Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Challenge a Success - A Special Thanks to My Supporters!

At the time I first began writing this, I felt as though there was a swell of water beneath me, rising me up then easing me down. I was on land, but still feeling the movement of 44 miles of river.

It was a grand affair! Approximately 350 paddlers participated in this year's Mississippi River Challenge. Commencing at Coon Rapids Dam and ending at Grey Cloud Island, kayaks and canoes (and even one stand-up paddle boarder) had good weather conditions and a safe route before them. We had no one capsize or take on serious injury and other than some sunburn and minor dehydration, everyone had a happy and fulfilling experience.

On Friday we dropped our boats off at the dam. I received the safety briefing from Whitney, got my radio, flag and 'Safety Captain' T. The next day we head to Grey Cloud island where we dropped off our vehicles. Buses then shuttled us back to Coon Rapids and we gave the participants the safety briefing. It was pretty basic stuff, but important nonetheless. Our basic procedure for assisting tips in the river is to have them stay with their boat and account for everyone, then a safety captain would tow them ashore where they can empty water, reassemble, etc. There would be nothing fancy as their is assistance from both Coast Guard and Sheriff's Dept. Rarely do people tip over! We give them reminders of the route and basic regulations, and tell them how to operate in the locks. Easy stuff.

As in the past, there was an Ojibwe drum ceremony which takes place as people are shoving off. Years past, we'd wait until the ceremony was over. But, as that got lengthy, it now runs concurrently with the push-off.

We were spaced about one safety captain to 18, or so, boats. There were 12 captains, so it gives you an estimate of number of different vessels. The mood was upbeat and fun.

Both of the two days was broken up into 3 rest-stops. At each, groups would come in and would be assisted by volunteers who helped land the boats. Stops would include things like bananas, yogurt, nature bars, a bagel chunk and various salt snacks. Beverage was either water or gatorade (a wee less savory in mix-form).

Waste was cut to an amazing minimum. There were no bottled water and most people brought their own bottle. Cups, plates and utensils were all starch-based and therefor compostable. It would make you pause, coming to dump your refuse and placing 90% of it in the 'Compost' bin! You look at the nearly empty trash can and marvel at the conservation being done.

The day was sunny and got quite warm. We carried some extra water bottles to distribute to those people in need. I had to make sure I stayed hydrated as well. As mentioned in past blogs, the antibiotic I am taking for Lyme's Disease has made me particularly sensitive to the sun, which is a new experience. The back of my hands began to hurt and feel as though they are being baked by radiation. I slobbed on some sun screen to prevent further damage, but especially beneath my fingernails, it felt as though I was being baked by a heat lamp and was burning.

Below Coon Rapids dam we had found shallow, rocky patches, with currents whipping around. But once you had cleared them, the Mississippi maintained an adequate depth. The shoreline was steep in many places and although there were trees and some rock outcroppings, the Minneapolis waterline is one that more reminds you of industry and human manipulation of the river than it does with coexistence. The St. Anthony and Ford Parkway dams are neat experiences, though. You let your intentions be known to the lockmaster, herd the boats inside, the doors shut and water empties as you drop the 50 feet to the lower level. As the doors open downstream, you can see spectators on the overlooking catwalks above, waving and taking pictures. People usually act in haste at this point and we do our best to cause some obstruction to regulate the flow.

People behaved well. There was one moment, before we were about to entire St. Anthony lock, that became a tad bit alarming. As we herded boats to the far right, in order to enter the lock and prevent getting hung up on the falls, I noticed that there were some picture takers, floating far to river left. They were taking pictures of the big Grain Belt sign and seemed oblivious to the fact that the falls were approaching. I gave them some time but made my way their way. Once patience was worn and danger drew closer I sprinted my boat out towards them and repeated "Stay to the right. Stay to the right," until they complied. Not a big deal, I just wondered how close I could safely take my own boat towards them if they did get hung up.

Another special moment was crossing under the new 35W bridge. Last year's event occurred only 2 weeks after the tragic collapse. This year, however, we were able to pass beneath this concrete behemoth. There were large arches, above and you could see some debris at the foundations below. Workers were everywhere. I was most curious about the great wooden beams at the top of the supports which either held workers or framed the new concrete.

The day ended at Fort Snelling. Looking very forward to reaching the last stop of the day, I rounded the bend, and above the tree-encrusted bluffs, sat the old fort.

Once you ascend the long and steep paved path, a little tent village can be seen. This houses first aid, food, massage and information from other non-profits. I was anxious to get things going so jumped in the gear truck the first it arrived to empty out the bags of 350 persons. It was my own form of massage after paddling for 22 miles.

In a tradition I've set for myself, I was first to set up tent on the parade grounds. In this selfish act I declare my territory and encourage others to set up in this historical locale, instead of outside the fort walls! At some time, I would hope at least one of you would join me!

There were many familiar faces. Some people I know from the event of past year's, some from non-profit work, some from other past chapters of life. I met a few new folks this year and had a good time hanging out with them. Some odds and ends that learned from such folk... One guy, who just completed a 61-day paddle of the entire Mississippi, said of the 221 bridges that cross the river, over 100 of them are in Minnesota! Neat, huh? In another conversation I learned more about beer. India Pale Ale's were created by England so that the beer would last for long voyages. Normally, beer became skunky after such long voyages. However, by upping the alcohol content and increasing aroma and bitterness with hops, the beer arrived tasty, thus beginning a successful history of export. I should do something with the 3 different varieties of hops that I grow! If you are a brewer and would like to use them, by all means, help yourself!

Everyone had a wrist-band with 5 tags. One for dinner, 3 for beer or root beer and one for a root beer float. Summit provided a canoe full of beer once again.

A band played beneath the dinner tent. The frontman joked "that he had a special prize for anyone not wearing any REI products or Keens." That was pretty good! I was guilty of both. Oh, how far I've fallen! After dinner, speeches were made, the sponsors, such as Great River Energy, were applauded, prices were given and the band continued on.

Most people collapsed into their tents as soon as the band wrapped up. With the exception of some drunken revelers, the night became silent.

For the second and last day, I ended up as number 2. This was cool, in that I got to go at a much quicker clip (the fast folk always push to the front) and finish earlier, but it also meant that I had less time to rest. Being that lunch arrived a little late, I had to tuck my sandwich in my cockpit and paddle on.

The second day is the prettier one and it is so wonderful to hear even Minneapolis folk talk about how much better the St. Paul waterline is than the one in Minneapolis. The downtown is pressed up to the river, with buildings that appear adhered to the cliff face. The tannish color of the building materials also gives St. Paul a more natural reflection of its surrounding. Minneapolis appears to force itself upon its surrounding whereas St. Paul seems to co-habitate with it.

Nature is the real star of the second day. Just downriver from downtown St. Paul, you pass the tannish-white bluffs of Mounds Park and descend to banks of mostly green trees and shrubs. Once you pass Pig's Eye Island you have birds of every sort populating the refuge. Egrets, herons, eagles, pelicans, cormorants, hawks and gulls soar from tree to tree and in the air currents.

We had only a few barges pass us. They are large and slow and easy to steer clear of. It's the recreational power boaters that cause the most annoyance. Often oblivious to the wake they create they will zoom by and sometimes weave between our boats only to later get scolded by the Coast Guard.

Lion's Levee is arguably the most beautiful stretch of the Mississippi throughout the Twin Cities. This back channel saves you from the large open pool of wind, barges and recreational boaters of the main channel and give you a peaceful moment to reflect. The water appears still and the banks are at times only 10 feet away on either side. To your left, a base of sedimentary rock, weathered dark gray and black rises some ten feet and then the earth and trees above that another 10, giving you a close, tunnel-like feel. Herons squawk and your paddle strokes break flat, brown water. Coming out of the channel you can see a large shelf that sticks about ten feet out and trees grow on top of it. For fun you can pass beneath it and think 'what if this ledge gave way right now?' The flag that stuck up from my boat scraped the ceiling overhead.

The last stretch is always the toughest. Every one is fatigued and the little aches you've had grow into larger ones. My old pitching neck nerve comes back to me at this point and my seat-back wears into me. I remind myself that I felt this way last year and I'll feel this way next. But soon, you see the entrance into the Grey Cloud channel. I took the place of the safety captain ahead and directed boaters, so they would not miss the turn and continue down the river. Man, that would suck! At this point, you just want to get it done.

In time you round the bend and see the beach of the aggregate company. Volunteers are cheering and you feel silly at their applause. You straighten up your shoulders, provide a stronger stroke and act as though you've paddle with such deliberation the entire way. Five last paddle strokes and you hear the scrape of sand beneath your hull. Popping of your spray skirt, stepping into the water and, with assistance, carrying your boat to shore, you realize you've completed this great trek, once again.

Thanks so much for all of your support and your donations. This event has become an annual pilgrimage for me and has become a spiritual journey. Coming off of Lyme's Disease and the weariness of the road, I dreamt of home and hammock. But your support has helped me take the path all the more healing. Your donations go to a cause I dearly love and to people doing good work.

Thanks again all. I've whispered your names to the river.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Morning Discovery

Today started with an early drive down the misty, weavy Gunflint Trail. At one point, some inner voice told me to pull over and get a shot. In doing so, I almost skidded to a stop. I pulled to a safe position, so cars would miss me in the fog. Yanking out my cameras, I pointed my lense into a clearing, took a shot, and then noticed…there were two moose right before me! A mother and calf, munching on root bulbs. The mother would shake the water from her head and, in doing so, her ears would make a loud flapping noise similar to a dog's! I was but feet from them. The calf was cautious but the mother seemed to care most about the bulbs!

Ely Wrap-Op

I wrapped up my time in Ely with the first nice hotel-like stay of this trip. I was at the Grand Ely Lodge. The shoot of the day was at the North American Bear Center. This facility is brand new and does well in providing information about all the American bears. The layout is similar to something students would make - arial font on 8 x 11 1/2 paper, and pictures, posted to a black backdrop. There are several stuffed bears and props such as a Duluth pack and bear-proof trash receptacles. In the back there is an enclosed viewing area which is the home to a few black bears. There was one, about a year old, visible to everyone. It pounced up the tree with the greatest of ease, its movements resembling those of a primate. I knew they were good climbers, just not how dang fast they could jump up a tree!

Here are some last thoughts on Ely... Getting to spend some time with the town and people was a new experience. Like many, I normally visit this town only as a way-stop to the BWCA. But if you have the time, the International Wolf Center, Dorothy Molter museum and North American Bear Center are worth visiting. If you did the mine tour in Soudan as well, along with some walks and views of nature, the trip alone would be more than worth it. In town you have many different restaurants and shops.

Wise Guys pizza is some of the best I've had and the place is very inviting and fresh feeling. The owners originally ran the one in Centerville and have closed that to be up in Ely. Nice people and great pizza. Oh yeah, they have great ice cream cones too. And hot dogs... The Chocolate Mouse is the hip fancy place. As with everywhere, you can wear your hat and BW's clothes, but expect to look at the menu and say, "Hmm, this is expensive." My wild rice encrusted walley was good, and presentation would make the kinda folks that care for that kinda stuff happy. I can understand it as a treat, but the atmosphere was busy and that's often what I like to pay for as well - place to enjoy a meal and feel at ease. Busy, very busy. Vertin's cafe is a perfect cafe. Waitresses that have the seasoned look of life, good prices and the types of items you hope to see on the menu. It was also a place to be immersed in the local people. I watched an interacial family come visit grandma at work. So rich was the reunion, that you knew you were watching love incarnate. One of the pre-adolescent children was so enamored with being with grandma once again that he stayed with her as they rest went to town. I would not find that at the Chocolate Mouse.

Briton's cafe has a home-town feel as well and you might want to stop by the Ely steakhouse if you like steak. I found myself picking sinew out of my teeth for the next day or so. The Boathouse Brewery had great food! The soup and chicken I had tasted of all fresh ingredients. It's more noisy, but boy is the food good! And if you should consume anything, make it a Dorothy Molter root beer. You can find it at most convenience stores and most assuredly at the museum. Evidently, a friend of her's told me that her root beer could taste downright nasty sometimes! But the one currently sold is quite good and proceeds go to the museum and the localite causes which they support.

Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail

Leaving Ely, I drove about 2 hours to Grand Marais, only to ascend back up the Gunflint Trail another hour. Most of my next shoots would be at this remote arm, tickling the underside of Canada, dotted with resorts and access points to the BWCA.

After shoots, I would make the hour plus drive out of the Gunflint in order to get phone coverage in Grand Marais. Here I check messages, etc., etc.

{Lots of Minnesotans are familiar with these places and have their own experiences, I’m just going to provide my own. ;) }

This first day Grand Marais was shrouded in thick fog. You could see only about a block and the call of gulls could be heard. This town is packed with art galleries and art shops. The Best Donuts shop is always hopping and cycling people through. You’ve got a giant walleye sticking out of the roof of the Beaver House. The Cook County Co-Op is small but has organic bins, fresh produce and a good organic coffee that only costs a buck. The Crooked Spoon has expensive but good food and the atmosphere is relaxed. Sven and Ole’s has great pizza, but expect to pay for it. They have different events that will bring the cost down and it’s also has a cult status. In my opinion, if you are going to grab something to eat, go to Blue Water Café. Good prices, good food, simple and Minnesotan.

Most of my shoots were on the Gunflint Trail - some 1h and a half in. Many lodges access BWCA entry points. It is remote = no phone, internet or TV. Trails end café offers simple options but the Center is much more happening and full of resorters, student workers, BW’s adventurers and locals. They’ll over daily specials such as fish, ribs, etc. You can also choose to eat at one of the resorts.

The weather has been rainy and cool. For most shoots nature's breath has put a stop to the rain and pushed cloud's aside only to close together and pour afterwards.

Past two months have been akin to lodging in someone's basement. Many lodges have that damp, moldy feeling that makes you look forward to when you get to leave again. Of course, there are cool aspects. Some individual lodges or cottages put you right along a northwoods lake. I was able to take a canoe around a Poplar lake on an overcast afternoon, casting my rod around an island. I had placed a big ol' rock in the bow to provide more ballast and prevent the wind from having to much of its own way. After a modified plyometrics workout I jumped off the dock and into the cool, black water. At night I was able to make a good fire, have my pipe and live in that realm so particular to the boreal border.

Being able to have time alone around nature, shooting video without constraints, has been the most soothing part of this expedition. It has helped to alleviate much of the redundancy that repetitive assignments, moldy lodgings and road weariness has brought on. For destination footage I spent time in the Cascade State Park, following the flow of the water. To be alone with the camera really allows me an intimate relationship with my surroundings.To do as the Blacklock's or Brandenberg get to do would be quite rewarding.

Driving 3+ hours every day is actually something I look quite forward too. In fact, my face often sours if I look down at the GPS and there is less than an hour until my destination. The homewards journey may be an exception to this rule.

Split Rock Day

Today I did a great interview at the Split Rock Lighthouse. The interpreter, donned in his old lighthouse keeper uniform, had worked there for 26 years! He gave me the overview and then took me up to the lens. The wheel still needed to be cranked every 2 hours to raise the weights which spun the lights. It was 7 quarts of mercury that was still used in place of ball bearings, upon which the mirror turned. The day was so clear and bright that the sun made many spectrums all around the house. It was the wreck of the Madeira (a ship that I dove with my dad a few years back) that prompted the light house to build. One man jumped ashore to the rocks, hoisted the others over with a rope, but one went down clinging to the mast, later to get crushed between the ship and the rocks.

I spent some more time below the house, looking back at the house in the “post-card” shot.

My next trip was to Palisade Head. I have kicked myself for never having visited this in the past! Man, is the absolute best view of the North Shore or what?! It’s an absolute must. The beautiful day made visibility the best ever. Crisp dark blue water, teased slightly by the wind, blue skies and bright sun. The octagonally-cooled lava pillars caused much of the rock to develop fissures. So, it felt even more precarious, to be at the edge of this immense cliff, 300 feet above the water, and imagine if one of these slabs decided to leave the face of the cliff. Quite exhilarating! I took plenty of shots and sat, taking it in for a bit.

Well, I’ll get this out. This blog is a bit messier, lacks pictures and feels rushed. Internet access is hard to come by and I want to throw something out there. I apologize for the form! And I'll get pics out there at some point!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Licked by a Wolf!

There he was, slobbering my hand with his tongue, covering it with dirt and beaver tail. This would had been a dream come true in my days of wolf-worship and today, I think it was just as special.

The International Wolf Center has been celebrating the birth of its two new pups, Aidan and Denali. Even Hollywood celebrities have made a visit as of late. They welcomed my visit and asked me to join the behind-the-scenes tour.

The tour would be a session in the kennel area, where the two pups are being acclimated to the Center world. Lori Schmidt, Wolf Curator, gave an informative presentation on what needs to be done with the pups.

There was a three tier bleacher, with Center members in the little crowd. Lori was on the other side of a slight metal fence that was chest-high and there were 2 other attendants with her. Behind the kennel was the higher main enclosure with the adult wolves occasionally coming for a closer look.

The three pups were being acclimated to life in a people/wolf world. Whether it was the sound of a weed-whipper, someone accidentally kicking a bucket near them, knowing to assume a subservient posture in the presence of a human or that the sliding kennel door was not a threat, these little guys were adjusting. Human males are naturally more intimidating. So, efforts are made to expose them to routine episodes with guys.

The Center was special in that it had 3 different subspecies of Wolf living together: Great Plains (that’s what we got and you could add the outdated term Timberwolf to this mix), Artic and Rocky Mountain and, with the addition of pups, two age groups.

The two pups were hanging out on a blanket and cushion, chewing on a beaver tail and deer leg. They seemed pretty relaxed and just lay there most the time, until Lori made a wolf call to the pack. The little guys were up and running around and in the woods behind you heard the pack howl together. They had many different vocalizations. You could hear the ‘howl’ that everyone has heard before, but you could also hear odd vibratos and yelps of sorts, all coalescing in a yearning song.

After clearing the pen, Lori introduced the most aged of the wolves. A wolf that she believed would not be around for too much longer. In came in the old butter-scotch speckled girl, with tail tucked in and looking about as she did her paces. She would later become a bit more lively.

In their dog-like appearance, fluffy coat and humorous mannerisms, you want to give these guys a hug, the puppies especially (I’ve heard that it is the close-set eyes of the young of many mammals that bring out an instinctive nurturing drive)! But if you respect canis lupus then you know, these guys are wild animals, not pets. They should be viewed not as a big cuddly toy, but as majestic carnivores as comfortable with ripping out the throat of an animal as they are in licking their paw. Give them wide berth if you really love them!

I had actually been invited to the very front from the get go, being with camera and all. So, you can imagine what a supreme great thrill it was, to be pressed against the fence with arms and camera hanging over and canis lupus entering the pen! Not wanting to give neither wolf or curator cause of concern I was initially cautious, but saw that there was no protest whatsoever coming from either side. So, I was able to be a bit more intimate with these canines. Lori told us though old, this wolf still had bite! One day as she was trying to get the wolf up and she if she was ok, she softly brushed her with a warm pop can. The wolf turned and crushed the closed can in an instant. Hmm, my arm was in brushing distance of her head!

At the end the pups were let back in and one of them comes right up to my hand and gives me a great big ol’ lick!

The Root Beer Lady
Next door to the International Wolf Center is the Dorothy Molter Museum. The last person to live in the area now known as the Boundary Waters, this ‘Root Beer Lady,’ became internationally reknown in her epic struggle against big government and champion of the little guy, er, woman.

For most people she was admired as that old lady who lived in the woods, portaged two Duluth packs and carried her motor in her hands. She brewed root beer and if you were passing through, you could buy one. (The limit was 2.) She was known for her humor and her saying “KwitUrBelliAkin!”

Her cabin and much of her belongings were taken out, piece by piece, upon her death in 1986. Today you can receive a tour and buy yourself some root beer.

In talking to one of the curators afterwards, who had been a friend of Dorothy, you get an interesting view of the situation. It seems that many of the memories left behind are of the government telling the people of Ely how to live their lives. Dorothy was very resistant and refused to aquiese to the government’s demands when the canoe area was being created. Eventually, she knew she had to give in.

It really seemed to come down to the people of Ely wanting to use their region in a way that allows them to survive. Whether it has been the removal of citizen’s houses from the canoe area, shutting down roads and ending motor usage on the lakes, groups have rallied around these issues. They have seen much of the government drive to preserve the environment as intrusion upon their way of life. There seems to be a much greater harmony in Ely as of late, but it does help to widen one’s perspective a little bit. After all, these are people that live here!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

“A Scary Night”

This newspaper headline reflects the weather this region has seen as of late. Many a thunderstorm has been swinging through the area. The recent article was referring to the wind damage and several tornadoes which had swept the Iron Range.

I had a chance to be alone with a few different cells that crossed Burntside. I was on the southern shore, the cells crossed the north. The sun was setting. This was a perfect recipe for observation.

Setting up the HD camera on one tripod and my SLR on another, I was standing at the end of the boat landing.

The clouds danced in swirls, doubling back into themselves in smoky whisps. The colors were mostly gray and purple and lightning repeatedly struck the ground. The storms stretched east leaving a long tapering tail that still wreathed in severe updrafts.

I let the camera run for many minutes. Later I will make a time lapse. I then shot individual swirls and areas where lightening seemed to be most dramatic.

There was the occasional spinning tentacle trying to touch ground. You could hear the rush of wind across the lake, gust across the water and crash into the trees on my shore. I felt the electric surge of excitement and new it was time to throw the gear and myself into the safety in the car and coast back to my cottage.

It should make for some great footage on an HDTV!

Yes, the "Cadillac" of Mines

So, your traveler descends from the great Lake of the Woods, down the Rainy River and into Kabetogama and Voyageurs National Park, and now, into the far greater depths of subterranean wonders!

First I should report that I am feeling markedly better! A vast improvement upon conditions just a few days back, I am now on the road to recovery. It's such a joy, to rediscover health. Every breath, sight and sound is that much more reinvigorating. I feel greatly for those with Lyme's Disease and who carry into dangerous realms. Now, I am beginning to feel splendid!

On the Saturday evening, enclosed in the stale-cigarette-smoke-infused Super 8, I lie in what I believe to be the greatest physical misery an illness has ever brought to me. With every heartbeat and with every breath the great rusty railroad spikes were driven into the back of my eyes and my brain was trying desperately to force itself free by splitting my skull in two. The pressure on my inner ear brought extreme nausea and I could not tell if I was too hot or too cold. Was my body telling me to get something to drink or to go bleed my bladder? I tried desperately to sleep. Please, oh please, let me sleep! Sleep was my only escape. But there was no state of mind nor physical posture that allowed this. I could not imagine how I would get a full day of shoots in the following morning. Wanting to cry and to go home so badly, but knowing I must carry forth. "And I will grind whatever grist the mill requires!"

In agony I saw morning, and choked down my pink antibiotic tablet after laying a bed of some stale, generic Cheerios and washing it down with Gatorade. Even though my guts wanted me to vomit and eyes were not wanting to work, they all knew that the road would bring comfort. And it always does.

The road, in fact, was Hwy 38. I cannot think of a more beautiful and peaceful road upon which to drive. It brought me through Chippewa Forest country. So beloved is this place to me that it is featured on my business card. There was no one behind me, pushing me on and no one coming the other way. The maple, birch, cottonwood, spruc and pine all offered a fresh healing breath and a healing color array. I got to the destination early, pulled off the road by some peaceful trees, turned on healing music and got the best sleep of the last 24 hours.

My first shoot was at an old lodge where some of the Hamm's commercials were filmed! The owner and his son were quite friendly and I was able to banter as I shot. He also was friendly enough to provide me with a cool map of the area and highlighted one particular area I asked about...

After my next shoot I crashed for a bit, but head into town, happy that my stomach demanded food. I found Gosh Dam bar and was alone in the great big bar with the waitress and the giant TV's. On the screen was the awesome Japanese show called Ninja Challenge. I love this show! Normally, game shows like these have that sadistic Japanese trait of having fun watching people getting seriously injured. If you watch Japanese TV, then you know what I'm talking about. But this show is more about putting people through tremendously athletic physical feats whilst creating a tone that makes you cheer for them. And there are many more saftey precautions than there other shows. Sorry, you get excited for stuff like this when you are alone and seperated from technology! The waitress and I chatted a bit.

On my way back I contemplated returning to crash, feeling not the best. But...there is a place. This place is called the Lost Forty. And I was only about 40 minutes away from this magical realm which I could visit in quietude. So I did.

Driving down dirt roads, I used the gifted map and looked where the helpful man had highlighted my treasure. I looked for enormous trees and soon saw a sign.

The Lost 40 is 40 acres of virgin forest. That means it has never been logged. Only 2% of Minnesota is in such a state! Once 1/3 of this state used to be trees such as these. Here I was! In the land of our greatest living elders! The land of peaceful giants!!! Towering red and white pine.

It was due to a surveying overlook that this area was never logged. A lake was mapped in this grid and so these trees were spared. There is a nice interpretive sign and a path off the road. Trees are everywhere, so its nice this specific route is marked, otherwise you'd wonder, "where am I supposed to go?" But as soon as you walk a few feet it really becomes clear. These giants reach up into heaven. They have stood here for around 350 years and continue to grow. That pushes them back to 1658. Keep in mind that the Salem Witch Trials did not happen until the 1690's! And some trees must be older than that!

They were big and quiet. You had to be bundled against mosquitoes but the time spent was special. I walked slow and, in time, went away. Before I did I put my hand on the biggest I could find, felt his aged bark and smiled at his greatness.

No video, just my own pics. The sea salt picked up by my Olympus in Florida now shows a bit too much in my pictures. My SLR only allows me to dump via my memory card, which I can’t on my work computer. But I’ll still include some pics of my destinations when there is an internet connection that allows upload.

Sad to leave such peaceful country but happy to move onwards, the Iron Range was next. I passed through many a monument to mining days. Great iron statues and piles of mining debris. Soudan mine was in my sites and a got there in time for a tour.

When you pull up the hill you see the engine house. This building encloses engine that spins the huge cable drum that winds up the elevator cable. You can also see the old compressor that powered the air tools and pumped air after detonations. There is an old fellow at the top who sits at his station and operates the giant when called to do so from below. As one car ascends the shaft another descends in a slanted counter-balance fashion.

Tours run every half an hour and, when it was time, we got our hard hats and crammed ourselves into the rectangular metal can. Our guide asked us to file three abreast and as many deep as needed. (You could tell people did not like the cozy feeling.) The door was slid shut and we descended a few feet down the shaft so they could fill car above us with people. In the old days, the top was for people and the bottom was for ore!

Being packed together you got somewhat of a sensation of what it must have been like as a miner, but you’d have your lunch pail too (and an extra perhaps with food for the mule, to entice him to pull that very last load that you didn’t want the next shift to get credit for). Though you are not going more than 10 miles per hour, the sound is a great combination of metal wheel on rail, wind and stone and your imagination left to amplify your mood. I grinned a sinister enjoyment in the dim red light and wanted the ride to go longer than it did.

In no time we were down. Big shaft, some 10 feet high and about as much across down which we then rode in a small train to our next destination. It felt a little of the second Indiana Jones in the jerky, track switching ride we were taking. You also had no idea just where you were going.

I somewhat tried to listen to our very nice and knowledgeable guide but was also curious about looking down this shaft and that shaft, touching this device and that. So, let’s see what I can recall…

My memory was jogged, when afterwards, I told a friend about the tour and they replied, “oh yes, I believe my mom’s side immigrated from Cornwall to work specifically in the Soudan man. Now I remember! He had mentioned that, some 23 levels down, in front of an old screen - Cornwall!!

The method was called cut and fill. You drill test shafts and find the ore. You dig vertical shafts down through it. You then dig a horizontal gallery shaft underneath the ore with room for a cart and track. You blast through and get your ore at the top and throw it down to the shafts below. The waste rock is piled and spread on the floor and you step on this to get yourself closer to the ceiling. You keep digging at the ceiling and throwing the load down into the hole below. You stop when you hit waste rock and no longer ore. We’ve the Cornish dwarves to thank for that. They were the experts on such a technique!

One of the female’s guides great grandfather had died when he fell 150 feet to his death through a shaft.

It was very cool but not the most structurally stimulating. They had carved very spacious tunnels that you could have driven a semi truck down. The colors were pretty uniform (from a non-miner, non-geologist perspective). One cool thing, is that the rock was so hard, that there was no real need for support structures! The only guy paid an hourly wage was the guy who went into a shaft after a blast and tapped at the ceiling with a metal pole, insuring it safe for the crews to enter.

Anyhoo, you were given ideas of how loud, dusty and dim it would have been below and told of the mules. They worked some weeks below, became blind and were then sent up for above ground labor with bandages over their eyes. The vet would remove a strip or so, daily, to allow the mule to acclimate to the light. They were supposedly treated fairly well, as they were expensive and imported from Missouri. Besides, it was easier to replace a miner than a mule.

It was also called the “Cadillac of Mines” as it was a dry place compared to the wet places most miners had to encounter.

On my way out a look at hillsides covered in a million daisies. To me it was a memorial to all the miners that had worked the shafts. All those immigrants coming to America for a better life.

Oh yeah, the physics lab is down there too. Safe from cosmic rays, scientists can run their experiments on Dark Matter and the like. Pretty profound stuff happening down there still!

And before I left, I just happened to find a secret place. Behind a interpretive sign, and a bent-down barbed-wire fence, I thought I spied the entrance of an enormous café. One hundred feet back and you could feel the breath of cold, subterranean air! I hemmed and haughed but had to see! I discovered I gigantic mouth. On the top were trees, some fifty feet up and below, what must have been either a cave in or an old entrance to the mine. You could see cave-ins and further sites to explore. But there was no need to fall 150 feet down for a closer look. With the ferns, moss, trees and rock, it was a cool melding of worlds. On to Ely.

That’s enough ramble for now. Thought I should catch up a bit. I’ll try to get pics on as well.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Must of Missed a Tick Somewhere

The name of my new friend is Doxycycline. After the constantly sharp headaches, neck stiffness, etc., I swung into the ER in Grand Rapids. Treatment of tick borne illnesses seem a pretty common thing here. Within just a few moments of describing my symptoms, the doctor began writing out the prescription. The pharmacist was also quite helpful. Taking a look at the prescription... "Tick bite? Do you got the nasty headaches yet? Don't worry, I've been there!" He told me that the joints will next start to feel as though they are breaking, but that the Doxycycline should kick in before I get that far. Side effects are sensitivity to light and possible nausea.

So, I hope that is that and this takes its course and clears things up!

Going back in time a bit... My shot this morning was at a resort right on Voyageur's National Park. When I showed up the previous evening he did not want to shoot due to the crappy weather and storms that have been rolling through here. I did have to do a little talking him into it. The option was always there to do it whenever we'd make our way to the Canadian border again, but whose to say what the weather would be like then? As it turned out, the next day brought plenty of sun before more storms came.

Wanting to do nothing but collapse on a couch, I changed my state of mind when the owner said I could take a kayak out if I would like. Grabbing a boat and a dry bag, I grabbed a life vest and a sea kayak, though the rudder wasn't functioning, there was no spray skirt and the foot pedals were adjusted for someone much shorter.

As I pulled out of the bay, I pushed bow first into the surging waves. The wind had turned the lake into white caps. I wanted to head out into the waves to prevent being rolled over. But it took a few bow 'slaps' and waves over the hull for me to realize I should be heading back. You don't do this in a boat you are unfamiliar with and should have a spray skirt and proper foot adjustment in those kind of conditions. I went back and collapsed but can say I kayaked in Voyageurs.

Grand Rapids as been kind to me. The people have been very nice and this cheap hotel feels luxurious. Best to collapse before shoots tomorrow.

Hopefully I'll have more useful info and grander adventures next I send word. Hope your summer is treating you all well!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mississippi River Challenge Soliciting

I plan to be back in town in time to participate in one of my most favorite events - The Mississippi River Challenge! Ever since Rob and I did it years back, I got addicted to the 44 mile kayak trip from Coon Rapids to Grey Cloud Island. Saturday evening, you get to camp out at Fort Snelling. I'll be paddling as a safety captain again this year.

This year they've added a bicycle option and there is also the option to paddle only one day.

First, I'd like to encourage any one reading this to participate in this great event! You get to glide along our incredible river, weaving through our metro area. If you come, I'll be sure to send you on some of the most beautiful secret spots of this river!

Second, if you are not doing this and would like to contribute to the FMR, you can sponsor a paddler. (Personally, I'd much rather see you there. I don't get to see people as much any more. :( Boo-hoo.) But if you would like to sponsor... click this link: HERE. I think you can find the name of the person you might be looking for in the pull-down. But no pressure at all. I'd have but pennies to contribute to others myself, so I more than understand! Believe me!

Must hit the road, but give the Challenge a thought and ask me if you got any questions!

Walleye Capital of the World

Baudette, “The Walleye Capital of the World.” I think that would about sum up the excitement of that town as well. Located in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, the town sits at the border with Canada, along the Rainy River. The entrance is guarded by a statue of the “World’s Biggest Walley” and a rusting blue water tower sticks out prominently from the middle of the town.

What most people head to this area for is exactly the thing it promotes, walleye and fishing in general. There are many fishing resorts and that is what brought me there!

Up here, I’ve found that unless I am in town proper, I have no cell phone coverage. The resorts generally have no internet access. This kind of thing is wonderful if you are trying to escape civilization and get into the great outdoors. However, it is not so great if you are trying to do business, make appointments and have adopted technology as your surrogate companion and closest friend. Luckily, there was a café in town that offered an internet connection.

The biggest highlight for me was getting out onto Lake of the Woods itself. You can see Canada to your right as you pull out of the Rainy and into the Lake. We motored out and eventually met up with the fishing mob. They were fishing in about 33 feet of water, and it was like clockwork as we pulled past both of this resort's fishing boats and they each pulled up a gigantic walleye, just as we passed them, as if on cue! I was videoing. Set on my tripod the boat rocked as usually and it would have been best to be hand-held. However, for destination pieces I usually hand-hold, for property shots I have never let the camera leave the tripod. We shall see how it turns out.

To kill some of the monotony, I took myself to see Wall E in the small downtown theater. It was a nice escape from not much else to do. The restaurants were the Oriental Wok and another local diner which had an angry waitress complaining about people and old food splattered on the wall. Needless to say, the Wok saw me more than once.

Weather has been gray and windy at times and some storms have come through. Luckily, they have not interfered with my property shoots! I got nailed with some severe headache and feverish-ness the past 24 hours plus. Not one to get them, you start to think of things like, ‘man, did I get Lyme’s Disease? Oh, I don’t have time for this!” But hopefully those things will pass.

Very happy on the road, I took Highway 11 east towards International Falls. It was cool, to look out to your left and the occasional break in the trees would present the Rainy River and Canada on the other side. It was neat to think how easy it would be to get across to another country just by crossing that river. On the other side you’d see a farmstead with a big old maple leaf on one of its water towers. The river was very inviting. All the vegetation was very lush and the river itself ran right up to it. No boats were seen, just water and green.

While I would pass traffic coming from International Falls, ever so often, I saw but one car behind me in the 2 hour drive. This made it much more relaxing, easier to stop and allow the deer to cross in front of me and gave me more time to enjoy the scenery.

International Falls is known as another gateway to Canada. The Boise paper plant (second largest in the world) dominates the town with its big smoke stack complexes and giant warehouse structures. There is a downtown of old buildings converted to modern needs, but I did find one coffee house to get some work stuff done.

You can see the biggest statue of Smokey the Bear there is. Remember what a cult icon that used to be? I remember when I used to play with a bendable Smokey and my young aunt told me “You killed him!” Being too young to understand what she meant, I was very horrified. With contemporary education I know see how foolish we all were in our “Only you can prevent forest fires,” mantra. The repressions of natural fires did great harm. By interfering with that natural process we allowed forest beds to become cluttered with dead debris, smothering chance of new growth, eliminating necessary food sources for other animals and becoming tinderboxes. The jack pine, for instances, needs fires in order to melt its seed casings and disperse its seeds. But heck, Smokey was incredibly effective and it still is important to promote personal responsibility! Besides, he’s kinda cute.

Now its on to more places that not even locals have heard of!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bunyan and Babe

Northland Minnesota

It was a fine 5-hour drive to Bemidji. I was fortunate that the only place I've left something behind (my glasses) would be somewhat on the way. I stopped in Nevis and then continued on to Bemidji.

Following my shoots I spent some time in Cass Lake. This town is a popular stop on Highway 2 and from here, people hit the surrounding lakes and Chippewa State Forest. It began as a logging community and the population boomed to 7,000. While logging trucks can still be seen carrying off their loads, the population has sunk back down. The Ojibwa presence is very noticable. The Indians were herded into White Earth and Leech Lake reservation. The last violent episode occurring at Sugar Point (where I stayed the last trip), when we went to go arrest a tribal leader under false charges. As the American tradition goes, we forced them off and got some good timber land for logging. Itasca State Park was created under similar circumstances.

There is a logging museum, Forest Department offices, gas stations and an old main strip now torn up and under construction. I explored by driving around and stopped into the 371 Cafe for some local time, having a nice little chat with the owner.

The rain did not help me to have an upbeat view of the place. I saw a lot of poverty. There was a treatment center, an Ojibwa legal aid building, and two diabetes assistance facilities. There were casinos and I have to break my tradition of never entering one. Now I have a reason to explore!

Throughout my examination echoes of cliche comments played in my ears. Those of how rich Indians get off casinos, their tax breaks negatively impacting everyone else and the new one I heard, "Indians don't feed their dogs, so they wander in dangerous packs." While there is some truth to many statements, it just leaves me wondering what people would do without the Indian as whipping boy and how long before I return to doing something to remedy it.

Bemidji is a college town. This helps to give it a more ‘hip’ air as the tastes of its inhabitants are reflected in the offerings. In a walk through the downtown you’ll see that they embrace the arts, or, at least have a very high tolerance for it. At many of the corners you’ll find art sculptures. They have everything from an iron bust of General Patton to an avant garde character depicting ‘time.’ The Paul Bunyan Playhouse has performances in the Chief Theater and you’ll find more than one art gallery.

Still there is the old town feel and toursity ‘hokyness’ that many people hunger for. At the entrance to town you can find the two most notable figures within Bemidji, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Constructed for the 1937 winter carnival, these have stood there ever since! They were featured on the cover of Life magazine and gave rise to the popular Minnesota tradition of folk statues.

The MadeRite café howled of yesteryear. Of course, I had to eat there. “Serving Sandwiches that are Satisfying” they offer a burger that is basically a large White Castle slider except for the meat is loose, like in sloppy joe, save the ketchup.

There is a Ben Franklin and other such drugstores and many an historic building has yet to see the wrecking ball.

The college campus seems very inviting. On the shores of Lake Bemidji (so-named from the Ojibwa word meaning “cut-across,” referring to the way the Ol’ Mississip cuts through the lake) the campus has life even in the summer season. The Bemidji Courthouse is a pretty building. All dark red brick with what must be a statue of ‘Justice’ shining in gold at its top.

The weather here has been downcast. It hovered around the mid-fifties with wind and rain for parts of the day, though the sun has attempted to make some appearance. We are in the north and that becomes more evident the further the latitudes ascend. It still is kind of a bummer though, and casts and gloom on many things. I’ve experienced mostly sunny weather in these voyages and so this would seem to contradict previous luck.

So, attempting to put both weather and previous knowledge of the north aside, and attempt shall be made to not be jaded.

Down time has involved making appointments for the next venture, studying the regions and working on where I want the road to take me!

Tonight I want to hit a brilliant looking Irish pub before I head back to lodge in Tenstrike, which, according to the MHS was named either for the bowling ball which knocks down all pins or from the statement of a prospering trader. For more Minnesota place name information, you must check out: Minnesota Place Names!

And oh, my blogs come less frequently and without pictures because about 1 in 10 places I visit have internet connections, and poor ones at that. Otherwise, I’d do more!

To Baudette and a stone’s throw from Canada I go, come the morrow!

Happy Birthday Ringo and goodbye to the Space Shuttle in 2010!

Twas a Glorious Fourth

It was splendid to be back for the Fourth of July. Our 232nd year since declaring Independence from mother England would be celebrated with perfect weather and fireworks. Being that my neighborhood turns into a cocophony of crackers and rockets of all variety, I am excited to return to the garden for the show. The sound is most usually continuous. Yes, you hear the hail of firecrackers and bottle rockets and occasionally M-80's, but most spectacular the blossoms shot many stories skyward. You hear people speak of the 'good ol' days' when everyone had fireworks. That must have been truly fun! But never before has their been such accessibility to professional fireworks. The ones you need batteries to fire and those that light the entire neighborhood in red glow! I stood at the pinnacle of my roof, with a nice fire going in the back yard, the moon, Mars and Saturn in conjunction in the west and all around me rose the exploding blossoms. You could see the 'bigger' community shows in the distance, but why leave your backyard when the East Side has one of its own?! I tried to upload my audio file, but with no luck. I'll try and include it later!