Thursday, December 30, 2010

One of many 'New Years'

Ski season is in full swing with the large, Metrodome collapsing, indiscriminate car towing, idiot driver snowfalls we've had here in the Twin Cities area. Like most activities that are worth doing, there are licenses, fees, and registrations involved in the activity. After all, the ski areas charge you to be hauled up the hill on a daily basis, why shouldn't we pay to have cleared and tracked ski trails? Right now we have our Three Rivers Ski Pass, our Minneapolis Park Board Ski Pass, and will likely purchase our Minnesota DNR ski pass this weekend. Even though we will be celebrating the start of the 'new year' this evening, ski trail passes, like many things that require an annual renewal, ignore the calendar new year and pretty much create their own year or season.
The disclaimer on my ski pass tells me that it "expires March 31, 2011 (or when conditions warrant)". My pricey out of state Wisconsin hunting and fishing licenes expire on 31 March as well, even though deer gun season ended a month ago and today is the last day I can sit up in a tree with my bow for deer archery season. I believe I will pass on that opportunity. The card to renew the state registration for my Q boat showed up and that does expire on 31 December. I will wait to renew that one until people can't drive their cars out on the lake ice any more. My drivers license is up for renewal on 3 February and I won't be late with that one. I screwed up one time and was unable to rent a car when I arrived in Denver on business, due to an expired license.

The most important annual renewal however, will be the renewal of my bank of vacation on 13 May. Some of us are renewed on our employment anniversary date, but most mark tomorrow as the day the vacation account gets refilled. Several coworkers will lose vacation by getting paid for it, a concept I just can't get my head around. I don't have time for my avocations now, I can't fathom not using your vacation plus a couple unpaid days off to round out the play schedule.

Enjoy the year end and beginning of the new year. Just don't forget all the other artificial 'year ends' that needed to be kept track of. We will be heading for CampO and its large, welcoming bar room fire place, meticulously tracked ski trails, and reservoir of New Years camaraderie and cheer. Here's wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable New Years weekend. Have fun!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in the woods

For years my Christmas, like so many others, consisted of sitting around, eating ham, drinking beer, and staring at the relatives, many of whom divided their time between staring back and staring at the multimillionaires playing sports on TV. Due to a perfect storm of events, we had the privilege of spending Christmas Day at The Cabin on the Vasaloppet practice loops, north of Mora, MN. While many folks would shudder at entertaining twenty plus people in a space smaller than most modern living rooms, it doesn't bother TheLegend or the GraciousPartier. She even thought to bring some schnapps for the hot chocolate, pointing out that skiers passing by would often stop and accept her offer of hot chocolate if it had a little schnapps in it.

GalwayGuy, the Rookie, and I headed up and got the fires going mid morning on Christmas Day. It takes awhile to get the place warm since all of the mass in the room, the furniture, tables, chairs, stove, walls, etc. needs to absorb heat and warm up along with the air. We also started a bonfire in the yard. Like our deer camp, people have to walk in, in this case about 200 yards, so most brought kiddie sleds to put the food and adult beverages on. Folks began drifting in and in short order a pot luck feast was laid out on the table and we could snack all afternoon. Some people favored the cozy warmth of the cabin, while most of the twenty-somethings and under staked out the bonfire in the yard. A few of us went for a ski or three and a bunch of other people snowshoed over to the old deer camp to check on improvements. It should be noted here that The Cabin is not to be referred to as a 'deer camp', even though there is a nice rack, a head mount, a skull with horns, and a turkey fan and beard on the wall. The boys do hunt out of there for most of the Minnesota bow and gun season, even though kippered snacks have reportedly been banned from the premises.

The trails were excellent, the weather sublime, and a number of folks skied by on the trail, most with large smiles on their face. We did get a couple of grimacing guys who blew through at high speed, likely training for some race, but most were just enjoying their Christmas ski and stopped to say hi. We also had an unexpected visit from the Piston Bully. The guys had put in their face time with the relatives and decided to groom the practice loops. They also decided to stop in for a couple of bumps to fortify themselves for grooming the rest of the trails.

I do look back with nostalgia at Christmas days past with relatives long gone, meeting friends after Christmas dinner, and having the family around. Both the VOR's boys made it back but neither of mine did this year. We had visited No1 son and MsKattorney the weekend before in Portland and 1stLtO was somewhere in the middle east and new bride MsE was back in Pipetsone, MN with her family. That being said, I don't know how it could have been a better Christmas from the VOR's and my perspective. I hope everyone out there in cyberspace had an equally outstanding Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas gift for Grand Marais, Michigan

Many of us have attended the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Marais, MI, the granddaddy of Gitchee Gumee kayak events. A person has to really want to go there as its a bit off the beaten path, but most of the time locations off the beaten path are the very best spots. Judging from both the quality and quantity of attendees, a lot of us really want to go there and it is indeed an event that 'has legs'. The town of Grand Marais rolls out the red carpet and really puts on a fine event. The location is perfect for instruction and for the past couple years Lake Superior has provided attendees with a complimentary Wind and Waves learning experience that was unparalelled. This holiday season I thought it would be nice to return the favor and help Grand Marais get the Christmas present they have wanted for years. A safe and protected harbor.

Two years ago at the pasty dinner in Grand Marais in the high school gym, Jack Hubbard told us about the deteriorated harbor breakwall that help cause the death of three of his friends when they were out fishing. I wrote a post/tirade on the subject as well as a few letters to elected officials. There were high hopes that with with all the federal bucks floating around, a few would make their way to Grand Marais. Basically a rounding error in the Department of Health and Human Services budget would do the trick but the bureaucrats throwing the money around didn't throw any to Grand Marais. My guess is that a pile of it went to the Great Lkes Czar and his new fellow Czar, the Asian Carp Czar, to rehab their summer and winter palaces. Stand by for a scathing review of that whole debacle after Christmas. PJ O'Rourke is right; giving money and power to the federal government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teen aged boys. Maybe the feds thought Grand Marais was too far off the beaten path, I don't know. In any event the folks in Grand Marais are taking the bull by the horns and trying to come up with grants, private funds, and other ways to finance the harbor restoration. This is where we all come in.

I got an email from Jack Hubbard and three other folks up there. They are in the running for a grant from the Readers Digest Foundation, a share of 5 million bucks. Not only are they in the running, they are in the lead! It's a competition grant and whoever is in the lead in February wins the bucks. It's painfully simple. All we need to do is click on the 'Cheer' button in the link after we enter the zip code for Grand Marais, 49839, in the box. You can vote 10 times per day in the same session. It's that easy. When we log on in the morning or maybe before checking the lastest insipid ramblings of our Spacebook friends, just click on that site, which you have of course bookmarked, and hammer the hell out of that 'cheers' button 10 times. With all the great times we have all had in Grand Marais at the GLSKS, and in my case many other occasions, its the very least we can do to pay back the folks up there for their hospitality and the good times we have had. If they win, and I have confidence in them and in all of you, it will be that proverbial holiday gift that keeps on giving.

Have a lovely Christmas season and lets get on it! Take it from Silbs, the VOR, and FivePieceRoy, all satisfied Grand Marais's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A nice trip to Portland

In the midst of the holiday chaos, both at home and at work, the VOR and I have taken apre Christmas mental break for the past several years. We used to head up to Canada, Vancouver, Montreal, etc., but since No1Son moved to Portland we've visited him and MsKattorney for the past 3 years. Two years ago we headed to the coast and ran into an outstanding North Pacific storm combined with the highest tide of the year. Last year we headed the opposite direction to Mount Hood and experienced a fine blizzard that forced us into a 30 degree lean just to make it into the ski lodge. This year we were heading south into the wine country of the Williamette Valley and the weather forecasters, with their usual confidence and accuracy, predicted either rain or heavy rain for the entire period. Readers of this blog will suspect what is coming next....wait for it......yes, it was either sunny or partly cloudy the whole weekend with two brief periods of rain on Saturday, light rain that could not even get a person wet if they were wearing a decent wool jacket. The weather was nice and so were most of the people we encountered along the way. Minnesota Nice is a myth, especially if you drive a car or try to board an airplane, while Oregon Nice seems to be the real deal.

The cornerstone of this trait is the Oregon Wave. When a person does something stupid, either driving or walking, an abbreviated wave and a sheepish smile seem to disarm the person on the receiving end of the stupidity. Forgiveness at its finest. I was able to formulate this observation from the passenger seat of the car as well as in front of the bar at a number of wineries. I noticed the trait on my first trip to Portland many years ago. Our traveling party of three was split up and poor Woody was sent to Seattle due to Northworst Airlines overbooking policy. The gate agent in Portland managed to reunite us in a calm and rational manner and after telling him of our cattle car experience (and this was pre 9/11) at MSP, explained that, "Things happen quite a bit slower here than in Minneapolis, we have a lot more time to think things through". Indeed.

The wineries were excellent as were their main product, the Oregon Pinots. This is not to say I was able to resist the siren call of DeSchutes Bitter and Black Butte Porter, or even McMennimans Hammerhead Ale or Terminator Stout. The town of McMinnville was both interesting and friendly, and we spent most of Saturday at the Evergreen Air and Space Museum. They have two huge hanger-like buildings full of aircraft and spacecraft, including Howard Hughes Spruce Goose, the SR-71 Blackbird and an Apollo space capsule. My most interesting conversation was with Barney, a WWII B-17 pilot who flew his 35 missions after D-Day and was serving as a docent in front of the B-17. He was interesting, unassuming, funny, and yes, he was a nice guy.

The last act of Oregon Nice occurred in the most unlikely place for any kind of niceness, the 'would you like x-ray, ion bombardment, or a vigorous crotch fondle' TSA security line at PDX. I had purchased a nested bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar at a olive oil tasting stop, where we cleansed our palates after all the wine. They were 1.9 oz each but were nested and fastened together, a sure bone of contention with a zealous security guy with 'three ounces only' tattooed on his bicep. The other questionable item was a cloth sack full of magnetic steel balls. Both of the ladies were a bit puzzled when I made this purchase but guys, you get it. Unlimited juvenile fun. Between the magnetic balls and the 3.8 oz of questionable liquid, I prepared myself for debate, obstinate rule interpretation, sarcasm on my part, and a phone call to No1Son to return to the airport after I refused to surrender my dangerous salad dressing and toys. To my stunned surprise, nothing of the sort occurred. The screener watching my bag go through leaned around his machine and asked, "Hey, what are those round things?". When I told him magnetic balls from the Evergreen Museum he smiled and said, "Cool!". I gave him an Oregon Wave and strolled down to the departure gate.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Ode to the Sauna

This is the time of the year when living in the sophisitcated, high density, sustainable urban environment really stinks. We have snow, which is great for cross country skiing after work (bad for poorly thought out Teflon roofed stadiums) but horrible given the collective intelligence of the average Twin Cities driver. The sight of cars in the ditch on a brilliantly sunny 15F afternoon, puzzled looking drivers looking at the car as if it were some sort of treacherous adversary, always makes me think of Charles Darwin and the H.M.S. Beagle. He would have a field day around here. The complaint about urban life that always lurks in the back of my mind though, is that I don't have a nice wood fired sauna to clear the brain after dodging the above knuckleheads as I go about my daily business. My last good sauna was the last weekend of deer camp after a satisfying afternoon of getting my buck into the cooler. The fire box was stoked hard and we savored the dry heat before hitting the rocks with the water and absorbing the cleansing blast of steam. This wonderful ritual is described in perfect detail in a new coffee table book, The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition, written by Michael Nordskog, photographed by Aaron Hautala, and published by the University of Minnesota Press.

The book has wonderful photos of saunas across the northland. It's not just a coffee table picture book however. It details the history of the Finnish sauna tradition in the northland as well as current practices, both around the Lake Superior basin and in Finland. It also speaks to the experiences, feelings, and mindset that many of us sauna aficionados have; its a place to push in the mental clutch, let the racing brain motor idle, and savor the moment. I've often said that a person never feels as clean as after they have gone through the dry heat sweat, cool down, another steam assisted sweat, and then the final cool down.

I've been in many saunas over the years and have become sort of a snob. It's a rare occasion that will find me in a sterile, chronically under heated electric motel sauna. These contraptions are more so hotels, motels, and 'health clubs' can put the word 'sauna' in their marketing materials and bear little resemblance to a real sauna. Check here for a handful of great commercial saunas. No, the smell of the wood and the feel and nature of the heat make the wood fired sauna the only way to go. At the deer camp we usually stoke the stove initially with fast burning and high BTU producing popple or aspen. We then complain and argue about who has to walk down the hill for the second stoking with oak or maple. He who pumps the water usually doesn't have to carry the buckets down the hill and it all seems to work out.

One of the more interesting saunas in the past years was a visit to the sauna on Thompson Island, a long skinny island in Lake Superior between the US-Canadian border and Thunder Bay. Photos and a history of this sauna are in the book and the BadHatter, RangerMark, and I took advantage of it on our fall paddle trip. We brought the saw and added some wood to the pile, proper etiquette when using this private yet public facility. As I recall, the sauna fire can be fed from outside the sauna room proper, and we got 'er fired up and ready to go. There was some concern about jumping into Lake Superior, not because of the cold and certain shrinkage, but because of the coed boaters along the shore. I quickly explained that a person has two choices when determing a course of action for a questionable activity. The 'small world' theory, or the 'they'll never see me again' theory. As we raced off the end of the dock, naked as jaybirds, and hit the cold water, it was apparent that the correct choice had been made.

If you know a sauna fan, are one yourself, or just want to know what the heck all this sauna stuff is about, this would be the book to get. Now if I can only track down a wood fired sauna in the urban environment......or maybe I just head north.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A blizzard worthy of the name

I will be eating crow at work today because the last thing I did when I walked out the door was pooh pooh the alarmist blizzard warnings on Friday. Usually there is a brisk east wind blowing before a storm and there hadn't been a breath of breeze all day. The longer and stronger the east wind, the more probable we would get weather. When I got up Saturday and went out with the now opiate addled Rookie, it was apparent that this was the real deal and the weather guys had hit it right on the head for once.

This was the first decent blizzard since the Halloween Blizzard of '91. I woke up that morning to the war whoops of No1 son and 1stLt O, ages 12 and 9 at the time. They had gotten up early, listened to the school closings on WCCO, our local weather obsessed radio station, and heard that they were off the hook. The night before my neighbor and I had taken the four boys trick or treating in the rain and celebrated the traditional end of the gin and tonic season. We would mix a large G&T in one of those huge insulated coffee cups and stroll the neighborhood with the lads. It had to be 1stLt O's best birthday ever. No school, a sugar buzz inducing sack of trick or treat candy, and the raw material for the best snowball fight and snow fort building ever. I was one of 4 people who made it in to work and that was only because I had a 4 wheel drive Suburban at the time. When I got home, my yard rivaled Verdun on WWI's western front with forts, trenches, and tunnels, but not a shovel full of snow had been removed from the driveway or sidewalk. Which was exactly how myself and probably 90% of the other kids dealt with 'snow emergencies'; by going out and playing in it.

Around noon on Saturday I headed out to run some errands. Not crucial errands but a trip to the meat market, hardware store, and liquor store. It was nasty. My front wheel drive Jetta wagon has Blizzaks on it, the best snow tire made in my humble opinion, but you need a feeler gauge to measure the ground clearance. There were people stuck all over the place, most notably when they tried to blow through the berm left by the plow on freeway exits. I had to drive 3 exits past my normal one before I hit a plowed one. People were also stopping in the middle of the road to snap the snow off their wipers, dangerous normally, but not when everyone is going 5 miles per hour. GalwayGuy, attempting to get home from St Louis, had two flights cancelled and wound up getting back by flying standby at Sunday noon. The Sunday evening Romantica vinyl debut show that we were planning to attend got moved to tonite when the band including the bass player Tony, one of our favorite Grumpy's barkeeps, got stranded on the way back from Chicago. In a true sign of the scope of the storm, the NFL's rigid and unbending schedule was compromised. For the guys who insisted on playing their games the weekend after President Kennedy was assassinated, this had to be tough. Even the powerful combination of the NFL and network TV was no match for Mother Nature. Not only were the New York Giants stranded in Kansas City, but on Sunday morning the Metrodome, the worst sports facility in North America, collapsed for the 4th time. The game was moved to Ford Field in Detroit and scheduled for tonite. Vegas bookies immediately added two points to the spread; it will be tough for the Vikes to win without the artificial, pumped in crowd noise over the PA, and that annoying fake Viking horn whenever they do something slightly above average. Sun Country is offering a $250 round trip charter today to Detroit. It should be interesting to see how many people take them up on it.

Chaos, inconvenience, and dislocation aside, a blizzard is an exciting event if you don't have to move around. The image from the last big storm a few years back at Reefer Creek illustrates that. We also got the classic northwest wind, bright sunshine, and highs in the single digits to follow it up. I headed out for my first cross country ski of the season and met up with TheManFromSnowyLegs and some other folks. It was nice in the woods and my aching quads, groin,etc. are all telling me that I should have done something other than plop my ass in a kayak all summer, but its the same every year. My upper body will be telling me in March that I should have done something other than ski all winter but the fact is that I never will. No inclination or discipline to cross train I'm afraid. For now I will just revel in the snow and the fact that we should be set with a base all winter for cross country fun. Now if I can just get out on the skate skis and aggravate a completely different set of muscles.........

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Isle Royale - Our next Cultural Management Plan -

The last time I was on Isle Royale was the week before the 9/11 attacks. I had to get back to work by 9/10 but the rest of my Fall Trip cronies heard the terrible news from the captain of the Voyageur II as they headed back to Grand Portage that day. There was concern as to whether they could return to the 'port' since all ports were closed, but since only two boats used the port at Voyageur Marina, the Wenonah and VoyageurII, common sense prevailed on a day when not much made sense. On our most recent Fall Trip to the Sauna Islands we were rewarded with weather that was clear enough so we could see the island almost the whole time, not the case in prior trips to that part of Gitchee Gumee. Last weekend we attended a lecture by Tim Cochrane, Superintendent of the Grand Portage National Monument and a historian of the Isle Royale area. He wrote a nice book on the native presence on the island titled, Minong- The Good Place and also gave an interview on WTIP about the upcoming process for the Cultural Management Plan for the island which you can listen to here.

Like the Apostle Island General Management Plan, which many of us commented on, this will be a long process with a number of contentious issues. Like the AINL, there had been a human presence on the island for centuries, including native American and white copper miners, loggers, resort owners, and the fishing families, some of whom still hold leases on the island. On my first visit in 1974 (I was on the island when Nixon called it quits and was initially puzzled by the 'President Ford' talk on my way back to Houghton) I visited some native copper mines, camped at the Island Mine campsite, checked out some rusting equipment, and hiked out to one of the fish camps. That was my first visit to any National Park and I was duly impressed. I've been back a number of times, both backpacking and kayaking. It's one of the least used parks due to its inaccessibility, and I think that's part of the charm. Like most public entities, public policies, and government operation in general, it has its wildly competing stakeholders, often with completely opposite goals and visions. The wilderness advocates think that all vestiges of human habitation need to be removed and the other extreme thinks the lodge facilities at Rock Harbor are far too spartan and need to be upgraded and expanded. If you paddle southwest from Rock Harbor Lodge you pass the massive Mott Island NPS maintenance and housing facilities. It takes a lot of infrastructure to run a 'wilderness' park. The tribes have a stake in the process, as do concessionaires such as the charter operations in Copper Harbor, Grand Portage, and Houghton. Fishermen, kayakers, backpackers, birders, lighthouse fans, and the more sedentary lodge guests all have goals and perceptions that need to be addressed.

One of the big issues is the leaseholders. The fact that the NPS has acted arbitrarily and in a heavy handed manner with these people over the years since the 1940 founding of the park is well documented. Pretty much the same thing occurred with the tribes as Tim Cochrane outlines in his book. A local writer and Isle Royale fan, Brian Lambert, wrote a story for the Strib on the recent eviction notices received by some of the remaining families. Its a good read and a thoughtful opinion piece by a fellow who obviously cares about the park. There are a couple well thought out plans he outlines, have your cake and eat it too plans, that seem to have a large element of win-win. Whether they will survive the Cultural Management Plan is another story. More background on the issue can be found in a story in the Cook Co. News Herald.

It will indeed be a process and, as the old saying goes, if you enjoy law or sausage its best that you watch neither being made. In my hometown of Eau Claire in the 70's the powers that be decided that we needed a new bridge over the Chippewa River. In a tactical error they had a referendum asking if voters wanted a new bridge or whether they wanted to upgrade the Grand Ave bridge. Voters overwhelmingly favored the Grand Ave bridge, which went right through the heart of downtown. Two years later the city fathers hit upon the right tactic to get their coveted bridge. The referendum asked where people would like their new bridge, Lake St (their site of choice for the past several years) or two other ridiculous locations., Being collectively stupid, we all voted for the Lake St. location as being the logical one, and now the Grand Ave bridge is a great big pedestrian and bike bridge. I'm not saying that the Preferred Alternative plans will be the equivalent of putting the new Eau Claire bridge in Chippewa Falls or Meridean, but as stakeholders, citizens, and lovers of Isle Royale we need to be both vigilant and vocal. Another more recent analogy illustrates the point a bit more clearly. Our eleven year old mutt, Rookie, has been getting a bit creaky lately and I took him in for a checkup. They needed to take his temperature, which we all know is not done orally with dogs or with one of those heat sensitive strips on the forehead. The technique was for me to distract him with a milkbone while the vet snuck around behind him and 'took the reading'. He looked at me, licked his chops, and focused on the milkbone. When the thermometer reached that critical temperature sensing area, his eyes got a bit wide, he tensed a bit and glanced quickly backwards, and then returned his attention to the milkbone. All I'm saying is that stakeholders need to keep an eye on the entire plan, evaluate the alternatives, accept compromise, and stay focused on the strategic goal of what's good for the park. And when they hold out that milkbone for you, be sure to 'check your six',or look behind you, as the fighter pilots say.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Enjoying the ice

Ice has a lot of pros and cons depending on our perspective. Its great in a large tumbler of Bushmills but miserable as we slide down I-35 sideways. It makes kayaking very difficult on our inland lakes this time of year but provides excellent access to early winter panfish, the tastiest fish that swim in my opinion. A person can easily wind up on their ass, a fact that's often pointed out to me when people recall my Verizon Center post, but for the folks on Madeline Island in the Apostles, it means free access to the mainland on the ice road for a couple months. This weekend brought both the yin and yang of ice once again. The VOR and I left town in the midst of a snowstorm with icy roads, en route to the north shore of Lake Superior for some R&R and to hike the frozen waterfalls.

The north shore is a wonderful place this time of year. Not an insect in sight, no tourists in bermuda shorts, black socks and sandals, zero traffic, the locals are much more relaxed, and things seem much more 'real' than in the summer months. Heck, there is even parking in front of the Gunflint Tavern! Our first hike Saturday was to the High Falls on the Pigeon River out of Grand Portage State Park, the only state park not owned by the state. Its owned by the BIA in trust for the Grand Portage band and operated jointly between the DNR and the tribe. Our friend Travis works there and if you want images of the park that are far better than mine, please click on his site, which is linked on the right of my blog. There is a brand new interpretive center and the trail has been greatly improved, perhaps even handicapped accessible. We only encountered a couple other people on the trail and they must have arrived after us because the parking lot was empty when we rolled in. In the image of the High Falls at the top of the post, the US is on the left and Canada on the right of the river as the Pigeon River forms the international border at that point. There is a longer, single track trail to the Middle Falls which is not maintained and closed for the winter. We understand, from talking to scofflaws who simply walked around the sign and hiked the trail, that there is several hundred feet of vertical and some spectacular views of Hat Point from the trail. The left image is roughly what it would have looked like, had we actually been able to hike up there. We also took an easy stroll to view the falls on the Cross River right off Hwy 61, and then a more strenuous hike up to the falls on the Caribou River. There were plenty of critter tracks since there was a dusting of snow on Saturday morning, but no people tracks, which was just fine. Lots and lots of deer seem to have survived the Minnesota deer season and are sliding around on the icy trails as much as we are from the looks of things. There was some slipping and sliding on parts of the trail but both of us managed to remain nicely vertical. At all of the falls at least 2/3 of the water flow was in the frozen state. It would be interesting to come back in the spring and see how the snow melt affects the water/ice ratio as well as the clarity of the water. This time of year water flow was pretty low as well as pretty clear.

When we awoke on Saturday morning in a cabin 15 yards from the lake, we wished we had brought the kayaks. My TCS (Time Compression Syndrome) is in remission however, and we didn't even get to use the classical or skate skis I'd thrown in. There were just so many frozen waterfalls and so little time. As Bryan Hansel pointed out however, the water in Gitchee Gumee is still 42F and the air is 20F. That's a solid twenty degree advantage to being on the water. Maybe a long weekend next time with kayaks and skis. What the heck, we might even get a chance to all the gear!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More outstanding customer service

Podman has swung into retirement mode quite nicely. One of his new hobbies is homebrewing. I had some old equipment that I passed on and actually use to teach community ed classes in this rewarding art. Because we are a green deer camp, it was decided to keg some homebrew, both for the excellent taste and the fact that we wouldn't have to haul empty bottles, lots of empty bottles, out when we broke camp on Sunday. During a trip to the big city for a wedding, Pod had purchased what he thought were the proper connectors to tap a Cornelius keg and I brought up a dual stage regulator and a big CO2 cylinder. The ceremonial tapping of the keg was Friday night before the season opened, just as the traditional burrito supper was being prepared, and we discovered that he had been sold the wrong fittings.

Panic might be a strong word but there was certainly angst and some fairly radical and invasive methods being proposed to get the 5 gallons of beer out of the keg. Tension was reduced with a judicious mixture of Early Times bourbon, Bushmills Irish whisky, a fine Malbec, and various assorted bottled beers. The problem remained however, so a plan of action was formulated. No one was leaving camp for anything on opening weekend but on Monday I sucked it up, got in the car, and drove to a hill about 5 miles away and fired up the cellphone. Cars and phones are usually avoided religiously during this week but drastic action was called for in a crisis such as this. I called Midwest Supplies and explained our plight.

The guy from Midwest was extremely helpful. When he asked about internet ordering I explained my situation. I'm sitting on a hill with one bar cell phone coverage in the northern Wisconsin wilds with a credit card and the pressure of thirsty deer hunters on my back. As you can see from the image, it was a very scenic spot and I could gaze across the lake at the north shore, but I was on a mission. He said he got it and explained that we had been sold the ball connector when we needed the pin connectory, which I had realized immediately, to my horror, on Friday. The pin connectors were in stock and he was pretty sure they could ship that day. We arranged to FedX overnite to the home of the BearWhisperer, who had to head back to town to work and coach basketball, but would return to camp Wednesday evening. I gave the fellow at Midwest my card number, shut down the phone, and headed back to camp with fingers crossed.

The BearWhisperer showed up Wednesday evening. No one gave him a second glance but eyes were instantly drawn to the box in his hand. We (actually it was me, I guess) tore it open, checked out the contents, and immediately hooked things up and tapped the keg. It was sublime. I'd like to report that we all had a tap beer or two and then saved the rest for the folks that were coming back on Friday morning but the excitement of tap beer at camp and overcoming adversity was just too great. We actually did save some but it was a one finger keg lift by the time the rest of the crew reported.

Not only did Midwest send us the right stuff when they said they were going to, they also threw in a couple extra parts they thought we might need. The note, reproduced above, said," can pay us next time you are in the store or just bring them back". We did need one of the parts so it was excellent analysis, critical thinking, and superb customer service on the part of Midwest Supplies. We doff our blaze orange caps to the crew at Midwest Supplies and thank them for their excellent work in providing the key that unlocked five gallons of excellent homebrewed IPA for the Reefer Creek Hunt Club. Your strong work is appreciated.