Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seasons should change and so should beer

Last evening about 5pm I received a call from RonO inquiring about attending hotdish night at Grumpy's Bar, our unofficial 'clubhouse' and the finest neighborhood bar in Minneapolis. I passed however, as the VOR and I were ferrying GalwayGuy and GuitarMatt's '91 Toyota (212,000 miles) up to Mora, MN for some needed rejuvenation. Unfortunately when we stopped for gas, steam began rising from under the hood and coolant began dripping on to the ground. This meant, of course, that we needed to postpone the Mora trip and head to Grumpys. A quick call to RonO and zero arm twisting made him postpone his workout plans and head for the bar. When we arrived we were all pleasantly surprised to see that the 2008-09 Summit Winter Ale had made its debut among the tap handles.

I love the change of beers almost as much as I love the change of seasons. Hell for me would be living in San Diego, drinking Budweiser 365 days a year. When fall comes, I look forward to the crisp, malty Octoberfest beers almost as much as I anticipate the leaves changing and the beginning of the hunting season. Winter brings cross country and telemark skiing as well as the winter ales and spiced winter warmers that go down well in front of the fire when its -10F outside. Spring brings the start of kayak season, open water fishing, and the malt laden goodness of the bocks and the alcoholic power of the mai bocks. Kayaking is going full bore in the summer as is the hefe weizen and light, crisp wheat beers with the low alcohol content.

Maybe I have a short attention span or maybe I'm just used to the changes in the seasons after half a century of dealing with it. I have come to realize that I can't live without it however and that, unlike my father, I will never embrace the snowbird lifestyle of migrating south in the winter. When we had phone conversations during his Phoenix winters toward the end of his life, he would alway begin with the weather report. "I went outside in my shorts this morning and picked a grapefruit off the tree for breakfast" was a typical opening comment. I'd always detect a bit of wistful longing however, when I'd give him the up north report. Catching a mess of nice bluegills through the ice or talk of perfect snow at Mt Telemark would always get him going with questions, comments and other indications that maybe he'd like to be back up here in the winter, if only for a week or so. He was always seemed utterly at home on a frozen lake, sitting on an upside down plastic bucket in his WWII sheepkin lined flight suit, jigging for the elusive hand sized bluegills. I think that's where my winter loving gene came from and I gotta thank him for it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bughead on Lake Superior

First of all, I need to apologize for passing on that weather forecast for gale force winds and 9'-11' (3-4M) seas at the end of my last post. I should have remembered my own rule for fall and winter storms: The length of time spent talking about the storm is inversely proportional to the severity of the storm. This 'major storm' had been talked about since Tuesday and, of course, fizzled out like a cheap Chinese firecracker string. The famous Halloween Blizzard of '91 on the other hand, began as a rainstorm with a minimum of weather hype and we wound up with 36" (1m) of snow. To the best of my knowledge, this rule has never been broken in the field of weather forecasting in the Lake Superior basin. This meant of course, that I did get to paddle this weekend and try out my brand spankin' new Bughead tuliq that arrived in the mail last week.

I've kept my eyes open for a 3mm neoprene tuliq for the Q boat and a couple folks mentioned Bughead. A couple others suggested I could make my own. The thought brought back childhood memories of building such famous WWII battleships as the Graf Spee, Bismarck, USS Missouri, and the Yammamoto. I remember reeling down the hall to the dinner table, intoxicated on Testors glue fumes, on a number of occasions. As much as I'd love to repeat that fine experience with the neoprene cement, I knew I didn't have the time or temperament to complete such a project and that it likley would qualify for the 'irregular' rack once it was done. I finally looked at the Bughead website as the weather grew colder, gave them a call and left a message on the machine. The fact that at least a half dozen people I know were featured in the 'raves' section of the site increased my confidence in the product. Scott, one of the owners, actually called me back promptly when he got my message. The proper sizes were communicated, PayPal activated, and a couple weeks later I had my tuliq. Its a nice gray color that almost perfectly matches the deck of the Q boat. The VOR says that when I go seal hunting the seals won't stand a chance because I have the same color scheme as a Navy destroyer, a stealthy gray that blends in with the water and sky on these cool, overcast, almost November days.

There were no seals near Port Wing on Lake Superior Saturday however. I'd left the hunting camp when Pod and TheKingOfIronwoodIsland headed to their bowstands. I had the Port Wing marina all to myself; all the boats were out of the water and the only souls around were a mother and her young son strolling on the breakwater. There was an offshore wind and the water was a bit nippy, just the thing to test out my new piece of gear. To begin with, everything fit. The stout spray skirt bead fit my cockpit coaming perfectly, the sleeves were long enough for my gorilla arms, and the hood fit my XL noggin just fine. The hood has a unique cinch system. Unlike most tuliqs, the cinch is at the bottom of the hood and there are velcro pull tabs to help seal the hood to the corners of the eyes. I paddled out of the breakwater where the Flag River entered the lake and saw the little boy and his mom at the very end. I waved at the little guy and as he waved back I went over. This was my very first time with a 3mm tuliq and I was amazed at how I couldn't feel the cold water, other than on my face and hands which were freezing. I didn't feel any water coming in and continued to do a variety of rolls. I even did a couple of fairly decent static braces, although with the 2'-3' seas I did get a face full a few times. I had the camera along and tried a crook of the elbow roll with the camera in my hand instead of my trusty seal skinning knife and you can see the results below.

I love the tuliq and plan in giving it a good workout at the Annual Grouse Slaughter at CampO this weekend. As I've mentioned before, no grouse have been harmed for years at this event but its an excellent official start of the serious deer hunting season as well as the site of the famous Mimosa Political Debate on Saturday morning during election years. The tuliq should keep me warm in these cold water rolling exercises and is a great great addition for the serious Lake Superior paddler.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The wave detector cometh

It would appear that the Meyers Beach area of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore will have a "real time wave detector" by next paddling season. A grant was applied for by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the amount of $29,995 was awarded back in early summer. The Park Service, Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Friends group are all pitching in on this project.

I confess to never have heard of a wave detector. When an internet search is performed, most of the entries talk about tsunami wave detectors. From the attached article, comments from the park, and a look at the press release from the Governors office announcing the grant awards, it looks like this would involve a buoy of some sort near the sea caves and a monitor, perhaps both at Meyers Beach and park HQ. The purpose of the system is scientific monitoring, perhaps similar to what we now see when we look at DISW3 on Devils Island, only with up to the second wave height info. I would hope, like the weather stations (especially the beloved buoy 45006), we Lake Superior junkies could access it on the net. The other stated purpose is to make inexperienced kayakers and other users more familiar with the conditions at the sea caves and help them make a more informed decision about whether or not to launch that day.

Whether that will work or not is the question I am trying to get my brain around. I have no idea what a real time wave detector goes for and I don't think they sell em at Midwest Mountaineering or REI. My guess is the 29 large awarded in the grant is seed money and that a bit more cash will be requred. While I believe it will most certainly 'work' to deliver the promised information, I'm not quite as confident that the information will be used by the general public to decide whether or not to paddle out to the caves. As many readers know, there have been two kayaking fatalities at the caves in the past few of years. Prudent and experienced paddlers in the area know that the launch at Meyers Beach is sheltered to a certain extent by Squaw Point and that once you get into the open lake with its 40 mile fetch from Duluth, things can get significantly nastier. Currently there is a NPS employee stationed at Meyers Beach during the busy paddling season, informing people about the paddle out to the caves. Would an automated wave detector reinforce what the park folks are telling people or would they likely go anyway? Also hard to tell. A few years back in June, I ran into a character with a 12' rented rec boat, no spray skirt, dressed in shorts and sandals. He watched me go over in the surf on my way in (dressed in wet suit, pfd, et al) and still insisted he was going to the caves. I persuaded him to change his plans by suggesting we continue the conversation while he stood knee deep in the lake. I think that feeling his lower legs go numb (and visualizing what it would feel like when he got crotch deep) made him decide that a more sheltered paddle really might be a good idea. We males, of course, are the worst offenders when it comes to bullheaded-ness and ignoring valuable advice....or directions.

I guess I need to see more info on the wave detector, what it can and can't do, and how it will be utilized before I formulate any opinion. I still like the idea of a ranger at the beach and despair about how stubborn, ignorant, unaware of their surroundings, and blissfully unconcerned some people are about their own well being. This ignoring of the obvious often puts others in danger when their sorry asses need to be rescued. I hope the wave detector is a success and I'll be interested to hear more about it. Meanwhile, I am off to the hunting camp, kayak on the roof, to hunt some more grouse, work on some deer stands, and paddle the mouth of the Brule River a bit. If the wave detector were in operation this weekend, here is the Sunday near shore forecast. Being a prudent and safe individual, I won't paddle but I sure wanna see it! Be sure to check buoy 45006 on Sunday!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Attempting to teach an old dog new tricks

This weekend the lure of the hunting camp finally got my butt out of the kayak seat. We headed north to Reefer Creek to move a few deer stands, check out the 40's that the aspen was taken off last winter, and attempt to shoot a grouse or two. Rookie the wonder dog was going to experience his first grouse hunt at age 9.

The Rook was raised in Bismarck, ND and has not been hunting before. He's not a fan of loud noises, especially thunder, and will attempt to hide in the bathroom with his rather large head jammed between the toilet and the wall; his reaction to a shotgun blast was an unknown. As far as I can tell there are no hunting dog genes in him at all, just some Australian Shepherd, Rottweiler, and probably two dozen other off breeds. I figured this year would be a good time to attempt the experiment. The Ruffed Grouse, or Partridge as its commonly referred to, are on a roughly 10 year population cycle. No one has figured out what causes the cycle and but its suspected that a number of factors contribute. All we know is that a lot of drumming in the spring usually means lots of birds in the fall and we heard a lot of drumming this spring; we're likely on the climb toward the top of the cycle.

The northwoods are beautiful this time of the year and I wish I could bottle the smell for when the muddy month of March rolls around. The Rook and I set off on an amble through the woods on a picture perfect fall day and checked out our timber sale. We looked at the new growth in the cut over area, made sure the white pine seedlings that were planted are flourishing, and headed into the thick stuff where the grouse are known to hang out. Rookie had his nose down and was acting very interested in something when I heard the grouse. When it flushed the Rook saw it and took off after it. The grouse made the fatal mistake of heading straight away down the trail and I dropped it. It hit the ground, bounced up and attempted to fly when Rookie jumped like one of those trained frisbee dogs, and grabbed it right out of the air. When I got to him he had it firmly in his mouth and was laying down, preparing to eat the bird on the spot. The only problem was that I was planning on eating it as well. It was a standoff; he had the bird clamped in his jaws and I was attempting to remove it any way that I could. The phrases 'give' and 'drop it' were not part of his understood vocabulary, which consists of 'food', 'wanna come with?', and sometimes 'sit' and 'lay down'. No, he was not planning on giving me the grouse and growled his disapproval. When I pulled out a venison beer stick, a delicacy he loves, and waved it under his nose, his ears went straight up and you could see a fine line of dog drool trickling out of the corner of his mouth. He still would not drop the grouse however. I finally grabbed his lower jaw in the back of his mouth and forced him to drop the bird. He looked at me, growled, and promptly ate the beer stick. It didn't seem like he even heard or paid attention to the shot, which was not very loud anyway since I shoot a 28 gauge. He definitely heard the gun when I shot the second bird though.

This time I saw the bird in a thicket and Rookie did not. When it flew I shot it and the dog was behind me. On the first bird I shot right over his head like a person would with a 'real' bird dog but on this one he was behind me. The GurneyGranny, back at camp practicing with her new bow, said she figured I was right down by the creek since Rookie was back in camp about 60 seconds after she heard the shot. After I shot, I turned to see if he had any interest in the retrieval and saw him heading back down the trail toward camp at cruising speed. GurneyGranny speculated that since the male brain is unable to multitask, his focus on the first bird precluded him from being afraid of or even noticing the shot. Its kind of like when we guys walk past the sink full of dirty dishes to get to the beer cooler; we see it but our mind is on the task at hand. Sounded logical to me, I guess.

It was a wonderful day in the woods in any event and the Rook was tired and content. When I cleaned the grouse I gave him a wing to play with, a tradition with the real hunting dogs at camp. He promptly ate it. I'm not sure what I'll do with him next weekend because I worry what will happen if I'm a far distance from camp. The Podman saw two timber wolves from his bowstand (we have our own little sub pack on the land) and if they caught our overweight specimen waddling back to camp after being scared by a loud noise it could go bad for the Rook. But I'm not worrying about that now. I'm actually anticipating cooking (and eating) tonights supper......

Take two grouse breasts, open them up, and roll up your favorite dressing up in the breasts. Hold them together by wrapping a strip (or two) of bacon around them. Bake covered for 45 minutes and uncovered for another 15 at 350F. Make a white sauce with 2 TBSP flour and 2 TBSP butter. Stir in 3/4 C chicken broth and 1/2 C half and half or cream. Pour over the grouse breasts and serve with fall squash, a salad, and a fine Chenin Blanc.

A fall meal just doesn't get any better.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lions and tigers and BEARS, oh my!

Its been an interesting bear year in the northland. The bottom line is that there are a lot more bears than anyone suspected and now, thanks to Friends groups and three kayaking clubs, there are a lot more bear boxes in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Three kayak clubs from Chicago and the Twin Cities stepped up with donations and the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation and Friends of the Apostle Islands matched those funds. There are now bear boxes at Lighthouse Bay on Sand, the mainland campsite near the caves, Trout Point on Stockton, Outer, Michgan, Otter, Cat, Basswood(2), and at the Stockton-Presque Isle dock. As a participant in a number of memorable and potentially dangerous bear bag hangings at 75% of the mentioned locations, I think its really great that the boxes are there, both for happy hour impaired bear bag hoisters as well as the bears themselves. There is still a need for about a dozen more at various sites, especially Ironwood, Rocky, and South Twin locations but it was a pretty good summer for bear box installations.

The box at the lone site on Manitou Island has not deterred our bruin friend that lives out there however. I received a press release and there was an article in the Ashland Daily Press saying that the island had been closed again. There was one clarification needed in that the article stated that the island had been closed in August due to the same bear. In fact it had been closed to overnight campers for the better part of the summer; day visitors were welcome until it started hanging around the historic fish camp. Shortly after the VOR, GalwayGuy, the KingOfIronwoodIsland, and I had camped there in early May the island was closed not reopened to overnight visitors. The photo above is of the bear in question as he sat 20 yards from our camp working on an anthill. He didn't seem real concerned that we were there and that is the root of his problem.

The question at this point is what to do about the bear. In the old days bears were trapped and relocated. A few years back we noticed an increase in aggressive bear activity at our hunting camp. The bears were not really afraid of people, would stage false charges on occasion, and just generally seemed to be more common in the area. It turned out our area in a very remote part of the county was the problem bear dump off spot. All this relocation scheme did was move the problem to a different spot and its likely several of the bears wandered back to where they came from anyway. Shooting the bear would be another solution. There is a legal bear hunt on the islands but the bears are typically small and the logistics of getting a deceased bruin off the island is problematic. I'm not sure how you get a permit but I took a quick look at the regulations and feel legal help might be needed to figure it out. I also understand there is a waiting list jor lottery to get one of these permits. I am not a bear hunter. In Wisconsin for some incomprehensible reason, you can still hunt bears with dogs. Many times we've been sitting at camp in August when a howling pack of semi retarded hounds comes loping through, 'training' for the bear season. This canine trespass doesn't seem to bother the owners of the mutts much since they are usually driving around in a gigantic pickup or SUV listening for the direction the dogs went. Recently a bear in north central Minnesota got a pail stuck on its head. It had to be shot when it wandered into a town festival in Frazee, MN and the outcry was worldwide. My guess is that executing our buddy on Manitou would provoke a similar knee jerk response.

Hell, I don't know what to do. Its aggravating that one bear can close an island visited by 2000-3000 people each year. From its relatively large size one would guess it might have came from the mainland but who knows? It's very likely that its lack of fear of humans is because some idiot gave it a Twinkie and its come to associate people with food. And if one bear can close an entire island think about what could happen next summer. "Sorry sir, we only have permits for Otter, Cat, and Ironwood. All the other islands are experiencing bear activity and are closed for overnight camping". Richard Nelson, a Wisconsin boy, wrote an excellent book on deer in American called Heart and Blood. In it he talks about the explosion of the deer population and the myriad of methods that have been used to control it. The bottom line is that the only effective method has been controlled hunts. Maybe that's the best solution for aggressive bears in areas frequented by the public. Combined with more education and heavy fines for feeding animals and leaving garbage around camps, it might be the solution for problem bears and also the attitude that created the problem bears in the first place. But we certainly don't need to see a bear executed for behavior that some knucklehead likely taught it in the first place. The park service plans to work on some behavior modification over the next few months to turn the bear back into a model bear citizen, one that is skittish of humans and avoids them when ever possible. Best of luck to them. Anyone got any better ideas??

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Help eradicate poverty - Blog action day

Today is Blog Action Day and the theme is getting rid of poverty. As a firm believer in the adage, 'think globally, act locally' we will try to do out part. I am far outstripped by the VoiceOfReason however. She sits on the board of Open Your Heart, a statewide non profit organization funded mainly by payroll contributions. They give grants, both small and large, to community organizations and food and shelter providers on the front line of the battle against hunger and homelessness. She chairs the grant review board and what better person to be in that position than a voice of reason? Next Thursday Open Your Heart will host a fund raiser commemorating a year of service and kick off this years giving campaigns. The event is at Christo's Union Depot Place in St Paul as was last years. Greek appetizers, some fine beers and wines, and talks by various folks, especially those helped by the organization are featured. There is also a silent auction to help raise some additional money.

As we were trying to think of something to donate my fellow Lake Superior junkie, photographer extraordinaire, and blogger Travis came to mind. The VOR was agonizing over which of his photos she wanted to purchase so I thought I'd email him and see if he wanted to donate one for the silent auction. He wrote back and said no, he wouldn't donate one but how did two sound? So he and the VOR worked out the ones that would be donated for the auction and the one that would soon be hanging in our place (not a simple process!) and we were moving forward. When we took the photos to Artist's Choice, our local framing spot, Stephanie said heck, she'd donate the framing. This left the VOR to pull together one of her basket creations, "Wrap Up to a Cozy Fall", a basket with a wrap (not the kind you put smoked turkey, lettuce and mayo in), leather journal, deer horn pen, felted hat (handmade by the VOR's sisters), hot chocolate, scented candle, etc. Along with all the other donations there will be some good stuff at the event.

I haven't had a chance to check out any of the thousands of blogs involved in the effort today but plan on it. Its amazing how the power of instant communication can energize folks and I hope this one day effort can be sustained. If we keep thinking globally and acting locally maybe we can get this hunger problem to the tipping point and move it more quickly in the right direction.

(image courtesy of Open Your Heart - "Giving where the need is greatest")

Monday, October 13, 2008

The State Where Nothing is Allowed

In a state where a number of enjoyable activities are either regulated, limited, or banned, the powers that be have fixed their sights on one of the most insidious activities to ever threaten our quality of life here in Minnesota; backyard campfires! In an article in the Red Star on Sunday the health bolsheviks decided that backyard fires, whether in the small metal commercial firepits or your own homemade fire ring pose far too great of a health risk to be allowed. Read the article, I swear I'm not making it up.

If a small minority of people whine about anything here in Minnesota it seems like it's quickly and efficiently either legislated out of existence or administratively banned. "What about the children?" is a common thread through most of these efforts. We collectively don't seem to mind and in fact actually get nervous if we encounter a more free environment. When the cage is opened we Minnesotan's rarely stroll out through the door. I must have picked up the attitude from my three decades here. I was in New Orleans a number of years ago before I was the prudent, mature, and circumspect individual that I am today. I discovered one morning that I had been brutally overserved in the French Quarter the evening before and was suffering from a bit of an overhang. Cafe DuMonde beignets, quarts of water, and a brisk walk did nothing help matters and I was forced to go to the 'hair of the dog' in the form of a screwdriver at one of the sidewalk drink kiosks. That did the trick and I felt good enough to have another and also purchase a Macanudo cigar. That was a mistake as it triggered a hangover relapse. I stumbled into a Walgreens in my weakened state and picked up a bottle of aspirin. As I reached the checkout I suddenly realized I would need to set down my lit cigar and cocktail in order to pay for the aspirin. I panicked. In the home state I'd likely be arrested for at least three offenses, pay a fine, be put on conditional probation, and sent to a re-education camp. In New Orleans the kind and jovial clerk looked at me and said, "Relax honey. Ya'll are in N'awlins".

The fact that a campfire ban is even being discussed is ridiculous. I've never known, seen, or heard of anyone that was 'sensitive' to campfire smoke, and this includes my sister who suffers from asthma. Being an astute woman, she generally moves to the upwind side of the fire to enjoy it, a novel yet effective method since shortly after fire was first discovered several millenium ago. Or, as one fellow in the article suggested, a person could shut their window, a modern twist on that tried and true upwind theory. Sadly, if they are indeed correct I am doomed. It too late for me. As you can see from the photo in the post, I suffered what is surely a fatal overdose of particulate matter (I'm sure the nerdy guy quoted in the article would know the exact particulate size) while cooking stew over the fire on Saturday. By the time I succumb to this insidious killer, at about age 138 I would guess, I'm sure Minnesota will be safe from radon gas, second hand smoke, trans fatty oil, inexpensive fast food, alcoholic beverages, and several other things we haven't even thought of yet. I feel really bad about my sons however (what about the children!?). I exposed them at a young age to the illicit lure of dancing flames on countless cool, crisp fall nights and I'm sure their sensitive tiny lungs were filled with particulate of 5-8 microns and above. Even worse they are now hopelessly addicted to wood fires and my eldest son even has....gasp!.....a fire pit in his yard. He fuels this health epidemic every weekend by inviting weak minded individuals over to drink beer and talk smart around the flames. I feel like such an uncaring father.

Since its too late for me, I plan to head down to Lake Harriet this evening for the annual harvest moon paddle with several of the usual suspects. After paddling we uncaring, wood smoke addicted louts will head over to the home of the IrishPirate, not far from the homes of the people who unsuspectedly invited the reporter from the Red Star to their bonfire. There we will consume unhealthy adult beverages, eat fat laden hors' de ouvres, and inhale the heady, addictive wood smoke from the backyard blaze. I plan to do physically what I've been accused of many times metaphorically: throw a couple more logs on the fire.

Holy Rollers

Since Saturday had been spent playing in the woods we needed to paddle on Sunday in order to mentally prolong the paddle season. Although the weather is unseasonably warm today, its snowing in western North Dakota which means in a couple days it will most certainly be brisk in the Twin Cities area. I got a call from RonO and the ManFromSnowyLegs and we decided on a lake we all had not paddled yet this year, Lake Johanna. It is nice to be in a situation where we have literally dozens of lakes to choose from within 20 minutes of home.

Lake Johanna was pretty much deserted except for a couple guys winterizing their outboard motors. A 1966 Johnson SeaHorse brought back memories of an identical motor that the Old Man had, a motor I aspired to own as a kid before I realized that internal combustion engines hate me. That's one of the reasons that paddling has been so good for my mental health; I've never needed to be choked and its never taken more than a couple of pulls to get me going. We launched for a leisurely circumnavigation of the lake and took note of some of the ostentatious homes along the way. A number of 'private, keep out' signs were seen but in Minnesota as long as you are in navigable water and stay in it you can go anywhere you choose. The MFSL remarked that there must have been old people on the south end of the lake. They had all their water toys put away and their docks pulled up on the shore, unlike the more disorganized north end.

The most prominent feature on the lake is a peninsula and an island on which Northwestern College is located. Northwestern is a non denominational private Christian college, founded in 1902, and Billy Graham served as president in the early '50s. As we paddled around the peninsula we passed a group of guys in suits, ties, and some clerical collars. We exchanged pleasantries and one said, "Don't tip over". That prompted the good natured question from another, "Why don't you tip over and see if you can come back up?" That's all we needed. The MFSL did a C to C with his Euro blade and RonO and I did a number of greenland rolls with our skinny sticks. We received a hearty round of applause from our clergy laden audience.

The VoiceOfReason was cooking up homemade chili and cornbread and we were instructed to not show up until after 6pm. Since we were done paddling and rolling at 4:30 this necessitated a trip to Grumpys Bar to wait the required hour and a half. During the philosophical discussion that always seems to break out in establishments such as this (in between plays in the Packer game, of course), we wondered if our interaction with the clergy counted as church attendance for the day. Although no standing, sitting, kneeling, prayers, or hymns broke out, we unanimously agreed that it counted. The precedent for this ruling was TheLegends "Sermon on the Stump" philosophy, beloved by his offspring (especially JeremiahJohnstone and the ColoradoKid), which stated that if you were communing with God and nature in the woods, that a trip to mass would only interrupt that spiritual bond. Our trio agreed with that wholeheartedly and we adjourned to the VOR's chili feast full of spirituality, Guinness, and Surly Coffee Bender Porter. It was a good Sunday.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Suprise 80th birthday

On 22 October TheLegend will turn 80 years old. Due to the logistics of getting people here from all over the planet, the surprise party was held yesterday. Partiers from such far reaching spots as Dolores, CO, Mobile, AL, Atlanta, GA, Indiana, and even St Petersburg, Russia gathered at the deer camp to eat, drink, make merry, and toast 8 decades of a life that's been interesting to say the least. In an appropriate 'circle of life', TheLegend was born on the same 40 acres that the camp is on. Also as one might expect with this group, it was not the usual birthday party.

First of all, the normal 80th birthday party is not held at a hunting camp in the woods. Restaurant, church basement, open house at someones home perhaps, but for a guy who has spent his life in the woods hunting, skiing, farming Christmas trees, making firewood, and generally puttering around, this seemed very appropriate. For that very reason the theme of the party was lumberjacks. The red and black plaid was out in full force. Rather than a catered affair, everyone brought food. Nipper and TheMayor made fry bread and yours truly made two big dutch ovens of 'Ojibwa stew', a venison and wild rice based concoction that sticks to your ribs for sure. A beer or two was also hauled into camp. For a guy that suffered a week with Presidente, Medalla Light, and the occasional Heineken or Corona, this feast of microbrewed beer was a sight for sore eyes and just what the doctor ordered for my dormant beer palate. At least four different Octoberfest brews were in the cooler, which added to the fall theme. A great birthday cake was made with trees, a woodpile, and two lumberjacks cutting wood; it would have been a shame to stick 80 candles in it so we didn't. The FunnyWoodMan found an eight foot long log, drilled 80 holes in it, and the VOR inserted 80 candles, 10" tapers not tiny birthday candles. The log was then lit and carried out by a half dozen 'log bearers' and presented to The Legend in front of the camp's porch. About that time a dog fight broke out among a couple of the eight or so canine guests that were in attendance, so the situation was normal. Surprisingly, Rookie the Wonder Dog was neither a participant or instigator, probably because he was busy 'guarding' the buffet table and waiting for his chance. Happy birthday was sung and two original numbers, new lyrics for the Beverly Hillbillies theme song, and Monty Python's Lumberjack Song were performed. Once again some technical issues with the CD player and another dog fight marred the perfection of the event but no one seemed to mind. The sun went down, the moon came up, and people drifted off towards home, reveling in the perfect fall day.

And it was perfect. The weather cooperated nicely, fall colors were at their peak, and the turnout was excellent. The surprise aspect was pulled off nicely and everyone had a great time. The VOR and TheMayor orchestrated the thing nicely and everyone pitched in to make it a real team effort. As I wrote on the 'log cookie', a 16" segment of tree trunk that served as the birthday card, "Great stuff. Count me in for the 90th".

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Island of Enchantment

I will be in Puerto Rico most of the week on business and I already miss the fall air and ambiance of the north country. My colleagues all give me grief and say, "Oooooh, poor boy! You have to go and suffer those white sand beaches, lush greenery, and summer temps". They all know of course, that I despise hot weather (its been 90F, 33C, every day) and feel the only thing a beach is good for is to surf your kayak on to. That being said, the people I call on are wonderful, the food is great, the hospitality excellent, and I used to be able to bring my kayak along.

As regular readers know I hate to fly and look upon the airlines and their toadies, the TSA, as an obstacle rather than a conduit for travel. Before I sold it this summer, I would take the trusty Feathercraft on this trip and paddle on various locations around the islands. One memorable trip involved paddling out to a string of islands off Fajardo called La Cordillera with a six pack of Medalla beer and a dozen shrimp so big that I could have clubbed an attacker with them had they been frozen. I brought a small quantity of Marchlight charcoal, made a small fire on the beach, and gorged on shrimp and beer. The next day I paddled into one of the famous bioluminescent bays, where the plankton light up when they are disturbed. When a paddle or hand went through the water, they would light up like the pixie dust on the end of Tinkerbelle's wand at the start of the old Wonderful World of Disney TV show. For a moment I wistfully thought of the old days when the experience would have been enhanced by a couple tokes from a magical herb but quickly realized that it was plenty cool enough in my nominal condition. Those days have ended however due to the incredible hassle and expense it takes to move a folding boat by air these days.

When a paddle, pfd, and other essentials are added to the Big Kahuna bag, it weights about 54#(25k). This puts it in the heavy, oversized baggage category. This means you have to pay extra for it, actually extra, extra these days since just checking a regular bag now can run $15. Its weight makes it a bit of a challenge for the baggage guys also, to see how far they can throw it. I actually watched two of them in Detroit grab each end and pitch it halfway up the conveyer, an impressive feat of strength had I not been concerned with the aluminum frame tubes being bent. I also began carrying pictures of it assembled and disassembled. This was after a woman from the TSA opened it for inspection and was certain that those same frame tubes and connectors were surely fuel rods for the core of an Al Queda nuclear reactor. I made the flight but the kayak didn't.

I finally gave up. I normally tend to just push back harder when stuff like this occurs but a combination of events detoured me from that path. My eco friendly former co worker, Ms ZFI, wanted a folding boat to carry in her Toyota Pious to avoid a roof rack and itsw reduction in gas mileage. I'd been test paddling a Q boat and had developed a yearning for its racy lines, narrow low volume profile, and rolling ease. It was the perfect storm of kayak interchange and I succumbed. As I sit here in Puerto Rico however, I remember the fun I had with the Feathercraft and briny smell of the ocean. I was still able to get that saltwater smell though; I just had to walk away from the roulette wheel and out on to the hotel patio to get it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A satisfying Saturday

Yesterday was an excellent fall day in Minnesota. The weather was perfect with 60F(16C) temps, brilliant sun, dry air, and a light breeze. The leaves are in the midst of turning and the red maples, orange oak, and yellow aspen made the woods a very colorful place. TheLegend, myself, and Rookie the Wonder Dog headed up to the camp early while the women meandered around Mora looking for valuable and necessary treasures in area shops. The plan was to attempt to shoot a grouse but given the Rook's lack of any bird dog genetics, training, or focus of any kind, I was perfectly happy to settle for a nice walk in the woods. Some venison sausage and beer was in the cooler and the dutch oven was prepared to whip up some stew over the campfire. The other mission that needed to be taken care of was to carry out the execution of my useless Palm Treo cell phone.

I won't go into the crimes against humanity that this worthless piece of electronics had perpetrated since I already did that in another post. I also decided that executing it with a .45 Colt would be overkill so I switched to a .22 auto. I don't think of this as an anti technology Luddite type of action but more of a rotten individual getting its due. I would argue, like death penalty advocates, that the recidivism rate of this particular cell phone will be 0.00%; it will never freeze up, drop a call, or fail to record a voice mail message again. It's disturbing video but I think most of the readers of this blog can handle it. I'm still basking in a satisfied glow every time I hit replay.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Campsite of the year

Since the chance of me spending any more time in a tent this year is limited I am prepared to award the first annual Campsite of the Year award. This years award goes to Candle Rock (not its real name!) in the Crane Lake region of Voyageurs National Park.

Several criteria are considered when the various campsites are considered. A key one is convenience. Ease of landing and unloading a kayak, a tent pad, the presence of a picnic table, bear box, and toilet facilities are important. Like real estate, location, location, location is important also. It needs to be in a spot that can be sheltered from the prevailing winds yet is windy enough to make it miserable for flying insects, has shade trees that can be used to rig the 'bat cave', and features a nice sunset view. Sunrises are lost on the majority of the nocturnal creatures I paddle with. Lastly it needs to have remarkable scenic beauty.

Candle Rock edged out the top secret Rocky Island wilderness site in the Apostles. Although the sunset view of Devils Island was unbelievable, the creature comforts were lacking and I was forced to deduct points. The whole bear bag thing is a pain in the butt and heading into the woods with a roll of toilet paper and a small shovel is not the most gratifying trip a person can take in the morning. I'm a guy who travels with a folding chair and a dutch oven in his boat; while I'll certainly do a wilderness site its not the first choice. Candle Rock on the other hand had two picnic tables, an open air outhouse, double bear boxes, and nice white pines for shade. It was also on a peninsula which meant that if the sun/wind situation on one side wasn't good, folks could just stroll the 40 yards to the other side for a different environment. It had a nice landing spot, albeit rocky, where the boats could easily be lifted onto a grassy area and unloaded. The camp was perched on top of a gigantic rock outcropping and looked out over a small bay and then up into the lake. The leaves were changing color, mixed with the dark greens of the boreal forest and the sunset was lovely. The majority female component of our trip brought candles and the wind cooperated for a lovely candle lit night on the rock. The weather was 'changeable' to use the euphemistic term for fall in the border country but it was plenty good as was our gear to deal with the changeability. But enough writing; a picture(s) as they say is worth a thousand words. Enjoy this tiny glimpse of Voyageurs.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rollin' with the punches

Our five member kayak crew just returned from DLW II (Damn Long Weekend, Year 2) at Voyageurs National Park. This time of year the weather can do anything it wants to up on the Canadian border and this time it certainly did. We spent one day basking on our own little piece of the Canadian Shield, some of the oldest rocks in the world, in shorts and tank tops. The very next day we were all checking to see if we had just one more layer in a dry bag somewhere. Paddlers need to roll with the punches in regard to changing fall weather. They also need to do the same sometimes when it comes to portages.

As many of you know, portaging a kayak, especially a loaded kayak, is a very bad idea indeed. I won't go into all the things that are so very wrong with the kayak portage concept but suffice to say I only paddle in areas where there is big water and no chance of having to unload, carry, and reload my boat more than once a day. Therefore it was with some amazement that I found myself trudging up a 40 rod portage trail last Sunday with a Valley Aquanaut in my left hand and a Valley Q boat in my right. I'm still trying to figure out how this came about but I'm inclined to blame faulty group dynamics and peer group pressure.

There were five people in our group which, had it been a democratic election, precluded a tie. I'm not dead certain how we moved from paddling to the beast of burden mode but I'm leaning toward placing the blame squarely on BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi. He and the IrishPirate had procured and roasted some cacao nuts and had been eating them all day. It reminded me of the stories of South American natives chewing cocoa leaves to stay awake longer and mask fatigue. Their euphoric, drug assisted attitude persuaded me that lugging the unloaded boats would be a walk in the park and when the VoiceOfReason and BessemerConvivialist paddled up it was kind of a done deal. I guess I figured what the heck, its only 40 rods. A rod, for those who don't know, is 16.5 feet, almost exactly 5 meters. One thought on why this archaic measurement has been maintained to measure canoe portages is because its about the same as a canoe length. Bjorn and I picked up the boats and headed up the trail. The women would start the other three boats up the trail and we would come back to help and report on short length and ease of the trail. When we got to the other end of the portage however, I looked out at the scene and thought, "We are soooo screwed!". Instead of a nice beach that came right up to the trail there was 100 yards of cattail swamp before hitting open water. I knew from duck hunting experiences that this would be a stinking, boot sucking, slow, and torturous slog if it was even possible. A quick scout confirmed beaver trails (you plop down an extra foot deep in the water when you encounter them), muck, and a treacherous floating bog area, densely matted grasses and muck with water underneath. It feels like when you were a kid walking or jumping on your bed, nice and springy, except if a foot goes through a person is crotch deep and getting back out becomes very problematic. There would be no paddling here and, being a coward at heart, I suggested that Bjorn head back to break the 'good news' to the ladies. Apparently they had just crested the highest point of the portage and were not amused. It seems that this 'portage' was really a snowmobile trail and that the swamp is no problem when it's frozen solid.

It was a slow and quiet trudge back. I calculated later that this portage, had it been successful, would have cut off a whopping 2.5 miles of paddling, roughly 40 minutes at a leisurely pace. Since that was about what it took to lug the boats 400 meters it would have been kind of at a push unless you factored in the sore shoulders, hyperextended arms, and surly paddling companions that resulted from this unwelcome hike. The BC was particularly ornery but got over it like the rest of us when we returned to camp and its supply of relaxing adult beverages and ibuprofen. I make it a point to never say never but I'm thinking that my kayak portaging experiences may have ended on Sand Point Lake last Sunday. I am sure my companions would agree.