Monday, June 28, 2010

Eau Claire River - year 38

Actually when I think about it, I first visited this spot on the Eau Claire River as a Tenderfoot Boy Scout in the 5th grade, making it considerably longer than 38 years of enjoyment. Yes readers, I actually was a Boy Scout for about four years until the twin evils of beer and adolescent girls distracted my easily distracted mind away from its focus of working on merit badges. During my Boy Scout stint I did learn was some very basic outdoor survival and camping skills that I use to this day, most importantly how to stay comfortable, start a fire in any weather, and cook in dutch oven over said fire. None of those skills were ever utilized or needed on this event though.

All this event requires is some organization and a little bit of the pool player, looking ahead to the next shot. Once the flotilla leaves Big Falls County Park, if you don't have it you ain't gonna get it. The river is delightfully remote, although a couple homes have sprung up and there are some ATV trails that go down to the beaches. Since the river winds through the terminal moraine of the last glacier, the Chippewa I think, its all sand which means lovely beaches around every bend. It also means the most common and hardy ground cover is poison ivy, making the long walk down to the river from any road like walking through a mine field. Over the years I've learned that the basics of sun screen, water, a hat, your floating device, and adult beverages are the essential items. Its about a five hour trip with a couple stops and lacking, running out, or suffering equipment failures in any of the categories can make for a long day.

This years conditions were perfect. Temperature, wind, water level, and a nice mix of clouds and sun made it absolutely delightful. The event has only been rescheduled once but thunder storms, tornado warnings, and some unseasonably cool weather have tested us in the past. As I mentioned, once the decision to go has been made we are committed. The usual suspects showed up and the event continues. The key to these annual events is consistency. The same weekend and the same location make it tough for the regulars to back out because 'something came up'. I just hope we are still able to form the traditional Red Rocks beach pyramid and still have attractive hind ends when we all get old and decrepit. Until then we will just keep rolling and see where this thing takes us. The one certainty is that this is without question the most relaxing event of the year for Yours Truly.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The symposium season

I was at a rolling and cultural event on Lake Harriet last night and had an opportunity to talk to JackiePack about her trip to the Rossport Symposium up in Ontario last weekend. This is an every other year event that rotates with the Inland Sea Kayak Symposium in Washburn, WI. As expected she gave it great reviews and commented on the quality of both the tours and the instruction. It seems that a person can't help but learn something at these events, if only by osmosis and mingling with your fellow kayakers. The Rossport event kind of kicked off the season but there are plenty more. Door County is coming up and that's the only one in the area that I haven't attended. GLSKS is coming up in mid July and there are two smaller, more intimate learning events that are coming up in July as well. Both involve that skinny stick technique, the traditional Greenland kayaking skills.

The first one is tiny but also promises to offer superb mentoring. Turner Wilson and Cheri Perry will be in Bayfield for a two day (either or both days is available) session the weekend after the 4th of July. ChrisG at Boreal Shores put this thing together and both the VOR and I are signed up. I had the opportunity to train with Turner and Cheri a couple years back and both are fantastic paddlers and instructors with a bit different styles, both of which are effective. It sounds like only one spot is still open for Saturday and 3 or 4 on Sunday. I believe there are only 8 spots in the class so this is some serious 'one on one' stuff. Perhaps my elusive sinking static brace can be perfected as well as the even more elusive stick roll. Forward finishing rolls from my off side (or as Turner insists it be referred to, "the other side") are of course, physically impossible and I'll be avoiding them.

The other event near the end of July is the Northern Lights Qajaq Society's Traditional Gathering. This takes place at Lake Mille Lacs, the famed "Walleye Factory", a large nearly round lake in the middle of Minnesota. The group camp at Kathio State Park is reserved and there will be skinny paddles, skin boats, and lots of instruction and cameraderie. Will Bigelow, seen above with unnamed Greenland groupies, will be there along with Helen Wilson. I bought her DVD and its very nice. I've been playing with some of her techniques that she demonstrates and I think it has helped refine my skills, weak as they can be sometimes. This event is ridiculously affordable, a mere fifty bucks plus your camping, food, and adult beverages, and is a great place to learn.

It is shaping up to be a busy July. For the first time I'll be on the instructor side of the equation up at the GLSKS. The instructor coordinator for the event, the inimitable Kelly Blades, has taken me on as Third Assistant Junior Instructor and Paddle Carrier. I think I know the stuff, I just need to figure out how to teach it. Fortunately, over the years I've worked with some excellent instructors and hope to heist some of their techniques to help introduce folks to the sport. If you are serious at all about sea kayaking, I would suggest jumping on one of these many opportunities to advance your skills and enjoyment of the sport. I can honestly say I've never had a bad time at any kayak symposium.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fathers Day weekend

Since both sons are on opposite coasts, New York and Portland, I spent Fathers Day weekend on Oak Island. A tough assignment but someone had to do it. There was a bit of tent angst because of the three tent rule, but that was solved by SilenceOfTheLambChops, who owns both a CD Titan and a large 8 person Big Agnes tent. I was harassed all week by people asking me 'so when are we going to launch on Saturday', knowing full well the quota was full. Rather than a 3 tent rule, I might suggest that the NPS change the rule to 7 people or however many tents can fit in the designated tent pad area. SOLC's Big Agnes could flatten enough vegetation for 4 two person tents or at least a half dozen solos. We also ran into a young couple from Marquette who weren't familiar with the reservation system, having done the 'first come, first served' camping in Pictured Rocks, our other Lake Superior National Lakeshore park. They wound up camping back country, which would have not been necessary because a Twin Cities based outdoor group 'burned' the group camp on the spit and didn't show up. It was a rough ride out through the 'Basswood Triangle' with lots of waves breaking around the cockpit, some rear quartering seas for a stretch and a generally fun filled 6 mile double crossing. Our three guy, three women group was very compatible, with the ladies sharing Big Agnes, RonO and I going 'Brokeback',and Silence relegated to the snoring section. But what I really enjoyed most about the trip was the swapping.

No, not that kind of swapping, get your minds out of the gutter! Paddle swapping. The crossing back was pretty flat with a bit of a nice tail wind coming right down the channel. After YogaYenny led the women in some Oak spit yoga (we guys pretty much stood there and watched, now and then scratching ourselves under our neoprene) we headed for Buffalo Bay and Red Cliff. There could not have been a more diverse paddle selection on a trip. I had an Inuit paddle made out of basswood by RonS at Novorca. RonO had his Werner high angle carbon fiber, the VOR had her beloved Betsie Bay Greenland stick, the IrishPirate had the VOR's old Aqua Bound Euro, SOLC carried his hand carved Greenland stick, and YogaYenny wielded a Werner Kalliste. Its a bit schizo switching paddles every 400 yards but it was also instructive. Paddling angle, plant spot, cavitation, forward speed, and the amount of effort of the stroke were all discussed as we leisurely 'headed for the barn'. Both the ladies thought they should own a Betsie Bay like the VOR. It seems like its wider blade and longer taper makes it a friendly transition between between the Euro and the more traditional Greenland stick. The lightness of SOLC's red cedar stick and Ron's carbon fiber were noted, as was the fact that my Aleut "had no bad habits". It enters the water nicely and has zero cavitation. Its made of basswood and has the heft of a war club but I've never broken a basswood paddle, unlike the red cedar and Sitka spruce sticks. I could wax more eloquently on the differences and pros and cons of the various paddle styles and maybe will do so in the winter when I'm bored. For now I'll just say that they all have their good points and bad points and that I'll likely continue to hop indiscriminately from paddle to paddle. After all, everything has a time and place. A guy wouldn't want to get caught drinking wheat beer in the winter or a doppelbock after mowing the lawn, right?

Happy belated Father's Day to all the dads out there. A wise man once said that anyone can be a father but it takes a real man to be a dad. Dads, keep up the good work out there.

PS Breaking news! I guess not all the guys 'pretty much stood there'. I was sent photographic evidence that at least one enlightened soul did some yoga on the beach........

Monday, June 14, 2010

A trip around Basswood Island

The weekend began with a trip up to Bayfield to see the Yonder Mountain String Band at the Big Top tent. This is not your normal Big Top Chautauqua show, with the crowd being younger and having a distinctive Grateful Dead-like 'travel with the band' ambiance. Every one stands for the entire show and the band played for three and a half hours with a short break. I also couldn't help but notice a smoky, non tobacco smelling haze over the entire tent. I'm not sure what it was but I know I needed to leave for a bratwurst at the break and several food items were sold out at the concession stand. The KingofIronwoodIsland was in attendance with a free ticket. He did some complicated electrical work for the GurneyGranny and accepted the ticket as payment. She felt it wasn't enough for the work performed so the King suggested she buy him beer at the show as well. When Pod heard about this deal, he immediately demanded that GG, "Pay him now! Pay him now!", knowing that an open ended deal like this had to potential to break the bank. Things came off just fine however, with ChrisG from Boreal Shores Kayak taking the VOR's ticket after she was tied up with familial obligations. The only downside was that the next morning found the paddling contingent whittled down significantly. There were a number of excuses but the King and I persevered and headed for Bayfield at the crack of noon. We decided that a circumnavigation of Basswood would be good since the weather was a bit shaky, about a 14 mile trip with a short two mile crossing.

We took off into a northeast breeze, 5-10 mph, with a small swell. We hit the tip of Basswood and decided that if we went clockwise we would have a lee up the western shore and then a tailwind down the eastern one. The plan worked great and as we approached the west dock we saw other kayaks in the water. As we got closer we saw they were small yellow rec boats with no bulkheads/flotation or skirts. There was a group of guys watching from the dock as a bunch of kids buzzed around in the kayaks. We found out it was a group of coworkers from Illinois that had come up for the week. They had ferried all the gear including the kayaks out from Bayfield, the identical 2 mile crossing that we had done, with a large tri hull style bass boat.

I started to talk with them a bit but it was apparent that they were sure they had things firmly under control. Check the images and let me know what you think. One guy said the crossing was a bit choppy and I asked what kind of nav equipment they had on the boat. What they may not have realized was that on the way out we could not see Madeline Island, two miles away, because of the fog. The boat was basically nicely equipped for a 500 acre inland lake. I couldn't help but think of the little girl that was lost in Lake Michigan recently, even though all these kids in the kayaks had life jackets on. Over cotton sweat shirts, of course. One little kid asked his buddy if the water was cold. I'm sure that standing there, looking at us wearing life jackets with tow belts, a marine band transceiver, gps unit, and a big knife made them think that we were a couple of yahoo wannabes that thought they were on the Shackleton expedition or something. Sensing that, I pretty much surrendered, wished them the best of luck, told them not to let the kids have candy bars in the tent or the bear would take a bite out of their asses, and paddled off. KingIronwood and I completed our circuit of the island, hit some fun and bass boat unfriendly clapotis on the northeast end, and then caught a couple nice rides as we attempted to surf back to Bayfield. The day was capped off with beer and pizza at Ethels, a fine little spot just a block up the hill from Boreal Shores in Bayfield.

It was a good weekend at the tent and a good weekend on the water. I just wish I knew how to prevent people who don't know what they are doing from venturing out on a body of water that insists that you know what you're doing. Its depressing to see, depressing for you guys to read about, and even more depressing to write about. They seemed like a great bunch of guys, taking the kids out on an adventure, but they were simply unaware. I'm 3-0 in running into that unconscious/incompetent quadrangle of the risk matrix the last three trips up there and I need to break the string. I also very sincerely hope that if Gitchee Gumee decides to give these folks a test that its a pop quiz rather than the Final Exam.

To end on a more upbeat note, here's a 10 second clip of Yonder Mountain at the Big Top. Also, I've enabled comment moderation after getting several Asian blog comments which, when you click on the name, send you directly to raunchy porn sites. It might take a bit for me to get around to checking things so be patient. I'm probably on the water! A crew is heading back up this weekend for a short inner island trip. I'm hoping that conscious competence, or heck, even conscious incompetence, is the order of the day.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Finally legal

My new/demo NDK Explorer HV is finally officially paddle-able on Minnesota state waters. RonO and I had not quite gotten around to heading down to the DMV to register the new boats and found ourselves skating on thin ice Sunday. As I was heading to Long Lake around 4pm I got a text from Ron informing me that both the Ramsey County water patrol and the sheriffs deputies were hanging around the launch. As we looked at our un-stickered boats and the show of law enforcement muscle, we decided to use the same technique that the Italian army used during most of WW away. When we made our short run to Lake Johanna, unloaded the boats, and were prepared to hit the water, the water patrol showed up there. After a quick huddle we decided to tell them our situation, 75% truthfully, rather than beg for forgiveness after they caught us. The deputy was friendly and gave us the green light. We were told that we had 15 days after we bought the boat to register it and that we should have our receipt with us in case we were asked. I did not have my receipt 'with me' meaning on my person, but it was in the car, dated 5/15 which would be 29 days, a bit over the grace period. We paddled a bit, rolled a bit, and then picked up GuitarMatt and met the VOR for T Bone bingo night at Grumpys Bar. GM did win a large package of 'T-Bones' by the way which went very nicely with sauteed potatoes and asparagus on the grill. Yesterday I spent my lunch hour at the Department of Motor Vehicles registering the craft.

I hit the small DMV satellite office in a suburb near where I work. The folks are friendly and helpful, completely unlike the Patty and Selma stereotypes of DMV employees, probably because its a sleepy office, no 'take a number' machine, and for the most part reasonable human being type customers just looking for help. I was informed that my registration fee would be $10.50 for the registration, $5.00 for the invasive species surcharge, and $8.50 for the privilege of them issuing me the registration. Minnesota also requires kayaks purchased in Wisconsin to pay them the difference in state sales tax, in this case an extra 2.2%. I'm now good for 3 years but a few things about this transaction make me scratch my head just a bit.

I think it could be agreed that kayaking facilities in Wisconsin and Minnesota are pretty comparable. After all, what are 'kayak facilities'? All we pretty much need is a shore to throw the boat into the water from, and we are off paddling. No paved boat landing, aluminum dock, fishing pier, or even a picnic table is needed for kayakers. A picnic table is nice and toilet facilities are a fine addition but we really don't need em. So in a state where the general sales tax is 2.2% higher and kayaks have to be regi$tered..... I should point out that kayaks don't have to be registered in Wisconsin.......where are those bucks going and are they going to improve kayak access and paddling opportunities? The sales tax of course, goes right into the general fund and a significantly smaller dollar amount is regurgitated for roads to get us to the launch, cops to make sure we don't reach the launch to quickly, and other crucial items. The actual boat registration, other than the earmarked invasive species five bucks, goes into the DNR's waterfront account. This pays for all water related stuff like docks, landings, harbor improvements, cops to check our registration, water trail maps, and other sundry boating related items. A 16' bass boat with contoured captain's seats, electric trolling motor, live well, and a 120hp Honda 4 stroke must pay considerably higher registration $$ than kayaks since they use all of the facilities I itemized above....right? Wrong. We pay $24 for 3 years. They pay $31.50. Seem about right to you??

I don't mind a user fee. If I use the parking lot at Meyers beach, I should pay for it. I don't mind paying to park at Red Cliff and and I'll pay to tour the Raspberry light. But I hate paying when there is no return or pretense of return, on that stinkin' registration. Frankly, a few water trail maps (which I'd pay for too!) and a dozen designated kayak campsites along the North shore doesn't cut it. As they say, 'a rising tide lifts all ships' but I just can't see anything that makes me feel good about my $24, small sum though it is. The invasive species thing is fine but if the politicians would get their asses in gear we could limit the amount of cash needed to be spent on that as well. Don't get me going again on the Asian carp non-action. Nope, I have the feeling that twenty four buck and every other kayakers twenty four bucks is swirling right down the toilet vis a vis any noticeable improvement in the kayaking. 175,000 canoes and kayaks were registered in 2005, the year the DNR did a study on canoe and kayak facilities and expectations. My guess is that the study was funded from registration fees. Take a quick look at the report and see if you can find something that's changed in 5 years regarding facilities and kayaking amenities.

There is a chance to throw some of that dough in the right direction however. This week the state finally cut a deal with US Steel for 3,000 acres for a new state park on Lake Vermillion, an island dotted wilderness lake in northern Minnesota. It is pretty much a mini Voyageurs National Park and the potential for island camping and remote canoe and kayak camps along the 5 miles of shoreline is wonderful. There is talk of it taking several years to ramp this thing up to the classic state park mode with boat launches, docks, visitors center, campground with hookups, trails, etc. For minimum bucks however, one would think that a gravel parking lot, a spot to throw a canoe/kayak in the water, and a few primitive campsites for paddle powered craft would get things jump started. Just a thought but a quick note to some of the less crackpot Minnesota House and Senate members might help plant the idea in some legislative craniums. Maybe they could even read the study that we paid for (see above). In the interim, its state land. We paid for it. I'm trying to think of a good reason why people couldn't just head up, throw the boat in the lake, and pitch a tent on public land. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The good, the bad, and the shaky

Last Sunday our intrepid trio decided to visit Little Sand Bay in the Apostles. A large crew from the Inland Sea Kayak group was there and some SKOAC cronies, many of whom had not been spotted over the winter, were camped at the group site on Sand Island, roughly a 4 mile paddle away. We ran into the 'long paddle' group from ISK, including PeggyO, whose fine blog is now linked in the lineup to the right. They had been heading toward Devils but a combination of incoming fog and a 40% chance of thunderstorms made the decision to turn around at Bear Island a pretty easy one. Contrast this decision making and risk analysis with what is to follow. We crossed over to Sand, after checking the radar with RangerSue and determining that the thunderstorms had passed to the north, and encountered a combination of 2' northeast swells with chop on top of them from the northwest wind switch after the thunderstorms had blown through to the north. Pretty easy stuff to deal with but the VOR only had one foot on her foot pegs, since the left one is broken, and we proceeded 'gingerly'.

We made a spectacular surf arrival at the group camp with the VOR performing a superb half roll when the wrong paddle blade wound up in the water when she started to broach. Big smiles all around however and we were happy to see our crew, including SilenceoftheLambChops and the CurrituckQueen. We saw a couple of unfamiliar faces and I was soon asked to take a walk on the beach by KleanDeckKate. She told me that the two unfamiliar faces were a couple that had crossed over on Saturday in 12' rec boats with no spray skirts or front bulkheads, and in shorts and T shirts. The female half of the couple had confided to KDK that she was cold, wet, and scared. Her companion was insiting on crossing back that night since, of course, they had no extra supplies. The SKOAC crew insisted that they stay and agreed to feed them if they did, and offered an escorted crossing the next morning. It took some persuasion to convince Mr. Macho and even more to dissuade him from visiting the sea caves in a 2' swell in a rec boat with no spray skirt. I was also told that the woman was lent a wetsuit for the crossing the next morning and was ridciuled by you-know-who for wearing it.

The VOR was, predictably, ready to meet the guy on the shore with torches, pitchforks, and a rope thrown over the big tree on the LSB lawn. It made me think of the conscious/competent matrix that we discussed in our instructor training. This guy was very obviously an unconscious incompetent, neither aware of the danger or equipped to deal with it. His lady friend had progressed to the conscious competent quadrant and was aware of the danger and realized she did not have the tools to deal with it properly. KDK and I discussed the remarkable similarities between this incident and the two fellows, one of whom lost his life, in the sea caves a few years back. By sheer luck nothing happened this time but it was only due to luck.

Monday found us at Bark Bay Slough, encountering another pair of 12' rec boats with no bulkheads. The situation here was 180 degrees opposite however. The couple were in the process of blowing up their bow and stern flotation bags as we drove up. I chatted with them and they said that they were just going to paddle the slough and then check out the lake at the mouth of the Bark River. If they thought it looked OK they would venture out, wearing their spray skirts and life jackets. A couple of 'conscious competents', aware of both the potential dangers and the limitations of their skills and equipment. I told them the story from Sunday and congratulated them on their planning and preparation. They both smiled and paddled off to explore the slough.

So, to quote Vladimir Illych Lenin once again, 'What is to be Done?". Leaving the guy hanging in the LSB yard, like the crucified Roman slaves lining the Appian Way, with a sign that read "dumb ass pseudo-kayaker" pinned on his chest seems a bit extreme, no matter how satisfied it would make the VOR feel. Plus my guess is that the view might disturb RangerSue. Had I been on the Monday morning crossing, I may have 'accidentally' knocked the guy over. "Oh man, sorry dude! Water pretty cold? Can you still feel your fingers? I'll bet your weiner is about the size of a golf pencil stub, right? How are you getting back in your boat? Too bad that wetsuit is folded up on our back deck, eh? Just tell me how to help you get back in and I'll get right on it!". What actually happened is actually much more constructive and positive. The guy confessed to knowing an extremely competent paddler that we all know in the northern part of the state. KDK emailed him with the story and suggested that when he next talked to Mr.Macho that he gently steer the subject to proper gear and risk management. Our zenlike buddy from the north agreed to take Kate's words "to heart and try to do something positive with them". I guess that and Mr.M's awareness of his companions feelings and concerns, which she hopefully expressed both forcefully and clearly on the ride home, would move this fellow into that conscious incompetent mode and move him toward the conscious competent quadrant that we would like all Lake Superior sea kayakers to be in. I would also hope that this cautionary tale might be passed on to those seen off loading the 10' rec boat at Little Sand Bay for a 'trip to the Apostle Islands'. The National Park Service can't prohibit anyone from going out on the lake no matter how ill prepared they are or how shaky their gear looks. They just get to pick up the pieces, along with the Coast Guard, and that's the very last way they want to spend their time. As our buddy Silb's would say, paddle safe!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A day in the water

The Memorial Day weekend began in the traditional fashion, splitting a winters worth of wood at CampO. The WoodFondlingBarrister was in his glory with a pile of hard maple and assorted lesser species the size of a small garage, two splitters, and a crew of around fifteen. The weather was warm with a nice lake breeze keeping the flying vermin at bay and the sun was beating down from a cloudless sky. The pile had disappeared by around 11am and a few of us headed down the hill for the inviting waters of Lake O'Brien and a cooling swim. My problem was that I kind of forgot to get out of the water. For about six hours.

When I was a kid we had the classic cabin up north. No insulation, a kerosene burning stove, hand pump with a sand point, and the inevitable outhouse. This was back when a blue collar worker like my old man, a union worker at the Uniroyal tire plant, could afford a lake place. We would spend the entire day in the water, swimming, snorkeling, screwing around on air mattresses, running off the dock, and diving to the lake bottom just for the hell of it. We were always called up for lunch, my sisters and I, and not allowed to go back in the water for 45 minutes after eating. It was widely known that swimming too soon after eating would cause stomach cramps and result in almost immediate drowning for the hapless victim. Once at the town beach I pointed out to my mother that several kids had been seen eating hot dogs and then running straight into the water. "They must have very poor mothers" was the response. Yeah, but how come the water isn't full of kids drowned from the sudden onset of hot dog induced stomach cramps mom?? "Maybe I should get your father and you can ask him these rude questions?". Nah that's OK, I just want to get back in the water.

Air temp, water temp, wind, and sun were all perfect. I had no where to go and all day to get there. I swam out to the diving raft, where a trio of soon to be sophomores in high school were jumping off into the water. I had to jump off a few times as well, although I didn't look nearly as good doing it. I hopped in the kayak and rolled a few times with the Greenland stick and then went back and grabbed the Euro blade and tried a few roll with that. By then the IrishPirate and GurneyGranny had gone for a swim as well and found the giant blow up floating water chair. I climbed back in the water and swam a bit more and then went for a paddle with the IP. We did some strokes and a few rescues and she indicated that she was interested in a bit of rolling practice so I stood in the water and tipped her over a few times. She hit her angel rolls and is a short paddle dive away from a sweep roll. She has the static brace down, as you can see from the image. We jumped in the hot sauna and to warm up and then I headed, once again, back into the water. I was watching the beer drinking up on the hill with thoughts of leaving the water but RawhidePhil took pity and brought some beer down to the lake which got rid of that temptation. I was finally summoned to cook ribs and that got me out of the water, into my clothes, and up the hill to the camp.I've had great days on the water but this was the rare great day in the water. Adults just don't get to spend a day playing in the water and that's really too bad. Kayaking is a water sport and I think that if people spent more time in the water that they would be better paddlers for it. Its kind of like trying to improve your skiing; if you don't push it and fall once in awhile you just don't get any better. A perfect day like Saturday could not be wasted and we certainly did not waste it. Everyone had fun in the water and I can't wait until the next opportunity to spend another day in the water behaving like a 14 year old.