Friday, January 29, 2010

A quick carp update

It would appear that the meeting that I savaged in yesterdays post was just a meeting to talk about having another meeting, not the vaunted Carp Summit itself. Both the Huffington Post and our local radio and TV station, WCCO (which btw, stands for Washburn, Crosby, and Co, forerunner of General Mills) reported that the real carpfest will take place at the White House on February 8. Not surprisingly, the first inclination of all politicians confronted with a problem is to toss some money at it, and the chump change sum of $20 million has already been bandied about. Richard Guindon, a talented cartoonist that left the Minneapolis StarTribune for Detroit a few years after I moved here, published an appropriately named (and germane to this issue) anthology entitled , The World According to Carp. The best cartoon in the book is one where an earnest looking fellow is standing next to a '78 VW Rabbit with a flat rear tire. There is change and dollar bills laying next to the flat tire and the caption is, "Liberal throwing money at a problem". It a bit dated and somewhat unfair since both parties have learned that throwing money at a problem, combined with a blue ribbon task force, is a very effective means of placating us and keeping the rabble, the great unwashed masses of the electorate, at bay. Here are the GitcheeGumeeGuy/Lake is the Boss predictions for what comes out of the Carp Summit:

-There will be a photo op with the hard working politicians smiling for the cameras.
-A blue ribbon task force will be appointed to study the issue.
-Either 'jobs, jobs, jobs', 'what about the children?' or both will be trotted out during the spirited, and probably circular, debate and discussion.
-The Great Lakes Czar will not be seen. Where is Waldo anyway?
-The money most definitely will be followed.
-Nothing of substance will be done until the end of the year earliest.
-Some guy fishing off Navy Pier will catch an Asian carp this summer.

We shall see boys and girls, we shall see.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Carp and other delights

By now I'm sure everyone has heard about the Supreme Court denying the petition to close the locks from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River in an attempt to thwart the nasty Asian carp. That decision was over shadowed by the equally brilliant decision to let corporations spend as much money as they possibly can on election campaigns. At least in the latter case there is the chance that shareholders can band together and hold corporations feet to the fire if they go completely nuts. I really don't see any similar action that's available to the public to head off the relentless carp expansion into the Great Lakes.

I've had a long history with the carp. Even though some cultures love to eat them and English carp or 'coarse' fishing has a cult following, they are basically trash fish in the US. We spend millions trying to eradicate them from the lakes they have overpopulated. My dad took me down to Half Moon lake in my hometown of Eau Claire, WI when I was a little kid, to watch the DNR remove the carp after they had poisoned the lake. They were huge fish to a little kid and there were hundreds of them, destined to fertilize farmers fields. The carp managed to come back however, and by high school we were wading the shallows with fish spears, racking up a 'world record' day one spring, three of us, with 105 carp. Of course many were caught on the river with a dough ball on a hook and frankly they fight a lot more than the fabled walleye, which are like hauling an old boot off the bottom most of the time. The problem is that walleye taste one hell of a lot better than carp and don't have a million little bones to choke on. I was on a trip to the USSR in college, the famous "Soviet Seminar" class offered by the University of Wisconsin system. Several times we were served large chunks of bone in carp, boiled and sitting on the plate looking like a beached whale. It was bad visually and equally bad from a taste standpoint. I've attended the Coon Rapids Dam Carp Festival a number of times, and who can forget the vicious carp attack on the VoiceOfReason in her kayak a couple springs ago?

It sounds like the Obama administration, even though they support the Court's decision, snuck in the carp summit yesterday. I guess I was under the impression that the were going to involve the affected states, have some representation on the state level, but that's not what occurred. There were senators, House members, the EPA, and the good old Army Corp of Engineers. But no Governers or states Attorney Generals, which seemed to be the plan as reported in the attached Milwaukee Journal article. From the UPI report link above, it looks like they did what our elected representative seem to excel at; they talked about it some more. As the headline of the UPI story above stated, "A range of strategies were discussed" If I were writing the headlines the UPI story would be titled, "Lawmakers and bureaucrats sit on their ass and talk while the carp move closer to Lake Michigan". The trade organization for the barge operators, of course, feels it's much ado about nothing and that the economy would be devastated if 7 million tons of freight had to move in some other way. I wonder what the trucking and rail trade associations would say about that assertion? The beautiful thing is that all of them can spend money like drunken sailors on the candidate of their choice in the next election while our buddies, the carp, could care less and just keep heading for the lake.

I guess I better get ready for work, head upstairs and take a shower to attempt to wash the cynicism from my body and mind but I'm not hopeful that will work. Will there be a carp summit with people who can actually make a decision and do something? Will the courts and administration allow anything to be done? Where is our Great Lakes Czar, in his plush office monitoring the proceedings? We haven't heard a peep about Cameron Davis since his elevation to czardom, yet this is the exact thing he was supposed to oversee according to the stories on his appointment. Maybe he was at the summit, talking like he seems to be in the image right. I find it more than discouraging, its dereliction of duty.

Next week the VOR and I leave for England for a short 5 day trip. We had planned on some history, culture, R&R, and judicious use of my new app, CAMRA's Good Beer Guide Mobile. From the way things are going, maybe we should get some invaluable carp fishing instruction from one of England's many carp fishing experts. From the way things are going, it looks like I'll be trolling for carp, rather than lakers or salmon, in my kayak on the Great Lakes sooner rather than later.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fish scales

For some reason I tend to gravitate to things that have a basic, manual function, and need to be screwed around with a bit. A prime example would be my cars, which have mostly had manual transmissions from the old 'three on the tree' to my current six speed manual. I shoot a single shot rifle and a break action double shotgun, a couple of guns where the only chance of jamming or misfeeds is if I fumble. Cross country classical skis have been the same way, waxable skis all the way, but a couple years back I picked up a pair of 'no wax' or fish scale skis and this weekend pointed out why they exist and what an advantage they can be.

When I first started cross country skiing in the mid '70's I purchased a pair of wooden Norwegian made skis, complete with the high tech lignistone edges and three pin bindings. The guy who sold them to me, my buddy Loren, told me the difference between no wax and waxable was like the difference between a one speed bike and a 10 speed (note: I'm so old that the idea of 21 speed bikes hadn't even been concieved yet). Armed with my trusty scraper, 4 or 5 tubes of wax, and a real cork, I could wax up for any condition. The no wax skis of the time didn't have the fish scale design and I seem to remember some sort of fuzzy strip of fabric with bristles that would fold down in one direction to facilitate the kick. The two conditions that caused wax angst in most skiers however, were ice and slop. This meant, at best, the gooey red wax and, at the very worst, klister wax. Klister is a miracle substance, stringy, viscous, clinging, and with the ability to get itself on clothes, hair, dog, car, and damn near anything else that got within a couple yards of it. It worked but unlike shifting from 2nd to 3rd gear, or sliding a couple shells into the over/under, it was a complete pain in the ass. So much so that on 35F days or the day after the 35 degree day where is dropped down to 15F, many folks just didn't go skiing.

This weekend featured such conditions. The original plan had to been for a half dozen of us to ski the Vasaloppet practice loops north of Mora, MN and then spend the night with homemade pizza and adult beverages at the home of TheLegend and GraciousPartier. Two people dropped out at the 35F and rain forecast.......actually that's not accurate. The forecast was for an 'unpredictable' system, which could give us rain, freezing rain, sleet, ice pellets, or maybe snow. In other words, for one of the first times NOAA had no idea what would happen and actually confessed that was the case. Refreshing. Anyhow, we all had no wax skis and that was one of the deciding factors to pull the trigger and head to Mora to ski.

It was a good decision. There was virtually no one on the trails because of the drizzle, the track was just fine, and the no wax made for decent kick and glide without that 'handing a strawberry ice cream cone to a two year old in the summer' look that occurs when red klister is stuck all over everything. RangerMark and I did all the practice loops for a total of 25k while the VoiceOfReason and GreenThumbChef knocked off about 20k in order to hurry back to the camp and get some venison weiners and sauerkraut on the cook stove. It was a fine weekend of skiing and as we left the camp Sunday night in anticipation (for one of us anyway) the big Vikings-Saints clash, it started to snow in earnest.

I still like the manual choice in most things I do but I have to admit those fish scales worked pretty darn good in the slop. Much better than my skate skis, which broke through the crust and dumped me on my head a couple times. When the season winds down and the rentals are selling cheaply, adding a pair of fish scales to the inventory is a pretty solid investment.

Friday, January 22, 2010

So, who are you rooting for on Sunday?

First a political post and now a sports one. Lack of kayaking is causing this blog to veer off in strange directions but I guess I can live with that and hope you can as well. The burning question that has been asked of me several times since I got back from New Orleans is whether, as a Green Bay Packer fan, I'll be cheering for our former QB, Mr.Brett Favre, or continue my anti Viking attitude.

I guess I don't know why they would be wondering. How could I not cheer for and support a former Packer that went to several Pro Bowls and was instrumental in our Super Bowl win? A guy that the Packers released, who went to another team, and then signed this year with a team that's playing for the NFC title. An older fellow that people thought was washed up but is in the midst of a career season. No, I can't understand why they would think I wouldn't be cheering for a guy like that............Darren Sharper, of course.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The people's seat - the power of perception

I am on a southern swing for work/pleasure, hence no northwoods or Lake Superior posts. The weekend was spent in N'Awlins with long time buddy Woody and DowntownDon, patrolling the French Quarter and watching Viking fans behave badly during Sunday's football game. Even I thought chanting 'Romo, you homo' was a bit over the top. A work stop in Atlanta included a lovely Italian dinner with AuburnAnne and then off to Memphis where I found myself dining and beer sampling in McEwen's, a small local bar and restaurant, and intently watching the election returns from Massachusetts.

I've never been bashful about striking up a conversation in a bar when I'm flying solo, and the two fellows I was talking to in the 'Norm' corner of the bar were about as different as could be. John was a self proclaimed bleeding heart liberal from Cape Cod, MA. Tim was a North Carolina conservative who would disappear out the front door frequently to ignite and inhale the product that made his home state famous. Three guys from three very different states with three varied political viewpoints. I need to confess at this point that I have A BA in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin. This degree makes me uniquely suited to sell medical device packaging, my long time career, and basically little else. That is why I was more than a bit interested when John confessed that he pulled the lever for Scott Brown before he got on the airplane for Memphis.
He apparently was not alone. Mr.Brown was declared the winner minutes ago in what had to be a surprise to most observers around the country. I asked John what prompted him ( and a million plus others) to pull the lever for a Republican. He said a combination of the screwed up healthcare bill, the blatant politics (Nebraska was mentioned) that have swirled around the bill, the "venal, smug, mostly indicted, Beacon Hill Democrats" that thought they had a slam dunk with Teddy's seat, and just the general stench of politics as usual. He informed me that Massachusetts has had a tradition of electing socially aware and fiscally conservative Republicans as Governer and this just seemed like an extension of that and the right thing to do. My new buddy Tim was crowing about the setback for 'BO' and his agenda and leadership, and how more than a handful of Democrats that had been on the fence might fall back to the other side after the ascertained the political wind direction with this electoral upset. Strangely, both guys agreed that a single payer healthcare system would be the ideal thing and railed against the insurance companies and their effort to scale back meaningful reform.

This is not nor will it ever be a political blog. I washed my hands of that particular avocation and vice years ago. Still it was interesting and just a bit weird to sit and drink beer and discuss politics with these two disparate individuals on a momentous night. Interestingly enough, I was drinking the fine products of the Ghost River Brewery, NC Tim was drinking vodka martini's, and MA John was sipping Knob Creek, straight up with a water back. We couldn't even agree on what to drink but we seemed to agree on one thing. People are pissed with partisan politics as usual and all three of us hoped that this would be the tip of the iceberg and the tipping point for meaningful change.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

All politics is local

It looks like the Town of Bayview board in Bayfield County, near Washburn, WI, has given the thumbs up on the proposed Houghton Falls park. This forward thinking decision is 180 degrees opposite from the knucklehead proposal by the Town of Baraboo board, on the other end of the State of Wisconsin, to discourage the creation and maintenance of more land for the public to use and enjoy.

We had the opportunity to snowshoe the area of the proposed new park over the New Years weekend and it is most definitely park worthy. Its a fairly deep sandstone ravine that has a couple of nice waterfalls and flows into the lake near Houghton Point. The vegetation includes some fine white cedar and hemlock, which are becoming rarer due to overbrowsing by the deer. Check out the images. It will make a nice little park and, as you can see from the article in the Ashland Daily Press, there seems to be a lot of popular support, one town board member nonwithstanding, for more public land and access in the area.

On the south end of the state, the Town of Baraboo board is trying to penalize the Nature Conservancy because an expensive rescue needed to take place on their land in Baxter's Hollow. The concept in a nutshell, is that the town board, already aggravated because this land isn't in the tax base at full value, wants to charge tax exempt landowners for 'unusual costs' in response to local emergencies on their land. I could type a lovely tirade on this theory, ripping it a new orifice on a number of levels, but our buddy Derrick, right in the midst of Baraboo controversy, has already done so in a fine post. We can only hope this wrong headed attempt to extort a few bucks from the Nature Conservancy goes nowhere. Like Mr. Mayoleth, I'm a big fan of personal responsibility. I also believe that more land with public access, as opposed to more land owned by the public, is an excellent way to provide people with outdoor opportunities. The one large benefit is that the Nature Conservancy doesn't routinely put out logging or mining contracts to achieve that wasteland look that US Forest Service must think someone enjoys.

I don't want to infer that town boards in northern Wisconsin are superior in foresight and altruistic tendencies to those in the south. One only need look at the Town of Russell board and their rubber stamping of the Shadow Wood Landing project to disprove that theory. Still, Houghton Falls park will be a nice little gem amongst the state, county, and national park lands in the area. It should be intimate, quiet, and appealing to the seeker of solitude, a commodity that is in very short supply these days.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gear parallels

As I got ready to head out for a quick ski last night, I agonized over which skis I should take. It was about 20F (-7C) which was plenty warm to skate and also perfect for some nice hard blue wax on the classicals. I could also just grab the no wax classicals but that option was a distant third in the mental voting. As I rummaged in the ski closet in the garage, I bumped my head a couple times on the Ore Freighter, the Valley Aquanaut HV, that was hanging just above the ski stash. I was struck by how my ski collection, acquired for different conditions and moods, paralleled my kayak fleet.

I ultimately decided that the waxable classical skis were the way to go last night. I was up for a nice, steady, leisurely run instead of the potential heart attack (note near death expression in above image) that's induced every time I attempt to power up a hill on the skate skis. I use all the skis, including the telemark skis, depending on how I feel and what the snow and weather are offering up that day. Its the same with kayaking. If I want to go fast on a day trip or spend my time upside down, then the Q-boat is the only choice. If I am on a trip or want to just poke around and take some photos, the Aquanaut is the perfect choice. Often the soothing varnished wood on the Chesapeake 17LT and its uber stable design is the logical choice on inland lakes.

I'm sure the gear sales guys love fickle outdoor types like me. The only saving grace is that relatively speaking, skiing and kayaking are fairly inexpensive sports. I work in a company where motorsports like snowmobiling and ATVing are big. I checked out the cost of an Arctic Cat T Z1 Turbo snowmobile, a fine touring sled. MSRP is $15,000. All my kayaks, skis, paddles, boots, poles, pfd's, etc. all totaled up, will only get me to about 2/3 of the cost of a new sled. Plus I get some exercise and save a tremendous amount on gas, alcohol, and potential ER bills.

The gear candy store for kayaking, Canoecopia, will be open in about 60 days. Even though I don't need anything (famous last words) I still attend and fantasize about all the stuff I could use. After all, to paraphrase the words of a shooting buddy, I have all the kayak gear that I need but not as much as I want.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pasty training and ski sesson

A pasty is a uniquely UP (Michigan's Upper Peninsula) treat. The correct pronunciation was explained by a native Yooper woman at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium a few years back, an event featuring a pasty supper as part of the program. "A pastie (long 'a') goes on your boobs. A pasty (rhymes with 'nasty') goes right on your ass". Basically its a self contained pot pie where a pie crust is filled with beef, potatoes, and onions and then folded over, sealed, and baked. I don't believe I've ever seen it featured as part of the diet plate at any restaurant that serves them. Although I've eaten many over the years and even have my 'must stop' pasty spots all over the UP, I've never made one myself. This gap in my knowledge was rectified by the BessemerConvivialist on Saturday.

The plan was to arrive the BC's south Minneapolis estate around 11am and get down to production. We were then scheduled to ski Hyland Park Reserve at 3pm. The VOR and I arrived close to on time with a couple six packs (mandatory at any SKOAC Renegade function) and a large rutabaga. This was a bone of contention with the pasty chef and you can see the look of scorn on her face as she holds the offending vegetable. In the western UP only the basic meat, potatoes, and onion....lots and lots of onion.....are allowed. When rutabagas are added it becomes a Cornish pasty. The miners from Cornwall are thought to be the original group that brought pastys to the UP. They stay warm a long time and utensils are not needed to devour one, which made them the perfect lunch in the mine. Another quirk of the western UP pasty fan is a total disdain for anyone that would think of putting gravy on their pasty, yet slathering the thing with ketchup is perfectly acceptable.

A compromise was reached where 1/3's of the pasty production would have rutabaga and the balance would be rutabaga free. After lots of chopping and pie crust production the assembly process began. KleanDeckKate showed up and pitched in, but the rest of the crew was in the 'Little Red Hen' mode and met us at the ski trail. Even though the temps hovered around 0F (-18C) it was great skiing and the wind cooperated nicely. It was too cold to skate but classical worked just fine. The apres' ski was wonderful of course, with lots of homemade pastys and a beer or three to round out the day.

Now that I have the technology to produce these things I would suggest not purchasing any stock in Joes Pasty Shop in Ironwood. Share prices might plummet without my several times per year purchase of a dozen Cornish. On second thought, pasty making was a lot of work and took a lot of time. I think Joe's is pretty safe. Plus if you need one right away, they will ship them to your house this time of the year. They are the perfect cold weather meal and I can highly recommend giving then a try. Even the cat looks like he'd like one.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Top of the Harbor

New Years day dawned in Duluth, and my plan to head over to the deer camp early and snowshoe in to retrieve some forgotten clothing and check things out began to seem less attractive at -10F (-23C). The VoiceOfReason suggested that we have a leisurely breakfast at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Radisson hotel instead, once again cementing her blog name with a practical solution.

On a crisp, cloudless day like New Years, the view from up there is pretty spectacular. The restaurant revolves 360 degrees in an hour, about six degrees per minute. The clip below give an idea of just how fast that is. I should probably find out if such speed and altitude would cause a combination of motion sickness and vertigo in the GurneyGranny, a poster child for such queasiness. Iwill admit to a bit of disorientation in the beginning but a good coffee buzz and a healthful sausage, eggs, and hash browns breakfast made that disappear pretty quickly. The food was nothing to write home about but the waitress was extremely competent and friendly and sitting there on our hind ends, watching the scenery rotate, was worth the price of admission. It was fun to see Park Point in the image above, stretching south toward the Superior entrance to the bay. Neither of us had been there for literally decades and it was kind of nice to revisit an old haunt and view the harbor from a high, close up vantage point. By the time we left for our cross country ski and snowshoe weekend on the Bayfield peninsula, the temperature had skyrocketed to 5F (-15C), perfect ski conditions, and once again the VOR had demonstrated her considerable powers of reason.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Embrace the ice

I will have to confess that I really enjoy ice. I've never smashed up a car, battled ice dams on my roof, had ice squash any docks or watercraft, fallen through the ice (OK, one time), or even really fallen on my ass on the ice that many times. I have had far more good experiences with frozen water than bad ones, and this weekend for my first time , I got to watch Chequamagon Bay freeze over.

My affection for frozen water started at a young age, ice fishing with the old man. He would drill a hole, the water would come gushing up, and we'd clean the ice chips out of the hole with a beat up metal strainer. Watching the cork go under and the bluegill or crappie come up through the hole was very cool for a little kid. He believed, like most ice fishermen, that the fish bit better when the ice first froze over, and I recall shuffling out on a small bay on snowshoes, wearing a Stearns vest, and carrying two pieces broom handle with finishing nails pounded in the end to haul ourselves out if we did go through. I don't recall him ever filling my mother in on this plan. In junior high the ice rink was about the only place you could meet the opposite sex in an unsupervised setting. The bored college guy that manned the warming house pretty much sat inside doing his homework and stoking the wood stove, allowing we outdoor skaters carte blanche. Once the drivers license was obtained, the icey fun multiplied geometrically. If the ice froze solid before the snow fell we could skate for miles and play hockey before the municipal rinks were open. A person could also get a car going 50, 60,or 70 miles per hour, jerk the steering wheel over, and just let er spin down the lake. There is rumor that on one occasion such a car, an AMC Gremlin if memory serves, hooked to the left like a gigantic curling stone being steered by inept sweepers, and clipped the side of a fish house in the wee hours of the morning. This rumor cannot be substantiated however. Other wonderful experiences with ice have involved keeping beer cool and releasing the flavor of a nice highball glass of Irish Whiskey. And I don't even mind the ice that forms beneath my snout on a cold winter day.

Early on in the weekend we checked out the ice in Duluth harbor, ice that had been busted up several times by the USCG ice breakers. The temperature hovered around zero or below (-18C) most of the weekend and the ice was forming. The VOR and I arrived in Washburn, WI, took a quick ski with RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef, and hunkered down for the evening, overlooking Chequamagon Bay. We could see open water on the bay and ripples from wind but closer to shore there were no wind ripples, just a thin layer of ice that was undulating very gently with the small swell. As I sat sipping one of my first Summit Winter Ales of the season, the layer of ice slowly but steadily advanced across the bay and out into the lake. Some might equate watching ice build with watching paint dry or a bridge rust, but seeing the water crystallize was magical. The next morning the hoarfrost and visible bands where the ice was thinner (see top image) had transformed the lake into a completely different place than it was the night before. Swirling lake effect snow made the horizon disappear and the rocks looked like they were on one big white canvas. Before long the ice road will be usable and people can visit the sea caves on the ice. How can you not like that?