Thursday, February 24, 2011

A carp hit me! At least it wasn't a Lear Jet

I promised to get down off my anti carp soapbox unless something significant popped up. It would appear that a couple of things have, one on the public level and one on a somewhat more personal level. Congress voted against closing the Chicago locks last week and a kayaker was forced to withdraw from a race last summer after being struck in the head by a flying carp.

A Republican House member and Democratic Senator from Michigan introduced legislation to cut off funding for operation of the locks in Chicago, the Interstate Carp Highway from the Mississippi watershed to the Great Lakes. This provision in a budget bill was torpedoed and sank one week ago today. Meanwhile the hearings in various cities from Minneapolis to New Orleans drag on (at slug-like speed according to the Detroit Free Press), the potentially worst spring flooding season in years is just around the corner, and the carp are gearing up for a little hot carp lovin' as the spawing season approaches along with the flood waters.

In an incident much closer to home for we kayakers, a kayaker in the MR340 in Missouri was struck in the head by what observers thought was a 2-3', 20-30 pound carp. An alert blog reader sent me the link after a previous anti carp/government ineptitude post. Be sure to save the 6 part, "Tips for Avoiding Carp on the Missouri". We can easily modify it to "Tips for Avoiding Carp in Lakes Michigan and Superior" in a few short years. One very succinct paragraph in the article seems a bit foreboding given the anticipated spring flooding and glacial speed of the government response: "Because these carp have been found to spawn in high waters, the floods of the mid 90s only exacerbated the problem. Now, bighead carp have penetrated the electric barrier that blocks fish from the Mississippi River Basin into the Great Lakes Basin, creating a growing economic concern that threatens the multi-billion dollar fishery industry in that area". As we used to say in junior high, 'no shit Sherlock'!

As depressing as that tidbit is, there is some good news from the Bayfield peninsula. The Twin Cities developers that want to build a development and jet landing strip in the Town of Russel not too far Little Sand Bay ranger station and launch in the Apostles, were shot down by the Bayfield Co Board of Adjustment. According to the Ashland Daily Press 'Members of the Bayfield County Board of Adjustment voted 4-1 Thursday to overturn a conditional use permit issued by the Bayfield County Zoning Committee for the Waypoint residential fly-in development proposed for the northern Bayfield County community of Town of Russell'. Two good friends, the GreenThumbChef and WoodFondlingBarrister were intimatly involved in this process. I had the pleasure of having a drink last Friday with the GTC but missed the Wood Fondler, as he had left the Deepwater before we arrived but left but left several derogatory comments that he instructed be passed on to me. At least for the time being we won't be hearing the engines of Lear jets and Gulfstreams as they throttle back over Oak Island on their final into Waypoint Field. Part of the lure of the Apostles is that peace and quiet and its nice that it will continue, at least until the anticipated flurry of appeals hits.

The lesson from these two stories is pretty simple. We need to keep up the pressure on these officials and good things can happen. I'm sure our old buddy Scott Walker down in Madison is well aware of that fact as he attempts to go to work and answer phone calls from his billionaire supporters. Let your opinion be known loudly and often. Don't get distracted or a carp might hit you in the head.

(carp action shots courtesy of the AP and Brian Kaufman of the Detroit Free Press)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Use your gear!

The Book Across the Bay came off very nicely on Saturday night. Gale force winds had blown the registration tent down the day before and then cranked up again on Sunday, clocking a max of 67mph on the Blatnik bridge in Duluth. There was no snow on the course as late as Friday morning due to the warm week preceding the race but volunteers had a nice track down by the 6pm start Sunday night. I had one of my better races, finishing in the first 300 or so out of 2,267 registered participants and still felt pretty good at the end. A flat course is very friendly to tall, 220# guys. Hauling that weight up even small hills can be problematic. I crossed the line, was harassed by the PA announcer, my crony RawhidePhil, and took my skis off and started heading for the beer tent. Almost immediately I was accosted by three women in ski 'outfits' who asked to inspect my skis. I was somewhat puzzled as they pored over my skis in the fire light until one of them told me, "These don't look too bad other then some scratches on the top and the base looks fine. I was afraid to use my good skis because I was sure the ice would scratch them all up".

I've encountered this gear preservation attitude in almost every sport I've been involved in. I know guys who won't walk through the thick brush (where the birds are) for fear of a scratch on the stock of their shotguns. Many skiers are content to ski on a pair of crappy skis when conditions aren't perfect (their 'rock skis'), and we all know kayakers who would prefer to get wet up to their waists rather than run the bow of their beloved fiberglass boat up on rocks, or even sand. I am sure that there is a wide spectrum of attitudes, from the types who purchase things and leave them in the original package with hopes of selling them for big bucks in the future, to the 'run it like you don't have a penny in it' types. I tend to lean toward the latter and the majority of my gear has that 'comfortable' look. Gear is made to be used and I think its hard to concentrate on the techniques of the activity a person is engaged in if the worrying specter of dents and scratches is lurking somewhere in the back of the mind. There is also a safety component involved. If you contort in order to avoid a rock or small bare spot on a ski run or choose kayak landing spots based upon what it easiest on your precious hull, you are going to be in trouble at some point. Resale value of the gear can certainly be affected but what's the value of the 'opportunity cost' that was lost due to babying the gear? There are extremes on the abuse end and I have a long time friend that I wouldn't buy a used anvil from. My Valley Aquanaut HV, the beloved Ore Freighter, has some extra fiberglass and gel coat on it due to exuberant paddling but its structurally solid as a rock and paddles like a dream. Are we worried about cosmetics or function?

There are products that are made for and invite abuse. My canvas Filson chaps and jacket are made to bull through thorn thickets, blackberry patches, and other woodland environments that would leave GoreTex or fleece garments in shreds. Both the BadHatter and FrugalFisherman refuse to consider fiberglass kayaks because their motto when landing on any beach is, "Accelerate to ramming speed!, an enviable strategy when attempting to negotiate a cobble beach on Superiors north shore in the surf.

I guess the point of this post is to be concerned about what you are doing and not what's going to happen to your gear. That should have been thought out before you made your purchase, and your gear should be suitable to the conditions you expect to play in. I will have to admit that the women inspecting my skis would have had a different conclusion a couple years back. I was attempting to pass a guy and ran straight into a luminary that had been extinguished. For all my supportive friends who wondered what kind of dumb ass could run into a luminary, its kinda hard to see a 5 gallon pail sized block of clear ice in the dark. I broke my binding but some Super Glue therapy made it almost as good as new. If the same thing had happened this year to my 'good' skis would I have been pissed? Damn straight, but I still have the Super Glue. So push the envelope a bit people, there is lots of gear out there to replace that which has been compromised. You will find an amazing sense of freedom when you run your sporting gear like you drive a rental car.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In the water or on top of it?

There is one thing we northerners have over those of you who live in more southern climates; for a portion of the year we can walk on the same water that we paddle in the more moderate months. This weekend we will be skiing over exactly the same water we paddle at the annual Book Across the Bay 10k ski race. This is an event to benefit the libraries in the area and has grown into both a nice ski race and an even better party.

Its not too early to plug the Inland Sea Kayak Symposium, an event held in Washburn,WI every other year. The BATB ends next door to the beach that's used for most of the instruction for that event. I'm sure a number of people that paddle the ISKS will be skiing this one. I've noticed that certain sports seem to complement one another. Before the very boring practice of focusing on one sport came into vogue, most hockey players were baseball players in the summer and also played golf. The hand/eye coordination and upper body training translated well between the three activities. Now coaches seem to want their players to focus on their sport year round. Regular hockey season, spring league, summer camp, and then fall league before the regular season begins again is a common practice. It's also a great way to burn out a kid on the sport. Our high school basketball coach explained that basketball was to be our only focus in the winter and that peripheral activities like deer hunting and skiing were not allowed. This insured that one 6'4" basketball lover would not be playing any high school ball. I skied, hunted, and we won the city church league basketball championship with my derelict buddies, all of whom were hunters, skiers, and more than decent basketball players. Frankly, while not actually bored with or sick of kayaking when November rolls around, I simply enjoy other activities more. The ice cream headache that accompanies rolling in 35F water and my known anti-chlorite sentiments make it a fairly easy choice in this climate. Plus I really, really like a freezer full of venison over the winter. The fitness level, emphasis on good technique, and the upper body development needed makes kayaking and cross county skiing natural cross training partners.

This weekend will be the beginning of the end of the ski season and the beginning of the mental switch to paddling. Silbs shoving off into Lake Michigan through the ice, JB and others down in Tybee, and Canoecopia a few short weeks away has my brain churning with possibilities for the new season. I've already responded to Gail's email to help instruct at the ISKS Symposium in June and have struck my head on the NDK Explorer that hangs in my garage at least two dozen times in the past month. We will enjoy the hell out of 'the Book' this weekend, probably eat too much chili, listen to too much music, and drink too much beer at the party tent at the finish line, but as I ski the last 3k along the Washburn shore I'll be thinking about dipping my paddle in the very same water in a short couple of months.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Vasaloppet Relay: Another top ten finish

Two thousand skiers took off at the sound of the starting cannon from a field in Warman, MN, bound for Mora on Sunday. Among them were the two SKOAC Renegade teams, suddenly made relatively equal by a couple of last minute substitutions. The smack talk began Sunday morning and on paper things were looking pretty even, however by the end of the day natural order had returned and the GAS team snuck by the DGAS team (see prior post for acronym interpretation) by a little over 20 minutes for the 58k (35 mile) course.

Weather was most certainly a factor, but not because of the bitter cold of previous years. A couple of us skied part of the course on Saturday and it was superb at 25F. The forecast for Sunday was a subtropical 38F though, which creates all kinds of problems for long thin geometric shapes attempting to slide over frozen water. For the classic skiers it means grip tape or the more traditional and nasty klister wax, a substance that can be described as toothpaste with maple syrup and super glue binder. Once it gets on something, its impossible to get it off. Skaters have to actually believe the weather forecast and wax for the predicted conditions. Like Lake Superior forecasts, the prediction model was a bit off. By about 10 degrees F, which is huge if a person is attempting to wax for the race. My thermometer read 46F at one point in the day. The day started at below freezing so the fast skiers were in Mora enjoying a cup of coffee as we slaggards were just feeling the effects of the slushy snow as it became more and more liquefied.

The first leg went well with LoneRangerRob knocking off a fine classical segment. The ManFromSnowyLegs, the Aussie component of our international team, also skied a fine classic leg but reported the snow was getting 'bloody soft'. Our ace in the hole, the Mayor, took off on the longest leg of the race and reported that 'I'd rather ski the entire 58k in 15 degree weather than do that again in this slop'. JackiePack took off for leg 4, even after I had offered several times to give her the glory spot, the anchor leg down the main street of Mora and across the finish line. For some reason, she thought that I had the ulterior motive of not wanting to ski on even sloppier snow than what it was. Go figure. By the time I took off I was skiing on mashed potatoes. At least 1500 skiers had been down the trail before me and it was a bit worn out. I had some glide on the skate skis, thanks to RonO's waxing and beer tasting event Thursday at the hanger, but it was tough going, made tougher by the fact that I knew the relay team behind us was only a couple minutes back with a really fit looking younger woman waiting to tag up and catch my slow and old rear end.

In the end we hung on for that top ten finish (it would be very impolite to ask how many teams were in the event) and we all had the usual fine time. CabinetMakerMark, anchor on the other SKOAC team, and brother of the VOR and the Mayor, swore he'd wait for me at the top of the Mora Lake hill so we could have an exciting sprint to the finish line but he must have had his fingers crossed. He was at the finish line with a beer when I came across. Which is how we all eventually wound up in the photo below. The same conditions that made for tough skiing made for superb beer drinking. It was a fun filled event and that's what it's all about folks.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Winners and "We're just happy to compete"-ers

In case you haven't heard, the Packers won the Super Bowl Sunday night. Contrary to the KingOfIronwoodIsland's prediction, the loss to the Motor City Kitties did not knock us out of the playoffs. I'm pretty sure that my decision to watch the game at Ray's Place in Eau Claire, coupled with Carl's ratty 60's era Packer stocking cap and green and gold Jello shots after every Packer TD, were a deciding factor in the win. I have not had time to post since then because I had a 8am flight to LA on Monday morning for a 3 day work trip and have been like a one legged man in an ass kicking contest since then. Let me just say that a late ending Super Bowl celebration, Jello shots, pitchers of Leinies, and a drive back to the Twin Cities (don't worry, I had a wingman) is not a combination that's conducive to 8am flights the next morning. Fortunately, I can sleep soundly on a marble bench and did rally strongly. Actually the marble bench would have been more restful because there would be no one to wake me and ask if I'd like a complimentary beverage.

There was another winner over the weekend, arguably with much more long term importance than a fleeting football championship. The small town of Grand Marais, MI, like the Green Bay Packers, defeated much larger rivals for a share of the five million bucks in the Readers Digest contest. Now maybe the town can get rolling on fixing the breakwall that the government had decided to studiously ignore. Thanks to everyone that punched in their ten votes per day. It's obvious that tons of people who don't live in the town feel that their goal of saving their harbor is a worthwhile one because 300 people couldn't have done it all on their own. It's too bad no one from Grand Marais drove over to Marquette yesterday to hold up a sign for Prez Obama. 'We did it in spite of you', 'Thanks for nothing', or maybe even 'Get some new czars'. Or maybe they did......

On the 'happy to be there' side of the equation, two teams of five intrepid skiers will compete in the Vasaloppet relay in Mora, MN this weekend. Temps promise to be 55F warmer than they were on the first relay event. The two SKOAC Renegade squads, GAS and DGAS (that's Give A S*** and Don't GAS) have trained diligently.....sporadically.......a little bit......OK, we've all skied some this winter. Actually on both teams there are a couple skiers that have actually gotten out and trained for ski marathons this year so we are expecting big things from both teams. However we will be competing against high school and college skiers who just want a sprint style warmup rather than knocking off the entire 58k. Oh, we're goin' down, that's for sure, but that's fine because both Renegade teams are confident of a top ten finish, a goal we have achieved every year we have skied the race.

Four hours to the south, the Iowa Paddlesports Expo will be in full swing. There is even a plan afoot to paddle since the weather is supposed to be balmy. Good luck to all our buddies down there. Our brains are still firmly in ski season, although plans for the Traditional Gathering are well underway and the Canoecopia countdown is down to 28 days. To all my LA acquaintances who asked what the heck we do up here in the winter, I gotta say it's getting tougher and tougher to choose among all the choices.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


I want to thank everyone that has participated in my four day birthday celebration, either in person or with emailed best wishes. Thanks to those who skied Welch Village Thursday night and bought me a beer or two, as well as those who joined in listening to RawhidePhil and his amazing band in Hopkins on Friday night. Not only was the music fantastic, but the first Surly Mild ale of the season was on tap at Tuttles as well. Yesterday found more friends up at Mora, skiing the practice loops and enjoying a great potluck and a few more beers with the Legend and GraciousPartier at their trail side cabin. Now it's Sunday and time to get down to work. I need to help the Packers win the Super Bowl.

I believe that I failed them when they lost to Denver in their last Super Bowl appearance. When they defeated Bill Parcell's Patriots the year before, I was in Wisconsin at Ray's Place Bar watching the game. The next year I had something come up and was not able to make it down. They were favored by 11 and lost to Elway and Co. That will not happen this year, superstition will prevail and I will be at Rays. Just as soon as I hit 'publish post' I will be heading east with GuitarMatt as my wingman. I will be wearing the same Packer warmup jacket that I'm wearing in the image above and I will also be wearing a vintage Super Bowl 1 Paul Hornung jersey, the jersey that can be seen peeking out from under the jacket. The two green concoctions that Mr. Carl and I have in our hands are handed out when the Packers score a TD. We have Favre to Antonio Freeman in one hand, and Favre to Andre Rison in the other. This year the Packer punch has been replaced by the easier to handle green Jello shots but I hope to have at least 3 or 4 of them as our guys cross the goal line. I have a long history at Rays as my dad and Ray were buddies since they got back from WWII. My dad went to work at Uniroyal and Ray bought Ray's Place. Many a dollar has crossed the bar over the years between my dad and Ray, and between Ray's son Dave and I. Dave is the current proprietor and also a deer hunting buddy.

Enough blogging. I got a Super Bowl to win!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Choices and more choices

Last weekend was nearly perfect for the annual Intensive Training weekend on Lake Namakagan east of Cable, WI. This event was founded a couple decades ago when many of the attendees actually skied the Birkie race and the pendulum is swinging back in that direction. It's organized by the WoodFondlingBarrister and part of the tradition is merciless criticism of his choice of accomodation, food, sleeping arrangements, trail conditions, weather, poker chip quantity, and pretty much everything else. This year it was hard to criticize anything, other than the KingOfIronwoodIsland's Tourettes-like outbursts at the poker table. Everyone had a place to sleep (although I was defrauded out of a real bed and stuck on the back breaking fold out couch), and the weather and trail conditions were superb. 20F and 4" of new snow just can't be beat. The only things we had to decide were which trails to hit and whether we wanted to classic or skate ski.
The choice of whether to classic or skate ski is yet another crossroads in the sporting equipment decision making process. Fortunately, like Euro and Greenland style kayak paddles, a person can easily do both and switch back and forth. Most of us grew up with the classic style and wood skis with three pin bindings. I got talked into trying the skate technique when both sons decided in high school that ski racing was a lot more rewarding than hockey. The one thing I noticed right away is that you need a much more powerful and well tuned motor to power the skate skis than the classic. The fact that I was just learning the technique and No1 son was racing for the Wisconsin Badgers at the time did nothing for my self esteem regarding my slow progress. Striding on classic skis is a pretty natural movement which can be akin to running or walking depending on how much energy you want to expend. Skating requires the motor to keep running as you shift weight from ski to ski while also moving forward. Going up a hill is even more interesting from the energy expenditure standpoint.

We chose to ski the beautiful Rock Lake trails on Saturday, a 16k loop that is the prettiest and most enjoyable classic trail I've ever skied. It goes through terminal moraine of the last glacier and has roughly 1/3 each of up, down, and flat. It winds past 4 small glacial lakes with hills that are harrowing the first time down but as soon as a skier realizes that there are no surprises they can easily be made. There were a couple of face plants but I guess that's to be expected. Sunday found us on the Birkie trail just east of Seeley, WI. This is a section of trail with 50% up and 50% down; I don't think there was a flat stretch longer than 20 yards on the damn thing. It's other advantage was it was down hill from there to sustenance at the Sawmill Saloon with its Berghoff Dark on tap and excellent burgers. RonO, TheManFromSnowyLegs, and I skied about a 10k segment and that was all we needed. RonO is signed up for the Birkie and is training so it likely didn't bother him, but the MFSL and I, a guy just learning skate technique, were most definitely breathing heavily.

Choosing between classic and skate skis, like paddles, deer rifles, kayaks, and damn near every other piece of sporting equipment we encounter, requires some self evaluation and careful thought. For a relaxing and enjoyable ski in the woods, classic is by far my first choice. For more of an aerobic workout and more speed, its the skate technique. Most races have categories for both style and its pretty much a matter of preference. Like the small group of Greenland paddlers, there are a number of people that are returning to the wooden skis, wool clothing, and three pin bindings. It's just plain fun and gets people back to the roots of the sport.

The month of February had races every weekend. Some of them will be skied on classic and others on the skate skis. That's the beauty of learning both techniques and expanding the repitoire. There is also no better time to be in the northwoods than the winter. A person can see forever though the leafless trees, the evergreens provide color and contrast, the animal tracks let us know we aren't the only ones out there, and there isn't a mosquito within 500 miles. You can truly experience the winter wonderland on a pair of cross country skis.

Last reminder: Keep plugging your 10 votes per day (almost like a Cook County election, eh?) in to save Grand Marais harbor. The contest ends next week.