myself to pull the tuliq out of the day hatch and tip over.

Last night for some reason my brain focused on the bridges. We launch at the south end of Lake Calhoun and then head north to Lake of the Isles, through a channel to Cedar Lake, and then through a narrow culvert to Brownie Lake. Not counting the bike trail bridges and the culvert I believe we go under 5 bridges, most of which are fine arch structures, very unlike the 35W bridge which now resides in the Mississippi River and is rapidly being rebuilt. This time of year fisherman line the areas along the bridges and walkers, joggers, cyclists, roller bladers, and every other sort of outdoor propulsion are making their way around the lakes. People are unusually friendly in the spring, most likely because they are giddy to be out in the sunshine in a T-Shirt after being cooped up indoors or surviving outdoors in so much clothing that they can't be readily identified. The bridges are fun, historic, architecturally interesting, and lend a nice additional element to the after work paddle. The Minneapolis skyline is in the background and its really a pretty nice evening paddle. Now if I can only find something else to focus on the next dozen times I paddle the city lakes, life will be good.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Yesterday many of us celebrated Memorial Day in the US. When I was a kid, Memorial Day was always spent exactly the same way. We would head home from our lake cottage, a two season, outhouse equipped, hand pump your water place that a blue collar worker could afford in the early 60’s, and the Old Man would put on his American Legion uniform and march in the Memorial Day parade. After the parade a wreath would be placed in the cemetery, the Legion 'firing squad' would fire a few volleys and we kids would scramble to pick up the .30-06 brass that was ejected from the World War 1 era -03 Springfields. The vets would head to the Legion Club for a few beers and a Memorial Day lunch and then we’d head for home. I had only a vague idea of what any of these guys, these gruff friends of the Old Man, did in the war but I did know that the older guys were in WW I and the younger ones in WW II or Korea. The older guys were in their mid 60’s at that time and the younger WW II and Korea guys were in their late 30’s and early 40’s.

Today I kind of revived the tradition and headed down to Lakewoods Cemetary to check out the events. There was music and speeches but no 'firing squad' while I was there. The hundreds of flags reminded me of another childhood Memorial Day ritual, that of replacing all the old flags with new ones and sending the old ones off to be properly burned. There were a lot of people in the cemetery but my ploy of sneaking in the back gate was not needed. There were plenty of spots to park. A lot of the people were my age or older, looking for the graves of friends or loved ones and perhaps just reflecting on history as I was.

The page below is from my dads WW II scrapbook that his aunt, my great aunt, Margaret put together while he was overseas. About 20% of Eau Claire County male population was in the military during WW II. Service was pretty much universal and across the board. When I was a kid my doctor, dentist, uncle, great uncle, grandfather, father, godfather, etc., etc., had all been in the military. One of the missing in the clippings on the page was my godfather, another was my high school science teacher. Thankfully both made it back from POW camps in Germany. Some were drafted and some volunteered but it was a duty that cut across socioeconomic and class lines. These days the attitude seems to be that the military is at war and the rest of the country is at the mall. Gas prices has pretty much driven Iraq off the front page and out of peoples minds. Universal service and the draft are not popular in this country but certainly would get more people engaged in the debate, as it did in Vietnam. One of the other items in the scrapbook was a ration stamp book. On the cover it states, “This book is your Government’s assurance of your right to buy your fair share of certain goods made scarce by the war…..If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT”. One of the Old Man’s frequent comments was that he hoped that the American Legion would die out someday due to lack of eligible members. Our former Minnesota Governor, the often controversial Jesse Ventura, proposed that as soon as the decision to commit troops was made the draft should be instituted and every one in government with an opportunity to vote on the issue would need to designate which immediate family member would serve. I fear that unless war and the decision to go to war is felt by decision makers and the public emotionally, economically, and personally, that we will continue to plunge into these conflicts. I hope we can break the cycle.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Wood making and Capella rolling

Memorial Day weekends means wood splitting and stacking at CampO and we headed north Friday evening to join in the fun. Since CampO is indeed a true camp and not a modern home that happens to be in the woods, there is no central heat, just a number of wood burning fireplaces and stoves that have a voracious appetite for fuel. The master mind and chief chainsaw operator, the WoodFondlingBarrister, cuts a huge pile of yellow birch, hard maple, oak, and cedar and we peons cut and stack it on Saturday morning with the help of the gas operated log splitter. The division of labor is both rigid and efficient and no mere log stager or pile stacker would presume to take over the GurneyGranny's position of splitter operator. In a short few hours the five and a half face cords were split and stacked, prompting the satisfied smile on the face of the WoodFondlingBarrister, shown leaning on his ski pole a mere six weeks after his rebellious hip was replaced.

As with most CampO events, including the famous Bark Bay Fishing Invitational and the Annual Grouse Slaughter, work is liberally mixed with fun. For this event the Karl O Rohlich Memorial taproom had both Leinenkugels Original and Point "Its not just for breakfast anymore" Bock on tap. I knew that putting the P&H Capella 169 through its paces needed to take place before any tap handles were pulled so I saddled up and headed out into the rapidly warming lake, which had reached a balmy 62F (18C) since the ice went out 3 and a half weeks ago. No ice cream headaches this time like RonO and I suffered when we were rolling a week after ice out.

The P&H Capella with no gear in it is a very tender craft. When noted SKOAC author and raconteur, Bill Newman, paddled RonO's new Nordkapp his first comment was that it was, "diabolical". The Capella seems to be the same and I was glad I had not strapped the Nikon on the front deck as leaning forward to grab the camera would have felt a bit dicey when I first started paddling this craft. Its a fairly quick boat in the carbon/kevlar layup but it took a bit of fiddling with the skeg to get it to track straight in the 10-15mph wind. It knee turns very quickly and readily and from watching GalwayGuy surfing the waves on Superior it seems to be a surfing machine. Secondary stability is rock solid however and I would guess if I threw a bunch of gear in the boat it would be just fine; this is not a beginners kayak however. It did roll very well, and the classic Greenland lay back rolls worked quite nicely on both strong side and off side. I was able to lay back all the way on the deck and moved to the angel and crook of the elbow rolls. These also came around nicely but I went over a few time because either my brain still had not processed the balance thing with this boat or my unwelcome spring head cold has my inner ear screwed up. I'll need to play with that a bit, which is not tough duty now that the outdoor rolling season is in full swing. GalwayGuy did mention that we need to do some outfitting because his right thigh was black and blue for a week. I attributed it to the fact that he was rolling about 4 boats that day for two hours but now my right leg is black and blue and appears that it will be so for about a week. Go figure! It is a very intrigueing kayak and I hope to play around with it a lot more over the summer, if I can pry it away from GalwayGuy. It is significantly lighter and more nimble than my main boat, the Valley Aquanaut HV, affectionately referred to as the ore freighter, but I guess thats why we need so many boats. They all have interesting and endearing characteristics that make them more fun and more focused for different aspects of the sport.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Great Lakes Water Compact

Earlier this month Wisconsin passed the Great Lakes Water Compact, leaving only Pennsylvania and Ohio left to remove their thumbs from their collective posteriors and get it done. Then the Congress needs to ratify it, since its essentially a treaty between Canada and the US, and it becomes law. Or whatever you would like to call it.

As the cartoon cynically suggests, the Compact will hold up until someone really wants the water and has the clout and money to get it. Its very similar to our treaty granting the Black Hills to the Indian tribes 'in perpetuity'. Until gold was discovered, that is. Then the whole damn thing was quickly thrown out the window, but not before an arrogantly over confident Gen. Custer and his hapless 7th Cavalry were buried on a hill in Montana and the tribes were relegated to godforsaken reservations in South Dakota. Would it come to that over water, or would it take gold (or oil) to make people take up arms? Armed confrontations have occurred many times in the parched west but only once east of the Mississippi. On May 8, 1892, a gang of workmen hired by Chicago entrepreneur Mr. McElroy invaded the town of Waukesha, Wisconsin. This gang was intent on laying a pipeline from Waukesha's Hygeia Spring to a suburb of Chicago. They were turned back by the citizens of that city in one of the few (to date) physical confrontations over water east of the Mississippi river. The book that I lifted that passage from is called The Great Lakes Water Wars and the website also has some fine Great Lakes water related links.

I've jumped on this soapbox before and will likely do so again. The idea of Lake Superior water squirting out of some fountain in Las Vegas tends to get me fairly riled up. I just want to do my little part to keep this water issue in peoples minds and keep them alert when challenges, like the guy who wanted to ship tankers full of Lake Superior water to China, come up. We can get by without gold and we could get by without oil, but if we have no water we're dead. Its kind of like when your little sister eats all her Halloween candy and then wants some of yours. You might give her a couple pieces but the lessons of not to be a glutton (or a short term hedonist bastard, as a long ago ex girlfriend referred to me) and that she's not entitled to the candy need to be learned. We also need to be vigilant to make sure our parents (the government) does not order us to give her the candy. All I ask is that we keep our eyes open and cross our fingers that remaining states, Feds, and Canada do the right thing when it comes to ratifying the Great Lakes Compact and protecting our water.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Weather in the Apostles

I mentioned in yesterdays post that we needed to keep a 'weather eye' this weekend due to all the isolated thunderstorms that kept popping up on Saturday. I've found over the years that this is by far the most effective way to stay safe and paddle smart in the Apostle Islands. The National Weather Service in Duluth does the best job they can but, like a good lead off hitter in baseball, they fail about 66% of the time. Last July the Podman, KingOfIronwoodIsland, and I were forced to abort a crossing when the 'light and variable westerly winds' turned out to really be 30-40 knot dead south winds with rapidly building seas. Conversely, during our week long 4th of July trip we arose before dawn to beat the 'winds from the NW, building to 30 knots with 4-6' seas by mid morning'. The photo below was taken as we battled these vicious conditions.

I always bring my VHF transceiver/weather radio and listen several times a day. What it usually tells me in the 'current conditions' segments is that the weather conditions 20 miles apart are completely different. The main reason for this, of course, is the lake itself and the topography of the area. The Bayfield peninsula as well as several of the island have some fairly high hills and cliffs. This time of the year the land mass is warming up nicely but the lake is not. Warm air swirling around and over the land meets the cold air above the lake and interesting things can happen. Morning fog is one of the more common ones. Don't forget your chart, compass, and/or gps. Knowing the procedure for a securite' call on the radio is a good thing to let any other boats in the area know you are making a crossing in the fog. Warm air and cold water can spawn isolated squalls also. The same winds that brings us several feet of lake effect snow in the winter can bring spring and fall storms too. These weather events happen fast. A couple Memorial Days back we were paddling east into blue skies. Shortly after I felt a cool breeze on the back of my neck the BessmerConvivialist asked, "Could one of you guys turn around and let me know if we should worry about those clouds?" I'll let you be the judge.....

And then there is the wind. One of the more interesting areas in the islands is where the highlands of Oak Island, Red Cliff Point, and Basswood Island meet. This spot is affectionately know as the Basswood Triangle. No matter which way the wind is blowing elsewhere you can be assured it ain't blowin' that way here! The wind line seems almost like an eddy line in the river. I've seen sailboats tooling along nicely and then watched the sails luff, fill up the other way, and then pop back to the original setting. This causes much scurrying amongst the boat crew as one could imagine. Back when I paddled a feathered Euro paddle, before I went over to the 'dark side' with my beloved Greenland sticks, I almost went over when a rogue gust caught my large Eurospoon blade as it was vertical over my head. Later, when the concept of the Greenland storm paddle was explained to me I understood completely.

I guess the point of this post is that the National Weather Service is great, Doppler radar is an amazing tool, and a weather radio is an essential piece of gear on a kayak trip. But keep your eyes, ears, and most importantly your instincts alert when you're in the Apostles. It will save you a lot of effort and grief.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Apostles observations

One of the things I love about changing seasons is the stuff that you rediscover when you begin the next seasons activities again. Seeing and hearing the Black Cap Chickadees in the deer stand, feeling the quads burn when you strap on the telemark skis for the first time, and settling into the groove as you begin your first long kayak crossing of the season.

On Friday we loaded up the gear and headed for Manitou Island in the Apostles. While I did forget the bag that had Sunday's breakfast in it, we did bring most of the gear we needed. It was raining as we left the deserted Red Cliff marina, which the local Ojibway tribe operates, but the sun was out with a nice rainbow by the time we hit Red Cliff Point. We figured we must be pushing the season a bit because the familiar red navigation buoy on the point had not been put in place yet. We finished the 3 hour trip to Manitou Island in the dark with the almost full moon glinting off the paddle blades on water that looked like liquid mercury. There were some big spring storms this year and the campsite was littered with aspen, most of which were broken off 10-12' (3M) above the ground. The mile long trail to the old fish camp was littered with trees also. We had the saw along and did a little bit of clearing but, wilderness area or not, the roar of the chainsaw will be needed to clean this mess up, assuming the NPS wants a passable trail.

Saturday brought a steady northwest wind and the promise of unsettled weather. We had planned to move camp to Oak Island but once again the VoiceOfReason earned her moniker. "Why don't we just stay here and take a day paddle?". A unanimous vote was quickly taken as we correctly assumed that the site would not be reserved for that evening. In fact the only other kayaks we saw all weekend were on car roofs. We saw two fishing boats on Saturday and a commercial fisherman and a couple sailboats on Sunday but we pretty much has the entire park to ourselves. We took off for the spit on Rocky Island to see if there was any storm damage to the big white pines there, but as we rounded the NE point of Otter Island some nasty looking clouds and building seas prompted the VOR to announce, "I'm turning around". Since she is the VOR we once again agreed. The National Weather Service out of Duluth still had only generic 'isolated thunderstorms, some of which could be severe' reports so we did what folks have done for centuries; we kept a 'weather eye' on the sky. Of course halfway into the crossing back to Manitou,"Doppler radar is reporting strong thunderstorms on a line from Two Harbors to Port Wing, moving southeast at 40mph with 50mph winds and pea sized hail. These are dangerous storms so take cover......" Fortunately they missed us to the west and some other weather missed us to the east so we had a pretty decent day with a fine Apostle Island sunset over Otter Island. The KingOfIronwoodIsland tried out his new folding camp chair and its hypnotic properties relaxed him so much that it was reported when he made it to the tent he went to sleep with his headlamp on.

He was up early the next morning however, as he announced with a shake of our tent "bear in camp!". Sure enough there was a roughly 250# black bear tearing up an anthill about 20 yards west of camp. Could this be the same bear that we saw last summer in roughly the same spot? Could he have bulked up that much in 10 months? There are striking similarities between the two pictures. You decide. Manitou does have a bear box and he showed no interest at all in the camp or us. He ambled up the beach on what appeared to be his regular route and all was fine. Score another one for the bear box, at least three of which will be installed this summer due to donations from kayakers in CASKA, SKOAC, the GurneyGranny, and matching funds from the Friends of the Apostle Islands Nat'l Lakeshore. Great stuff to improve the park!

We headed back to Red Cliff with a nice tail wind and leisurely swells pushing us along. The bears must be out in full force because we saw tracks again when we stopped on Oak for lunch. The lake is up roughly a foot over last year. That extra water made the treacherous (to gel coat and fiberglass, that is) crossing of the Manitou reef much less nerve wracking. We were back in Red Cliff early afternoon after a fine outing.

Next weekend is Memorial Day and the crowds will increase greatly, drop off for a couple weeks, and then build back up for the peak season of the 4th of July through Labor Day in September. Even though the weather was brisk, this was a great outing with no crowds and a chance to see how the park weathered the harsh winter. This is the 3rd early May trip in a row; I think it could be an annual.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Off to the Apostles

It still amazes me that all that crap can fit in two little boats. The long anticipated first overnight Apostles kayak trip of the year leaves for Red Cliff today. The VOR, GalwayGuy, the KingOfIronwoodIsland, and I are going to hit Manitou tonight and then Oak for Saturday night. The main challenge of this trip will be locating all the gear that I carefully stored last fall in a very organized and methodical fashion. Except I can't remember the method and organizational scheme that I used. The dutch oven was carefully hidden in the garage behind the snow tires and the water filter was located under the stairs I suspect someone broke in and stole my spare butane cylinder, more than likely a terrorist group building an FAE bomb. I did find the little "We've rifled your baggage. Love, the TSA" tag in my Duluth pack pocket so maybe I'm not too far off. In any event, essentials are located and a noon departure is scheduled. The SKOAC trailer has 3 good lookin' boats on it and this will be its last trip. The circle will be complete because I took it on its first trip a few years back, a club day paddle down the Mississippi in water that was maybe just a bit robust for rookie sea kayakers. We had a capsize exiting one of the locks but I guess thats what made it memorable. I look forward to gazing west toward the Bayfield peninsula tonite, adult beverage in my hand, rear end in my little folding beach chair, thinking about absolutely nothing. See you Monday.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Snowbirds over Superior

I've been diagnosed by the BessemerConvivialist, a clinical professional by trade, as suffering from one of the most severe cases of TCS that she has ever seen. TCS or Time Compression Syndrome is a brain disconnect where interesting and fun activities occur in real time but the non interesting activites such as planning, packing, and transportation become compressed, often making the victim slightly late for various events. I almost had a flare up of the affliction yesterday. I noticed in the paper that the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds Precision Aerobatic Team was performing in Duluth over Lake Superior at 5:15pm Wednesday. Like my buddy RonO, I really like Cool Airplanes and knew I would be heading up there one way or another. I quickly formulated the plan to leave work early, load the boats, head to Duluth, launch, and paddle out from Wisconsin Point to watch the show from the water. I figured if we left at 2pm we would be on the water in plenty of time and be home in St Anthony by 10pm. This timetable was quickly demolished by the VoiceOfReason. She dissected my carefully laid plans and informed me that it we left at 1pm we might be home by 11pm or so if we were lucky. After pointing the many incidentals that needed to be factored in, as well as my inability to drive past the Thirsty Pagan without stopping for a beer, I reluctantly decided that watching the show from Leif Erickson Park would be the prudent choice on a work night. We quickly recruited GalwayGuy, TheGraciousPartier, and TheLegend, met them in Hinckley, and headed for Duluth.

The weather was fabulous. 60F (16C) with a light westerly breeze. We lounged on the rocks in the park and all agreed that we could wait a long time for the air show to start in conditions like that. We had a cooler and some cups and I had determined earlier that New Belgium 1554 Black Ale looked exactly like root beer. Sometimes discretion is needed in Minnestota, the State Where Nothing is Allowed. I correctly surmised that our multi generational group would pose no threat to public safety if we sipped a beer; the camouflage was necessary to avoid the local gendarmes', as we were accosted at St Johns University the year before in a similar situation. At 5:15 the nine CT-114 Tutor jets of the Snowbirds appeared over the lake and the show began. I don't know how many people viewed it but as far as I could see, several miles for sure, the lake front and beaches were crowded with thousands of spectators. We witnessed some spectacular formation flying, loops, rolls (bonding with we Greenland rolling afficianados), smoke displays, and some high speed passes. These Canadian pilots were superb and could really fly their jets, sometimes reaching speeds in excess of 350mph. There was a large rectangular area of the lake cordoned off by Coast Guard and county sheriff's department craft and no boats were allowed in this zone, where the Snowbirds were performing many of their maneuvers. The three large tour boats of the Vista Fleet were lined up and used by the pilots to help index their maneuvers, according to the Duluth News Tribune. We did see a few paddlers on the water and the lake, which we all know is the boss, cooperated with some light riffles and relatively flat conditions. It was indeed a perfect event and when the half hour was up the crowd wanted more. This little taste was a prelude and a preview of the Duluth Air Show, which is coming up the end of July. Once again the VOR proved to be psychic and we headed off to the Thirsty Pagan for some homebrewed beer and homemade pizza. Sittiing on the lake, smelling the lake and feeling the spring breeze has me fired up for the first Apostle Islands camping trip of the season this weekend. I hope someone is available for an intervention if my TCS flares up again.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Kayak 'non launch' update

I called the Anoka County Parks this morning and politely and calmly inquired about the kayak launching ban at the Wargo Nature Center. The woman who picked up the phone told me she would check with the operations manager and get back to me. Surprisingly, she did so in about 5 minutes. There are apparently two reasons that the general public can't launch here. When the first words out of her mouth were "Risk Management" I envisioned another cliff jumping type episode and was prepared to launch into a debate or perhaps a libertarian rant. The problem however, had nothing to do with possible injury. Wargo Nature Center is a secured area. That simply means they lock the gate when the center closes. The latest its open all week is 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. While you can debate the logic of closing the nature center just when most of the potential users get off work, you can't debate the fact that if you launched at 3pm and got back at 7pm and found your car locked in, you would be just a bit aggravated. They also have kayaking classes at the center and since the launch is pretty much a one boat at a time deal, there could be conflicts between the public and the classes that they are trying to conduct. Both fairly reasonable explanations in my book. Why the center is not open until dusk is another question, as is the issue of where to launch now that the launch sites have been cut in half. I'm dead certain that budget constraints are the stock answer but I didn't get into that.

So it looks like we use the lone canoe and kayak launch on the south side of the chain of lakes. When I talked to the county park people they did say the boat landing above the Peltier dam would be open in a couple of weeks and that they were extending the bike trail into the park. All good stuff. It would just be nice if the hours of the nature center could be extended and kayakers and canoeists could launch there, but for now I guess we'll take what we can get. As the nesting Canadian goose in the photo can attest, its still a pretty remote feeling spot even though it sits smack dab in the densely populated seven county metro area.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

'Guess the Government's logic' contest

Since the very beginning of this blog I've had some fun with puzzling government rules and regulations. Government bans on various activities that have the potential to win a Darwin award for people who practice them incorrectly or negligently are a particular pet peeve with me. The St Croix cliff jumping ban is still a sore point . Today's encounter with the fine folks trying to protect us from ourselves however has me completely puzzled. That is why the Lake is the Boss is announcing the very first "Guess the Government's logic" contest.

Some of the usual suspects and a couple new ones took off to paddle the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes with a 9:30am on the water timetable. The VOR and I were on our game and dialed in for a 9am arrival until we hit the road closed sign about a half mile from the launch. The 'bridge out' sign dissuaded me from my usual practice of driving around the sign until I see for myself that the road is indeed really closed. The sign pointed to the Wargo Nature Center and the map seemed to indicate it was on the water and therefore a potential alternative launch site. Off we went to check it out and not only was it on the water but there was an honest to god kayak launch, complete with rental canoes and kayaks. It seemed like the perfect alternative launch site until I walked into the center and touched base with the desk person. "You can't launch a kayak here" she said. "But you have a kayak launch and rent boats here, how can you not allow launching kayaks at a kayak launch?". And then the classic; the unassailable answer to any questioning of a dumb ass policy or regulation....."I don't make the rules, I just work here". I pressed on. "So what if my friend and I roll in, he rents a kayak and I have my own. What's the rule then?" She replied, "He can launch but you need to go down to the canoe and kayak launch by the dam". "You mean the launch on the other side of the bridge that the sign says is closed until August?". "Nuthin' I can do about that".

And there you have it. We went on to a fine Saturday morning paddle on one of the most remote feeling lakes in the metro area. Lots of waterfowl were in the area and only one of the lakes has any development on it. The creek had plenty of water and the BessemerConvivialist and the VoiceOfReason had a little limbo practice going under the bicycle trail bridge. I still can't figure out however, why you can't launch a kayak at a public nature center, at a designated kayak launch. Therefore blog readers, I need you to tell me what you think the perfectly logical reason will be for this perfectly illogical regulation. I plan on calling on Monday morning and getting someone to publicly state the rationale behind this puzzling policy. In the interim, if you are closest to the publicly stated reason (not to be confused with the real reason) you will win an autographed, 'game worn' map of the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve. Things like 'Sensitive natural area', 'limited parking', 'invasive species fear', and 'clerk at nature center didn't understand and state the policy correctly' and 'someone got hurt and they closed it' are all early choices in the contest. Good luck to all and I'll be sure to pass on the information if they decide to talk to me. It should be interesting either way.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

'Newbies' and rolling the Feathercraft

As I mentioned in a mid winter post, I had ordered a lower stern cross rib and thigh braces to retrofit my Feathercraft Big Kahuna for easier rolling. Tonight RonO and I headed over to a local lake to see how the newly 'Dubsided' boat rolled. And she rolled just fine. I needed to make a couple adjustments to my inaugural assembly job and my tuliq didn't fit the cockpit coaming but basically the boat rolled really well. After we got done playing in the surprisingly warm (56F, 13C) water we took a paddle up the lake and ran into two guys who were out in their brand new rec boats.

By now everyone has probably read the article in USA Today, Kayakers Keep Rescue Crews Busy. It was linked and discussed in Bonnie's blog and the excellent blog, Paddling Instructor, had an open letter from the president of the National Association of Boating Law Administrators. Finally, Silbs weighed in with a fine post on the topic. I've had two encounters with new kayakers in the past week. One was very close indeed. My next door neighbor strolled over as I was in the garage fondling boats and announced that she had purchased a kayak. She is very athletic but petite so her decision was pretty much based on a boat that she could hoist up to the car roof by herself. She purchased the craft at a 'big box' sporting goods store and had questions for me like, what kind of paddle should I get, do I have my legs straight on those pegs when I paddle, and what do they call that thing that goes around your waist and over the hole you sit in? Its fairly obvious from the questions that they sold her the boat, tied it on her roof, and wished her a hearty bon voyage.

Fast forward to our folding boat rolling session last night. After I made the 'wardrobe adjustment' to the Feathercraft we set out on the lake to paddle and saw two other kayakers along the west shore. We paddled over to say hi and found two enthusiastic brand new rec boat owners. These guys bought their boats at a large local sporting goods store and their questions were very similar to the ones my neighbor had asked. Since Ron had his tuliq on, I was wearing a dry suit, and we were both soaking wet they correctly surmised that we knew how to do 'those eskimo rolls'. Ron did a couple and one guy said that he had watched a bunch of videos on YouTube and figured he had a pretty good idea on how to go about it. As he started to put his paddle into the set up position that he had seen Ron use, I very quickly pointed out that he lacked the thing that goes around your waist and over the hole you sit in. I also pointed out that the lake was a bit brisk yet, the beer holder he had screwed on to the front of the cockpit might need to be removed, and his cigar would certainly go out if any eskimo rolls were attempted. Much to our relief he agreed.

So what the hell do you do? I find it difficult to argue with any point that is brought up in either the USA Today article or with the six factors that John Fetterman cites in his open letter. Both my neighbor and the guys on Long Lake are good people and more than eager to learn. The local sporting goods retailer that sold the two guys their boats offers demo/instruction every Thursday night during May and June and strongly suggested to the guys that it would be a good idea to attend one. Will they go? They weren't sure. The old tried and true matrix of conscious/unconscious and competent/incompetent seems to be in play in all these interactions. The unconscious incompetent has no idea what they are doing or the dangers involved. With any luck they move to the conscious incompetent where they realize the activity is dangerous and that they need some instruction. I think this is the area where effort needs to be focused, moving people to the awareness stage. Then if people realize an activity can be dangerous and choose not to attempt to become proficient, I guess I don't see what can be done other than legislation and/or licensing. I'm generally opposed to more laws, other than one requiring legislators to repeal two laws when they enact a new one, but I'm not sure or confident of any alternative strategies. Any thoughts out there??

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Saxon Harbor

On Sunday morning we decided that the nearshore forecast just might allow us to dip our paddles in Gitchee Gumee. We couldn't leave CampO before breakfast however. Its not every day you get a breakfast of venison bacon, eggs, hash browns O'Brien, sausage, and blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup. I am normally the cook for this meal and the large commercial griddle in the kitchen is a joy to whip up breakfast on. No one leaves hungry, there is plenty of everything available. If you ate this way every morning you'd be scheduling your bariatric surgery sometime in September but 'moderation in all things' is the operant phrase in this case.

Saxon Harbor is about 40 minutes north of CampO on Oronto Bay where Oronto Creek flows into the big lake. Its the start of an ancient Native American trade route known as the Flambeau Trail and the site of one of John Jacob Astor's fur trading posts from 1808 to 1830. They just spent a couple million bucks expanding the harbor, adding new docks, and stabilizing the shoreline. There is an inviting sand beach that runs all the way to Marble Point, two plus miles west of the harbor. Inviting that is, until you get an offshore breeze in the summer. Then the biting flies attack in a plague of biblical proportions and neither man nor beast wants to be anywhere near the beach or harbor. Fishing is great out of Saxon Harbor but once you clear the harbor mouth you are on the big lake and you need to really keep a 'weather eye'. There isn't a shred of protection between there and Canada, many miles to the north.

RonO and I launched a bit after 10am. The photo right was taken Friday night and there was no thought of paddling at that point. We headed east toward the Montreal River, which is the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. This river has high hazard class V rapids and an inaccessible canyon for a significant part of it. The 1985 PanAm whitewater competition was held here; its some serious water in the spring of the year. When we got to the mouth of the river the current and rough water it created went out at least a half mile into the lake. There was a north wind against the current that made it even more interesting. I believe this was the first time I'd been able to practice peel outs and crossing an eddy line on the big lake. Both RonO and I said we should have played around more in the current but we also needed to stretch out and knock a few miles off so we turned west and headed toward Marble Point and Graveyard Creek. That entire shore is high banks of red clay that erode, dumping trees and an incredible amount of clay into the lake when there is a big storm. Graveyard Creek is one of a handful of Lake Superior streams believed to have a naturally reproducing population of Coaster Brook Trout. There are no-kill fishing regulations in effect and it would be great so see the Coasters rebound, if we can manage not to screw up the stream habitat. We took a quick break to check out the creek and then paddled back to the harbor and our reluctant return to the work a day world. I need to do some serious work on avoiding that drive back to the city on Sunday evenings.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bark Bay Invitational recap

The weather at the 2008 edition of the Bark Bay Fishing Invitational started as February and ended as June. RonO and I left Thursday night with the plan to paddle all day Friday but the lake, being the boss of course, decided it didn't want any kayakers on it that day. A northeast blow with waves 4' to 6', building to 7' to 9' insured that Apostle Islands visitor center and a couple of brewpubs would be getting the majority of our attention on Friday. We managed to hoist a couple of pints with RangerBob at Patsy's Bar in Washburn, WI. Later that afternoon we were discovered at the South Shore brewery's Deepwater Grill by my friend Ronnie. We were testing the Nut Brown ale and he was picking up spent grain for his cattle, a very sustainable practice that I would advocate whole heartedly, especially if I was a hungry steer. We were also delivering a Valley Skerry RMX to him, which made this a valuable stop rather than the waste of an afternoon, an accusation leveled at us by the GurneyGranny as we delivered her case of wine at the famous Frontier Bar in Cedar, WI. We were instructed that under no circumstances was this wine to go out to CampO for the BBI and we followed our orders precisely.

A slippery, muddy, 5 mile ride on the dirt road into CampO was followed by a fine evening of cameraderie at the lodge. Don Julio, Senor Padron, Basil Hayden, and Mr. Bushmill all mingled quite nicely with the assembled crew and some money raucously changed hands at the poker table. The KingOfIronwoodIsland is scratching his chin on the left of the photo; we can't be sure if he is pondering his hand or the lack of chips in front of him. Two fine Wisconsin brews, Leinenkugels and Point Bock, were on tap and we were able to ignore the deluge for the remainder of the evening.

Saturday dawned snow covered and windy with temps around 36F (2C). RonO and I decided to paddle Lake O and very prudently fired up the sauna before heading out. It was a wise choice as the uncontrollable urge to tip the boats over came upon us. Ron was testing his new Brooks tuliq for the first time and it kept the water out just fine but did nothing, nor did my Reed tuliq, to alleviate the 'ice cream headache' caused by water roughly the same temperature as the air. The 175F (80C) heat of the wood fired sauna was very welcome. By lunch time the sky was clearing and the temperature rising and by late afternoon we were back in late spring. The old saying, if you don't like the weather just wait a while was borne out perfectly on Saturday. You can almost feel the change in the two photos, one taken at 11am and the other at 3:30pm. As you may have noticed, we still have not dipped our paddles in Lake Superior. More on that in tomorrows post.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Broken paddle

RonO and I will be off to compete in the prestigious Bark Bay Fishing Invitational tonight so no posts until at least Sunday. We hope to kayak Gitchee Gumee and probably will but the weather forecast as well as the near shore forecast do look a bit wintry. No surprise there given this years weather so far.

We did have a lovely Wednesday night paddle however. A very elite group consisting of the BessemerConvivialist and I toured the city lakes of Calhoun, Isles, and Cedar. The water is clear, the weeds aren't up yet, and the goose invasion is only in the early stages. When we were done we headed down to the Town Hall brew pub to sample the brand new Broken Paddle ESB. I will officially rate it as well above average and can assure you that, given the opportunity, many more will pass my lips before they move on to the next seasonal beer.

Broken paddle is a fine name for a good brew and also a situation that many of us have been in. If memory serves, RonO managed to break a carbon fiber paddle last summer. When I test paddled the Aquanaut my wooden Greenland stick failed during a high brace and I was forced to do the famous half paddle roll. The fellow from the now defunct Midnight Sun that was out with me said he'd never seen a paddle break before. He should have knocked on the wood of my broken paddle because the very next weekend he snapped the carbon fiber shaft on his Lendal. GalwayGuy was behind me in the Two Harbors race last August and figured to pick my elderly rear end off in the quarter mile to the finish. As he put the hammer down, the shaft snapped on his Irish Greenland stick and he was forced to watch me cross the finish line as he fished out the two piece Euro paddle from his back deck.

So whats the point of all this? Carry a spare paddle. Breaking a paddle on Lake Calhoun would be humorous or at the very worst aggravating. Breaking one as you round Point Detour on Lake Superior could be life threatening. Lots of folks rationalize that their buddy has a spare paddle and chances are slim that we'll break two paddles. Bad logic because sometimes you need that paddle right now. Chances are good that conditions that might result in a broken paddle might also result in a broken paddler if you can't get your hands on your spare quickly. So carry your spare. Its cheap insurance.