Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Carpe vesperem

With kids in school all day and sunset coming earlier and earlier, we can't really seize the day anymore, as in the old saying "carpe diem." Instead, for a brief window here, we can seize the evening, ergo "carpe vesperem." Darn good thing I had three and a half years of Latin to adjust the old saying. In late September, old sayings aren't the only thing needing adjustment: outdoor play time needs to be jiggered as well.

So we get dinner on the table early, say 5:30, and then get some of the dishes put away, and Noah and I have a magical half-hour before that 6:50 sunset to head out into the neighborhood on our bikes. You can't drive anywhere, since it would be dark when you arrived. And Canal Park is gorgeous at sunset, with the lift bridge and the slanting light illuminating the boats.

Seize the day...or at least what's left of it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Where in the World?

On my North Shore hike today, I found this cool tunnel, formed by huge slabs of rock coming off of a cliff and stacking up like playing cards. I'm sorry to say this, but it reminded me most of the tunnel on the 18th hole of the minigolf course in Grand Marais.

But where was it? It was right off of the Superior Hiking Trail, for one thing.

Here's another hint:

I don't know who named this particular feature of the SHT, but I think it should be "Picnic Rocks" plural, since the main feature at the end of the spur trail wasn't a big overlook atop some rock perfect for lunch, but this amazing pile of rocks,some of which might actually work as a picnic table.

One more photo hint. This is 0.4 miles further up the SHT:

Still stumped? Here's the map.

It was a great hike, though my legs are burning from all the ups and all the downs. Maple trees are fully turned in some places, yellow-ish green in others. Get out this weekend!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

And watch out for snowshoers!

Deep in the backcountry of Jay Cooke State Park, be very very cautious. Stay on the trails and above all FOLLOW ALL DIRECTIONS! You just might encounter those dreaded and stinky beasts of the woods, the SKIERS.

You have been warned.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Tweens in the Wilderness

Slim Lake, off of the North Arm Road off of the Echo Trail north of Ely, has been a great introduction to the BWCA Wilderness for our family and our friends. Our first tentative half-hour canoe outings were here. The portage in is short and easy, and the lake is beautiful. After a short canoe paddle, or even during it, there are high rock outcrops to climb, like Hans and his friend Albert in the picture above.

However, it's been hard to impress the boys with the importance of the Wilderness or the boundary they cross when we enter it. How do you impress a jaded kid with what isn't there? No motors, no houses, no tangible signs of humans. It's all about what is not there. Even the definition in the 1964 Wilderness Act is a negative: untrammeled.

What marks the Wilderness? Sometime in the last ten years the classic wooden sign at the wilderness boundary has disappeared, so you don't get that dramatic moment of stepping into the BWCAW. Instead, we filled out the day permit at the parking lot and talked just a bit about the rules and regs. Later, on a shore excursion to climb a nice hunk of granite, in a a fine moment of boy energy well-spent, we dismantled an illegal firepit and chucked the smoke-stained boulders into the lake with ginormous splooshes. The firepit had two of those plastic BWCA-legal beer bottles, which was ironic given the illegality of the campsite.

But I still don't think they got it. Twelve-year-olds maybe can't grasp the bigger concept...I didn't when I was canoeing the BWCA and Quetico at that age. And that's fine.

Wilderness is a great place to climb the rocks and make goofy faces and be with your buddy. And that's as true for a 12-year-old as a 44-year-old.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Walking in the rain

A wise person, eager to sell outdoor gear, once told me, "There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing." When it comes to day hikes in the rain, I'd have to agree.

If I'm just out for an hour or two, I love hiking in a light rain. I love how the smells come out of the earth and the trees, and I like the muffled sounds and the atmosphere of gray and dark. The appropriate clothing is a decent rainjacket that keeps the bulk of the rain off of you, and some fleece underneath the jacket and maybe a warm cap. With that clothing, I'm in great shape and the weather is just fine. Keep moving, stay warm, take it all in.

Hiking is not fun in a seek-shelter downpour, of course, though those minutes tucked under the spruce tree boughs or inside the old barn waiting for the heaviest rain to pass are memorable. I enjoy the kind of rain where you might even leave your hood down for a while. That frees up my ears to hear the sounds, undisturbed by the rustle of the nylon hood on my earlobes.

No place is more moody than the dunes and barrens at the end of Minnesota Point, on the far extension of Duluth. Pictured above is the Superior Entry, reached after 2.5 miles through the old-growth pines, past the ruined lighthouse, and across the barrens that practically shout "Heathcliff!"

Big bonus to hiking in the rain, especially if you tend toward the romantic (that's Romantic, like the Bronte sisters) or despondent: you have the trails to yourself.

And the poodle says: Let's Go Further!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Did I mention...?

...that our first book, Skiing the North Shore, is a real winner?

Or at least an honorable mention.

It was a pleasant surprise last spring when Skiing the North Shore won the Honorable Mention for the nonfiction/memoir division of the Northeast Minnesota Book Award.

The reason I'm thinking of this now is that we've turned the corner from summer to fall and on to winter. Sales of Camping the North Shore are just about over, and it's time to ramp up the ski season...believe it or not.

Guess which one is me in the photo below. They had just cut off my elaborate thank-you speak, riddled with literary nuances, before I even started.

I should have had my hair done. I guess I really didn't think we'd win anything.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Is this the one Governor Palin asked for?

What's this little earmark about?

Well, I got a little message for you:

No, it's not for a pig to get to its lipstick.

It's not for Matt Damon or or Whoopi or Oprah to cross or double-cross

And the water ain't broken here.


(actually, it's on the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park ski trails up above Highway 61, and it crosses Split Rock Creek)

Signs of the times

A sign can make all the difference in an outdoor experience. True, off in the deep wilderness, there are no signs and you have to navigate by gut and by map. But in the intermediate zone between civilization and wilderness where most of us recreate, signs are a huge help and comfort.

Yesterday I hiked the Superior Hiking Trail from Beaver Bay to the Split Rock River. This section of trail was built about 20 years ago, and I last walked it fourteen years ago. That hike was for my 30th birthday, a fun treat up the shore in the days before we had young kids. I don't recall the signs at the time, but they must have been there.

It's still a great hike. I really enjoyed being out for a long stretch like this 10 mile trail. The signs that marked the way yesterday were definitely showing signs of aging.

A geologic process called solifluction has made the trailhead sign on County Road 3 bend downhill. Every winter the ground heaves out, and every spring the ground settles down. Out and down results in downhill movement.

Rot and irrelevance have worked on this sign. It was installed when the trail was first built to reach an actual overlook. It's no longer a dead-end spur, but part of a loop trail from Cove Point Lodge.

Here at Chapins Creek, the forces of nature have had their own way of rearranging signs and geography. North America's largest rodent, the beaver, has flooded the trail and the sign. Now the beaver's bay is 0.0 miles, not 6.5 miles.

One other change over time: when the SHT was first built, mileage was calculated using a meauring wheel. I know that because I was the one to measure the trail from the Manitou to the Caribou, pushing this bicycle wheel with a clicker through the woods. This hike was supposed to be 11.3 miles. According to my GPS, the hike was actually 10.0 miles. I've had the same experience on other sections of the SHT, with my GPS reading about 10% lower than the mileage wheel. I'm guessing that my GPS is correct, or closer to the truth anyway.

Stewart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame), wrote an interesting book called How Buildings Learn. It shows how structures evolve over time. These signs on the SHT are a history lesson in themselves, about the organization, about the trail, and more.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Meet my psychiatrist

"Meet My Psychiatrist" was the name of a book by the photographer Les Blacklock, first published back in the 1970s. Yes, the self-help 1970s that brought us psychiatric advances like Werner Erhard's "est" and the bestseller "I'm Okay, You're Okay." But Blacklock's book wasn't about anything fancy or, um, self-indulgent. It was about a log, and that was the picture on the cover of the book. I don't remember anything from the inside, really. But that idea of a log being the answer to your emotional issues is very appealing.

It's a treat to walk out our back door to the beach of Park Point. Storms come and go, bringing a perfect array of logs. Some are good for throwing for the dog. Some are beautiful twisty cedars washed down a week or so before from a raging North Shore stream bank. And some are psychiatrists, like this one above.

Sit down, they say. Tell me your problems. You say you're thinking of the election a lot lately: how does that make you feel?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

When the Lakewalk isn't a Lakewalk anymore

Everyone, I mean everyone, loves Duluth's Lakewalk.Except maybe Duluth's millionaire crowd.

It's been almost 20 years now since the first stretch of it was built along the renovated shoreline of Canal Park. Tourists flood it in the summer. Locals beam with pride when they bring their out of town friends down for a stroll. Kids cruise it in strollers, with training wheels, and finally on their own, as far ahead of their parents as they dare.

Here's an image from this afternoon. If you look closely, you'll see people on the Lakewalk and in the water.

Now there's more of the Lakewalk to love. With the new extension, it's 3.9 miles of paved bike trail from the Marine Museum in Canal Park to the end of the trail at 36th Ave. E., in Duluth's Congdon neighborhood. The easiest way to get on the new section is to park behind the Holiday store on London Road and 26th Ave. E, just off the terminus of I-35.

But it's not exactly, shall we say, a "Lake" walk anymore.

I guess we should have known that the huge mansions along London Road are owned by folks who wouldn't take kindly to eminent domain seizure of their shoreline property so that the masses could continue their route along the shore. So about thirteen years after the last extension of the Lakewalk to London Road at 28th Ave. (or so), the newest extension opened just a few weeks back...and it runs inland, not on the lake.

Actually, just as with the rest of the Lakewalk, it parallels the railroad tracks:

The new extension adds about 0.8 miles. So it's not on the Lake, but it's still used more by walkers than bikers. And there's a scenic new bridge over Tischer Creek:

Like any facial tissue is Kleenex, and any self-adhesive bandage is a Band-Aid, any stretch of trail in eastern Duluth is a Lakewalk. Get out there and discover the new stretch for yourself.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

2008 minigolf challenge comes to an end

It was a glorious season of golf for the Slade/Rauschenfels family.

We kicked it off with spring training in the desert Southwest. Sally discovered her inner golf champion on the "Optical Delusion" course in Scottsdale. She tried to fool us with the "How do you grip this thingie?" ruse, but her final scores gave her away. Final preseason ranking: 1) Dad 2) Mom 3) Hans 4) Noah

The North Shore golf season got underway for real in July, with a round at the cool new "GolfN Stuff" course in Grand Marais. It was July 4, we'd just escaped from the bugs at Sawbill Lake, and the competition was as fierce as the mosquitoes. The course is spread along a hill, so there was all sorts of terrain to challenge our clubs. This place was a total tourist magnet, with the added bonus of a climbing wall. But what is it about mini golf and the letter N? The vowels always disappear, like Toys R Us for the sporty set. Too many "i"s around the "n" in Mini? Should we call it Putt Putt golf instead?

The tunnel was a highlight.
Finish: 1) Dad 2) Mom 3) Hans 4) Noah

Noah and I took a boring summer day and made the most of it with a trip to FarPar, a very rustic golf center on the north edge of Duluth. The course was in awful shape. The astroturf was either worn thin or flopping up in ripples, so putting became a huge challenge.
Finish: 1) Dad 2) Noah

The grand conclusion (at least so far) was at Ely's new "Puttn in the Pines." WHAT HAPPENED TO THE VOWEL?? Note the poodle in the car parked at the curb. Chloe really wanted to practice her "paw"-ting, but we didn't let her. It was a vicious round, with lots of holes-in-one and a few holes-in-one-dozen. This was our first encounter with the classic spinning windmill and a mean set of spinning bowling pins.
Finish: 1) Dad, 2) Mom, 3) Hans, 4) Noah.

Yes, I am the champion, my friends.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Watch out...he's gonna jump!!

When my boys were little, I couldn't stay close enough to them to ensure that if they fell climbing on a rock, I'd be there to catch them. I'd take a bullet for them, so to speak.

One of the biggest thrills of young man-hood is cliff jumping. As our older son Hans roars past boyhood through his tween years and almost a teenager now, he's discovering his own thrills...and I'm learning to let go.

We discovered a great jumping spot on Tofte Lake, just off the Fernberg Road east of Ely. Tofte Lake is amazingly clear, and it has this one campsite right across from the boat landing with a terrific introductory jumping rock. The clear water makes it easy to scope out the landing zone for rocks, sticks, and other things that should give a father anxiety.

And then he's in the water, and everything is alright.

Fatherhood...life's lessons learned in leaps and bounds.