Monday, January 27, 2014

Impassable Roads in Keweenaw County

Cold enough for ya?  Cripes.  Lake Superior really wants to freeze all the way across, doesn't she.  Here's an image of the Big Lake as of Monday, January 27th.  The gray is the ice.  Oh, boy.

Ice taking over the Big Lake

Schools are cancelled and all that.  This last week has been pretty intense for weather.  Here are a couple examples.

Wednesay Night
Errrrrrrr.  Errrrrrrrr.  "This is a message from the Emergency Broadcast System.  Accumulating snow, drifting snow and impassable roads are in effect for Keweenaw County.  All roads in Keweenaw County are closed."

That was looming since I was working at the Bear Belly Bar and Grill in Lac La Belle and had to drive home.  "You better just stay in Cabin 1 tonight," the owner told me.  Bless her heart.  But Aaron and I had a friend driving up from Green Bay that day.  If he could make it, I would go for it.  "It's not that bad," was the report.

So I buckled up and mustered up some courage.  The snow was a heavy six inches deep on the unplowed roads.  I revved the VW (front wheel drive) and gave her heck up the steep hill that passes Mount Bohemia.

Gunning it in third gear, the menacing tire tracks in the road from drunken snowboarder stunts threw my own tires out of any possible tracks.  Second gear.  Spinning tires.  First gear.  Stopped.

Stopped in the middle of the road half way up this steep hill.  I was just hoping that nobody else was going to be on this road.  Nobody.  Then I could maneuver however I had to to get out of this mess.

I took a couple deep breaths and got my wits together.  Rocked her back and tried to gain some traction forward until my spinning wheels became useless.  I could barely steer through the muddled tracks and deep snow.  Well, Cathy said I could stay in Cabin 1 tonight, I reminded myself.  And I tried moving forward again.  And again and again.  Baby steps.

Someone was rooting for me because I made it up the hill revving the engine a handful of times in the red zone.  If you've ever driven a manual transmission, you know what that means.  At least I got the carbon out!

Once the grade leveled out, things got easier.  I had to drive in the only set of tracks on the road... in the other lane.  Now I was really hoping nobody else was going to come down this road.  Leaving those tracks surely meant I would come to a halt again.

Approaching the sharp right hand, uphill turn onto 41, I had already decided I wasn't going to stop at that stop sign.  Keep her in second and just go for it.  That would be my only hope of making the turn.  

At Highway 41, the impossible became reality.  It was plowed!!!  I was giddy.  My lane was plowed when the roads were "Closed" in Keweenaw County!  Granted, anyone else driving that road would have been in my lane too, but now I had dibs on the clean lane.  Somebody out there loves me.

Five miles later, I was at Medora -- the most dreadful part of the Covered Stretch in blowing snow.  Now, you are not going to believe what I went through here.  Somehow, the road looked darn near zambonied, and I could see a part of the road I hadn't seen in weeks: the yellow lines.  Yahoo!!!  I just followed the yellow lines to keep me in the middle of the road through all that blowing snow.

I made it home with a big smile on my face.

Friday Night
Friday, I was also working at the Bear Belly in Lac La Belle.  Since it was a weekend crowd, I didn't get out of there until 11:30 pm.  A Blizzard Warning was in effect, but nobody sounded concerned like they did Wednesday.

I made it up the Bohemia hill full throttle without stopping.  Highway 41 had about three inches of mashed snow on it, so I went a bit slower there.  Visibility was pretty good.

Until I got two miles before Lake Medora.

Where did all these huge flakes come from? I wondered as I started my useless windshield wipers and squinted out the only clear parts of my windshield that changed with every swipe.  By now I was back into third gear.

I couldn't even see any of the road signs that usually let me know I'm getting to Lake Medora.  I only knew I was there because, suddenly, I couldn't see anything at all.  Second gear and 12 mph.  I couldn't see anything out the front, so I looked out my side windows to make sure I was half way between the banks.  I was not, I repeat NOT going to get sucked in the drifts at midnight.

White knuckles, deep breaths and side window glances got me through to Medora Road.  I could sort of see the mailboxes there by then.  And in another mile, I could see well enough to shift her into third gear.

Almost there.  Almost there. became my mantra.  I had to make it home soon because I called Aaron an hour ago, and I knew he would start to look for me soon.

The rest of the trip went well enough.  Whew.  I was so grateful to be home safe.  That was the longest it ever took me to get past Medora.  But I guess it was a trade for that easy time two nights before.

Moving On
So yes, the Polar Vortex is upon us.  We used to just call it winter, but I guess the authorities like to dramatize things.

Here is a little slice of Hunter's Point's Vortex from, um, a few days ago!

Looking at the ice from Hunter's Point Beach

Okay.  Now I have to catch up on the rest of my projects that I couldn't do while the power was out.  Take care!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Anatomy of an Ice Cave

Oh, there you are!

I mentioned that I was going on a ski trip.  Yup.  Five resorts in three days.  I scheduled myself for quite a busy adventure.  During my research, I got to have a little fun.  My friends Barb and Tom Buchkoe took me to the Eben Ice Cave.  Since I saw a picture of it, I wanted to go.

Here are the pictures.  If you want to go, here are the directions!

A pan looking in

A pan looking out

Looking up from the bottom

Inside looking lengthwise

Me in front

Barb and the pup

Tom doing what he does

It was cool.  I'd recommend it.

Yesterday we got a shot of sunshine.  Three hours to be more precise.  I made sure to get out between projects to enjoy some rays.  

The ice fishermen were out too.  In droves.  Notice the ones all the way by Porter's Island.  And they were catching fish!

Shanty town

Did you notice that this is the same spot I was ice skating on the week before???  How quickly it changes.  

The funny thing about that is while I was walking around town, a lady asked me, "Do you know where there's a good place to ice skate around here?  I heard there was a smooth spot somewhere."

And like it was the middle of August, I replied, "The harbor was awesome before it snowed and all the ice fishermen drilled holes in it."  Bahahaha.

I really need to get away from the computer for a while.  I wanted to show you these pictures, but my brain is like a melting snowball from writing articles.  I suppose that's a good problem for a writer to have!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Best Ice Rink. Ever.

The last two days brought our first break in the snow since early December.  I can't promise that not a single snowflake fell, but no accumulation stuck.  It was traded for our long lost friend: the Sunshine!  I think Keweenaw residents will be rejuvenated for at least a couple weeks before we get all cranky again.

Now this next part is a feat I've been hoping to do since I moved here eight years ago.  A venture that requires the perfect blend of temperature, lack of wind, lack of snow and cooperation from Her Majesty, Lake Superior.  It is a rare occurrence, and by now it's already too late to do it again.  But I took full advantage when I had the chance.

I ice skated across Copper Harbor's bay.

Here is some visual media, so you believe me.

Looking toward Porter's Island over the Harbor's rink

Looking at Brockway Mountain from the middle of the rink

Giddy as I was.  I got a little video for you.  Hopefully it will help quell any fears you may have brewing in your stomach.

Skating out there was amazing.  Simply the most scenic, alluring, glassy rink I have ever skated.  

The first day (Thursday) I booked it all the way to Porter's to check out the scene there.  The ice was all chunked by the time I got to the opening on the east end toward where the boats come in.  The 20 mph south winds made it a little tough to skate back to where Duce waited, shivering in cold and fear.  But I gave 'er heck, and finally made it back.

When I went out Friday, my original launch spot at the Harbor Haus was more like a pool, so a couple buddies, a couple pups and I tried the shore at Third Street Dock.  Perfect.

We skated around on ice even better than the day before!  My curiosity antennae pointed to the gap on the west side of Porter's that day.  My friends were a little leery, but I knew what to look for.  By the time I got there, the ice looked only 3 1/2 inches thick.  We didn't stay there too long!

Besides the occasional burp through a fissure in the ice, it seemed really stable out there.  My heart fluttered the whole time with glee.  There was really nothing like it.  Maybe someday it will happen again!

In my own little world, I thought this was really rad.  I posted a picture on facebook, and it seems that over 100 people thought it was really rad too -- people that have never been here!  That made me think... maybe other people who don't know about this will think it's rad when they learn about it!

Here's where you come in.

You like this blog.  You enjoy the adventures, pictures and whatnot.  Why don't you share it with a friend?  One friend who you think might need a little inspiration or a smile in their day.  Go ahead!  Try it right now!  Just tell them that you think this is rad, and they might too.

Hopefully you can brighten someone's day for the rest of their life!  And thank you for sharing.

Now I have to pack for a trip.  I'm traveling to 5 UP ski resorts that I'm writing articles about.  Now that's my kind of research!

Oh, before I go, here's a picture of the north shore of Hunter's Point.  The ice stretched as far as I could see into the lake that day (Tuesday?).  But now, it's all gone.

Ice off the north shore

Have a great week!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Life in a Fairy Tale

Happy 2014!!!  Unlike most commercial holidays, I actually appreciate a New Year celebration because a person can start fresh.

Four days into it, I already have treats for you.

You can call me a wuss for this, but I don't really want to hang from a chairlift with these low temps and high winds.  I've been getting creative instead.  Here's how.

The plow banks in my driveway are 10 to 12 feet high, so I bought me a new orange sled, and I climbed up the bank for some excitement in my own front yard.  Well, that bank was okay, but, you know, my house is on a big conglomerate boulder way off the ground.

I had it perfectly planned out.

I would climb the stairs to my porch, hoist over the rail and bomb down that boulder.  It was awesome!  I got to rip it about four times before I realized my sled was slowing down.  Upon inspection, I realized that I had cracked the back end in the shape of my back end.  I didn't let it get me down, though.  I had the perfect remedy used by yoopers for years.

Duct tape.

So I taped her back up and tried again.  Wee hoo!  So much fun!  For two runs.  Yeah, that last run was a little slow too.  Did I crack it again?  Sure enough, I cracked that sled into pieces.

Me and my busted sled

At first, I was a little upset.  I mean, I planned on sledding all afternoon in my new sled, and I got six runs before it was obliterated.  But I couldn't blame anyone but me.  I am probably not in the weight class for a kid sled, and on half my runs, I got air before landing on the hard-packed driveway.  I abused that thing.  And my own back end.

Upon realizing that I was too sore to chance crashing at Mt. Bohemia or even lift my right leg high enough for a snowshoe, I had to find another option.  What can I do when it's really cold, but I can't fall or walk?  

Ride a bike!!!  

I busted out the cruiser and rode merrily to the beginning of Highway 41.  Oh, I love a bike ride, and that was the ticket.  Upon passing the Lighthouse Overlook area on my way home, I decided to pull in, and check out the shore.

It was then that I realized what I had been missing.

Shore Exploring
So I've taken you around da Harbor lately.  Up Brockway's Nose, through Clyde's Feild, on Lake Medora, almost to Horseshoe Harbor, etc.  But there is one place we haven't gone, and the minute I was there, its grandeur flooded my soul.

The lakeshore.

With a couple clumsy toddles here and an almost slip there, I became something new.  All the sudden I was Goldilocks adventuring the caves of The Three Bears.  And I wasn't even wearing snowpants.

Here is the first ice cave I stumbled upon.

Outside Baby Bear's Cave

Now pardon me for finding them out of fairy tale order, but I didn't quite realize what was happening yet.  So I crawled inside.

Inside Baby Bear's Cave

I was enamored.  I haven't been inside one of these since last winter... and it has already been winter for months!  With my curiosity antennae pointed down the shore line, I followed my instincts.  Another cave was just up ahead!

Outside Mama Bear's Cave

When I took this picture, I remember thinking, My readers better appreciate this because I can hear the water moving underneath the ice that I just jumped onto.  But I went ahead and crawled inside anyway... in my corduroy pants.  Boy, do they gather the snow.

Inside Mama Bear's Cave

Wow, Mama.  Great view of the lighthouse!

I was geeked.  What a spectacle!!!  I wished a camera crew was out there with me to capture the splendor, curiosity and magic I felt and saw.  Plus, they could help ward off the bears.

Back outside, my hesitations about the ice were gone as adrenaline took over.  I saw another cave ahead.  Surely it was Papa Bear's.

Outside Papa Bear's Cave

Papa must be able to get down low because I even had a rough time not breaking icicles off with my head as I crawled inside.

The view from in there could be on National Geographic.

Inside Papa Bear's Cave

Just imagine if I had a professional camera!  This is my new favorite picture of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse.

But wait... what are those furry looking things hanging from the ceiling?

Frosted Icicles

Have you ever seen those before?  Really, I mean how do they form?  There must have been some moisture build-up... from heavy breathing... I thought as the water groaned under me like a tired bear.  Maybe my fairy tale wasn't so tale after all....

Okay!  Time to go!  And I pedaled home.

Driving the Gauntlet
If you read my last post, you have heard all about The Covered Stretch, aka The Gauntlet, aka Super Mario Brothers game.  But let me tell you.  Besides becoming a casualty risk for all who enter, for a few days, it turned the most surreal exhibition I have ever seen it be.

I literally could not believe was I was seeing, and I drove it three times that way.  My sincerest apologies for not getting a video of it.  By the time I realized I should, the south winds picked up, and it was no longer surreal.  Just a gauntlet of tree bombs.

But I have a plan on how to describe it to you.  Make sure you are relaxed to get the full effect.  Here is goes:

Imagine the Covered Stretch -- branches arching above you, touching each other.  Now let the branches turn into elk, caribou, moose and deer antlers all entangled with each other over your head.  

Seriously, stay with me.

Cover those antlers in sparkling white velvet.  All of them.  Now take all the end points of those antlers and let gravity pull them down at least two feet closer to where you are.  If you could slam dunk a basket ball, you might be able to jump up and touch the velvet.

On top of these low-hanging, white velvet antlers, we're going to throw up some white snow snakes: 10 inches wide and eight feet long.  They lay anywhere from the thick branches close to the tree trunks to the tips of the points.  You wonder how they stay there.  So do it.

We'll top it all off with a couple frosty snowmen.  Yup, round and jolly.  They're laying up there too, winking as you pass underneath.

And all this sets against a white road and a white sky.

If you were able to follow this all the way through, you are lucky.  You are one of the few people left in this world with an imagination.

But now I'm imagining that this is getting a bit long for your busy schedule.  First, I will tell you that yesterday the whole harbor was frozen from east to west.  Today the middle blew out.  That was quick!