Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rolling or swimming?

During a rare weekend in town, I decided that a bit of rolling on Long Lake would be in order. The lake is about 10 minutes from the house and the entire east shore is a regional park. Rice Creek, recently wrested from the control of the army, flows in and also flows out in its journey to the Mississippi River. Heck, sometimes its running high enough so a dummy in a Q Boat could do some pretend white water stunts and tip over and lose his Ray Ban's. That was not the case yesterday but the wind was howling out of the north and the fisherman were competing for the good lee shores.

In the past few years there has been a police dock out at the boat landing/fishing pier and yesterday had a New Brighton police reserve officer sitting in his squad car in the shade. It had to be nice duty on a really nice day and he was talking to the boaters as they launched, checking life jackets, the usual stuff. I paddled out for awhile, headed up for the creek, and then turned around for the wind assisted ride back. I had put on the tuliq by that time and was doing a roll of two, coming dangerously close to hitting my stick roll. At about 250 yards off the beach another kayaker went over. While assisting and explaining the mechanics of the assisted T rescue (no real danger here, warm water, wind blowing to shore, no wake zone, etc), I noticed that the officer was on the dock with his binoculars trained on us. I waved, gave the thumbs up, and carried on. All was well and about 100 yards offshore I did a couple more rolls and, once more, almost got up with the diabolical stick. When I landed, my rolling had apparently aggravated the officer and I was informed that swimming was not allowed on that part of the lake and that water play of that nature should be done at the beach, about a half mile up the east side of the lake.

This is not the first time I've encountered this attitude and apparently I'm not alone. It would seem that our friend Michael, the Quebecois CKayaker, had the same problem awhile back if I remember correctly. While in Madison, the People's Lifeguard Collective are quick to order you to do whatever comes to mind at the moment. I've been chastised on Lake Monona for landing too close to the swimming area. I had launched from their earlier, when it was deserted, to clear my head with a paddle after a particularly successful beer festival on the very same lake the day before. When I returned, head as clear as a bell, two hours later, there were two people on the beach and none in the water. He ordered me to go back out and land somewhere else but I simply shouldered my boat, told him to call the Beach KGB if he felt he needed to, and walked up the hill to my car. I was also taken to task on Lake Mendota for rolling too close to the swimming beach. Even though I was well outside the outer ropes, the tanned, muscular, Speedo sporting member of the PLC (see above) considered me to be within his jurisdiction and felt that my kayak constituted a banned 'water toy'. Once again I was forced to shoulder the boat, walk away, and risk interrogation by the Beach KGB if he chose to summon them. I think he was pissed because I had ignored his bellowing on the megaphone but I honestly had no idea he was bellowing at me. It was windy, the tuliq covered my ears, I was underwater a fair amount of the time, and the megaphone sound had the quality of one of those fast food drive up window intercoms.

In any event, the New Brighton guy was much more easy going, reasonable, and civil than his fellow water guardians in the People's Republic of Madison, a name favored by the Old Man when he learned that No 1 Son would be attending college there. I told the officer that were he there on Wednesday nights in the summer, he would find not only the Rice Creek Paddlers in their racing canoes and surf skis, but also various middle aged nuts wearing tuliqs and tipping their boats over reapeatedly. I also thanked him for keeping an eye on the water and told him that next time I showed up, which will be roughly two hours from now, I would let him know that he would likely be seeing as much of the hull of my boat as he would the deck. We wished each other a good day and away I went. Water toy, danger to public water safety, attractive nuisance, or just a fun thing to do on a warm spring afternoon? It makes me wonder what the public is thinking when we paddle out and then spend an hour tipping our baots over. Any insights out there?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Great lakes wolves

I figure I better catch up on all the timber wolf news I've accumulated over the past couple months. The main piece of news is the delisting of wolves which means they are off the endangered species list and the states (and tribes) are now in charge of wolf management. Like most issues these days there appears to be no middle ground. It seems a person needs to be either a blustering, redneck, kill-all-wolves guy or a touchy, feely, PETA sympathizing granola muncher. But I don't want to go into that here, especially since it could result in a written tirade, savaging both groups as short sighted idiots. No, in this post I just want to relate a couple wolf stories that have occured in my stompin' grounds, the south shore of Lake Superior.

The first is a 'man bites dog' story. Rather than paraphrase it, I'll just let you read the email from Adrian Wydeven, Wisconsin's 'wolf guy' with the DNR......

I received a call from a logger yesterday, that was not the typical sort of story you hear from loggers. Jim Hintz of Park Falls was logging an area near Spillerberg Creek west of Highway 13 in Ashland County. On 2/20/09 he was skidding logs in his sale and noticed the deer were staying very close to the skidder. Normally the deer were eager to come out and fed on tops of the cut trees, but on this day ~ 25 deer were staying so close to the skidder, Jim had to be careful not to bump into the them. After a while he noticed a pair of wolves moving into the timber sale. To his surprise a group of 6-8 deer consisting of adult does, and a couple of bucks with recently shed antlers, ran at the wolves. The deer caught up to the wolves and started stomping and kicking them. Some kicked with hind legs like mules, other lashed with front hooves. After a while Jim heard one of the wolves whining. The way the deer were mobbing the wolves, Jim thought the wolves were going to get killed. Eventually the wolves were able to run away, but one appeared to be badly limping.

There are records in the literature of wolves being killed by deer. Dave Mech & Mike Nelson detected a few cases in Minnesota. I don't think we have actually documented a wolf killed by a deer in Wisconsin, but it sounds like this was almost one of those situation. Any way there are a few deer left in the woods and some of them are mean, so when you go for a walk in the woods, watch out.... for the deer!

Watch out for the deer indeed. The other bit of news is that there is apparently a wolf or wolves on Sand Island in the Apostles. Last winter a fellow was coyote hunting on Point Detour which is about 3-4 miles or so from Sand. He had a decoy out and was calling from a blind on the pack ice when he saw a coyote come off the mainland. Three or four more animals followed and it became apparent that they were wolves and not coyotes. They got fairly close before they scented him and turned around and took off across the ice to Sand Island.

Fast forward to this spring. Sand Island is lousy with deer and they have eaten over 50% of the Canadian Yew out there. As a fan of that particular species, I was heartened to hear that the Park Service planned to cull a bunch of the deer out there this spring. "Cull" and "harvest" are the words that we kinder, gentler souls prefer to use rather than "shoot", which of course is exactly what was done. The guys found evidence of wolf kills from the winter and it was likely a target rich environment for our buddies the wolves. They thought however, that the wolves had moved back across the ice in early spring. That was until one of the hunters saw a wolf from his blind last week.

It been a few years since I've camped on Sand but I just may have to do it to see if I can hear some howling in the evening. There is no sound that drives home the concept of wilderness like a wolf howl. I'm sure Gaylord Nelson is smiling somewhere at the thought of wolves in the wilderness area that bears his name. The wolf controversy will keep simmering along and there was a story in the Ashland paper yesterday about a guys prize beef calf being killed and eaten. I'm sure there will be more. My buddy RawhidePhil lives out in Moquah and didn't make the wood cutting party on Saturday; I hope he wasn't eaten as well. Seriously, I just hope we can plug along on the wolf issue, keeping the nut cases on both sides at bay. Its great to have that crucial piece of the wilderness puzzle in place and I trust that will be the case for many years to come

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Copper Country

Memorial Day weekend found the VOR and I in the Keweenaw peninsula of Upper Michigan, aka da Yoopee. I can count on one hand the Memorial weekends with good weather since I was a kid and this was one of them. The weather was perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and of course, sea kayaking on the big lake. Temps were in the high 50's-low 60's and, much more importantly, the bugs are still hibernating. Even though much outdoor activity was accomplished, we also found time to bum around and dig into a bit of the history and culture of thisskinny finger that juts out into Lake Superior.

Anishnabe (Ojibway) Indians mined copper in the area and that's what brought the eastern entrepaneurs and the miners from Cornwall, Finland, Italy, and Eastern Europe to the area to extract the copper. Things like indoor plumbing and electricity fueled the demand for copper pipe and wire and by the turn of the last century things were rockin'. Many of the wonderful stone buildings, mansions, and the simple yet very strong New England Colonial era saltbox homes were built then. With any 'one pony show' however, when the lone industry tanks, things go very bad very quickly. The Great Depression in the 1930's put as many as 75% of the Keweenaw are workforce out of work and on relief. President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, the WPA, was literally a life saver in this area. Roosevelt believed that people would rather work than accept charity. Whether that holds true to day would seem to be a topic for serious debate but we do know that many of the projects completed in the 30's still survive and have survived well in the Keewenaw.

One of the oddest projects was the veterans memorial, a very appropriate stop on Memorial Day, in Kearsarge, MI, one of the small copper mining towns in the area. This memorial of stone, concrete, and pipe commemorates the three USS Kearsarge warships from 1862 to present as well as area veterans of all wars. Down the road in Larium, the towns favorite son gets his own memorial. Notre Dame's first All American, George Gipp, 'the Gipper', played by our own Ronnie Reagan in "Knute Rockne, All American. More utilitatian projects are Highway M-26 and Brockway Mountain Drive. The drive is a rocky spine at the very top of the Keewenaw and on a clear day Isle Royale can be seen. Last but not least is the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, a golf course and spectacular lodge and cabin complex that it now run by Keweenaw County. I tend to avoid golf the way I avoid cliche' the plague. It's also the trailhead for many mountain bike trails and cross country ski trails in the winter though, as well as a very nice restaurant with a couple Keweenaw Brewing products on tap.

We've enjoyed most of these public works projects on every trip we've made to the area. They've 'got legs' as they say, public projects that fulfilled both their short term goal of putting people to work and the long term goal of serving the public good. One can only hope that the infrastructure projects and government investments in the current down turn have the same legacy 75 years from now as these WPA projects. We can also hope that Roosevelts assertion that people would rather work than accept charity is at the core of the decisions on how the bucks are doled out. Cynic that I am, I fear that is not the case but time will tell. Meanwhile, the Keweenaw is a great place for outdoor activity, historical and geological exploring, and to step back in time a bit to the pre-chain business era in this country. I would have to guess that the kids and grandkids of the folks that made the WPA work are the same ones that own the motels, restaurants, bookstores, and outfitters that dominate the local scene. I think this may need to be added to the official list of annual events.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Safety award

The Apostle Island National Lakeshore recently received the Department of Interior's Safety and Health Group Achievement Award. Only one group in the park service gets this award every year and Bob Krumenaker, the superintendent of the AINL, flew out to DC for the presentation on 6 May. You might wonder what feature in the park and what kind of safety effort would inspire the Dept of the Interior to award AINL this honor. After all, the Yellowstones Anti Geyser Scalding Initiative, Glacier's Grizzly Bear Tourist Eating Abatement Program, or even Big Bend's Drug Smuggler AK-47 Reduction Plan might be some things that come to mind that would win a safety award in the NPS. That is not the case however, because the award went for the efforts to protect kayakers from themselves at Meyers Beach and the mainland sea caves, a deceptively short two mile paddle to the northeast.

Two people have died and there have been innumerable close calls at the caves. I paddled there the day after the soccer player from UWEC, my alma mater, lost his life in the caves in 2004. The weather was pretty much the same as the day before, easy launch from Meyers Beach in the lee of Squaw Point (sorry, sorry, Mawikwe Point) and the full force of the northwest wind didn't hit until the approach to the caves. We were all experienced paddlers but decided that 200 yards was about as close as we wanted to get to the malestrom of clapotis waves bouncing off the cliffs. Unfortunately a lot of people don't have the experience to decide whether or not to go or what to do if they run into trouble. After the fatality in August of 2004 a sign was erected detailing the danger, a person was stationed there during peak usage times, and other efforts with volunteers and the Friends group are in the works. We experienced kayakers need to offer our insight to folks that we run into as well. I've written about it before, but I talked to a guy in shorts and flip flops, paddling a rented 12' rec boat with no spray skirt, who planned to venture out to the caves, solo, in 2' -3' seas. He insisted he 'knew what he was doing' so I suggested that we continue our discussion while standing in the lake. While I was explaining the need for and use of a paddle float and bilge pump, his lower legs were becoming more and more numb. I suggested a paddle on Bark Bay and his brain, spurred by his frozen lower extremeties, finally processed the information I was giving him and he agreed.

The Park Service can only do so much to protect people from themselves. The other problem is that kayaking is a lot like skiing. One person's challenging run is another person's boring cruiser. Skill levels vary wildly and, as we all know, its really fun playing in big waves.....if you know what you're doing. I think we need to keep spreading the word on these safety issues and work with the park to educate paddlers about the yin and the yang of paddling the caves. We all are painted with the same brush in the eyes of the public. 95 out of 100 people who walk down to Meyers Beach and see me with my drysuit, pfd, radio, and spray skirt standing next to the guy in the shorts and flip flops see the same thing; two kayakers. And the attitude is the same in the local bars. I heard a commercial fisherman disgustingly describe coming across a kayaker at dusk with no light and dark boat, clothes, and pfd, crossing from Bear to Devil's Island. I couldn't argue with the stupidity of what he saw but tried to tell him that we aren't all like that.

Congrats to the AINL folks for the safety award. And I haven't even touched upon the effort to keep knuckeheads from drowning their whole family as they head out to see the caves on unsafe and shifting ice in the winter. All I can say is have a great Memorial Day and paddle safe.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nose abrasions and other indignities

The VOR joined the damaged boat club last weekend, courtesy of Yours Truly. Being sustainable, carbon footprint, etc., etc., type of paddlers, we borrowed the SKOAC trailer and four of us piled into the Passat wagon with all our gear and headed north. After reassuring the VOR not to worry about the boats, I drifted into my normal hypnotic highway induced nap. I snapped awake when she hit the brakes and pulled over. The lovely blue Avocet had somehow come loose from the front saddle and was leaving a nice blue line down the eastbound lane of US 2. Somehow, and I still can't figure out how, the strap, still securely fastened, had come loose from the cross piece.

I accept full responsibility for this catastrophic failure. I know that as a modern, socially aware American, I should initiate a costly and lengthy legal action against SKOAC and the saddle, strap, and trailer manufacturer but I screwed up. Perhaps some government bailout money earmarked for itinerant kayakers whose boats are in foreclosure (what about the children!!?) is available but, again, I'm the culprit. The only consolation is that it isn't as bad as the time I tried to break my Aquanaut in two by running over the bow strap up in the UP. That screwup, at the start of a trip and provoked a stream of obscenities on my part and necessitated some emergency fiberglass and epoxy work on my part. Fortunately for those of us in the Twin Cities area that are not one with the fiberglass, gel coat, and carbon fiber, we have Northwest Canoe to bail our rear ends out.

NW Canoe are the folks that patched up the Aquanaut, seen above. I also had them add keel strips, below, to all our boats to help cushion those rocky Lake Superior landings. Nothing worse than having to baby the boat in to a rocky shore when the surf is rolling. My friend Bryan had an incident similar to the VOR except his involved his keel rather than the nose. RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef have their new Aleut II down there for some custom work as well. Heck, I probably should be getting commissions on this stuff, I've sent so much work down Dennis and George's way.

I guess smashing up boats is part of the paddling circle of life. I've often thought that I should put a few scratches in new gear right off the bat to avoid the angst that occurs when they accidently are added to the mix. The fact is that if you use stuff it's going to wear and if you don't have a few dings and dents you just aren't paddling enough. Now I just need to send this link down to the NW guys and see what the damages will be for a nose job......

Monday, May 18, 2009

If you don't like the weather........

This years Manitou Madness trip only got to within about 3 miles of Manitou Island. There is still concern about our overly friendly bear buddy and no camping permits have been issued so far this year, although at last word there has been no sign of him so far this year. The plan was to paddle over on Saturday but "The Boss" decided that was not to be the case.

We arrived in Bayfield at 5pm, picked up our permit, and headed for the wonderful fresh whitefish at Morty's Pub, washed down with South Shore Brown Ale. The forecast front was moving in but it was warm and the wind had switched to the south. We managed to get on the water just as the rain began, and the building seas pushed us the six miles to Oak Island at a pretty good clip. We all agreed that of all the outdoor activities that can be done in the rain, paddling a kayak is the most enjoyable because most of you is under cover and the part that isn't is mostly water resistant. The incredible shades of green in the spring take on a certain softness and look very different through the mist than they do in the sunlight. On the other hand, setting up a tent is one of the crappiest activities that can be attempted in the rain. I usually put up the rain tarp, assemble the tents under the tarp, and then stake em down. We all hit the tent, the front moved through, and the wind switched to the northwest and began to howl. The comment was made that it felt more like Camp 4 on Everest than Oak Island; the tents were shaking and waves could be heard crashing on the beach.

The morning dawned with roughly 30-35 knot gusting winds and building waves. The vertical tarp was switched to horizontal to act as a windbreak for cooking breakfast. Plans for a three island paddle tour were unanimously changed to a hike on Oak Island's trail system, lovely trails that wind through the 5,000 acres, trails I'd never been on since I'd never been windbound on Oak before. In addition to the the wind, the fact that is was blowing across 40F (4C) water made getting off the spit a very appealing idea. It was about 15 degrees warmer in the woods and the wind was not nearly as daunting. The winds tapered off around dusk and Sunday brought bluebird weather, 60F (16C) and flat, dead calm seas. The forecast 10-15 knot westerlies never showed up. Our fantasies about being the only people on Oak Island were dashed however. We had planned on company, as there was a group that was supposed to be on the Oak group site Saturday night but for obvious reasons, they didn't show. Just as we were leaving two kayaks pulled up and we recognized MidwestPepe and ladyfriend, AntiUVJane. They had been on North Bay and we hiked within a mile or so of their camp. Had we known, we would have dropped in for cocktails. We all paddled back to Red Cliff together on flat seas and then our quartet visited RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef and were fed the first true summer feast of the season, bratwurst, potato salad, beans, and fresh fruit. A fine end to the weekend.

Certain individuals in both the Gurney, WI and Washburn, WI area (you know who you are!) refuse to paddle on Gitchee Gumee until June, claiming a combination of cold water and gardening responsibilities keep them close to home. It was a wonderful weekend however, and much can be said about being among the first people on the island. Winters effects can be seen, spring is in the air, and visibility in the woods is 5 times greater than when things get leafed out. The big Hemlock trees are even more impressive in the spring and the lake seems unbelievably clear. I wouldn't trade this early spring trip for anything. As my buddy in Cumbria, England says, there is no such thing as bad weather, only poor gear. That was borne out once again this weekend on Lake Superior.
PS While swilling beer and scarfing brats, it was made known that the Valley Aleut II owned by RM and the GTC is on the market. This is a sweet double with deck mounted chimp pumps for both cockpits, dual rudder controls (for a control freak that likes the view from the front cockpit), and a yellow over white color scheme. They liked the boat so much that they sprung for the kevlar layup version. Hey, we're getting old and hoisting big doubles up on roofs ain't as easy as it was! Anyhow, shoot me an email if there is any interest. This boat will be on the SKOAC for sale link and very shortly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Multitasking in BC

When No1 Son and I go on a road trip there usually isn't a lot of down time involved and this Vancouver adventure was no exception. While thinking back on the weekend, I realized that my diverse group of friends would all be interested in different aspects of the trip so I thought I'd write this post like a "Sid Column", only with complete sentences. Sid "Grandpa Sports" Hartman is a columnist for the Strib paper in Minneapolis. He is about 124 years old, wrote his first column as WW II ended, and was once the general manager of the Lakers basketball team....before they moved to LA. He tends to jump around a bit but sometimes that needs to be done when there is lots of stuff to communicate to a diverse audience.

First the bike scenario. We decided mass transit and bikes would be the mode of travel. One of No1 Son's customers, Dream Cycle, hooked us up with bikes for the weekend. Darrin was smart in that he gave Erik a single speed and me a 21 speed to offset the difference in age and fitness. Very smart. We rode all over town on the many excellent bike trails, including the wonderful Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain ski area and gondola. No1 Son thought it would be fun to ride the bikes uphill for several kilometers to the ski area but I quickly put the kibosh on that idea. There is still well over 4' of snow up there (sorry Silbs) and we met folks with snowshoes on the bus. All the public transit vehicles including electric buses, Skytrain, Seabus, and water taxis were bike friendly so we just loaded them up. The weather cooperated as well and even my hind end held up OK

Next is the food update. Sushi is incredibly inexpensive here and much raw fish was consumed,including toro, the melt in your mouth fatty tuna. We also stumbled upon the spot prawn season opener. Once again sitting in a brewpub paid off when one of the chefs at the event tipped us off as he snuck over to order a beer. The prawn boats pulled into the dock, they off loaded the prawns, and began cooking. Five of Vancouver's top chefs made their special concoctions using the incredibly fresh prawns. An unexpected gastronomic delight for sure.

Most of my acquaintances are interested in beer. Granville Island brewpub was kind of home base, since it was central to a lot of our activities. Once we left the hotel in the morning we never returned until bedtime so we needed these ports of refuge to recharge and self medicate. GI Bitter was one of our favorite beers as was a cask conditioned and hand pulled ESB at a joint near the Lonsdale Quay called Sailor Hagars. Some kind soul must have figured we needed more self medication because I found a roach on my bike seat when we came out of Sailor Hagars. We actually passed on one brewpub, the Dockside, because it just looked too upscale for our proletarian tastes. Steamworks near the cruise ship docks was a cozy joint as well but the beers weren't as adventurous as at some of the other pubs. We were able to sample AlbinoRhino dark mild and also one of the wonderful Belgian ales, a 9% Trois Pistoles , from Unibroue in Quebec. Had we not been on bikes we would have been forced to pass on this complex yet high octane ale; score another one for people powered transportation and mass transit.

Finally the kayak update. We rented boats at Ecomarine Kayak Centre on Granville Island and Don was as insightful as Darrin had been at Dream Cycle. I'm in decent paddling shape already and he set me up with a Valley Aquanaut RM HV, the same enormous craft as my beloved Ore Freighter, only in rotomolded PE. This slowed me down a bit, especially in comparison with the Nimbus Sport in carbon fiber/kevlar layup that he hooked No1 Son up with, a guy who hasn't paddled in quite some time. He even managed to rustle up a Greenland stick for me so I didn't go into any sort of Euro spoon shock. We paddled around English Bay, crossed over to Stanley park to view it from the water, and then paddled around the False Creek area near Granville Island, a total of around 8 miles. We encountered a number of lavish powerboats, all crewed by folks in white sailor hats, blue blazers, and white bucks. When we asked a crusty old guy working on his boat what was going on he told us, "Its the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. Today's the day they motor past the club and salute the bloody commodore". As we paddled along side one of the yachts, I gave the blazered crew a friendly greeting and they looked down at me like I was a lower form of life, not saying a thing. I was pretty sure I only thought 'pricks' but it must have actually slipped out because the look of superiority kind of turned to one of loathing. Oh well, I guess the feeling was mutual. In the end we had a great paddle, my first one in salt water in a couple years. We also felt pretty good about kayaking when we landed and talked to the sailors that were painting, scraping, and generally working on their boats on a lovely May Saturday rather than sailing. A hole in the water into which you throw money indeed!

Its back to fresh water and our beloved Gitchee Gumee this weekend with the first Apostles camping trip of the year. There is lots of news from the Apostles so I need to get posting here. It was great to get out to the west coast again however, do some father/son bonding, and generally enjoy Canada. Between the Blackhawks/Canucks series and the World Cup, the poor Vancouver residents were a bit glum hockey-wise but they are gearing up for the 2010 Olympics and I think its going to be a good one. Its a great city with some great people.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Escape to Vancouver

Tomorrow morning I leave for Vancouver to meet with No1 Son to celebrate his three decades on this planet. He is a major bike guy that will jump in a kayak and I'm a major kayak guy that will jump on a bike. Compromise will be in order, with him handling the bike logistics and me lining up the long skinny boats. One thing we both agree on; investors should buy stock in the Granville Island brewery before tomorrow. Share prices are sure to rise. I'm not only excited to see Erik for the first time since before Christmas, but I need to flee the remorseless coverage of the Brett Favre/Viking speculation by the local sports knuckleheads. He's become the Joe Louis of football and whether some Rocky Marciano of a defensive end knocks his 40 yer old head off or not this upcoming season does not interest me one damn bit. I was also advised not to bring the hat in the image below as it could go bad for us on Saturday night as we watch the Canucks/Blackhawks square off.

I've checked out a couple spots and Ecomarine Kayak Centre seems to be the place to rent boats. I'm torn between the value, local knowledge, and cameraderie with fellow paddlers that can be gained from a guided trip and the go anywhere we please element of renting and paddling off toward the horizon. I'm sure I'll get input on that from my traveling companion. When I called the folks out there I found out that they have a number of different boats, including both a Nordkapp, Nordkapp LV, Aquanaut, and an Aquanaut HV for rent. Since both Erik and I are lanky this is good news for comfort and fit. A good map, compass, and rudimentary tide info and we should be good to go. An added bonus is that Ecomarine is a mere 5 minute walk from the welcoming arms of the Granville Island brewery.

Vancouver is a great bicycling city as well. The VOR and I were there a few years back at Christmas time and found the bike to be the perfect way to go. The bikes are even welcome on the many water taxis that take folks to places like (Granville) islands and such. I hope to get a bit more manly bike than the one I got on that trip but as a man secure in his self image it really doesn't matter. It's always fun when No1 son and I get together and I'm certain this adventure will be no exception.

Monday, May 4, 2009


I made the trip north solo last weekend. It fun to do once in awhile since I'm pretty much in constant contact with people and need to let my brain relax and wander from time to time. Unless I'm listening to a specific program, I don't even have the radio on in the car. I tend to believe that my own daydreaming is more interesting than hearing Dire Strait's Sultans of Swing for the five thousandth time. When it comes to electronic background noise while outside hiking, paddling, biking, or skiing, I'm against it. I like to soak up the ambiance of the outdoors with all my senses and am genuinely puzzled by people who feel they need headphones to walk or bike around a lake. There are just too many sounds that would be missed, especially this time of year with the birds returning. The whole point of going solo is to get away from human interaction and reboot the head, so to speak.

Fridays trip north involved a couple stops that needed to be made as well as lunch with a couple buddies in Bayfield. One of the guys, the masked man in the photo, is busily sheet rocking, taping, and sanding as he creates Bayfield's newest kayak shop on Main Street from the ground up. He is, like yours truly, a weak willed individual and was easily diverted from his task and lured to Maggies with the promise of beer and chow. More on the new shop in a later post. With all my errands out of the way it was time to decide where to paddle. The west wind was blowing steadily which would have made the shore of Chequamagon Bay near Washburn the perfect spot. I could retrace on water the site of the Book Across the Bay's ski race in February and check out some of the stacks and sandstone cliffs south of town. The lure of the Montreal River was too great though. Wind or no wind I wanted to check out the river flow and get a bit of practice with eddy lines, standing waves, and ferrying in the Q boat. I had already learned that attempting to carve a turn in moving water by lifting a knee is problematic; better be damn sure your lifting the correct knee or you will meet the water in a suprisingly quick fashion. The only problem with my plan was the solo component. Its always nice to have backup when the plan is to push the envelope a bit.

I tend to be much more safety conscious when I'm solo. Anyone who isn't is a short step away from disaster. I'm much more of a 'pool player' when paddling solo and think through the possible scenarios and outcomes in an attempt to stay a couple shots ahead of myself. There was a couple in the marina parking lot that gave me a puzzled look as I pulled a tuliq on over my dry suit, but I was just covering all the bases and giving myself 'redundant systems' as the NASA guys say. Strapping my helmet on over the tuliq hood caused them to quickly move in the opposite direction but hey, I needed to cover my butt. I actually planned on screwing up in the current and going over a couple times and there are some large rocks at the mouth of the Montreal that could really relax my brain in a very negative way. As it turned out I didn't need any of it. The west wind died off and big gentle swells rolled eastward. The river flow was down so last years standing wave was a mere shell of itself and the short, steep waves where the swells pushed against the river current were 18" max. That left eddy lines and ferrying across the mouth of the river to keep me amused. And I was amused, for about an hour or so. The GurneyGranny claims I could have fun in a dark closet so I'm sure the fact that my simple mind was easily amuse won't surprise anyone, but I had hoped more for excitement than amusement. Maybe next year.

Part two of the solitude involved day paddles on Lake O. As one of the first guys to hit the sack at the relatively early (for this group) hour of 12:30am, I was also one of the first ones up. I plugged in the 30 cup vintage Maxwell House coffee percolator and headed for the water. I fired up the sauna in anticpation of some post paddle rolling. The boys had stoked it hard the night before and had it up to a blistering 225F (107C) and it was still at 100F (38C) when I relit the stove. There were complaints that they couldn't touch the water ladle or the caps on the water jugs at that temperature; no kidding! I paddled out and around the corner and once again was on a wilderness lake with no sign of human habitation. Not a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky made for perfect solitude. I can literally feel the worries disappear in a spot like this. As I paddled out of the small bay the solitude was broken by the arrival of the KingOfIronwoodIsland. He had the same idea and was also testing his new Immersion Research spray skirt that I had delivered. I managed to disturb his tranquility by inquiring about how things had gone the night before at the poker table, but the money that flew out of his pocket and across the table was quickly (OK, maybe not that quickly) forgotten on such a perfect morning. By the time we got back, tipped my boat over a few times, and took a sauna the camp was alive and breakfast was cooking. Back to the normal pace and hub bub of the Bark Bay Fishing Invitational. I enjoy all the rituals of the event but in my library of mental tape loops, the morning paddle on Lake O will be near the top of the list when I feel the need to go to that 'happy place'.