Sunday, June 29, 2008

To float or not to float, that is the question

Yesterdays 36th Annual EC River Float Trip became a bit more like a risk management discussion on a kayak trip than a lazziez-faire, beer swilling inner tube float. We had some unseasonably chilly weather combined with marauding thunderstorms in the area and the decision needed to be made whether to hit the water or implement a yet unknown 'plan B'. In a vote made under threatening skies and divided neatly along gender lines, it was decided to head downriver to the pavillion at the Lion's Youth Camp and have a couple of adult beverages to wait out the weather and help focus the decision making process. Potential lightning and a past history of 'freezing our asses off' were key issues in the campaign before balloting took place. Memories of the whining and whimpering that ensued after certain individuals became wet and cold in years past drove undecided voters into the non-float camp, effectively swinging the election.

The grassy meadow at the youth camp was warm and sunny after the storm passed to the south. As we sat there on our flotation devices a renegade element decided they were by god going to float and that anyone interested could join in and the rest of the group could do as they wished. On paddle trips this is usually where things begin to disintegrate but in this case the group was large, the river benign, and any risks of splitting up were more of a danger to maritial harmony than group integrity. So 75% of us headed for the river and an abbreviated float. It was superb. The water was high enough to avoid rear ends dragging, the sand beaches were pristine, the temperature perfect, and the water an excellent temperature. Just as we were arriving back at the Lion's camp another line of thunderstorms rolled in and we managed to get out of the water and under cover just before it hit; perfect timing once again.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, this is the 36th year in a row for this event. I grew up in the area and have been playing in and on the Eau Claire river since I was a kid, forbidden by my mother to go anywhere near it. I managed to conveniently ignore that edict. The river originates in the sand counties of central Wisconsin, an area made famous by Aldo Leopold in his seminal book, A Sand County Almanac. The river is meandering, slow, sandy, and of a manageable width with root beer colored water caused by tannins leached from the pines along the banks. There is one dam upstream and also Big Falls, an outcropping of basalt that the river tumbles over in 3 or 4 drops before it flows into Lake Altoona. The riverbanks are undeveloped and the land sandy and not very fertile. Scrub oak, jack pine, assorted underbrush, and an unbelievable amount of Toxicodendron rydbergii, the infamous poison ivy, grow there. If no one is scratching by tomorrow we dodged a bullet, given the sheer amount of it and the way our crew blundered down the trail to the river. Even so, its a great little river and a fine yearly gathering that just seems to be something that a lot of folks look forward to. Its a return to youth for a day and the ultimate escape from the work a day reality of constant questions and decisions. Its a low key, relaxing trip down a sweet little river in an inner tube with some beer, a fine cigar or two, and no worries whatsoever. There isn't even a need to think about steering or the route; the current takes care of that. The awards banquet, where the Best Performance trophy is awarded, is held afterwards at the famous Chicken Hut, one of the few places I know of that serves a fine chicken gizzard dinner. Only 364 days until next year!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tall ships coming to Duluth Harbor!

On the first weekend of August the SKOAC Renegade Racing Team will be competing in the annual Two Harbors Kayak Festival's races. Some more motivated members will do the 18 mile marathon and some members, more concerned with being in shape for Happy Hour, will do the Betty's Pies five mile race. Yours truly is in training for the five miler and actually had some pie at a fund raiser last evening. This will be the teams first and likely only kayak event, since many members are still reeling from the Vasaloppet ski marathon in -16F (-27C) conditions last February. In addition to the kayak festival in Two Harbors, there will be three 'tall ships' in Duluth Harbor for the weekend.

The ship in the photo is the Pride of Baltimore II, functioning cannon and all. The other two ships will be the US Brig Niagara and the Schooner Madeline. The Madeline is a replica of Great Lakes schooners that sailed Lake Superior 150 years ago. One of my favorite stories (and favorite places) is how Capt Robert McCargo escaped American warships during the War of 1812. Captain McCargo was employed by the Northwest Company and sailed his schooner into what is now known as McCargo Cove on Isle Royale to escape the marauding Americans, who had burned the NW Company post at Sault St Marie earlier. Its one of the nicest spots on the island whether you are a kayaker or hiker, because the water is warmer, its sheltered from the weather, fishing is good, and at some point in the 19th century a miners wife likely planted thyme which still grows there and can be used to season the hated pasta based dehydrated backpacking meals. The schooner Madeline is a descendant of Capt McCargo's ship, the Recovery, and should be very interesting to check out. I'm sure a pilgrimage to Duluth will be added to the Two Harbors agenda in early August. The summer 'dance card' seems to be rapidly filling up!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

White Bear Wednesdays

It was the first official Wednesday night social paddle for the SKOAC group on White Bear lake last night. When I was about 10 minutes from the launch I got a call from RonO informing me that we would be crashing the Lion's Club senior picnic and to plan on parking 'off site'. After hauling our boats through a gauntlet of games, food stands ( donuts!), and folks milling aimlessly from one attraction to another, we managed to make our way to the beach. Once we launched it became the usual anarchy/ cat herding exercise. Out of the dozen or so paddlers, some wanted to go listen to the live music at Talleys, RonO and the BessemerConvivialist wanted to make sure a couple folks that are heading to Lake Superior on the intro trip this weekend are up to it, some wanted to visit the eagles nest, and others didn't know what the hell they wanted to do. BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi and the IrishPirate made a brief cameo as they headed directly to Talley's; they even missed the traditional post launch beer. Puzzling, but I'm sure the explanation will arrive via email in short order. The VOR and I joined the 'don't know what the hell we want' group which hooked up with eagles nest stragglers for a trip around Manitou Island. The eagle and some eaglets were home in the nest and and mama loon and her ungainly offspring were paddling around in the weeds. It always surprises me to see these solitary,wilderness loving birds bobbling around with the crazy watercraft that are found on White Bear in the summer. It also surprised and pleased me to see that MrEngineerGear had perfected his roll over the winter, a feat made even more impressive because he was attempting to roll the voluminous QCC craft. Video evidence is below.

Another fine evening on the water was had by all. The weather was perfect and the sunset awesome. Our one week of summer has been spectacular so far. I hope we are allowed a second one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A vulgar artifact

In keeping with the theme of the previous post about waterways being clogged with blissfully ignorant people in all sorts of people powered water conveyances, I need to point out that I will be joining their ranks again on Saturday for the 36th year in a row. Once again I will be wedging my behind into an inner tube and floating down the Eau Claire River as part of the 36th Annual Eau Claire River Float Trip. You can read about last years event here. Sorry about the recycled photo but actual images from the river are rare. In the past I've taken the Feathercraft and a CD Scirocco but for the past few years I've gone retro and used the classic old black truck tube. You'll note some high tech blue water toys but, being a fan of Greenland kayak techniques also, I kind of like the traditional look.

What prompted this post was the convergence of last Saturdays Lake Calhoun experience, this Saturdays upcoming float trip, and an article a friend passed on to me entitled, "The Horror of Kayaks". The Villager, a local neighborhood paper, has no online edition and I'm far too lazy to type the whole article into some sort of electronic form. The gist of it is that this guy is a fly fisherman and was fishing the Kinnickinnick River in western WI, a fairly narrow stream above River Falls. As he was switching from an Adams to a Partridge and Orange (fly lingo) he heard a "rhythmic clunking" from upstream. "From around the bend appeared a vessel that resembled an elf shoe with a human torso sticking up out of it. The torso was furiously stirring the water with the ends of a double paddle in a futile effort to avoid colliding with me. I had to leap out of the stream to get out of the way". He goes on to lament "Solace denied. Serenity ruined. Mission accomplished". He even blames the flourishing of these "vulgar artifacts" on the "reign of George Bush II" and complains about the "eye frying colors, the same color as bath toys". Or maybe the blue water toys on our float trip. The similarity of his experience and the one that I will most certainly be on the other end of Saturday was cemented when he wrote, referring to canoeists that, "a convoy of aluminum-borne teenagers boomed over rocky rapids, unleashing war whoops between swigs of Leinenkugels". Has he been on the Eau Claire River and how did he know we were drinking Leinies (beer)? Ours beer is in a keg in the canoe!

In any event, it was fairly humorous and I had to laugh out loud at a couple of his metaphors, especially the elf shoe. In the photo we see a noted Greenland style rolling expert in his very own 'elf shoe'. The fact of the matter is that we just aren't very tolerant of activities other than the ones we embrace. My sister has a three sided war going on her lake between fisherman, water skiiers, and jet ski people, although the fisherman and water skiers pretty much universally loathe jet skiers. Our fly fishing writer advocates being able to tip over a kayaker or two as "restorative justice". I myself have advocated a jet ski season similar to Wisconsin deer hunting season. A person is issued one tag, either sex, with the option to purchase more 'antlerless' tags if you fill your first one. That would make the jet skiers think, as they did that figure 8 past your kayak for the 15th time, 'Hmmm......has that guy filled his tag yet? And if I do 8 more figure 8's will that put him over the edge and cause him to take me out?' I think it would foster more politeness on the water but my innovative idea has been received pretty much like Swift's A Modest Proposal. No sense of humor, I guess. So when you're out there, railing against the folks who are doing something other than what you are doing, remember that the water belongs to everyone. And please take the time to write your representative about instituting the Jet Ski Hunting License. Its a modest proposal but one who's time has come.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A stay at home weekend

Spending a weekend in the city is not a practice I'm known for. People seem to be at a loss when they ask what I'm up to for the weekend and I tell them I'm staying put. Actually No1 son drove up from Madison, WI on Friday and 2ndLtO flies in from Brooklyn after two weeks at Ft Drum, playing with the 10th Mountain Division. He will no doubt, as my friend TheWoodenOne wrote me after finishing an army helicopter training course out east, "be ready for a damn good blowout". The blowout will be this afternoon at the wedding reception of a friend that both guys played with in the sandbox before any of them could form a cogent sentence. Many good friends will be crawling out of the woodwork for this one.

But before that No1 son and I had a day and a half to fill. I attended an abortive professional event Friday night that was supposed to feature lawn bowling at a joint called Brits Pub in downtown Minnneapolis. Its a wonderful venue with a rooftop lawn bowling pitch. Unfortunately, its a difficult place to patronize and I was forced to relocate a work event that I hosted there to a much more congenial and competent pub called The Local, when Brits seemed completely unable to perform that most simple and necessary function for a successful bar business: keeping the customers drinks filled. A thunderstorm soaked the pitch and they were completely incapable of jockeying the reservations around so everyone would have a chance to bowl. The main problem was what you see in the photo; no one bowling. Don't ask me why. No1 son rolled in around 10pm and we adjourned to a place that excels at keeping ones pint glass filled, Barley Johns Brewpub.

The next morning featured a long bike ride and the kind of breakfast where you can actually feel your arteries clogging up as you dine. Minneapolis is becoming more and more bicycle friendly which pleases No1 son, who is both in the bike business and practices what he preaches on bicycle commuting. We then loaded up the boats to head for the lakes with a quick stop to check on my paddling cronies who were teaching the SKOAC Coastal Kayak Basics course. Then it was off to the city lakes for a Saturday urban paddle.

My Wednesday night paddles in no way prepared me for the chaos that is the city lakes chain on a perfect summer Saturday. Not only were the 5 beaches, bike paths, and picnic areas packed but the lakes were jammed with every type of people powered watercraft you could think of. Its a damn good thing motors are banned on the chain. Unfortunately, only about 70% of those on the water had any idea of how to maneuver their craft. As we paddled though the lakes we were nearly hit by 1) a sailboat, 2) a paddleboat, and 3) several 8' rec kayaks, sans flotation of course. We were hit by a canoe. Two women were paddling through the channel between Isles and Cedar lakes and it reminded me of my buddy the Worm about 3 decades ago. The Worm had been negligently overserved and was attempting to get down the long hall to his bedroom, both hands out to stabilize himself as he tacked and zig zagged from one wall to the next. Unfortunately someone had not quite closed the basement door and.....well, we won't go into gory details. Suffice to say these two ladies had steering issues and as they remorselessly headed for the side of my boat the one in front refused to make eye contact and had that rigid 'I want to disappear' look. I gently grabbed their bow and steered them back into the channel as the stern paddler apologized profusely. I did a quick explanation of a stern rudder and left them to their devices. On the way back we saw a sailboat turtled and wondered if it was the couple who missed us on our way out.

The contrast between the folks up on Snail lake devoting their Saturday to improving their skills and the great unwashed happily flailing away on Lake Calhoun was notable. The folks on Snail were conscious incompetents as the matrix suggests. That is to say they recognized that they needed to improve their skills and were acting on that realization. The folks down on the city lakes were unconscious incompetents. No idea that there could be skills to learn or dangers to avoid and happily splashing around. Granted the main danger yesterday was getting wet but we watched a number of folks who had rented boats remove the 'hot and bulky' life jackets to better enjoy the day. And most of them had brought a cooler along. In most cases the cooler was not filled with lemonade and iced tea. Nor was ours. Just two weeks ago a man drowned in the area after capsizing a paddle boat and attempting to swim to shore in the opposite direction of his buddy. It was midnight and they had been drinking.

As usual I have no great revelation on how to get people to behave more responsibly. Nor do I advocate (in fact I fear) new rules and regulations to protect us from ourselves. As I've said before, in a variation of the 'think globally, act locally' axiom, try to instruct and educate people one peron at a time and hope it spreads geometrically. It would be nice if the rental vendors on the lakes embraced this idea but I don't see that coming any time soon. Meanwhile, we need to paddle safe, paddle smart, and gently teach the unconscious incompetents.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The April blizzard and another bear box update

photo courtesy of Alette(Minnesota Power), Duluth 10 April 2008

Readers of this blog and the CASKA blog have to be a bit confused about where those newly donated bear boxes are actually going to be placed. So was I. An email from JimN, Chief of Planning and Resource Management in the AINL, cleared the situation up nicely. Six boxes, including three the park ordered last year and the three donated ones from this year, will be placed on the following islands: Sand (Lighthouse Bay), Mainland, Stockton (Trout Point), Outer, Michigan, and Otter. The logic is to get them to the spots where there have been actual bear problems first and then work down through the list. As I mentioned a couple days back, the mainland site is still closed until mama and her two cubs devour the deer they have been eating and move on. I've personally seen bear tracks all over Lighthouse Bay and have seen them detour around my boat on Trout Point. Great choices in my humble opinion. Thanks to all who pitched in a buck of two to make this happen.

The other item I received from Jim was a shot of Outer camp after the April 10-11 blizzard. There was a nasty low pressure area that developed over Kansas, causing 50-60mph east winds on the lake and 8-12 foot waves. The National Weather Service measured sustained winds aloft(3,900') at 89mph. I've attached a photo of the Outer Island camp from roughly the same spot as the one Jim sent. Here is the before.
And here is after the storm.
Looks like most of the small pines as well as the 3' berm of sand up to the camp have disappeared along with most of the ground cover. The good news is that the gigantic white pine seem to have made it through in good shape. I also noticed the the big logs that we used for seats and keeping the sand out of our gear have been moved elsewhere. I would have loved to see waves that big!

Things keep changing in the park. People ask how I can go up there as much as I do and not get bored by the same old thing. The answer is that the same old thing is never the same, it keeps changing. The other truth of course, is that the worst day on Lake Superior is always better than the best day at work. Keep on paddling!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guys need gear!

After a long hiatus, we had the opportunity to paddle with my buddy, MrEngineerGear, in the Apostles last weekend. Fatherhood had dry docked him a bit last year and his only appearance on the water was a cameo at the Two Harbors Kayak Festival. Mama and Junior headed south for a family visit this weekend and he was ready to get the QCC hull wet. Of course after a years break new pieces of gear for camping comfort and efficiency had to be hauled out and demo'ed.

One piece of gear that I don't leave home without is the Kelsyus beach chair. This little baby folds down and fits nicely on your back deck. While some say a chair is extravagant I would argue that sitting on logs, rocks, and the ground is detrimental to your paddling posture and your hind end. Like the chair systems that use your sleeping pad these are multifunctional also. TheKingOfIronwoodIsland discovered that the chair also serves as a de facto Breathalyzer; if you need to fall forward to get up and out of the chair its probably time to lay off the wine and hit the tent. The picture of me resting my eyes on this blog masthead also proves the hypnotic nap quality of this piece of gear. As MrEngineerGear remarked, "Wow. Better not sit in this chair unless you plan on buying one". This is true because I've personally picked up 6 chairs for new fans.

Next to the chair, occupied in the photo above by a mysterious and exotic Vince Flynn fan, is a collapsible bucket and hose running to a Katadyn water filter. This filter system allows one to haul water out of the lake, in that handy collapsible blue bucket, and fill up a 2.5 gallon water cube in about the same time it takes to fill a liter Nalgene bottle with a regular pump filter. One of the keys to this efficiency is that it has a setting for clean as well as dirtier water. For years I carried a cup on my deck and if I was more than 400 meters offshore would just dip the cup in Gitchee Gumee and have a drink (don't try this at home, kids!) so the clean water setting can be readily used in the Apostles. I'm sure that before the next trip I'll need to go to the wallet and acquire one of these revolutionary pieces of equipment.

Finally in the Great Lakes region we have our old friends the insects, that come to visit in full force this time of year. Fortunately you're usually only bitten by one type of vermin at a time because a concerted attack by mosquito's, black flies, noseeums, deer flies, and other biting insects might make a person suicidal. In addition to the famous Bat Cave ( Cooke LeanPlus screened tarp) a person needs some good walking around protection. Slathering yourself with DEET is the tried and true but the odor and greasy feel are less than inviting. I would also guess that, like the insidious Radon gas, cyclemates, and polycarb Nalgene bottles, they will discover that giving rats 4,000 times the normal exposure of DEET may increase the risk of cancer. Last year, with this in mind, I purchased a couple of ExOfficio BuzzOff shirts on clearance. When a 'buddy' saw my green checked shirt he remarked, "Makes perfect sense they were in the clearance bin". Although I won't make the GQ best dressed list, it does the trick with the bugs. When I saw some equally unattractive BuzzOff bandanas in the clearance section this year I bought a couple of those also. As you can see from the photo the French Foreign Legion look, modeled by GalwayGuy and myself, is not only stylish but effective. The success of these garments prompted the VoiceOfReason to order BuzzOff socks and a hat. This hat makes the sartorial affront worn by the ManFromSnowyLegs seem stylish but I guess a guy with a green checked shirt can't be critical. You can see the hat, the legs, and the total disregard for the upside down kayak in the photo right.

All of this equipment is a far cry from my early camping gear from the mid '60's but I gotta admit the new stuff beats the hell out of Halazone tablets, Ensolite pads, canvas packs and tents, and especially the freeze dried entrees. Upgrade your gear. It will make your camping experience a lot more enjoyable.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Apostle Islands bear (box) update

A group of seven of us did a little 30 mile swing up in the Apostle Islands this weekend and touched Oak, Stockton, Hermit, and Basswood islands on the trip. When we arrived at Stockton on Saturday, it was apparent that the campsite we had reserved was actually a NPS designated Mosquito Breeding Natural Area. Fortunately we were able to make contact with the Park Service and get our campsite switched to the lovely site in the photo. Unfortunately this change was not communicated to the patrolling rangers in their Zodiac boat with twin Honda 4 stroke outboards because they cut their engines about a half mile offshore, eyeballed us with binoculars, and then docked and strolled the 400 meters through the woods to check us out. We were illegal of course. An individual site is only allowed 7 people and 3 tents. We had the seven people but five tents. We had most tents on the designated pad and had erected the extra tents on the sand beach, and avoided any impact on the grasses or beach peas growing in the area. The rangers forgave our minor violation and complimented us on our foresight. They commented on our extensive canned beer collection as well and really liked RonO's pint beer glass; they felt it added class to the camp. They also gave us the Apostles bear update for early 2008.

As readers may recall, three kayak clubs, the Prairie Coast Paddlers, CASKA, and SKOAC, along with some matching funds from the Friends of the Apostle Islands group, collected enough money for 3 new bear boxes. I spoke with Randy Ross, the maintenance guy at AINL, and he said the three boxes were ordered and when they arrived they would be installed on the Outer Island spit, Hermit Island, and Long Island. Outer needs a bear box badly and Hermit has been closed since sometime last year, due to bear activity, and only has wilderness camping available. Maybe the bear box signals a new official campsite in the offing. Long island is actually connected to the mainland and has been for the last 30 years or so. It is more of a spit or a point and is mainly used by local folks and boaters rather than paddlers. The two rangers that stopped to check us out told us there were a number of bear wandering on Long Island and that the reason the bear(s) on Hermit were so bold was because some idiots had thrown food at them to make them go away. Pitching an alcoholic a bottle of whiskey to make him quit pestering you would usually be thought of as a short term and short sighted solution and in this case it most certainly was. No one seems to know when Hermit will open for camping again.

Wisconsin has plenty of bears, a lot more than they thought 12 months ago. A new census method which made its debut this year, seems to indicate that the Badger state has twice the number of bears, 25,000 or so, that we were supposed to have last year. Three of these bears, mom and her two cubs, have closed the mainland trail and campsite near the Meyers Beach sea caves in the AINL as well. We were told they were hanging around the parking lot feeding on a deer carcass and 'acting aggressively' toward visitors. This should be short term once the deer is devoured, unless some moron decides to throw a bag of marshmallows to the bears.

After a pleasant and informative exchange, the NPS rangers fired up their boat and headed back toward Bayfield. We made supper, switched from Newcastle Brown ale to Guiness Stout, and settled in to watch the moon come out over camp. Another wonderful evening on Lake Superior with a fine group of kayakers. More details on this mini-trip to follow....

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I left my cell phone in San Francisco

The ever vigilant RangerBob sent me the attached article (link below) on a kayak 'rescue' by the Coast Guard in San Francisco Bay. In a nutshell, two guys went for a day paddle to watch the Escape from Alcatraz triathalon, the weather got a bit nasty, and they decided to spend the night on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. The problem was that they didn't notify anyone about this change of plans and about midnight one of the wives called the Coast Guard and the search began. The next morning they were found paddling toward shore near Alcatraz, both by the Coast Guard and also by a news crew who wanted to hear the story. It's at this point the routine rescue effort becomes a news story. In my opinion and in the opinion of the majority of folks who commented on the story in the San Francisco Chronicle, these two guy acted like a couple of self centered, smug jerks. Take a look a the video here and see what you think. It seems like they just can't be bothered to tell the reporter the story and are far too busy stowing gear and getting their boats squared away. The comment that the rescue attempt, "was disturbing a beautiful sunrise." was the clincher for me.

I've interacted with the US Coast Guard a number of times over the years, one of which involved an evacuation of one of our paddle group from Oak Island in the Apostles. They are unfailingly professional, helpful, well trained, and efficient. And they refused the case of beer I delivered as a thank you for their efforts; now that's professional! I'm sure our fellow bloggers from the Swanage RNLI lifeboat are cut from the same cloth. These two yahoos were apparently more concerned with the 'lovely moonrise' than letting anyone know they were OK. The one guy even told a radio reporter, I would imagine disdainfully, that he didn't even own a cell phone. They had been on Angel Island since 11am on Sunday, likely walking by dozens of visitors as well as park buildings, all of which would have some way to contact the mainland. Irresponsible, self centered behavior; it would have been so damn easy to call home. But I'm not the only one that has this opinion. Check out the comments following the story. "Kayaking Klowns","ungrateful idiots", "send these jackasses the bill", and "sweet little Brokeback getaway" were just a few of the milder opinions expressed by readers.

Stuff like this, as well as the article a couple months back in USA Today do absolutely nothing to help the image of kayakers in the public perception or in the eyes of the Coasties and other folks who may have to haul us out of the water. The comment by the coroner in the recent Chicago kayaker drowning and the statement in the USA Today article, "
it's putting a strain on Coast Guard and other marine search-and-rescue crews and prompting calls for new laws requiring kayakers to take boating safety courses" does not bode well for the sport. I know I'm preaching to the choir in this post since most readers of a kayaking blog are interested enough in the sport to get training and try to improve their skills. Clubs and individuals need to redouble their efforts to educate the general kayaking public. A lot of times this needs to be done one person at a time. I few years back I tried to talk a guy out of paddling out to the Meyers Beach sea caves in the Apostles, the site of a couple fatalities in past years. He had a 12' rec boat, no spray skirt, paddle float or pump, and was not dressed for immersion. I was getting nowhere with him until I suggested that we continue the conversation while standing knee deep in Lake Superior. As his lower legs quickly became blue and numb he realized the dangers if he went over a half mile off shore. If I was lucky, he mentioned this episode to a few of his rec boat buddies and maybe the word was spread. We just need to be relentless with the message, even if its one person at a time, and maybe we can avoid or forestall the inevitable government regulation. In the meantime, shoving a camera in the face of a couple of 'kayaking klowns' does not help the cause at all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The new 35W bridge

On August 1st of last year the I-35W freeway bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour, costing 13 people their lives and injuring another 145. Two of the folks that paddled with us that evening had crossed the bridge on their way to the launch site, minutes before it collapsed into the river. In what must be considered lightning speed for state government, a contract for the new bridge was awarded just six weeks after the disaster. Last night the VOR and I went out on the bikes to scout a good commuter bike route to get her to work and stopped to survey progress on the bridge.

The contract with Flatiron Construction calls for the bridge to be complete by December 24th. Merry Christmas I guess. A friend that’s a chef at one of the restaurants near the bridge reported that the construction workers who ate there said the bridge was well ahead of schedule and would likely be done by mid to late September. Now the St Paul paper has reported the same thing. There is a good chance the river will be spanned again by the 4th of July and, when all the approach work is completed the bridge could be open by mid September, which would earn Flatiron a 20 million dollar bonus. As a taxpayer, I’m fine with that. Flatiron didn’t have the lowest bid; I’ve always thought all that process gets you is the cheapest product. They did have a great design and, it would appear now, an excellent plan and work schedule to get the bridge back up and in service.

Anyone who has followed the weather knows it’s rained like hell in the Midwest the past week. Lanesboro and Grand Marais, MN, on opposite sides of the state, have had disastrous flooding and Lake Delton in Wisconsin had several expensive homes destroyed, the highway washed away, and the lake itself drained when a dam collapsed. Indiana has had similar flooding. The Mississippi is flowing pretty good at St Anthony Falls and the construction guys are still out there working on the bridge 24 hours straight. In the photos you’ll see the two spans working toward the center of the bridge. Also note the current in the river and the crane barge anchored in the middle. The river has been cleared of most of the debris also and in the one shot you can see a tug and a barge that has just locked through the No2 Minneapolis lock heading downriver.

The Flatiron guys are doing some amazing things on the river in conditions that could be described as difficult at best. I hope the bridge is open soon for the usual selfish commuter reasons but also to help those who had family lost or injured move on. A bridge is something we take for granted and this proved to a lot of people in this area that ain’t necessarily the case.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


I've come to develop an appreciation for the quality of decisiveness, especially as I encounter more and more indecisiveness. A common example of pathetic indecisiveness is restaurant ordering brain freeze. I knew a woman who would look at a menu for 5 minutes and then when the waiter showed up act like she had never seen the damn thing before. Just pick something to eat! Its not like you're deciding whether or not to launch the invasion of Europe for gods sake! The 64th anniversary of D-Day was Friday by the way, and I'm in the midst of a new biography of Eisenhower by Michael Korda, which is an excellent read. Ike was a guy who was decisive and based his decisions on preparation and knowledge.

This pervasive indecisiveness was brought home yesterday as GalwayGuy, GuitarMatt, and I ventured to Canterbury Park to watch some live racing and attempt to make some money on Big Brown's 'sure thing' for the Triple Crown. The lines at the window were long and, like the restaurant scenario, a number of people appeared that they had never seen the racing form before in their lives when they got to the window. It only takes 10 seconds to say, "$10 to win on the 4 horse and a $4 exacta wheel with the 4 over the 3,6, and 7". $22 is handed to the cashier and a betting slip is handed back in return. A number of folks at a big race like this are casual bettors and not real sure how it works. In keeping with the preparation and knowledge theme, the track has a simple explanation at every window, a step by step outline in every racing form which every customer receives, as well as people walking around on every level wearing vests that say 'ask me'. So if you stand in the line, get to the window, and then hold up everyone else because you don't know how to place a bet, my assumption is that you are either are incredibly lazy and refuse to prepare, or simply an idiot. Do you get the sense that perhaps I was shut out at the window a couple times yesterday? You're gd right I was!! Once again dawdling and indecisiveness by poorly prepared and clueless people causes frustration, angst, as well as financial losses for those who are prepared and relatively knowledgeable.

This indecisiveness is common in kayaking also and I confess to having played into it a number of times. The 'what day, what time, and where should we go' for an after work paddle can be the subject of a multiple email exchange. 'Minnesota Nice' comes in to play here with the "Oh whats convenient for you?", "You decide where we go", and "Heck, just let me know, I'm up for anything you guys decide". Expedition planning can be difficult also. A group of buddies finally gave up on one guy because when dates and locations were set he always had a conflict or knew of a 'better' spot to go to.

When you are on the water however, indecisiveness can be deadly. This is where preparation, knowledge, and a decisive personality are essential. Some questions absolutely require a decisive answer. Can we paddle in these seas, given the skill level of our group? Mike looks really sick, should we call for help? Should we try this crossing with thunderstorms heading in our direction?Do we keep going or turn back? These are questions that normally don't let you check the menu or racing form 7 or 8 more times and they certainly can't be answered with 'maybe'. None of us are perfect and hindsight is 20-20, but with preparation, knowledge, experience (see masthead on this blog), and a group of paddlers that realizes that decisions have consequences, we generally come out headed in the right direction.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The barrels at the bottom of Lake Superior

Around the time I was entering the first grade, the US Army was developing a new weapon at Honeywell in Minneapolis called the cluster bomb. During that period of the Cold War we were pretty sure that commie spies were lurking around every corner and Kruschchev's shoe pounding and promise to 'bury us' didn't do much to reassure the populace. I still remember practicing 'air raid drills' and being reprimanded for pointing out that the air raid drills were suspiciously similar to the tornado drills; get under your desk, place your head between your legs and, as the cynics said, kiss your ass goodbye. In any event, parts, chemicals, prototypes, and other detritus of cluster bomb development needed to be disposed of. You couldn't really bury it because Boris Badenov and Natasha might find it and dig it up. So clever army intelligence experts decided to load all the crap into 55 gallon drums and dump it into Lake Superior, some of it within a mile of the intake pipe for the Duluth water supply. Between 1959 and 1962 they dumped around 1500 barrels into the lake and since then there have been a number of efforts to find out just exactly what was in them and whether the contents posed a health hazard when the inevitiable leaking began to occur. The Minnesota Dept of Health reviewed all the available data and concluded, in a report issued this spring, that their is no public health risk from the barrels.

Other folks are not so sure. The Red Cliff tribe of Ojibwe, the folks who kindly let us use the launch site at their marina to head off to the Apostles, hired a consultant to do a historical review of documents on the barrels and plan to secure more funding to identify specific barrel dumping sites in 2009 and to raise and recover several barrels by 2010. This will be tough since the barrels are likely very corroded and deep water diving in Lake Superior is an extremely dicey endeavor. The Save Lake Superior Association is also trying to get some answers on the issue.

Shortly after I moved to the Twin Cities in the late '70's, we were informed that our water supply in New Brighton and St Anthony was contaminated. While this fostered biblical era conversation and camaraderie with my neighbors while drawing water at the public artesian well in Wirth Park, it was definitely not a good thing. Who caused the contamination you ask? Coincidentally enough, the Twin Cities Army Ammunition plant in Arden Hills which is now a Superfund site. These would be the same folks that filled the barrels and hauled them up to Lake Superior nearly 50 years ago. What reason would there be to think that these barrels, now on the bottom of Lake Superior would have chlorinated solvents, PCB's, lead, explosives, VOC's or any of the other nasty chemicals found on the Superfund site in them? My good friend, Best Man, and fellow micro brewed beer fan, TheWoodMan, flew Huey helicopters in Vietnam. Some of the many missions they flew involved spraying the defoliant Agent Orange along the Ho Chi Minh trail. He was in 'Nam when the chemical was banned and could not help but notice that the 'new and safe' defoliant seemed to be in the exact same barrels as the Agent Orange, which appeared to have been stenciled over with the new chemicals name. Would the Army Munitions and Chemical Command endorse such a thing? Would they dump barrels of hazardous chemicals into the largest, cleanest freshwater lake on the planet and then try to obscure the fact? And finally, should we believe them and the MPCA when they tell us all is well, even though they haven't even located most of the barrels or the records concerning them? I will let blog readers be the judge of that. All I can say is good luck to the Red Cliff tribe, the Save Lake Superior Association, and other interested parties that are working on the issue. I will most definitely be keeping track of the efforts on this blog.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

SKOAC/Sebago summit meeting

Top secret talks were initiated Tuesday between SKOAC and the Sebago Canoe Clubat a top secret Brooklyn location under ruthless security. The issues that were discussed are also classified but it is believed that the controversial salt water vs fresh water paddling debate, the mystery of tidal effects on the Hudson River, and the always contentious Greenland or Eurospoon paddle debate were all touched upon. It is not known if any consensus or d├ętente’ was reached but shares in the Brooklyn Brewing Company skyrocketed Wednesday morning on heavy trading. Sources close to the talks reported that although none of the representatives really had any standing or authority vis a vis the negotiations, the atmosphere was convivial.

Much valuable information was exchanged as well as stories, safety tips, and several outright lies. All kidding aside, it’s always nice to meet folks that you’ve gotten to know via their blogs and I don’t ever recall being disappointed when I’ve shaken the hand of someone I’ve been reading over the years. Paddlers in general tend to be a great group of folks and I always enjoy the exchange of knowledge that takes place. Bonnie, Stevie, and John from Sebago and yours truly, the VOR, and No2 Son (LtO) met at a fine little establishment south of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. On the way there I attempted to find Ebbets Field but found only a high rise apartment on the former site. So much for history. It was fun to note the distinctions between New York metro paddling and Minneapolis paddling. “You don’t have a car? How the hell do you get your boat to the water?”. Many Sebago members take the subway or bus to the boathouse, toss their boat into the water and away they paddle. Twin Citians tend to throw the boat on the roof and head for Lake Superior, two hours away. SKOAC has acquired two very nice kayak trailers though, and this lowers the carbon footprint on paddling expeditions. The closer and more frequent city lake paddles serve to do the same. We vowed that the next trip out we would vist Sebago and attempt to get some paddling in. The VOR is excited about tides and the lack of carp. No2 son said that he and perhaps some members of his artillery battalion would love to paddle and an invitation was also extended to the Sebago crew for a Lake Superior paddle. John might be heading in this direction over the summer which would be very cool. The world continues to shrink in the kayaking community. Good luck and we hope to cross paths again soon.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Exotic Inspector

As I unloaded my boat at Snail Lake on Saturday morning, a uniformed individual ambled up to me and asked me if my boat had been checked for exotics. I was all ready with a smart ass reply when my warning radar regarding minor government bureaucrats kicked in. I’m convinced that any time there is an ‘inspection’ that something can be found which will result in citations being written and money flowing out of your wallet. So I politely and in a very interested manner said, “Why no officer, but I realize the importance of such inspections, what with the Eurasian Milfoil, sea lampreys, zebra mussels, and other nasty stuff introduced to our lakes from European ballast water being discharged in Great Lakes ports.”. Anyone who is old enough to be remember Eddie Haskell complimenting Mrs.Cleaver on her lovely house dress would appreciate the exact tone I used. He beamed, assuming I was a believer and not the redneck guy with a bass boat , 150hp Merc, live wells, trolling motor, etc. berating the DNR for violating his rights and ransacking his beloved rig. In any event it was a cursory inspection until I glanced at my skeg cord and saw it……..the thing that could get me cited and fined if the DNR guy saw it too. That tiny bit of green lake weed, sun reflecting off its slimy, green luminescent strands. I quickly yanked the boat off the roof, set it on the grass, asking the officer if he’d like to check my cockpit area. He took a quick peek, noted my valid boat sticker, and began punching data into his Blackberry, Palm or whatever those damn things are. He asked the name of the last lake the boat was on but for some reason ‘Superior’ wasn’t in the Minnesota DNR database. He asked me the next lake the boat would be in and I answered White Bear, scene of BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi’s 50th birthday paddle later that afternoon. He finished his data input, gave me my inspection sticker, we exchanged pleasantries, and I was free to paddle.

All kidding and joking aside, I did learn a lesson. I just didn’t want it reinforced with a hefty fine. We kayakers think we’re green, carbon neutral, and all the other eco-buzz words but we still need to keep our eyes open for the little things, like that piece of seaweed on the skeg cord, whether it was milfoil or not. Cleaning off the hull, rinsing the cockpit, checking paddle joints, fishing gear, and generally giving your boat the ‘once over’ will help insure the lakes that are still free of the nasty exotics will stay that way. The mildly depressing thing however, is it only takes one screwup to infest a lake. I just want to make sure it’s not me. Or you for that matter.

P.S. Congrats again to Bjorn for entering the next half century. My guess is that he’ll clean up in the various cross country ski, kayak, bike, and other races where he will now be in the 50+ age group. We see him in the photo, lounging in his kayak, paddle shoved into a White Bear mud flat. No beer in his hand yet but that will indeed come later.