Friday, March 23, 2012

St. Patricks Day at St. Patricks

Our hectic 'spring tour' found us out in New York visiting CptO and his bride 'E' over St. Patricks Day weekend. This year was the 251st St. Patricks Day parade in New York City, which makes is about 15 years older than the Declaration of Independence. The parade has been led by the 'Fighting 69th' infantry since before the US Civil War and son CptO is a Captain in the battalion, hence the connection and the reason for the visit.

CptO left the Forest Hills Queens estate at dark o'clock for a 5am arrival at the Armory in Manhattan. Tradition calls for the traditional toast of the regiment, one part Irish whiskey and two parts champagne, then a march up to St Patricks Cathederal on 5th Ave. Also in accordance with tradition, the unit commander knocks on the church door, which is opened by the Archbishop and they are invited in for Mass. CptO's partner in crime, CptBrandon, managed to get us some tough to find tickets for this event and the trio of myself, the VOR, and E made it in to Manhattan for the 8:30 start. It was pretty impressive. When it comes to putting on a religious spectacle, you just can't beat the Catholics. I think every politician from aldermen to Senators, Governor, and Mayor were there along with three Cardinals and a gaggle of Bishops and other church folk. The new Cardinal Timothy Dolan worked the crowd like a veteran politician. As he was passing by us on the way out after mass he leaned over the told some of the troopers of the 69th, "Be sure to go right home after Mass now boys". This triggered laughter that was perhaps a bit more raucous than church decorum allowed.

We watched the 69th lead off the parade and then watched about another 45 minutes of this marathon event. My beloved daughter in law offered the opinion that it was time for a beer and I heartily agreed. The three of us headed for Pete's Tavern, NYC's oldest continually operating bar, for lunch. It can make that claim because during Prohibition it was Pete's Flower Shop, still exactly the same bar, only with the protection of the shady Tammany Hall politicos. We then headed for the historic 69th Armory on Lexington Ave. We actually headed for the Armory Officers Club, where Harp and Guiness were on tap and they even had a Bushmills or two for the VOR. The only disturbing note was when the Irish Wolfhounds, the regimental mascots, showed up and the VOR immediately bonded with them. There is one thing that I'm dead certain I don't need and that would be an Irish Wolfhound.

The day rolled on inexorably and we eventually found our way back to Forest Hills at some point in the evening. The only downside was that some stinkin' thief heisted my wool jacket at a brewpub in Union Square. Since I had a couple blog business cards in the pocket and thought he/she might just take a look, I wanted to pass on the sentiment that I hope they expire of stomach cancer in a country where anesthetics are unknown. The VOR was horrified that I would even think of such a thing however, so maybe I'll just secretly hope that the jacket gets caught in a subway door.

A fine and very quick weekend, so quick that I didn't even attempt to hook up with my friends at the Sebago Canoe Club. Sorry people, maybe next trip. I would like to get out on the water in NYC and have that on the bucket list. In the meantime there is not a bit of ice on any lake within 50 miles of here. Gotta get off my butt and get out on the water soon!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Goodbye ice

While out in NYC for the St Patricks Day festivities, I got a quick email from BjornDaehlieOfMahtomedi. The ice had gone out on White Bear Lake yesterday, making it the earliest ice out on record for the lake, a record that goes back well over 100 years. I'm waiting for the email from my buddy Jonesy out in Excelsior telling me the same thing about Minnetonka. If the ice is off those two lakes it means pretty much everything in the metro is wide open. Let the cold water rolling begin!

Last Thursday found us in Bayfield on a secret government mission. I wandered down to the harbor and took the attached images. This year there was no ice road at all and it would appear that even Chequamegon Bay will be opening up very soon. In this mornings Minneapolis paper, more cars have gone through the thin ice as well as, inexplicably, a tow truck sent out to haul them out. I may not be the brightest bulb in the candelabra but it would seem that if the cars went through that perhaps the much heavier tow vehicle might as well?

The most interesting ice out shot was when we were crossing the Nemadji River bridge on the back road into Wisconsin. The river had begun to thaw along the edges but the middle of the river where the snowmobiles had packed the ice and snow down had not yet frozen. I was kinda waiting for a snow machine to come roaring around the river bend but that did not happen.

Finally, in addition to being a crappy winter for ice fishing, cross country skiing, and runoff to fill the lakes and rivers, it's also been a very crappy season for syruping. Buy some maple syrup futures because prices around here will be going up. Some say 15-20% of the normal sap run and when you need an ATV to collect your sap instead of snowmobile, that ain't good.

Last winter was spectacular and this one non existent. I just hope its a two year cycle thing and that instead of listening to the thunder and April Showers on March 21st, that I'll be skate skiing the crust on Gross Golf Course on my way to work. Guess I better fix my skeg and start thinking about getting out on the water.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tragedy on Lake Michigan

While we were all celebrating with the paddling community at Canoecopia in Madison on Saturday, a young man lost his life off Port Washington on Lake Michigan. His kayak has still not been recovered. The media described Peter Dougherty as an 'experienced kayaker' and 'kayak instructor'. As word of the accident got out and emails and posts begin to circulate among Milwaukee paddlers and, more specifically, the paddlers who routinely paddled out of Port Washington, a different picture began to emerge. Keith Wikle, a Michigan paddler and one of the organizers of the 'Gales' event in Marquette last year, did a bit of digging, talked with the Port Washington authorities, and put together a much clearer and more accurate picture of the incident than the mainstream media. Other than the solo aspect of the accident, it sounds disturbingly similar to the death last June off Little Sand Bay in the Apostles.

I can feel the urge to get preachy, an urge that tends to rise to the surface every time something like this happens. Read Keiths post and I suspect you may have the same feelings. Sadness, frustration, and fact that the accident was completely preventable means that once again I'm writing pretty much the same stuff that I write when I hear of a kayaking fatality. The key, as always, is moving people off that unconscious/incompetent matrix square to that first step of conscious/incompetent. Admitting that one has an idea of the dangers of cold water kayaking and realizing that they don't have the skills to cope with it is the criticial first step. That step can lead to not paddling or seeking out instruction to develop the needed skills. Not making that step can be fatal. I have a friend who was a prosecutor in Jefferson County, WI. A deer hunter was killed when a group of hunters surrounded a small patch of woods and then all walked toward the middle, a 'circle drive'. When my buddy was questioning the surviving members of the party and unsuccessfully hiding his opinion on the insanity of the practice, one of the hunters indignantly told him, "Hell, we've been doing this for 25 years with no problems". Not knowing the dangers is part one of the problem. Part two is the reinforcement of having successfully completed or watched others complete what knowledgeable participants would consider to be a stupid dangerous activity.

As usual with this type of post I have no magical prescription, no panacea that will make this problem go away. As long as there are young males, and every single one of the victims can be considered a young male, there will be this 'don't hassle me, I know what I'm doing' dilemma. My buddy, Mr. EngineerGear is working on an economic model for launch decisions with factors such as Opportunity Cost and Captured Value. Its thought provoking stuff and I don't want to give away the entire premise but Danny Mongo alluded to it in a session last Saturday when he said that 'when the wind and waves reach a certain point calories expended paddling plummets and the bar tab skyrockets'.

I guess that once again we need to go with Keiths 'one person at a time' recommendation. I really liked the DNR magazine article that I mentioned in a previous post and think that it reached a lot more people than any kayak specific publication would. But once again, and especially with young males ( I actually was one for several years), you can lead a horse to water but you can't make 'em drink. They are especially reluctant to drink when they have successfully completed the sketchy activity two, four, or a dozen times in the past. One person at a time I guess, nothing else seems workable.Link

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring hits Madison

This years Canoecopia event in Madison was pretty similar to other years, which is a good thing. There was the usual mix of the old reliable stand by vendors, long time vendors with new stuff, and the new vendors. Even though a couple of us were lured in by a new vendor making three piece Greenland paddles, Northern Lights, this was a pretty light year for trading cash for paddle gear. I did meet a couple 'friend of a friend' folks at the exhibit hall and learned that about an hour after I had met them they had purchased four boats, but for the most part we looked and lusted after the gear. The talks were top notch again this year, with so many friends and acquaintances speaking that we almost had to flip a coin to see who we went to listen to. There seemed to be a bit more elbow room in the exhibit hall but the walls were lined in the speakers rooms. Lots and lots of knowledge and experience were being exchanged. It seems like more and more however, I am heading down there to touch base with old friends and make a couple new ones now and then. That is the constant of Canoecopia and it played out once again this year.

We met RacinRick and wife Jane at our little boutique hotel, which sits above one of the most venerable bar and restaurant complexes in the oldest part of Madison. Saturday morning found us heading for the convention center after picking up the FrugalFisherman who, true to form, stuck me for parking. We rendezvoused with the BadHatter and the aimless wandering began. Said three piece Greenland sticks were purchased by the BH and I for an upcoming paddle trip that involves commercial aircraft, and time and location were confirmed for the annual post Canoecopia debrief, the Crystal Corner Bar on Willy St. By 5pm a group from three states and four or five paddle clubs had been convened at the CC. After a modest and prudent number of IPA's, lagers, and stouts, we strolled the traditional half block to Jahmerica, one of the most beloved Jamacian jerk restaurants in the area. There we found respected Milwaukee instructors and lecturers, JB and Silbs, who had apparently confused the 'drink beer than eat' progression of the evening, just finishing up supper (closed circuit to JB: no Smutty Nose but Central Waters and Lake Louie IPA's on tap at the CC). One would think that by this point the commercial activity for the day might be over but that was not the case.

One more transaction needed to be completed. ChrisG from Boreal Shores had pawned his old, worn out Kokotat dry suit off on me last summer. I needed to do the same with my Tropos semi dry suit and the BadHatter was in a buying mood. Heated negotiations took place as we waited for our jerked chicken, pork, and ox tails, and I finally offered a nice discount if he would try the suit on in the restaurant. Having learned his negotiation and value skills from the FrugalFisherman, he quickly accepted the offer. So if you were driving down Willy St on your way to another establishment and saw a grinning fellow standing in the window of Jahmerica wearing a dry suit, this is the unlikely explanation.

When all the learning, shopping, and instruction are done the bottom line of this event, and indeed kayaking in general, is to have fun. I hope this is the kick off of another season of fun on the water and I have no reason to expect that it won't be. Spring has arrived early with the crocuses blooming, daylight savings time in effect, and the ice going out on Lake Monona literally while we watched. Just more signs that prime paddle season in the Great Lakes is just around the corner.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Canoecopia countdown

Sorry about the sporadic posting the past couple weeks. There has been much chaos, mostly positive and mostly of my own doing, but chaos none the less. We are sitting in Taos, NM getting ready to head out for some skiing, then down the hill to Albuquerque for a business conference. Last year this conference was in Cincinnati and there were plenty of empty seats. This year it sold out a month before the event; go figure. For once this event allowed those of us with a strong antipathy to the game of golf to show up early and do something enjoyable that doesn't require white shoes, polyester double knit slacks, and a knit sport shirt with some lame country club logo. I know the organizers well and congratulated them on the venue, telling them that even a blind pig has to find an acorn now and then. Their predictable response began with, "Olson, why don't you......", with the rest being unprintable in a family blog such as this one.

March is indeed the transition month, with my brain slowly turning from playing on solid water to playing on liquid water. Last Thursday we had an open board meeting for SKOAC, one of the two paddling clubs in the Twin Cities that I send my money to. Attendance was up for this event also, I think due to that same venue component. When it was discovered that the normal meeting room at Midwest Mountaineering was booked, the meeting moved two blocks north to the Republic Bar with a happy hour start. Attendance jumped exponentially. A couple board vacancies were discussed and talk of paddling trips, destinations, and other events that conjured up sun, warm air, and open water were discussed as well. The 'Winter' party was planned, an event that inspired GalwayGuy and I to leave early a couple years back, and blow up to Meyers Beach very early the next morning and meet ChrisG for the first Lake Superior paddle of the season, a crossing out to the normally off limits Eagle Island. This little island resembles a moonscape due to the yearly assault by nesting waterbirds but that's another story. Suffice it to say that the time to switch from the fluffy, white, solid form of H2O to the liquid stuff. For many of us in the Midwest the trigger for that mental switch over to paddle season is Canoecopia in Madison, WI.

We will be heading down this year after missing last year. I always look forward to seeing old friends, cronies, and other ne'er do wells at this event. Every year we seem to know more and more people presenting, which makes balancing wandering around in the exhibits vs presentations much tougher. It's a good problem to have however. Once again venue is important. If a person can't have fun in Madison they should head in for counseling. From my first whiff of CS gas on State St in the early 70's through many visits to buddies and No1 Son when he was in school there, I've enjoyed the city immensely. Pre and post Canoecopia activities are generally centered along Williamson ('Willy') St., from the Comeback Inn, down past the Weary Traveler, Jahmerica, the Crystal Corner, and HaLong Bay restaurant. Not a national chain in sight. Friends don't let friends do Applebee's.

I hope it's a great event and I hope to see as many friends as is humanly possible in the three days. Let the paddle season begin!

(PS. This is a remote post via iPad andI have no clue how to add a photo....I hope to figure it out)