Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 IN REVIEW: PICTURES OF THE YEAR

 
 To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I can still see so many of the lakes, whose shores and hills are forever changed after the storm," said paddling guru Sigurd Olson, as he recalled the cast of lakes his canoe had taken him to in the Boundary Waters. He painted a watercolor of with his mind of each dip of the paddle, portage and campfire, "It seems like yesterday… the early-morning bear on Brant Lake, that long portage from Hanson Lake to the South Arm of the Knife, that perfect campsite on Jasper Lake."

I have those very same feelings when it comes to my trips to the lakes, rivers and ocean. The excitement and rush of the South Fork to the stillness of Loon Lake. Gearing up to race the American, and slowing down at Lake Clementine. The unknown of Tomales Bay, to the familiarity and comfort of my own neighborhood lake. Each and everyday I recall with my own passion of the paddle.
Ojibwe Anishinaabe painter and paddler Mike Ormsby said, "When we come to add emotion to our paddling, we create a vision." Those places are now almost scared to me, calling me to return once more.

Rollins Lake
 My kayaking flows in abundance in my dreams and memories. Recollecting on the times alone, but mostly on the time spent paddling with others. In an interview with kayaker Byrant Burkhardt, he said, "When I paddle with others I get to enjoy the experience in ways I can’t alone. I love showing people familiar places to me that are new to them – it’s a chance to relive the wonder I felt my first time." I have enjoyed that fellowship this past year. I have had the good fortune of kayaking with Erik Allen and members of Bayside Adventure Sports, The Sacramento Paddle Pushers and Dan Crandall and the gang at Current Adventures Kayaking School and Trips and mostly my wife Debbie who is always up for an adventure. We all share the same passion of being outside on the water.

So as the 2015 draws to a close I look back at some of my favorite places and people of the past year.  And in the new year I look forward even more adventures on the water, trail and snow. Wishing all of you the same.  Happy Holidays Everyone!


Lake Clementine & Bayside Adventure Sports
Lake Natoma

Lake Natoma
Lake Natoma

Lower American River
Current Adventures
Lake Natoma

Lake Natoma


Lower American River
Loon Lake

Eppies Training
Loon Lake
Tomales Bay

Friday, December 11, 2015

OVER THE BOW: OTTER TAIL RIVER


The River is magical. It's full of wonder and mystery.  For thousands of year, The River has been carving its way through the Earth. As the water pours over the landscape, crashes against the banks, and cascades over the rocks, everything changes in its path. The terrain, the trees, even the wildlife is shaped by The River. Everything in the canyon is at the mercy of The River. --Michael Neale

White water is uncommon in western Minnesota. The gradient of the land just doesn't drop that fast. On the eastern edge of the state, the gradient for some whitewater sections is measured in feet per mile, while towards the northwest end of the state it's gauged in mere inches per mile. The Red River of the North meanders some 550 miles between Minnesota and North Dakota and into Manitoba only falling about 230 feet along the way before flowing into Lake Winnipeg. A second-hand pool table will have more of a slant to it than a northwestern Minnesota river.
"This exceedingly twisty river is the ‘Red Lake River’; it is forty miles to travel though the distance is only twelve from point to point." In her diary, Lady Dufferin, wrote her experience while traveling on board the steamboat Minnesota in 1877. She and her husband Lord Dufferin, on their way to visit Winnipeg. "When we reach the Red River itself, we found the stream wide enough for us to go straight down it, less sinuous. but quite as muddy and uninteresting. Trees come down to the water’s edge and one can see nothing beyond them; behind stretches out the prairie, and every now and then we were just able to see how thin the screen of trees really is between the river and the plains."

The Otter Tail River is a Minnesota's eighth longest river, running through the western part of the state before pouring into the Red River.  It starts as crystal clear water while moving down hill as narrow stream through several lakes and marshes. The oak woods through the hills offer opportunities for plenty of wildlife viewing along a tranquil river-way.  However,  just east of Fergus Falls,  the Otter Tail River picks up speed as it makes an abrupt turn towards the west, running through a valley filled with Class I and II rapids.
The earliest record of navigation was chronicled by United States geologist David Dale Owen, who traveled on what is now the Otter Tail River with his Metis companions in 1848. As stated in History of Otter Tail County, Minnesota, a two volume county history published in 1916, "He told us in his report that he was proceeding leisurely on river, all unconscious of any rapids or any falls, a sudden bend in the river (Where the dam and Upper Bridge is now in downtown Fergus Falls) brought them so near the falls that they could not gain the shore, but were drawn over the rapids by the swift current." Their boat capsized and their provisions and scientific equipment were water-soaked. They  dried out and camped in what would later become the town of Fergus Falls.

There is no chance to run those same falls today. In 1870, George B. Wright purchased the land for just over $100.00 with a vision of creating regional trade center. He built a dam on the river to power his sawmill. Having said that, another dam site east for Fergus Falls is still providing thrills of whitewater paddling along the river trail. Broken Down Dam has been crumbling into the Otter Tail River ever since it's collapse over a century ago.  The dam and hydroelectric station that provided electricity to the town was improperly constructed over a spring. About a year after it was built, on a September night in 1909, something went seriously wrong. Dam workers fled the powerhouse as the lights dimmed and water seeped in from under the floor. Moments later, the riverbed gave way at the foundation of the dam causing it to crumble and break apart. As the waters rushed down stream, officials warned the town of the breach as the lights went out. Four dams further downstream were washed out and farms and homes were flooded. Miraculously no one was killed.

The dam is mostly forgotten now, except  by area paddlers who challenge it's rapids. There is a boulder garden stretch of class II waves before reaching the dam remnants. The dam is broken right through its center and the river tumbles and drops between its two massive concrete walls. During the spring run off or after a good summer rain the stream rages to into a fast-moving Class III rapid. It's a perfect place for a whitewater kayak, in a place where rapids are hard to find.

Over the Bow is a feature from Outside Adventure to the Max, telling the story behind the image. If you have a great picture with a great story, submit it to us at nickayak@gmail.com

Friday, December 4, 2015

FREEZE WARNING

 He said I wanna see you again. But I'm stuck in colder weather. Maybe tomorrow will be better --The Zac Brown Band 

I was hoping to get one more day in. Just one more day on the water. The early winter weather had been typical and Fargo-like. The first snow had come early October, followed by another a week later. My days of paddling were quickly running out. My kayak world looked like a shaken snow globe. The dark waters of the Red River flowed past the banks of white snow in dream like setting. Along the shore, a thin layer of ice formed over the water. I can still recall the sound of my kayak's bow breaking though the ice. A reverberation of radio static and breaking glass echoed over the peaceful river. The Red was not a far cry from the Arctic.
 
"We hit a point where the ocean was all these pieces of broken ice," explorer Erik Boomer,  told Canoe and Kayak Magazine,  "It was just huge cliffs and bad ice, and the ice was traveling four or five miles a day, so a lot of movement. One idea we had was to jump out on a large piece of ice and sail it through a strait. So we hopped on some ice, set up camp, and joked about being on a big ice breaker ship."
He was recalling his epic trip with Jon Turk as they became the first paddlers to circumnavigate the 1,485-mile around Ellesmere Island, in the high Canadian Arctic in 2011. They skied and walked, towing their boats, about 850 miles, and paddled the remaining 600. "We both slipped in once—into the freezing cold Arctic Ocean. We made sure we always traveled real tight together and helped each other when we were seal launching off of a piece of ice, or climbing a piece of ice, because there was always danger. And there was also danger of being squashed by the ice."

Ice would all to soon squash my plans. Thanksgiving weekend was mild and pleasant, with a little luck I thought, the weather would hold and I could paddle into December. But, a cold front rolled in freezing everything it touched. The river and lakes were entrenched with ice and snow, leaving the only memories, ghosts of days of the past season. Scottish poet Walter Scott had it right when he penned, "When dark December gloom's the day,  And takes our autumn joys away; When short and scant the sunbeam throws, Upon the weary waste of snows." My snow-covered kayak still loaded on the top of the van, was about to make its last and shortest voyage of the year... into the garage.

"One thing that we observed and talked about is how we were watching the ice change and the seasons literally go through these transitions," said Boomer, looking back on his experience in the Arctic, "It gave me a different perspective on changes and transitions. Changes and transitions are always difficult, you have to literally change your method working through it, but they’re bound to happen." 

Now my boats have been loaded and unloaded off and on, and into the garage since last spring, but for me there is something final about the last portage of the year. Lowering the kayak off the van's roof and onto to the rack inside my single stall garage, I sandwiched it between two other boats along the wall. The van, only used for kayaking was then slowly backed into place in the garage as well, locked away for the winter. When the garage door shut, my kayaking was over till next spring.

"I actually don't even see my kayak when it's in storage. Your message prompted me to go out and confirm it's still where I left it!" said Heather Schmidt, who split her time between Fargo and Duluth, Minn, "What's painful for me, is seeing the water on the big lake so calm and seemingly inviting during the colder days. I don't have a wet-suit, so most of the year, paddling is out-of-bounds for me, but I still drive by the calm, beautiful water that is calling for a kayak to cut through its waters."

Withdrawal would soon occur. Psychiatrist William Glasser said "We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun." Glasser claims that positive addictions “strengthen us and make our lives more satisfying.” Positive addictions, like kayaking, enhance life. They also help us to “live with more confidence, more creativity, and more happiness, and usually in much better health."
When I stopped paddling for the season,  symptoms of kayak withdrawal seem to emerged, and from what I was told there was no cure.
"There is one thing I should warn you about before you decide to get serious about canoeing." warned paddling guru Bill Mason, "You must consider the possibility of becoming totally and incurably hooked on it. You must also face the fact that every fall about freeze-up time you go through a withdrawal period as you watch the lakes and rivers icing over one by one. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can help a little to ease the pain, but they won’t guarantee a complete cure."

It was an unusually long winter that year in Fargo-Moorhead. Not that that wasn't out of the ordinary. I had been there for nearly 30 years and only recall a few mild ones. At -13 below it hard to find anything but frozen water anywhere. The Red River had the look of a ribbon thin glacier splitting the two cites in half. Historians say, they use to set up bleachers on the ice and have horse-drawn sleigh races along a section of the river. Only water tickles over the rocks of the Midtown dam producing a billowing layer of ice fog gaping between the two ice masses. On cross-country ski outings along the river, I would often ponder those paddling days.
"Winter is a time of promise because there is so little to do," said writer Stanley Crawford, "Or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so."

Canadian sea kayaker Harvey Chris Wittenberg, put this way, "Every year lands up being a little unique with different memories," he wrote in an email,  "In Canada where six months a year we are locked in with ice. Well, it makes you appreciate the kayaking a little more. It lands up being a time to reflect. Dream up bucket-list plans for next season as well as think about new equipment and setting goals for the upcoming season."

I'm a Californian now. I can paddle everyday all year-long which I still find remarkable and almost unexpected. There is no ice or snow unless I want to take my kayak up into the Sierra-Nevada Mountains for winter paddle. The thought that had crossed my mind.

During my last winter in Fargo while in a long-distance courtship with my soon to be wife, I remember how she would send me shots along the American River, coaxing me to come to California. Folks paddling along on a sunny day, while I looked out my window saw the bleakness of winter. It was like looking at a menu and not being able to order anything but frozen fish sticks, while counting the days down to spring. 

"So it just sorta became normal life." said Boomer, summing up his 104 days in the Arctic with Turk,  "There wasn’t anything else, and that’s really what life is. You’re there. And I think in working through those challenges, I’m hoping to bringing that into my everyday life—the adventure, the excitement, the specialness of every single day, and continually taking on challenges and having fun with them.”

Friday, November 27, 2015

#OPTOUTSIDE TO YOUR LOCAL PADDLING SHOP

#OptOutside on Black Friday, is REI's adventurous Thanksgiving marketing campaign motivating  folks to head for the great outdoors instead of the shopping mall. It has been gathering momentum since it was announced. What started as REI's declaration close all of its stores on Black Friday, the so-called busiest shopping day in the year, while still paying its 12,000 employees to take the day off and enjoy the outdoors, has prompted nearly 1 million endorsements.  More than 150 other companies, nonprofit organizations and agencies that support state and national parks have jumped on board encouraging people to spend Black Friday in nature. "The idea has struck a chord – far more than we expected," said Jerry Stritzke, REI president and CEO, in statement released from the company,  "We did this to share our passion for reconnecting with the people we love, in the outdoor places we love. But honestly we are surprised by – and very grateful for – the number of groups joining in. Clearly people are looking to do something a bit different with their time. The folks at REI just want to get out to the trails, slopes and parks with our members."

Minnesota and California's state parks were the first to jump on board the band wagon providing free admissions to the parks. Only 49 state parks, mostly near the coast in northern and central California are participating. The national parks and many other state parks systems have followed suit by offering admission free of charge. Missouri State Parks have a special offer for free camping on Black Friday. No fees will be collected for first, come first served campsites. Admission to Missouri state parks is always free.

"At a time of year when Minnesotans pause to give thanks, I am so grateful for the incredible state parks and trails we have here in Minnesota,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “Visiting these parks is a great way to spend time with family and loved ones, relieve stress, and enjoy exercise in the great outdoors.” While Sarah Creachbaum, superintendent at Olympic National Park, suggested it would be a good way to start something new away from your standard holiday routine, "Thanksgiving is a time-honored American tradition, and we invite families to create new traditions."

Nevertheless, many of those same consumers choosing to OptOutside on Black Friday will be shopping online Cyber Monday. According to the Shopify website, between 2006 and 2011, online sales doubled to over 1.2 billion dollars on Cyber Monday. Shopping at home has become the norm, as consumers hope to grab online bargains.

However, Team Pyranha kayaker Pete Delosa says rather than getting your kayaking gear online, instead visit your local kayak shop for all your outfitting. "Kayaking, especially whitewater kayaking, is too small of a business for people to be ordering their stuff from one or two online super stores." said Delosa, "I think people have this perception that things are always cheaper on the Internet too which isn't always the case. Most importantly, the people who work in kayak shops are usually kayakers and if we all buy everything on the Internet that directly puts boaters in our local community out of work which means they can no longer go kayaking and our community gets smaller."
In his October blog post in River-Bum.com, he listed five reasons to stop buying your paddling gear off the Internet and how to support your local paddling shop. 
  • The people who work in your local shop are part of your local river community. They paddle the same rivers you do. You might even paddle with them. By getting your gear from them you are keeping your friends employed.
  • When you buy gear from your local shop you have a person to go back to if you have any problems. Let’s say you order a kayak from the Internet and you need help setting up the outfitting. Is the Internet going to help you?
  • Kayaking is not just a sport. It’s a lifestyle. Hanging out in your local shop is a great way to get to know other paddlers in your area. When you’re looking for a new boat, paddle, or whatever else, talking to the other people in the store is a great way to get the scoop on what gear is working well for people and what gear people have not been so stoked on. Sure you can read reviews online but do you know who wrote them? If you talk to the staff and customers in a shop you can actually get to know a person and understand their personal experience which lends some context to the review they might give. Plus, you get the added bonus of talking face to face to a real live person. Remember when people used to do that?
  • Kayak shops usually have info on upcoming events in the area. Just stopping in once in a while is an easy way to keep current on festivals, competitions, community gatherings, clean ups, etc. in your area.
  • Try before you buy. Sure most companies have fit guides on their websites but I prefer to know something is going to fit before I buy it. Suppose you’re looking for a new dry suit. If you follow the size guide and order online you still run the risk of not quite having the right fit when your suit arrives. Then you have to send it back and wait even longer. Wouldn’t it be better to walk into the store, try the suit on and be able to wear it on the river the next day? What if you’re looking for a boat? Everyone wants to demo new kayaks before buying one. You can’t do that if you order your kayak from the Internet. Sure you could demo from your local shop and then order online, but do you really want that on your karma next time you head out to the river?
 "The same idea probably applies to other industries, "said Delosa, "But since I work in the paddling industry and because the paddling industry is so small already it is particularly important for us to support our local shops."

Moreover, when you shop at a small independent businesses owned by people who live locally, your dollars stay local; they're recycled right back into the community, rather than padding the profits of a large corporate chain. So while opting outside for the day, drop by and support your local paddle shop, it's most likely on the way.

Friday, November 20, 2015

PADDLING SAN FRANCISCO BAY : VIDEO BLOG


The hard work is not only part of the fun of it, but it beats the doctors. San Francisco Bay is no mill pond. It is a large and draughty and variegated piece of water. I remember, one winter evening, trying to enter the mouth of the Sacramento. There was a freshet on the river, the flood tide from the bay had been beaten back into a strong ebb, and the lusty west wind died down with the sun. It was just sunset, and with a fair to middling breeze, dead aft, we stood still in the rapid current. --Jack London

It is undeniably one the greatest views ever. The Golden Gate Bridge a vision that has inspired story, song and poem. On its opening ceremony in 1937, its chief engineer Joseph Strauss said, "This bridge needs neither praise, eulogy nor encomium. It speaks for itself. We who have labored long are grateful. What Nature rent asunder long ago, man has joined today." When asked how long the bridge would will last? His answer was concise. "Forever." he replied.
Forever, I will have that memory of kayaking out of Horseshoe Bay. The bridge, the mystical structure shines to my south."Its efficiency cannot conceal the artistry. There is heart there, and soul. It is an object to be contemplated for hours." That is what longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote when he described his reverence of the triumphant structure. I feel the same sentiment. When I think back on all the places I have ever wanted to kayak. I had dreamed of clear forest lakes, whitewater in a rocky mountain canyon and a sea view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just to be near the bridge was an overpowering feeling. It was hard to take my eyes off it. Even when I turned to the east, towards Angel Island, I found myself looking over my shoulder enraptured by its sight.

I'm was going solo for first part of the trip. It was early spring morning, the winds were light and the tide was in my favor. I had picked a good time to paddle. San Francisco Bay is legendary to sea kayakers. It has some of the wildest sea conditions on the entire West Coast. The bay is known for steep waves, fast and swirling currents and howling winds blowing through that Golden Gate that require advanced paddling skills. "It really blows on San Francisco Bay," cited American author Jack London, "During the winter, which is the best cruising season, we have southeasters, southwesters, and occasional howling northers. Throughout the summer we have what we call the "sea-breeze," an unfailing wind off the Pacific that on most afternoons in the week."


I'm was crossing the bay to meet up a camping party for an overnight on Angel Island.  They had come the day before and I was joining them.  My kayak, loaded up with camping gear, a change of clothes and assortment of freeze-dried foods and power bars. To my left was Richardson Bay and Sausalito, to my right was Alcatraz Island and San Francisco and behind me the Golden Gate Bridge. Straight ahead is was Angel Island silhouetted against the sun. Its dark mass rises out of a hazy glow before me. My day had just begun.

Canadian author Gilbert Parker wrote, "It must be remembered that the sea is a great breeder of friendship. Two men who have known each other for twenty years find that twenty days at sea bring them nearer than ever they were before." Close to water, vulnerable to its brunt and force, my kayak companions from Bayside Adventure Sports have bonded together well this past year with a shared camaraderie and ministry of paddling in God's creation. BAS is an active outdoor church group based in Granite Bay, California and sponsors many of my paddling activities.

After unloading my gear and quick breakfast, I was back on the water again with the group. We made a quick trip across Raccoon Straights to Tiburon followed by a run back through the straights and around the island. We faced wind and waves on the island's west and tranquil waters on its east while circumventing the bay island. Each stroke of the paddle was a triumph. Each bounding swell an adventure. "Why do we love the sea?" stated American artist Robert Henri, "It is because in has some potent power to make us think things we like to think." The next day, we returned towards Horseshoe Bay and the bridge hidden somewhere in the clouds.

Friday, November 13, 2015

HIGH HOPES AND OPEN SLOPES

Courtesy of Heavenly Mountain via Facebook
There is a buzz in the ski shops this week in Northern California. The smell of wax, the clatter of skis and exhilaration of people looking to find the right ski, boot or snowboard. A series of autumn rains and snows this past week have brought high hopes for an exceptional ski season and a much-needed replenishment of the snowpack to the Sierra Nevada mountains. Instead of last year's dry mountainsides, skiers and snow boarders are finding the slopes in a shimmering white. So much snow,  that ski resorts shut down most of last winter during California's drought are kicking off the season with an early pre-Thanksgiving start.
“This is the third storm that’s rolled through and we’re in early November, so this is fantastic,”  Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association, told the Guardian  “Everyone in California is excited to see rain, but the fact that it is also falling in the form of snow in the mountains is fantastic.”
The area has been blanket with as much as two feet of power with another foot expected this weekend prompting Tahoe’s ski giants Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Heavenly and Northstar to open this weekend. This is the earliest the resorts have opened since 2012, and the first time opening six days ahead of schedule since at least 2009.

"Welcome El Niño!" said Lake Tahoe area ski rep, Adrienne Schneider, "You can stay as long as you like! Stoked!" El Nino is being echoed by skiers from Mammoth near Yosemite to Mount Rose near Reno. El Niño is the strong warm-water mass in the Pacific that can sometimes yield strong winter snow totals, especially in the southern half of the western United States. The snow enthusiasts have had a long wait hoping it materializes. “I’m telling people to be a cautiously optimist,” told Bryan Allegretto to the San Francisco Chronicle “Don’t run around in the streets jumping up and down yet." Allegretto is an OpenSnow forecaster in the Sierra. OpenSnow, a partnership of forecasters living in U.S. ski towns.  He estimates that resorts in the Tahoe area stand a 98% to 134% percent chance of seeing above-average snowfall this winter.

Other forecasters, though, are cautioning against putting too much faith in El Niño especially this early on. Reno-based National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Tolby told the Tahoe Daily Tribune ""I think it's important to understand that every El Niño is different. The correlation with receiving above average precipitation is highest in January through March." So even though there is a chance for a strong El Niño, it just hasn't gotten here yet.  Allegretto credits an active early snow pattern that has just been missing in the Sierra in the last few years. He wrote in his Daily Snow Forecast last week, "We are in a great pattern right now with the ridge staying North of Hawaii keeping the storm door open."

Strong El Niños of the past have yielded winters that are only slightly snowier than average,  so while the outlook remains anything but certain, one thing is abundantly clear, the ski industry could use the snow along with the rest of California. Snowpack is a key factor in California's water supply. Scientists say, in a normal year, melting Sierra Nevada snow provides the state with one-third of its water. Another third is pumped from aquifers, and the rest comes from rivers and reservoirs.

"I think it's been nice having these small storms the past couple weeks. I hope they are indicative of what is to come." said Pete DeLosa, a Northern California based kayaker with Team Pryanha,  "If we continue this pattern of a foot of snow each week I think we will be in good shape by spring time. The rains we have been getting down low haven't really amounted to anything yet as far as boat-able flows. We are supposed to get another two day rain and snow next week and I'm hoping that it will lead to some rain fed paddling."
Like the ski season, much of California's kayaking and rafting season suffered during last year's long hot summer. Low flows on some of its rivers and dried up reservoirs, are common place in the fourth year of extreme drought. Delosa knows more snow means more to water in next year's rivers. "I have no real idea what we will get for water this winter but I am a believer in the power of positive thinking and I am determined to believe that these small storms we've had are the beginning of great things to come."

Friday, November 6, 2015

OVER THE BOW: LAKE SUPERIOR

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down, Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee, The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead, When the skies of November turn gloomy--Gordon Lightfoot

It was late fall in Minnesota. Winter comes quickly there. It pushes the season of autumn out rapidly like a out-of-control locomotive. The beautiful colorful leaves one day are swept away in the rain, ice and snow on the next. Veteran paddlers of Lake Superior will tell you that when the weather turns to winter, the lake can become extremely hazardous for vessels no matter the size. A single storm on Nov. 28, 1905, damaged 29 ships calling for American novelist James Oliver Curwood to write, "It is the most dangerous piece of water in the world. Here winter falls in autumn, and until then late spring it is a region of blizzards and blinding snowstorms. The coast are harborless wildernesses with...reef and rocky headlands that jut out like knives to cuts ships in to two." The alarm went out and in 1907 the US Congress appropriated $75,000 to build a lighthouse and fog signal southwest of Silver Bay, Minnesota, on the North Shore of Lake Superior.   

Split Rock Lighthouse is considered one of the most picturesque lighthouses on Lake Superior. The lighthouse long since retired by U. S. Coast Guard, is now part of the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. It has been restored to the way it appear in the late 1920s when it guarded the treacherous and rocky coastline from its 130-foot cliff perch over looking the lake. Only once a year is the lighthouse lens re-lit in tribute to the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a storm on November 10, 1975.  All 29 crew members perished in one of the Great Lakes' worst shipping disasters forty years ago this month. On the anniversary of the ship's sinking, the names of the crew are read and the beacon is lit at dusk.

Against lake, the imposing and beautiful lighthouse seems to shrink. The forests and rocks on its edges have been diminished. I have never felt so small in a kayak than on Lake Superior. The lake, powerful even when calm bounced me up and down like a float toy as I paddled around the island and bay below the lighthouse. My son Cole and I, were on late season camping trip on the North Shore. We had brought our Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 to experience paddling in Little Two Harbors Bay and under the lighthouse. This place has special meaning us. We had visited it several times as family and had good memories there. Now we would have one more.

While Cole paddled out into the bay, I climbed to the top of nearby Ellingson Island across from the lighthouse's rock face wall. Cole braver than I, went out further under the lighthouse. Unprotected from the windswept waters, I watch waves break over his bow. Alone in the vastness, from my viewpoint he was only speck on the giant sea. Like novelist Joseph Conrad said, "The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness." It is like that with Lake Superior, sudden storms, very cold water and an unforgiving coastline. It's an uninviting place that seems to call for us home, even in the days before winter.
  
Over the Bow is a feature from Outside Adventure to the Max, telling the story behind the image. If you have a great picture with a great story, submit it to us at nickayak@gmail.com

Friday, October 30, 2015

RK 1 BACK TO THE BASICS


I gave my heart to the mountains the minute I stood beside this river with its spray in my face and watched it thunder into foam, smooth to green glass over sunken rocks, shatter to foam again. I was fascinated by how it sped by and yet was always there; its roar shook both the earth and me.
- Wallace Stegner


"Swimming is part of the sport." said whitewater paddling instructor Dennis Eagan, "Every paddler, even the good ones are in between swims."

That was a shot of reassurance for the class, that everyone starts out the same, paddling skills are learned and developed over time and being able to swim in fast water is always an essential part of whitewater kayaking no matter what your levels of abilities. It's the basis for Whitewater River Kayaking 1 (RK1) with Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips. A class to develop a foundation and skills necessary to paddle fast water. In talking with the class participants, I learned most had some experience with fast water and one had even rafted down the Grand Canyon. However, the reason they were there was to learn the fundamentals by getting back to the basics of paddling.

"I want to do the Grand Canyon next year, " said student Scott Billups, "I've done quite a bit of sea kayaking in Alaska and have a SOT on my sailboat which I use quite a bit for diving and coastal touring. I've always thought that it (whitewater kayaking) would be fun but never lived close enough to whitewater to make it worthwhile. Sea kayaks want to run straight and cover a lot of ground as effortlessly as possible. Whitewater kayaks just want to turn and play."

It was a typical summer weekend on the South Fork of the American River  at Henningsen-Lotus Park in Northern California. 
Flows and the river traffic were high. It seemed like endless parade of river rafts, kayaks and tubers floating down the stream while we unloaded and fitted the class up with their kayaks. "The fit it really important," Eagan told the students, "You want to be snug and your boat. That is really important. It gives you more control. You want to be snug like the boat is a part of you. Snug but comfortable.
After sliding into their kayaks and into the river, one by one, the students are literally submerged into the world of kayaking with wet exits and bow rescues.

In the bow rescue, Eagan capsizes each student as they hold the bow of another student's boat forming a T and progressively tips the kayak further and further over until they can complete a roll from upside down. Two different skills are practiced by the students, Staying in your kayak while using the support of another kayak to bring you upright and learning stability for the rescuer. Also the students, get a boost of confidence in overcoming the any fears of being upside down underwater. "No issues really." said Billups, "I do a lot of diving and am very comfortable in the water."

The South Fork is known for it's dependable flows of whitewater. Popular rapids like Barking Dog, Troublemaker and Meatgrinder are just some of the rough waters that make the river attractive to the area kayakers. However, on the first day of the class, Eagan started with an easy moving section of the river to introduce some basic paddling strokes and techniques. "Most people do not spend enough time on flat water when they are learning to kayak." Eagan told the class, "I see lots of kayakers paddling down the gorge in Class III whitewater, but they still haven't developed a really good stroke technique. And even though they are paddling Class III they still haven't got that good foundation, because everyone is in the rush to get into the excitement of the white water instead of working on the drills."

 For the rest of the session the paddling students practiced integrating and completing their strokes and edging ability while working on an assortment of river maneuvers. "Once you get edging down you won't tip over very much." Eagan told the boaters. Edge control is a skill used for balance and control of the kayak. It involves holding the kayak tilted on one side (edge) or moving it from side to side (edge to edge) in the oncoming current, while at the same time as performing bracing strokes. "In any paddling there are only three problems that you have." said Eagan, "One is momentum. You don't have enough speed. Two, You don't enough edging, and other is boat angle. The last your going to working for rest of your (paddling) career."

 


With increased confidence later on that afternoon, the paddling students were weaving and gliding through rocks and ripples along the South Fork while practicing ferrying, a maneuver to get across the river, along with eddy turns and peel outs. It was a day getting back to basics and learning some new skills over again.. "It's not thinking about any text-book stroke, "said Eagan, "But, blending them all together."

Whitewater kayaking is an on going journey. As the poet Herman Hesse, said "The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it."  It's consequential that kayakers keep listening, learning and holding true to their paddling basics.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A BEAR IN MIND

 Waverly Traylor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain image.

Why wilderness? Because we like the taste of freedom; because we like the smell of danger.Edward Abbey

We've all seen the video: "Get away from my kayak." "Come here!" "Stop it bear! Bear! Bear! Bear! Mary Maley's clip on YouTube  has racked up more than 4 millions hits of her yelling at a curious black bear ripping up her kayak during a trip into Alaska. When the bear persisted in attacking her kayak she screeched "Go away. Get away from the kayak. Get away from the kayak. Come here. Why are you breaking my kayak?”

Because the bear decided only to rip up Mary's kayak and not Mary, most of us found the video somewhat humorous as human tries to exert her power over nature by trying to reason with the wild creature. "That is one of the funniest things I have ever seen." said Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips,  Dan Crandall, "All I can say is that in bear country it is common knowledge in places like Alaska where I lived that bears like to chew on rubber and plastic, so you don't leave it where they can easily get at it.  They are also known to have a wicked sense of humor and fair play. He knew the kayak was important to her when she thanked him for not chewing on it, but then she pepper sprayed him. He simply knew how to get back at her in the most effective way.

While laughing at the bear video, we held our breath while watching the clip of the two Brits narrowly escaping death and injury when a 40-ton humpback whale crash-landed on their kayak while paddling off Monterey Bay in California. "It was above us and all I could see was this whale crashing towards us, blocking out the light." Tom Mustill. told the Telegraph, "I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to die now. " The terrifying incident was captured on video by a passenger on a nearby whale-watching boat. Mustill and Charlotte Kinloch were breached and dragged underwater by the force of the whale. “I remember coming to the surface and thinking, ‘How am I not dead? Maybe I’ve got lots of injuries but I’m in shock and can’t feel them,’” he recalled. “Then I saw Charlotte and thought, ‘How is she not dead?'"

Remarkably, the two were left uninjured and the only damage was a small dent in the bow of the kayak. "I'm actually quite surprised there aren't more accidents," said San Francisco based wildlife photographer, explorer, and founder of The Wild Image Project Daniel Fox, "Considering the increase of tourists and the increased pressure the animals and the audacity that the tourists are showing. It's pushing them (the whales) to their limits. More and more there is concept that nature is cute. All the animals are cute. Lets get close to the animals. Let's go and pet lions, lets go and pet bears. Wild animals are wild animals. We have to respect and honor who that are. When we go and enter their territory we have to understand their primal ways."

Fox makes a good point. However, with regulated hunting and people living in or much closer to bear habitat, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, people are going to be encountering bears more and more. In most cases, the bears quickly vanish into the woods after being seen or scared off. In August however, a grizzly bear killed a hiker in Yellowstone National Park, tragic yet extremely rare experts say. According to the National Park Service, the chances of being injured by a bear are approximately 1 in 2.1 million. So in other words you are much more likely to killed by a bee's sting than a bear's bite. "On a couple of occasions when bears were showing significant interest in trying to scare the crap out of me," said Crandall, "I have had success throwing rocks at them and getting them to stand off, stop there rapid advance or retreat. I have not had success yelling at them and certainly not pleading with them."

Fox agrees, "You have to respect predators. You have to give them space. You have to understand the way they communicate is primal. They feed off your body language and the intonation and the vibration within your voice. She talked to the bear in that really high pitched annoying voice. There was no power in it. There was absolutely nothing. She was totally conflicted. Her voice was full of fear and sadness. She was telling the bear come here, no go there.  Plus on top of that (laughing) she had the guts to just keep filming when all this is going on."

With all my experience in the wild,  I have never seen a bear, mountain lion or shark in the wild. For me those are rare experiences. I have stared down a few raccoons a time or two. One after he grabbed a full bag of marshmallows and climbed the tree above our campfire and proceeded to eat them in front of us. Amusing for us, but survival for our little wild friend. "No predator will attack unless the risks are worth it," said Fox, "So either for food, either for protecting your cubs, or either for protecting your territory. When it comes to the woman, she was absolutely stupid in the way she handled the situation, she is lucky to be alive and that bear didn't go after her. The wilderness is not a funny place. It's a struggle."

Nature is both beautiful and brutal. In both videos, I found the humans shared the same good fortune. Fortunate to experience a close up view of something wild and lucky enough to live to tell about it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

OVER THE BOW: THE SOUTH FORK OF THE AMERICAN RIVER


Wild rivers are earth's renegades, defying gravity, dancing to their own tunes, resisting the authority of humans, always chipping away, and eventually always winning. --Richard Bangs and Christian Kallen, River Gods

"This is why we came here." said Erik Allen, "We came to surf Barking Dog."
Maybe that is why he came. I was just trying to the learn my way down the fabled South Fork of the American River. The rain had stopped a little while after getting on the river. That didn't mean, I didn't find away to get wet. Right away,  I caught the edge of an eddy and rolled my kayak over. An unceremonious dump into the river.

During the spring and summer the South Fork in northern California is a playground for whitewater kayakers and rafters of all different levels.  The river descends at a steep gradient of 30 feet per mile. The first 5 miles from the Chili Bar access are chocked full of exciting Class III whitewater with rapids with scary names like Meat-grinder and Trouble Maker. The so-called easy section is the next, nine miles through the valley consisting of a number of Class II rapids including Barking Dog. After that, the river enters what paddlers call "The Gorge." It's mostly a series of challenging Class III rapids descending at 33 feet per mile toward Folsom Lake.

About mile down river from the Highway 49 bridge, the river makes sweeping curve to the right and then plunges into two standing waves and hole between as it turns again to left. The river's velocity, turbulence and converging currents have created a steep hole in its path making it an appealing and challenging site for area play-boaters.  Local legend says this Class II rapid got its name when a neighborhood dog barked loudly at the rafters and kayaks as they went down river.

Erik along with the rest of the play-boaters line up like kids, waiting to ride the roller coaster at the amusement park. Inching forward one by one to test skills their skills one at a time in the churning boil. Its cross between ballet and bull riding. A choreographed dance of spins, flips and rolls all before the wave spits them out and then back in line to try one more time.

Erik dips the nose of his Pyranha play-boat into the turmoil of the Dog, heading straight into its current. Skimming, then flipping at the edge of the standing wave.  He loses momentum and is buried by the water crashing down on him, only to roll back on the surface, surfing into the wave. Up right again he spins again on the wave in another maneuver .

Over sixty years ago Sigurd Olson said, "As long as there are young men with the light of adventure in their eyes or a touch of wildness in their souls, rapids will be run." It still hold true today at places like Barking Dog Rapids on the South Fork where souls sing and surf in the rolling whitewater.

Over the Bow is a feature from Outside Adventure to the Max, telling the story behind the image. If you have a great picture with a great story, submit it to us at nickayak@gmail.com

Friday, October 9, 2015

BIOLUMINESCENT WATERS: TOMALES BAY PART II

Every drop of knowledge sparks a light, illuminating an ocean of darkness teeming on the edge of brilliance --CN Hamilton

The tide is out and the moon is gone. The only light is coming off the shine of distant headlights off Highway One, about mile away across Tomales Bay. I'm sitting on the edge of space. Drifting in darkness, isolated from the world around me. Clouds block the stars and blackness engulfs the sea. I can barely see the front of my kayak's bow or anything at all. The dark has not only stolen my sight,  but my voice as well. Longtime veteran night-time paddler Sigurd Olson revered this quiet when he said, "At times on the water one does not speak aloud but only in whispers, for then all noise is sacrilege."

Abruptly out of the darkness the magic flashes alongside the bow of my kayak. A stroke of the paddle and push forward emits even more waves of bluish-green flickers across the water. Across the way my paddling partner Jim Bryla exclaims, "Wow, It's like Disneyland!"
Not quite. As magical as it is, there is no fairy pixie dust here. It's bioluminescence, a light produced by a chemical reaction in living things. Similar to breaking a glow-stick, tiny singled cell creatures called dinoflagellates, think of two whip-like appendages that stick out from a single cell's body about the size of a speck of dust. These dinoflagellates, (dinos means “whirling” in Greek) contain a light-emitting compound called luciferin. When they are stimulated by a wave, fish or even a kayak they create a blue flash in the water around them. Scientists feel it's a burglar alarm in sense, to startle and ward off any potential predators.

It's ethereal and gorgeous. "This is our world, people." said film maker and deep-sea explorer  James Cameron  "You don't have to believe in magic. It's already magical! Look at these things. Bite your knuckle."

The same sparkling blue light designed to scare off predators is exactly what brings us to Tomales Bay and the eastern side of Point Reyes National Seashore, near of San Francisco. Bioluminescence is present for a couple of months a year, usually in the spring and fall, when all the variables align: water temperature, air temperature, winds, currents, and tides. During the phase of the new moon, the bay offers an ideal location for observing bioluminescence. The narrow gap of the bay's entrance limits the sea water moving about during the tidal exchange, trapping a concentration of dinflagelates between the main land and Tomales Point peninsula. Federal laws protect the much of the seashore as wilderness, which keeps light pollution from fading the greenish blue flashes of the microbes.


As I paddle through the bioluminescent waters, I marvel with excitement while creating my own mini light show with my kayak, paddle and even my hands while jostling the water surrounding microbes-organisms. I can see a hint of the Jim's silhouette with sparks flickering around him. The bottom half of his kayak seems to be glowing as he leaves a trail of lights behind. Spellbound by the phosphorescent event we glide along the flat water enjoying the magical experience. The water now, has switched places with the sky, as we paddle on looking down on a pool of meteors, comets and stars. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

ISLAND IN TIME, TOMALES BAY PART I


"We need to keep some of our vanishing shoreline an unspoiled place, where all men, a few at a time, can discover what really belongs there -- can find their own Island in Time." ---Harold Gilliam

The area outfitter gave us a stern warning. "Weather is moving in. Tomorrow it could be worse." she stated firmly, "We had a lot of rescues over the weekend. If you go out there you might not make it back."
We had all seen the weekend report of fifty-four kayakers on a nocturnal outing being plucked out of Tomales Bay by local fire departments when the conditions suddenly changed. Two were treated for hypothermia after a kayak capsized in the wind and rough seas.
A grey sky hung overhead while two-foot waves pounded Miller Boat Launch at Nick's Cove on the northern section of the bay as we continued unloading our kayaks and gear.  I saw the outfitter's tired eyes looking out over the water watching her crew retrieve kayaks from across the water, remnants of the past weekend's rescue operation. Her crew's motorboat with kayaks in tow seemed to make slow progress across the bay.

 "The little boat, lifted by each towering sea, and splashed viciously by the crests, made progress that in the absence of sea-weed was not apparent to those in her. She seemed just a wee thing wallowing, miraculously, top-up, at the mercy of five oceans." That's how American author Stephen Crane described the ordeal in his short story The Open Boat. The story is based on his own experience of surviving a shipwreck.  In classic literary style he would narrate the tale that seemed to match my view of the motorboat crossing the bay. "As the boat caroused on the waves, spray occasionally bumped over the side and gave them a fresh soaking, but this had no power to break their repose. The ominous slash of the wind and the water affected them as it would have affected mummies."

I looked to the members of our five man party all loading their kayaks with camping supplies. We had all paddled together in San Francisco Bay and camped on Angel Island. The conditions seemed similar, wind, waves and a little current. Nothing we had not paddled together before. "You know what we call a day like this in Minnesota?" I asked the group with a with a smile and then answered quickly not waiting for an answer, "A nice day."
The outfitter shook her and continued with her loading of kayaks. Her warning had disappeared in the wind. We had planned this trip to Tomales Bay for weeks. It was a scouting mission of sorts. We are looking forward to bringing other folks along on a future camp out as part of Bayside Adventure Sports, an active outdoor church group based in Granite Bay, California. The idea was to find a suitable beach for camping and viewing of the bioluminescence along the Point Reyes National Seashore. All we had to do was paddle out past Hog Island to the western side of the bay, about a mile away.
"A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind it just as important," Crane observed in The Open Boat in enduring the test of the ocean swells. Loaded full with camping gear, the waves crashed over my bow putting a salty spray in my face. I was the last one trailing behind the others heading into the gusty bay. Memories of paddling the mid-west lakes floated back to me. There wind and waves are common place. I can remember, one windy day on West Lost Lake in Minnesota where I battled whitecaps while paddling along the Otter Tail River chain of lakes. Up and down my kayak bounced along in the same fashion across the bay.

Hog Island sits about five miles south of the entrance of Tomales Bay. Small in nature the uninhabited island covers only two acres, while its next door neighbor Duck Island is even smaller. A haven for wildlife, the islands are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Point Reyes National Park Seashore and access in restricted. However, it did serve for good rendezvous spot out of the wind as we all paddled between the two islands. Near the western shore of Tomales Bay the wind eased up and the waves ceased. While the other three paddled ahead into cove with sand colored cliffs called White Gulch, longtime paddling partner Erik Allen cruised the along the shoreline looking for a beach to camp on. From the shore we heard the bugling sound of the tule elk. In the distance we could see them grazing freely in open grasslands and coastal scrub. Once almost wiped out, the elk have returned to Point Reyes and are one of the largest herds in California.

Under the shelter of Tomales Point blocking the winds coming off the Pacific Ocean, the tempestuous bay calms yielding way to smooth paddling along the coastline of the bay. It's a mixture of sandy beaches, high bluffs and thistle plants clinging to the rocks and tall banks. The vegetation huddles close to the ground.  Coyote brush and grasses are the dominant plants on the peninsula. It may look quiet but its home to all the animals, birds and reptiles. Higher up and lining the draws are a full array of Douglas fir, Bishop pine and coastal live oak.

Conservationist and writer Stephen Trimbles
said, "To cross this valley to the peninsula (Point Reyes) is to leave modern California and enter an island of wilderness, forgotten by progress, a quiet land misplaced in a noisy world." We picked out a quiet beach along the coastal prairie almost directly across from the noisy world, where had we started. Pulling our kayaks on to the shore, we pitched our tents in the sand, ate freeze-dried food and watched the tide roll away. The weather and waves and warnings faded into the tranquil sound of the water lapping against the shore. Resting around a beach fire, we found own haven by the bay.


Photos by Erik Allen & Jim Bryla. 
Next week in Outside Adventure to the Max find the magic during a bioluminescence excursion in Tomales Bay.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

KAYAK SUMMER 2015


As summer comes to an end, I look back. I long for the those lost days on the water with a paddle in my hand. Each day was an exceptional gift of either a journey into the past or a voyage into the future. With each dip of the paddle my senses awakened. The smell of the lake, the roar of the river and the spray of the ocean. Here are a few of my favorite images from this summer kayaking.

Lake Clementine

Eppies Training
American River and the Fair Oaks Bridge
Eppies Pre-Race

San Juan Rapids
North Fork of the American River
Loon lake

Lake Natoma
Tomales Bay

We are always looking for guest bloggers to share their adventures stories and pictures. Keep up with Outside Adventure to the Max on our Facebook page.