Friday, February 26, 2010

Gitchee Gumee update

I figured its time to get back to the main subject of this blog after drifting a bit through the winter months. Lots of stuff is happening regarding the lake that it's named for, and I think a quick synopsis is in order.

First off, the lake continues to warm up, 1.2 degrees C per decade. That doesn't seem like much but its almost five times faster than any other lakes in the area. For we kayakers, anxious to switch from the dry suit to the thin neoprene vest and shorts when the air is 80F and the water 42F, that may sound like good news. Likewise for our paddling companions, who implore us to jump into that 42F water to rid ourselves of our sweaty wet neoprene 'aura'. Unfortunately, the lamprey eel really likes a bit warmer water as well and signs of lake trout predation have increased significantly, according to a sea grant study of the lamprey/lake trout relationship. The lamprey is a nasty, snakelike thing that sucks the life out of native lake trout, thanks to the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in the '50's. I've only seen one in the water and my paddling companion does not know I saw it. We were taking our boats out of the water at the mouth of the Brule and it swam between the VOR's legs as she was lifting the back end of her boat. Given her attitude toward anything even vaguely reptilian, I felt that ignorance was bliss in this case. Even though they control the lampreys through chemical means and various weirs on streams, a warmer lake does not bode well.

On the Asian carp front, it looks like the carp summit on 8 Feb resulted in a fairly predictable result. We are going to throw money at the problem. The locks where they are likely to get in are still open and the barriers that exist are known to be ineffective during high water (let me see...water is generally highest in the spring, when the snow melts, which is when carp spawn.....hmmm). I'm certain that plans, drawings, and studies are in the works, using this bonanza of bucks, and that effective barriers will be constructed just as soon as it warms up, the water level subsides, and the construction plans can be approved by the DNR in 5 states, US Fish & Wildlife Service, the EPA, and the Great Lakes Czar. Should be any day now. My suggestion is to not attempt any violent high braces in Lake Michigan; the resulting splash could have in a 50 pound carp in your face.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money, one of my favorite Warren Zevon songs of all times. It would appear that state firearms regulations now apply in National Parks (and lakeshores). This would mean, for we Wisconsinites, that cased and unloaded firearms are OK, we can chase a grouse of deer during the season (I think),and also that we can swagger around the park with six shooters on our belts, as long as they are clearly visible. This was clarified in an attorney general's opinion by northern Wisconsin's beloved JB "Wyatt Earp" VanHollen, the Wisconsin AG. I'm sure a new kayak accessory, the DeckHolster holster, would be OK too, in case those pesky jet skiers or cigarette boaters go too close but, once again, I'm not a lawyer. This law by the way, was passed in classic congressional fashion by tacking it on to the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 as an amendment and sneaking it through. Sneaking, weaseling, skulking, underhanded, unethical.....readers can insert any adjective that they would like.

On the good news front, the Obama administration has developed a five year plan for rescuing the Great Lakes from things like toxic contamination, shrinking wildlife habitat and invasive species. The carp funding is part of this deal. I wish they had come up with some other time frame than 5 years because that always conjures the Politburo in the old Soviet Union and their unattainable, often harebrained Five Year Plans. This plan has earmarked more than $2.2 billion bucks to help restore the lakes ecosystems after a hundred years of neglect and outright abuse. Lets hope that at least a portion of this funding can be actually directed at the issues that need attention. If the Federal standard average of 33% of funding actually reaches the issues that need it, that's still $733 million of needed help to the area.

On the land acquisition front, the Wisconsin DNR purchased the last 40 acres in Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island in the Apostles. It was a hell of a lot more expensive than the initial purchase back in 1963 but I guess that's to be expected. As we western Bayfield County landowners know, having an 'alien' 40 in the midst of your holdings can be both problematic and a source of tension for the landowner who has to cross your property to access his or her acreage.

Finally, the timber harvest has commenced, after a two year delay, on the above mentioned Reefer Creek acreage. The woods is virtually unrecognizeable from its former state but within two years it should be back into shape. Popple, or aspen, was harvested along with balsam 'two sticks' or larger. This means our smaller balsams, spruce, beloved mature white and red pine, as well as all the hardwoods like maple, oak, and ash, are all still standing. Like our other buddy who had a sale, we plan on planting some white pine and other trees to facilitate the regeneration. This also means I can remove the tag line from my emails, "Please print this email and a copy for 3 or 4 friends. I have a timber bid coming up". It could also mean the funds for a new boat......jeez, did I actually type that? Its a good thing the VOR only reads this blog now and then. Learning of two foot long lampreys slithering between her Chota's and more boats in the garage could possibly put her over the edge. Unfortunately, we've been double booked and won't be heading to Madison for Canoecopia this spring. Please send any hot new boat ideas my way. Quietly and discreetly of course. My friend Guy, now out in Portland, acquired a new Cetus LV. Sounds interesting. Very, very interesting.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Safer Skies

I apologize to the dedicated readers for my sparse posts this past month. I've actually been in a 12 step program for TCS, Time Compression Syndrome. This condition is manifested by cramming too many events into a time frame which, when viewed by normal people, is obviously impossible to meet. I entered treatment after an intervention by the VOR, GurneyGranny, and BessemerConvivialist. I made a major breakthrough this weekend when I was able to pass on the Book Across the Bay, one of my favorite ski races in Ashland, WI, rather than ski the race, drink pitchers of beer at Patsy's Bar post race, and then get up early to drive 4 hours for a 1pm flight to Philadelphia. I had a brief relapse when I double scheduled the JillLeah Loppet ski event and a BB King/Buddy Guy concert, but that actually came off quite nicely. Another blip in the recovery occurred when I went in to work Sunday morning to get a couple things taken care of and wound up skiing a bit too long at Gross Golf Course on the way home, causing some Philly Phlight angst. Once again, all was well, we made our flight, and I feel I'm on the road to defeating this condition and living a normal and productive life.

We didn't want to fly to Philadelphia but it was the closest reasonable spot to get to Atlantic City, NJ, where the VOR and I were attending the graduation of a very close acquaintance (identity top secret, of course) from Federal Air Marshall training. We spent Monday morning touring the training facility with the fiance' of the new Air Marshall. They put the trainees through some rigorous, focused, and pretty intensive training. In addition to actual jets to train on, they have simulated aircraft scenarios, a very well equipped physical training facility, and a state of the art shooting range. Plus they apparently beat on one another a lot. In one simulation an Air Marshall subdued a drunk who had shoved a stewardess. One smart ass suggested that acting in such scenarios could be a great retirement career for me but I chose to ignore the comment. They also simulated defeating a terrorist hijack attempt. These folks really know how to shoot and handle their weapons. One of the graduation speakers told us that the marksmanship standards for Air Marshall's is one of the highest in Federal service and I believe it from watching the demos that they showed us. My acquaintance was recognized as an expert marksman at the graduation, not surprising since he has been shooting since age 5 when his old man put a politically incorrect BB gun (you'll shoot your eye out!) into his hands and instructed him in a makeshift basement range. The ceremony was well done, the facility tour was a bonus, and the group of men and women graduating made us feel pretty good about airline security on the ground floor tactical level.

Part of the Federal Air Marshall's mission statement is, "to detect, deter, and defeat terrorist and other criminal hostile acts targeting US air carriers, airports, passengers, crew, and when necessary, other transportation modes within the Nation's general transportation systems". From the looks of this graduating class it would appear that the tactical focus on this mission is most definitely on the right track.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vasaloppet 2010

Thoughts of the London trip were pushed to the deeper recesses of the brain as the SKOAC Renegade Cross Country Ski and Kayak Racing Team (SRCCKRT......SUCKERS for short) prepared for the 58k Vasaloppet Ski Race. Training was slightly different from last year. The ManFromSnowyLegs went home to Australia for a couple weeks, the VOR and I headed off to London, the BessemerConvivialist headed for Europe and never came back for the race, and RonO and I discussed the race extensively from two bar stools at Grumpys, both before and after the VOR and I returned from London. Only the IrishPirate has been training diligently and, in fact, skied the 42k Pre Birkie on Saturday.

Logic would dictate that a training regimen such as this would not serve we SUCKERS well. Sunday dawned with perfect snow and very acceptable temperatures however, and confidence was high when we all met at 7am at the Perkin's in Blaine on the way to Mora. The VOR had decided that team manager and shuttle pilot would be a much better gig than skiing, given the training regimen, and JackiePack slid into her spot. Given this years hectic schedules, the various legs that each person would ski were open for debate until that very morning. One thing I knew for sure is that the IrishPirate would be skiing the longest 15.5k leg and that I, the captain of this motley crew, would be skiing the shortest 7k final leg into town. RonO got the 14k start, the MSFL took his traditional second 12.5k leg, the IrishPirate the 15.5k third, and JackiePack the 9k fourth leg.

Things started out a bit haywire when we got to the high school and were told that our packets and numbers had headed up to the starting line already. We did manage to get things under control and RonO set off for Mora when the starting cannon went off at 10am. In the old days they used to use dynamite but the dynamite handlers passed away and, given the potential learning curve problems with new dynamite handlers, opted for the much safer cannon. With RonO on his way we headed for the first relay point and some spectating at the cabin of TheLegend and GraciousPartier. Some of the cheering spectators at the cabin were on their 4th beer and the GP remarked, "This is a helluva lot better than skiing the thing". Not comforting words for those of us anticipating our upcoming legs.

Remarkably, RonO came cruising through in damn good time. The MSFL had the timing chip transferred to his leg with NASCAR pit crew-like speed by the VOR, BemidjiIntelOfficer,and JackiePack. He also showed up at the next relay point after shaving 5 minutes off last years time. Things were going well when the IrishPirate took off like a rocket. JP and I were starting to feel a bit of pressure with these blistering (for us anyway) times that were being turned in and the pressure was not eased when the IrishPirate informed us that she had passed 3 relay teams on her leg and that "all" we needed to do was hang on. Great. JackiePack took off with a bit of a worried look but she also smoked her leg. As I was getting my gear on in the car, the rest of the crew came up and told me, in effect, to get my sorry ass in gear because JP would be there in five minutes. It was more like three minutes. The timing chip was transferred and I took off without so much as a warm up stride. Once I got going, I kept looking behind me for approaching red race bibs but the coast was clear. Then I figured, hell, why worry about someone catching me when I could concentrate on catching the guy in front me. Plus I was skiing angry. I'd lost my pastrami sandwich and pretzel lunch somewhere in the chaos and was both hungry and pissed. So with 'damn I'm hungry', 'hope I don't get caught from behind', 'I'm gonna catch the guy in front of me', and 'they said they would have a beer for me at the finish line' swirling around in my brain, I put the hammer down. I probably passed thirty classic skiers on the leg and only stopped at the top of bell tower hill, after I came off the lake, to propel a voluminous snot rocket into a snow bank. From there it was only about 300 yards to the finish on Main Street in Mora. As I cruised toward the finish, I heard a large roar go up behind me. I figured it was another relay team making a sprint to the finish so I kicked it up a notch and double poled across the line. My reliable team mates and support staff had the beer ready and the race was over. In an amazing performance (once again for us) we shaved almost 30 minutes off of last years time.

Once again the SKOAC Renegades finished in the top ten, eighth to be precise. Given that the median age of the team was over 50 and we were racing against high school, college students, and other serious skiers, we felt pretty good. I'm still not sure what we can attribute shaving 25 seconds off each kilometer of the race to, but we'll take it for sure. Once again it was a great race and a fine community event with over 1200 volunteers. The weather and snow cooperated perfectly and we have to admit that we can't wait until next year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Transport via Oyster

We are back from London after a very successful adventure. I'm a bit jet lagged and craving a pint of cask ale at cellar temperature since its actually after lunch, according to my body clock, but I'll resist the urge. Not that I could find a pint of real ale here anyway, so I'll just have to put it out of my mind until the next trip. One of the most refreshing aspects of the trip was not having to drive at all. Given the traffic, twisty and narrow streets that changed names every 3 blocks, driving on the 'wrong side of the street',and of course the sheer volume of ale consumed, this was a very good thing. I have visited London before and used the Underground but this trip utilized every available method of transport available with our Oyster Cards.

The Oyster card is a magical little card that you fill up with cash and then use to get around town. It's cheap, convenient, and there is no waiting on any of the transport. Our friends Roger and Liz came over from Oxford for a bit of non tourist type activity and we jumped on a double decker bus, our first non Underground venture. The first stop was Pancras Station, a Victorian rail station that is nicely preserved and also the place where people pick up the Eurostar for the 90 minute trip to Paris, via the Chunnel. Having Roger for a guide was definitely better and less expensive than the hop on, hop off tourist buses, with his only fee being the occasional pint. The next day we jumped on the Thames ferry for a trip down to Greenwich. Since our watches were set to the famous GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) we figured it would be appropriate, plus we could straddle 0 degrees latitude. The boat cruised past all the sights in downtown London including St Pauls, the Tower, the Tate Gallery, Parlaiment and Big Ben, and the HMS Belfast, a WWII light cruiser that belongs to the Imperial War Museum. Once completing our mission in Greenwich, which included hob nobbing with Adm.Horatio Nelson in front of the Trafalgar Pub (not just in front, of course), we walked under the Thames River in a 19th century pedestrian tunnel and caught the Dockland's Light Rail, another service included on the card, back to our hotel.

If I lived in London, there is no way I would own a car. We did ride in a car however, since part of the package deal we booked was transport from Heathrow to the hotel. For the first, and likely last time, there was a guy in a suit standing there holding a sign that said, 'David Olsen'. Even though my name was misspelled, I figured it had to be me. The ride back really got me thinking however. We rode in a great station wagon, a quiet, comfortable turbo diesel with a six speed manual transmission. They don't fear the stick shift over there like we Americans do. Coincidentally I had purchased a car very similar to that back in November, after selling my Passat wagon to the Podman. There was one slight difference however. I had purchased a VW Jetta TDI, a turbo diesel with clean diesel technology. This great car that we got a ride to the airport in was not a VW was a Ford! If that car had been available here I would have bought it over the VW in a heartbeat. In their infinite wisdom however, the auto makers must think we should not have that option in this country. Stupid in my opinion but I guess the US carmakers know best.....oh, wait, didn't we give them billions to save their sorry asses because of poor business decisions? Never mind.

Go to London, get an Oyster Card, enjoy not driving, and drink some beer. Maybe one or two more posts from London on my documentary film debut but then its back to skiing (need to do the Vasaloppet Sunday), and then the upcoming kayak season.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Surly Mild and off to England

Tomorrow the VOR and I leave for a London mini vacation, making this beer related post is very appropriate. Last night was also the 2010 debut of the Surly Brewing Company's seasonal ale, Surly Mild. In a wonderful bit of luck, the debut was at Grumpy's Bar, my home away from home, and on top of that it was my 'birthday eve'.

Surly Mild is what is known as a 'session beer'. Dark and flavorful, yet relatively low in alcohol, a number of pints can be consumed in a pub session before the beer lover is forced to call a cab and come back to retrieve the car the next morning. To many people the connotation 'mild' is a bit off putting, perhaps not macho enough. Surly's other beers, Furious, Darkness, and Bender, all seem to have macho and aggressive enough names so maybe the mild is appropriate in this case. I like to think of it as a dark 'lite' beer. True lite beer fans, people who don't really like beer much in my opinion, would hate it however, because its bursting in wonderful beer flavor. Noted food critic, the BessemerConvivialist, does not like the finish of the Surly Mild but after testing several pints last night I was unable to agree with her assessment. The other star of the bar last night at Grumpys was an unexpected cask ale, complete with a 'beer engine' (see image below)to draw the cask conditioned ale from its keg atop the bar. There is no CO2 used to push the beer, its carbonated in the keg, which makes for smaller bubbles, less carbonation, and more intense flavor. In a prisoner exchange of sorts, Surly had sent a keg of their famous Darkness to the brewers at Three Floyds in Indiana and they had returned the keg full. The beer in the cask was Robert the Bruce Scotch Ale and beer fans were awarded with a nip glass with every pint of Surly that was ordered. Ten of my kayaking and skiing cronies, the 'usual suspects' as we say, showed up to help celebrate. It was pretty much the perfect evening with good friends,good beer, and much smart talk.

The cask ale whetted my appetitie for the wide range of real ales in England. We plan to sight see, take in a museum and church or two, and generally relax. This will be greatly aided by the knowledge that wherever we are in London, we are no more than a couple blocks from an array of beer engine tap handles like you see in the image above. That is indeed a beautiful thing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

First 'annual' of the year and kayak fever

On Saturday, RonO and I drove down to Madison, via the Chicken Chasers Bar in Fall Creek, WI, to help our friend Woody celebrate his 60th birthday party. This is year 35 for this fine event, which features a stunning array of whiskeys, 5 alarm chili, a keg of microbrewed beer accompanied by several well chosen growlers, illegal fireworks, and a massive bonfire as the centerpiece. This year a large screen of tarps was erected to hide the flames from the road, due to a couple visits from the volunteer fire department last year. Woody also made a preemptive strike and warned the township of his intentions. In their defense, it does look like a garage has caught fire once it gets going. A number of years back a yuppie neighbor and his esoteric Scottish Long Haired cattle moved in down the road. This guy made no attempt to visit the neighbors and introduce himself or paid any attention to their friendly overtures. The morning after a Woody birthday party however, we found the following note, wrapped around a half dozen large skyrocket sticks, in his mailbox: "Mr.Woody: My pasture is not your missile range. If this continues, I shall be forced to contact the authorities. I hope I make myself clear". Fortunately the asshole moved away, likely not appreciating his working farmers neighbors in the area. Meanwhile, the VOR and a half dozen other women were attending the Lantern Loppet on the family land north of Mora and stayed the night at the one room cabin. These are the first 'annuals' of the year with more to follow. Even though we have ski races to run, a downhill adventure to Colorado to harass JeremiahJohnstone and the ColoradoKid, and the upcoming London jaunt on Thursday, talk around the bonfire was pretty much kayaking on Saturday night.

Canoecopia was the hot topic, since we were in the Madison area, and RonO and I made a pilgrimage to Rutabaga to check out the incoming boats. The new Cetus LV kind of caught our eye and I hope to test drive one at some point this summer. The big event is only roughly 5 weeks away at this point. The Commish and FrugalFisherman were at the party and some initial planning was done for a Pictured Rocks trip either side of the Grand Marais symposium. The Traditional Gathering was discussed as well. It was cancelled last year but it coming back bigger and better than ever this year sometime in mid July. Its a fine event for skinny stick fans and offers far more than just the paddling. My friend Pat, up in Thunder Bay, weighed in with an email demanding that we organize a Silver Islet to Rossport trip around Memorial Day, and the Commish said he plans on taking vacation for a return trip to the Sauna Islands after Labor Day.

I'm not sure I like the fact that my summer is scheduled before I've even gotten into the meat of the winter but I guess a person needs to roll with the punches. The part of these annual events that I look forward to is the consistency year after year and the different core groups of friends that are encountered at each one. The bad thing is that a lot of weekends are sucked up, limiting the time for new adventures. Annual events never seem to drop off, only increase as is evidenced by the talk of the 2nd Annual Weiner Island paddle in the Chippewa Flowage in April. Oh well, I guess its considerably better than having nothing to do. I guess carpe diem needs to be our new motto.