Most of the paddling I’ve done has been whitewater canoeing and kayaking. I’ve certainly ventured out on the Madison lakes and the (mighty) Yahara River, but primarily to train for whitewater races. I’m not an adrenaline junkie, it’s just… well, maybe that has something to do with it. More to the point: I seek the pairing of ‘the outdoor experience’ with the technical and physical challenges of whitewater paddling. I find the aesthetic and spiritual qualities of ‘wilderness’ that many of us seek in our outdoor adventures are enhanced when coupled with overcoming physical and mental obstacles, and an element of risk.
That said, my work with theCORgroup – Conscious Outdoor Recreation has challenged me to consider local options for outdoor recreation. In the upper Midwest, this includes sea kayaking. Without debating if a six-hour drive to Lake Superior is a ‘local recreation area,’ I have discovered that not only does sea kayaking not suck – I could actually see myself getting into this.
For Labor Day, my partner and I joined two friends for a long weekend of paddling along Painted Rocks National Lakeshore. It was a last minute decision to join the trip, but fortunately Pemba has a warehouse brimming with camping equipment, so borrowing the essentials missing from my personal gear warehouse wasn’t a problem. It was also a chance to finally test some of the new gear whose merits I’ve been extolling during the last month of trade shows (they all met our high expectations, phew.. see appendix). Canoelover, does this make it a tax-deductible expedition?
My partner was a novice sea kayaker, but a quick study. Which is good, as we were racing daylight, a headwind, and choppy water to meet the group who had arrived a day earlier. We made it with the sunset to spare.
The sea cliffs were amazing. And the water crystal clear. Lake Superior is like the Caribbean plus conifers. Sunday we had more time to explore and poke around the arches and sea caves. The weather was perfect, and we practiced some rescues to cool down a bit.
As we broke camp and hit the water for the paddle back to the cars on Monday, I was getting some last photos of the group with the sea cliff backdrop. Lo and behold, they were joined by a cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus. (Interestingly, nesting Double-crested Cormorants disappeared from Lake Superior in the 1970’s due to toxic contaminants, but the populations have since resurged to historic highs). This fellow was heading my way, and after a couple of close-ups, opted for a more auspicious pose. ‘He’ – I need either an Audubon guidebook or a gender-neutral pronoun – hung around for a good five minutes, exploring the hatch of the Impex Force, agreed it was a lovely boat, then moved on. After a minute to collect myself, I decided definitively that sea kayaking does not suck, and started the paddle back.
Maybe Impex Kayaks will buy this picture. Alas, no logo.
Gratuitous Gear Review:
Jetboil HELIOS – Not surprisingly, it really does get the water boiling faster than any other stove I’ve used, but – to my delight – it simmers better too. Making couscous was a snap. The design raised some skeptical eyebrows when I set it up for Saturday evening, but requests for prodeals were quick to follow. For the record, I used exactly a 100gram fuel canister for 2 hot breakfasts and 2 hot dinners for four, including simmering and boiling unfiltered lake water.
Sea to Summit DRYBAGS – Not a new product, but the whole dry bag range from STS is solid. I used the ultralight ULTRA-SIL Dry Sacks, the LIGHTWEIGHT Dry Sacks, the rugged BIG RIVER Dry Bags, and of course the eVENT Compression Dry Sacks. To reiterate the company line, the Ultra-Sil bags are best for backpacking and canoeing applications (where they live inside a backpack or portage pack) – I didn’t have any problems, but for a little more weight and extra durability I’ll stick with the rest of the range for whitewater and sea kayaking trips.
Petzl MYO RXP – Petzl’s new programmable, regulated headlamp. Freakin’ bright (140 lumens). Getting the food bags up on the bear pole was simple with this floodlight. And you can program the different light levels, so I can set the first light level to the campfire-circle-friendly 8 lumens, and ramp it up from there. Looking forward to running and skiing with this lamp, but not on this adventure…
Mountain Hardwear VIPERINE 2 – This is Steve’s favorite tent in the line, and I was pleased with my decision to demo this one. Good usable space, a funky look, fantastic ventilation (especially on this 2009 model), and quick to set-up. I’m starting to get a hard time for bringing a different tent on every trip, but thus are the hazards of being a gear rep.