Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Finns swear higher

I skied at Pincushion Mountain up above Grand Marais yesterday. It was spring melt conditions, and half of the trail was rotting out or ice-covered. But about half of the trail was pretty good. On a particularly steep downhill, I learned that Finns swear way up high in their throats.

I've been down a few "screamers" this XC ski season, at Cascade, in Ely and at Korkki Nordic. At Pincushion, to top off the ski season, I had to ski the "Ole Hyvä" loop.

Supposedly, "Ole Hyvä" is Finnish for "Oh my God." The trail was laid out to maximize the hills, climbing up ridgelines only to plummet off its edge straight down to the valley below. When I crested one of those ridgetops and headed for the big screamer downhill, I was ready to shout out "OLE HYVÄ!!" But all I got out of my normally taciturn mouth was a high-pitched "EE," from way up high in the thorax. "EE" as in "Ole H-EEEEE-ve" On a trail built by Finns and named with a Finnish cuss, I guess I swore like a Finn. As my old Finnish friends would say, "Yup yup."

My next trail was the Hilfiker Hill Loop. Now there's a righteous Anglo-Saxon name, supposedly that of a doctor who once lived near these trails. When I reached one of those screamers, while I didn't try "Holy Hilfiker!!," I gave a righteously deep gurgle.

If a Finn built the trail, do we still feel its Finnish-ness today?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ski season's over: when will I get it?

What will it take for me to get the message? THE CROSS COUNTRY SKI SEASON IS OVER. FINIS. FERTIG. KAPUT.

Maybe it's the tree down across the ski trail at Piedmont. Or maybe it's the poodle right there where skiers should be. Or maybe it's the fact that I'M WALKING.

Maybe I should take a closer look at the FROZEN PUDDLE here at this trail intersection. The orange sign says "No Skating Beyond This Point," and IT DOESN'T MEAN ICE SKATING. DOOFUS. It means NO MORE SKIING BEYOND TODAY.


...aren't those two little parallel tracks there on the side? They are white, aren't they, which at least means they're not mud. A guy could ski on ice, if that's what it is?

I still have the ski racks on the roof of the car. I'm still reading SkinnySki. And they're saying good things about ski trails at Giants Ridge. I could still go...

...couldn't I?

...and I just thought I heard the weather guy say it might snow next week...

Just to clarify a bit, for the astrologically inclined: I am a Gemini.

I am pathologically wishy-washy. I want it all. I deny the evidence in front of me. They say "Geminis will take either side of an argument, not because they feel strongly about their position, but simply for the fun of it. They are adaptable and flexible, and require numerous amusements and interests at once to satisfy their quick, changeable minds."

I call it Adult ADD. My favorite words are "however", "although" and "maybe."

I'm not ready for ski season to be over. Maybe. However, I might go downhill skiing tomorrow. Although Giants Ridge is tempting...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

North Shore ice storm: My Friends say it's bad

The great ice storm of 2009 has nearly paralyzed the North Shore. It was bad here in Duluth, but much worse up the shore. Power has been out for two days in some places.

I am not there. I get updates, though, via my other online life at Facebook.

Here's what I'm hearing:

Bryan Hansel of Lutsen says "the damage is unreal."

David Carlson, of Little Marais, whose power has been out for two days, says "Heating water for coffee on a charcoal grill gives an unusual smoky flavor to espresso blend."

Kate Surbaugh of Lutsen is slipsliding away.

Sally Nankivell exclaimed "NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" as the ice thickened on branches and birch trees broke apart.

Worst of all, Michael O'Phelan has closed the ski trails at Cascade

I sorta wish I was there, but that's what Friends are for.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I told you so

Despite open water as far as I could see yesterday, I made a bold prediction: the wind would bring the ice in. So today, I feel like an old salty sea dog. "Narrh!"

I was right:

Not only did the ice sheet move in, the freezing rain brought more ice to leaves and grass and trees and cars:

I made it to the edge of the beach, where yesterday the waves were lapping.

Now it's down to the Rusty Capstan tavern to regale those green Horatio Hornblowers with my tales from the briny deeps...NARRH!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lake Superior ice: It's out there

It's a howling lake wind here in Duluth today. What little ice we had out on the lake has been crushed onto the beach, which is a dark mass of compacted snow, sand and ice. Looking out into the teeth of the wind, I see no more ice. If you're on the Minnesota North Shore today, you might not see any ice either. The Grand Marais webcam is checking in ice-free.

The satellites see another picture:

All that red, with the strange letter combinations, is thick-ish ice in the middle of the lake. Lake Superior tried valiantly to freeze over this year and never quite made it. But big remnants of the ice pack are still out there.

I predict that if this northeast wind keeps up today we'll see the pack moving in. Then the real fun begins here on Park Point, with massive ice pile-ups out our back door.

One year, visitors to Park Point found ice for their Fourth of July lemonade down on the beach. It won't be that bad this year, but when it piles up, it tends to stay a while.

I don't really want this prediction to come true. I'd rather not have the backyard ice cooler going. But that is life on the shores of Lake Superior.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The worst ski trip of the year

Back in 1776, Thomas Paine wrote "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Paine was not thinking of treacherous icy cross country ski trails. But I was. If I am truly to be your loyal correspondent about North Shore trails and experiences, I must ski them. Shrink from the service of my readers? Nay.

A slight dusting of snow had fallen during the day. Would it be enough to turn the crusty remnants of ski trails in Duluth into something skiable, even fun? I went to the Spirit Mountain cross country trails to find out. The word on SkinnySki.com was that these trails still had 100% coverage. Yeah, of ice.

A few days back, Jena Ogsten posted on SkinnySki regarding the Piedmont ski trails, "These conditions are really only for those who must really love to nordic ski."

The Pete Fosseide 5K is one of my favorite trails in the area, and I hadn't skied it this year. It was the worst ski trip of the year. I bloodied myself (well, my knuckle, but it hurt!) as I fell on an ice flow. I had to pick my route through the ruts. The normally joyous downhills were minefields of ice and grass. It took me 40 minutes to "ski" the 5K loop, nearly twice as long as normal.

So now do I deserve "the love and thanks of man and woman?," as Paine suggested? No, I deserve to have my skis taken away and locked up for the season.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh boy boy, Pahoehoe (that rhymes)

Beautiful Sugarloaf Cove was saved for it. College students road trip to the North Shore from across the Midwest to see it. There's a great slab of it by the lower footbridge over the Temperance River. And I found it under glass in the Smithsonian. It's "pahoehoe," basalt hardened in the ropey form it had as it crept and cooled a billion years ago.

Most terms geologists use are either speaking German, Scottish, or Hawaiian. Hawaiian comes in handy on the North Shore because of all the volcanic features, which are found actually forming in Hawaii and as they were a billion years ago here. In addition to pahoehoe , we have aa (rhymes with baba). What's the difference? Pahoehoe was formed by fast-flowing lava, aa was from by the slow-moving stuff.

I think we could use some more Hawaiian language in our daily use:

"kapu"=sacred or forbidden

That would make the Slade family the ohana of kapu pupu.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

North Woods death march

Noah and I went to Washington DC this last week and had a great time walking to the monuments, the White House, and a few museums. When Noah announced on Day Two that he didn't like walking and he didn't like museums, it was time for a new plan. On Sunday we rented a car and drove north out of town.

We crossed over some relic Appalachian mountains and through a 18th century village founded by Daniel Boone's cousins (sure sign that we were headed for the wilderness). We even crossed the Appalachian Trail. But I didn't realize how far north we'd gone until I saw this sign:

The amateur forest ecologist in me got snarky. Apparently the North Woods of white pine and northern hardwoods had petered out exactly right here. Apparently, decades of debate among forest ecologists, about ecotones and isotherms had been settled. A National Park Service interpretive sign marked the spot.

In fact, this was at the Antietam battlefield, site of "the bloodiest day" of the Civil War. Just back of this sign is the Corn Field, where about 1000 each of Union and Confederate soldiers died in a massive face-off.

Here's a painting of the battle, from Captain James Hope of the 2nd Vermont Infantry. The soldiers in the front left are Confederate artillery. The "North Woods" are in the back left. The lines on the right are Union soldiers marching to their death.

The symmetry was nice...they marched to their death to protect Washington DC, and I nearly marched Noah to death in Washington DC. Only they were patriotic and I was just trying to be a good father.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Back to Plato's cave

Have you heard of those books "1000 things to do before you die?" Or maybe you saw the movie "Bucket List"? There are things we should all do at least once before we shuffle off this mortal coil. Reading Plato might be one of them, though the things to do are generally more cool places to see. Going to the ice caves by Cornucopia, WI is one of those things you just definitely do or see, at least for us here in the north.

In Plato's allegory of the cave, we're all supposed to be in this cave with images projected in front of us and we don't know about the greater reality outside. But, hey, these caves were pretty cool. And mind-opening enough that I felt like going in was bringing me a greater reality.

Hans and Noah and I went this Sunday, along with the poodle. And it was fantastic. Literally. You should do it.

It's a long schlep along the ice and snow dunes to get there, over a mile with some pretty treacherous footing. Once you're there, the real fun begins.

At the point of land, there is about 300 yards of cliff line full of nooks and crannies.

Maybe 2/3 of the nooks just dead-end in a dramatic overhanging cliff. It was just enough curvy sandstone to take me back to canyons and gulches of SE Utah.

About 1/3 of the nooks lead to something even cooler: real caves, low down caves, carved by splooshing waves over the centuries. A small entrance leads to larger caverns inside. Hans would go first, down on his tummy, then Noah or I would follow.

My favorite was a long narrow tunnel, out of the way enough that most of the visitors don't find it:

Follow the link above or this one for directions. For us, it was 1 3/4 hour drive from Duluth, and with a stop for late lunch at the Village Inn on the way back it was nearly a full day.

Now that we're back to the dim "reality" of computer screens, I'm not so sure I like this real world.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March skiing: The Grand Finn-Alley?

It's been a good year for cross country skiing. Good, but not yet great. Great means decent skiing until the end of March. We've been skiing for three months...just one more would make it perfect.

With every sunny day now, the end of ski season draws closer. I love the warmth of March sun, of course. Here's to a Grand Finn-Alley!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Penance on the Iso Maki

After indulging, maybe even eco-sinning, on the lift-served slopes of Lutsen Mountain, after reveling in the pull of the fall line and the ease of the chair lift, I had to make up for it. Like a bowl of unsalted brown rice after a Choco-Cherry Blizzard (large), a long loop at Korkki Nordic was the penance and the cleanser my skiing soul needed.

We locked the kids in the house with one of their six favorite Star Wars movies playing and headed up the shore to Homestead Road and the Korkki Nordic Ski Center. We passed the old Finnish homesteads of Clover Valley, where immigrants had slaved for decades to free the soil from trees and rocks to grow a little hay for their skinny goats. None of that easy living of the immigrant Swedish fishermen up the shore in Lutsen, who shot moose for pleasure and lived off tourists since the 19th century.

Korkki Nordic was carved from the wilderness by the hardest working man of them all, Charlie Banks. I think he personally cleared the trails using only his teeth warmed in the sauna. To clear my soul of the sins of downhill skiing, it was the place.

Above is pictured part of the trail, where a choice had to be made. Would I take the "Easy Way"? No, no, not today, not the easy way. I would, as Hamlet might,

"Take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them."

The real test was at the Iso Maki big hill. Let us say for argument that Iso Maki was a real person, for whom isometric exercises were named, for he pressed mightily against himself and the inert, immobile forces of nature. Here, on the long 10K part of the Korkki loop, was a challenge all of its own. You can bypass this hill, or you can climb it only to descend it again.

I chose to climb. Up and up, using my own power, not the rumbling destroyer-of-the-wild of the chair lift. At the top, I committed myself to the hill. I let gravity take me away. Should I meet a tree and die, should I tear a ligament or break a collarbone, it would be my deserved fate.

Like brown rice to the bowels, Korkki and Iso Maki cleansed my soul.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Yielding to temptation

What would you do? I had six hours in the Lutsen area in the middle of a great snowy winter. My father and my son were going downhill skiing at Lutsen. But would I yield to the temptation of thrills and chills, $6 hot dogs, and chairlifts? And a free lift ticket?

Yes, I yielded to the temptation. I coulda skied the Picnic Loop. I coulda skied around Cascade. But I skied Ullr, Koo Koo and Glade instead.

And it was super fun. Straight down the fall line, with these great skis that are actually meant to go downhill, not cross country. The North Shore is full of snow, real snow. I felt the wind on my cheeks, calf and quad muscles aching after a mogul field...it was great.

Skiing at Lutsen is a great classic North Shore experience. The views of Lake Superior were spectacular, especially as the lake was freezing over in patches of blue, white and whiter. Lutsen Mountain goes way back into North Shore history, through the legendary Swedish immigrant C.A.A. Nelson.

So I feel good about it.

Coming soon: Penance on the Iso Maki Big Hill