Archive for June, 2008

Bay Cliff – Nancy’s View

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

As Sam noted, I have been helping out at Bay Cliff a bit the last couple weeks. Initially with staff training, and this week with the first pool sessions. Bay Cliff is my home away from home; the place that brought me to the UP 20 years ago to spend my first summer on the shores of Superior. I remember one of my days off that summer – I went hiking with friends along Pictured Rocks. And I saw a kayaker below. I knew that was where I wanted to be!

Four years later, I moved to the UP – and in the spring I started looking for – and purchased – a kayak. Coincidentally, about that same time our camp director met Janet Zellar, then president of the American Canoe Association (ACA) and founder of the ACA’s adaptive paddling program. Thus began my kayaking journey… always a blend of personal growth and skill development and the development of a kayaking program at Bay Cliff. First for the adult camp session, then for the kids camp.

All the campers at these sessions have some form of disability – a physical, vision, hearing or speech impairment. The kids program includes therapy and formal goals to reach new levels of independence. For me, combining my background as a Physical Therapist with those of a developing kayaking instructor was a natural. The payoff is seeing kids set new goals… to be able to hold their breath under water so they can do a wet exit; to perform an independent wet exit; to be able to paddle a boat out on the lake; to be able to do a T-rescue; to have a water war. Yeah, water wars on warm, sunny days are a big part of camp. The program keeps evolving with new equipment, ideas and challenges always emerging.

As kayaking has evolved, so has off the shelf equipment. Much of what we use for “adaptations” these days are used by lots of folks – including myself. Basically, it is outfitting and customizing a boat to maximize performance. For some folks, more extensive postural support is required. Last year and this year, we have had a huge breakthrough with the availability of the Universal Paddling Seat. This year, the developer Kevin Carr, has continued to update the product and made a smaller (and more colorful version!) for Bay Cliff. These seats have made a huge difference in the ease and success of paddling for our campers that need additional trunk support. They are awesome. However, last year the kids and I decided “universal paddling seat” was too much of a mouthful. So, we call it the Cadillac back – because it is such a delux, top of the line model!

Bay Cliff Kayaking

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Kayaking is underway for the teens at Bay Cliff Health Camp (click here). I’ll be there for a total of 8 days and Nancy has been able to assist with the first 2 days. Camp is crazy but the reason for all the hard work is the kids. So far we’ve had 4 kids do independent wet exits with 3 of those doing their first ones. One remarks every time she sees me how fun it was and how much she cannot wait to get out to Lake Independence and paddle. Two other kids are working on their water comfort and have made incredible progress.

Tomorrow is a big day with a lot of kids coming to the pool to learn to kayak, many of them will be attempting their first wet exit. Sunday is our first sessions on Lake Independence where the focus is on paddling, the reward for all the hard work leading to the wet exits.


Terrace Bay to Wawa

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Funny names these. Not very well know either. Thats good as there is some great kayaking between these two southern Ontario towns. Everybody has asked after circumnavigating Ireland, whats next? After contemplating some different locations, it ended up in being the place I thought of when in Ireland. Why? For one thing, no tides, for another trees. Campsites in Ireland are chosen more for practical reasons, campsites in this region are chosen for aesthetics. Another reason is close to home and a trip for two weeks. Both important given it is Nancy’s turn to go off this summer.

The chart section shows the shoreline. If weather allows, I will be making the crossing out to the Slate Islands as well as Michpicoten Island. In between is Puksakwa. No thats not a typo but a Canadian national park on Lake Superior (click here) and one of the prime paddling wilderness areas on the Lake.

Altogether it will be two weeks long and 200 miles. It will be a point to point trip instead of a loop thanks to the good people at Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa (click here) who will shuttle my car. They are one of the top outfitters on the Lake and sit on one of the best pieces of real estate I have seen. This will be my third trip that ends at their hospitable environs.


Cloud Dances

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

I went paddling yesterday afternoon around parts of Grand Island (a National Forest Recreation Area – click here). The shoreline is awesome, with towering sandstone cliffs, caves and arches, pebble and sand beaches.  It had been overcast with occasional drizzle in Marquette, but as I drove east, I could see blue sky on the horizon – a very good sign.anvil cloud

I had a great paddle, in sunshine the entire time. But, there were clouds dancing all around me. I saw big cumulus clouds, a small anvil forming, fog banks rolling in and out. But, this was all toward the horizons in 360 degrees, with me, in the center under gorgeous sunshine!

I love watching as the clouds come and go and form and grow and dissipate. I love watching the fog banks move closer and then recede. It is like watching a dance. Usually, when I observe these conditions, at some point I end up in the fog or rain. But not today, at least not until my paddle was over. Kayaking back to my launch, I watched a fog bank roll over the hills of Munising, down toward the lake, then begin to retreat, long before it reached me.

After I landed, I sat on the beach soaking up the sun at Sand Point for nearly an hour. As I was leaving, the fog bank rolled in. On the drive back to Marquette, I stopped at the scenic overlook to check out where the fog had progressed to – Sand Point was nearly covered. I drove though fog most of the way back to Marquette.

Overall, a gorgeous paddle. For more photos, click here.


Magical Moments

Friday, June 20th, 2008

I got out for a gorgeous paddle this morning. Today is the official first day of summer – and officially the first day that feels like summer! It has been a cool, overcast spring. Reminds me of June 2002, when I paddled around Lake Superior. June was cold and foggy and rainy… I thought summer was never going to arrive. But, July brought sunshine and some warmer temps, for which I was grateful.

Anyway, today it was sunny and 70 with a light breeze. I paddled for a couple of hours, and on the return trip went around the north side of Partridge Island, where there have been nesting eagles for many years. I looked up and saw an eagle perched in a tree, near the huge nest in the neighboring tree. I stopped paddling as I looked, and noticed a bird flying into my peripheral vision from behind. It was another eagle. It circled around, landed in the nest, and I immediately heard the sounds of hungry baby eagles. If I had been paddling, I would have been making too much noise to hear; if there had been any wind or waves, I could not have heard the chicks – is that what baby eagles are called? or are they eaglets? Regardless, it was one of those magical moments when kayaking – when random events combine to put me in the right place at the right time, looking at and listening to what otherwise would easily be missed.

I have seen several eagles when out paddling this season. And have heard and seen several loons – including some today. When I paddled around the lake, there was not a paddling day where I did not see at least one loon and one eagle – often more. I took it as a good omen – and had a great trip. The sounds of the loons are magical. I remember one trip up to Superior’s North Shore. I was paddling along some cliffs in the middle of a lovely summer day. The air was perfectly still, and the loons were calling. Their calls echoed off the cliff walls creating a haunting effect. Another magical moment in a list too long to record here.


Marquette Paddling

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Paddled over the weekend around Marquette. Definitely nice to be in town for a weekend after being gone on the weekends since the start of May. First was a social paddle with the local group. Click here to see photos of the paddle in Middle Bay by Marquette’s Presque Isle that are in our gallery. Paddled on sunday with the Stew, the gonzo paddler. Click here for photos from that paddle.

It has been a while since I paddled at Pictured Rocks. Interesting to see the changes – rock fall or to be more explicit, the cliffs falling down as highlighted by the thumbnails below, click on the thumbnail to see a bigger photo.

The above use to be a pebble beach that was a great stopping point on the way to Mosquito River. It was in ’96 mostly beach instead of the boulders there now.

Another spot on the way to Mosquito River. In this case it use to be a small pocket beach.

The above was a huge chunk of the cliff came down.

Rockfall does occur when one is paddling and sometimes it comes uncomfortably close. Here is a photo from Don Goss of rockfall (the nearby discolored water) at Pictured Rocks that came within 20-30′ of Nancy & I. I’ve seen it closer…

I believe it was Nancy’s talking that caused the rock fall! :)



Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

This is the first time I have looked at the Blog in over a month, and noticed Sam has made quite a few entries. And he thinks I am chatty! I think not….

I have been absent on the blog, as my life entered a period of chaos. It seems to finally be smoothing out – one can only hope! Several days after the IDW in Big Bay, which I helped Sam with, my mother landed in the hospital, critically ill. Yesterday she finally came home – nearly 4 weeks later and considerably healthier. Things in life had to get re-prioritized. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable going to Newfoundland – where it would be difficult to keep in contact with my family in the event of another emergency situation. Unfortunately, my Newfoundland paddling partner, Carl, had a family crisis at about the same time. That sealed the deal. For some reason, it seems, this is not the year to go and we made the decision to postpone the trip – hopefully next year. As one of our contacts in NF said “those billion year old rocks aren’t going anywhere”.

In the end, I think we will have a better trip. After researching, 4 weeks instead of 3 will be ideal – and allow us to paddle around the Burin Peninsula, avoiding a shuttle (a huge bonus in my opinion). And, we may recruit another paddler or two. Which is also nice.

In all the stress of the last month, I have not paddled nearly as much as I would like. The day after I got back home I went for a therapeutic paddle. I guess that is one of the things about paddling I love. It gets me away from the stresses – out on the water, in the wind or sun or rain or waves or calm – it’s all good. I will confess, however, that being on Lake Superior is a huge bonus. There is a river a couple blocks from my parents house – and when I visited I saw several folks kayaking there. I have to say, there wasn’t a huge appeal – brown murky water is so much less inviting than the clear blue of Superior!

With my trip to Newfoundland cancelled and 6 weeks in my calendar free, I had to figure out a new trip. Part of my summer plans had been to visit my parents (Tonawanda, NY – near Buffalo) and my brother (Leominster, MA). I also have some cousins, aunts and uncles in other parts of NY and MA. I will continue with those plans, and do some paddling as well.

I have always been intrigued by the Maine Coast. It is closer than Newfoundland and less remote, which will be good for my needs this summer. So, I have ordered the Maine Island Trail Guide (click here), got some charts from a friend and am going to throw together something. I have no doubt it will be beautiful – and therapeutic! I have most of the food together, since I was preparing for Newfie. I will confess that there is one thing I am a bit queasy about… Most of the islands require you to pack out human waste. Yuck. So, today I started researching options for poop tubes. Another reason to plan future trips in more remote areas….. or places with more developed campsites. Well, anyplace where I don’t have to worry about that particular problem! It will definitely be an adventure!


Bay Cliff Health Camp

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Returned mid week from staff training at Bay Cliff (click here), in Big Bay, MI. Ever since I’ve been in the UP, I’ve been volunteering or working at the camp’s kayaking program. Nancy took the program from almost it’s start and has developed it into what it is today – one of the few programs nationwide that brings kayaking to kids and adults with physical disabilities in a camp setting.

Bay Cliff is a different place. With a very dedicated staff that is focused on the campers, they go beyond what I believe is possible. Someday someone will write a book or make a movie about it. But until then, those few people familiar with it know it is a place where things are right in this world.

One of the things about Bay Cliff for me is learning about the population that attends as campers. As you get to know them, you realize what spirit truly is as well as challenges life can bring. In my life, that has come very close. The picture is of my nephew Mike in the front seat of the tandem with his counselor Jonathon. His father, my oldest brother, Denny, is in the background. Denny got the call that every parent fears – ‘your son has been in an car accident, get here quick as he is not expected to survive much longer’. Brain injuries, as Mike proved, exceed what the experts understand or can make predictions about. He survived his severe brain injury but it has left him with a set of challenges. Among them, he has hemiplegia (paralysis of one side of the body). In the Bay Cliff pool, he’s done a wet exit independently and was rescued in deep water demonstrating the required skills to paddle on Lake Independence, the local inland lake. My brother once told me, ‘All year is a struggle except for the one week at Bay Cliff. Then, everything is right with the world.’ It has to be noted that my brother struggles to find a nursing home that can give Mike the quality of care Bay Cliff does.

Bay Cliff sponsors an American Canoe Association Adaptive Paddling Workshop (click here) as part of its mission. This workshop brings together paddling instructors, recreational paddlers, program directors and people with disabilities to learn about adaptive paddling in a setting where everyone works together as a team whose goal is to learn adaptive paddling.

One of reasons I instruct is to share kayaking. There are rough water lessons, beginner lessons, instructor workshops, etc but Bay Cliff is the place that makes me realize how much what I do means to people. The Camp Director Tim has often asked me how much do I want to get paid for working at camp. I can’t give him an answer, for the shared experience pays me back in a way that makes money seem useless and unnecessary.

Getting out on the water is something magical, something that in this crazy world provides a place of peace and a connection to something beyond ourselves.

This happens irregardless of one’s ability and helps to make things right in the world.


Mad Times, Gremlins and Dells

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Returned from the ‘Mad City’ and running several instructor workshops for Rutabaga (click here). It was definitely a trip of gremlins where the little buggers were just too numerous to stomp out. Their playground was primarily the weather. Winds appeared at unwelcomed times and disappeared when it would have been useful. For the last day on the water, rains of proportions not seen since Ireland came through the area. One did not need wheels to move boats around on land as there was enough water puddled to float it along. It was also a time I was happy to have a boat on top of my car in case the waters rose high enough and it became necessary to abandon the car!

There was one point where the weather did cooperate. Luis and Laura hired me to teach a private lesson on rough water paddling at a park on Lake Michigan in Kenosha. Conditions were near to perfect for the class and everything was going well. But the gremlins were working hard. On the morning drive there I found lug nuts on a wheel were loose enough to turn by hand. Fortunately the wheel stayed on and I made it to Kenosha. During our last rescue, I heard sirens and then watched as fire engines, ambulances and cop cars pulled into the parking lot. Landing we headed over and talked to them. After some initial confusion about a row boat in trouble, they figured out someone called 911 thinking we needed a rescue. Amazingly they just walked away without any hassle towards us or what we were doing. Oh yes, and the US Coast Guard showed up as well.

Growing up, my Dad and I would fish in northern Wisconsin. I can still remember asking him if we could stop in the Dells (click here). He always gave the same firm response – No. After I moved to Madison in the 80s, I drove there to see the area. My Dad was a smart man. Wall to wall tourist smultz, which says a lot a lot in a state like Wisconsin (click here) where they are overachievers when it comes to smultz. When Darren, who I was staying with, asked me if I wanted to go to the Dells, I said yes. He knows the real Dells. Within minutes of passing smultz we were on the Wisconsin River and having a peaceful paddle. Now I know the reason for all the tourism, the Dells of the Wisconsin River are truly a great place to paddle. Just go off season to avoid the ‘Real Dells Experience’ of crowds and jet boats.

Best of all in this was getting to paddle and hang out with cool people on the water. Some were long time friends and with the students, now new friends. One of the things I like about having my certifications isn’t the bragging rights, but the sanctioning to have fun no matter what the gremlins think up.