Monday, December 30, 2013

Congratulations to NAVY!

Navy wins the 2013 Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee with a score of 24 to 6, while holding MT to their lowest scoring game of the season. There was some inconsistent officiating that penalized both teams before the game was over, but the low point of the game came from Middle Tennessee’s Roderic Blunt, whose behavior during the game brought shame and disgrace to his teammates and school alike. He was twice penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected from the game. After the play was over, he slid up over the Navy quarterback, Keenan Reynolds, pinning him to the ground, as he jammed his thumb through the defenseless QB’s mask and tried to injure his eyes. Reynolds indeed had to sit out several plays while trying to clear his vision, and while the Navy staff screwed a face shield to Reynolds’s helmet. The commentator said Blunt was becoming “chippy.” That’s not called chippiness---not even unsportsmanlike. It’s called criminal assault.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

My Micmac stripper canoe, stern to the shore during a
cold winter's morning.
Happy New Year to each and all. Ending one year and starting another is always an unavoidable time of reflection. The dawning of the New Year is a chance to start over, to improve. So, yes, this is very much a post about paddling. Our culture tells us to put a monetary value on all our ventures. The more money it generates, the greater its value. Things that don’t generate "enough" money are called recreation. In this line of thinking, doing things you love, that improve your soul, state of mind, well-being, and personal satisfaction with life are of no value. Value comes from keeping one’s nose to the grindstone. It’s only after it’s nearly too late, when all the body’s strength, flexibility, endurance, and health are gone, or are rapidly degrading, that you begin to realize that you’ve had it all backwards. The things you value have been slighted. Sure, you’ve kept the grass mowed, the bills paid, the city, county, state, and federal taxes all taken care of, and strengthened your boss’s, companies, and share holders’ bottom line, but beyond caring for your family’s health and comfort, you’ve put off for fifty years the things that matter most to you personally in the expectation of some dawning, golden day when you’ll finally have time. For all too many, that time never comes. Life doesn’t get simpler, only more entangled and complicated. The only time you have is now.

I jotted these points down after reading the story some time ago. A nurse had worked for many years with the terminally ill and infirm. During the times when family weren’t at the bedside, she got time to share her patients’ lives, thoughts, and regrets. Looking back over their lives, knowing they had only days or perhaps hours to live, these were their final thoughts on what they would have changed, in descending order, if they could have done it over again. The greatest gifts coming out of their lives may be that they can help the still living avoid the same mistakes, if we but listen and take heed. Copy them and tape them over your desk or work station.

1. I wish I had lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my true feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had allowed myself to be happier.

Some thoughts from Jerry Vandiver and the Morrall's.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Canton Lake: Going to the Dogs

I took an afternoon ride to check out Canton Lake to see if it is filling any at all. It isn’t. It’s still down 78% of its conservation water level, and looks pretty much like the shots taken at Lake Altus-Lugert. Maybe it’s just me, but when the lakes and waterways look forlorn, their appearance connects directly into my mood. I’ve lived on, around, and been connected with waters for so much of my life, we’re inseparable.

The local scenery doesn’t help much. Yet another old homestead sits long forgotten. The incessant Oklahoma wind has blown out all the aged blades from the windmill, the bleaching sun has destroyed the roof shingles, weeds have recovered all that was their’s originally, and the house itself has taken a list in want of something to lean on.

Chubby prairie dogs in a constant search for food.

Ever vigilant.
The only signs of life are the prairie dogs that are out scampering about. As you get near, they stand on the lip of their burrow and bark an alarm to all their neighbors. Some become quite animated. So much effort is put into the barks that they lunge up and down as their front legs thrust outward. They look like little basketball players making two-handed foul shots with each bark. The ones in this tape are more sedate than that, but I think you’ll find it interesting.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Another Taste of Christmas

We found the holiday decorations done early when we visited Branson, Mo.
This lamp and wreath struck me as being right out of Currier and Ives.  They
were located at the boat landing of the Showboat Branson Belle, which we
visited for a dinner and show.  I'll have more on that at another time, but since
that will put us after the holidays, I figured I should pull these out now.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Winter Solstice

Credit: off-grid info
We’ve turned the corner. The bad news is this marks the official beginning of winter. The good news is that the sun starts its trip back toward us and each day gets three minutes longer. In our language, that translates into longer paddling days, and more miles.

During the shoulder seasons, the dilema is always when to stop for the night in order to have enough light to get camp established, make dinner, and roll into the sack before we find ourselves stumbling about in total darkness save for the beam of our headlamp. The answer is in the sunset. Here’s how you do it without an app.

With your arm outstretched, fold the thumb into the palm, and hold your palm facing you and the fingers horizontal. With your little finger resting on the horizon, when the lower limb (bottom) of the sun touches your index finger, you have one hour until sunset. As the lower limb appears to peak between the fingers, you lose 15-minutes with each finger it passes. When the sun touches the horizon, and you have sunset and light will now begin to fade, but you still have another hour before complete darkness. If you plan for several possible campsites for the night, you can extend the day, feeling confident in which stop you can reach and still have enough light for camp duties.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reading the River

Jacket illus. credit:
Reading the River: A Voyage Down the Yukon, by John Hildebrand (241pp. 1988, pub. By Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston)

John Hildebrand is an exceptional writer. His reviewers call him a latter-day Thoreau, and the best adventure writer since Jack London. He uses this skill to take you on a three-month, 2,000 mile trip by canoe down the Yukon River, and when you reach the last page, you’ll likely share my sense of emotional collapse over the trip being done. He not only writes so you can nearly smell the smoke and hear the snapping and crackling of your shared driftwood campfire, but he’ll take you to every village and fish camp along the river where he’ll introduce you to the Alaskan frontiersmen willing to share their own stories. There are survivors of the days of the Alaskan gold rush, Eskimos, Athabascan Indians, wilderness homesteaders, subsistence hunter/trapper/fishermen, dogsled mushers, missionaries, and Russian family members still reflecting the days when Russia provided the greatest influence in the area. He’ll share his salmon catch, or take you along as he helps pull salmon nets, have you sing your way through the wilderness so the grizzlies know you’re there, sleep in tents, cabins, and the homes of ‘river angels.’

John and his wife had dreamed of homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness. He cut and dragged the logs, trimmed and shaped them, notched the ends and stacked them, and stuffed the chinks between the logs, and roofed it until he had completed a log cabin. He cut and split wood to heat the cabin with a wood-burning metal stove, and through the seasons grew or hunted for all their food. After all of this, his wife’s biggest complaint was that there was nothing to do, and she found she was no longer enamored of their dream. Finally, after losing a child shortly after birth, she went back south. John followed, hoping to save their marriage, but she finally divorced him, and of course took everything he had except the cabin she wanted nothing to do with.

After a decade, the author returned to Alaska, but found he just couldn’t go back to the cabin, so he started his trip down the Yukon. The title, Reading the River, is misleading. The story is nothing about reading a river to find one’s way through the river‘s eddies, rapids, and shoals, but more about navigating through life’s hazards and obstructions. In the process, he gives you an experience you’ve probably never had before. When the canoe trip ends, in a final twist, we find him…., well, you need to follow along to see where the trail leads. Your only regret after reading this book will be that there’s not another 300 pages or so.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ugly Hedgehogs

Fox looking into camera.
I know when you looked at the title for this post your first reaction was, “What the --?” I have no idea what the significance of ugly hedgehogs is, but I was most surprised when I found this site. In my efforts to improve the pictures I use to illustrate the blog’s posts, I try to increase my limited photography abilities. The Ugly Hedgehog turns out to be a friendly and fantastically informative fount of photography knowledge. Even the introductory material is enough to keep you stuffing your cranium for months. When you first sign on as a new member, if you admit that you are a fledgling photographer, you are directed to “A Guide to the Basics of Photography.” To save you the embarrassment of such an admission, I’ve added both the link to the Basic Photography Guide (below), and in the right margin, the link to the site. If you have even a passing interest in something as rudimentary as point and shoot photography or advice on cameras, lenses, or any other equipment, this is a must-join forum. Be sure to check it out.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Twelve In a Row, Consecutively

Navy wins 34 to 7. Twelve rivalry wins in a row consecutively. Yeah, I know that’s redundant, but it bears saying twice. Plus, Navy wins the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the year. Congratulations to them all. Unfortunately, Army kept shooting themselves in the foot. We have to feel for them, especially the seniors.

Regardless of which team it is, or which academy, in the end they are all on the same team supporting our nation. Those that attend the service academies are our nation’s brightest and best. They struggle through the toughest application processes of any schools in the nation to get an appointment, perform at higher standards throughout their academy training, and maintain the highest standards of service, sacrifice, and leadership throughout their careers. We owe each of them a slap on the back, a tip of the hat, and our thanks and appreciation for all they do. In the end, we all win---everyday.

Here are a few views from the Naval Academy. If you travel through Maryland, a visit to the Academy in Annapolis is a must-see.

Bancroft Hall, largest dormitory in the world.

Memorial Hall

U.S. Naval Academy Chapel

The crypt of John Paul Jones beneath the chapel.

Friday, December 13, 2013


On CBS Saturday, 14 Dec. at 2PM Central.  Watch the pre-game.  They may show part of the March On.  Usually one of the best games of the year.  Go Navy! Beat Army!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lake Altus-Lugert

Lake Altus-Lugert appears on P.49, grid D-7 of the DeLorme Atlas, and P. 113 of the “Lakes of Oklahoma” guide by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. The lake covers 6,260 acres, and has a 49 mile shoreline.

Buddy sits atop the Ram, all dressed up and no place to
go.  Looking at the rock formation off-shore, note the line
between grey and red rock.  That should be the lake's
waterline.  The white rectangle at center is the roof of the
fishing float that should be at least level with the top of the rocks.
The town of Lugert, also created out of the 1901 land-grab of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache lands, now sits at the bottom of the lake. It was destroyed by a 1912 tornado that demolished 41 of the town’s 42 businesses. Lugert was then a town of 300 people. The foundations of many of their homes and businesses can be seen when the lake water levels are low. A historical marker commemorating the town and Frank Lugert, who had filed for the land to build the town on, stands at the head of the lake’s main boat ramp. Frank Lugert’s general store and post office was the sole business left standing in town after the tornado.

The floating walkway should be roughly level
with the parking lot.
The town of Altus initiated the move for a dam in 1927. The construction was made possible by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1938. Dam construction was halted in 1941 because of World War II, resumed in 1944, and completed in 1947 with a dam 110 feet high and 1,104 feet long.

Between the float's height and my height of eye, the camera
is about 15-ft. off the lake bottom, and is still looking up at
what should be the water level.
Lake Altus-Lugert was a recreational mecca for Southwest Oklahoma. Between the mountains and the lake, it was a natural place for numerous attractions like a state park, resort and lodge, golf course, nature center, performing arts complex and outdoor amphitheater, swimming beaches, and RV and tent camping. With the absence of the lake, the area’s economy is taking a substantial hit.

This was my first sight of the lake.  I'm standing on the
riprap that borders the lake and protects the road from
erosion, which is no longer an issue.  The line of  bushes
between me and the remaining water is the foundation
of a normally submerged building.  Everything between
the rocks in the foreground and the tree-line at the base
of the mountains should be lake water.
With the serious and ongoing drought in the region, I had called ahead to ascertain if water levels were good for paddling the lake. The lady I spoke with, obviously a representative of the local Chamber of Commerce, assured me the lake had plenty of water, was beautiful, and everything was as it should be. I had serious reservations about all that, but desperation to get on the water will make one go to unusual extremes, or at least me. When I drove over the last rise that overlooks the lake, it felt like my heart had just dropped into my boots. It was so shocking, I hit the brakes and pulled off the road to make sure I believed what I was seeing.

Except for the vegetation on the bank in the foreground
and some peaks in the distance, you should be seeing
nothing here but deep water and fishermen angling for
large striped bass and walleye, all now dead.
At the parking lot above the boat ramps, what should be a floating walkway goes out some distance between pillars of rock. The walkway is supposed to be just about level with the parking lot, but I walked down and down. As I got close to the rocks, the grey surfaces I was seeing obviously became the dead and bleached plant life that had been at the lake’s bottom. The line between the gray covered rocks and the natural red surfaces rose above my head as I stood on the float at the end of the walkway. As I talked with a photographer about how sad it all looked, I scanned the span between the rock under the float and the old waterline well above our heads, I said, “Ya know, that’s got to be 30-feet.” When I got home, I searched the Corps of Engineers gauge to find that the water was indeed down 29.97 feet. It now is at 30.00 feet. That leaves 13% of the lakes capacity, which sounds like it is better than nothing, but that little bit of water that’s left is basically useless. It’s too low to reach the aqueducts for the farmers’ cotton crops, it is both too low and too salty for drinking water, and the salt, lack of oxygen, and resulting golden algae bloom have killed off the fish. Lake Altus Lugert was known as the home of striped bass and walleye that made for state-record catches. It is now a dead lake.

State officials say Southwest Oklahoma is experiencing the worst drought since 1895. We may not wish to be so bold as to seek heavy rain for 40 days and 40 nights, but to fix either the drought or fill the lakes, it would take at least a couple years of rains so much above normal that we’d become thoroughly sick and tired of rain.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Two-Year Mississippi Sojourn

Above is the link for John F. Sullivan's photographs from his two-year trip down the Mississippi River.  With thanks to John for sharing, enjoy the sights and music.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nahanni: River of Gold, River of Dreams

Illus. Credit:
Nahanni: River of Gold…River of Dreams, by Neil Hartling (Pub. By Canadian Recreational Canoeing Assoc, Ontario, Canada; 1993, 130 pp.)

Neil Hartling knows the Nahanni, since he’s a river guide on the river, and has been since 1984. The book is a full-color coffee table style book with many amazing photographs of the river’s scenery. In between the pictures, Hartling weaves a narrative about the geological history of the area, the history of legend, and the history of the early explorers, miners, trappers, and adventurers that traveled the river, some successfully, and some who have left their bones there. Whether planning a trip to the North, or just enjoying the love of water and nature that we all share, it’s a book worth seeking out.

Credit: Google Images
The Nahanni River is a major tributary of the Liard River, and west of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. It didn’t come into prominence until the 1950’s with the great popularity of R.M. Patterson’s book “Dangerous River.” The river is now considered one of the prime wilderness rivers of Canada, and a magnet for whitewater adventurers from around the world. It is part of the Mackenzie Range, and geologically unique among rivers. Unlike most rivers that cut their course through mountainous canyons, the Nahanni was formed as a prairie river when the surroundings lands were relatively flat 500 million years ago. The mountains were then driven up through the earth’s crust while the river maintained its course.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Janet Moreland Reaches Gulf

Photo credit: Janet Moreland

Janet S. Moreland reached the Gulf of Mexico at 4:30pm Eastern today, 5 Dec.  That completes the 3,700 mile trip from Brower's Spring, the very head waters of the Missouri River on the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains, down to join the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, and then south to the Gulf.  She started in April, and almost completed the trip yesterday, getting to within 3 miles of the Head of Passes, but had to stop due to heavy fog.  She returned to Venice for the night, waited for the fog to lift this morning, and made the final sprint to the Gulf of Mexico.  The "Love Your Big Muddy" links to both her Facebook and blog are in the right margin.

She is believed to be the first American to complete the entire source-to-sea trip, and also the first woman to complete the trip.  Most making the Missouri-Mississippi-Gulf trip begin at Three Forks, Montana.  Guinness Book of World Records will be verifying these accomplishments for a possible double World Record.

Our sincerest congratulations to Janet for a huge accomplishment.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Great Western Trail

The Great Western Trail
I’m sure you’ve seen how traveling from one paddling location to another can often lead through some interesting places and history. I’ve several times crossed the Great Western Trail and the Chisholm Trail in Oklahoma. In some places the trail leaves hardly a mark, like shown here, but long-time followers of the blog will remember the picture where the millions of longhorn cattle had so depressed the earth that a house could be built in the trail rut that would be invisible from the surrounding prairie.

Trail bosses led cattle drives along rivers, or toward
distant obvious landmarks.
The Great Western Trail ran for a thousand miles from just northwest of San Antonio, Texas, to Dodge City, Kansas. This portion of the Great Western Trail is along OK Rt. 55 near Hobart, OK. Other lesser names have been used to identify the trail, like the Old Texas Trail, the Dodge City Trail, because that’s where it ended, or the Doan Trail, because it crossed the Red River at Doan’s Crossing, Texas. C.E. Doan kept Doan’s Store at the crossing, which was the last supply depot before entering and crossing the Indian Territory. Doan kept meticulous records of the number of cattle crossing, the name of the trail boss, and who the cattle belonged to. The peak year was 1881 when 301,000 cattle crossed. The King Ranch was the owner that moved the greatest number of cattle in a single season. They sent 30,000 cattle north in ten drives.

Between 1866, a year after the Civil War ended, and 1885, over seven million longhorn cattle traveled the trail, making the Great Western the most heavily used trail in the country. Along with the cattle would be hundreds of cowboys, trail bosses, chuck wagons, and remudas. A remuda was a herd of about 50 or so horses that accompanied the cattle drive, and from which the horses would be selected for the day‘s drive. Unlike the cattle, which usually just ambled along, the horses were worked hard keeping the herd together and rounding up stragglers and “bull-headed” individualists that just couldn’t follow the herd. Using the same horses would drive them into the ground, so they were continually switched out for others. Each drive would require at least ten cowboys, and each cowboy would take about seven horses.

Solid rock erupting from the flat prairie.
While the trail officially went out of use in 1885, because of the availability of new railroad lines for moving cattle to market, the trail continued in use to a lesser degree until about 1892, but for a different purpose. Tens of thousands of homesteaders had moved into the Indian Territory and points north, and they were buying and driving cattle to stock their new farms and ranches.

We were headed for the Quartz Mountains and Lake Altus-Lugert on this trip. Another interesting thing this picture shows is the unusual mountain formations. The prairie is as flat as a coffee table around the mountains. There are no foothills, no preamble to the mountains at all. They just suddenly erupt from the prairie, making a perfect landmark for the trail bosses to aim for from miles away.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hang Time

Credit: google images
Hang time can be a good thing, like on a kick-off or ‘Hail Mary,’ or when you’re in a plane and the engine dies. It’s nice to have time to look around and pick the best landing site you can reach with your glide path. Hang time is also good when you are at a beautiful campsite and need a day of R&R. Hang time is not so great, however, when you’re locked up somewhere against your will. And that’s where I am.

This has been going on for a month. I haven’t brought it up since I didn’t know how best to address it. But, when I started the blog, I promised honesty, and health issues are very real for everyone in a high-energy sport or recreation, so sharing the experience can’t help but be mostly positive.

We were all set to leave a month ago for Florida. I needed to finish the St. Johns River, the Wekiva and Econlockhatchee Rivers, and resume the Florida Saltwater Circumnavigation Trail. For some time before, I started experiencing feelings in the right side of my neck and along my right shoulder that varied between pain, tingling, and numbness, and they were only getting worse. It was a constant irritant, and was keeping me awake at night. Having to deal with it when we were in the middle of something else was also an irritant, but I figured I’d better check it out before getting 1,500 miles away from home.

Our doctor told me to come in for an x-ray. After looking it over, he said it looks like I am about to make the acquaintance of an orthopedic surgeon. The vertebrae of my neck are collapsing on one another. When I turn my head, I can hear the vertebrae clicking against one another and making squishing sounds. The next step was to schedule an MRI. If surgery could be avoided, physical therapy may help, but the MRI would tell the story---and that’s where everything came to a standstill.

The earliest I could get an MRI was just a few days shy of three months out. Three months for an x-ray? Come on! Sure, it’s a fancy x-ray, but it’s still just an x-ray, and the MRI machine probably sits cold and empty 90% of the time. Also, if an NFL player is injured, he gets both an MRI and surgery before the next weekend’s game. Jean and I spent two weeks on the phone trying to get an earlier appointment with no luck. We did learn that some of the backlog is because a number of doctor’s are refusing to accept Medicare, because they don’t get as much money. So much for the humanitarian reasons for going into medicine. Anyhow, that’s Reason #9,978, 672 for not putting your dreams on hold until retirement, or next year.

The real lemon in this enforced hang time is I know nothing. The only thing I’ve been told so far is not to allow my neck to be rotated, as it could cause permanent and severe damage. Also, the numbness is caused by my vertebrae slipping and shutting off the holes that allow the nerves to exit the spinal cord. The condition will only get worse until it extends all the way down my arm and includes the first two fingers of the hand. When I asked what this meant for paddling and related strenuous outside activities in the future, I was told, “We’ll see.”

At this point, it seems the Florida trip is off, and if I have surgery on my spine, between scheduling and recovery, I could be out of commission for nearly a year, which would also kill next summer’s River Rumble on the Wisconsin River. My message again is to do it now, whatever IT is. The way to make smart decisions is in being able to tell the difference between problems and solutions. They often get confused. Getting older and putting things on hold until retirement, is a problem, not a solution. Avoid both by doing IT now.