Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Ferry opener

Before we get into closed ice roads and ice breaking ferries, there is some followup on the Peace Tree expedition of Easter weekend.  The first item would be the excellent write up in Professor Lichen's blog Out and About, linked on the right of this page for years.  His blog inspired a feature in the Des Moines Register over the weekend as well as a guided kayak trip for the feature writer with some of the Red Rock luminaries.  The article doesn't mention rescuing any vermin although they did have just the man for the job in the kayaking party.  It's always great when history and paddling can come together, as they often do on Madeline Island, the topic of this post.

The Lake Superior Chippewa have been on Madeline Island for centuries.  The French established a fur trading post in 1693 which became the town of LaPointe and Madeline was the wife of one of the fur traders, hence the name.   Getting to the island from the mainland has always required some form of water transport over the years and the Madeline Island Ferry Line is the current means of crossing.  Once the ice road is done, 33 days this year according to ice road guru Arnie Nelson whom we met in the Beach Club while waiting  for the ferry, and the ice is thin enough, a path can be broken between LaPointe and Bayfield, roughly two miles.  To accomplish this, the Coast Guard ice breaker USCGC Alder heads over from Duluth to bust a path through the ice for the ferry.  This year that occurred just before the first weekend in April.  That Sunday we headed over on the ferry.

It had been a relaxing kick back type of weekend where the VOR and I were joined by her folks as well as SSMatt.  We had last traveled over the ice road two weeks earlier and wanted to catch the ferry on opening weekend for that rare ice breaking experience.  We go it.  The ferry is not an inexpensive proposition with a car and four adults costing right around seventy bucks for a round trip.  This is one of the main reasons that all sorts of commerce and freight travels over the ice road at no cost when it's open.  It's a short two mile ferry ride and the presence of all that floating ice in the ferry lane causes them to proceed at a much slower pace  than when the lake is ice free.  There is still a solid 12-18" of ice either side of the path.

Spring is interesting on the island although not much in evidence this time of year.  The deer look healthy and appear to have wintered well; there are certainly plenty them. It's fun to be able to go wherever we wished on the island without droves of tourists and people everywhere, an impossible task during the summer months.  Big Bay lagoon is still frozen solid but the big lake on the east side of the island is wide open all the way up to the Porcupine Mountains in the UP, an area that was easily visible on that bright, haze free Sunday afternoon.  Since time on the island revolves around the ferry schedule, we headed back to LaPointe to await the arrival of the ferry at the Beach Club. It's the perfect spot to wait since the ferry makes the turn into port right in front of the big picture window in the bar. In a prime case of small world theory, the VOR ran into the man that hired her at the State of North Dakota back in the '80's.  In case readers aren't aware, any action taken when away from home must be filtered through either the 'small world' theory or the 'they'll never see me again' theory.  Choosing the correct one can be crucial in certain instances.  In this case we chose correctly, were well behaved, and the VOR's former boss bought us a round.  The round also taught us a valuable legal principle.  One of the few places that you can drink in a vehicle in the State of Wisconsin is while it is sitting on the deck of the Madeline Island ferry boat.  We were promptly offered 'go cups' and strolled down to the dock.  The GraciousPartier as well as TheLegend thought that was a pretty good concept as we sippped our drinks on the short crossing.

We will not be up in Washburn this weekend, we will be considerably south of there and kayaking is on the agenda.  My guess is that when we return the last weekend of April, that there will still be ice on the bay as well as ice floating around in the big lake.  There will however, be open water to be had for paddling and most likely smelt for netting.  The march of the seasons continues on Wisconsin's south shore.

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