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.”