Monday, March 29, 2010

One of a Kind Paddle

This morning the Harbor in front of our house was glass. And we noticed, when we looked across toward the Lighthouse, it literally was glass. A thin layer of ice formed overnight.

Sunny and calm. Winds from the South when I was on the North side of a peninsula. A perfect day for a kayak paddle.

Dan, Rachel and I loaded up for an afternoon on the harbor, each in our own kayak. We almost felt like we should be more adventurous and go to Devil's Washtub or Horseshoe Harbor, but it was our first day out for the year, so we decided to tool around the Harbor. I am certain I will never have an experience like that again.

We set in by the Isle Royale Queen IV dock, and paddled East to the Lighthouse. Going across the open water between Porter's Island and the Lighthouse makes you feel like you're in open water, all right. But, I guess, you really are.

Safe and sound, we made it across, and down toward the East end of the Harbor we paddled. Never had I noticed the lay of the land under water as I did today. It seems like that North coast is really shallow most of the way across. Only toward the middle of the lateral line, does it drop down. Once I looked up after a few moments of that, I saw the most unusual thing of all.

Remember that glass on the water from earlier in the morning? Some of is was still there! I shouted to the others to come check it out. The first thing we noticed about it was the tinkling sound it made, as the broken edges rode the waves. Dan said, "It sounds like someone shaking a bag full of diamonds." I'll second that.

As we watched and listened in awe, Rachel came through full blast in her boat and rammed through the ice. "Woah!" she exclaimed. "It's a lot thicker in here than I thought!" I had to see for myself.

Have you ever kayaked or boated at all through the ice? It is surreal. The paddle has to bust through the ice before you can push it through the water. And the kayak sat pretty much on top of it! Turning around seemed to be an issue, so we slowly backed out. But once we got used to it, and realized we probably would never paddle on ice again, we plowed through it like it was our playground. Man, was that awesome!

We paddled here and there and past my house, where the water was so calm. So peaceful. I noticed, for a few minutes, that we were all just floating peacefully like the lake was. It must have been the right thing to do.

On the South shore, we saw all sorts of cool ice sculptures. This area doesn't get much sun yet. Let me tell you about the most amazing one we saw. It made a "roof" over two large rocks. Twenty feet separated these rocks, and that much ice roofed between them. It was like a cave with a sun roof! We couldn't help but see what it was like inside, so we each, one at a time, gingerly maneuvered our boats under as far as we could before freaking out that any moment that whole two-foot ice ceiling with hanging ice cycles could crash upon us. That was a unique perspective on life, all right. We wanted to see if it echoed, but didn't dare yell inside.

We then went around the East shore of Porter's Island where we paddled along the North shore of it. The only problem then was coming back through "The Gap" between Porter's and Hunter's Point. Thrusting our hips and pushing off with our paddles, we skidded across the shallow opening. We all took a different way, so I'm sure there was no easy one.

From there it was only a push back across the water to the dock, where we got to get out and s-t-r-e-t-c-h again. Ahhhh, what a lovely day for a paddle! Certainly one of a kind.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Black Market Pamphlet

I think I can safely say that this issue's fire has been smoldered, so the time has come for me to tell you about my Copper Harbor Frequently Asked Questions pamphlet.

Working at The Pines Resort as a waitress and bartender for my first 3 years in this wonderful town, I was asked a lot of questions by the visitors. Now I can understand that a town with no cell phone service, Wal-Mart or shoe store could pique such curiosity. I would be curious too. But the people asked the same questions over and over and over. Some of them intelligent, some of them completely retarded (pardon my lack of politically correctness, but I could have used harsher words). I felt like a pull string doll spewing out the same phrases time and time again: Yes, I live here year-round. Lake Superior rarely freezes over. Our winters aren’t really that cold. We get an average of 270” of snow every year. I love that cell phones don’t work here. I have plenty of hobbies to keep me busy all the time. Those are just a few of the answers I would repeat.

But I am a writer. A slightly sarcastic one at that. So I thought, why don’t I compile a pamphlet that tells people what this town is like, on one handy piece of paper? Why wouldn’t I? So I did. I spent two years asking locals what questions they were constantly being asked. I learned the statistics of the weather, business hours of operation and population of the town. I spent countless hours wording, rewording and formatting it all onto a manageable-sized paper. And best of all, I put me into it. I still laugh at some of the lines when I read it.

When I had a polished product, I brought it to the Copper Harbor Improvement Association board, the Copper Harbor Trails Club board and the Grant Township Supervisor, so they could all read it and grant me permission to print and distribute my hard work. They loved it, and some even offered me a donation for this project. That is what’s great about a little town.

So off went happy little Amanda to print 500 copies of her beloved pamphlet. A pamphlet that could be given to any tourist who started asking the oh-so-familiar line of questions. It would silence them, and give them more information than they could ever be curious about. Their bartender could hand it to them with a smile, and continue to serve drinks to the rest of her customers. Everyone would be happy.

But everyone was not happy. Within 24 hours of distributing my F.A.Q. pamphlets around town, I had them all back in the box they came in (except for the few that escaped... yes!). A lashing of the tongue is what’s not-so-great about a little town. Some people thought it was offensive, and they would not be silenced until the pamphlets were out of sight. As I was collecting each pile of blood, sweat and tears, I did have a few people who realized the value of this banned piece of literature, and snuck one into their pocket for safe keeping.

Well, those people knew what they were doing. They have something that few people have: an unedited version of the Copper Harbor black market pamphlet... for free. That pamphlet no longer exists in original form. However, it does exist with a caution sticker that reads: “ATTENTION! Sense of humor recommended while reading” because, believe it or not, some people didn’t realize those "offensive" lines were supposed to be funny. Oy.

Since you have been a patron of my blog, I believe that you are mature enough to handle such material. And now that da Harbor is quiet and peaceful, I have time to respond to requests. If you would like a copy of this pamphlet, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope to me at P.O. Box 94 in beautiful Copper Harbor, MI 49918. I can send two copies per stamp. Please limit five per household. Thank you for your patronage, and wish me luck for my future distributions!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Not-So-Mountain Bike Ride

Yesterday the lion came out. You know, that lion at the end of March? Yes. He was here blowing wind chills down to 0 degrees and making it snow. For a couple hours, the road was white. I'm glad that's out of his system! Fingers crossed!

Then it's kinda funny today, how it seems so much warmer with the sunshine and without the wind. It wasn't as warm as its been, but it was lovely enough for me to dust off the mountain bike. We (the bike and I) didn't do anything mountainous, but we found some terrain I wouldn't take on the road bike.

I rode down the path along Hwy. 41 for three reasons: exercise, to ride the mountain bike and to see how the snow is on that path. I was curious about that path the other day, and I'm glad I didn't try it on the road bike then.

Quite a few spots are still snow covered -- I'd say 12% of the whole trail. When I say snow, I mean a season's worth of packed-by-a-snowmobile-and-sun-melted snow compressed into two inches of, well, snow. Probably 33% of that snow was ice. I-c-e.

Upon realizing this, I kicked myself for, once again, not wearing a helmet. My retrospect is so wise. So I had to try extra hard not to fall. I came really close once on the way there. I came really, really close three times on the way back (I guess Labatt Light actually works!).

As I was on the last 30 yards of trail, I was so proud of myself for not falling. That's when, of course, I found myself out of control beyond repair, tipping over in the snow. Ugh. So close. But at least I came out with no injuries. We'll just see how my butt feels tomorrow after the change of bike seat!

Monday, March 22, 2010


Today was the first time in over a year that I strapped on the roller blades and went to town. Literally. The two miles from my house to da Harbor would have been too slow to walk, but too fast for Duce's bum paw if I rode a bike. Roller blades it is! I decided. And after I got through the mud and gravel we call Woodland Road, roller blades it was.

The sun shone brightly (go figure... again) and a light breeze blew around me as I rolled down Highway 41. I was surprised at how fast those things go. I had forgotten! Duce even had to run while I was coasting sometimes! But, of course, I had also forgotten the energy it takes to push up hills -- even little ones. I could definitely feel the muscles from my run the day before on those bad boys.

But the most memorable hill was the one sloping into town. I remembered this one from years before, and slowed down way ahead of time. The closer I got, the more I recalled about survival down this hill: zig zag slowly across the whole road, don't pick up any speed, stop every chance you can.

Alas, it was no use. My goal was to skate into the General Store parking lot. But that plan was not in my cards. I was gaining speed too quickly. Before I knew it, I was halfway past the parking lot in full zoom. How did I used to do this? I looked up at the sky for grace. I had no choice, but to be in control of the moment. That moment said, "Throw yourself on the ground now, or it will only get worse!" I mumbled some curse words, spun around, tucked and rolled.

Whew! That wasn't too bad. Good thing I had tennis shoes in my back pack to cushion the fall. Then for the inevitable. Jason came out of the store and shouted, "Are you all right?" Busted. "I'm fine!" I answered, smiling. "That was the only way I could stop." Staci came out seconds later, disappointed she missed the crash. I would have been too.

We told stories about roller skating and roller blading until Horton came up the drive. "How ya doin, Crash?" he asked. This town has windows everywhere, I swear. But hey, at least I was documented. Somehow that makes it more rewarding.

After this whole incident, I pondered how I used to stop at the General Store without heaving myself to the ground. Oh. I never have. I always kept going down, down, down the hill, and could only scrub speed at the Mariner parking lot two blocks down.

Somehow, though, I must have known I was going to fall. When I was picking out my pants before that journey, I put down a new pair and took out an old pair that had already felt the wrath of the bike chain. Just in case I fell. I have a new hole in the left knee of them now. It builds character.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Prime Brockway Hiking Time

I was tricked yesterday. The day held mixed tones of gray. Flurries whirled in the air. The wind bit through my jacket. I thought winter was back. I was wrong.

I just checked the forecast, and they changed it to sunshine and warmer! Ha! Don't you love it? I was surprised to see the sun come up this morning, since I thought it was going to be a stay-inside day. Not in the least!

So a gathered a couple girl friends, and we walked and talked and giggled to one lookout shy of the very top of Brockway Mountain. The sun lit the blue sky, and the breeze was cool. The road was dry and void of vehicles, which makes this walk prime this time of year. We surprised ourselves when we just kept going up and up, but the day made it hard to turn around!

Collectively, we picked up 26 cents, a hitch hook, a screw, two bolts, a nut, two empty beer cans and some trash. Quite a treasure, I know.

Toward the end of our trip, after not even having to listen for a car, we saw one. It kinda ruined the purity of the walk, but that is not ours to control. Four ATVs and one more SUV passed by before we reached the bottom.

After this trek, I talked to a man who owns part of that road, and he said that vehicles are ruining the road when they drive on it this time of year. The road is heaved with frost. It's not laying flat because of frozen gaps between the foundation and asphalt, if I am understanding it correctly. He even said that we could make it worse just by walking on it! "That's why the sign says 'Road Closed'" he mentioned for effect.

So for the sake of Brockway Drive, I won't drive a car on it until the ground thaws, but I don't think I'm going to stop walking up anytime soon. Sorry buddy, it's prime Brockway hiking time!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Limbo

March was definitely in like a lamb. It still is a lamb, tender and juicy. According to John Dee's delightful snow guide, the Keweenaw has received 172 inches of snow for the 2009-2010 season. Judging from my experience the last five winters here, I would say we are due for another dump or two. People have estimated average yearly snowfalls ranging from 250 - 320 inches. If that's the case, we are way behind.

If you click on that snow guide link, you'll see that we got about 50 inches of snow in April of 2007, after the previous amounts already melted. That just turned things upside down for the locals. I don't want to see that happen again, but I still feel like that little lamb is going to get ugly before Summer officially begins. We will get more snow.

In the mean time, I'm enjoying the extremely uncharacteristic sunshine and warmth. I think only once in January was it cloudy long enough for me to get the winter blues. Once! Usually the whole winter is so depressingly gray that I have to physically rush my endorphins so I don't sleep all day and cry all night. But now I am a clam!

And let me tell you what I saw today. In March. I saw dandelion greens!!! You know, that little saw-toothed weed that most people think ruins the look of their lawn? It's growing already! It's quite delicious too. On that walk to the lighthouse today, I also saw fresh grass sprouting through the brown crustiness. I can't help but think this spring glory is just a tease, but I don't mind the teasing.

The forecast says the temperature will get below freezing with a chance of snow showers this weekend, and though I believe it to be true, I'm not banking on anything. Living up here, I've learned to go with the flow -- especially when that flow is the snow.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Brockway's Nose and Beyond!

I know, I know. You're probably thinking, "Woah, Amanda posted again already?!" Yes. Yes, I did. With the snow melted, I am no longer employed at the Bear Belly Bar and Grill, which frees up a lot of my time... more time for you!

And more time for my adventures. Today, since Duce has a bum paw, I marched the blacktop up Brockway Mountain. My intent was to take a picture for you at the nose, and then see how far I would keep going.

During this time of year, many people wonder, "Can I get up Brockway Drive in my car?" If you have 4-wheel drive and snow tires. Yes. Otherwise, you might slide backwards down that first steep ascent. That's the messiest spot. The couple who owns the Tamarack Inn, Bill and Bonnie, drive their snowmobiles down in the winter and keep their cars parked at the Tamarack, so they can drive elsewhere. Imagine the planning that would take to know you can't drive to your driveway 4 months out of the year!

With feet, however, it's a lovely stroll no matter where you roam. Now let me see how my instructional skills were in my last post. Below is a picture of pretty darn near what I saw when I tried to explain the different colors/qualities of water on each pool. You can see how the Harbor attaches to Lake Superior in this picture. And the other bodies are (clockwise) Lake Fanny Hooe and Clyde's Pond.

Can you see what I was talking about? Nice and methodical, just how Mother Nature intended.

Notice how bare the trees are right now. In the middle left of the picture, you can see da town itself. Not too hustly bustly this time of year! And at the very top in the middle is East Bluff. That's an adventure I want to tackle some day soon.

Satisfied with the reference points on this picture, I continued to walk up. Up, up and away! I was ill-prepared, and didn't bring any water, so I figured I wasn't going to make it the whole four miles to the top. Someday I will. Anyone want to go with?

I did climb up to the third lookout. I could see Hwy. 41 from there. That spot had a long stone ledge that I skipped across the whole way to and fro. That was quite invigorating; I'd never done that before. As for Duce. I think he forgot about his paw because he pounced in the woods after birds and (Heaven forbid) deer. See how much more sympathy he gets!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Brockway's Nose

W-O-W. Wow. Today is just immaculately gorgeous here in da Harbor. I saw many people out and about (only locals, no one else is here!) in the sunshine. It feels like 60 degrees in town! During my favorite activity for the week, laundry, I was fortunate to take a walk up to Brockway Nose with a friend.

This is the same walk that stretches at a continual angle upward for so long, that even healthy people feel out of shape as they ascend. The cool part about that instant ascent, though, is that before you know it, you have this view. Please study the view carefully, as I have a couple things to report about it from today. If you have this view memorized from many trips to the nose, simply follow along and reminisce.

Look at the Harbor. It's the left hand body of water that is connected to Lake Superior on the horizon. Today, the Harbor looked quite similar as it does in the picture (I am such a loser. I didn't even take my own picture.): blue waves.

The lake immediately to the right is Lake Fanny Hooe. Quite a looker, hey? Imagine standing in the middle when it's frozen! From the view I saw of it today, I don't know if I would walk to the middle. I could see ice on the surface, but it looked rather melted and transparent. I could see snowmobile track lines from weeks and days before. The color, in general, was a bit whiter than the blue of the Harbor.

I now draw your attention to the little pond on the bottom right. That is Clyde's Pond in Clyde's Field. Just to the right (South) of that, a ridge line ascends to the Mountain Lodge. But Clyde's Pond was the whitest of them all. It looked like it still had a substantial amount of ice. This pond is quite shallow, so the ice layer is not too surprising.

But looking at all three bodies of water in sequence of their flow to the big lake was borderline fascinating. It was one, two, three how much agitation its molecules get, and the thickness of the ice, which I could see in color, was proof of that.

And lucky me. I stood on the nose of Brockway watching the water be the water for the first time since October. You see, the road up Brockway Mountain is a snowmobile trail in the winter. But spring has taken over (for the moment), and summer is not yet upon us. Therefore, that road is now a path for residents to huff and puff up to watch the serenity of their little town and the changing of the water.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Welcoming Sight

When I left the Keweenaw last Saturday, sunshine filled the sky and layers of snow lined the ground. On my drive back up yesterday, however, things were not the same. Over half the snow melted. Mt. Bohemia is officially closed. Groomers have stopped grooming the snowmobile trails. The ground is wet and squishy. It looks like winter is over. I know it's not.

At the end of my drive North on Hwy. 41, I descended upon my little town. The "Copper Harbor" sign welcomed me home. I anticipated my favorite part of the return: coasting down the little hill to see her Majesty, Lake Superior, past the blinking light. I always know, at that moment, that I am the luckiest girl I know. Home.

Today, in the blue sky day, I went for a hike (without snowshoes) to my friend the Lighthouse. The snow was melted most of the way there. The afternoon sun must have been tempting because I saw three neighbors out and about too. It's always nice to see others taking advantage of the day.

After visiting the dock, and skipping up the bare stairs, I got a view of her. The land looked so different -- I could actually see it! My days of ice volcanoes and ice caves seemed like a dream. Not a sign of any of them in sight.

So I walked out to my favorite looking rock and stared at the Lake. Oh, how I missed you! You just make everything seem right every time. No matter what time of year, I reach to the lake for solice, serenity and peace. She never lets me down, and I am so grateful for that. Especially after time away, it's good to know she will always welcome me, and sort me back out.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wild West

Boy, did I miss you! I just got back from the Wild West, and the wildest part was the way home! But nevermind sleeping in an airport due to fog only to have the plane cancelled the next day anyway. Oh well, everybody had a great sense of humor and patience about the whole thing. And the bus driver was nice. I made it to Clintonville, WI at least!
When we stepped out of the Spokane, WA airport on Sunday, I was quite surprised to feel how hot the weather was. Sunny and hot! Not a flake of snow in site. Nevermind that the rest of the trip was rainy and chilly... one day in a tank top really hit the spot!
It was great to see my little brother and meet his snakes, rats, dog, roomates and friends. We even got to see a nice park area... you know, I like that sort of thing. I even saw Alice in Wonderlan in 3-D (the last time I saw a movie in a theatre was in Spokane 6 years ago). The coolest land area I got to see was on the drive to Portland, OR.
The interstate followed the Columbia River Gorge. Man, what a sight! Lots of the ridges reminded me of the Keweenaw, and the last ones on the way looked like the mountains and evergreens of Colorado.
Then Portland was a taste of Spring! Trees blooming, daffodils, primrose, crocus, forsythius and all sorts of beautiful colors! Once again, we missed the sunny weather, but the greens, pinks, yellows and reds sure made up for it!

Portland was a not-so-scary city. It seemed pretty progressive and liberal. And, of course, it was great to see my sister and her husband. Then the plane ride back to Minneapolis was quite amazing. At one point of the flight (pretty much the middle) I looked to the West and saw green and brown. To the East, the land looked like the frozen tundra! It was so cool how the climate changed with the turn of my head out my plane window.

The whole trip seemed pretty short-lived, except for the 17 hours in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. That's how my dad spent his birthday. Guess it could always be worse!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In like a Lamb... Out to the West!

It's another sunny day in da Harbor! The ice broke and floated from the bay last week... I just couldn't tell you that yet because we were supposed to have an ice fishing tournament this weekend. It got cancelled, so I thought I'd fill you in. What a treat to watch the waves in winter. Usually it looks like a white desert out there.

March is in like a lamb. I went snowshoeing with my coat tied around my waist yesterday. I even had to hang on to my shirt for a while because it felt so good. Suntan!

But this will be the last time I will be able to write you from da Harbor. I'm going west with my parents to see my brother and sister who live in Washington and Oregon, respectively. I'm sure the Wais family will have a blast.

Yes, that backcountry snow race is this weekend. You know what I find fateful about this situation? My mom asked me to go west with them long before I knew I had to coordinate and direct a two day snow race. I said, "Nothing is going on then! I'd love to come with!" And I feel relief that she got my ticket before I knew I had to plan this race. Otherwise, I would have said, "Sorry, but that's a really busy weekend for me. I can't go with you and see my whole family at once (a rare occasion)." Instead I get to say, "I hope the rest of the race goes well, guys! I got to catch a flight!"

Thank you fate. I've missed too many opportunities because of obligations I've created in my life. I will only live this life once, and I better not be too serious. Someone can always cover for me, right? I hope so because I'll be gone. Ha!

If I get a chance to write from the Wild West, I'll do that, but otherwise, I'll miss you til I return. Have fun without me!

Monday, March 1, 2010


I missed you. I wish I could find a happy medium between the spells where I feel like I have nothing interesting to say with all the time to say it and so much to tell you, but I can't even get to the computer. Lately I have been on the latter swing.

I've been coordinating the elements for a Backcountry Snow Race. The racers can snowshoe or ski the course. The first day is almost 11 miles, and the second day is about 6 miles. People are going to camp overnight at the Ft. Wilkins organizational campground. I'm pretty pumped about this event. The winter trails are so majestic, that they need to be showcased.

A few days ago, I snowshoed up Paul's Plunge, up East Vein Rd. and down the Kamikaze Loop (all parts of the race course). That trek was about 5 miles. It was quite exhilarating... when I started. But after breaking trail for the last half of the hike, I began to get quite antsy for home. I would look to the North (please let that be North. I think that's North) in hopes of seeing Lake Fanny Hooe. Not just because she's a leading lady in my life, but because that meant I could get off the trail, cross the lake and walk the highway home. Mmmm, solid ground.

There it was. Right down there. I see trees close, and trees far, so the lake must be in the middle. I've got to be there by now. So I ducked and goosed my way through the trees and more snow to the ridge line that would take me down. When I got there, however, the way down was was a much different angle. By the lake, the landscape angles down steeply to the water. But I was too far East, I realized, when I only saw the creek that was be between Lake Fanny Hooe and Mud Lake. The way down was a cliff. I decided not to plunge to my death, turned back around and, with the help of Duce, found my way to the never-ending Kamikaze trail.

At least North was where I thought it was. I found myself doubting, well, myself, almost half the time I was walking down the trail. And since it's on a ridge that drops down to the lake, I had it set in my mind that I could not possibly get lost. I wasn't really lost on land, but I sure was in my head, and that makes the journey seem that much longer.

I wanted to lay in the snow and take a nap. Why was I doing this to myself without another human being? The last time I snowshoed Kamikaze with another lady in town, Nancy, and we did it the opposite direction. The horrible, grueling, uphill for 3/4 of the way direction. We were in a blizzard, and the water in my bottle was turning to ice. That day, I wanted to give up so bad, and I was sure we were lost. That Nancy, though, she just kept keeping on, and lead me to safety.

When I think back to my past adventures, I am amazed at how the land up here has changed my mind and body. Each year I can see myself progress on many levels. And I know it's because I am here, in this wilderness that never ceases to amaze me and kick my butt. I am grateful for every moment we share.