Saturday, February 26, 2011

Season Opener! What? Just Two of Us?

This is my 6th spring being the watcher for the Vermilion River ice out. This year I faithfully checked each day after work but my friend Tony beat me down there on Thursday and announced it was open.   I must be slipping.  Or maybe he was too excited to try out his new Allstar on a river.
 We made plans to paddle Friday and put up the posts on Facebook and the local forum.  We had no takers.  A few said we were crazy. The others said take photos.
  Tony bought a cheap rope to install on the trail down.  Each year this part of the trail is by far the most dangerous thing on the river.  With deep cold snow it was much more easier to traverse the trail and install the rope. When it is in full melt the ice mixed with mud has made many paddlers slip and drop their boats and/or paddles down the cliff into the water.  I refer to it as the Express Put in. The rest of the trail below this was still steep and dangerous.  While hanging on to my boat I had to rely on my paddle placed horizontal in the uphill snow to stop me from sliding off the trail and down the slope. It was a tough climb and trek through the snow down but we were walking into a fantasy winter wonderland untouched with the exception of a few critter tracks.
  We launched off an ice ledge and started down.  The level was pleasant and not pushy.  Higher than the day before. The ice formations were still incredible to see. Quiet with the exception of the river we paddled just soaking in the view from below.
  This was the first paddle of my 7th year kayaking and Tony's 2nd year.  His first time paddling through an icy wonderland. Once in the river it all becomes worth it!  Tony has unlimited enthusiasm for the sport and combined with the energy of the young he played hard despite the temperature of 11 degrees.  When we arrived at the top of Triple Drop I saw that it was a narrow chute down the middle with ice ledges the whole way down on both sides.  Narrower than I would have guessed from the bridge above.  I told Tony I was running straight down, no stops and to keep in the middle and led off.  It made for a harder run avoiding the ice but fascinating to see the difference in the river.  Like running a whole new run.
  Down at Donut Hole it looked like great play.  Again Tony had  fun in the hole taunting me to jump in.  I had worn the wrong boots today for my playboat and couldn't fit into the boat completely leaving me partially off the back of my seat and not very comfortable in my kayak at all.  I used the patience and wisdom of experience and said there's all of next week to play and it's going to be much warmer than 11.

  The take out was slabs of ice right up to the cliff trail. Hard to get up with our boats and gear.  I thought the last time I was on ice and snow this steep I had my crampons and tools with.  Again using my paddle horizontally in the snow helped immensely.  The Verm is officially open. 

Click on any photo to enlarge.  Sorry about the spots in the camera.  Ice is hard to get off a lens.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Midwest Telefest 2011

By nature, I'm a curious person. This one trait has brought so much pleasure into my life alone.  Not to mention adventure!  I never want to stop learning!  One thing I've always looked at and admired is Telemark skiing. I've made some attempts to learn.  I first bought a set of used skis.  Then I tried to learn by videos on my computer....skreeeetch...stop!  The best decision I made was to commit to going to the Midwest Telefest and taking their classes.
  I arrived Friday evening and settled into the motel.  I then went to see if I could find where Tele Central was and get registered for the weekend.  Driving along the shore it was dark but I could see the ice on the lake. I was expecting to see lights and a well lit ski resort but instead came to a dark sign that pointed the way.
 The chalet was softly lit with a huge wood fire and a tele movie on a big screen.  I registered and was given a beer and I thought this was good.
  The next morning I was there bright and early for my class.  Down Wind Sports had all kinds of demo gear there so I let them pick a pair of skis out for me to use in the class. They told me the new equipment was almost like cheating compared to the used skis I had. OK let's see what they've got.
Bob and Mike were my instructors.  We had a class of seven students. Bob and Mike only had us do two runs down the mountain but they spent three hours instructing in those two runs. Giving us very basic building blocks and working from there. Very hands on and very personal one on one.  As a group we had progressed by leaps and bounds in our understanding and ability by the end of the afternoon and there were smiles all around.  There is no substitute for personal instruction! Maybe some people can pick up things from a video easier than others but nothing can replace being able to ask a question.
 Then we were free! I went up and down the mountain.  I gave back the demos skis and went back to my old skis praying I wouldn't hate them after using the new state of the art skis.  I was very happy to find I loved them just as much as before. Towards the end of the afternoon I was debating whether I had anything left in my legs for one more run.  You know the place where you have to gamble possible crash versus one more wheee down the hill.  I went with one more wheee. I bent down to snap my heel throw on and it snapped off in my hand. Bummer! I opted to watch the uphill downhill race start and head back to the motel for a beer and hot tub before the evening.
The evening festivities started with an awesome pasty dinner and a band called Chasin Steel. I was really impressed with this band.  Very talented musicians and everyone of them had a beautiful voice. If you get a chance to hear them I highly recommend it! I headed back to the motel after the first set but I heard the band played until they had to move it to the motel bar and then they played the night out. The party was rocking!
  Sunday was a slow start for everyone. Down Wind promised to hook me up with demo skis all day so I took them up on the offer. I tried many different skis with the last one being Rossignols Backcountry skis. I liked those.  I also liked the BD Aspect's too.
As with all sports there are different muscles for each.  My legs were screaming at me so I had to call an end to the tele skiing for the day even though I wasn't completely tired out.   XC ski trails abound so I switched out and did about five miles on them. The photos I took do not do the subtle colors justice.  The woods was a cold ancient beauty. I am looking forward to exploring the area more.
  This weekend was going to be a retreat for me.  A chance to learn something new in an anonymous environment. A quiet sabbatical where I could relax, write and explore. What I found was an awesome festival with an incredibly fun group of earthy people. There were many people that showed up but there was never a crowded feeling. I found I knew people there and met some really cool new friends. Next year I will be back for sure!

Verm Watch 2011


Not yet...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kaleidoscope Dreams

  Day dreaming is a passion for me. I dream of smiling friends who I share the rivers with. I dream of the new students that will share the love for the rivers.  I dream of new rivers to run and renewing cherished rivers of past. Challenges that arise and challenges I manufacture for myself. I dream of the crystalline beauty of nature pure.  The colors fly recklessly though my mind, faster and faster.  My thoughts speed up as time is short.  Blues of sky and water. Earthy tones of forest and mountain. Colors of skin...the colors of smiles. Skittles of boats...the sounds of laughter. The forever sound of the river. Faster they swirl lest I forget to remember one.  Crowding my mind in glimmer and facets. The scent of rivers, neoprene, hops...a fresh breeze on a cool mountain morning. My tent. My truck. My boats. Wausau. Passports and continents new. Plans for now and plans for later. The starting line is within my sight. Rivers on the edge of break. I stand caught in my kaleidoscope of dreams paralyzed...waiting. Waiting to step into the dream...soon.