Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Book Across the Bay

 As the year progresses, one of the things that keeps me sane and grounded is my anticipation of the fun and enjoyment that accompanies our several annual events. One of the more interesting annual ski events is the Book Across the Bay. It is a fundraiser for a number of organizations including the Washburn Public Library, using a grant process with the proceeds of the race.  Seventeen years ago a bunch of folks got together and decided to freeze a bunch of luminaries in pickle buckets, track a course from Ashland to Washburn Wisconsin across Lake Superior's Chequamagon Bay, ski or snowshoe the 10k, and then have a big party at the end.  The idea 'got legs' and this year 3,500 people joined in, from kids being towed on sleds to we borderline geriatric types.
The snow was almost perfect this year.  Ice being ice however, there were a few icy bare spots and the usual pressure ridges, the only topography at all on the flat course.  The weather was in the high single digits and three our our intrepid gang of eight, including me, decided to use skate skis, a decision that proved flawed as the evening progressed.  It was a beautiful night on the ice.  The sky in the west was a deep blue with a line of orange as the sun went down, the luminaries were lighting the entire 10k route, a rustlers moon provided some nice ambiance, and the Big Dipper pointed the way north to Washburn and it's seductive and inviting party tent.  I started the race with the KingOfIronwood Island.  That ended about 3k in when a woman started to fall and stuck her pole between my skis to brace herself.  We both went down with her on top of me.  The King claimed he never saw the incident and later, being a man interested in female companionship, asked me about my technique for having women fall all over me.  I got up, dusted myself off, and made it another 3 or 4k before a second woman fell over to her left as I was passing her and landed on my right ski, which put me squarely on top of her on the ground. I'm not going to print the Kings comment on that incident.  I had a minor fender bender on Thursday which all my friends and relatives attributed to tail-gating.  When I related these two incidents in the tent, I was immediately accused of ass-gating on the ski trail as well.  At this point any thought of a decent time had evaporated and I did fall one more time, all on my own, as I was crossing an icy pressure ridge at about the 7k mark.  Fortunately I remembered a local business that I patronize had told me they would be having a rest stop. The owner told me that in addition to a bonifre, healthful energy drinks and water, he  would also have an adult beverage or two for the folks he knew.  Of course the King had immediately stopped there and waited for me but I must have just missed him.  Somehow my sister skied past without me seeing her and we met at the finish line.  The last 4k or so was tough because the temperature had dropped to 0F and the skate skis felt like I had sandpaper on the bottom due to the change in the ice crystals in the snow.  We all made it in fine form however and enjoyed the music of Fido and the Love Dogs in the tent.  The three dollar pints of South Shore Nut Brown Ale made everything about the evening just that much better.  Some body passing even ensued, with a close relative of mine being a reluctant participant, but everyone had great fun.
Its great to see a grass roots community event come off like this.  Between the large warming/party tents on both ends, freezing and deploying the luminaries, registration, course tracking, and ambulance service, it was a collective community effort from start to finish. No giant corporate sponsor had banners all over the place; I hope Budmiller never hears of this event and attempts to throw big dollars at it so we can continue to enjoy the local brew.  The rest stops along the way were outstanding and have become really creative. The course went past the sea caves south of Washburn that we play in when the wind keeps us off the big lake, which were nicely lit with luminaries.  It's a great local event, one which we sincerely hope will continue in its present form.

(all photos are crappy iPhone images.  Sorry, I was traveling light that night......)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Beer, the Book, and the Bad River

Sorry for the belated post this week; I just returned from four days in hell, also known as Los Angeles.  Specifically I was in Anaheim at the gigantic soulless convention center for a trade show. Pretty much everything that I encountered was either aggravating, depressing, or fake,  other than my industry buddies, most of whom I look forward to meeting every year at this event.  Because they are my buddies, micro brewed beer is sought out and tested relentlessly.  Even the antiseptic convention center had a couple of micros along with the Budmiller, but the earnest business folk in their starched shirts with the company logos avoided the beer stand for fear that customers and potential customers would think they were having fun at this event.  The good beer pickings were few and far between however, with the exception of the sublime dry hopped, bottle conditioned IPA in the photo.  That beer deprived situation in Anaheim is a far cry from the vibrant beer scene here in Northeast Minneapolis.

A new brewpub actually opened up while I was out in freeway hell, an item forwarded to me by our crack marketing director, MsHotNSpicy.  612 Brewing opened up two blocks from where we first homesteaded when we emigrated across the border from Wisconsin back in 1978.  They  have an intriguing 'session style IPA', a naming ploy brewers use to hide the fact that they actually brewed an excellent bitter or ESB (Extra Special Bitter).  Indeed Brewing, another newcomer, is only about a three wood away from 612.  They have the delectable Day Tripper, which is also available in cans.  The real way to enjoy Day Tripper though, is from the cask, double dry hopped, at the brewery.  As I type this at 6am I get thirsty just thinking about it.  Dangerous Man opened up about 8 blocks west of Indeed.  I am behind in my brewpub testing but Dangerous Man ran out of their one thousand growlers in about a week and a half.  If you have a growler to lend it's a free pint for you until their next shipment comes in. Outside Northeast is Harriet Brewing, a fine establishment off Hiawatha Ave and Northbound Smokehouse with their home smoked meats and an excellent IPA.  Both of those have been visited but we have not hit Steel Toe in St Louis Park or Badger in Minnetonka.  We did visit Excelsior Brewing and had excellent cask ale there as well.  Badger uses a ploy a bit different than the 'session IPA' trick for their excellent bitter; it's called MSB, which stands for Minnesota Special Bitter.  So why have all these brewpubs cropped up on the last year or so?  Passage of the 'Surly Bill' or more properly the repeal of the special interest focused law which prohibited brewers from selling their own beer on their own premises.  This did zero to protect the consumer, but it protected distributors quite nicely, the guys who warehouse, store, distribute, and mark up the cost of the beer a few percent in the process.  Most of these new breweries have a rotation of food trucks that stop by in the afternoon.  This is another pheomenom that was jump started by the relaxing or repeal of City of Minneapolis ordinances designed to protect the consumer from eating great food on the city sidewalks.  While Minnesota has these two fine examples of legislating away rules which ultimately screw the citizenry, Wisconsin continues to plod relentlessly in the opposite direction.

I won't go deeply into the iron mining bill, that's for another post/tirade.  Certain Wisconsin interests seem determined to bend over backwards to let Goegebic Taconite build a mine that scientific evidence strongly suggests will destroy the Bad River watershed which flows into Lake Superior.  It will take a few years for the damage to occur so the bill has been written (by GTAC is the story) to absolve GATC of any responsibility before the leaching and contamination reaches full force.  This year the Bad River Watershed Association, an organization that won Lake Superior Magazine's 2012 Achievement Award, will be exhibiting at Canoecopia in the lobby area.  Their goal is not to be pro or anti mining; it is to point out possible threats to the watershed that they are named after, a river that flows through the reservation inhabited by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. The Bad and Kakagon sloughs are home to one of the most fertile and productive wild rice beds in the world .  Needless to say, healthy wild rice will really hate mining runoff.  More to follow on both the progress of the mining bill and the Canoecopia appearance, but sources have indicated that Lake is the Boss notables such as Podman and the inimitable GurneyGranny will be manning the booth, as will Yours Truly.  We might even be able to recruit the VoiceOfReason, a woman that you are compelled to pay attention to.  She is after all, the Voice of Reason.  A membership is twenty five bucks, a small price to help protect Gitchee Gumee, the lake we all love.  I have a scheme in the back of my mind for a Canoecopia membership bonus to sweeten the pot but I need to make sure it's legal.........We hope to meet lots of Lake Superior paddlers at the booth.

To complete the trifecta suggested in the post title, a bunch of us will be skiing the Book Across the Bay, a ski race/tour that benefits the public library.  The course has minimal elevation beacuse it cuts across Chequamagon Bay on our favorite lake, departing from what's left of  the ore dock in Ashland. The finish is a large and inviting beer tent in Washburn with both chili and excellent live music to accompany the South Shore beers that will be on tap. I am certain that discussion of the mining bill and the Canoecopia appearance will be foremost at the tent, fueled no doubt by South Shore Nut Brown Ale.  Unlike Anaheim there will be no fake snow in sight.

(I'd like to credit the Ansel quote and poster but it was sent to me by a friend, no idea of the source.  The Port Brewing High Tide bottle shot on the other hand, was all me.)

Friday, February 8, 2013


What the heck is he doing writing about paddles in February?  Shouldn't he have a ski pole or maybe an ice fishing pole in his hand?  Could he possibly be thinking about violating his anti chlorine pledge and attending a pool session!?  Senility!!??  Actually my mind has been flirting with the idea of Canoecopia, one short month away.  The UndergroundHippie and I have been making reservations and plotting for a barley friendly weekend in Madison, one that will avoid motor transport and allow walking from our lodging to various eclectic eating and imbibing locations, primarily on Willy St.  I also responded to a 'what's your favorite paddle' post on Facebook.  I passed on the 'foam core carbon fiber asymetrical low profile this and that' stuff and tossed out my good old Basswood Greenland stick as my preferred paddle.

I will admit to having a pronounced retro streak in many things.  Wooden paddles, wool clothing, a single shot deer rifle, bamboo ski poles, and manual transmissions are a few of my old school preferences.  I like wooden paddles, Basswood in particular, because of the liveliness, the strength, and the hand feel.  The fun of carving a functional, efficient, and often beautiful paddle out of a rough 2x4 is a fulfilling exercise but they also really work well.  The VOR would give up her Betsie Bay Greenland stick only 'if you pried her cold, dead fingers from the shaft'.  Compared to carbon fiber, wood is flexible and gives you a feel of a flexing 'snap' forward at the end of the stroke.  It may just be hallucinatory, but that little extra spring forward does make me feel that I got that little extra jump as I exit the water to prepare for the next stroke.  I can make the same claim with my trusty '70s vintage bamboo ski poles; they just flex and feel really good moving forward.  Plus if I do break one, a bit of duct tape will get me back to the parking lot with no problems.  Hand feel is something that can't be replicated with carbon fiber either.  I often pass on the gloves in early and late season paddling on Gitchee Gumee because the warm feel of the wood keeps my hands nice and toasty, unlike the cold dead feel of carbon fiber.  I like Basswood as a paddle material as well.  The BadHatter and I made Basswood paddles with the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN and still have them. Sitka Spruce is much lighter and a wood that is used for masts and such, but I've broken two of them.  With the lightness strength is sacrificed. Western Red Cedar is the same, beautiful and light but it just doesn not seem to have the strength.  Strong wood species or not folks, a wooden paddle will break.  Christopher Crowhurst of Qajaq Rolls and another Canoecopia attendee/exhibitor, watched me come up with half a paddle in my hand late this summer after what I thought was a nice, smooth forward sweep roll.  For some reason forward finishing rolls seem to be a bit more deadly on wooden paddles than other activities, although a vigorous sprint to the finish line in a race can be deadly as well.  Note GalwayGuy with a treacherous Sitka Spuce stick that gave up the ghost 100 yds from the finish.  He still won his age group, even though he had to go to the backup paddle.

I am not a zealot on this paddle thing.  I own both Werner Euro paddles and also a carbon fiber Greenland stick and I paddle with both of them.  It sometimes feel like I'm 'cheating' on my Basswood paddle but variety is indeed the spice of life, at least in paddles.  The amazing lightness, strength, and even beauty of some of the carbon fiber paddles is truly amazing.  But for my every day forward stroking I love the feel of tung oiled Basswood in my hand.  It puts my mind at ease right along with the rhythm of the waves on my favorite large body of fresh water.  Speaking of fresh water, I am indeed planning on attending a pool session in the not too distant future.  No chlorine will be involved however, since the Bayfield Rec Center has converted their pool to salt water.  ChrisG of Boreal Shores Kayak tipped me off to this gem in my backyard when we were cross country skiing a couple weeks back.  I'm thinking I could complete the trifecta of telemark skiing, cross country skiing, and rolling my kayak, all within the space of an afternoon.  Now if RangerMark could only find those elusive Coho salmon off the Onion River I could add ice fishing for the quadrafecta.......if that's a word. 

Kayak lusting is only a month away in Madison boys and girls.  In the meantime enjoy the winter!!