If you're planning on coming for the start of the trip let me know so I can get you specifics of the start time and location as they get sorted out.
With his long, white, and very real beard, my Dad looks like Santa. It's great, whenever I'm in a big store or crowded place with him all I have to do is ask people if they've seen a guy that looks like Old Saint Nick and they know exactly who I'm talking about. A few years ago he started playing Santa for kid's Christmas parties and has a ball with it. It turns out that he was booked to do a party next Saturday (launch day) that had been forgotten until today. He and my mom are my ride to the put in (and my support crew for the following week) so with this turn of events we've been forced to move the start date out one day to Sunday December 6th.
If you're planning on coming for the start of the trip let me know so I can get you specifics of the start time and location as they get sorted out.
The nine day Wisconsin deer hunting season ended today.
This year our group had one of the toughest seasons ever. Between the four of us we ended up sharing the one buck my brother Luke got last Sunday. Some friends of ours, that hunt near by, came up completely empty handed. Statewide the deer totals were way down from years past so I guess we weren't alone.
The weather for the last two weeks I was in town has been unseasonably warm with temps averaging 10-15 degrees above normal. I held out hopes that the weather would hold for another week but today brought a dose of the real winter weather we should expect (with snow and highs in the 30's) so it looks like it will be a chilly start to the trip after all. With all my deer hunting gear dried out and put away, I've got five more days to get the last details ironed out before the launch next weekend. Tonight my mom presented me with some early Christmas presents helping me out with a few bits of gear that I needed. One of the items was a nice wide brimmed hat that actually fits my head and is going to be great.
My parents are going to be driving me to the put in and following along as a support crew for the first week or so. My mother actually volunteered for the task mostly out of her own fears of seeing her second born freeze to death on a sandbar in the middle of the river. I'm geared up and ready for winter camping but I won't turn away any help they (or anybody) are willing to lend. One hiccup has come up with my support crew and the launch date, however. My dad (with his big white beard) plays Santa for different pre-schools and such this time of year. It turns out he was booked for a Christmas party next Saturday (my planned launch date) but he had forgotten about it until today when my mother bumped into the teacher that had booked the event with my dad. So, due to this prior obligation, we are being forced to push the start of the trip out one more day to next Sunday. It's only one more day over a trip that I plan on taking ten months so, as anxious and ready I am to get started, I am happy to have one more day to get ready.
I'd have a better story to report if I could shoot straight. Unfortunately the story that came of today's adventure is of a quick shot at a doe followed by six hours of hard tracking with no luck so far. My brother Aaron did a little "drive" for us this morning and managed to push three doe right past my stand. They came in at a full run but amazingly paused long enough for me to get a shot off right in front of me. It should have been a simple shot but somehow I managed to aim too low (we believe) and grazed her brisket leaving a pile of coarse white hair and a spray of blood where she had been standing.
White hair like that is never a welcome sight when you start out on a blood trail as it usually indicates a low (often not fatal) shot. We were hopeful in the beginning as we casually followed an easy track marked by large red drops of blood. A short while later, however, we found ourselves nearly on hands and knees scanning the dried leaves for drops of blood barely bigger than a pin head. Like blood hounds after a fugitive, Aaron and I followed that deer for six hours and nearly a mile until we had to pull off the search on account of darkness. As far as we could tell she hardly slowed down for the entire distance she covered today. What took us hours of searching she probably covered in minutes.
We pulled off the search at the intersection of a clear-cut section of forest (now overgrown with very thick head high saplings) and a wide boggy spot on a stream that flows through the woods. We still had decent blood and should be able to resume the search in the morning. If she went west across the river my chances are slim on picking up the track on the other side. If she went south into the thick overgrown cut-over, and finally slowed down, I may still stand a chance. Considering the long distance she covered and the very little blood we had to follow, there is a better than even chance that she is not going to die, but I have to try again in the morning.
There is nothing more frustrating in hunting than wounding an animal that you can't recover, it is regrettable and shameful. The only solace I have is that there are few hunters in that woods with the skills, experience, patience, ethics, or desire to follow that trail as far as we already have. If she is dead at the end of that blood trail, I will find her or wear myself out trying.
Of the four of us in our main group and a half dozen other friends, Luke is the only one that saw any action today when he got a small six point buck at about 8:00 in the morning. I saw three doe and Luke saw about three more as well but that was pretty much it.
As per tradition we took Luke's deer to Schmidt's Ballroom/bar to get it registered and to enter it in the buck pool. The guy doing the registering said that he'd only seen 60 deer over the weekend. Normally by the end of opening weekend he would have registered 300 deer. Apparently we're not the only ones not seeing deer this year. The weather is supposed to cool throughout the week with any luck that will get the deer moving.
Seems how deer hunting is the one reason I’m starting my trip so ridiculously late in the season I feel it’s only fitting that I blog a post or two about the hunt. Today was the season opener of the nine day gun deer season here in Wisconsin. I haven’t missed an opening day (and only a few days of hunting at all) since my first hunt 22 years ago. If life goes well I may only miss a few more before I'm too old and weak to be carried into the woods.
The day was unseasonably warm with highs touching the mid 40’s instead of the usual parkas we normally wear we were able to dress rather lightly and still be comfortable. The warm temps were nice but the accompanying fog and condensing drizzle proved to be challenging. Spotting brown/grey deer against the brown leafy ground and grey tree trunks is challenging enough, add fog reducing visibility to only about fifty yards and it makes for very challenging conditions. In ten hours of hunting I did manage to see one solitary deer (a six point buck) when it came up from directly behind me and walked right under my tree stand before it spooked and vanished into the mist before I had a chance to get it in my scope. My younger brother Luke saw two deer (what he thinks may have been bucks) which passed just beyond his clear field of view. The rest of our crew (six other guys) didn’t see a thing. Opening day us normally our best chance at seeing deer so if today was an indicator of what this season might be like we may be in for a long thin season. With any luck tomorrow will dawn fogless and colder with deer in the mood to move around.
This was supposed to be an early winter camp outing to test out my new gear and get more time in my boat in cold weather conditions. However, mother nature did not see fit to comply with my cold weather wishes and instead gave me nearly summer like conditions for the day. I’m certainly not complaining.
My support crew (Lyn and Dave, my parents)
This morning my parents rehearsed their support crew duties while they graciously gave me a ride up to the Grandfather falls dam. The dam is a notable spot not only for the large concrete wall that holds back the flow of the river but for the two large tubes that the entire Wisconsin river is funneled into. The roughly 10’ diameter tubes are about a quarter mile long and concentrate the river’s flow down a steep drop into the power house. It’s an impressive engineering feat and even more so because the tubes are made of wood girdled with steel bands much like a very long barrel. I would have been happy to put in further up stream but avoiding the long portage around this dam is nice. Besides, the name of the game today was to test out my camping gear not put miles and miles on my boat. From the tubes I paddled downstream about 10 miles to the Council Grounds State Park just above Merrill Wisconsin. At that location there is another dam so the required portage makes for an opportune spot to make camp, which is what I did. With the river pushing the paddle down took only two hours. The Ikkuma handled great with the added weight of camp gear. I had forgotten how shallow the class II rapids are upstream and the boat earned it’s first few scratches, considering the venue, well earned badges of courage.
Much of the gear I’m using on this trip is new to me having realized that the equipment I’ve been using for years probably didn’t have another 5000 miles left in it. I’m going with a North Face Mini Bus 23 for my tent. This being only my second time setting it up, it went well. It’s much bigger than only one person needs but my thinking is that I’m going to be living in this thing for the next ten months so I better be comfortable. I love the fact that I can sit upright in it and swing my arms 180 degrees and not touch the walls of the tent. I can bring all my gear inside with me and on weather days will be perfectly comfortable being stuck inside all day. I also prepared the first dinner (Mac and cheese) on my MSR Reactor cook system. I don’t think I’ve ever boiled water so fast, it’s almost supernatural. I think the system would serve me well but obtaining the mixed fuel canisters it requires may be the catch. We ended up backtracking on our way up here today when the huge sporting goods department at the local everything store didn’t have the needed fuel. A sixteen mile round trip trek to Gander Mountain on the opposite end of town turned up what I needed. It’s all going to depend on what kind of mileage I can get out of the canisters of this fuel. If I can get five or six days out of each can then I can probably carry enough to get me through to possible assisted resupply towns. Otherwise I’ll have to go back to my white gas fueled Whisperlite. With the temperature rapidly dropping with the setting sun tonight will test the insulative qualities of my North Face “Snowshoe” zero degree bag. I have a twenty degree “Cat’s Meow” that I’ll be switching back to once the weather permits. But for now I’m not leaving anything to chance. A comfortable night’s sleep is going to be vitally important if I am to keep paddling every day.
River view from camp
One thing I’m discovering is that because of the very short days as we near the first days of winter I’m only going to be able to paddle about eight or nine hours a day. After cooking a meal and writing a blog post I’ll still have hours of time to fill before I feel ready to sleep. Or worse yet if I turn in too early I’ll be up and ready to go hours before daylight returns in the morning. I may just have to carry along a good book or two.
Over the weekend we finished up all of the deer hunting prep work done so today I decided to get on the water and give my coldwater gear a shakedown. I must admit it was a great experience to paddle the waters that I grew up fishing on with my dad and uncle Jim. What was really cool was covering distances in minutes that used to take much longer plodding along in a row boat.
I put in at Memorial Park on the east side of Wausau in a back bay that was glazed with ice. It was my first experience with paddling in ice water and it was interesting to feel and hear the ice breaking to the pressure of my bow. Later as I cruised along my wake would run into the ice glaze along shore sending off the sounds of shuttering waves of crackling ice.
I posted more photos and a video of the ice breaking on the Photo Gallery page.
My Kokatat drysuit and thermals worked great. If anything I was a bit too warm which is OK with me as I can simply adjust the layers I wear under the drysuit. It was my first real experience at wearing pogies and found that I went from my hands being too warm inside and too cold outside. The simple solution was to open up the velcro attachment closure a bit to ventilate them. Overall it was a great day on the water and I'm feeling good about how everything is coming together.
I got a nice early start this morning but after about an hour on the road I got a flat on the rear right tire of the trailer. Changing it proved to be interesting as I had to dig into the trailer its self to find a jack and the necessary tools. All told the change took only 45 min but involved two jacks and a pick ax... Long story. Right now I'm at a Big O' tire outside of Gallup NM getting the tire fixed so I'll have a spare. I had plans to visit a friend's place in Oklahoma City tonight but with all of this excitement I'm not sure I'll make it. Perhaps early tomorrow morning.
This weekend dozens of people came to a farewell paddle and party in my honor. It was amazing to see so many folks turn up to wish me well, and drink beer and eat cake of course. In attendance at the days events were paddlers from all of the local paddling clubs; The Night Herons, San Diego Kayak Club, California Kayak Friends, Valley Wide Kayak Club, and even the GNN's. To all of you that attended and who have been sending so many kind words and encouragement my way, I can only start to say how much I appreciate it and how much I will miss everyone I've come to know through Aqua Adventures and the rest of the paddling community in Southern California. A special thanks are in order for everyone that baught a Portage to Portage trip T shirt or donated money outright to support the trip. Your generousity is going to help me acheive my goals with this trip and I will always be gratefull for that.
The paddle down to San Diego Bay went very well despite some shennagins involving a stowaway banana peel on the stern of my boat, placed there by my friend Duane with help from accomplances to distract me. I believe I was able to remove the offending fruit before any bad mojo was able to be transfered to my boat, but only time will tell.
My brand new Ikkuma 17 was put on display at the party so folks could see what I'd be paddling for the trip and more importantly so everyone could sign it. Folks were reluctant to mark up such a beautiful boat but after convincing Jen to go first in a short while the boat was filled with the names of dozens of friends that I will take with me on the trip. These signatures are the first of what I hope will be thousands of names from all of the people I meet along the way.
After an emotional good by to Jen I rolled out of Aqua Adventures at 7:00 this morning. I am a day behind when I planned to leave but packing and saying goodby to everyone took longer than I expected. Besides that there were good waves yesterday and I didn't want to miss one last surf session with some good friends.
My first destination was Phoenix where I was to meet with a customer to drop off his new Ikkuma 17. He decided that the most expeditious place to do the drop would be at the Hooters resturant out by the interstate. I had planned on just dropping the boat and getting back on the road but his choice of venue warrented a stop for a bight to eat as well. Hooters is very well knows for their excellent wings after all.
After the boat drop I pushed on a bit further but lost the battle to my ever heavier eye lids outside of Flagstaff where I called it a day and crashed out in the truck behind a gas station.
Everything is going well and the truck is handling the heavy load like a champ.