Friday, January 30, 2009


I was 'tagged' the other day by Nan. Once I figured out what being 'tagged' entailed, I thought it sounded kind of fun. The deal is to go into your photo archive, pick the 4th folder in the archive, select the 4th picture in the folder, and write about it. A person then needs to tag 4 other people to do the same. That is the easy part so SonErik, Silbs, Bonnie, and Derrick....good luck. I await your posts like a kid on Christmas morning.

By sheer astounding coincidence, my image was captured only a couple nautical miles from where Nan's was. Her story of planning a conference featuring some hands on work out in the Apostle Islands reminds us once again, like it says at the top of this blog, the Lake is the Boss. On the day I took the above shot, the lake was as flat as a pancake, even though we had hurridley left Outer Island at 7am after the weather service had predicted 25 knot northwest winds with waves 3'-5'. I despise 7am when I'm on vacation, especially the 4th of July weekend vacation. We had paddled from Outer to Manitou Island via Cat and Otter Island, a distance of about 14 miles. It was hotter than hell and the alcohol supply was depleted to the point of strict rationing. Our early departure got us the campsite on Manitou before noon so we set up camp and took a leisurely paddle down to the historic fish camp to look around. On the way back I paddled out to the pile of rubble that has a navigation light on it (RangerBob assures me this was a real island at one point and has the historic photos to prove it) to check out the gull and cormorant colonies. After a careful approach from well upwind, I took some pictures and paddled back to Manitou to catch the rest of the crew. When I got near shore, Mama Merganser and her offspring decided I was a bit too close and 'put er into overdrive' to get past me. The little ones couldn't fly yet and I snapped a few shots with the telephoto as I drifted. About a half mile up the shore I noticed that everyone had beat me back to camp but no one was landing on the beach. I soon figured out why. Our old buddy, Mr Black Bear, the guy that backed Ms Freeman into an outhouse and closed the island for most of last camping season, was ambling down the shore, oblivious to the paddlers 50 yards away. I snapped a few shots of him and then headed for the shore.

Thanks for the 'tag' Nan. It made it simple for me to whip out a post without racking my brain about what to write. Since this blog is ostensibly about Lake Superior, a somewhat limited subject when its frozen over, it got things back on track as well. Finally, it brought back some great memories of a great trip and gives me hope that once again the lake will thaw out and sooner rather than later we'll be leaving Red Cliff for an island destination.

Surfin' Gitchee Gumee

I don't really see any new Beach Boys tunes arising from the practice, but apparently there are lots of folks riding the waves on Lake Superior. Superior Outdoors, a fabulous publication published in Thunder Bay, ON had a great story and photo spread this summer and I got a tip from BDahlieOf Mahtomedi that the local paper reprinted a New York Times travel article last Sunday.

The Renegades went out and skied last night and the temp was about 15F (-9C), very nice in wool clothing but I can't imagine how miserable it would be in a wetsuit. Yet that's the routine for these guys, who have a website up to chronicle their activities. The biggest waves on Superior occur in the winter, the classic November storms like the one that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald, and I guess if you want the big waves you have to pay the price. A price I would refuse to pay, by the way. I was fishing off the mouth of Wisconsin's famous Brule River in my kayak in April with TheCommish a couple years ago in April. I stowed my fishing gear on the deck and surfed into shore in my Aquanaut. It was so much fun that I paddled out and did it again. And again. The fourth time I broached, dumped, and got to find out just exactly how a wetsuit works. The concept is that the thin layer of water between you and the neoprene is warmed by your body heat and the insulation from the neoprene keeps you warm. The problem intially however, is that that layer of water thats flooding into the wetsuit (and dousing sensitive bodily parts) is about 39F (4C). There is most definitely shrinkage and I picked up a drysuit at Midwest Mountaineerings Expo the very next week.

I've seen these guys surfing at the mouth of the Lester River on the outskirts of Duluth. When the wind is from a southerly direction, especially the rare southeast wind, the current from the Lester with the wind and waves against it, makes for some big, steep, breaking waves. It is most definitely NOT a sand beach there however, and I would think a helmet would be required gear as well. The folks surfing all had thick wetsuits with gloves and hoods, and had a van running with the heater on to warm up. The guys up in Thunder Bay do that one better by erecting a portable sauna to warm up in. Now suddenly this cold water surfing thing is sounding more palatable to me but I still don't think I'll be donning the wetsuit any time soon. Nope, I'll stick to paddling from April to October, a bit of hunting in October/November, and then skiing from December to April. As you can see from the photo, its hard to avoid a bit of seasonal overlap, but for the most part I love the change of seasons and do my best to 'keep em straight' with different outdoor activities.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rock Lake Trails

One of the main reasons the Intensive Training weekend is held in the Lake Namakagan area is because of the close proximity of the Rock Lake trail system. These trails were designed and laid out by the US Forest Service in the terminal moraine of the last glacier that scoured Wisconsin 10,000 or so years ago. The results are a topography that's perfect for cross country skiing, mountain biking, and just plain hiking. The hills, valleys, and snaky ridges make for the perfect combination of a third uphill, a third downhill, and a third flat. The area is dotted with small lakes and none of them have cabins or any sign of human habitation. on them. It is also laid out for classical technique only. I like to skate ski but its nice to have an area where you can tour and enjoy the scenery without some guy yelling, "track!"and then blowing by you in a skintight racing suit the color of a blue bottle fly. Its OK to be obsessed with your personal record, aerobic capacity, and rigid race training schedule but its also OK to have a down jacket, bamboo poles, and a beer in your pocket as you shuffle along, enjoying life. I would draw the line at a cigars (a ski technique favored by our buddy, the Famous Crimminal Defense Attorney from Milwaukee) but even that isn't any worse than crossing a snowmobile trail with its subtle fragrance of burned gas and two cycle oil. Another big part of my enjoyment of this trail system is my extensive history of skiing there with my two then young boys.

I started both guys on skis about the time they learned to walk. The cheap plastic Sno-Cat skis that strapped to regular boots were always the first pair, used to shuffle around in the snowy yard. We would rent the Junek's Bay Cabins with friends and ski the Rock Lake trails the week between Christmas and New Years. They were the classic hand build log cabins with fireplaces, banged up cooking utensils, and the famous 'deep valley' beds, famous for bringing couples together in the northwoods for decades. The guys were always lobbying to ski with the adults but we knew a 5 year old would not finish an 11k trail so we would always take turns skiing with the kids. Like most kids they hated the uphills and there were plenty of them on those trails. I would normally have to bribe them at the top with hard candies, 'hill pills' was our name for them. But they both learned to ski well and the distances increased, a lot of times simply because they wanted to do what the adults were doing. This actually reaped dividends later on in high school when both of them quit hockey and took up nordic ski racing in their junior years. This did not make me too sad since seeing my kids get crushed along the boards or high sticked by some goon was not necessarily a pleasant thing. Both boys also noticed that a number of other kids in their A/P classes and on the honor roll, were on the nordic racing team while a number of their hockey teammates seemed to have chairs reserved with their names on them in the principal's office. Cross country skiing can be a very positive thing.

Sharp observers will notice that in the photo from last weekend and the one circa 1985 in front of the very same 'parking lot 2.9km' sign, that it would appear I am wearing exactly the same anorak and wool hat. I confess that is indeed the case. I hate to give up on a perfectly good, functional piece of gear and since I normally favor natural fabrics they tend to last. Initial experiences with the toxic stench of plastic undergarments (the 'revolutionary' polyprop long johns) kind of threw me off the concept for good. The advent of the merino wool gear from Icebreaker and Smart Wool only served to reinforce that opinion. Observers may also have noticed that function seems to trump style in my case. I will confess that this is true as well. While I have moved on from the knickers, three pin bindings, and wooden skis, some gear is just timeless. And if I got some modern bindings on my woodies, maybe, just maybe, I could..............

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another cold Intensive Training weekend

In past years, the Intensive Training weekend was an event where a person could hone their techinque and improve their overall fitness for the American Birkebeiner ski race, an event that several attendees including the WoodFondlingBarrister (event founder) have skied in the past. These days, its pretty much an opportunity to drink beer, play some cards, complain about the food and accommodations, and ski 16k or so per day.

This year a 16k day was a bit of an accomplishment because the high temps all weekend were hovering just above 0F (-18C). RonO, the ManFromSnowyLegs, and I arrived at the cabin late Friday night and I was escorted to my room, "an intimate suite with a lovely lakeview". An apt description from a realtor perhaps, but reality was somewhat less inviting as you can see from the photo. On the positive side, I had not used my inflatable down pad and sleeping bag since my last kayak trip in October and felt just a touch of longing for my tent pitched on an Apostle island. The MFSL, being a native of Australia, mentioned that he didn't know much about poker. The KingOfIronwood Island, with a look on his face much like a timber wolf that stumbled upon an injured fawn, offered to sit next to him, help him out, and provide valuable coaching at the poker table. It didn't turn out as His Majesty planned however, because when the night ended most of the King's greenbacks were in the MFSL's pockets. Poetic justice for sticking me with the walk in closet, in my opinion.

Upon rising Saturday morning, we realized that the thermometer was at -10F (-23C ) and decided that we would hit the trails when it got to 0F. I also realized that the reason I got the walk in closet bedroom was that so the King could announce, "Olson's out of the closet" when I strolled out to the living room. Not that there's anything wrong with that. 0F arrived about 11:30am and we were off for the Rock Lake trails. The trails were groomed meticulously, the crowd was slim, and the sun was shining brightly. About the only drawback to the day was that it was colder than hell. But other than our frozen beards (and we won't go into detail about what exactly was frozen) it was fine afternoon. We all did take something away from the weekend, other than the King's money, however. I realized that I wasn't in as horrible shape as I thought and think I can actually complete the 10k race I signed up for this upcoming weekend. The MFSL perfected his downhill technique and RonO learned a thing or two about pacing, crucial info since both of them are racing the 25k City of Lakes Loppet on Sunday. The other thing that is driven home everytime a person ventures out in this cold weather is that once out in the weather it just isn't that bad. That is crucial reinforcement for those of us who live and savor winter in the north country.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Concealed Weapons Guide to Midwest National Parks

I'm sure many of you have been wondering, especially kayakers, which national parks you can exercise your right to pack your Glock, Beretta, or good old Colt .45ACP in. As of January 9 a holder of a concealed carry permit is allowed to carry a loaded gun in national parks located in right to carry states. This has already taken effect so no stroke of the pen by the Obama administration will make it go away, only long, boring, and contentious legislative and/or administrative haggling. Since it will certainly be in place for this upcoming paddle season, I feel its my civic duty, as a permit holder myself, to let you all know where you can be packin' as you paddle.

At this time Wisconsin and Illinois are the only states in the union that have no Right to Carry law of any sort on the books. Michigan and Minnesota do. This means that if a kayaker is heading to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, they will be unable to defend themselves against stunted bears, predatory red squirrels, or people from Chicago. In Voyageurs National Park in Minnnesota, paddlers will be able to reach into their wetsuit, retrieve their 'piece', and send a hail of lead in the direction of anything that disturbs the wilderness experience. Its the same in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or Isle Royale National Park, very close to Minnesota yet, inexplicably, a part of Michigan. The border parks are much more problematic. The St Croix National Scenic Riverway basically consists of the St Croix River as it winds between Minnesota and Wisconsin on its way to meet the Mississippi near Hastings, MN. If a canoeist launches in Minnesota with the Smith & Wesson they are good to go. But if they cross that invisible line in the middle of the river they are in Class A misdemeanor territory. It could be even worse in Voyageurs NP. If a paddler wandered over the border into Canada, which is very easy to do in the maze of islands, you would be in serious felony territory. They really, really hate handguns in Canada.

I hope this helps the paddlers among you who have been yearning to carry a handgun to protect yourselves from the myriad of dangers that can pop up in a national park. As a concealed carry permit holder with reciprocity in Michigan, I would be perfectly legal carrying a handgun on my next paddle trip to any of the national parks in the region except AINL. In all seriousness now, I think I will pass on exercising that particular freedom. Its not because my shoulder holster would chafe under my tuliq, or fear that a heavy .45 automatic would drag me down if I capsized. Its just that I can't think of any good reason that I'd need to have a handgun on a paddle trip to a national park. Not one. Unless I was in grizzly country (in which case I'm woefully undergunned anyhow) I can't think of an animal that I'd need to protect myself from. My fellow homo sapiens are another story but we just don't get much lunacy in the national parks in the midwest. Sure, we had the redneck rampage up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness but I'm not sure whether more guns on the other side would have helped or exacerbated that situation. Certain areas of the country are plagued by human debris in public parks, as described by the disturbed and slightly unbalanced Lord Hayden from his trip to the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area in California. The parks I've visited around here just don't seem to have that level of decay.

Bottom line, I have no big problem with the ruling. I really don't see much of a difference in the park experience if a few people are wandering around with bulges in their pants (meaning concealed guns, of course). The people that take the training, submit to the background check, and fork over the money for the permit are rarely people that the public needs to worry about. Still, its a hot button issue and my guess is that the NRA and the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence lobbyists will justify their existence by yelling, suing, defaming, and vilifying one another over the issue for years to come. Personally, I think I'll just go kayak.

I really couldn't think of a suitable gun/kayak picture so I thought I'd upload the violent video of the execution by firing squad of my worthless cell phone once again. It lifts my spirits every time I see it and I hope it does the same for the you. Enjoy

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Beating Stress

We returned late Monday evening from a three day weekend in New Orleans, battered but not beaten. MrBuzz, Woody, and I pretty much did whatever we felt like doing, whenever we felt like it, as many times as wanted to. This involved adult beverages of course, but also involved lots of walking, great jazz, hole in the wall restaurants, the World War II museum, and a fine evening with a former co worker who had relocated. Although we crammed a bunch of stuff into a relatively short time period, it was very relaxing, mainly because the two main stress components, time and transportation, had been removed for the weekend.

I'm not sure which aggravates me more, being pressed for time (more on my chronic time compression syndrome in another post) or dealing with the hassles of a mechanized journey of some sort between points A and B. Airline travel involves the worst of both worlds with weather, lines, TSA apparatchik, and airline incompetence/indifference brewing up a toxic mix of 'rat in the maze' stress. They did their best once again on this trip with switching planes, late departures, imposible connections, and confiscation of my 3.8oz gift for the VOR(the rules say 3.5oz). I've been told I have serious issues with blindly obeying authority and my accusers may be correct. When my encounter with Agent Cletus was over I felt like I need a shower to wash away the sarcasm and cynicism that was dripping off me, but I made it on the plane OK.

When I think about activities that I really enjoy and that really renew my spirit, I realize that all of them tend to avoid the hated time and motor travel; once I arrive at the destination of course. I long for the day when I can simply be 'beamed up' by Scotty but I'm not holding my breath. Rather I hold my nose and jump in the car/plane/train/bus, et. al. and head for the R&R opportunity of choice. Whether its kayaking, skiing, hunting, strolling through the French Quarter with a beer (ah, sweet freedom!), or just attending a concert or reading a book, I always am able to decompress, relax, and enjoy the scenery, my companions, and the activity itself.

We do live in the time stress world however, and that was brought home when I left the friendly confines of Hotdish Night at Grumpys last night to join the VOR and some coworkers at what was billed as the downtown inauguration party. The Yupscale restaurant, Seven, and event organizers managed to stick a pin in the balloon of upbeat crowd attitude by delivering absolutely none of the advertised deliverables when they said they would. Most people wanted to actually hear what President Obama had to say rather than watching his face and listening to horrific techno-pop. They also were hoping that promised events (like rebroadcast of the inauguration speech) would occur within at least 90 minutes or two hours of when they were supposed to but that was not to be this momemtous evening. And a clever way to minimize hors de' ouvres consumption is to bring out a couple trays an hour or so before the majority of folks arrive, and then tell people that they had been served and were out.

But I still have hope. Hope that President Obama will get a thing or two back on the right track, that I can avoid TSA custody on future airline trips, that I will actually get in shape to ski these races I've signed up for, that the ice will thaw so I can paddle, and that Canoecopia will suddenly appear a mere couple days away. Meanwhile, I prepare for the 3 hour drive to the Intensive Training Weekend in the Lake Namakagan area of northern Wisconsin, certain that the skiing and cameraderie will far outweigh the 6 hours of ass time spent in the car.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I'm such a wuss

As I sit here, ready to head off to work, the temperature without factoring in the wind chill, is -20.7 degrees F. That would be -29C; once we reach -40 I don't need to do the conversion anymore because -40F and -40C are the same. That is not beyond the realm of possibility, believe me. On those insanely hot days in the southwest US they always say that its not the heat its the humidity. Around here they (whoever 'they' are) say its not the cold its the wind. To a certain extent that's true. It was certainly enough to cause me to wimp out, wuss out, or whatever derogatory phrase you would like to apply to it, on a training ski last night.

I need to confess this publicly because once my fellow SKOAC Renegades get wind of this they will make sure its public knowledge anyway. I'm the guy who insisted we ski the Vasaloppet last year when we awoke at the home of the Legend and GraciousPartier and saw it was exactly the same temperature it was this morning, only with a 15-20mph wind from the northwest. I also insisted that we ski ABR during last winters Hurley weekend trip when temps were similar. As the emails trickled in yesterday with everyones regrets that they could not make the French Park rendezvous after work, I admit to feeling a certain amount of disdain which, fortunately I did not voice publicly. It was just going to be RonO and me and we would just take a couple slow laps to avoid any freezing lung syndrome and the 10 hours of coughing that accompanies excessive exertion in very cold weather.

The hour approached and I changed clothes in my office and waxed up my skis in order to make the 6pm rendezvous. Wind chill was about -30F but we planned to ski the woods trail and negate that wind. I went out to my car and it must have decided it had enough and refused to start. I opened the hood, removed the battery cover and my fingers were inoperative in 30 seconds. One of our guys had a booster starter and the trusty VW fired right up. I couldn't really grip the steering wheel or shifter well yet, but the car will certainly warm up. As I pulled out of the parking lot, now about 20 minutes late, I thought of the VoiceOfReason (and how she earned that name) sitting there with a nice fire and a couple pasties in the oven. My resolve to ski disappeared like the feeling in my fingers and I called Ron and told him I'm out.

To make matters worse I'm heading to New Orleans for a long weekend with my long time buddy, MrBuzz. We will be meeting TheWoodenOne at his timeshare and, as far as I know, there is no 'gratuitious exercise' on the schedule other than repeated elbow bends. With races coming up I need to ski and put on some miles but it looks like the first opportunity will be next Wednesday. I hated missing last nights ski and I hope RonO had a decent time or at least survived. As I reflect back however, on my evening of wine, a nice wood fire, and a healthful pasty in my belly, I think I made the right choice.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good weather for Balalaikas

When I strolled into work yesterday it was -15F (-26C). For those of you in warmer climes, there are certain indicators that let you know its below zero without needed to check the weather report. The easiest one is the crinkly, crackling feeling of the nose hairs as you attempt to inhale the super frozen air. The sound of boots on the snow is not a normal crunch but more of a squeaky crunching, indicative of squashing a true solid material rather than frozen water. As we skiers know, this is no time to skate ski. Its like trying to glide on sandpaper and the traditional classical skis are the only way to fly in this kind of cold. My usual nod to the coldest day of the year involves strolling outside with a cup of hot coffee. When it is tossed into the air it instantly crystallizes into tiny brown snowflakes and flutters to the ground with not so much as a drop of liquid hitting the ground. Needless to say, there was no talk of skiing last night but then Tuesday is usually never a ski or kayak night but rather Hotdish Night at Grumpy's bar. With last nights hotdish we were also treated to an excellent performance by the St Mary's Balalaika Orchestra, a Russian treat that was very appropriate on a below zero evening.

When RonO and I strolled in, soon to be joined by the BessemerConvivialist, on her way to some gourmet food-a-thon, we weren't sure just exactly what a Balalaika Orchestra really was. As musicians kept drifting in we realized that this was a real orchestra and not just 3 or 4 folks playing the triangular, three stringed instrument. When they finally got set up and began to play we were amazed by both the nature and quality of the sound.

Northeast Minneapolis is hands down the most ethnic part of the city and a number of first generation immigrants still live there and are still arriving. I am biased, but I think it is by far the most vibrant part of what can often be a stolid, borderline boring, Scandanavian Lutheran and German city. On 4th St NE, bars alternate with churches, almost block for block. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Lebanese Maronite churches are all in the area, many founded by a particular ethnic group. Grumpys was packed last night, especially with eleven musicians jammed into one end of the bar. RonO and I were in mourning about the premature demise of Summit's Winter Ale on tap; the Maibock (May bock) debuted on probably the coldest day of the year, a day when a good winter ale was essential to our health and well being. We sucked it up however, swallowed our grief (along with some tater tot hotdish) and switched over to Oatmeal Stout and Guiness. The music was wonderful, the mix of folks in the bar was really nice, and entire atmosphere was very warm on a very cold night. I tried to shoot a bit of video but with low light and a crappy camera the visuals are abyssmal. You can hear about 10 seconds of Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago however, arguably the most famous piece of balalaika music ever written. It was a very convivial evening, even though the Convivialist deserted us for a prior engagement. Grumpy's truly was the epitome of what a neighborhood bar should be during last nights event.

Monday, January 12, 2009

More Interesting Clothing

For the past couple of days there have been posts and comments regarding garishly colored clothing, '90's downhill ski wear, sailing jackets, and even bad neoprene. Snowmobilers seem to still be stuck in that lime green, hot pink, blaze orange, and fluorescent clothing mode but perhaps that's for visibility as you blast across a frozen lake at 90mph. The one thing the discussion did for me was raise my awareness of the awful colors that people could wear. I even weighed in with a comment on how some of these clothes fit and how some people should look in the mirror more often. Yet on Sunday I wound up at Elm Creek Park with my classical skis and wearing the red pants in the photo. How could that have happened after having my consciousness raised by the discussion of the last few days? Very simply, they were a gift.

The weekend began with a quick 8k at French Park, 4k on the classical skis and 4k on the skate skis. It has become very obvious to me that with the Vasaloppet looming on the horizon on 8 February, that I'm in excellent condition. For beer drinking. It was decided during the post ski beer drinking training that a trip up to the Vasaloppet trails and the ski chalet/deer camp of TheLegend and the GraciousPartier was necessary to improve fitness and stamina. This would be perfect for the VOR and I since we had been invited to the Vasaloppet Fundraiser later that evening in Mora, MN. We arrived at the trails Saturday morning and they were phenomenal, tracked perfectly, no wind and the temp at a very amenable 8F (-13C). The sun was bright the snow crisp (perfect for green/blue waxes), and only one person had been on the trails before RonO, the ManFromSnowyLegs, and I set out on the 8k Memorial loop. We were quickly caught by BjornDahlieOfMahotmedi who rolled in a bit late and informed us that the IrishPirate, BemidjiIntelOfficer, and the VOR had set out on the Beaver Dam loop. We would have waited for him but we knew very well that he could easily lap our sorry asses and, in fact, he did knock off another 8k while we headed back to the chili, brats and kraut, fermented malt beverages, and other healthful treats that awaited us at camp. We rendezvoused and raved about how fabulous the trail was and the excellent conditions that day and wound up talking ourselves into another loop. This created some time compression issues (I've got to do a post on that syndrome) for RonO, MFSL, and BIO as they had promised to meet the BessemerConvivialist for a fitness ski at French Park later in the day. The VOR headed back to Mora, I did the same a bit later, and Bjorn and the Irish Pirate skied another loop and enjoyed the moonlight from the closest and biggest moon of 2009. All early departees were extremely envious.

Fast forward to the fundraiser. The Mora Vasaloppet is pretty much a volunteer driven community event. As such, there needs to be cash for timing, trail maintenance, race bibs, gallons of blueberry soup, awards and a dozen other things. Regarding the awards, as we sat in the warming house at French Park, a guy was trying persuade his buddy to ski the pre Birkie rather than the Vasaloppet. He was telling him how it was on the same course as the Birke, steeper hills, better for conditioning, etc. His buddy just listened, looked him in the eye, and told him, "You're just jealous because I have a Dala Horse and you don't". Carved Swedish Dala horses are given out to the top finishers in each category; case closed. The fund raiser was sold out and there were any number of activities going on at once to raise money. Silent auction, live auction, last skier standing bingo, and various raffles for the pile of donated prizes at the event. Our table did well but I was pretty much shut out. As the Legend and GraciousPartier kept racking up the loot they were so busy watching for winning numbers that they sent the VOR to pick up one of their many prizes. They already had an electric nailer, a framed print, and a medical emergency bag (prompting a few smart remarks about 'Doctor Glen') but they didn't have a pair of bright red racing pants, which is what the VOR brought back to the table. The Legend took one look at them, leaned over and asked the VOR a question (later revealed to be: When's Dave's birthday?), and very quickly presented them to me with a hearty Happy Birthday.

As a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers I certainly don't look down on bright red gear. The fit however, was another story. Even though they were XL, my size, they were a bit 'form fitting' for me. When I pulled them on before heading to Elm Creek on Sunday, I asked the VOR how they looked. "Wear a long jacket" was her quick response. We went out for a classical tour of about five miles and it became apparent these were for races and fast skiing only. When we stopped to chat or admire the scenery for any length of time, I noticed they just didn't offer the protection and wind blocking properties necessary to keep 'the boys' warm. Since I am signed up for a few races this year I guess I'll just use them for training runs and maybe the races. Unless there is an outcry against that plan. What do you think folks?

P.S. The beach at Elm Creek Park is closed and no lifeguard is on duty.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Skiers beware!

Last night a few of us braved the 5F (-15C) cold of the French Regional Park to knock off 10k or so on the nicely groomed, well lit, and perfectly marked trail system. It was a refreshing change from the brutal and hazardous conditions I encountered in Iron County over the weekend.

My friend and legal mouthpiece, the WoodFondlingBarrister, is a yellow dog Democrat and a man made wealthy from billing me on lucrative timber and property matters. He and his long suffering spouse have a very scenic complex of ski trails on their palatial Iron County estatebetween Lake Superior and the thriving village of Saxon, WI. These trails are meticulously groomed and have been laid out to follow various interesting stands of hardwood trees, (his lifelong obsession), on the property. The trail winds through hemlock, hard maple, cherry, and various coniferous stands. It has gentle rolling hills, lots of up and down to keep things interesting and is an excellent trail system, one of the finer classical trails in the area in my opinion. It only has one flaw: it is impossible to get out once you are in.

I suspect the counseler had either just visited a corn maze or perhaps ingested LSD and then viewed some MC Escher prints before laying out the trails. The Escher print, Ascending and Descending pretty much desribes the trail layout. In that print, monks go either up or down the stairs; it makes no difference because there is no beginning or end to the stairs. Perhaps they have to walk the stairs daily for penance. Its much the same on the WFB's trails. Last year I ventured out on the trail alone at about 3pm in the afternoon. Since it doesn't get dark until around 5pm I figured I could easily do a couple laps and be back at the house for happy hour. The reason I arrived so late to ski was due to a delay in getting from the downhill ski area to the WoodFondlingBarristers estate. I was forced to stop for a social drink in Hurley, WI with the KingOfIronwoodIsland, who was also bound for the WFB's trails. Since the sun shines an average of 2.3 days per month in Iron County in the winter, there was no telling the direction of travel from the sun and there was no wind to give a hint from that quarter as I skied into the woods. The trails cut back and cross over one another like a garden hose piled up on a garage floor and very soon I was confused. I was pretty sure I had been past certain trees before but because one of the WFB's passions is a forest full of straight, orderly, uniform trees as befits his Teutonic heritage, they all pretty much looked the same. Soon it was dark and the wolves began to howl. I figured I might see a light but no luck. Surely someone would realize I was gone and ski out to see what was up. In the interim I just kept skiing. In addition to the wolves, my thoughts turned to a murder that had taken place on this very property.

Ten years ago the movie, A Simple Plan, was released starring Billy Bob Thorton, Bill Paxton, and Bridget Fonda. Due to a lack of snow in the Minneapolis area, production moved north and based in Ashland, WI for some location scenes. Hollywood soon discovered the pristine snow in the WoodFondlingBarristers property and rented it for the opening scenes of the movie. You may recall the plane crash with the $4 million bucks that Paxton and Thornton discovered in the woods. You also may recall the hapless neighbor that came by on his snowmobile and was bludgeoned to death on the spot. As I skied, I saw a light and figured to hell with it, I was skiing toward the light. As luck would have it, I came out in almost the exact spot where poor Peterson got his head caved in.

At least I knew where I was at that point and hit the road, took off the skis, and began walking, figuring I should let people know that I was out of the woods and to not worry about my whereabouts any more. As I reached the house it became apparent that the only one worried about me at all was the KingOfIronwoodIsland. He had scouted the area between the house and the sauna and, not finding me, decided to get cleaned up. The rest of the group debated where I was, figured I could last another hour easy, and popped another bottle of wine.

My complaining about the complexities of the trail and the danger from wild animals and wilder humans fell upon deaf ears and inspired several derisive comments. The sign at the top of this post however, was in place when I hit the trial this year. It's a feeble attempt to mitigate this attractive nuisance, one that would never stand up in a court of law, especially if the judge's last name ends in -ich. Once again this weekend, I arrived late to the trails after telemark skiing at Big Powderhorn with several members of the SKOAC Renegades, and was forced to set out on my own with a slightly elevatee BAL. After a couple of loops I ran into RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef. RangerMark decided he had some extra energy and set off on one of the many Escher-like meanders while GTC and I continued back to the house. We arrived just about dusk and she seemed relieved that we had actually made it back. When we walked into the house and she announced in a shaky voice, "I had to follow Olson back!", the comment was met with raucous laughter.

Go ahead and laugh! My guess is that there are skeletons of key grips, sound men, associate producers, and other expendable Hollywood crew people laying out there like deceased climbers on the slopes of Mt Everest. All I know is if any of the skeptics, cynics, and especially the WoodFondler himself, do not return on time I have two alternative courses of action. Either uncork a fine Italian Sangiovese or pop a South Shore Brown Ale and contemplate the situation.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

See ya later Canadian Yew

When folks from deer camp get together the talk usually turns to deer at some point. GurneyGranny, noted wolf tracking muckety-muck, managed to acquire the 2008 deer season synopsis from an unnamed source. In a nutshell, license sales were steady, it was the third safest season on record, and the harvest was down 30% in our area. The biggest complaint that wardens got was that the DNR had inflated the deer numbers to sell more licenses and that the reason the harvest was down was predation by wolves & bears, too much baiting, Earn-a-buck rules, and hard winters.

The harvest was down on Reefer Creek but not because of lack of deer. We captured many large bucks and countless antlerless deer on the game cameras, all feeding at night. I think perhaps too much bar stool time and smarter deer might be the main reason for the fall off in the harvest. Our group hunted hard but the lateness of the season this year meant that the rut was pretty much over and the only truly reliable way to get a really large, smart, old buck is when his judgment is clouded by thoughts of voluptuous and seductive does. The one thing that points to lots and lots of deer is the sign (tracks,, beds, and droppings) and the beating that they have been giving the vegetation in the area.

We took a nice snowshoe on Friday into a ravine and gully laced creek bottom area south of the Pod & GG acreage. Typically in an area like this white cedar would be present and there are some larger trees. Canadian yew should be down there as well but almost all of it, along with the young cedar, has been browsed down to nothing (photo left). In fact the neighbor to the south, a biology and natural resources prof at Northland College, has fenced off some areas of Canadian yew just to see how badly the deer are browsing it. I think I know the answer: no young white cedar or Canadian Yew can grow with the population of long legged white tailed rats at its current level. Click on the photo below and the browse line is clearly visible on the shoreline cedar trees at LakeO. This line is at the level of a deers mouth while its standing on the ice. Nothing grows below that level and there is certainly no new cedar growth on the ground. That goes for White Pine as well. The White Pine planted on our land is protected with little mesh cages to keep the deer from eating the 'candle' (new growth shoot).

Once again the 'balance of nature' is no balance at all. The deer hunting lobby is powerful in the state and would like enough deer so the average guy can hunt (if you want to call it hunting) for 4 hours on opening day and 2 hours on Sunday and be certain of getting their deer with a minimum of effort. Fewer people are actually hunting the entire nine days of the season. Many people would like to see the large predators help control the population but that has its own set of problems; once a few sheep get eaten or (god forbid) Fluffy the cat, then the predators are quickly culled. I'd sure like to see that creek bottom covered in cedar and yew but it isn't going to happen. If a person wants to visit a nice stand of yew they will need to kayak to some of the outer Apostle Islands. Out there the winter takes care of any overpopulation of deer and there are stands that are chest high, beautiful to view but impossible to navigate through on foot. I certainly hope that some sort of 'balance' can be reached between over browsing and diversity of our forest species but I ain't holdin' my breath. Lets get out of camp, off the bar stool, and shoot some deer here people!

Monday, January 5, 2009


There was so much material accumulated during the five days spent in the Greater Gurney/Hurley/Ironwood area of northern Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan this weekend, that it may require a week of posts to get through it all. When the group from the deer camp collides with the SKOAC Renegade crew it can be a volatile mix. I guess New Years Eve at CampO might be as good a place as any to start.

Its been decades now since we began gathering at CampO for New Years Eve. The camp was originally built as a retreat for the mine owners that were extracting iron ore on the Gogebic and Penokee Ranges back in the middle of the 20th century. One would have to guess that plenty of lliquor, gambling, and partying took place, accompanied by the famous ladies of the evening from Hurley. The camp was sold when the mines petered out and was used as a Peace Corp training base in the early 60's. It then became a sports camp, one of those places where a kid was sent for a week of intensive training and physical abuse in whatever sport they were interested in. It was also the scene of biathalon training for the US team and the site of a couple dual meets before the winter olympics in '68 and '72, and as the resulting trails made it a great cross country ski destination when that sport began to take off. After a steady decline it was acquired by a group of my northern Wisconsin friends, many of which are also members in good standing of our deer camp. Lots of money, sweat, cursing, arguing, and hard work got it to the point it is at today.

One of the reasons its a great spot for a New Years Eve party is because once the camp is reached, at the end of a seemingly endless five mile dirt road, there is no reason to get into a car again until its time to leave. A few beltheads in the group might jump on a snowmobile but thats usually short lived. The other reason its great is because a giant bonfire can be built, an event you can't pull off just anywhere. My friend Woody, south of Madison, always alerts the neighbors and the volunteer firemen that he's having his annual birthday party at the end of January. That way, no reports of a house or garage on fire will be called in when he ignites the pile. This years fire at camp was an excellent one. Planning is essential for a fire of this nature. A years worth of construction waste, slash from cutting firewood, and anything else that is combustible is placed on the pile in anticipation of 31 December. The crowd seems to really enjoy burning recognizable objects like old dressers, couches, etc. I have no thoughts on why this is the case. Maybe some students of psychology can comment.

This years fire came off nicely and was large indeed. The photo at the top of the post is noted musician, RawhidePhil, in one of the ugliest jackets I belive I've ever seen. It takes a guy with considerable self esteem to consciously put something like that on and then go out in public. The video clip is of RP and the KingOfIronwoodIsland attemping to shove a large frame on to the fire. It was believe to be either a bunk bed frame or an old duck blinddepending on who was yelling about burning it. No one was sure about anything other than wanting to watch it go up in flames. Which it did. RP and the King avoided being immolated, although they had to use poles to get close enough to the blaze due to the intense heat. It was a great New Years Eve. Enjoy the fire.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Enjoy the New Year

We were actually able to stay vertical until 12:05 on New Years Eve this year. Standing around a bonfire in sub freezing temperatures tends to keepn a person awake. I don't know how cold it was but the champagne in the little neck part of the plastic glass turned to slush. I have some fine pictures of the event but am posting remotely from the GurneyGranny's laptop and favorite chair while her and the VOR are engaged in a morning walk in the brisk weather. I have no cable and no clue on how to get those images off the camera.

A bunch of the SKOAC Renegades are in the area as well, with the notable exception of one of our real stalwarts, whose egotistical, jerk off boss decided to reverse himself and make him work today (Firday). I strongly suggested payback may be in order and was met with agreement. Meanwhile, we await the return of the ladies as Pod and I keep the chairs warm and the coffee hot. There will be a three part split of the group today with some downhill/telemark skiers, some cross country skiers, and a few snowshoers that want to explore the Black River gorge where it cascades through the rocks into Lake Superior. I better have another cup of coffee, laced with heavy whipping cream I may add, and ponder where the day will take me. I really want to do all three but unfortunately there is only one of me.

Enjoy the start of the New Year wherever you may be and stay warm. It's gonna be a good year, trust me.