Friday, November 29, 2013

Florida Circumnavigation Paddling Trail

I just received an email from Gus Bianchi about a couple guys paddling the Florida Circumnavigation Saltwater Paddling Trail.  He's joining them for a few days in the Big Bend area.  If any of you that don't correspond with Gus would like to follow the trip, the link is below.  They've been beset by the cold and rain the last couple days, but it will undoubtedly develop into a real interesting trip of about 1,500 miles.  They're just getting started, so it's a great time for jumping on board.  Thanks, Gus, for the heads-up.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Best wishes to everyone’s family for a healthy and joyous Thanksgiving. Whether it’s the turkey, stuffing and pies, parades, or football, or all the above, enjoy the day.

Jean just slid the bird in the oven, and the stove and counters are covered with all the other makin’s. We have no family with us, but Jean just enjoys the activities. Her favorite part is the leftovers and not having to cook for the next week. Actually, since our furnace is broken, it’s just as well that we have no company. The thermostate or blower relay died, so we have heat, but I’m acting as the thermostate to turn the heat on and off at all hours. The house temperature roller-coasters up and down from about 58 to 70, but as long as we have heat, I’m not complaining. It’s really not much different than when we heated with wood and had to tend the stove and fire all the time. The only down side is the repairman says he won’t be able to get to us for about a week. It’s still all good.

This is a lot better than the Thanksgiving when we did have the house walls bulging with people and the water pump died. After fighting the water pump for about an hour, I started gathering about a hundred yards of hoses, and ran water from the neighbor’s house. That got us through until I was able to replace the pump motor the next day.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Demicharge Rapids on Google Earth.
I picked up a new term from my readings the other day---demi-charge. A portage is to carry all the supplies, gear, and the boat between two navigable waterways, or around a rapids or falls. In a demi-charge, the freight or gear are carried over land so the light or empty canoe can then be lined, tracked, poled, or paddled over the rapids. There are a couple rapids that so lend themselves to this techniquie that they have been named Demicharge Rapids. The one pictures from Google Earth, above, is from Alberta, near Fort Chipewyan, and the other is in Saskatchewan.

Also, while I’ve often heard the term “boreal forest,” after reading “Paddling the Boreal Forest,” I finally took the time to look for what it actually means. Also called taiga, the boreal forest is a band that circles the earth roughly between 50-deg. and 70-deg. North latitude. A similar South-latitude band does not occur. It is basically characterized by coniferous forests mostly of pine, spruce, and larch, and thin soil low in nutrients. In some areas, a few birch, poplar, and alder may also be seen.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Half-Century Ago

Credit: wikipedia
22 November 1963. Jean and I were both working as laboratory technicians for the E.I. duPont Experimental Station in Wilmington, DE. That’s where we met. I was running a test in the processing area, where experiments were run on a larger scale to try to replicate what was seen in the lab. Suddenly the door swung open and someone yelled to tell us the president had been shot. I could feel myself flush, and that moment has lived with me to such a degree that a half century later, if the building and facilities still exist, I could today show you exactly where I stood at that moment.
Most of the people that will read this weren’t even alive then, or were small children, and can never understand how this moment could so imprint us that we will never outlive that moment. The only possible comparisons would be by people that lived through the Pearl Harbor attack, the destruction of the Twin Towers, or such a similar large-scale catastrophe. To this day, I cannot hear or watch President John F. Kennedy speak without a lump forming in my throat. How could the death of one man so instantly impact millions of people?

I’d flounder trying to put an explanation into words. The fact is that in life and death, that’s the influence and impact he had---to create a foreign influence and respect that our nation has never experienced since, to strengthen the United Nations and League of Nations, to lead us into the Age of Space, to create the Peace Corps, to take the greatest steps since Lincoln to eliminate racial segregation and discrimination, to steer the nation through a nuclear stand-off with the Soviet Union, to promote the arts as an essential and uplifting ingredient in life, and numerous things more. Perhaps equally important was the fact that Kennedy was not just the nation’s president. Throughout his short time in office, he was the people’s president.

Jean and I were both drawn by the need to somehow respond to what had happened. I also was working part-time for the state’s largest newspaper, the News-Journal. I was excused from my normal work schedule there to go to Washington to witness the funeral and write a local-perspective article. For many years I kept the aluminum engraving plate used for Kennedy’s portrait that accompanied the article. The portrait was a file photo from President Kennedy’s dedication of the Delaware Turnpike shortly before his trip to Dallas.

When the president was being flown back to Washington, we drove to D.C. On Saturday following the assassination, the president’s flag-draped casket lay in state in the East Room of the White House. On Sunday, a horse-drawn caisson carried him to the Capitol Building where the public could pay their respects. The line of people waiting to pay their respects stretched 40 blocks, or roughly ten miles. We stood in line for hours to file by his casket and military guard of Green Berets in the rotunda. It must have been the early morning hours when we left the Capitol. Wanting to remain near, we slept the best we could on the cold sidewalk in front of the White House the rest of the night. To move about, we had to step between the legs and bodies of the thousands of other people keeping us company. The next morning, as the funeral procession was assembling, we were asked to move to the sidewalk across the street in Lafayette Square. It was from there that we watched the procession being led back from the Capital to the White House led by the Marine Band and the Scottish Black Watch pipe band. While the rest of the precession continued on, a Marine guard accompanied the cortege to the North Portico. From there, they walked to St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the funeral, and went later across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery.

With the huge number of foreign dignitaries present and the crowd that had now assembled, we knew we stood no chance of actually being able to witness the burial, so we headed home. We returned to Washington weeks later to visit the grave and eternal flame.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It Bears Repeating

Credit: Erika Clarke, CNN
This is an article written by Kyle Almond of CNN for the CNN Heroes: All-Star Tribute.  It bears repeating so as many people as possible get to see it.

“Chad Pregracke, an Illinois man who has dedicated his life to cleaning the Mississippi River and other U.S. waterways, was named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year on Tuesday night. Pregracke organizes community cleanups across the country through his nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters. About 70,000 volunteers have pitched in, helping Pregracke collect more than 7 million pounds of trash in the past 15 years.

“The garbage got into the water one piece at a time,” Pregracke said earlier this year. “And that’s the only way it’s going to come out.”

Pregracke was recognized Tuesday night along with the rest of this year’s top 10 CNN Heroes---everyday people doing extraordinary things to help change the world. He was chosen as Hero of the Year through a five-week public vote on

“I’ll just keep on cleaning up America’s rivers and loving every minute of it,” said Pregracke as he accepted the award Tuesday night. For being named CNN Hero of the Year, Pregracke receives $250,000 to continue his work. That is in addition to the $50,000 that each Hero receives for making the top 10.

On Tuesday night, Pregracke pledged to spread some of his Hero of the Year money to the rest of the top 10 Heroes. “I’ve met so many great people today, the other Heroes, and I’m really moved by all their stories and all the things they do around the world. I’m going to give 10 grand to each of them, because they’re awesome.”

Pregracke, 38, grew up in East Moline, Illinois, where the Mississippi River was in his backyard. As a teenager, he worked as a commercial shell diver and began to notice the heaps of debris in the fabled waterway, which supplies drinking water to 18 million people in more than 50 U.S. cities.

“I saw thousands of barrels, thousands of tires, cars, trucks, and tops of school buses. I got sick of seeing it and just wanted to do something about it,” said Pregracke, whom some have called “the river’s garbageman.”

For more than nine months out of the year, Pregracke lives on a barge with members of his 12-person crew. They go around the country with a fleet of boats, and they try to make cleanup fun for the volunteers who show up in each city.

They use skits, music and mock motivational speeches to get the volunteers amped up, and sometimes they even do a little karaoke. Teams also compete to see who can find the “best” garbage. “We do everything in our power to get people excited about it.” Pregracke said. “We want people to leave feeling good about what they did so they’ll come back.”

Close to 90% of what they recover is recycled. Pregracke said the rest gets disposed of properly.

In addition to the river cleanup, Pregracke has launched a floating classroom barge where his staff educates high school students and teachers about the damages of pollution on river ecosystems. In 2007, his nonprofit implemented a program to plant 1 million trees along river shorelines to protect and restore the natural environment. The group is halfway to its goal.

Pregracke says his nonprofit has already held more than 700 cleanups on 23 rivers, but he says he’s just getting started. He views his work as a different kind of service to the country.”

The nonprofit has a very interesting web site at

Monday, November 18, 2013

Paddling the Boreal Forest barnesandnoble
Paddling the Boreal Forest: Rediscovering A.P. Low, by Max Finkelstein and James Stone. (Pub. by Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., Toronto, Ont., 2004, 253pp of text, and 319pp with appendices and index.) Site:

If you ask someone about Albert Peter Low, you’ll most likely be met with blank stares. In both life and history, he has been known only as A.P. Low. All of his writings, journals, reports, and maps, all were identified with A.P. Low. Low was the man that brought Quebec, Labrador and the rest of NE Canada to the world. As the explorer and surveyor, and later the director of the Canadian Geological Survey, he claimed new territories for Canada and mapped and described them. Verlen Kruger is the only other person that comes to mind for such accomplishments in a canoe. Between 1881 and 1899, Low spent over 2,500 days traveling by canoe and snowshoes, documenting the features of more than 200,000 square miles. He documented the cultures of Aboriginals that had lived there for thousands of years, and spent 3,728 days (more than ten years) away from home in a 24 year career.

Low left us little about his adventures. He lived in the day when the canoe was a tool, not a recreational vehicle. The canoe was how families moved about to follow migratory herds, how they hunted and fished, how they moved supplies into the wilderness, and how they moved furs out. For Low, the canoe transported him to find rivers, lakes, branches, mineral deposits, and reduce them to reliable maps and reports. The goal of our two authors was to follow and duplicate some of Low’s trips, and by their experience, tell their adventures and Low’s simultaneously. In their part of the world, except for what is destroyed by forest fires, little changes in hundreds of year.

Part of the appreciation of Low and his accomplishments is getting a glimpse of his Herculean determination and perseverence. At one point he had to use a sailing fishing boat for mapping. It was 28 feet long and weighed between one and two tons, and was capable of carrying two tons of provisions, two canoes, and six men. Like his canoe, this sailboat also had to be portaged across land---on rollers---through bog, rugged rocky topography, impenetrable forest, with the men being almost always soaked from continual rain. When the authors went to research Low’s field notes, century-old dried corpses of black flies fell from between the pages. In 1888, while doing the Big and Clearwater Rivers alone, Low performed 184 portages with all the boats, supplies, and surveying equipment. When there weren’t flies, they often endured temperatures between 51 and 101 degrees below zero. If nothing else, these accounts will help keep what you are experiencing on your next canoe trip in proper perspective.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Leaving a Clean Wake

This picture is not from their trip, but a sad sight that's
all too common everywhere we go.
Kevin Callan and Andy Baxter just completed their five-segment film about paddling around Algonquin Park. They did six rivers and 55 lakes over 16 days, and crossed 350 miles. Included were 93 portages that totaled 68 miles.

As tough as the trip was, all went well until the next-to-the-last day. They were just getting back to “civilization”, and had to portage around the last falls. The people on both shores of the falls refused them access to their property in order to get around the falls. Kevin was truly shocked. People were portaging around falls in Canada before there was a Canada. It is a reality as expected and logical as finding gas at a gas station. How else are you supposed to get around a falls? He finally flexed his diplomatic skills and convinced the land owner that there was no alternative. He couldn’t go back the way he had come. Plus, it was a one-time deal; he had no plans to return and ask the same favor again. The owner finally relented and allowed them to cross her property, but with the admonition that it was this one time only.

Why would anyone be so disagreeable? I seriously doubt anyone would wake up one morning and decide to be obstinate enough to buck the culture and tradition of a nation so closely tied to the canoe, and thus the need for portaging. No, just as we deserve the government we get, we deserve the welcome we get, at least as a group. We are the heirs of the deeds of those who preceded us, just as Kevin and Andy were now being punished for the behavior of paddlers that had portaged the falls before. If the land owner finds strangers filling their water bottles at their home’s outdoor tap without permission, scattering their garbage around the owner’s property, mashing down their fences, or walking through their flowerbeds, no one should be shocked that those who follow will not find the welcome mat out for them.

When sailing, we had the saying that each of us should “leave a clean wake.” Right or wrong, those behind us will be judged by our actions and those who preceded us, and if we wish to go that way again, we will find the opportunities available to us before may now be absent. Each of us is an ambassador for canoeing and kayaking, and we need to protect our collective reputation tenaciously. Just as it takes a lifetime to build a positive reputation, but only one lie or deceptive act to destroy it, absent-minded or careless behavior on our part may never be forgiven nor any privileges restored. Our duty as a paddler is to leave the streams and wilderness unmarred, campsites looking better when we leave than when we arrived, and leave every person along the way a friend and supporter to all that follow. No one likes seeing trash on their property or in the wild, so if you can pack it in, pack it out. You know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you wish to see Kevin and Andy’s five-part series, you may start here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rocky Lake - 2

I’ve been trying to paddle Rocky Lake for two years. There is no particular reason for that other than wanting to paddle all the lakes of Oklahoma. The logic was that I’d start with the most drought stricken area first in the hope that conditions and enjoyment would improve as I moved further east.

I'm standing at what would normally be the water's edge.  There's
a drop of a couple feet off the end of the ramp, and still a good
distance to the water.  The rust marks on the poles show where
the floating wharf would normally rest.
Conditions were horrible, but not a surprise. The site on lake conditions was established to provide up-to-date information on lakes from both tourism and health perspectives, the latter mostly involving the presence of blue-green algae. Getting small towns to cooperate in providing timely information on lake conditions, I knew from outset, would be impossible, and I voiced that opinion to the lady overseeing the program as I wished her luck. Sure enough, the latest information is from the 3rd of July, 2012, with no update in fourteen months. Hobart’s interest in public health is best displayed by my effort to get current conditions before making the trip. I called the city to speak with the person responsible for reservoir oversight. I was asked why I wanted to speak with him, so I explained that I was coming to canoe the lake, and was looking for current conditions, like water level and the existence of blue-green algae, which can cause significant health issues. In response I heard, “What lake? We have a lake? I didn’t know we have a lake!”

If it's green on top, STOP! 
Since my arrival at Rocky Lake a year ago, the lake has been posted as closed to fishing due to fish kills from algae. The sign was still there, but I didn’t plan on fishing, and I also didn‘t plan on coming back for another try. This was going to get done. There were two issues here: water level and algae bloom.

Winged bedlam as a large flock of pelicans take off.
The sayings is, “If it’s green on top, STOP!“ Algae exists in all waters, all the time. However, their levels remain as a normal part of the ecosystem. If the water is not normally replaced or freshened by water flow or rain, and water temperatures and nutrients, such as agricultural run-off, become abnormally high, as in late summer, the algae can go into a “bloom.” At dangerous levels, blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, will produce toxins that can cause allergic reactions like skin rashes and eye irritations, asthmatic symptoms, diarrhea, vomiting, liver and nervous system reactions. Toxicity can be particularly dangerous for small children and pets, resulting in illness or even death in extreme cases.

It's not a great picture, since it's backlighted, but the stains on the
intake pipe show how far the lake level has dropped.
The drive back to the lake was covered with debris and overgrown weeds. I could find no official site that gave water levels, but it was obvious the water was down a good ten feet. The water was as thick as a soup, and clarity reached only one-half inch. Algae was thick along both the shore and in open water. I wore 12-inch rubber boots to avoid the water as much as possible. My only exposure to the water was from sponging the mud out of Buddy before setting him back up on top the Ram. I didn’t even realize I had a hangnail on my right hand, but sure enough, by the next day it was infected. A day of Neosporin took care of it. Except for a central spine down the south end of the lake, near the dam, water was so shallow I dipped mud with nearly every stroke. At the northern end of the lake, the water was putrid and stunk badly, and most of the feeder branches was inaccessible. All I can say is that I’ve checked off Rocky Lake, and it’s history.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rocky Lake

Rocky Lake is on P. 39, grid I-9 of the Oklahoma DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer, and page 140 of the “Lakes of Oklahoma” guide by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. It is 347 acres with an 8 mile long shoreline. It is also called Hobart Lake, as it is a reservoir for that town.

Hobart is another of those Oklahoma towns that sprang into existence overnight following the opening of reservation lands for white settlement. It has been part of the KCA Reservation (Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache). At the opening of the reservation, settlers drew lots of free Indian land. On August 6, 1901, 2,350 people descended upon the land, making it one of the smaller land rushes. They first settled in tents, giving the area the name of Ragtown. The town’s tents were gradually replaced by wood structures, and by 1903, the town had electricity and an ice plant. The name was later changed to honor Garret Hobart, 24th Vice President of the United States. Like many Oklahoma towns, its population reached a peak in 1950, and has since been in a steady decline.

Depiction of Chief Lone Wolf the Younger
Hobart, OK
Photo credit:
Chief Lone Wolf the Younger (1843-1923) was a Kiowa Chief depicted by a statue on the lawn of the Kiowa County Courthouse. It was carved from an elm tree by chainsaw carver Clayton Coss.

Before paddling Rocky Lake, it's important to understand how this area was settled.  In October, 1867, 5000 Indians met U.S. officials at Medicine Lodge Creek in Southern Kansas to ratify the Treaty of Medicine Lodge. Kiowa and Comanche tribes were represented, but the Apaches refused to attend. The U.S. would set apart 2.9 million acres of land for the KCA Reservation, “for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Tribes.” In exchange for the 2.9 million acres, the tribes would cede 93 million acres, but no more lands could be ceded without signatures from three-fourths of all male adults living on the reservation.

In 1892, the Jerome Commission was one of 15 such commissions working to move Native Americans off the lands they had been forced to move to in the Indian Territories, and promised total dominion over. The objective was to give lands already promised to the tribes to settlers. The justifications for this action were such things as “it was God’s will,” or “the Indians didn’t know how to farm, so weren’t making proper use of the lands.” The Jerome Commission proposed changing the Medicine Lodge Treaty, but the tribes unanimously opposed reallotment, or the selling of their land, as well as any further railroad rights-of-way across their lands. They wanted their lands left undisturbed as guaranteed by the treaty. The Commission argued that the tribes did not need 2.9 million acres, but only 500,000 acres, and the remaining 2 1/2 million acres would be opened for settlers. In spite of much debating by both sides, nothing was resolved, so the Jerome Commission decided on a deception by returning to Congress and assuring them that they had the required signatures of three-fourths of the Indians needed to set aside the provisions of the Medicine Lodge Treaty. 

From a distance, Rocky Lake looks almost idyllic.

In June 1900, Congress passed legislation taking title of the 2.9 million acres of the KCA Reservation. Lone Wolf fought for an injunction through four courts over three years, including the U.S. Supreme Court. There Lone Wolf was told that Indians were the ward of the U.S. Congress, and Congress therefore had the right to annul, abolish, or repeal “any provision of the treaty that went against the best interests of the United states.”

By July 24, 190l, over 150,000 people had registered for the lottery drawing for the 11,638 homestead sites on the reservation lands. Of the 500,000 acres the KCA were forced to accept, 480,000 acres had been set aside for common use, which meant that farmers and ranchers were free to use 96% of the Indian lands for grazing cattle. By 1906, that too had been opened for white settlement. By the end of the “allotment era,“ their 2.9 million acres had been reduced to 3,000 acres.

Following his defeat in all the courts, Lone Wolf returned to his allotment on the reservation, where he remained with his family until his death in 1923. It was not until 1955 that the Indian Claims Court finally ruled in the KCA’s favor, and they were paid $2 million for the lands they could never reclaim. The bottom line was the tribes had given up 93,000,000 acres of land for the eventual $2 million, or 2 cents per acre.



Saturday, November 9, 2013

River Horse

Illus. credit:
River Horse: A Voyage Across America, by William Least Heat-Moon. (Pub. By Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999, 502 pp.) New York Times Bestseller

This book was recommended to me several years ago, but it has taken me awhile to get back around to it. It is an account of the author’s cross-country trip by boat and canoe from New York to Puget Sound, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With a few other streams included, the trip traversed primarily the Hudson River, Erie Canal, Lake Erie, the Allegheny River, Ohio River, Mississippi River, Missouri River, and closely following the journals of Lewis and Clark he followed the Jefferson, Beaverhead, and Hell Roaring Creek before crossing the Continental Divide, and then the Salmon and Snake Rivers by raft, and finally, the Columbia River back to the sea. Like anyone making such a trip, he runs the range of emotions from excitement, to exhaustion, to despair, and back again. At the end, he puts it all in perspective by saying, “Yet, of the times in my life I must count as wasted, squandered, spent aimlessly, I knew our river days would never be among them, because, ephemeral as they too were, the river had done what it could to make them memorable enough to carry forward to the end. …. Of the gifts of the rivers, none was greater than their making our time upon them indelible.” Earlier, in his own words, “Despite the continuous physical threat in moving water, going down a river can put travelers into a mellow harmony and make them believe all is not yet lost to the selfishness and private greed that so poison our chances for a lasting and healthy prosperity. …. I’d come here in the belief that I could never really know America until I saw it from the bends and reaches of its flowing waters, from hidden spots open only to a small boat.”

He weaves countless witty truisms into the narrative that he discovers along the way, or that he is reminded of, like understanding the relationships between men and women. “…a young man said to his wife, ‘That makes no sense, honey. Why are you doing that?’ She smiled at him and said, ‘Because shut up, that’s why! I’m a girl.” Or at a wedding, the bride gets groomed, and the groom gets bridled. These alone save all the time that would be needed to write enough books on the subject of relationships to fill a library.  Everything is explained in two sentences.

There are tidbits that make our history better appreciated. “Plowboy Bend bears the name of a sternwheeler sunk there…,one of more than four hundred steamboats to go down on the Missouri, half of them from hitting snags. The average life of a nineteenth-century paddle-wheeler on the river was less than two years.”

There’s a lot on environmental topics, from ranchers shoving their dead cattle, cars, trucks and machinery into the river to use it as their personal sewage canal, running barbed wire across streams to claim running rivers as private property, the greed of miners that would blow sixty-five million tons of mountain into a scenic river to claim just thirteen pounds of gold, or the sign he saw that reflects this attitude: “Hungry? Eat an environmentalist.”

If you can’t find the opportunity to make your own trip from Atlantic to Pacific, make your way through this book. You’ll enjoy the ride.


Friday, November 8, 2013

The Long Road Home

We were up early and ready to go at 7a.m., but we were greeted with a heavy downpour. We waited for a lull in the rain so I could get the RV ready without being drowned in the process. We didn’t do too badly, as we were still on the road by 8:30.

Ames, Iowa, rest area's functional art.
Going down I-35, we stopped at a rest area north of Ames, Iowa, at Mile Marker 117. They had done a unique thing that was both artistic and provided supplemental lighting for the rest area during the night. Black silhouettes of Iowa cultural and historic scenes had been cut and placed over translucent boxes that were illuminated from the inside. The silhouettes were quite visible during the day, and were backlighted at night.

Hwy. 69 was a pretty drive.  An Amish wagon had us in tow for
a couple minutes.  Since we were on both a curve and approaching
a hill crest, passing was impossible.  When he realized we were there,
he politely pulled off onto the grass to let us pass.
At 7 p.m. we arrived at Nine Eagles State Park near the Iowa state line on I-35 (at exit 4 Hwy 69, near Davis). It’s unfortunate that the campground doesn’t seem more heavily used, as its quiet and enjoyable. There are three campgrounds in the park, and we had the campground we were in entirely to ourselves. The land had once been the home of the Winnebago tribe, but it became a state park some time after the tribe had been forced to the Indian Territories in Oklahoma. We had a very enjoyable visit from a campground volunteer whose family used to live on these lands. His grandfather was a Winnebago brave, and his mother was a McCoy, of the notorious Hatfields and McCoys, of West Virginia and Kentucky.

Fields were filled with wildflowers.  As close as I can determine,
this is checker mallow, but I won't put any money on it.
By late afternoon the next day, there was no question that we were back in Oklahoma. The wind was blowing, the soil was parched, and the thermometer was topping a hundred degrees. Cool, green, and beautiful Wisconsin was too far in the rear-view to be seen, and we have just our memories to hold us over until we’re able to return.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Joy Johnson Crosses Finish Line

Joy Johnson, named Joy because she was born on Christmas Day.
Credit: Rachael Levy, New York Daily News
Many of you may have heard this story, but it so inspirational that it bears repeating until everyone knows Joy Johnson. This past Sunday, at the age of 86, Ms. Johnson competed in her 25th consecutive New York City Marathon, which she completed in just under 8 hrs. This made her the oldest woman her age to ever complete the event. She fell and did a head-plant on the concrete at mile 20, but in spite of an injury to the right side of her head, refused treatment and continued on.

Ms. Johnson is from San Jose, CA, and is a retired high school gym teacher, where she also coached track, volleyball, and swimming. She did her first marathon at the age of 61, after retiring, and won the New York Marathon six times in her age group. Her best time was under four hours, but that still prompted her to lament to USA Today that she regretted that her marathon times kept getting slower. In this 2008 interview, she said, “I just want to keep running as long as I can, and drop in my running shoes when the time comes.” She said she was going to step up her exercise regimen so she remained more competitive, so every morning after a cup of coffee between 4:30 and 5 a.m., she began running up and down the bleachers at the local high school, running 8 miles, and finishing with 150 push-ups. This kept her fit for the eleven races and three marathons that she ran nearly every year.

It was her routine to make a celebritory visit to the Today Show the morning after the marathon, so this past Monday saw her visiting with Al Roker on the plaza while wearing two large bandages on her head and face. Hours after the Today Show visit, she told her daughter that she wasn’t feeling well, and was going back to the hotel for a nap. She never woke up.

While her family undoubtedly grieves her passing, her life and that of those like her deserve to be celebrated rather than grieved. Of the 50,000 people in this year’s marathon, there were 31 over the age of 80. While I don’t have his name, I remember
reading about a canoeing instructor that still lead paddling classes at the age of 90. What amazed me at the time was that he still paddled from a kneeling stance. So, it seems the idea is not to celebrate life, but to celebrate living. As Norman Cousins stated, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside of us while we live.” We just need to keep picking up that paddle and doing what makes us whole.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

More on Wisconsin

Sunday was an R&R day. We got up late, had pancakes for breakfast while we watched the birds, turtles, and fish outside our RV window. The Wood River didn’t look like anything we could paddle, but it was a haven for wildlife activity. I read a paddling book I’d have to get back to the library as soon as we got home, and then went over the maps to lay out our return trip from Wisconsin to Oklahoma.

Phlox at James McNully Campground
In the afternoon, Jean wanted me to see the Crex Meadows that she had visited while I was on the St. Croix. Crex Meadows is a 30,000 acre wildlife area outside of Grantsburg. It is part of the 1,500 square mile Northwest Wisconsin Pine Barrens, a sandy plain left when the glaciers receded 13,000 years ago. The glaciers left countless pockets in the soil that now provide small, shallow lakes which are ideal for birds, waterfowl, and game.

In 1912, the Crex Carpet Company purchased 23,000 acres of the existing wildlife area to grow grass for the production of grass rugs until linoleum replaced grass as a floor covering. The decline of this market drove the carpet company into bankruptcy in 1933, but the Crex name remained. Through the depression and 1940’s, many people attempted agriculture in the barrens, but the soil was not adequate to support crops, and the lands were soon tax delinquent. In 1946, Wisconsin purchased the land to create the wildlife area.

Gathering pollen.
The DeLorme Atlases are great for finding every landing and access road in an area, so we followed the atlas down to the river’s edge at Norway Point to see the St. Croix north of the wildlife area. The National Park Service publishes a very nice set of maps showing all the camping areas, put-ins, and ramps along both the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers, as well as all the facilities at each location. The NPS tries to keep segment maps in boxes along the route, but rather than risk some of them being missing from a location when we may need them, as soon as we returned home, I called the NPS and requested the full set of maps covering the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Their contact information is: St. Croix National Scenic Riverway; 401 N. Hamilton Street; St. Croix Falls, WI 54024.
Phone: 715-483-2274.

To have complete information on the area, I also obtained two books, Paddling Northern Wisconsin and Paddling Southern Wisconsin. Both are authored by Mike Svob, and they cover 27 rivers and 32 rivers respectively. While they are intended as reference books, I’ve read both cover to cover, and would strongly recommend them for anyone wishing to take advantage of the great paddling opportunities in Wisconsin. They include camping information, water levels, gradients, access locations, shuttle routes, river class, and maps for each run with mile markers. I only found two shortcomings in the books. Mike is a whitewater paddler, so he enjoys charging through any rapids, so information on portages around rapids is sparse. He considers any water that isn’t noisy and frothy to be dead water, so he ignores any information on connecting lakes along a riverway. These shortages are minor, and I still consider the books a great resource.

Last Christmas Jean also got me the DVD “River Trails of Southern Wisconsin,” done by Morrall River Films. It’s a less academic approach, but still very complete, and with the color video of the areas being paddled, the DVD is both entertaining and theraputic if weather or circumstance have you locked in the house too long. In any event, the final point to stress is that I’m greatly indebted to Rex Klein and the Great River Rumble for introducing me to this stunningly beautiful area. I can’t wait to get back. Let’s face it, with 59 rivers and 15,074 lakes in Wisconsin, each surrounded with natural beauty, interesting history, and wildlife, what more needs to be said. See you there!


Monday, November 4, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 8

Today we’d end our journey with the longest paddle of the trip---22 miles from Prescott, down the Mississippi to Red Wing, MN, the home of Red Wing shoes and boots. Anyone that has done more than work in an office knows Red Wing boots, from work boots, motorcycle boots, hunting and hiking boots, ski boots, and, yes, shoes, but they are best known for high-quality American-Made boots.

Chief Red Wing
Red Wing was established in the 1850’s, and named for the Dakota Sioux Chief Red Wing. His name, Hupahuduta, came from the practice of dyeing a swan’s wing red as a sign of his rank or office. Red Wing is the county seat of Goodhue County, the largest wheat producing county in America in 1873. In its days as a paddlewheel steamboat port, Red Wing could ship a million bushels of wheat a year. 

Buddy and I paddling down the Mississippi River.
Photo credit: Maryellen Self
The downtown area has been revitalized, and Red Wing remains a lively and viable area. When we paddled into town we passed along the riverfront where a festival was in full swing. The St. James Hotel, where the Great River Rumble would hold our farewell banquet, was built in 1874. It was a popular stopping place for steamboat passengers and businessmen. Now on the Registry of Historic Places, it continues to host the city’s visitors in a lavish style to this day. It’s survival is due in no small part to Red Wing Shoes, which purchased the hotel in 1977 and financed its renovation. They also added a shopping court and a new section for business offices. Sixty-one of the 62 rooms bear the name of a steamboat that worked the Mississippi. The last room is called the Red Wing Iron Works Suite, a lavish apartment with granite counter tops, jacuzzi, fireplace, and a view of the Mississippi River. An enjoyable time can be spent just roaming the halls to look at the framed pictures of the town and river during the gilded age.

After the 8-ft. drop in Lock #3 (see the wet area on the walls), the
lower gates opened to allow us to continue down the Mississippi.
Photo credit: Maryellen Self.  The time stamp is off.  The date was
Sat. 3 August. 13
Every effort was made to get as early a start as possible on this busy day. Robert Burns certainly knew what he was talking about when he said, “The best laid plans of Mice and Men oft go awry.” His words rang true at breakfast in the middle school. The caterer that accepted the challenge of breakfast for a couple hundred people had certainly over-stepped his skill level, and it was no more obvious than when they walked in with a 20-cup coffee pot. More followed, but neither the flow of food nor coffee was keeping pace with the long line of people that had rushed to get to breakfast as early as possible. As the old Army dictum goes: hurry up and wait. This is not sour grapes. It was just interesting how on the one day when haste was most needed, something came along to shift progress into a slowness competition.

The start down the Mississippi was like a picture out of Huckleberry Finn---quiet and peaceful, a mist rising off the water, and just a couple fishermen allowing their boats to drift with the gentle flow of the current. However, this was a Saturday, and powerboats began rolling into the river from this recreational-boating hub. As the day got warmer, the wakes became larger, but everyone seemed to take them in stride.

The most anticipated event of the day for most of our party would be locking through Lock and Dam #3 near the Prairie Island Indian Reservation. We had to wait for a large flotilla of powerboats to empty out of the lock, but when the signal turned green, we all paddled our way into the lock. The roughly 100 canoeists and kayakers divided and made their way down both sidewalls of the lock until they grabbed lines hanging from the top of the lock. Although the huge lock was made to accommodate large rafts of barges, we managed to cover its full length, rafted at least two-deep. After the gates closed, we slowly dropped eight feet before the lower gates opened to flush us back into the river.

Just for fun, see if you can detect a theme here. Prairie Island was chosen as a reservation for the Dakota Sioux in 1889. Then, “much of the reservation land was lost following the construction of Lock and Dam #3 along the river by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.” Then it was decided that some the remaining reservation lands would be a great place to build the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant. Then it was decided that reservation lands would be a great place to store radioactive nuclear waste in above-ground steel casks.

We paddled past the festival on the Red Wing waterfront, where hundreds of folks watched and waved. Then we passing under the Hwy. 63 bridge, which connects Red Wing with Wisconsin and a direct route to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Another mile further down the river brought us to Colvill Park, where we would take out and load our craft onto our vehicles. Then it was a race to find a place to take a shower and get ready for the farewell banquet to be held at the St. James Hotel.

Lobby of the St. James Hotel

While I was paddling down the river, Jean had been staying in our RV and enjoyed the hospitality of Grantsburg, WI. She drove down to meet me, and was waving from the bank when I pulled in. The staff at the park pool building were gracious enough to allow a few of us to shower and change there, and then it was off to the hotel. Since we had a two-hour drive back to our RV in Grantsburg, we left at 8:45, shortly after dinner concluded. As soon as we got back to the RV, we dropped into bed exhausted. In fact, we would remain there at the James McNully campground an extra day for rest and relaxation before making the 900-mile run back home.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 7

Buddy takes a breather on the shore of the St. Croix.
This morning we had breakfast catered at the park in Hudson. The tents came down, packs were loaded in the trucks, and after the usual skippers’ meeting, we were off on a 17-mile paddle from Hudson to Prescott, WI. The paddling pace was even faster. We’d make a wild dash of 5 or 6 miles, and then take an hour break. It seemed a steadier pace would make more sense, with a more relaxed cadence and shorter breaks, but that’s just me. The good news was that we were in the wider sections of the river, and fate or luck had given us a reaching wind out of the northwest.

An hour's relaxation and a dive into the food sack.
It was Friday, 2 Aug., and both the wider, deeper river and the approaching weekend brought out the powerboats. By the afternoon, the boat traffic was both fairly heavy and constant. No one seemed to be seriously bothered by the wakes, however, and we marched on.

A slough along the St. Croix with its peaceful setting.
After passing under both the Point Douglas Dr. bridge and the railroad lift bridge, we were at Prescott, and had passed into the confluence with the Mississippi River. Prescott was founded in 1839 by Philander Prescott, who established a trading post at the junction of the two rivers. With its strategic position along two rivers, it’s a bit surprising that there is no commercial shipping there, but it is a haven for recreational boating.
A Google Earth image shows Prescott, where the crystal-clear
waters of the St. Croix try to mix with the muddy Mississippi.
After paddling past the condos, we went ashore at the public boat ramp next to the yacht harbor, stowed our canoes and kayaks in a grass and gravel plot between Second Street and the railroad tracks, and walked back toward town. The climb up Kinnickinnic Street (pronounced kinney-kenick) seemed like a mountain ascent by this time in the day, but the wide expanse of closely mowed grass around the middle school’s tennis courts made for a very relaxing and comfortable night. Dinner was again on our own. I and a couple other paddlers found a small, unassuming Chinese restaurant where the food was both good and plentiful. After another climb up Kinnickinnic Street, I relaxed awhile in my camp chair, but soon found my way to the tent for an early night.