Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bird on a ---whoa, WHOA!

One of the days we were having 40 mph winds, Jean happened to spot an oriole in the elm tree in the side yard. This is a rare sighting here. The tree branches were being thrashed about as the poor thing tried to hang on. It was upside-down, right-side up, being swept off one branch as it was being beaten by another, all while I tried to get a decent picture. I was afraid it would be a futile effort, but I couldn’t help applaud its tenacious effort.



Saturday, June 29, 2013


Before getting off on our canoe trip, we made still more road trips to try to learn the truth about the history of the Plains. It all started with the Homestead Act of 1862. Over the next 40 years, along with the expansion west of the railroads, this country would be changed forever by the land rush. From the Dakotas to Texas, two-hundred and forty million acres of Indian land would be given over to white expansionism. It began with gradual encroachment as white settlers began using Indian lands for cattle grazing. The more they got used to using the Indian land, the more they felt a right of entitlement to it, and the more they urged the government to grant additional settlement rights to the land. Those pushing for rights to lands the tribes were forcibly relocated to, and already granted ownership to in exchange for lands they had already been forced to give up, were called Boomers.

The title of Land Rush gives an erroneous impression. There were actually five land rushes in the Indian Territory alone. The Creek and Seminole lands were taken in 1889.  The Iowa, Sac, Fox, Pottawatomie, and Shawnee lands were taken in 1891. The Cheyenne and Arapaho lands were taken in 1892. The Cherokee Outlet lands were taken in 1893. And, the Kickapoo lands were taken in 1895. For the first 1889 Land Rush alone, 50,000 settlers waited for the sound of a gun that would start the rush. For an $18 filing fee, a settler could rush west to claim 160 acres of his choice for himself and his family.

At the bottom of the hill on the left side is a clump of cedar trees,
which mark the location of the cemetery.  This, looking west,
is what confronted the settler.
As we tour the country, I can’t help imagining myself in their position. For many, it was indeed a dream come true, but for others it most obviously became a nightmare, and even the reason for their deaths. We were out in the middle of nowhere, (and that should be NOWHERE in all caps) when we saw a sign for a cemetery. I suggested that in such a remote location, it must obviously be a settler cemetery. Indeed, it was. The children seems to suffer most---five tiny graves in a line from just one family, having died within weeks to a couple years. Other tiny graves were scattered about. I stood in the middle of the road in front of the cemetery looking to the horizon in both directions, east and west. Actually, you would see the same thing looking in any direction. These settlers, in the hope of improving their lives, had spent months crossing over and leaving behind some of the most fertile and richest farming soils in the country, if not the world, to come to this land, all in the hope of getting land for free. Except for a better dirt road and an occasional fence, this land cannot have changed much since they first crossed it. As to why they would stop and try to make their living in such a god-forsaken place, I could not avoid the obvious thought.

A look behind him showed where he had already trod, and if he
changed his mind, land he'd have to cross again...all
the way to the eastern horizon.

At some point, a settler must have stopped where I stood, and thought, “The further we go, the worse it gets. There is no reason for going on any further, so we’re stopping here.” Looking around at the dead and browning brush, the lifeless dirt, I couldn’t imagine the frustration of trying to pry a living from such an unwilling land. Those that have crossed these lands generations before us have given so much for the lives we lead, no matter where we live. Still, in this spot, as far as I could see, there was only one single sign of life---a little wildflower at my feet, right in the middle of the road. I felt so struck by its impudence at managing to survive in such a place, I had to stop and take its picture.

The impudent henbit.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Missouri River SUP

Credit: from Scott Mestrezat's blog
Twenty-seven year old Scott Mestrezat is from Chicago.  Hoping to fulfill a dream, he traded his Chicaco office for a SUP he built from a Chesapeake Light Craft kit.  Here is a short video that explains how his Missouri River by SUP trip began.  Here's the link.

His trip began on June 7th from the Missouri River Headwaters State Park.  Scott's blog will be included in the Favorite Blogs section of the column to the right.  Just click on "Missouri River SUP."  His Facebook link will be included also.

Also, if you haven't been keeping up-to-date, Janet Moreland is making great progress.  Be sure to check "Love Your Big Muddy", also in the Favorite Blogs section.  Thanks, jim


Google image of a haboob moving into a residential area.
As I start this morning, I’m sitting here with my coffee and listening to John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival---do, do, do, looking out my back door. Looking out the back door last night, we had a chance to see Mother Nature put on another Oklahoma Weather Show. It was 105-deg. during the day, with 110-deg. heat index, with the day being finished by up to 90 mph winds and the air filled with dirt. The weather service calls it an haboob. I stood outside to watch it come, but when it hit, it was a matter of seconds before I headed inside. Watching it by looking out my back door was just fine.

When we came home, it didn’t take long to realize we were back in OK. The wind started picking up as we crossed Missouri. From the time we reached I-35 in Central OK, until we got home, the headwind was strong enough that the truck refused to shift into high gear. We stopped in Enid for gas, having run the gauge to the lowest level I’ve ever seen. The next 41 miles saw the Ram burn 5.6 gallons, or 7.3 miles per gallon just from dragging the RV against the wind. That’s a drop of 4.6 mph from the trip average of 11.9 mph, nearly half, just from the wind. The sky was brown and the horizon heavily obscured from the blowing red dirt.

The next morning was funny. I was walking to the kitchen for a cup of coffee when Jean said, “Look, the wind is calm for a change.” I looked out the front window to see the leaves hanging still and quiet. I replied, “That’s okay, give it a couple minutes.” I grabbed my coffee, walked back around the end of the kitchen counter, which took less than two minutes, and looked out the window again. “There you go,” I said. Tree limbs were swaying in a solid 15 mph wind that quickly began gusting to 40mph, where it stayed for the duration of the day.
I clearly remember many times during the 40 years that Jean and I sailed when I’d complain about not having enough wind. Living in Oklahoma has certainly broken me of that habit. Now, when the wind stops blowing, I brush the accumulated dirt off a patio chair, sit, take a deep breath of air that’s not filled with a spoonful of red dirt, and just smile. The number of times that happens a year can be counted on the fingers, and no, I don’t have any more fingers than anyone else.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Buffalo Gal It Is

Photo by Mohawk Canoes
Buffalo Gal won two to one. I didn’t care for Buffalo Gal when Jean suggested it simply because it didn’t have a ring to it. Buffalo Belle sounded better to me, but admittedly would be more fitting for a steam paddle-wheeler. A couple other of you folks brought up some good points that make Buffalo Gal seem more suited.

Carl Cole pointed out that “a rugged Royalex canoe with Kevlar skid plates needs a rugged name, Buffalo Gal.” Paula Martel added, “Gal…and dance by the light of the moon.” That sounded a bell (or belle) as I remembered that the line came from a song. I looked it up to find it was written by Arlo Guthrie. I like the lyrics. It goes:

As I was walking down the street,
A pretty girl I chanced to meet.
Buffalo gals won’t you come out tonight,
And we’ll dance by the light of the moon.

While Arlo Guthrie was born in New York, he was son of Woody Guthrie, of Okemah, Oklahoma. Maybe that brings it home a bit better for an Oklahoma canoe. Both father and son wrote songs of the country, of protest, and the blues. Anyhow, Buffalo Gal it is.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mohawk Odyssey

I feel kind of sheepish about getting another canoe. I end up playing devil’s advocate with myself, and with good reason. I mean if I can’t get the opportunity to get adequate use out of the couple canoes I have already, what the heck do I need with another one. On the negative side, it was a question of justifying the expenditure. The positive side deals with having the right tool to do a particular job rather than trying to make do with something that just doesn’t get the job done. Sometimes one may even suffer some damage or injury from trying to accomplish a square-peg-in-a-round-hole application. So how did this come about?

When we planned the Buffalo River trip in Arkansas, a medical emergency the night before our departure threw a wrench into the plans, causing us to cancel.. Another couple, however, decided to make the trip on their own. I spoke with them on their return, and they had a couple bits of advice.

They were using a Wenonah canoe made of Tuf-Weave flex core, a proprietary building
material developed by Wenonah using Kevlar and polyester laminates. It is marginally heavier than Kevlar alone, but has the advantage of being more inclined to flex on impact than fracture. On their trip down the Buffalo, however, they holed the bow of their tandem canoe twice. They said my plan of using Buddy for this trip was definitely a bad idea. My plan to use Buddy was based on using what I had in the garage rather than getting another canoe. Royalex is undoubtedly the best material for shallow river running, but I didn’t have a Royalex canoe. With their admonition and the prospect of destroying Buddy, I finally decided that if I was determined to do the Buffalo and other similar rivers, I would need a Royalex canoe.

I had used a Mohawk Probe in my whitewater class, and my instructors both recommended Mohawk Canoes of Chattanooga, TN. The Mohawk Odyssey 15 satisfied two requirements. One, while still described by them as a flatwater canoe, it has enough displacement for me and a week’s camping gear. It has a 580 lb. displacement capacity. Two, built in Royalex R-84 and with full ends that provide reserve buoyancy for running Class 1 or 2 water, it should meet my needs for river camping.

In the past, in spite of the many advantages of Royalex, I had been reluctant to have one because of the difficulty of repair. West Epoxy, however, has solved that problem with the development of G-Flex, an epoxy that will bond to anything. At 57 lbs., the Odyssey 15 is slightly over double Buddy’s weight, but one can’t have everything. I learned many decades ago that anything involving boats (even though one isn’t supposed to call either a canoe or kayak a boat) is a compromise. When I ordered the Odyssey, I also had Mohawk install Kevlar and G-Flex skid plates on both bow and stern.

Mohawk Canoe's Odyssey 15
The seat can be seen as it was lowered, and the yellow
stripe on the bow is the Kevlar skid plate.
The Mohawk Odyssey 15 was shipped to Fort Smith with a load of other canoes at a substantial savings. Our rushed trip to Fort Smith between tornadoes was to pick up the Mohawk before leaving on this last trip. I can’t have a craft without a name. It’s like depriving it of a soul. So, since this was purchased solely because of the Buffalo, it will be named for the river. I prefer Buffalo Belle, but Jean likes Buffalo Gal. In either case, she has a longer alias of “My Last Canoe.” However, what I need you to do is vote to end the naming stalemate. Click on “Jim’s Facebook” in the right margin, and vote there or here in comments.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Back Home

We arrived back home last night at about 7:30.  It was nice knowing we didn't have to hit the road again this morning, but we had a nice three week outing.  The trip to visit family was our 50th Anniversary gift to each other.  We were very pleased that friends even called to make sure we were alright, since we were absent for so long.  The good news is that we accumulated a bit of new material for the blog, along with a lot of pictures we hope you enjoy.

During our absence, life went on for everyone else, and one of the ongoing projects that we've enjoyed watching develop is our son's and daughter-in-law's new bed and breakfast in Enid.  I don't know if anyone would be inclined to visit Enid, OK, but the link here is for the video they had done.  They are both very talented, enjoy meeting and spending time with people, have great taste, and would make your trip memorable.  All of that aside, I think you'll just enjoy the video.  Please play it full screen for best enjoyment.  The Southard House Inn sign at the end is the one I used when I had my boat chandlery business.  They did a very nice job of refinishing it, and I hope it serves them for many years to come.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Magnetic North

Illus. credit:
Magnetic North: A Trek Across Canada, by David Halsey, with Diana Landau (pub. By Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA, 1990, 247pp.)

In May of 1977, four young men stood at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Vancouver, BC, ready to start the 1977-78 Trans-Canada Expedition. This 4,700 mile journey, if successful, would be the first time in history that Canada had been crossed coast-to-coast by foot, snowshoe, toboggan, and canoe. The objective was to be the shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Spurred by his interest in Robert F. Scott, Ernest Shackleton, and Alexander Mackenzie, David Halsey planned this trip while still a student in college. It was ambitious enough to attract the attention of the National Geographic Society, which provided some camera equipment and seed money. Bill Graves, Senior Editor for National Geographic, said “He (Halsey) was born with that essential drive that all great explorers and trekkers have, a form of tunnel vision that excludes everything finally but the goal.”

Just a few days into the trip, his three partners mutinied, having discovered that such a trip is not always either easy or fun. They abandoned Halsey, taking most of his gear with them. By the time Halsey had reached Saskatchewan, he had been joined by a young photographer, Peter Souchuk, to meet National Geographic’s need for photo documentation. They now were into winter, and needed to switch to a dog team and toboggan. They threw together a bunch of dogs not even slightly ready to be called a team. Two were pups, two were undersized, one was blind, one wanted to fight anything he could get close enough to, and none of them were trained. They didn’t know the commands of “Gee” (go right) or “Haw”, (go left), nor “Marsh.” Here I learned that the popular command of ‘mush’, to get a dog team moving, is actually a corruption of the correct ‘marsh’, the abbreviation of the French “marcher”, “to walk.” While off on any such expedition, one always strives to survive, and if one is really lucky, possibly fool onlookers into thinking some professionalism or expertise is involved. Our duo missed the mark a bit in their first half-mile dog team run to get out of town. They collided with two other toboggans, upset twice, got involved in fights with three other dog teams, got stuck in a snowdrift, learned a lot about untangling dog harnesses in the midst of each incident, and provided the town’s Chipewyan inhabitants with immense entertainment.

The adventures come one after another with nearly every turn of a page. This is both an exciting and tragic story, but one you will find more than worth the time to read. As for us, we have a two-day window before the next severe weather system moves in. We’re taking off to do a bit of paddling to find some adventures of our own. Keep checking back. Best wishes. jim

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Run to Fort Smith, AR

We had to pick up a canoe in Fort Smith, AR, and the pick-up was originally scheduled for Tuesday, May 27. It was forecast that an outbreak of possibly severe weather could occur Tuesday and Wednesday, the 28th of May. We contacted the builder and informed him we couldn’t risk making the trip because of the severe weather potential. The two day weather event then turned to three, four, and then five days, but we planned on making the trip yesterday, Friday, the 31st. The round trip to Fort Smith and back was 564.6 miles, so it would be an eleven hour trip. I felt the only way to make the trip safely was to start early enough to get back home before the afternoon warming sent the storms vertical and produced severe weather. If we started from home at 4 a.m., we could make it back by 3 p.m., about the latest that could reasonably put the odds for safety in our favor.

I had set the alarm for 3:30, but awoke at 2:30, and heard Jean stir. I asked if she was awake, and she was, so I said, “I won’t get any more sleep in another hour, so how do you feel about getting started?” We got up, grabbed a bite to eat, made coffee to carry with us, and were on the road by 3:30.

The wind was still blowing like crazy, or about 25 to 30mph. I know that’s not really crazy wind, but after a solid week of 25 to 40 mph winds, it really begins to play on the nerves. I was heartened by a star-dazzled cloudless sky. We got to I-40 and headed east for Oklahoma City, stopped for gas at the Flying J on Mustang Road, restocked on bear claws and coffee, and pressed on.

Once east of Oklahoma City, we began seeing the first clouds, but it quickly filled in to turn the sky black. The sky looked like it had been plowed, with the furrows running south to north. The clouds streamed north in ribbons. We’ve had experience with dozens of hurricanes, and I said, “ Look at those clouds. They look every bit like hurricane bands.” “That’s exactly what I was sitting here thinking,” she answered. I said, “That has to be the hot humid air feeding in from the Gulf. By this afternoon, that will be feeding the storms.” It was still dark, but the temperature had gone up ten degrees since we had left the house.

We traveled under this blanket of 10/10 cloud cover for about a hundred miles. The clouds did lighten in color some as the sun continued to rise. East of this hundred mile cloud stream the clouds began to thin and break up, and by the time we reached Fort Smith, it was sunny. Without wasting any time, we got the canoe secured on the roof of the truck, and prepared to head back west. Between dealing with the canoe, gassing the truck, and getting a bite to eat, we had passed back across the Arkansas River with only a loss of 45 minutes.

Once we had gone west enough to get back under the cloud cover, it continued to build all morning and afternoon. We got back home at 2:25 p.m., after a run of 10 hrs. 55 min. The plan had worked. As soon as we got the canoe unloaded, we went in and turned on the TV to learn that the weather service had issued a PDS warning (particularly dangerous situation). We had just made it. The meteorologist reported that storms were already going vertical, and that all storm parameters were “at the top of the charts,” and that “the cap could break in minutes.”

They are reporting three tornadoes in the Oklahoma City metro, but there were others. The first tornado touched down right where we had exited off of I-40 a couple hours before.  Nine people have been reported killed so far, about 50 injured enough to require hospital treatment, some 15 are still hospitalized in critical condition, six tractor trailers flipped as the storm moved through El Reno, many cars were flipped and thrown off the highway.  Of the nine fatalities, only two have been identified so far.  Since many of those deaths were right along I-40, the people could be from almost anywhere.  One vehicle that was rolled and thrown off the highway was a storm chaser from The Weather Channel. It was destroyed, but the crew got out okay. One SUV was flipped off the highway and pancaked when it landed on its roof. The young mother and infant were apparently not restrained in the vehicle, and were sucked from it and killed.  Her husband and a son were in another vehicle, so she and the baby are the only two identified as of this time.  There was eight inches of rain in El Reno, and 11 inches in Yukon, that created flash flooding. The Oklahoma City Fire Department had dispatched a boat and dive team to rescue one man, but the boat flipped dumping all the firemen into the water, so then the rescuers needed to be rescued. This morning there are 103,916 electric customers without power.