Friday, August 29, 2008

There will be no tent camping this weekend, we're off for the North Shore of Lake Superior and a fine little B&B on the Baptism River which flows into the lake. Hiking boots, bicycles, and of course kayaks will be lashed on to the VW for the trip. I should be able to pack everything I need in about 10 minutes since tents, stoves, food, sleeping kit, and all the essential gear for kayak camping will not be needed. Every time I've gone out to Isle Royale the backpackers on the ferry have been astounded that all the crap we bring can fit in those little hatches. They are especially jealous when they see the cast aluminum dutch oven and 'real' food.

It will be a relaxing weekend with absolutely no plan at all. Wind, waves, and weather will dictate the activity and watches will be optional. When we return, the city will be crawling with GOP delegates, blow dried media types, and dour, humorless, and indignant protesters. I guess the city got $50 million bucks from the feds to help provide security for this circus. I wonder how much they would have needed if there were no TV cameras? I won't be thinking about that until Monday evening however. This weekend it will be the rocky North Shore of Gitchee Gumee, the smell of fall, and a nice hot sauna or three.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Who'll keep us safe from them?"

The photo above is of the US Canadian border where the Pigeon River flows into Lake Superior; Canada on the left and the US on the right of the image. Last week about a half mile from that spot, a Polish national was arrested for attempting to smuggle a fellow Pole and a Slovakian across the US-Canada border. He walked them across Middle Falls on the Pigeon River and told them he's pick them up in his car at the state park. They were arrested at Ryden's store, right next to the customs station, probably the dumbest place to go if you're trying to be unobtrusive and can't speak English. Since they walked through Grand Portage State Park I immediately emailed my fellow Lake Superior junkie who works at the park and jokingly asked him if he made the arrest. His response was, "Yikes!......that's the first I've heard of it....the border patrol doesn't tell us about such things when they happen".

I talked to some friends on both sides of the border and apparently the Border Patrol does not have a very good reputation in the area since 9/11. The three folks I talked to all used the same adjective when describing the attitude of the agency; arrogant. One incident last fall ratcheted up local resentment of the Border Patrol significantly. A local doctor had stopped on the Gunflint Trail, a countyl blacktop road, to clear a tree that the wind had blown on to the road. He had just fired up his chain saw when an SUV coming from the other direction at about 50mph hit the tree, became airborne, and landed on him. He was killed. It was a clear night on a straight stretch of road and the driver of the SUV was a US Border Patrol agent.

The Star Tribune article in the link above does a great job of describing the situation. The Grand Marais office has swelled from 2 to 15 agents and the local business folks say that Border Patrol vehicles are all over the place, more often than not speeding. One of them killed two baby moose in a reduced speed zone. The other problem with the beefed up force was that, "they weren't very friendly".

The agent who drove the SUV that killed Dr. Petersen was transferred to Grand Forks, ND. She was indicted by a grand jury on misdemeanor charges of careless and inattentive driving. She refused to appear, claiming immunity as a federal officer and also refused to answer any questions or respond to emailed questions. The Border Patrol has also stonewalled and refused to even provide basic information to the grand jury, such as how long she had worked prior to the incident. Apparently its secret information, crucial to national security and keeping us safe. Again, the Strib article has great detail on the entire situation, none of which is very flattering to the Border Patrol. As my buddy said, Who'll keep us safe from them?"

As evidenced by the bumbling Polish smuggling attempt, its seems to be a pretty good idea to have people patrolling the border. Another really good idea would be to develop trust with the local folks, who can likely help spot people that don't fit in. It's apparent that community and customer relations is not a curriculum item at either the Customs or Border Patrol training facilities. Either that or the skills are not utilized in everyday dealings with the public. Apparently the agencies are trying to establish some rapport with local folks but even simple informative meetings apparently require approval from federal officials outside the state. You would also think that if people were found coming through the Grand Portage State Park that it might be wise to alert the park officials so they could keep their eyes open. Instead, signs like the one above have been cropping up along the border. I figured I'd give the number a call and see what I needed to do to Help Secure Our Border. A very friendly and courteous woman answered the phone up in Grand Forks, ND and told me she would put me on hold for a minute and speak with someone who could answer my question of what I could do to Help Secure Our Borders. The answer, after a couple minutes on hold, was to be sure to report any suspicious activity ( like two guys conversing in strange eastern European languages and looking uncomfortable in Ryden's Store) and simply keep my eyes open for unusual things. Instead of putting up a bunch of signs, I think if the border patrol folks made the effort to get out of their vehicles and talk to the resort owners, outfitters, and outdoor folks, they might actually be able to develop a network of people who are genuinely interested in helping them do their job. If they keep driving around (at high speed) wearing mirror sunglasses and acting like agents Mulder and Scully from the X Files, there is no chance in hell the independent minded folks in Minnesota's arrowhead region, or anywhere else for that matter, are going to give them the time of day. People are much more likely to communicate with 'Officer Bob', the guy that stopped and introduced himself or said hi at the coffee shop, than the nameless, faceless, federal Border Patrol office. Beat cops have known this for years. It would be a good time for the feds to figure it out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Woody on the dance floor!?

This weekend did involve some kayak and water activities at my sister and brother in law's cabin in north central Wisconsin. I took the Q boat out, did a few rolls, and had my first trip on the Hobie Cat catamaran. My sister and her friend also purchased a couple Hobie kayaks with the crazy MirageDrive; you pedal them! Those craft did not hit the water this trip however, as the main focus of the weekend was to attend the 25th wedding anniversary party of some long time friends in Eau Claire.

The party consisted of happy hour, an excellent buffet with a bit of a Cajun theme, and a dance with a live band. Woody was at the bar when we arrived; Knob Creek bourbon on the rocks was his beverage of choice this evening. I chose John Jameson, the "Catholic whiskey" from Ireland, to be my liquid companion for the night. The VoiceOfReason opted for Apple-tini's. By the time the band started the crowd was in a very receptive mood. Rather than the usual tired oldies these guys were playing great old rock-n-roll including Cream, the Spencer Davis Group, Booker T and the MG's, the Animals (not House of the Rising Sun), and even a bit of Dylan. Something looked vaguely familiar about the bass player; I also noticed he was eyeballing me between songs as well. When the set was over I wandered up and learned he was a high school classmate that I hadn't seem for probably thirty plus years. I pointed out to him that he had not aged as gracefully as I had and he said he had been thinking the same of me. In any event it was the Animals, with a major assist from the VOR and my sister, that got Woody on to the dance floor for the first time in three decades. He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and flew in both the Cambodian incursion (the impetus for the Kent State shootings by the National Guard) and the invasion of Laos. One of the most requested songs during that period on AFR was We Gotta Get Out of This Place by the Animals. It was the perfect storm - Knob Creek flowing unimpeded, the Vietnam anti-anthem blasting from the bandstand, and a good lookin' woman on each arm dragging him on to the dance floor. Those who know this group realize it was a monumental event, facilitated mainly by the persuasive powers of the VOR, and I don't expect it to occur again for another 30 years. He even stayed on the dance floor for Gimme Some Lovin' by the Spencer Davis Group but then the magical moment was over. The testosterone saturated among the group continued to party while the ladies put the brakes on. I ran into another buddy that I'd traveled to the USSR with back in the Brezhnev era (along with the guest of honor), so that needed to be properly and solemnly toasted as well. The next morning I found myself in a contemplative and reflective mood until well past noon. Two days removed I feel it was well worth the suffering but I'm thinking I won't repeat the feat any time soon. I did miss some paddling on Sunday morning but we'll most certainly make up for that during the week and the upcoming weekend. It was an excellent party and a great way to reconnect with some folks from the distant past.

Friday, August 22, 2008

State Fair week means.......

Since 1859,with a few interruptions for the Civil War, WW II fuel shortages, polio epidemics, and the Sioux Indian uprising, Minnesota has held its State Fair on roughly the same week and a half of the year. The 2008 run began yesterday. This is to celebrate the bounty of the harvest, the mature livestock, the dog days of August, and.........the official end of summer in the northland. If a certain esteemed and estimable Milwaukee blogger is reading this, I would suggest stopping now. We don't want to put you on suicide watch this early in the year.

As we sat enjoying our traditional post paddle beer on the edge of Long lake (did I mention that RonO and I were rolling maniacs that night?) we felt a bit of nip in the air and discussed the fact that it was getting dark at 8:00 instead of 9pm. Ron also pointed out that on his trip north this weekend the sumac had turned as red as a fire engine and we discussed opening day of the fair. Labor Day weekend commences one week from today and our annual fall paddle trip begins two weeks from now. My bow has flung a couple of arrows and several yards of gravel have been dropped at the hunting camp to avoid the quagmire that usually occurs with the fall rains. If history is any indicator, we will have that killer frost that we hay fever sufferers crave in about 3 weeks. I plan on lubricating the dry suit gaskets and actually threw a wool shirt in the pack for this weekends trip to my sisters cabin in Wisconsin. The leaves will begin to turn shortly and after that.......

Sorry folks...

But I guess thats why we live here, a combination of a short attention span, memories of last years fall and winter, and yearning and wonder of what the next season will bring. Speaking of that, I wonder when the first preseason cross country ski sale will be announced.....?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sometimes you're just on.......

This weeks Wednesday night paddle was an impromptu, last minute affair involving RonO, the VOR, and I, on nearby and convenient Long Lake. We took a nice paddle and then Ron and I stopped for some rolling on the return trip. Last Friday night we took one of the VOR's coworkers and her SO out for their first taste of paddling. Since we were short one boat, GalwayGuy and I shared the Q-boat and took turns sitting on the beach and watching each other roll, after I took a short paddle with the rookies and left them in the VOR's capable hands. GG was doing his usual repertoire of rolls but I was struggling with everything but the basic sweep and I'm sure even that didn't look great. I was like the frog that you pithed in high school biology class; there seemed to be a disconnect between the brain and the rest of the body, the same kind that can occur after a particularly energetic evening of vodka drinking. Nothing seemed to work so I did what any determined kayak roller would do. I gave up.

Last night was different. Things just seemed to come together and everything was working, even some of the more confusing offside stuff. I'm not sure why that was but I wasn't questioning it, I was just rolling. My main problem is lack of flexibility. I suspect that if my head ever touched my back deck that the next thing to occur would be my helicopter evac to Hennepin County General. Even so, the standard sweeps, angel roll, reverse sweeps, and even the problematic shotgun roll were all going quite nicely, thank you. On the shotgun I managed to curb my natural impatience and let the roll develop slowly. I also moved forward a couple inches in the seat to give the rigid spine a bit more room to unwind. It always amazes me how little thing, done consistently and well, can make such a big difference on the overall success of an activity. The Olympics have certainly proven that, with some competitors nailing all the little things and winding up on the medal platform, while others were off by a whisker and were on TV with the 'head in the hands' shot. While rolling has none of the pressure of the Olympics (unless you're in the finals of the Qaannat Kattuffiat competition in Greenland) it still makes me feel really good to hit one and have it feel right. The alternative, of course, is to make a big splash.

A few of us are off to the Traditional Paddlers Gathering in northern Minnesota in roughly two weeks. I hope those brain to muscle synapses that were firing so nicely last night remember what they were doing; it would be nice to build on some of the skills I think I have versus spending all weekend refining them. We shall see in a short time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nest emptied - for awhile

The last two of the four boys in the extended household have moved beyond reasonable driving distance. GalwayGuy flew to St Louis Sunday to begin his first year of seminary. Last week was an orgy of rolling almost every evening and he mastered the Norsaq stick roll in my Q-boat, a boat he refers to as a 'cheater' boat due to its forgiveness if technique is not quite perfect. He came within a whisker of the hand roll but I guess thats next years challenge. GuitarMatt is in Freemantle, Australia for a semester abroad and 2ndLtO is on active duty in Brooklyn, NY. No1 son and lady friend MsKattorney, are moving to Portland, OR to start a new business involving communter bike accessories. For the first time its a plane ride to visit any of 'em.

The Portland bound duo had planned a going away party in Tenney Park on lake Mendota in Madison and I drove down for the event Sunday, Q-boat on the roof. I met up with the wife of TheCommish, TriathalonHolly, and we paddled around Mendota a bit. I was struck by two things; the lack of public access to the lake and the fact that the Governor does not have a boat. Almost all of the city lakes in Minneapolis have a parkway or bike path around them. Not so on lake Mendota, its cut off by private properties almost around the whole thing. There are a few parks and university facilities but nothing like the access we Twin Citians have to the city lakes. One of the nicer lake properties in ritzy Maple Bluff, is the Governors Mansion. I'd first heard of Maple Bluff in an unpublished song by the FamousCrimminalDefenseAttorney, our Milwaukee buddy. He was invited to golf at the exclusive Maple Bluff course and, like a good blue collar golfer, showed up in a T-shirt and cut off jeans. The guy who invited him, 'that ass kissing Boomer', was horrified and as a result poor Karl was "Banned at the Bluff". In any event the mansion is right on the lake with a low bank, perfect for a roll out dock and a pontoon boat. In a state where cabins, boats, and 'up north' are a near religion, I think is a statewide embarrassment that the chief executive has a place on the lake but no boat or pontoon. It was rumored that Tommy Thompson has a boat which I guess I could believe. Governor Doyle is not known as a partier and was one of the politicians instrumental in pushing through the .08% DWI law in Wisconsin.

I had the opportunity to meet MsKattorney's mother in a unique way also. As a kayaker I'm a master of the discreet parking lot/takeout clothing change. After paddling, a bit of rolling, securing the boat, and a clandestine beer in a Culvers fast food cup, I opened my car doors as a screen and removed my wet swim trunks and T-shirt. As I sat there in the sun, allowing my boys to air dry a bit, a car pulled up and the driver, a woman, headed directly for me. I quickly pulled on the pants and stood up. She asked if this was Tenney Park and if I knew where the pavillion was. We quickly discovered each others identity and headed to the party. The next day I got a text message from MsKattorney, "Mom said she didn't see a thing." Very nice.

Now we need to think about allocating resources to visit the scattered youth. GuitarMatt is safe in Western Australia but St Louis, Brooklyn, and Portland are definitely on the hit list. Portland has the feature of being able to ski one day and kayak the next. I hope they remember to factor in visitor space that when they get that apartment.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Custom kayak screwups

In the last couple of weeks I've had three friends receive custom order kayaks from across the pond. Every one of them was built incorrectly. One guy from northern Minnesota ordered knee tubes and keel strips on his boat. He paid extra for them but they were absent when the boat showed up. Another buddy ordered special bulkhead placement, no foot pegs, and a custom color scheme. The boat arrived the wrong color with standard foot pegs and the normal bulkhead placement. Finally, RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef ordered a new carbon fiber/kevlar layup double to replace the venerable yet weighty 'Lead Banana', a vintage Aleut II. The constant whining of their fellow fall trip compadres' and an incident where the Lead Banana, broke free and sheared the side mirror off the car convinced them to pull the trigger on a new, lighter boat. Plus we just ain't getting any younger. The boat was ordered with special bulkhead placement so we can stuff more beer in it and, you guessed it, it arrived with stock bulkhead placement.

I guess the first couple of questions are how does this happen and how frequently does it happen? The company that I trudge to work at 5 days (less if I can possibly swing it) a week is a custom job shop. Every job is different the first time we run it. The challenge is to run it the same way as we ran it the first time (repeatability) when the reorders occur. In a shop where stock products are made I would guess the challenge would be to deal correctly with variations on the stock product. Part of the problem might be the chain of communication. The customer tells the local paddle shop, which tells the distributor, who informs the factory, where the information is passed on to the guys on the shop floor. At some point there seems to be a disconnect.

Another question, first asked by V.I.Lenin in 1902, is 'what is to be done'? The kayak manufacturers need to figure out how to listen to and satisfy their customers correctly and the customers need to decide what they want to do when their long awaited, in most cases very long awaited, kayaks show up wrong. Sending the boat back to Great Britain is impractical and would mean no boat until next year. All three of the folks mentioned above plan on accepting the boats and dealing with the issues. Colors can't be changed but bulkheads can be moved. The issues are who pays for what should have been done correctly in the first place and how will the manufacturers ever improve if no one holds their feet to the fire on screwups? I guess I would be extremely reluctant to plunk down between $3,200 and $5,500, wait for months, and then accept the custom boat I ordered when it showed up wrong. So blog readers, what do you think? Where is the disconnect and what should a person do when confronted with this issue? The proposed solutions for the three issues above, not yet executed, are 1) Glass in the keel strips and knee tubes yourself and ask for a credit, 2) The color doesn't look too bad so just remove the pegs and foam the front bulkhead, 3) Have the bulkhead moved by professionals and have the local shop/distributor/manufacturer eat the cost. I've never had this happen to me but I'm thinking I might refuse delivery of the boat until its made right. That may mean not paddling it for a considerable period of time, but I think the cost and initial wait to receive my boat might would make me awfully insistent about it being right when it arrived. How about it, what would you do? What have the shops, distributors, and manufacturers done in similar situations? It would be good to know that and also great to hear other peoples stories.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A pretty good send off

On Sunday GalwayGuy is off to St Louis to begin his career as a seminarian. We all agreed that the necessary elements of a good going away party would be some paddling, rolling, and a few hors d'oeuvre's washed down with some fine microbrewed beer. So that is precisely what we did.

His leaving will alter my paddle outings considerably. For GG and I, a good paddle outing was usually a vigorous 50 yard paddle followed by an hour of rolling with the Greenland sticks. I do enjoy a good lengthy paddle but there are those days when a person just wants to get wet. Last night was a combo paddle. We circumnavigated Long Lake, roughly a three plus mile endeavor, and then hung out on the water while a few of us got wet. For some reason, floating on the lake in your boat on a beautiful summer evening is an activity that its very difficult to tire of. Eventually the group, ten paddlers strong, headed to our place for some fine healthful snacks that the VOR had whipped up as well as some not quite so healthful beers. A growler of Surly Furious was complimented by Summit ESB, Goose Island Brown Ale, New Belgium 1554, and Rush River IPA. It was a classic summer evening with good friends and a fine send off for GG

The rollers in the video are GalwayGuy (crook of elbow roll), RonO (reverse sweep), TheManFromSnowyLegs (EuroSweep), and me (standard Greenland roll). In keeping with the signature anarchism/herding cats nature of the SKOAC Renegades, no one announced which roll they would do and we all came up with a different one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


The two ringleaders of the 'redneck rampage' in the BWCAW wilderness last August were sentenced to three years in state prison by a district judge in Two Harbors yesterday. Only one of the six, the juvenile, has not been sentenced. The defendants, their attorneys, wives, mothers, and possibly even their barber all pleaded for leniency and probation. Judge Sandvik was not buying it for a minute.

Briefly, the six knuckleheads loaded up a couple of boats with beer, an assault rifle, a .45 cal Glock handgun, fireworks, disguises, and themselves. They then headed out to "defend the territory" from peaceful canoeists with the guns, fireworks, and threats of rape, sodomy, and murder.

I did a post on the 'pool player' mentality a while back and talked about the need to look ahead, plan your next move, and weigh the consequences and risks of your actions. These characters never even had the synapses in their brains come close to firing with any common sense or thoughts of consequences. Lets see.......gunfire in an area with no guns that time of year; motors roaring where they are banned, every 6 year old has a cell phone, shooting fireworks to help pinpoint your position, vehicles parked at the boat landing....."do ya think we have a chance of gettin' caught??". Its a good thing that stupidity isn't a crime with a mandatory sentence or these A-holes might never see the light of day again. And then they want leniency? With that type of premeditation they are lucky they only got the mandatory minimum sentence. The Duluth News Tribune had an excellent article on the sentencing and the mug shots of our two heroes came from there, via the sheriffs office.

The sad thing is the thought that this will forever taint the victims perception of the Boundary Waters. At lease 48 people were directly threatened and over 80 campers were on the lake at the time of the incident. Also, according to the Superintendent of the national forest which includes the park, people still ask if its safe to enter the wilderness at Basswood Lake and more and more campers are armed. He stated that, "the popular wilderness has been changed forever".

We can only hope that the the publicity generated by this incident and the fact that the perps didn't get off with a slap on the wrist will prevent it from happening again. We can only hope that the attitudes that fostered this insane rampage will change also. Finally, I hope that the boys give what they did some serious thought; they will have three years to do it in beautiful Oak Park Heights.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weekends on the opposite ends of Wisconsin

Once again the Great Taste of the Midwest beer worship extravaganza came off without a hitch in perfect weather. The view of the capitol building, looming over the Port Potties, was majestic. There were over 50 real ales offered, naturally carbonated beer dispensed by its own carbonation rather than pushed by CO2. That would certainly have to be the most real ale this side of London and has been a welcome addition to the festival. RonO commented that its amazing how much damage that little bitty glass could cause. The most ignominious moment occurred as we pulled up to the Crystal Corner Bar, five menly men fresh from an afternoon of beer sampling. We had been listening to a compilation CD, Stevie Ray Vaughn had just finished, and, unfortunately, Cindy Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" had begun. A young couple walking down the street glanced over and commented, "Rockin' out tonite, eh guys?". We cracked up. Now if I can only remember who gave the WoodenOne that CD......

On the other end of the state, 350 miles due north, the VoiceOfReason, IrishPirate, and KleanDeckKate were having a real adventure. TheMayor and her friend were forced to abort due to car trouble so after waiting a bit at Little Sand Bay the trio set off on a night crossing to Sand Island, three miles under a bright half moon and and 1' to 2' seas from the west. Saturday began innocuously enough but the wind began to build and then build some more out of the northeast. Small craft warnings were raised and the women decided it would be a good day to hike out to the lighthouse. Not all of the temporary residents of Sand Island made such a prudent choice. A father and his two sons, aged roughly 14 and 16 paddled out from Little Sand Bay in shorts and T shirts, day hatches stocked with Coke. One of the sons had gone over and was a bit chilly. Their plan was to paddle back after looking around the island a bit. And we wonder why some people think kayakers are idiots. Four guys that that were camping next to the women decided it would be a good day to take a peek at the sea caves, a consequential decision with a northeast wind and the accompanying clapotis waves bouncing out of the caves. Two of the fellows were members of area paddle clubs; James was from the Missouri River Valley Paddlers and Steve was from the Central Iowa Paddlers. A short time after they rounded Swallow Point a motorboat appeared carrying a kayak and one of the foursome. The third guy was being fished out of the lake by his two more experienced buddies, James and Steve. Their experience paid off big time with a northeast wind blowing into the sea caves and they executed the rescue under very difficult conditions. If a kayaker gets into the caves its like being in a washing machine, a situation which proved fatal to a kayaker a couple years back at exactly this time of year. Its an extremely dangerous situation and one in which a person needs to act quickly. It sounded like one of those situations where the rescuers and the rescued all learned something and came out better paddlers in the end.

Everyone returned safely to camp and the four guys, the three women, and a young couple from GalwayGuy's alma mater of St John's University, all decided to stay on Sand another night, share the available campsites, and the evening fire. Like last year the women had healthful fresh food such as hummus, goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes, pita bread, et al, while guys pulled out the usual male fare of freeze dried crap and maybe a beer stick or two. Throughout the chaos of kayaks dumping, campsites backed up with windbound paddlers, and all the other goings on, the folks that helped keep thing sane were the Jorgenson's, the NPS volunteers on the island. Radio messages were flying back and forth and they kind of acted as the 'concerned parents' for their temporary charges on Sand Island. They knew the history of the island and are excellent ambassadors for the park. Mrs J also divulged the secret of the beach pea to the women. I always try to avoid trampling these guys when landing on sand beaches. Their tenacity of growing and thriving in pure, shifting, blowing sand has always impressed me. Apparently they are also very tasty to eat. This time of year there are several pods from each blossum and you shuck em and eat em just like regular peas. The blueberry report is also predicting a banner year for 2008.

On both ends of the state the respective parties met interesting new people, enjoyed new experiences, hung out on a beautiful lake, and shared some laughs with a great group of folks. The only difference was that the women got some exercise and were sober for the most part. But it was indeed a good weekend all around.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Two annual celebrations

This weekend the VOR and friends will be heading for the 2nd Annual Wild Women's kayak trip to the Apostle Islands. Simultaneously, RonO, the ManFromSnowyLegs, myself, and a couple other fine ale aficionados will be headed for Madison and 10th (or so) annual Great Taste of the Midwest Beer festival. I kind of have mixed feelings, feelings which will disappear after the first sip of a great ESB of course, about not paddling this weekend. The new Q-boat is performing above expectations and I hate to leave it alone for 3 days. The latest skill to reappear in the Q-boat is the shotgun roll, precursor to the evil norsaq roll. I have come to realize over the years though, that an annual is an annual and must be attended.

There are a couple key elements to starting and sustaining an annual tradition. One would be some compelling event. The Wisconsin deer hunting and fishing openers are that type of event, things that people are going to go to anyway. The second would be a stable location. It takes some of the guesswork out and folks know where they will be headed year after year. The third element is to hold the event on the same date every year. If people have that date reserved on the calendar they are much more likely to attend.

When rolling a kayak a person needs to combine all three elements, the sweep, the snap, and the layback or you just ain't coming up. Its not quite that cut and dried with an annual event however. Our NCAA Frozen Four hockey championships violate element 2, a consistent location. That being said, we have passed on a couple locations that we deemed unsuitable for proper hockey viewing; St Louis and Anaheim. We attended a couple that we later decided were unstuitable, Buffalo and Cincinnati, but thats beside the point. Date is much more crucial. The annual Eau Claire River float trip celebrated its 36th running this year. On a couple of years attendance was sparse due to moving the date for weddings, graduation parties, etc. The Board of Directors decided it would always be the last weekend in June, a sort of 4th of July tuneup. The event is not quite as critical but important in its own way. Getting together to drink beer and float down a river in an inner tube doesn't rank with deer hunting opener or the Frozen Four as far as universal appeal but, like the Q-boat it has its own devoted cult following.

And so the two groups head off to their respective events, the women looking forward to an invigorating paddle, fine company, and the beauty of the Apostles. The boys head to Madison, anticipating excessive beer drinking, crude comments, sloth, and bleary heads Sunday morning. The two events could not be more different but both are anticipated, discussed, and executed with zeal, unerring focus, and good craic (as my Irish and English buddies would say). Outta here at high noon.......

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A race or an 'event'?

The BessemerConvivialist insists that the Two Harbors race be referred to as an event. This is not a problem with the SKOAC Renegades for the most part, especially the BC who did not quite answer the bell for the 'event' this year. Even though I will admit to paddling hard when my buddy from Thunder Bay pulled alongside me 400 meters from the finish, I find it hard to get too worked up over the deal. After all, we do no training and basically drink beer and eat pie for our workout. One of our female 'eventers' tried to chat with a guy she paddled alongside and was informed, "don't talk to me when I'm trying to concentrate on paddling!" She promptly pulled ahead of the fellow and left him to his concentrating. While there were plenty of folks in the race that were paddling hard, most of the folks I talked to (no one asked me not to talk to them) seemed to be out for a good Saturday morning paddle and a piece of pie. This was apparently not the case in the 18 mile marathon.

According to reports received from an reliable source (to use the State Department jargon) in the city that the greatest football team in the NFL calls home, things were ultra competitive in the 18 miler. Bumping boats, attempting to interfere with another competitors paddle, and some allegedly illicit drafting involving a tandem were all in the mix in the big race. RonO and the ManFromSnowyLegs did not see any of this but they were firmly in the 'event' mode also. In an example of selflessness in the same 18 mile race, Gail Green was in the process of smoking her own womens course record when a guy in a surf ski ahead of her went over. She said she kept mumbling to herself, "please get back in, puh-lease get back in!" but it was not to be. The fellow had apparently bonked from the heat and exertion and was disoriented. Gail being Gail, she stopped to help. She still won the womens event by 8 minute but missed breaking her record in perfect conditions. I guess thats what I'd call the true spirit of competition.

Back to the Betty's Pie 5 mile 'event'. As luck would have it, two members of the SKOAC Renegades work for competing medical device companies, Medtronic and Boston Scientific. In the perch-eats-minnow, walleye-eats-perch, northern-eats-walleye-world of mergers, Guidant was recently digested by Boston Sci. Mr EngineerGear was wearing his favorite Guidant cap (they ain't makin' em anymore, of course) when it went in the drink during a violent turn at the halfway buoy. He said he thought about stopping for about 3 seconds and then kept paddling. He was bemoaning the loss of the hat at the finish line however. As we headed back to camp to begin the afternoon long fluid replenishment, KleanDeckKate, loyal Medtronic worker, strolled up wearing a Guidant cap. Since I work with both companies in my 'real' life, I felt obligated to give her some grief and harassment. She told me she pulled the hat out of the water when she saw it near the Stewart River turn around buoy. How's that for karma!?

The images are of the start, the pack coming at you, the turn at the infamous hat grabbing buoy, and the finish. I guess I was amazed at the turbulence a bunch of kayaks can make when everyone is digging in at the same time. The thing that becomes apparent from the images is how absolutely perfect the day was, a perfect day for a kayak 'event'. I need to thank the IrishPirate for handling the Nikon while I was paddling the 'event'. I guess I was just to busy to shoot pictures, much less talk!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Two Harbors 08

Technology comes to the north woods: they have wireless at the Burlington Bay campground in Two Harbors, MN. It made sense however, when we noticed that the guy across from our motley SKOAC Renegade tent city had a portable satellite dish for his Greyhound-sized motor home, Jeep Cherokee hitched on the back of course. I logged on Saturday, thinking my post regarding the Tall Ships Maritime Festival may have sounded a bit petulant and overly critical. As you can see from the Duluth NewsTribune comments, I was actually kind and gentle. Ouch!

In complete contrast, the Two Harbors Kayak Festival was an nicely and efficiently organized event and managed to handle a record crowd with very few miscues. Weather conditions were perfect and a number of the SKOAC Renegades won their respective classes including theManFromSnowyLegs, BemidjiIntelOfficer, KleanDeckKate, MrEngineerGear, and BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi. The VOR took the bronze in her group. RonO and I would like encourage any potential racers in the 51-55 age group to please take a year off. At your age you should be resting. Once again we managed to finish ahead of a number of winners in lower age groups but lose to overly competitive early 50 year olds. We've discussed surf skis, wing paddles, steroids, and even (gasp!) training. Since the official name of the race is the Betty's Pies Five Mile Race, we've been training by eating pies. Bjorn says maybe something called 'intervals' might help or even maybe just hard paddling before the event. RonO and I shall take all of that under advisement. At least we made the race; the BessemerConvivialist had far too much fun at a Gear Daddies concert Friday night and she informed us via cell that, "I am SO not going to make it in time for the race".
We even had time to explore Two Harbor a bit. Usually folks just pass through on Highway 61 on the way to Grand Marais, the BWCA, or Thunder Bay and the Canadian North Shore. Two Harbors is a thriving town with a working taconite port, great downtown, a superb B&B in the old lighthouse, and a wonderful attitude. We managed to lock the keys in the car and were told by a friendly guy on the corner to just call the local car dealership. We did so, a guy was there in 10 minutes (it was close to his home and he was on the way to lunch), popped the lock, and didn't want any money. I slipped him a Jackson and told him to be sure to spend it foolishly.

I'm pretty sure this event has made the lengthening list of 'annual events' after two years in a row. There are rumblings about more people signing up for the 18 miler but I'm a committed sprinter and will leave the routes to the more ambitious. You don't even get a slice of pie after completing the 18 miles like you do when you knock off the five! It was a just plain fun event and I'll post a few more racing shots tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tall ships: Swing and a misss

With great anticipation the VOR and I left the Twin Cities yesterday to see the tall ships sail under the aerial lift bridge and into Duluth harbor. The Duluth News Tribune, Lake Superior Magazine,, and even a woman blogging from the Pride of Baltimore said the arrival would be between 5 and 6pm. We hit Duluth around 3:45, thinking we would have plenty of time. We stoppped at the Thompson Hill visitor center, in my opinion the greatest rest area in the country, to check the progress of the ships since from there you could see at least 30 miles up the Minnesota and Wisconsin shores. On the way to the deck we asked the woman manning the desk what she had heard about the arrival time. "I think one of them is in port already" she told us. Upon walking the 6 steps from her desk to the viewing area we discovered that they ALL were in port and tied up.

To say we were pissed off would be like saying that Josef Stalin was not a kind man; just a bit of an understatement. Most everyone I know was going or asked me to take lots of pictures. The plan was to launch from the sand beach on Park Point and paddle out for pictures. We tried to get down near Canal Park to take a look at the ships close up but it was a completely snarled traffic jam, not a Duluth traffic cop to be found. We finally decided to travel up the north shore, launch from Leif Erickson Park, and paddle into the harbor for some close up viewing. As we got geared up a number of people passed by, the majority of them commenting that they missed the ships because they got there too late. A lot of them, including an elderly quartet, had driven up from the Twin Cities especially for the event. One guy said he was working in his office in Duluth around 1:30 when he saw the ships heading into port from his window. He quickly called his son and they hurried down to the lakefront to watch. He then said that they sailed back out around 3 pm or so to 'officially' kick off the celebration. We paddled over, dealt with some major clapotis in the ship canal, and got right up under the ships. I took some shots of sailors ignoring us, rigging, stern plates, and furled sails. No wind filled sails however.

A number of questions arise. Why did they come in early? With all the publicity, didn't they figure that a few folks from the Twin Cities might take a half day vacation and head to Duluth? With a big time civic event like this I would think the coordination would be a bit better, including the folks manning the visitor center stepping those 6 steps away from the desk with a pair of binoculars for a real time report. Maybe the city would have a traffic cop or two available in Canal Park? And if they sailed back out, why the flock didn't they do it between 5 and 6pm like all the publicity said!? The glowing report in the Duluth News Tribune said nothing about any of this and, in fact, stated the ships arrived at 4pm. I can categorically say no way in hell was it 4pm because I was up on Thompson hill with a pair of 10x binoculars looking at ships in port furling sails.

I'm sure those fortunate enough to be in town really enjoyed the show, just as we had hoped to. I may dig a bit and see if someone 'in authority' has any idea why the timing was moved up. In the interim, we plan to lounge around Two Harbors, set up camp at Burlington Bay, and maybe scout the race course for tomorrows kayak race. I suppose we could hang around Monday and burn another day's vacation to watch em sail out. Who knows however, they may leave in the night, leave Sunday, or decide to wait until Tuesday. I don't trust em as far as I can throw a manhole cover at this point. Right now the brain has shifted to kayak festival and racing mode and we await the arrival of a number of the SKOAC Renegades as they drift into camp over the course of the day.