We're back. It was a great trip - seven days on the water, two days at the base camp, and a day of travel. We camped six times, portaged 20-30 times, and covered an estimated 117 miles (about 10 of which were portage miles and the rest paddled). One big result - no injuries. A couple of quick impressions --
Get the Kevlar canoes. The aluminum canoes are rugged but I'm sure they were part of the reason we had two injuries on the 2008 trip and NONE on the 2010 trip.
Train. Then train some more. If you show up without training, you'll pay for the lack.
Cardio training. The portage trails are rough and the packs are heavy. You'll be happier on the portage trails if you've trained carrying weight on trails (get some vertical if you can, use stadium steps if you can't get it on trails). All the packs start out at about 50 lbs; the food packs get progressively lighter but the others remain heavy.
Skills training. Paddle canoes and go canoe camping at least once, preferrably twice. Practice the wilderness skills - Leave No Trace. If your crew members can't j-stroke, if they don't have some power in their strokes, they'll fail when the wind kicks up.
Team training. You'll have some crew members who don't get the idea of working as a team. They'll put of their own tent but let someone else struggle with another tent, they'll take care of their personal needs and preferences first and leave the group responsibilities to others, and they will be selfish instead of sharing. Find out who they are and decide if they can be tolerated. One bad apple...
Test skills. Have each team member demonstrate that they have the skills needed. Otherwise you'll have a bunch of sandbaggers who stress all the others.
Have a written duty roster. This cuts down on a LOT of arguments.
Go to Quetico. The Boundary Waters (BWCA) are just plain crowded.
If the advisers like coffee, take a spare stove. I recommend the Starbucks instant coffee in the little tubes.
As an advisor, stand back and let the scouts run the show. There are times when you, the advisor, will have to lay down the law (e.g., no one eats dinner until ALL the tents are up, pads are unrolled, and sleeping bags ready). I say this because otherwise you'll be standing around feeding the mosquitoes while the scouts dawdle with and fuss with their tents.
Make the rules clear, then repeat five times. Shoes mandatory. Life vests mandatory. Buddy system mandatory. For some reason, mail teen-agers don't understand multi-word sentences until many repetitions. Keep the rules simple and clear so that you don't waste time picking nits with some budding lawyer.
For fun, take a gander at this video -- a portage from the point of view of the guy under the canoe.
I had all these plans to reignite this blog by tracking our training for Northern Tier. Ah, it would have been brilliant. People would have been inspired to get up out of their lounges and off their sofas to head out into the wilderness. Didn't happen. So that's the bad news. The good news is that I'm doing my final packing and we leave on Monday.
We catch a flight at the crack o' dawn on Monday morning and arrive in Minneapolis a bit after noon, high noon. This "we" is a group of six teen-aged boys and two teen-aged adults; or at least we have teen-aged dreams of wilderness adventure. We'll toss our stuff into our rental cars and head to the Mall of America for lunch. After that, we head up to the US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum. We spend the night at a warmed-up ski center and on Tuesday go to visit the Soudan Underground Mine State Park to tour an iron mine 2,341 feet down. After lunch, we arrive at Charles L. Sommers Northern Tier Canoe Base. After that, we're on our own. We start in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in northern Minnesota but we quickly paddle through Prairie Portage into the Quetico. It will be a while, but we'll return to the US and then head on home.
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We're in full-swing training for Northern Tier. Northern Tier (NT) is the BSA National High Adventure Base for canoeing. We're going to the Charles L. Somers Canoe Base outside Ely, MN in the last week of July and the first part of August, 2010. The base is in or near the BWCA - Boundary Waters Canoe Area - and just south of Quetico. I've been there twice before. The first time was as a college student or recent grad (I'd have to check the dates) and was in 19jasjdhf. Gosh, that must have been a data transmission error. The second time was in 2008 with my older son and a group of Boy Scouts. This time is with my younger son and a group of Boy Scouts. I sense a pattern.
The crew this year is a bunch of 15- and 16-year-olds. The 2008 crew was a bit older and bigger; the biggest guys on the 2010 crew would be the smallest on the 2008 crew. This means we won't go as many miles (109 or so in 2008), but we'll still have a grand time. Although we start in BWCA, we cross over into the Quetico on the first day and don't return to the US until the last day. Yes, we cross an international border and need all the appropriate paperwork.
For training, we started with hikes and bike trips. I divide training into three purposes: cardiovascular health and endurance, skill development, and team-building. Since the water was cold in January, we started with hikes - a weekly 6+ mile hike with increasing weight and irregular weekend hikes for fun. For variety, we also did some cycling - about a 20-mile trip on a suburban bike trail. As the weather warmed in May, we got into canoes. Fortunately, we have a crew member who lives across the street from Cottage Lake, so we are able to use their house as a base and portage the canoes over to the Lake. The paddling started out pretty light, building up to a mile in the early days, but now we're more like 1.5-2 miles (it is a small lake). We also did a canoe-camping trip to Diablo Lake in the North Cascades. We did 13 miles over two days with two nights camped. The weather was great, so this was a good trip for a break-in. Finally, having the guys travel together, camp together, and work together is the best team-building I know, so that's what we do.
We dropped the boys off at Stevens Pass to ski and continued on toward Leavenworth. We've done a lot of hiking in the Icicle Creek canyon and thought we'd try a snowshoe hike today. I'd forgotten, but huge fires swept through the Icicle Creek area in 1994. Irony would have us visit today - a recent fire at a candy store outside of town left a smoking ruin. We never stopped there, but it was a landmark telling us we were approaching the town.
The forest fire was in the news in 2004 but other fires had pushed it out of our memories. It was an interesting drive as we entered the canyon. The memories came back as we studied the hillsides for evidence of the fire. It's easy to see after a while. At first, the area looked like a clear cut - there were stands of a few trees here and there that survived. But then it became clear there were none of the slash piles left by loggers, and there were bare spires standing that loggers would never have left. On the ground, it was obviously a fire. We walked up a Forest Service road and the undergrowth was thick on one hand; and there was virtually no undergrowth on the other. The fire had demolished it all. The area is restoring itself. Recreation continues. But the scale of the fire is astounding; in a city, it would be blocks and blocks. Our drive through the fire-scarred area went for miles and the burned areas climbed the hillsides for nearly a thousand feet. I don't know if it crossed the ridge into the next valley. I hope to do a backpacking trip into the Alpine Lakes this summer, and that should reveal the secret.
We were visiting the Gettysburgh battlesite and I finally understood how rank influences. It became clear to me that Colonel Sanders has a fried chicken place, but General Pickett has an entire buffet.
As a result of a resounding loss at the polls in November, the leaders of the Republican Party have been pushing an intense effort to reexamine the Party and position it to win in the future. Some of the talk comes from talking heads on radio and television who claim affiliation with the Party but have no actual position within the leadership and have no elected position; they continue their rants about returning to the roots of the Party, being true to the ideals of Ronald Reagan, and defending American culture from further erosion. The talking heads seem to want to re-energize the base, to strengthen the appeal of the GOP to the existing Party members. The discussion that comes from people actually in the Party leadership or holding office is more subtle and looks for ways to broaden the appeal of the Party outside the base. In both cases, they often talk about the "brand" of the Republican Party.
A "brand" is a symbol of a corporation or organization that is intended to communicate the essence of the entity to a consumer. In modern practical usage, brands are often false. It is not true that using a certain shampoo, toothpaste, or car will make a consumer happier or more attractive to partners, but branding is often constructed to give precisely that impression. The essence of the company or the product remains unchanged while branding manipulates only the perception of the product.
When I combine these two ideas, it is clear that some "leaders" in the conservative movement of the US are attempting to redefine and change the perception of the Republican Party. They are not attempting to understand the underlying issues nor craft new proposals to solve the problems. They are not attempting to make their current positions more clear. They are changing the wrapping without changing the contents. Their goal is to win elections and thereby impose their will. This is not democracy and these leaders should be called to answer for their attempt to confuse and outwit those that they pretend to serve. Some of the self-described leaders of the Party are intellectually and ethically bankrupt if they think that changing the perception is the same as changing the reality.
Much better would be Republican leaders who revisit the principles that lead to the losses and the polls, determine if they are relevant or stale, and freshen the ideas of the Party. Instead of putting lipstick on the pig, they should think about an exercise program to get that pig lean and in shape for the next competition.
I didn't realize it until now. My last post before the lapse was about Lincoln and his fight for the Constitution. I described how Lincoln was an instrument of fulfillment of the original vision of equal rights. My first post after the lapse was to welcome Barack Obama, the first non-white president of the United States.
Lincoln may now rest easy. His task is accomplished. Our task has begun.
It took something monumental to get me off my stupor. Today is monumental.
I've been chewing my nails all day. I was worried it was going to be a squeaker of a race - that it would be down to hanging chads and failed voting machines with cheesy keys and without backups. But I was wrong and how wrong I was. It is such a relief to have a definitive result - a landslide - and not to be worrying about the final votes in the final states. I haven't seen the participation numbers, but I'm optimistic that voting proportions are up dramatically.
Change has come to America.
Barack Obama has run an outstanding campaign. Not just a technical tour-de-force but a campaign of dignity and style. At the end, in his concession speech, John McCain attempted to make up for his rotten campaign, but he'll be remembered as he has acted. A sad end to a noble career. Eight years ago, four years ago, he might have taken it all, but he was up against a sleazy politician from Texas and Maine, a pampered scion of wealth who came equipped with all the dark tools of a brutal trade. Maybe John McCain could have faced such a foe again to win, but Obama took a different road.
I hope this is the end of the sleaze merchants. I'm not sure, and we won't know for another few years, but I hope. In the meantime, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
George W. Bush has had eight years of practice, and he's not going to stop now. Lack of small-d democratic support has never slowed him down. He's going to try to pour regulations and policies into the system that will gum up the works and take years to undo the damage. The transition team has to learn their new jobs AND watch for devious tricks by the out-going administration. This won't be sophomoric tricks like glue on the toilet seats or tape on the phone, but will be one give-away to his cronies here and a defanging of a protection there. Words will be redefined to be meaningless and entire laws will be disabled. This will not be a cooperative transition, it will be passive aggressive to the end.
But it will end. The people have spoken. Welcome, President Barack Obama.
The day raced past before I could get organized enough to write a post, but I wanted to write about Mr. Lincoln. It was 143 years ago in the theater box shown here that Booth struck out one of the lights of American history.
I learned the usual school-kid history and it really turned me off to anything historical. Time passed and I've developed a revived interest in the past. It started with Angel in the Whirlwind, a book I recommend to those interested in the American Revolution. It gave a realistic picture of George Washington in context - so much more interesting than the drivel fed to our schoolchildren. A few years living in metropolitan Boston, and my interests advanced to the American Civil War.
I find so few people understand that war - it is so easy to get lost in the distraction of state's rights and completely fail to see the real reason for the war. Even Lincoln took a while to come to grips with it, but in his wavering he gives us such deep insight and reveals the truth. All men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Every time a commentator talks about "original intent" as a valid interpretation of the Constitution, I remember Lincoln. It was a rail-splitter from Kentucky and Illinois who showed us that we must not be satisfied with the insights and limitations of the founding fathers, but each generation must add its own brilliance to enhance the luster of the gift they gave us.
The Constitution is one of the great documents of history, but it is only a diamond in the rough. It is an on-going challenge to us to develop and improve the spirit and intellectual quality of the original document lest it become a quaint and curious aged bauble. If the party of Lincoln is to be a true party of conservatives, they must rediscover the struggle to preserve and defend the Constitution, they must watch over it and guide it to new greatness instead of smothering it in uncertainty and blather. To lock one's self to some concept of original intent is to regress to the antebellum mindset.
Lincoln sacrificed his life for the rights of others. Let us hope we are sufficiently strong to continue to fight for the rights of all men and women.
We live in the shadow of mounains - when the sun is low in the sky and the clouds are missing, anyway. To our east is the Cascade Range through which cuts Stevens Pass. Because we don't have enough to do, someone invented skiing and put a ski resort in Stevens Pass. It's nice, but not crazy enough, so we go snowshoe hiking there. Lovely, hilly, with great views. It's nice, but not crazy enough, so I took a class in January and built an igloo in March. I would have built the igloo in February, but there was so much snow in the mountains that avalanches closed the pass and I couldn't get there. Building an igloo is nice, but not crazy enough, so I slept in the igloo with my co-builders.
We had a great time building the igloo and camping out there in the wild. We were fortunate that it was cold that night - I'm guessing around 20F or -7C for a low temperature - and that our igloo didn't drip.
There's a secret hidden in the picture. If you look closely at the photograph, I'm looking at a particularly bright spot, a hole in our igloo. For a number of reasons - just assume that they are good reasons and not merely poor construction techniques - we accidentally left a small hole near the top of our dome. Under normal conditions, an igloo dome should be intact so as to contain as much heat as possible. It's supposed to be warmer inside the igloo than outside. However, as we had three full-grown adult men in this igloo, there was plenty of excess heat. As a result of our little hole, we had a constant draft all night. I believe this kept our igloo from overheating and drip-drip-dripping on us all night. (Note to experienced igloo builders - another of our construction, uh, innovations was to forget to smooth the inside of the dome to eliminate drip points.) It was cold, but we wrapped up tightly. The other benefit of the hole was to help release the pressure of the combined snoring of three full-grown adult males and I think this helped protect eardrums. (There's no physics or medicine behind that statement, just a personal awareness of the power of the adult trachea.)
The blue is a little exaggerated. I used the "snow/beach" setting on the camera to adjust the exposure. The texture of the blocks is really there, and there's a distinct blue glow inside the igloo, but it's not quite what you see here.
Photo taken about 7:30am at about 4000 feet near StevensPass, Washington, in mid-March, 2008.
It strikes me that anathema is not a noun. This has confused me for some time. Dictionary.com reports it as a noun, but I don't believe it. Consider their example sentence: That subject is anathema to him. Put another noun in its place: That subject is steeple to him. Put any adjective in its place instead: That subject is beloved/disgusting to him. If it were a noun, the example sentence would read: That subject is an anathema to him. Anathema just isn't a noun because it's not used like one as it lacks an article in common uses. (Steps down off soapbox.)
CNN has reported that 143 million pounds of beef are being recalled. This beef includes meat from cows that were "downed" - unable to walk, many carried to the slaughter by forklifts. Dr. Dick Raymond, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, is quoted as saying "We don't think there is a health hazard, but we do have to take this action." Evidently this is because they think most of the meat has already been eaten. Of course, most of the meat went to school food programs, prisons, and Native Americans.
The Bush administration has spent years trying to dump regulations and cut funding for government organizations like the FDA (as recently as 2006, until public outcry caused a policy change).
Of course, Ron Paul is on the forefront of this issue. He says "I oppose legislation that increases the FDA‘s legal powers. FDA has consistently failed to protect the public from dangerous drugs, genetically modified foods, dangerous pesticides and other chemicals in the food supply. Meanwhile they waste public funds attacking safe, healthy foods and dietary supplements." Go Ron! Keep us safe. Yeah, right.
In the meantime, will a fine keep Hallmark from doing this again? Or prevent anyone else from doing it? How long does it take to produce 143 million pounds of beef? They've been doing this for a while, clearly, so the practice is well-entrenched and must be visible to management. I propose a prison term for the CEO. If I did this as an individual, I'd be wearing an orange jump-suit, so why not apply this to the Corporate perp?
And I now present the 2007 Edition of the Gingerbread House. Showing an imaginative use of native elements such as Swedish fish and Gummi Bears, this festive construction presents a view across the rock-candy ice into a neatly trimmed Cape Cod house. One can almost hear the square-dance caller naming the next step as the fiddle sings out a tune. The formally dressed penguins are standing in line to get into this hopping joint. Later on, after the sun sets, the seasonal hot drinks will keep these merry-makers tapping their toes late into the polar night.
I almost feel like I could write for Madison Avenue!
We started a tradition of making gingerbread houses with a kit. This seemed like an expeditious way to get started but we quickly switched to baking our own and selecting our own candies. This year, there's a bit of ecological confusion going on as the penguins and bears do not share a continent. (The bears are sitting on the roof while the penguins cavort on the ice in front of the house.) Our cats (the conventional furry type) are all too interested in the decorations and we've already lost a Swedish fish. So far, the gumdrops and icing seem OK, but we also lost a few candy corns at Halloween so we are on the lookout. (The candy corns showed evidence of bite marks similar to those left by Felis cattus (domesticus), and there seemed to be a few candy corns missing entirely.)
There's supposed to be a picture there, linked from Picasa. Hmmm... appears to be of a technical difficulty.
Although there are elements of tourist overload and the occasional splash of tackiness, the Pike Place Public Market in Seattle is a great place to visit. The fine restaurants come with views that can't be beat, but even the donuts and coffee come with a view!
We were out enjoying the sights on Independence Day. It was hot and sunny, a pleasant change from the wet weather, so we decided to visit a friend on Bainbridge Island. It's a short ferry ride but there's plenty of time to turn around an enjoy the skyline of Seattle. The ship had just gotten underway, we were out of the car and had wandered to the stern when we noticed a black cloud starting from a pier and rising fast. A fire had started. As we stood there, trying to figure out what was burning, where it was burning, and how serious it was, the sirens started. Then the Seattle fireboat raced past us, positioned itself, and started dousing the fire. It was all over in a few minutes.
We found out later it was an abandoned dock - quite empty, no permanent structures. I don't think they ever did find out what started it.
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) opened a new sculpture garden early this year. It's on the north side of Seattle on a hill overlooking Puget Sound. It has a number of prominent sculptures, including this Calderstabile. According to Wikipedia, Calder invented the mobile and the stabile. Who knew?
The tree in the foreground is not actually a tree, but another sculpture. I did a little research and found it is called Split, by Roxy Paine. This is an interesting piece because it sneaks up on you - in the winter, it looks like just another leafless tree. But take a closer look and the truth is revealed.
SAM has a virtual tour of the garden here. This photograph was taken on the opening day of the garden January 13, 2007.