Friday, November 11, 2011

Paddle? In a storm like this??

We all received the same reaction from our co-workers as we compared notes after arriving at the boat launch on the west end of Lake Minnetonka for the 7th annual Gales of November paddle. We try to hold this event on or close to the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975 as possible, unless it falls on a weekend. One of the main points of this gathering is to play hookey from work in the afternoon, usually confounding our co-workers as we did yesterday. The comments were basically questioning our sanity and wondering how a person could have fun in snow flurries, 38F air temp and 42F water temp, with a brisk northwest wind. After surviving yesterdays ordeal I'm going to have admit to them today, when I get to work, that they were right. It was pure hell and we all wondered why we didn't just stay at our warm and cozy desks rather than venturing out in the foul weather.

First of all our launch was delayed by the MN DNR truck stocking muskies in the lake. We stood shivering in our dry suits as net after net of pure strain muskies were pitched into the lake. When we finally got on the water we were all alone, per our co workers prediction that no one else would be dumb enough to venture on to this 14,000 acre urban lake with its thirty plus islands in these treacherous conditions. We snaked our way through channels and under several pesky bridges where the wind funneling the water through the bridge opening made for nasty paddling in the cold water.

We finally reached our destination of Goose Island, an island with a couple fire rings and nothing else on it. We immediately started a fire to warm our frozen toes and fingers, wondering what the heck we were doing out there. Almost at the same time the fire was lit the adult beverages were also opened, an impressive array of microbrewed beers, fine white and red wines, and hot chocolate with Kahlua to warm our chilly cores.

We sat shivering and watched the sun go down in the west. Even the snacks and appetizers could not alter our sullen mood, an attitude clearly visible in the image above. Then, just as we thought we would be able to practice our night navigation skills and paddle back to the launch site in the inky darkness with some 'walleye chop' to test our skills, the wind died down, the lake turned to glass, and the moon came out. It was as bright as day when we paddled back to our vehicles, no fun at all on what was supposed to be a valuable learning experience. It was 31F now and our boats, paddles and other gear had a fine coating of ice on them. We loaded up and adjourned to the Narrows Saloon in Navarre, where the difficult decision of which microbrewed beer to select was finally made, brains partially frozen from the paddle. Alaskan Amber and DeSchutes Black Butte Porter were selected and the debrief began. We wound up listening to the band in relative silence as we mulled over the traumatic November paddle we had just completed.

Fellow work colleagues, you were absolutely right. Venturing out on to the lake this time of year, weather hovering near freezing was a terrible experience. However, like child birth I'm told, the human mind will block these bad memories over time. I'm certain that by next year the lesson of yesterday will be forgotten and the usual collection of saps will take to the water and subject themselves and their equipment to abuse for yet another year. This can be a cautionary tale however, to those folks heading out to paddle this weekend, at least two groups that I'm aware of: Don't do it! Watch some football, maybe even Penn State, and avoid those nasty conditions. Me? I'll be hiding up in a tree. Happy weekend folks, and don't forget our veterans on this 93rd anniversary of the end of 'the war to end all wars'. Don't we wish!

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