Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lakes Superior and O'Brien

Tonight, as I have for the past two decades, I'll be heading north for the 22nd Annual Bark Bay Fishing Invitational. Fishing has kind of taken a back seat to other activities over the years and this year will be no exception. My two local compadre's, RonO and the ManFromSnowyLegs are scrambling to shake loose from work obligations for the event so I'll be venturing north solo, Q Boat on the roof, for my first Gitchee Gumee paddle of the season. After being thwarted by the ice on my last attempt a month or so back, I have eyewitness reports of open water, even in the nooks and crannies of Chequamagon Bay. Since the official opening ceremonies don't begin until roughly happy hour on Friday, I will have the opportunity to choose any spot between Port Wing and Saxon Harbor to wet my hull. I will be solo since a number of the usual suspects in the area can't shake loose to play on Friday so the lake, always the boss as we well know, will determine where I will be allowed to launch. The weather forecast (I always kind of cringe when I mention that) calls for wind 5-10 knots from the west and some sprinkles. We shall see. It can be an unpredictale weather weekend as the image from last years snow paddle shows.

I also need to stop by the AINL parkoffice and check on our old buddy, the Manitou bear. We have permits for our annual May Manitou Mania, the traditional first Lake Superior spring camping trip in the islands, but this year it will be on Oak Island. Manitou was closed most of last season for camping after our May trip. Most people in the Park Service and northern Wisconsin in general, blame the KingOfIronwoodIsland for the closure. If you recall, we awoke one morning last May and Mr Bear was sitting about 20 yards away from the tent, munching ants from an anthill. GalwayGuy pulled my river knife out for self protection and the King pitched a rock at the bear. He missed of course, and the bear just gave him 'the eye'. Seriously,the problem with this boy is that he's just too friendly, almost like a dog. The trouble is he's still a bear. My buddy the BearWhisperer had an 80 pound yearling wake up when they were tagging and taking blood samples this winter. It took two guys, and these guys ain't jockey size, to subdue and tranquilize this overgrown cub. We hope the bear has reverted to his wild state over the winter but that's what I need to find out tomorrow, in hopes of switching one of the nights to the traditional Manitou site.

The weekend should also involve some rolling in freezing Lake O, close to the hot sauna, as well as a foray to Saxon Harbor to paddle some rare Lake Superior whitewater as the spring runoff pours out of the Montreal River into the lake. Meanwhile in Mora the VOR, her sister TheMayor, and other notables will be running the annual Snake River Canoe Race. the 28th annual. The water appears to be high enough this year and, like the Vasalooppet, this is a fine community event that gets people outside and exercising while they have fun at the same time. Next weekend I'm off to Vancouver to meet No1 son and celebrate his 30th birthday. In typical fashion, this event was laid on with 2 emails and a 2 minute phone conversation. The boy is not afraid to pull the trigger on this stuff with a mnimum of planning. Must be genetic. If anyone knows of any good outfitters in the Vancouver area that would offer a nice day trip paddle that isn't too far from the Granville Island brewpub, we would appreciate a 'heads up'. I do plan to walk across the street to see the Feathercraft folks this time, between pints of bitter, and am looking forward to the trip. It would appear the paddle season is on full bore in the northland.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wisconsin's wilderness lake

Despite the weather forecasts of doom and gloom we had a pretty good paddle weekend on The Flowage, as those of us who grew up in the area refer to it. The Chippewa Flowage or 'Big Chip' is an impoundment of the Chippewa River that was created when NSP (now Excel Energy) built the Winter dam in 1924. Only about 7% of the 233 miles of shoreline has any sort of development and there are 140 islands, many of which have first come first serve campsites. The lake is known for muskie fishing and at least one world record has come out of its waters. For that reason it has been a prime fishing lake since well before I was born. Normally the lake is dotted with fishing boats but the fishing opener is not until next weekend and that's why the GurneyGranny suggested that this would be the perfect weekend to hit the Flowage.

I have been coming up to the area since shortly after I was born because my great aunt and uncle had a cottage on the lake. We all met on Friday night for the mandatory Wisconsin fish fry. Even though Pope Paul VI said it was OK not to eat fish on Fridays back in 1966, Wisconsinites have not quite embraced that yet and Friday fish is still a tradition. Our fish venue was the venerable Herman's Landing (now called simply 'The Landing') in the middle of The Flowage. It has been owned and operated by the Lac Court Orielles band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (official BIA designation) and has had a checkered history since they acquired it in 1999 but things are going well now. I looked at the 1954 big musky chart on the wall and noticed the name of one of my dad's cronies, Al Scott, a bar owner from my home town of Eau Claire. Who knows, the old man might have been on that trip and Al caught the only legal fish. GG had booked us in a 3 bedroom cabin at the R&R Bayview resort, correctly assuming that weather and arrival times might not accommodate paddling out to an island and setting up on a Friday night. The subsequent downpour and hail made us all happy that she did.

Saturday morning arrived with some drizzle but it quickly turned partly cloudy and a became a beautiful paddle day. I did not see a single boat the whole weekend, an unheard of situation during the fishing season. Wildlife, especially birds and waterfowl, were all over the place. None of the deciduous trees even had any buds on them yet, not surprising because we ran across residual ice in certain north facing areas. The lack of vegetation allowed us to see quite a ways into the woods and accentuated the large white pines throughout the area. The Flowage is truly a wilderness lake in the midst of resort and cabin saturated northern Wisconsin. It now managed by the tribe, the US Forest Service, and the Wisconsin DNR, an interesting troika if ever there was one. In a situation where we all win if the status quo is maintained, the lakeshore remains undeveloped, and the islands remain open to camping (in other words, pretty much nothing gets done), I can't imagine three better entities 'cooperating' to insure that happens.

Part of the fun above and beyond the scenery and the wildlife is navigating through all the nooks and crannies with map and compass. I do own a gps but never turned it on, actually couldn't turn it on because the batteries didn't survive the winter, which is another plus for map and compass. Or a maybe just a reminder to bring spare batteries. Like Voyageurs Nat'l Park there are islands that aren't on the map and map islands that don't exist on the water. There are also floating bogs that look like islands, one of which is 40 acres in size, trees and all. I'm sure this complicates map making but makes navigating all that much more exciting. Every year they draw down the water several feet and right now it appears to be down about three feet below normal. All of the stuff that can tear out lower units on power boats is clearly visible plus its a great time of year to collect fishing lures from stumps. We had a lovely lunch, some of us a nap, on Weiner Island near the Hay Creek Narrows and made a big swing to the north up Hay Creek to check for fish in the warmer water ( they are there) and then headed back to the R&R Bayview for happy hour.

Sunday was, unfortunately, the day the weather folk had predicted. We paddled in a steady rain but most of us had the proper gear. The light is different in the rain and it has its own unique appeal. The wildlife act a bit differently and the views are all much softer. The downside of course is that you get wet. Even the most breathable fabric, and I use 'breathable' with more than a bit of cynicism, still leaves us soaked in perspiration with even moderate exercise. Then we stop, cool down, get chilly, and have to jump back in the boats to warm up. In a wilderness area that is. In a practice wilderness like the Flowage however, there are islands of refuge where a person can get warm, dry out, and have a nourishing beverage. Herman's Landing is such a spot and they make a Bloody Mary that's hard to beat. Pickle, olive, celery, beer stick, a snit of beer, and a hard boiled egg can invigorate even the most sodden paddler and there is even a fireplace in the cozy bar room. The three mile paddle back to the cabin seemed to go by in half the time it took us to paddle over there.

It was a great start to the paddle season. Tony from the R&R Bayview told us that things begin to calm down right after the leaf color season in September and that the Flowage is quiet once again and beautiful with the fall colors. Hunting season tends to conflict with fall paddling but I would imagine we can sneak one in at some point. Pod has suggested an annual spring weiner cook off on Weiner Island and it sounds like a good plan. So many venues, so little time. I look foward to the day when I can pursue my avocations with the same focus and energy that I now have to spend on my 'real' vocation. Every time we pack up and head home I think about the time when I can just stay an extra day or five. It can't come too soon.

Friday, April 24, 2009

One of these years Midwest Mountaineering's canoe and kayak demo will have balmy weather, calm waters, and mild water temps. This was not that year. Unseasonably hot (82F) weather brought what hot weather typically brings this time of year, strong southerly winds. For many of the new paddlers testing boats it was no problem; until they tried to turn around, that is. We safety boaters did a land office business, a record number of capsizes in my experience with this event.

The water was around 50F, a very gradual beach, in a pretty shallow lake. In a number of cases, folks could just stand up and stroll to shore, sheepish, chilly, but with everything intact except maybe their dignity. We did do a few deep water rescues though. The ManFromSnowyLegs fished a guy out that had lost his pricey sunglasses and seemed a bit flustered. He was a large gentleman but he did get back in the boat and headed directly for shore, as did all of the capsizees. The whole episode was a lot like herding cats. RonO, organizational mastermind of the safety boaters, made that observation as yet another person told us, as we gently suggested they stay within the perimeter, "I know what I'm doing". I had almost a .750 batting average predicting who would go over. A quick look at body language paddle stroke, and general tenseness of the person made it pretty easy to guess who was going swimming as they made the turn back and were parallel with the waves. And often it was the guy (I never heard the phrase from a woman) who 'knew what he was doing'. I did a bow rescue with a guy who had gone over, with his spouse, in a kevlar canoe a good piece from shore. Dennis, from Northwest Canoe, towed the lady to shore on the stern of his solo canoe. She was cold and a bit panicked. The hubby was insisting he was OK and was attempting to swim the swamped canoe and paddles to shore. His lips were turning blue and the shivering was beginning as the sodden cotton T shirt sucked the body heat away. We finally told him to dump the gear and wrap his arms and legs around my bow and I'd paddle him to shore. He was still reluctant until I told him I'd been wanting to practice this bow rescue technique for years and now he was planning on "ruining my opportunity!?". That did the trick and I back paddled to shore and let him face the music as his angry spouse waited to rip into him. I paddled away from the increasingly angry incriminations and back to the picket line. None of my cronies had seen a thing because they had, quite properly, been watching the other folks on the water.

People did have fun and even the wet folks dried out quickly in the giant outdoor 80 degree blow dryer. As aggravating as the 'I know what I'm doing' can be, there were dozens of folks with big smiles on their faces asking questions about paddling canoes and kayaks. Its a fun event and it gets a lot of people on the water.

Speaking of the water we are off for the first offical kayak weekend of the year at the Chippewa Flowage in northern Wisconsin. The weather report look spotty and we all know how accurate the weather reports are this time of year. I'm thinkin' we may risk it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What kinda kayak should I buy?

Once people realize that you're a kayaker, this question tends to pop up frequently. Usually I tell people that the first kayak they buy should be the wrong kind. By that I mean the first boat that anyone purchases usually serves to make them aware of the things that they should have been looking for and thinking about before they plunked down their money. Then, if they are serious about the sport and want to take that next step, they can sell the boat to the next guy that just wants to get on the water. The market economy at its finest. That, of course, is exactly how got into this sport.

A dozen years or so ago, No1 son had graduated from high school and we took the father/son week up north. We mountain biked, canoed the Namakagan River, fished for panfish, drank some beer, and ate too much. Mid week we decided to give this sea kayaking thing a try and headed to Bayfield and the Trek & Trail intro class. Long story short, that fall I bought a used CD Storm from their rental fleet, as well as a Lendal one piece paddle with enormous spoon blades and an extreme built in feather. I was stylin' for sure. Slowly but surely the need for speed and a bit more efficiency grabbed me and I traded the Storm at the now defunct Boathouse in St Paul for a demo Solstice GTS High Volume. I got my first Greenland stick at the same time and that insidious bug was planted in my brain.

My neighbor casually asked me about kayaks when I was loading my boat one day and about a week later she came home with a Cabela's $350 plastic 8' something or another kayak. For exercise and fitness paddles I guess it works just fine, although she described the difficulties in making it go straight. Three more folks asked me about kayaks this spring and here's the little secret if you're in the Twin Cities area this week and weekend. Go down to Lake Nokomis on Thursday and paddle every boat that you're interested in. Its Midwest Mountaineering's Spring Expo and they have a ton of boats for people to paddle. Our paddle club provides safety boaters so you may even meet legendary blog characters like the RonO, BessemerConvivialist, VOR, ManFromSnowyLegs, BemidjiIntelOfficer, MrEngineerGear, or BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi, especially if you accidentally become inverted. Once a style of boat and hull design are zeroed in, there are two routes to go. The first would be to wheel and deal with Peter, Jerome, Guy, or any of the boat guys on the very craft that was paddled. The second is to head down to the auction on Saturday morning and see if there are any similar boats in the mix. The thrill of the auction is addictive and there are both bargains to be had and the risk of paying too much. What I've seen is the weather can determine if its a buyers or sellers market. Sellers are going to bring their boats no matter what. Buyers don't generally like standing in horizontal sleet, like last year, waiting for the boat they are interested in hit the auction block. That's how I managed to nab GalwayGuys P&H Capella at a very good price.

If you wanna buy a boat, decide what you will use it for most of the time and paddle a bunch of em'. Thats my advice. If you buy the 'wrong' boat or your skills progress (or someone puts one of those skinny wood paddles in your hands) and you need an upgrade, go for it. It all just part of the fun. I hope to see you on Thursday; I can taste that post safety boating beer already.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Best of Intentions

The plan for yesterday was to dedicate a couple of hours to spring cleaning in the garage. In order to get at and sweep up stuff that had 'fallen through the cracks' so to speak, I had to move the Chesapeake LT 17 to my kayak maintenance slings. As I moved it, it began sending guilty vibes to my subconscious brain. "You only paddled me a couple times last year....aren't I as good as the Q Boat or Aquanaut?........don't ya love me anymore!!?" Finally the guilt became too much and I abandoned the garage, threw the boat on the roof, and headed for the Rice Lake chain of lakes, about 10 miles north of here.

Spring is struggling to emerge and a few trees have that halo of light green surrounding them but things are still pretty much brown and dry. The VOR will be horrified to know that the carp are rolling around in the warmer shallow bays but none attacked me as I paddled through. The turtles, both Painted and Mud turtles, are out sunning in full force and the Canada geese, Mallards, Coots, Mergansers, and even a few Bluebills are out on the water. I came across a large raft of pelicans as well but, like the turtles, I didn't want to get too close and disturb their sunny afternoon. Nature being herself, not everything was goodness and light. I took an image of a blissful turtle sunning himself on a drowned opossum which didn't do much to dampen this upbeat day but did remind me, as did the wolf killed deer at camp, that nature ain't always a glossy coffee table book. Kids were fishing, cyclists were cycling, golfers golfing, and even the guys at the seaplane base were wrenching on their aircraft.

I really do need to pay more attention the the Chesapeake. Instead of looking at colored gel coat I am able to savor the wood grain and swirls in the varnished natural wood deck. Its not quite as fast as the Q Boat but the very hard chine hull makes turning a dream. It is the lightest boat in my fleet and it will roll with reluctance, but thats not what it was built for. Actually it was built to insure some quality father-son time with 1stLtO when he was a high school youth. He decided he needed a kayak and the then $600 kit was both economical and also afforded some male bonding that we wouldn't have had otherwise. We decided we needed a red hull to commemorate and remind us of both my Old Man and his beloved red hulled Crestliner fishing boat, and a natural wood deck for our viewing pleasure as we paddled. Its not quite the perfect gem that can be seen at boat shows but it looks great when it goes past at about 20mph in the roof rack.

This is one kayak that I won't have to keep track of when I sell it because I won't be selling it. There are just too many good memories that would be sold along with it. Plus, its the only boat that's able to communicate with me.........

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keeping tabs on my former boats

For some reason I seem to know where almost all of my 'old' boats are residing. I can't say this about any other item that I've periodically upgraded, including cars, guns, and other sporting equipment. I have no good explanation of this phenomena or conscious thought of wanting to know where the kayaks wound up. It just sort of happened.

The first boat that went to a friend was when the GurneyGranny bought my CD Solstice GT. Shortly after that she decided she liked the way my Gulfstream fit and handled and talked PodMan into purchasing that boat and trading with her. Now I get to paddle with my former craft several times each season. My Scirocco is down in northern Iowa, creeking and paddling Lake Okoboji, and my Feathercraft is paddled by the ZumbroFallsImpressionist in an environmentally sound and carbon neutral manner. In related boats that I've spent quality time in, GalwayGuy's Valley Skerry is now the property of the BearWhisperer up in Washburn, WI and the VOR's CD Storm is being paddled by the KingOfIronwoodIsland, often utilized as a beer barge for longer expeditions.

Every now and then, including last night at our first official Wednesday night paddle of the season on Medicine Lake, the topic will come up and possible reasons will be discussed. The most commonly held belief is that I'm a soft touch and tend to give my friends good deals on the boats. There are those who will disagree with that point of course, and claim dumb luck. Another thought is that becuause I've had so much fun in all those boats that I have an unconscious desire to give them a good home and 'visit' them every now and then. If that was the case, I'd know where my '66 Ford Econoline Super Van was. I had more fun and good memories in that baby than any other venue I can think of. I remember when we.........uh, better not. The most plausible theory is the Pied Piper theory. I'm an advocate of the sport and a junkie for all things related to Lake Superior, carrier of a contagious enthusiasm for getting out in the world's largest freshwater lake in long skinny craft. I suppose its as good as any so I might as well go with it. I just hope that I don't go to register for my favorite campsite in the Apostles and find out its been reserved by one of my fomer sea kayaks. In that case I guess I'd just need to draw on the goodwill generated by my below market value kayak offering and beg for a spot to pitch my tent.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The President's wheeler

As we circumnavigated the White House at the Secret Service prescribed distance, we discovered that the President has an ATV, a 'four wheeler', sitting in his yard. You can clearly see the West Wing in the background of the image. As ATV owners, we were a bit surprised and puzzled as to why the President would need a wheeler in Washington DC. Our deer camp is a bit different than some others in Northern Wisconsin in that we mainly use ours for work rather than traveling between bars. Hauling firewood and chain saws, moving stands, and hauling deer back to camp are the main uses of the wheeler up in our neck of the woods. We hadn't seen much deer sign on the National Mall, either tracks or droppings. Most of the ornamental shrubbery did not have a clear browse line and we didn't see a single scrape of rub anywhere in the vicinity. We figured maybe the greatly expanded and fenced in White House security zone functioned as a mini game farm but we couldn't spot any blinds up in any of the trees either. That left only one logical explanation. He was using this ATV for.....gasp.....recreation!

In most of the publications I read, they might as well have the word 'evil' in front of ATV. Keeping them out of national forests, restricting hours of operation, decrying the pollution they create, critiquing their unsafe design, and bemoaning fossil fuels squandered seem to be the main publicity they get. I'll admit I'm more likely to read Tree Hugger Today than ATV World but even mainstream media, if there is such a thing anymore, is a bit down on the wheelers. I've written before about the looks I get as I head north, kayak on the roof and Honda 4 wheeler on the trailer behind me. The granola munchers in Subarus and Priuses nod approvingly as I go by until they are stunned to see the ATV trailer. When the guys in the Expeditions and Toyota Tundras blow by me I usually just get puzzled looks and see animated conversation between driver and passenger as they ponder what type of schizoid personality would take a kayak on his ATV weekend.

My guess is that President Obama wants to keep news of this evil ATV out of the papers. Some of his supporters are a bit disillusioned by him green lighting the SEAL team to end the piracy issue and they don't need to be riled up more. Having this ATV ownership story break now would not do him any good. Still I think its a pretty good thing that there is a 4 wheeler sitting there in the yard. I only hope that when he gives Sasha and Malia rides around the grounds that he follows the rules of safe ATV operation, unlike the safety ignorant lout in the photo below. Not only are there no helmets present and three people on the machine, its also being driven by a child obviously under the age of 16. I have faith in our President however. Helmets, one rider at a time, a safe and prudent speed, and no beers before riding are prudent ATV guidelines that I'm sure he is aware of. All he needs is a milk carton bungeed to the back rack and even Bo can go for a ride. Now if we could just figure out which tree he has his blind in......

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On my ass at the Verizon Center

The NCAA Frozen Four hockey tournament is still an event thats about the hockey. Unlike the basketball Final Four where its about being seen and being cool, or the incomprehensible BCS college football mess with its continual controversy and superb gambling opportunities, the hockey tourney is still a blue collar event thats mainly attended by hockey fans from the hockey playing schools around the country. People wear jerseys or gear from their school of choice and we see many of the same folks every year, no matter the venue. I've never seen President Obama filling out his brackets or Jack Nicholson in the front row with his irritating RayBan's, just knowledgeable hockey fans watching some well played puck.

Our day began with a trip to the White House. A regular person can't get anywhere near the joint so we strolled around the large perimeter, a walk that triggered the same powerful thirst as yesterdays bike ride. We debated our next move over a pint of cask ale and decided to head to the arena, with a stop at Ford's Theater, to land a prime brewpub table before the game crowd arrived. I told the boys to save me a seat because I wanted to catch the tail end of practice and they were more than happy to comply. When I entered the arena practice was over, but it appeared that 'civilians' were being allowed on the ice. One of the uniformed security guys told me that Bauer was holding a skate demo but it was too late for me because, "They are out of skates, there is a 45 minute wait, and the event is over in 20 minutes". Being the type of guy who immediately accepts and believes authoritative sounding information passed on by uniformed officials, I thanked him and politely left the building...........well, maybe not so much. Folks who know me will certainly not accept or believe that, not matter how authoritative it sounds. What I actually did was walk out of his eyesight and duck into the first unlocked door that appeared to lead somewhere. I quickly found myself in the bowels of the Verizon Center and wandered until I found a large table piled high with pricey looking skates and 3 or 4 guys in line. I was asked my size and asked if I'd signed the wavier. "Wavier? Uh, yeah, sure I signed it". Five minutes later I was on the ice on a pair of the lightest skates I'd ever worn. Since I had helped coach both No1 sons's and 1stLtO's youth teams, I thought they would get a kick out of it if I shot some video. I took a few slow laps, a couple faster ones and then turned on the camera and skated backwards while narrating my 10 second video clip. The result is below. Yes boys and girls, I went flat on my ass, hat flying. A fellow who appeared to be on skates for the first time in his life had stopped and I should have looked over my shoulder just one more time. I went down right in front of the penalty box. Keep the sound turned down at the end, I may have uttered a word or two not suitable for a family blog. The two officials in the box were concerned that an AARP eligible fellow like me had hit the ice pretty hard and I thought to myself, you guys should be concerned, especially since I didn't sign your gd wavier! All was well however, and I skated around a few more times until we were told to leave the ice. I even managed to get my photo taken with the national championship trophy on my way out of the arena.

Woody, Davey, and several other fans at the District Brewpub were greatly amused when I played the clip for them. If you take a pratfall it's tragedy; if another guys does it, it's comedy. A few beers followed by an exciting overtime game won by most of the crowds least favorite team, Boston University, capped off the evening. Now its back to Minneapolis to hear a bit of Easter singing and then do a bit of Easter rolling. Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Capitol time

Although neither of the hockey games turned out the way we would have liked, we are still managing to have a good time in DC. It would seem that the rest of the fans in town are enjoying themselves as well. Careful research revealed a half dozen brewpubs and beer centric bars and we have noticed a disproportionate number of folks in various hockey related gear in those spots. We have also managed to see a good number of sights, between pints, and are planning on more today.

Woody and Davey wanted to hit the Air and Space Museum, which I had already toured. It was a nice day and I was more up for outdoor activity than looking at airplanes with a few thousand of my close friends. I had originally planned to rent a kayak and see the skyline from the C&O Canal and the Potomac but the outfitters apparently don't begin the season until mid April. My next best choice was to rent a bike and cycle the Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and the Tidal Basin area. It was a lovely ride and the cherry blossoms were still blooming, although near the end of their cycle. I had mentally prepared myself to not become pissed at the gawking and self absorbed pedestrians as I tried to navigate on two wheels and things went fine. I had not prepared myself for strollers the size of fishing boat trailers, complete with mountain bike tires and beaming parents who felt they had the right of way over bikes, wheelchairs, buses, and presidential motorcades. These contraptions are interesting on the Metro and its escalators as well. I did not ram any of the Yuppie prams though and had a wonderful ride. I did find myself a bit puzzled over the fact that all the gushing fountains and waterfalls were working perfectly but none of the drinking fountains seemed to work. Maybe its all part of the Street Vendor Stimulus Package to help drive increases in sales of $3 bottles of water. I was impressed by the memorials, statuary, and the sheer magnitude of our Nations 'front yard' and enjoyed seeing it with the upbeat Good Friday crowds, framed with the famous cherry blossums.

Cycling in warm weather develops a powerful thirst as does looking at static aircraft displays, apparently. The fellow at the bike rental place steered us to the Elephant & Castle on Pennsylvania Ave and we were surprised to find Fullers London Pride and their superb ESB available on cask, hand pulled as they would be in England. The Oxford U rowing scull was photographed from my comfortable bar stool and was as close as I got to a long skinny boat this weekend. I did see an army of paddle boats in the Tidal Basin but they don't count. As a historical side note, I asked a half dozen people if they knew where the Wilbur Mills/Fanny Fox Memorial Beach was on the tidal basin and none of them had ever heard of it. A sad note on our general historical knowledge.

After tearing ourselves away from the cask ale (not too quickly, mind you) we hunted down the obscure yet amazing Brickskeller bar near Dupont Circle. They handed us a 24 page small type list of the 1,000 beers they have available, cross indexed by brewery, country of origin, and style. As might be expected, tearing ourselves away from this ambiance saturated dive bar took far more willpower than we collectively posessed. We finally did wind up in Chinatown for a lovely dinner but need to invest more research time in the Brickskeller. Since its raining today my guess is that research will be ongoing.

It will take a ton of luck for Miami of Ohio to knock off Boston University tonite but I'm sending the best of karma in their direction. I have an early flight in the AM which will allow me to hear the VOR sing at 4pm mass and allow me to sneak off to Snail Lake shortly afterwards with GalwayGuy before he heads south on Monday. Its a busy weekend but thats the way I like em.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Finally on the water, 2009

After a couple of false starts a half dozen of us managed to hit the water last night for a nice leisurely paddle and a bit of fresh water rolling. The air temp was in the high 40's F but the water temp was likely in the high 30's F. The ice that remained had blown to the south shore of the lake which made the lake like a giant cocktail in which the ice had not quite melted. We were all rusty, although it didn't take long for folks to get back in the paddling groove. It felt good to have the trusty Greenland stick in my hands and the waves lapping at the sides of the Q boat. GalwayGuy was particularly in need of a paddling fix since he had been at school in St Louis, an area devoid of lakes close by, plus its tough to store a 17' boat in a dorm room. He figured his previous time on the water was last August and said he wasn't sure if he would paddle at all, that maybe spending two hours rolling might be what he really needed.

We did, of course, have to do a few rolls. Both of us were wearing Bughead tuliqs, which kept our core nice and warm. 3 mil neoprene is no match for 39F water when it comes to keeping the brain pan warm and functioning though. The cold on my exposed face didn't bother me a bit, after all the water was 50F warmer than some of the stuff I had been skiing in last winter. After a couple rolls I could feel the blood vessels in my head begin to contract and constrict like a giant rubber band around my skull. GG must have had a tougher head than I since he kept working through his repitoire of rolls, cold water be damned. I didn't see him miss one. I managed to miss my first reverse sweep of the year by forgetting to drive my knee up when I came around but corrected the flaw and hit the next one. After about an hour I was ready for an illegal parking lot beer. The Minneapolis Park Board, which a significant number of people want abolished, pretty much makes everything illegal including talk of their abolishment. GG was not done though, and wanted a few quick stick rolls in the Q boat, a 'cheater boat' in his mind. I went the beer route and it capped off a pretty good night on the water.

My next paddle opportunity will likely be Easter Sunday as I'm off to Washington DC in a few minutes for the NCAA Frozen Four hockey tournament. The improbable Bemidji Beavers are in the tourney as a huge underdog and major Cinderalla team. They managed to beat Notre Dame to get there, a school whose yearly athletic budget ($60 million) is 5 times the total endowment of Bemidji State. I have a very nice 'Beaver hockey' T shirt which was sent to me by the MayorOfTurtleRiver and Nipper, residents of that fine area. I'll be wearing it at 5pm in the Verizon Center, assuming NW Air gets me there within 5 or 6 hours of when they say I'm supposed to arrive.

The northern paddle season is officialy open! Now if RonO can find some open water on the south shore of Gitchee Gumee this weekend we are home free.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Reefer Creek wildlife update

Since I couldn't find any water to paddle in and was not smart enough to throw the 'rock skis' in the car, the next best thing was to hike around the property looking for shed antlers and seeing just what was out and about in the wildlife category. All signs pointed to a good winter for our deer herd. The logging of the previous year left plenty of aspen tops on the ground for the deer to feed on. Innumerable new aspen stems are about 3' to 4' high, the perfect height for deer browsing. Not only were no winter killed deer found ( a couple years back we found around two dozen), but I saw some of the smallest deer tracks I've ever seen in the spring of the year. Even the small and vulnerable deer made it this year. For the most part, that is. Two wolf kills were found on our walk, both young bucks. Mama doe tends to give the young boys the boot befoere that crucial first winter while allowing the girls to hang around in the matriarchial family group. These young single deer are perfect wolf prey. We found a large eagle feather near one of the kills which indicated some scavenging had been going on as well. Just past the carcass we found a very large bear track, shown next to the GurneyGranny's hand. He must have got tired of hibernating and decided to check out the food situationand discovered the kill, which the wolves had conveniently left in the creek bottom. We also cut bobcat track which is a first in the area. Its always good to see a new species in the mix. The fisher population seemed to have made it throught the winter just fine as well.
We were unable to cross the creek to check the land on the east side. Like the Red River in Fargo that has been causing so much trouble lately, the Reefer is a north flowing stream and the mouth at Lake Superior has a giant ice plug in it. Attempts to bridge it have been an abject failure (sorry boys, the Nada bridge sucks!) but we just need to wait a bit for the ice and snow to melt and the water recede. It seemed like forever since I had been to camp and that's a bad thing. Sometimes a guy needs the rejuvenating power of getting back to the basic, electronic (and electricity) free, elemental lifestyle. Pump some water, start the fire, stoke the sauna, light the propane Humphrey lights, and kick back with a beer and a book. I've always said I'd like to see how long I could stay out there without getting tired of it. Ten days is not enough and I'd like to see if maybe twenty would be. Right now it's one of the great unanswered mysteries of life and I don't know if I'll be in position to answer it any time soon.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

No liquid water to be found

I managed to execute my weekend plan to head up to the deer camp, Q Boat on the roof, to check out the winter deer kill situation, make sure the camp is still standing, and get in the first paddle of the year in Lake Superior. The first two elements of the plan were accomplished but I was unable to find open water to complete the third part. I was confident when I left home, even though I had not looked at a satellite photo since Monday due to thick, depressing cloud cover for most of the week. I should have known I was screwed when I came down the hill into Duluth and noticed the flags were all aimed due south from a steady north wind.

My first stop was the mouth of ReeferCreek and it not only was frozen in but there was a 20' berm of sand encrusted ice to prevent me from getting anywhere near the water with out an ice axe and crampons. No problem I thought, I'll just head down to the Port Wing marina and launch in the mouth of the Flag River. Things were a bit icy there as well.

Due to the volume of water, I figured the mouth of the Iron River might be doable but no luck once again.I headed east toward Herbster, WI and thought that might be OK, but........

I finally decided to give up on paddling, head out to camp and get into the hiking mode. I brought my uninsulated rubber swampers, thinking it would be sloppy in spots but pretty firm for the most part in the woods. Wrong again! There was enough snow to skate ski the trails, had I brought my skis instead of the kayak. We took a stroll around the property on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning and I took off back toward Superior, figuring I'd find some open water for sure in a couple stash launch spots I know near Superior. Once again I was dead wrong.
Even the Superior Entry was iced in to the point that I couldn't get in the water. I headed down to the lift bridge, reasoning that if the wind had been from the north and blown all the ice toward the south shore that I should be able to launch just over the bridge on Park Point can see how that theory worked below.

The ship canal was full of ice, but a vessel much larger than my kayak, the John D Leitch, a 730' Canadian laker that came to load coal at Midwest Energy, sailed right through the stuff. As interesting and fun as it was to watch, it would have been a lot more fun to get out for the first paddle of the season. On the way back I checked Snail Lake, scene of many an instruction session, and hallelujah the ice is off! With GalwayGuy scheduled to roll into town tomorrow, there could be some more rolling that takes place before the week is out. And I don't mean in chlorine contaminated water either!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stuck in the ice

I will admit to having thoughts of heading up to the deer camp this weekend and then throwing the Q boat in along the south shore of Lake Superior for the first Gitchee Gumee paddle of the new season. I may need to rethink that scheme after reading the Duluth News Tribune this morning. It would seem that a strong east wind blew some big floes and pack ice into the west end of the lake. The combination of below freezing temps and the wind combined to make an ice floe two feet thick and 90 square miles in area, three times the size of Manhattan. The above photo and story were in the Duluth paper this morning. The three ships are the Lee A. Tregurtha, the Alpena, and the Coast Guard cutter Alder, which is attempting to free them.

You can follow the progress of ice breaking up and melting on the NOAA site here. Its been so cloudy and miserable the last three days that clouds are the only thing that can be seen in the most recent images but they add new ones daily. It would appear that Lake Superior had its little April Fools joke yesterday. I still may see if all that ice came from around Port Wing and Cornucopia. There could be a paddle in the forecast yet!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On the positive side: Two fine companies

Just so readers don't think I'm more curmudgeonly than I actually am, I figure I'll forget that an airline with red tails even exists (and it won't very soon) and write about a couple of companies that actually realize that it's their customers that provide their paychecks. The first one is a small local company and the other a somewhat larger entity on the west coast of Canada.

I've gotten used to hearing the gloating and abuse from TheCommish and FrugalFisherman as they ram their plastic Prijon boats on to the rocky north shore of Lake Superior while I gingerly land the OreFreighter (Valley Aquanaut HV) to protect the delicate gel coat. TheCommish is particularly brutal with his Prijon, dragging it up the rocks like a caveman would drag his prospective bride by the hair back to the cave. I always tell him he should kick it a couple times too, just to show it who's boss. Gel coat is not quite as delicate as everyone would believe but on popular cobble beaches there are significant gel coat deposits on the rocks, especially when there is any kind of swell. Sometime last year the BessemerConvivialist told me she was taking her boat down to Northwest Canoe to have a silicon carbide keel protector strip installed. She was very happy with it and before I knew it, I was hauling the GurneyGranny's boat down there from beautiful suburban Gurney, WI for the same operation. I was familiar with Northwest Canoe since they had repaired the OreFreighter when I attempted to break it in two by driving over a bow line in Marquette, MI a couple years back. After checking out this keel strip I began hauling the fleet down there, a boat at a time. Not only was the installation reasonable ($90) but it was done on time (ahead of time actually), I was thanked for the business, and told that if I ever had a problem to give 'em a call. All by living, breathing human beings, Dennis and George; no humanoid with voice recognition software anywhere to be found.

The other example of fine customer care was from Feathercraft out in Vancouver, BC. Last spring I sold my Big Kahuna to the ZumbroFallsImpressionist so she could lower her carbon footprint by folding it up and transporting it in her Toyota Pious. While playing in the pool this winter she realized that the cockpit coaming would sometimes come loose from the skin in the back. I suggested she email Feathercraft and they got back to her with in a day. Not 4 days like a certain transportation firm. Much to Ms ZFI's surprise Feathercraft 1) admitted the problem, 2) carefully detailed the fix, 3) and offered to complete the work at cost. Absolutely refreshing. I've had the same experience when I've called or emailed with questions. And once again, a real live person picked up the phone and answered my questions knowledgeably. I kind of feel bad that I didn't get to visit the plant when we were in Vancouver, even though I was across the street from it. I knew they were located in Vancouver, I just didn't know where and when we were on Granville Island I found myself drawn to the Granville Island Brewpub. Due to poor research on my part as well as an excellent bitter, I didn't realize that the Feathercraft shop was right across the street. Oh well, gotta get back out that way I guess.

Both these companies are worthy of yours, mine, and everyones business. They have proven to be honest, fair, and they do what they say they are gonna do. I'm not sure what more a person could ask of a company.