Tuesday, August 9, 2011


DAYS 3 & 4 – “Beyond Lonely” Georgian Bay Spirit of Adventure Tour 2011
PHOTOS http://tinyurl.com/GBphotos-4thAlbum

Because we were able to sleep in our tents without a rainfly to block the light and our view of the sky, I awoke to see the beautiful pallet of color that the sun painted the morning sky before the life-giving orb was actually visible. It was 4:30, and clouds were being illuminated and “coloured” (we were in Canada) from below, as the earth slowly rotated to begin another cycle of light.
I wiped the sleep from my eyes, found my glasses and camera, unzipped the tent, and crawled out onto the wooden deck. My friends were still sleeping, or pretending so, in order to delay the inevitable. While sitting on the edge of the platform, I had an excellent view of the polychrome scene unfolding before me. With my “good camera”, I snapped away, capturing images with varied compositions of shore, tree, water, and sky. As the sun rose, so too did my friends. The crumbling concrete dock down the beach provided stark silhouettes to complement the natural elements. Soon, the first direct rays of light peeked above the horizon; it was the perfect sunrise (not that I’ve seen all that many of them). As if driven by an unseen power, I continued to take pictures as the sun gradually moved higher into the sky. Rich, warm colors faded from the underside of the clouds as the morning moved onward. I was finished with my artistic expression, and it was time to eat and begin packing for another great day on the bay.

One more walk around the relics of the former inhabitants of the Lonely Island lighthouse complex (first occupied in 1870), and it was time to move our kayaks to the water and fill the hatches with gear. We bid a very fond farewell to historic Lonely Island and moved beyond it to see what the next islands would reveal. In the distance, we could see 2 or 3 small boats, the most we had seen all weekend. Six miles to the west was Club Island, with its central “harbor”, said to be an attractive place for sailboats to anchor for the night. Another couple hours of paddling on calm seas beneath cloudy skies brought us to that island. The smaller boats had moved on, and a large sailboat with a raft in tow was the only boat in sight. It was moored near the island’s little harbor, actually just a shallow lagoon, or pond. What looked like a huge boulder from farther away was actually a very tall pile of rocks excavated from the island and left near the water’s edge. The sailboat headed north as we approached, and we took a break on the stony shore. Like all the other places, nobody lived on Club Island, and there were no signs that buildings ever existed there. Soon, we left and made our way south along the shoreline. The tip of Club Island was a narrow point that extended into Georgian Bay, and continued much farther as a shallow, rocky shoal. We finally rounded that end of the island and set our sights in the next isle, Fitzwilliam, where we planned to camp that night.

An additional 7 miles of paddling in light chop brought us to Fitzwilliam Island, the largest by far of any island we visited on this tour. It was named for Royal Navy Captain William Fitzwilliam Owen, who, in 1815, was the first to chart Georgian Bay. Captain Owen called it “Lake Manitoulin”, an English version of the Ojibway Indian name “Spirit Lake” (Owen Sound is also named for him). Royal Navy Captain Henry Bayfield, who made more detailed charts of the bay, renamed it in 1822 after King George IV. His charts are the basis of those in use today.

The location of our final campsite was uncertain, since little information was available about suitable places to seek shelter on this grand island. With a circumference of about 22 miles, it is just a little smaller than an island in the Niagara River near my home between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, named “Grand Island”. We aimed for the northern tip of the big island, and landed for another break to stretch our legs and have look about. I had hoped to find a place to camp about half-way down the shoreline, near a protrusion called McCarthy Point. Before we paddled that far, we saw an interesting area of rock shelves that stuck out dramatically from the dense cedar forest that covered most of the island. As I paddled closer to one of the more fascinating areas, my friends told me it looked like a great place to camp. That suited me, and we landed on a coarse, gravely place with layers of rock shelves conveniently rising above it. I likened it to a castle because of the grand layered rocks rising up to the trees, but Joe called it “the amphitheater”, for the overall shape of the rock formation. We made camp in the amphitheater; no giant spiders, no 100-year-old lighthouses, just majestic natural beauty. There were broad, very flat sections of rock with many places on which to pitch a tent, and more flat areas were just 2 feet higher on another layer of the sedimentary rock. My chart identified that part of Fitzwilliam Island as “Pavement Point”, a very appropriate term. We unloaded the 3 kayaks and walked all around to choose our tent sites. When our scouting was done, we set up camp. Joe filled his filter bag with water, hung it from a cedar branch, and fired up his stove. Meals were an important part of our day, because once we stopped and set up the tents, all that was left to do was eat, drink, look at the water, and maybe read a little. I walked around for a while, exploring the shoreline while taking pictures. Once the sun was low, biting flies came out and we retreated into the tents.

After a good night’s sleep, I awoke to the pre-dawn sky with its warm and beautiful colours. It was our final morning of wilderness camping on Georgian Bay, with another great sunrise and more great photo opportunities. As I captured image after image of the sunrise, Joe and Patti also got up, joining me to revel in the day’s early beauty. Like the previous days, we took our time packing, eating breakfast, loading the kayaks, and soaking up the wild, watery beauty of the bay.

We would have to paddle approximately 20 miles to reach Tobermory and Joe’s car at Dunks Bay, but we knew it would take only 7 or 8 hours, so we had plenty of time. I charted a course that would allow us to island-hop our way back, reducing the open water crossing to a series of shorter paddles of 5 miles or less. Our first hop took us to James Island, a quarter-mile long island inhabited by birds; lots of birds. We found a spot near shore where the gulls, terns, and cormorants weren’t, and took a short rest. The island gradually cedes its land into the bay with wide, shallow shoals, particularly at the western end. Next, we paddled to the end of Lucas Island, a smaller, 640-yard long piece of rock that was more on our path back to port. As we approached, it looked like 3 tents were set up near the shore. Closer inspection revealed 3 large boulders with patches of yellowish lichen growing on top. After another short break, we headed for Cove Island Light, less than 5 miles to the south. The water kept its consistent half-meter wave height that we had grown used to, and we landed near the lighthouse on wide, flat shelves inside a tiny pocket cove. No sightseeing this time, and we were soon making our final crossing to Tobermory.

We had nearly paddled the full length of Cove Island when Patti said one of her foot pedals came off. Since the pedal controls the rudder, she also lost that control. I told her she would have to finish the trip without use of a rudder, but that comment was not enthusiastically received. Conveniently, there was a good landing place on North Otter Island, and we stopped to make repairs. Turned out that one fastener for the foot pedal assembly had been off for a while, perhaps weeks, so when the second nut fell off, the entire bracket came loose. We managed to get one fastener back on, restoring use of the pedal and rudder to help control the boat in the wind.

The final 5 miles were the most difficult of our long journey, due to a stiff off-shore wind that created larger waves and a headwind that battled us until we entered Dunks Bay. The beach where we launched 3 days before was a sweet sight. We eased our kayaks onto the sand among wading adults and splashing children who were fascinated by our boats. The car was still there, intact, and no parking tickets. After 66 miles and nearly 21 hours of paddling at an average moving speed of just over 3mph on Georgian Bay, it was good to be back in town.

My idea of a fun kayak trip is to see lots of interesting things and pile on the miles. I appreciate Patti and Joe’s willingness to follow me and venture out of their comfort zone in order to venture so many miles onto one of North America’s premier sea kayaking destinations – Georgian Bay. On this trip, we covered a lot of water and paddled out to some islands that very few people ever see, let alone land or camp on. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read the other 3 parts of my trip report for this adventure: “Introduction and Background”, “DAY 1 - Preparation, Launching, and Camp”, and “DAY 2 - Halfway to Lonely”. Each report has a link to an album of photos that illustrates that day’s paddling and camping. This tour of the islands signifies my ultimate Georgian Bay kayak trip because of the miles and the fact that guide books don’t cover these remote islands Anything else we do up there will be either a repeat of some segment of this trip, or something that is commonly done by other paddlers along the eastern shore of the bay. I don’t know if I can top this trip, but you can be sure I’ll try! – Bob VH

PS: Thanks to the Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association (CASKA) for their trip reports that provided the only information available anywhere that described some of these islands. I hope my own trip reports will add to the information base about these beautiful, remote locations.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Kayak trip DAY 2 – “Halfway to Lonely”

DAY 2 – “Halfway to Lonely” – Georgian Bay - July 2011
PHOTOS: http://tinyurl.com/DAY2-TR-HALFMOONandLONELY

Bob’s “Spirit of Adventure Tour” 2011
Following our wildlife encounter on Bears Rump Island, I was ready to leave the isle of giant arachnids and get started on our second day of paddling. It was going to a big day for us – more than 20 miles across open water with only one small island to offer a place to rest. To save time, before we emerged from our tents in the morning, we started packing up our sleeping gear. Once we all had something to eat (oatmeal, etc.), we packed up our remaining things, carried the kayaks to the water’s edge, loaded the hatches, and prepared for a big day of paddling. My stated goal of rising early and being on the water by 6 A.M. each day fell to the reality of sleeping past sunrise, eating a good breakfast, and taking the time to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. We launched at 9 O’clock.

I took a compass bearing from the chart and made visual contact with Halfmoon Island, 10 miles away across the deep water of the great bay. Like the first day, we had just a little wind and mostly calm water for this long crossing. The marine weather forecast was good, with the only rain, wind, or fog being generated off the main land mass across the bay near Killarney Provincial Park, some 50 miles to the east. Waves were about “a half-meter”, as the Canadian NOAA weather forecast put it, and were quite manageable. At our normal cruising speed of just over 3 MPH, we expected to reach tiny Halfmoon Island in 3 hours, the mid-way point of our day’s goal on the north side of the much larger Lonely Island. From 10 miles away, Halfmoon resembled a distant city skyline, with trees forming an irregular outline against the horizon. While doing my research, I read discussions by paddlers and sailors wondering how far away you could see an island with only 12 feet of elevation above the water. People spouted formulas that took into account the island’s height, how tall the trees might be, and the distance of the paddler’s eyes above the water while seated in a kayak. The concern was whether somebody in a kayak could see an island that small from 10 miles away, or if one would have to navigate by compass or GPS alone. I was prepared to do either, but we had no problem establishing visual contact on the horizon, and we simply aimed for it.

We all quickly learned a paddler’s perspective of what an island looks like from 5 miles away, and how long it takes to paddle those final 2 miles when it looks like you’re almost there. Because I had the only GPS receiver, I had the advantage (or disadvantage) of knowing how fast we paddled, how far we had traveled, and how much farther we still had to go. We aimed for the right side of Halfmoon and paddled into the bay that was formed by the narrow crescent shape of the apparently misnamed island.

Halfmoon Island landing report (YOUTUBE): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay4FWJlo2CE&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

Dozens of terns flew over the highest crest of the stony ridges, while others were on the rocks, as if nesting. A few tall cottonwood trees dominated the skyline. One of the sleek, black-capped birds flew toward us, as if deployed by the avian residents to look us over and warn us away. We landed on a flat rock shelf in shallow, algae-filled water, as far away from any birds as we could get. We made our way across wet, slippery, weathered rocks, to a flat, pavement-like shelf where it was apparent that a small cabin of some sort once stood. While we sipped water and snacked, a few of the terns continued to protest our presence by flying overhead and emitting a scream that sounded very much like “GET OFF MY ISLAND, GET OFF MY ISLAND!”, while large fish spawned in the shallow water nearby.

I’m sure that hundreds of fishermen and pleasure boaters in powered or sail craft have been to Halfmoon Island, and maybe even a Voyageur or two came this far back in the fur-trading days, but in all of my research, the only mention I found in any website or book (trip reports or comments by kayakers, sailors, etc.) of paddling to Halfmoon Island was by 2 men who planned that route but didn’t go, and another man who planned a trip around the bay a couple years ago, but had to cancel. We planned. We went. We conquered. I am claiming THE FIRST DOCUMENTED LANDING ON HALFMOON ISLAND IN MODERN TIMES BY ANYONE IN A HUMAN-POWERED PADDLE CRAFT. Significant, if not newsworthy.

In honor of the occasion, I performed a little sea shanty that I thought up as we paddled, sung to the tune of Andy Williams’ “Moon River”
YOUTUBE video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkwI5193BA0

That probably makes this the “First recorded visit by a paddler”, as well. Entertaining, if not good.

After about 30 minutes of rest, we accommodated our host’s request, and got off their island. We slipped back into our boats and paddled out of the lagoon, while the terns continued to scold us until were a safe distance away from their home. I reset my GPS to “go to” the north shore of Lonely Island, another 12 miles away. Weather continued to favor us, with little wind, a mostly sunny sky, and half-meter waves. After another 3 hours, we approached the southern tip of Lonely Island and paddled to the right, up the eastern shore. After an hour more of paddling, we could see the lighthouse high above the water on a hill that overlooked the rocky beach. We landed on the rounded stones that occupied a wide expanse of shoreline, or “beach”, as we all began to explore. The lighthouse on the hill and its companion building are the only structures remaining from the complex of wood-frame houses that once stood near the shore and concrete dock. Now, all that remains is concrete pads and the overgrown sidewalks that once linked all of the buildings.

As I walked around, Joe and Patti determined that the concrete pad by the dock and haul-out slip would make a suitable campsite. My research showed that there was a wooden deck somewhere, and I eventually found it. Apparently, the people who lived there and tended to the lighthouse prior to its automation in 1987 had made things comfortable by constructing a deck on the stony beach, complete with cedar trees all around the edge (most of the buildings were destroyed in 1995). The deck, approximately 10’x15’, was originally built around a large cedar tree, now merely a stump to be used as a table. The small trees planted around the perimeter had grown large enough to shade the entire deck under an aromatic canopy of green, making the deck area resemble an oasis in the otherwise barren, rocky ground. A sod-filled walkway led from the deck to a low, arched footbridge made of small cedar logs that was more ornamental than functional. Like most of the islands around there, a thick cedar forest covered most of the land, providing ample building materials for the residents. We decided that a shady wooden deck was more hospitable than a concrete slab, so we set up camp below the old cedars.

Further exploration led us back over the quaint footbridge and up a very wide, rolling path through the forest that paralleled a set of power cables laid on the ground – perhaps from generators that used to be situated on the empty slabs. The path climbed up a gentle grade that obviously served the former residents as a promenade connecting the lower buildings with the beacon on the hill. Just below the lighthouse, the hill steepened and thick vegetation blocked our path. Pushing through the shrubs would have been a sweaty, uphill bushwhack, and the thought of disturbing more large spiders and rattlesnakes made the prospect of reaching the top very unappealing. We turned back. (Note: Once we had returned home, further research showed that the automatic light is now serviced by helicopter, and there is a helipad on the hill). With the only access to the top now abandoned and unmaintained, it would be quite an effort to reach top, with minimal benefit. We walked back down and explored the wooded area at the edge of the beach. Joe found the graves of 2 pets, dogs I think. I knew about them; the beloved pets were in a tiny 2-grave cemetery that was fenced in by low pickets, and marked by wooded signs bearing the animals’ names, as well as their years of birth and death. That put a human touch on the abandoned homestead, and made us realize that people and their pets lived their lives on that remote island. Joe brought a large water filtration bag, and he hung it from a tree so the gravity-feed system would let us fill our water bottles without pumping. Once he fired up his stove, we boiled water for “cooking” (rehydrating). As the sun dipped toward the horizon, biting flies came out. It was time for bed. With another good weather forecast overnight, we did without the tent’s rainfly. The wide expanse of our mostly screen-mesh shelter kept the bugs out and let the grand views in. The near perfect east-west orientation of the island’s north shore afforded us a very unique vantage point. In the evening, we watched the sunset from our deck, and in the morning, we could see the sunrise; all without leaving our tents. Another great campsite. Next up: Day 3 & 4 trip report with a final wrap-up, and more photos.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Georgian Bay Kayak Trip - July 2011

DAY 1 - Preparation, Launching, and Camp - Bob’s “Spirit of Adventure Tour 2011”
The plan was to launch our kayaks in Tobermory and paddle out onto the deep waters of Georgian Bay while we island-hopped for 4 to 5 days, camping on islands of various sizes and covering about 65 miles. The reality of it is that we did exactly that, except we had to improvise on our first night‘s campsite. In previous years, the 6 campsites on Flowerpot Island were “first come - first served”. You would walk up to the harbormaster or the cruise line ticket booth and pay for a campsite; some books, literature, and websites still proclaim that fact. With the recent construction of a National Park Visitor Center in town, campsites now can be reserved in advance at that center, or on line. The harbormaster told us to go to the ticket booth, and the ticket booth attendant told us to go to the visitor center where we were informed that a man had reserved ALL 6 campsites because he was going to be proposing to his girlfriend that weekend. I propose that letting one person reserve 6 campsites is not fair. We wouldn’t be camping on Flowerpot Island ($9.50 per person per day to camp on a primitive site), so we were forced to save $28.50 (plus GST & PST) and camp for free somewhere else. If you’ve ever gone camping r paddling in Ontario, you know that nothing is free there because there are fees to walk, visit, launch a kayak, take out a kayak, park, and camp anywhere….. unless you do it the way we did. We parked for free, and because all the islands were uninhabited and very remote, we also camped for free all 3 nights.

I’d been planning this trip for a year - since I completed a 30 mile 1-way trip across the mouth of the bay last July. Planning pays off! We drove to a narrow strip of public access beach on Dunks Bay where Joe could park his car for 3 or 4 nights without getting a ticket. I checked all the signage, and there was no restriction on the time we could leave a car there, so game on! Joe, Patti, and I began shuttling all of our gear between the car and the sandy beach, and finally carried our 3 sea kayaks to the water, squeezing the boats into a small public area of the beach that was also occupied by many other people using the beach for more traditional purposes, such as laying on towels, swimming, and building sand castles. We crammed all of our camping gear and food into the hatches, and without ceremony, we were on the water and began paddling. I zeroed the trip computer settings on my GPS receiver and made certain that I had a waypoint set for the beach.

A few days earlier, I sat in front of my desktop computer with “Google Earth” on screen and transferred the coordinates of all the islands into my handheld GPS unit, so we could aim for an island even if we couldn’t see it - a cautionary step in case of fog or other weather conditions that could obscure our visual points of reference. Last year, the water was so calm and flat, that it was almost boring; I hoped for similar conditions for Joe. My buddy Joe was on his first-ever trip on big water. We would have several open water crossings between islands that were 5 to 10 miles each, and rough water could make it interesting. Patti has paddled extensively on the Niagara River, with several near-shore trips on lakes Erie and Ontario as well, and has previously paddled on Georgian Bay.

We had enough experience among us that I wasn’t too worried about this large step I was taking by more than doubling the mileage of last year’s outing. As for safety, we all are experienced paddlers and know what can happen in a kayak, so the wearing of life jackets is a normal part of our paddling attire. Inexperienced people who don’t know enough about the sport are the ones who often opt to not wear a life jacket. By my mandate, as well as common sense, we all wore neoprene shirts (wet suit tops) in case if accidental immersion in the cold Great Lakes water. The rest of our clothing consisted of quick-dry shorts, water shoes, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen. I neglected to use lip balm with some sort of sun protection factor, and I regretted that (Note to self: use a high SPF sunscreen when paddling in the sun for 4 days!). We all carried a whistle, light, throw rope, and paddle float, and Patti also carried a tow line in case one of us became incapacitated and couldn’t paddle (illness, shoulder, arm, or hand injury, etc.). In addition to all of that, I carried aerial flares, signal flag, strobe light, small air horn, handheld VHF radio, a SPOT satellite rescue message device, and a navigation chart of the section of Georgian Bay we were in, sealed in a waterproof chart case. All of that was either on deck or in the cockpit behind my seat. Being the expedition photographer, I also carried 3 cameras; one in a waterproof case stowed with my gear, one in a waterproof case on deck, and a small waterproof Kodak “PlaySport” video camera attached to a little flexible tripod where I could reach it on the deck in front of me. I also transmitted a twice daily “I’m OK” message from my satellite device that relayed an e-mail to select people with a link to a map that showed my exact location. That same device could also send a “Please send help” message or a “911” (send the chopper!) message. My main source of help would have been the waterproof handheld VHF radio I bought recently. With that, I could listen to NOAA weather reports, status reports from the Coast Guard or other boaters about navigation hazards, and could also contact nearby boaters or the Tobermory Coast Guard station in case we needed immediate assistance. They call me the “Safety Nazi”. I do a lot of things that prompt people to say I’m crazy and take too many risks, but I minimize risk by planning, preparation, and by carrying the right gear. I wasn’t worried.

Back to paddling - We paddled from Dunks Bay into the big open waters of Georgian Bay and began our adventure. Joe had never been up there before, so I decided to detour over to Flowerpot Island to let Joe get a close view of the 2 sea stacks that give the island its name. Later, I learned that we were supposed to pay a fee to land there and walk around. We paddled up onto a rock shelf and pulled the boats farther up while we walked around (see photos of the “flowerpots“). I’d been there several times before, so I just hung back and took pictures. After our exploration break, we headed to the next island, Bears Rump, about 5 miles from shore, where we hoped to find a suitable place to camp. We had paddled nearly all the way around the rocky shoreline when we spotted a good landing zone and flat rock shelf that would hold our tents. We hauled our gear onto the shelf, carried the boats up and mostly out of sight behind the rocks (free camping is illegal), and attached our cockpit covers. Before we carried Patti’s kayak up from the water, I picked up a rock to get it out of the way, and standing where the rock had been was the BIGGEST SPIDER I HAVE EVER SEEN (other than in a zoo or in my cousin Louie’s bedroom)!!! I’m glad that I had a complete change of clothes with me. The spider growled and snapped at me (perhaps a slight exaggeration)… the spider just stood there silently while I screamed like a little girl (not as exaggerated). It was 3 to 4 inches across, and I later identified it as a Wolf Spider, which can have a body over 1 inch long and a leg spread of 4 inches. We set up our tents and made sure the screen doors were always zipped shut. Once the boats were stowed and tents set up, it was time to eat. Joe had his stove ready and we boiled water - that’s as close as cooking as I get. The island was covered with a thick cedar forest. Between the density of the vegetation and the size of the spiders, further exploration was not possible.

We laid our wet clothes across the rocks, watched the sun set, and zipped ourselves into our tents. Biting flies, gnats, and mosquitoes buzzed about, while giant mutant spiders lurked unseen. Since the weather forecast for the weekend was all good, we didn’t use the rain fly on our tents, allowing for good air flow all night, and good sleeping once it cooled down. In the morning, Patti told us she had heard a woodpecker in the distance; all I did was sleep. We rose in the dawn’s early light and had breakfast-with-a-view.
While we were loading our boats, Patti noticed that one of the island’s inhabitants had been busy overnight and left something attached to her neoprene top. At first I said it was a cocoon, but quickly realized that it was an egg sack - spider eggs, and Mama Spider was still close by on the shirt! Luckily for me, it was a smaller (1” across) spider. I assisted the spider’s exit and scraped off the egg sack; a web-encased bundle of bright red eggs (ick). Time to move on.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Georgian Bay Kayak Trip - Part 1

Introduction and Background - Bob’s “Spirit of Adventure Tour 2011”

In the 1980’s, I began driving up to Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula with my friend, Olaf, every June to photograph the wide variety of orchids that grow in that unique geographic climate zone - a long and relatively narrow peninsula jutting into the center of a Great Lake. To the west, Lake Huron caresses the land via beautiful, wide, sandy beaches, while Georgian Bay’s deep waters crash onto the eastern shore’s rocky cliffs formed by the Niagara Escarpment. Most of the clear waters of Georgian Bay are 100 to 300 feet deep, but the bay is over 500 feet deep near shore not too far south of Tobermory.

Georgian Bay offers some of the finest and most scenic sea kayaking on the continent, with over 30,000 rocky islands along its shores. Most of those are along the eastern coastline, but the islands between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island are very remote and offer a challenge to paddlers because of their distance from shore. In 2006, I bought my first kayak, and have been paddling the deep waters near Tobermory for 4 years.

Tobermory is a small, scenic, former commercial fishing village now known mostly for tourism. It draws not only paddlers, but photographers and naturalists come to see the small wild orchids that grow in the area. Scuba divers come to dive in the clean, clear waters and view some of the 26 documented shipwrecks that are scattered along the bottom of the surrounding area in Canada’s only underwater park, “Fathom Five National Marine Park”. Other visitors drive up Highway 6 to catch the huge 365-foot long ferry, the “MS Chi-Cheemaun” that can take cars, trucks, and passengers to Manitoulin Island, which connects with mainland Ontario west of Sudbury.

The kayak trips I’ve done on Georgian Bay have been progressively farther and more difficult each year. Way back in 1991, I drove up with 3 co-workers for an overnight camping trip. They went scuba diving (I actually donned scuba gear and dived to 40 feet - briefly), and also brought my canoe. My paddling experience on that trip consisted of an hour or so of canoeing in the harbor. Fast-forward to 2008 when I kayaked all the way out to Flowerpot Island, a full 4 miles from town. The next year, some friends and I ventured out a bit farther and paddled around Flowerpot Island, out to the Cove Island lighthouse, around that large island, and back to town (finishing in 3 to 4-foot swells) to complete a 20-mile round-trip. Last year saw us doing an overnight 1-way 30 mile kayak trip to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island, a route that paralleled the path of the big ferry (we returned via the ferry). That brings me to this year’s great adventure - a planned island-hopping excursion of approximately 60 miles that would have us visit several small uninhabited islands, and included multiple open water crossings of up to 10 miles. I’ll write this trip report and post my story & photos one day at a time. Visit this site again tomorrow to read about “Day 1”.

PHOTOS: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2332357832474.2138314.1355629679&l=a9cc8a5a3d&type=1

Monday, May 30, 2011

Captive Wolves in Alaska - a sad state

Just back from 10 days in Alaska (May 2011). One stop I made was a place in the town of Palmer ( north of Anchorage) called “Wolf Country USA”. It’s a tourist attraction with the premise that people can see wolves close up. The exterior of the building was a bit run-down, and featured a gift shop as the only entrance. The large gift shop sold various articles that featured wolves – most notable to me were the decoupage images of wolves varnished onto wooden plaques. I hadn’t seen decoupage since 1980, so it was a shout-out to the past. The store reeked of something – perhaps dog food, moose meat, or maybe it was wolf dung. I don’t know what produced that pungent odor, but it didn’t help my appetite any. The owner of the business, Werner Shuster, a man of perhaps 80 years of age, enthusiastically led us into the fenced area that housed 20 or more wolves, or wolf-hybrids as he called them. He noted that “there is no such thing as a pure wolf”. I entered the gate with my camera ready to snap many photos of the majestic animals in their home that featured snow-covered mountains in the distant background. What I observed shocked me, depressed me, and I immediately put my camera away in its case because I didn’t want to remember what I saw (later, I managed to take 2 photos of the wolves).

Each animal wore a collar attached to a heavy chain approximately 10 or 12 feet long, and attached to a tall pipe in the center of the barren piece of purgatory in which they lived, giving each wolf a space with a diameter of 20 to 24-feet in which to “roam”. Not quite what the sign out front depicted. Each wolf was separated from the neighboring animal by several feet of open space, and they are unable to physically interact. Their website features carefully cropped images that don’t show the chains, or the raw skin under their collars, or the nature of their demeaning existence. The animals’ constant running in circles for their entire lifetime (up to 20 years), has worn away all vegetation, and some of the wolves had excavated underground dens in the hard soil. Technically, I suppose, there is no visible animal cruelty, since each animal has shelter and water, and seems to be well-fed. Some of the water bowls had a green scum growing, but we were assured that algae “is the best thing for them”, and he “never has any veterinary bills”. I was not surprised that care by a veterinarian was not in his budget. He also told us that he gets moose meat, and each wolf is fed weekly. The owner threw dog treats to each wolf as he proudly passed by each of them; bragging about “His movie stars” and telling us they would all be dead if he hadn’t saved them by confining them safely away from the natural world. I wonder if he would like to be confined to a small room in a house for his entire life if it meant he would live longer.

Born free, live free.

Born in “Wolf Country USA”, never see actual wolf country, or run, or do anything else that is natural for wolves (except howl on command).

It was disgusting, and I have left a message on their website telling them as much. I wondered to myself if they ever get exercised. They do not. He did say that the animals get loose 2 or 3 times…. a year…. when the chain breaks. Some of the animals get conjugal visits so their offspring can be sold to buyers across the world. Local sales of his product had dropped off because it’s illegal to possess or sell wolves or wolf hybrids, and the State of Alaska is trying to enforce that law, but the definition of “wolf” is a bit unclear. Mating the wolves, according to Mr. Shuster, consists of putting them on chains that are just long enough for the animals to reach each other, but short enough to not get tangled. I left feeling ashamed that my admission fee had contributed to the ongoing cruel isolation and exploitation of these “wild” animals.

The above is my opinion based on direct observation. I have included links to the official website and to another site that provides more information about this situation. If you do an Internet search for “Wolf Country USA”, other sites will come to your attention, including sites that are attempting to end this deplorable situation. - RVH


Thursday, January 20, 2011


Old family home held a lifetime of memories

It was my home for more than 20 years. A grand old house with seven huge poplar trees casting shade across the yard, and frontage on the water that included an old boathouse. My father bought it in 1946 after he came home from World War II, because he was the eldest son and had the responsibility to provide for the rest of his family. His parents, younger brothers and sister lived there while my parents, my older brother and I lived in an upper flat in North Tonawanda.
In 1954, when my aunts and uncles had moved away, my father and his brothers modified it into a two-family home. My grandparents stayed, living in the apartment upstairs. My grandfather died there in the late ’50s and was “laid out” in the parlor downstairs.
We took family trips to the Adirondacks, and had a homemade trailer in the yard to haul our gear. In the 1960s, my father demolished the old garage out back and built a new two-car garage by himself, including mixing and pouring all of the concrete.
My brother, Jim, and I grew up sharing a room until my father built another bedroom where the dining room had been. We got our milk from Papke-Moll Dairy across the street, and our groceries from Kraemer’s corner store a block away.
I was home from school on a sad day in November 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was shot, and I watched the moon landing in 1969 in the comfort of our living room. My younger cousins and I often played cards with my grandmother and watched “Lawrence Welk” with her on TV. My brother and I walked to Delaware School, the junior high and the “new” high school.
Jim and I moved out and got married in the ’70s, while my grandmother remained in the house until 1977. She’s been gone more than 30 years, but my father never rented the upstairs. The space was used mostly for storage, but he kept her bedroom intact with all of the original furniture. My brother would stay up there when he came home for his annual visits from the West Coast.
My mother did volunteer work, including many years of involvement with the Girl Scouts, and she had mementos of her work all around the house. Mom passed away seven years ago, and my father kept all of her clothes, books and other favorite things pretty much where she left them. He died this past summer after being in poor health for two years.
We had so many memories in that house. I knew that parting with three generations’ worth of accumulation would be difficult, and because I am the one who remained in town, the dreaded responsibility of clearing out the house fell on me. I gave the family heirlooms to my aunt and cousins, and had an estate sale to clear out as much of the good usable things as possible.
An old friend removed the remaining possessions for me, assuring me that as much as possible would be donated, recycled, sold or otherwise reused — the rest would go out to the curb. It’s much easier when you don’t have an attachment to — everything.
I hadn’t been inside the house for a few weeks and stopped by recently. It’s empty. Upstairs, downstairs, basement. Nothing. No furniture. No appliances in the kitchen or tools in the garage, no books or beds, no dishes in the cupboard, no clothes in the closets or pictures on the walls. It’s all a memory now. After 64 years, it’s just a house.


Monday, November 1, 2010


It was my home. My father bought it in 1946, after he came home from the war. His parents, brothers, and sisters lived there until about 1953. My Grandparents stayed, living in an apartment upstairs; my Grandfather died there in the late 50s and was ‘laid out’ in the parlor. My brother and I grew up there, and walked to Delaware School, the Junior High, and the “new“ High School. Jim and I moved out and got married in the 70s, and my Grandmother remained living there until 1977. She’s been gone over 30 years, but my father never rented the upstairs. The space was used mostly for storage, but he kept her bedroom fairly intact with all the original furniture; my brother would stay there when he came home for his annual visits. Mom passed away 7 years ago, and my father kept all her clothes and other things where she left them. He died this past Summer. So many memories. I gave some things away to my family, and had an estate sale to clear out as much of the usable things as possible. An old high school friend removed and disposed of the remaining possessions for me; it’s much easier when you don‘t have an attachment to… everything. I hadn’t been inside the house for a couple weeks and stopped by tonight. It’s empty. Upstairs, downstairs, basement. Nothing. No furniture, no appliances or tools, no beds…..no clothes in the closets or pictures on the walls. It’s all a memory now. After 64 years, it’s just a house.