Why?

Why?

Do you ever wonder why you are drawn to adventure? Even if you only like to read about adventure, discovery, exciting lives and times, have you stopped to think about why those stories are appealing? Why do we have bucket lists? Why do we purposely choose some challenges and count them worth the pain they may cause? Why do I want to sleep on the ground for five nights, hike 20 miles up and down a distance greater than four Empire State Buildings, in uncertain weather with only what I can stuff into one duffel bag, and do all this with 7 strangers who might snore even worse than I do? Why?

My thinking – it’s because we are made in the image of an adventurous God. Big plans, big ideas, a view of existence so broad and all encompassing that we can’t begin to understand it, all that starts with him. It’s mystery and we are made to be curious and to seek it out.

The Grand Canyon is a project on a scale bigger than we can imagine, yet the processes that formed it were designed and patiently overseen.  Colin Fletcher in “The Man Who Walked Through Time” was trying to wrap his mind around the length of time represented by the Grand Canyon – millions of years.  He had this to say, and I quite agree.

 “Most of us, when we first think deeply about such time spans, tend to draw back in fear from their brink, just as we tend at first to draw back in fear from the brink of anything so immense as Grand Canyon. But it is worth remembering, I think, that some element of fear probably lies at the root of every substantial challenge. And it makes no difference at all whether the challenge is to your mind or to your body, or whether – with richer promise than either, alone – it embraces both.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 4 by Colin Fletcher

That fear thing! I will admit to being drawn to things that are capable of frightening me.  Isn’t that the essence of challenge? I am habitually choosing challenges, small, large, and in between, because I want to know if I can prepare well enough, mentally and physically.  The prospect of seeing and experiencing wonderful things that I would otherwise miss pulls me into adventure.

My adventure is somewhat ridiculous when compared to Colin Fletcher’s goal of walking the Grand Canyon from one end of the park to the other, but another quote from him resonated strongly with me.

 “I looked east and west, as far as my eyes could strain, until cliff and terrace tapered way into hazy distances. It was mysterious and terrible – and beckoning. And some time during the afternoon, as I sat on the rink of this strange new world, it came to me that if a route existed, I would walk from one end of the Canyon to the other. Once the idea had crystallized, no hideously sensible doubts reared up to plague me.  And I did not need such fragile props as “reasons”. The only question I asked myself was whether the project would turn out to e physically possible. Perhaps it is in this kind of simple certainty that most of the world’s ridiculous and wonderful dreams are born.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 6 by Colin Fletcher

Hmm… I know what he means by “hideously sensible doubts” and from time to time they may plague me.  But sometimes, like with this Grand Canyon thing,  a challenge just comes to me, from out of nowhere, and if it’s physically possible to do it, I don’t need reasons. Just sayin’…

#5: Namekagon River

Hayward started as a logging town in a river valley. The river was and is the Namekagon, now part of the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway. It’s about 100 miles long and has its name from the Ojibwe Indian word for “river at the place abundant with sturgeons”. The lumberjacks used the river to float logs down to the mills for processing, which of course is no longer necessary since we have roads and trucks. All that’s left of this part of history is the logrolling competitions and that championship contest is usually held in Hayward.

wp-1470863296607.jpg
a great use for old railroad beds

My trek to the Namekagon started at Par Place Condominiums where I am staying. These condos are built on the “used to be RoyNona Golf Course” which is also the “used to be Roy Smith farm”. Roy Smith was my grandfather.  The river is fairly close to the farm/golf course/condos, so my sister-in-law MP and I decided to bike there.  Our route started down a trail on an old railroad bed.  I actually remember when trains ran the tracks there and the engineer would wave to me and blow the train whistle.  It hurts to say this.

These trails are all over the Hayward area and are used by snowmobiles and skiiers in the winter, bikes and hikers and ATV’s in the summer. The trails circling the town are paved, unlike this one, which is unpaved,peaceful and straight, lined with goldenrod and blackberry bushes. The breeze rattles the leaves on the poplar trees so there is a steady, soft white noise which belies all the motion you see when you glance at them. About half a mile on the trail brought us to Airport Road (another creative place name). Another half mile and we were at a small park on the river, across the road from the small, mostly private airport.

wp-1470862537949.jpgWe parked our bikes and walked down to the boat landing. The Namekagon is a great river for canoeing, kayaking,  tubing and fishing, although I do not vouch for the fishing part. I have done the other three. There has been a lot of rain this summer, and even some flooding, so the river is high and swift. There are a few white water places but a great deal of it is like this picture – tranquil appearing. Any time we do a river trip we see wildlife, eagles, deer, otters, and bear.  And wildflowers are everywhere. Floating down the Namekagon is one of my favorite things to do.

Another one foot dip. The water was cool and the mosquitoes were fierce so we didn’t stay long. wp-1470862505619.jpg

#4: Smith Lake

wp-1470693279926.jpgI’ve often wondered why people who name lakes can’t come up with something a little more creative than Round Lake or Smith Lake.  They probably weren’t thinking long range.  Since Smith is my maiden name I’ve asked if Smith Lake had any connection with our family  but there doesn’t seem to be, in spite of it being so close to my grandfather’s farm, just outside Hayward.  It’s a small, but beautiful lake that seems to be lined up with other small marshes, creeks and ponds.

Mom and I were due for a trip to the library and Smith Lake was in the same direction.  We made it our outing for the day’s challenge.  We drove to the small park with a boat landing and I took off the shoes, once again unprepared to actually swim.  I quickly waded in while my photographer snapped a few pics. Walking out, I  noticed a not so great smell which led me to examine the drifts of weed that had washed up on shore.  Large, black snails in great numbers were decomposing among the detritus, looking a little like a plague of some sort. We didn’t stay long.  (I’m thinking this was a temporary, seasonal thing and it wasn’t keeping others from enjoying the lake in their kayaks.)

wp-1470689191027.jpg
The snails didn’t make it into the picture.  Well, maybe a few of them did, in the foreground.

On our way home we drove by one of the marshy areas that has been a cranberry farm for years.  This area has several cranberry marshes and a neighboring town is even known for its Cranberry Festival in the fall.  Not many things grow well enough in this part of Wisconsin to provide a financially reasonable crop but cranberries come close.

Personal Challenges

I have not been pushing myself to write for many months and am feeling the need to challenge myself in some way.  I want to see how many days in a row I can find a meaningful thought or experience to write about, starting yesterday.

Several months ago I had the opportunity to buy a boat, a kayak, something that I had wished to do for years.  And even better, I had someone who also wanted to buy one, and go on outings with me.  We bought our used boats and excitedly brought them home.  Mark, my cousin, has gone out in his boat several times.  He’s fitted it with ropes for his anchor, so he can fish without drifting.  He’s renewed his fishing license.  He’s been out enough times that he’s “settled in” to how the boat feels and he’s comfortable.  Me?  I’ve lent my kayak out to a friend for a month.  That’s it.

So, last week we planned to go out on the water.  We decided to explore the north end of Longboat Key, Florida since my boat was already out there.  On the west of the key is the Gulf of Mexico.  On the east side is the Intercoastal Waterway with it’s bridges, bayous and mangrove hammocks, and that was the side we were most interested in.  It’s waters are calmer, more protected and have interesting features.

I have a lot of questions about my ability as a kayaker.  I know enough about paddling to impress someone who has never done it at all, but I really don’t know how far I can paddle or what challenges there might be when someone starts going out a lot.  I wonder if I could get lost (we didn’t).  I wonder if I could end up in the wrong place and get run over by a yacht (didn’t happen either).  I wonder if I could meet up with dangerous marine life (no).  I wonder if I could get stuck in the shallows, capsize, get tangled in brush ( um.. nearly happened).  For all these reasons, this first trip in my new (used) boat was a challenge, in it’s own way.

There was never a prettier day to be out in a boat!
There was never a prettier day to be out in a boat

Mark and I started from different points with a plan to meet up in the middle.  The first challenge was to time it right and not miss each other.  That was actually pretty easy.  Longboat Key has a lot of man made canals with houses along them, much like streets in a neighborhood.  We paddled south looking at houses and seawalls for a while but that got boring.  Boats were everywhere and the water didn’t look very clean, probably because the canals were deep and the bottom was dark.  I don’t think I saw anything alive in the water either.  I don’t blame the fish for not wanting to hang out there.

Mangroves grow right down into the water ... no beach here.
Mangroves grow right down into the water … no beach here.

We headed out across the boat channel to a more deserted looking island.  It was mildly challenging to avoid all the speedboats and yachts navigating the channel, but kind of fun to ride the waves in their wake.  The water started looking cleaner with a lot of sand bar area and beach with mangroves on the shore.  Very pretty but still not much life in the water or on the shore. We got around the northern point of this little island and had the most fun of our outing.

A wide spot in the inlet where we could turn around...
A wide spot in the inlet where we could turn around…

We spotted a part of the interior of the island that had no trees.  As we got closer we saw a narrow inlet – it looked like someone had swept a path about a yard wide through the foliage and mangrove roots.  It was calling my name.  The path had a current and it kept going further and further into the island.  Lots of birds and lots of minnows.  I would say it was like an estuary where fish go to be born and hide until they get big enough to make it on the outside.  I was a little surprised to see that Mark had been able to follow.  He weighs a bit more than I do and has a heavier kayak, and there were places where the water didn’t look more than eight to ten inches deep.  We were able to get turned around and back out without having to get out and drag our kayaks, but it was a place where you could imagine that happening. Very interesting.

He's fishing, but not catching.
He’s fishing, but not catching.

The second really nice place was a little farther down the shore on this same island.  The surface of the water was very calm in a small curved bay so it was easy to see  when a school of mullet arrived.  The water began to boil with ripples everywhere.  Mullet love to jump.  They are a very exuberant fish.  They are the kind that actually might jump into your boat if you are quiet and stick around long enough.  But you don’t catch them with a fishing pole – they don’t have eating on their little fish minds when they are like this.  We watched for a while and then started the trip back.

The last task we had set for ourselves was to see if my kayak could be safely carried on the roof of my Mazda 3 (a rather small car).  The answer is no, not without a roof rack.  We did get it up there and strapped it down before Mark noticed that the roof was denting a bit.  These are one person kayaks, but they are 13 feet long and hefty for one person to handle.  My goal is to be able to load and unload by myself and I think I’ll be able to do it after I get a rack for my car.  Now we know.

Having made an investment in this form of recreation, and I absolutely love it, I am challenging myself to get out there and get some good experience.  And I love taking friends out with me if anyone wants to come – Mark and I agreed to share our kayaks if we had need for two.  And I need to pick a name for my boat…  what should it be?

 Help me name my blue Ocean Kayak.