Canoeing Minnehaha Creek

I had ambitious adventure goals for 2013 and didn’t complete any of them. I had a pretty valid reason since my second son was born that year, and, well, that dwarfs every other adventure I could have had. One of those goals was to canoe down Minnehaha Creek, something I’ve always wanted to do but have never gotten around to. Last weekend I finally decided to get my act together and canoe a section of the creek with my oldest son and a friend. Goals for the day were pretty straightforward: 1) expose my son to the joys of canoeing (he’s never been on a canoe, he’s 4), 2) hang out with a good friend, 3) have a local adventure in my backyard, 4) enjoy gorgeous weather.

Check, check, check, and check.

One of the things that endears me to wear I live in the Twin Cities (and the Twin Cities as a whole for that matter) is the accessibility of trails, waterways, and outdoor recreation you can get to easily within a 30 minute or less drive. It takes me about 5 minutes to get to a canoe landing along the creek from my house, but there are many places you can put in so long as you do it between Gray’s Bay and Minnehaha Falls. That’s a pretty good stretch and affords a lot of opportunities.  The forest green Lincoln canoe that sits on the side of my house doesn’t get the usage it deserves, so this was a terrific opportunity to give it a run.

Since my son has never been on a canoe and he has an uneasy relationship with bodies of water that he can’t walk into from shore and are not in our bathtub, I spent days hyping up the trip by extolling the virtues of a day paddling a watercraft. He was into it, at least he was into the idea of it. My friend, Erik, had done it once before so I relied on his knowledge of the winding Minnehaha Creek and what stretches were more nuanced than others. Initially I had envisioned putting in at Gray’s Bay and going as far down the creek as possible, but Erik wisely suggested we might want to shorten the trip since we had a 4 year old in tow, and 4 year olds aren’t known to want to do much of anything for more than an hour at a time. The truncated version we settled on was to put in behind the Minnetonka Civic Center and pull out around the Knollwood Target off highway 7. Since I have kids and he does not, we had to take out my son’s car seat and load it into the canoe, which works just fine as long as you don’t mind a damp car seat, which no one did.

The trip started off great. My son was excited, we waved to a friendly kayaker, and saw a flock of geese take off and land on the water right in front of us. It’s the type of thing that I take for granted as an adult but watching my son enjoy these simplicities puts a new frame around most experiences, this one included.

We passed under many roads, paddled through “caves” – as my son puts it – and enjoyed the surrounding marsh land. Generally, things went really well, although we did have two tricky spots.

The first was around the Minnetonka Mills area, where the creek is shallower, the current is faster, and there are more rocks to run into. We bumped a few rocks along the way and some scraped the bottom. It really wasn’t a big deal (pretty fun in fact for a grownup kid) but my son was frightened by it and he thought we were going to sink and wanted to stop, which of course we did not. This however was the beginning of a long stretch that caused a bit of anxiety for the little guy, but we soldiered on. We began the trip with me steering and Erik in the front. As we learned halfway through the trip after switching positions, he’s far better at steering a canoe than I am, and I’m better an mindlessly paddling and being told what to do.

The Linc got a little banged up on the underside, but nothing we couldn't handle.
The Linc got a little banged up, nothing we couldn’t handle.

The second tricky section was around St. Alban’s road, just east of Hopkins Crossroad. See, the creek bends a lot and when the current picks up, there are more hazards in the water, the creek narrows, and you have to deal with low hanging branches that reach out over the water, there’s a lot more you have to consider. Not the least of which is a 4 year old who’s crying right behind you that he doesn’t want to hit anymore rocks. We did graze a sizable rock alongside the canoe that made us pretty unstable. I – being of sound mind and body – threw my leg out and plunged it into the creek to stabilize the boat so we wouldn’t capsize (it’s not that deep). Thinking I had just saved the day, I turned around just in time to see Erik falling off the back end. He – also of sound mind and body – realized in the moment of turbulence as his weight shifted and he was halfway out of the canoe, that he could either try to ride it out and fight to keep us all up, or, he could bail off the back. He chose door number two and bailed, getting soaked and cracking his elbow on a rock. We both laughed it off as a great time (his laughter came much later than mine, understandably so), but my son did not.

Got a little wet during this portion.
The spill.

After these two minor instances of distress, the rest of the trip was quite peaceful and calm. The little man eventually took a greater interest in the his surroundings as we counted the cranes and turtles along the way of which there were many.

Even though I’m sure there were times he thought it was curtains for him my son had a great time. How do I know? Because he’s still telling stories about it days after the fact. So even though there are times when the water is rough and you feel like you’re going down, sometimes the best thing to do is to keep paddling so you can get to the end, and upon reaching the end, you’ll look back and realize that the payoff was worth it. The payoff being the trip itself and not the final destination. I pray he doesn’t forget that, but if he does, we’ll just have to go on another adventure.

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Sailing Lake Minnetonka

My wife and I do not live the life aquatic.  Although this is the land of 10,000 lakes we do not own a boat, nor do we have access to a boat (other than our canoe, which seldom sees the water, which I’m trying to change).  We’ve had a peculiar desire to try our hand at sailing, which is difficult if you don’t own a sailboat and have no discernible sailing acumen.  Lucky for us, I found a deal via Amazon Local for Sail Away Sailing School on Lake Minnetonka.

It was a simple two-hour excursion on a boat that was captained by Joan (that’s Captain Joan to you!) Gilmore, who was terrific and knowledgeable about explaining sailing to beginners such as ourselves.  We learned basic ideas about sailing, parts of the boat, how the geometry of a boat plays with the wind and waves, etc.  There was another couple on the boat with us who were also going through a training period although they were more advanced and had their sights set on sailing in the Caribbean on a catamaran.

If you’re ever in the market for a good afternoon trying something new outdoors, I highly recommend checking out a sailing lesson led by Sail Away Sailing School.  It’s very accessible, affordable, and is a great intro level to sailing.  Although sailing is not an “extreme” sport (at least not how we were doing it), it is both very relaxing without being boring in ideal weather conditions, because there’s always something to monitor and keep track of.  It’s a good blend of doing something active while not being too strenuous.  There are plenty of other activities for that.

What’s the future of our sailing careers?  Who knows.  For now, my wife and I would be happy just to go around Lake Minnetonka by ourselves someday, but sailing to all points of the earth does sound like it’d be a great adventure….to me anyway.

Back In The (new) Saddle

This probably doesn’t necessitate a long post, but, the last time I went out riding at Theo Wirth I took a (dumb) spill and my saddle popped right off the rails.  Don’t ask.

I was foolish enough to think I could reattach it.  A couple of weekends ago I went out to ride Murphy-Hanrehan and made a quick pit stop into  Tonka Cycle & Ski to get their expert opinion, because theirs is an opinion I trust.  Not only did they tell me it was near impossible to get it back on, but they sold me on upgrading to a new saddle.  I walked out of there with the WTB Laser V.  My tuchus has never been happier.  It has more cushion than the Silverado Pro I was riding but it’s lighter.  Titanium vs. Ni-Cro tends to do that.  Not only was it lighter and more cushioned, I felt I could transition off and on more smoothly.

Solid recommendation for Tonka Cycle.  If you’ve never been there, I encourage you to go.  Their good local people with good advice.

 Out with the old

In with the new

New Zealand Adventure

About 5 months ago our family took a trip to New Zealand’s south island to visit family and have an adventure.  I’ve been meaning to write about it for the last 5 months and clearly never did.  I can’t possibly go back and recount everything we did, so here’s a summary.

Things that were awesome

  • Flying across two hemispheres for 21 hours in a plane with my wife and two boys ages 3 and under.
  • Hiking everywhere.
  • Renting an RV (scuse me, Campervan) for 8 days and driving around the south island.
  • Constantly feeling like you’re in Lord of the Rings.
  • Milford Sound boat cruise.
  • Local hospitality.
  • Seeing dolphins swim underneath the boat you’re on during a Milford Sound boat cruise.
  • Fergberger
  • Convincing your wife to bungee jump off a bridge.
  • Hiking everywhere.
  • Sheep.  Everywhere.
  • Seeing the simple pleasure your son gets out of throwing rocks in streams.
  • Feeling the weight of a 1-year-old on your back as you ascend steep terrain.
  • Patience and support of a brother and sister.
  • Never having stayed in a hostel in a foreign country in my life, then staying in a hostel in a foreign country with my wife and kids.
  • Jumping into the Pacific Ocean then the Tasman Sea within days of each other.
  • Eating a disgusting minnow and egg sandwich.
  • Finding local beers that tasted good.
  • Glaciers.
  • Alpine parrots.
  • Wine country.
  • The art community of Christchurch.
  • The long drive leading up to Mt. Cook.
  • The joy of knowing that years from now I can relive the event with my sons.

Things that weren’t awesome

  • Nothing.

 

 

Ice Climbing Sandstone

Winter sports have always been tough for me.  I love to downhill ski but I don’t get out to do it much.  I love to snowshoe but I don’t own any.  Classic cross country skiing is fun (again, don’t own any) but I’m terrible at skate skiing.  Speaking of skating, I rarely, if ever, do it.  So I don’t cross country or skate ski, I don’t skate at all, and I don’t own snowshoes (yet); what kind of a Minnesotan am I?

I’ve only ever been rock climbing before.  Even though I dislike the cold (and this winter has been abysmal) I’m always looking for different ways to enjoy the great outdoors.

An opportunity to do just that made itself available recently in the form of ice climbing.  I’ve never been ice climbing before and had never known anyone who has done it, but as it turns out, someone I’ve climbed with before has ice climbing experience.  Erik is a manager at Vertical Endeavors, which means that he has approximately 10x more ability than I do and 50x more expertise.

A small group of us headed north to Sandstone to climb on a Saturday morning a number of weeks ago.  Leading up to the day I had been keeping an eye on the bitter cold weather.  I thought it was supposed to be around 20 degrees, and if I layered right and was moving around, I should be warm enough.  Instead, it was closer to 0 degrees.  Suffice to say, I was not layered as well as I could have been, which led to a wicked cold day.  My fingers and toes were so cold I couldn’t feel them after a while, even while I was climbing.  But then again, I’m a big baby when it comes to being cold outside anyways.

When we arrived at Sandstone we walked the narrow snow-packed trail at the top of the ridge to find the best spots to set our ropes.  Since I’m not that experienced at setting top ropes I basically walked around while Erik, Erik, and Bryan did all the work.  Sure I tried to untie a knot for Erik, but, finger dexterity was severely lacking in my choppers, so I played the role of the unhelpful spectator.  Once we set up three different routes we headed back down to the bottom where we spent the rest of the day.

Here’s what I can say about ice climbing for a first timer (from my perspective at least).

1) It’s a lot different than rock climbing.  Ice climbing requires a whole different technique I was not familiar with, and it’s more rigid.  Whereas with rock climbing, technique is certainly involved, but I felt I had more freedom with my body with rock climbing.

2) It’s cold.  And I did not layer appropriately.  My mistake.  My freezing mistake.

3) It’s tiring.  Tiring in a different way than rock climbing because of the emphasis on different and unfamiliar muscles used.

4) It’s a lot of fun.  Although I didn’t entirely know what I was doing and only a fool would say that I was any good at it, I actually had a lot of fun and would recommend it for anyone to try at least once.

5) Sandstone is cool.  There were many more people ice climbing than I would have expected at Sandstone, which has a really cool wall of ice when it’s properly watered.  It was impressive and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it before.

Then again, Sandstone hadn’t heard of me before either, and it didn’t seem to care.

 

 

Adventure Goals for 2013

As 2012 is left behind and a new year begins, I have some goals (lofty in some respects, realistic in others) to have a more adventure filled year than 2012.  The biggest adventure I’ll be having, is that my wife and I are expecting our second son in March.  Nothing on this list will give me more joy than the joy I’ll be experiencing on March 19th (assuming baby #2 is punctual).  With all of these things I aim to accomplish in the new year, they will only happen if I can successfully balance adventure and family.  It’s very important for me to spend quality time with the fam, and adventuring out in the wild while my wife is at home with two kids both under the age of 4 would put me in the running for worst husband of 2013.  So, there needs to be a balance.  As part of that balance, I’m looking to try to have more local adventures.  Things I can do close to the Twin Cities or the rare northern Minnesota trip.  Obviously I’d love to take my wife and sons on all of these excursions, but the boys aren’t old enough for most of them yet.
With that in mind, here are the things I hope to try to do in 2013.

Run a 50 mile Trail Ultramarathon
Last summer I ran my first ultra, the Afton Trail Ultramarathon.  It was a great experience, albeit a very tough and challenging one.  This biggest commitment of this isn’t the race itself, but the time investment the training necessitates.  By my estimation, if I can run 30 miles, what’s another 20?  Right?  Right?  I’ve got my eye on you Superior Trail Race.

Climb at Barn Bluff in Red Wing and Blue Mounds State Park
Taylor’s Falls is great for a Twin Citian such as myself, and there’s still a lot of routes I haven’t done there, but a trip to either Barn Bluff in Red Wing or Blue Mounds our in Luverne would be a lot of fun  I believe Barn Bluff is mostly lead climbing, so…
***Bonus Goal ***
Learn how to lead climb..

Mountain bike Cuyuna Trails
Two falls ago I biked Cuyuna and loved it.  I hope to be able to take another crack at it.
***Bonus Goal ***
Mountain bike way more often than I did in 2012.  After getting a new bike towards the end of 2011, I found it tough find time to hit the trails.  Shame on me.

Paddle the Minnehaha Creek Watershed point to point
This is basically in my backyard so I have no reason not to do it, other than low waters because of a drought and the need for an aluminum canoe.  But other than that I don’t have a good excuse.  It’s pretty meandering and easy from what I understand.  Bonus points if I take my (then) 3-year-old son on his first canoe ride.


Hike section of the Superior Hiking Trail
I love hiking in northern Minnesota, but haven’t been able to hike the SHT for a few years.  Even if I can only get up there for one or two days, it’d be worth it.  I’ve never been up there for the fall foliage….

Run a marathon; either Grandma’s or Twin Cities
I’ve ran a lot of half-marathons and an ultra-marathon  but I haven’t run a regular road marathon since I ran Twin Cities in 2008.  I’d like to run Grandma’s since I’ve never done it – new experience – but Twin Cities is a lot more convenient.

Sleep outside in the backyard with my son
On the eve of his 2nd birthday I set up the tent and we camped outside in our backyard.  Awesome and memorable.  

Birthday camping is the best!
Birthday camping is the best!

Rock climb Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin with my uncle
My uncle who lives in the Northern suburbs of Chicago takes a trip north with a group of guys to climb at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin.  He has invited my brothers and I on the trip numerous times but the timing has never worked out.  Crossing my fingers for 2013.

Participate in the Hoigaard’s challenge
This is a prime candidate to be the first thing on my list I don’t accomplish.  A friend of mine recently asked me if I was interested in trying to accomplish the Hoigaard’s Challenge.  This includes participating in all three of the following events: The City of Lakes Loppet (XC skiing, Feb. 2-3), The Tri-Loppet (paddle, MTB, trail run, June 23), and the Surly Trail Loppet (trail half-marathon, Sept. 21).  Complete all three and you get a pin.  Neato.  I’ve done the Surly Trail Loppet before and really enjoyed it.  The Tri-Loppet is particularly appealing to me because I’ve thought of doing tris before but I don’t swim a lot (not those distances anyway) and I don’t have a road bike.  I do however enjoy mountain biking quite a bit, so this is right up my alley.  The City of Lakes Loppet however…although it’s something I want  to get into more, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve XC skied in my life.  That’s why if we ever get around to actually signing up, we’d just be participating.  Not competing.  But hey, gotta start somewhere right?

What are your goals for more adventure in 2013?  Leave a comment below.

Little Adventur(er)

When I often dream of my NEXT BIG ADVENTURE I think of some far off exotic locale with beautiful scenery and new challenges, be it physical or logistical.  It also includes making memories that will last a lifetime.  The company you keep on such adventures and the shared experiences is usually the best part of the adventure itself.  During the course of my long break from work over the holidays, I was able to have just that type of adventure…with my son.

Looking for something to do around the Twin Cities with not a lot of time on our hands and something easy we could do indoors, my wife and I took our son to Edinborough Park Playpark in Edina.  My father was in town for Christmas, so it was also nice to bring him out for this little excursion.  Edinborough is madcap mayhem for young kids.  There is a large room with a smooth floor that’s great for carts and tricycles, basketballs and hoop, and an inflatable bouncy room with a slide.

Bouncing Bonanza
Bouncing Bonanza

This is a fun place to let kids go wild and run around, but the real adventure is in the next room where the 37ft. high “Adventure Peak” awaits.  With tons of nooks and crannies and a lot of different types of slides, this is a dream for kids who are adventurous.  My son is only 2.5 years old, so it provided the perfect amount of adventure to discover unexplored rooms and little nooks, courage to try new slides that were fast, long, and curvy, and curiosity about what was around the next corner.  He particularly liked the helicopter/ submarine.

Fin's Adventure Peak
Fin’s Adventure Peak

If you have a young one at home that needs to get out and have a little adventure, this is a close and cheap ($6 for kids, adults free) option during the winter months where getting outside with a toddler is a little more challenging.  Not every adventure has to involve the summit of a far-off distant peak or bombing an new mountain bike trail. Some of the best adventures are the smallest ones, spent with the smallest people.

 

"Let me tell you about my boat."
“Let me tell you about my boat.”

Vertical Endeavors – Minneapolis

Climbing is not something that comes naturally to me, nor would I claim to be great at it.  I’m, just, o.k., but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get better.  I have dreamed of doing big climbs in far off lands, tackled complex problems while bouldering, and pushed myself past my current limitations.  At the moment however, my abilities are currently limited.  Since climbing outside year round in Minnesota is pretty tough to do, climbing indoors in the next best option.  Enter Vertical Endeavors.

With multiple locations in Minnesota (and one in Illinois) Vertical Endeavors is the premiere rock climbing gym.  A new gym opened about a year ago in Minneapolis and it’s a fantastic space.  It has multiple types of climbing available with 50-60 ft. climbing walls, and a lot bouldering options.  For someone like me who is a relative beginner, it’s awesome to be able to try new things and challenge myself one route at a time (routes and problems are changed often).  The staff is friendly and helpful, and the space itself is warm and inviting, despite that fact that you’re climbing on face rock.

Like

  • Lots of different routes/problems to try.
  • Variety for beginners to more experienced climbers.
  • Clean, kept up well.
  • Good music usually playing while you climb (I’ve never realized how ridiculously soothing it is to climb to classical or jazz music).
  • 10 punch card pass.  These go on sale, and when they do, buy one! If you’re like me and can’t afford a full membership, the punch card is a good way to go.

Don’t Like

  • Catch 22: I like that more people are into climbing, but if you can, avoid busy Saturday or Sunday afternoons when there’s a lot of people there and 2 different birthday parties of 8 11-12 years old going at the same time.  You’ll spend more time standing around than climbing.

Things I Need to Try

  • I’ve never done lead climbing before, this is the perfect place to try.
Off Route
Off Route
Capt. Pete

MTB Trail Review: Chequamegon, Hayward Cluster

Long overdue post.

I spent some time in Turtle Lake, WI this summer for work. Turtle Lake is very, very small and outside of the casino that’s there, there’s not a lot to do in the way of entertainment. So, I decided to bring my mountain bike and see what northern Wisconsin trails I could rustle up.  After leading a workshop one day, I quickly changed and drove over to Hayward, WI check out the Chequamegon trail system. This is a huge network of trails in Northern Wisconsin that has some of the best singletrack trails in the entire state.  Chequamegon is built on and around the storied Birkebeiner ski trails and so there are a number of areas that cross a ski trail.  Now, by the time I actually got there, it was near 6:00 and I had precious little time remaining seeing as how I needed to drive all the way back to Turtle Lake. With that in mind I chose the Hayward cluster of trails since they were the closest.

The Chequamegon trail system has miles and miles worth of quality trails. I probably only scratched the surface on about 10% of trails offered, but still really enjoyed my time. Starting from Mosquito Brook Trail Head, I did portions of the Kakwa trail, Sugarbush trail, and Birkie trail and Plantation trail.  Overall, the trails are well maintained and followed the descriptions in the trail guidepretty much to the letter.  Most of the trails I were on (except for the Birkie trail) were “rolling singletrack, moderately technical”.  Nothing too bad, still a great time.

Single track meets Birkie trails

After getting back to my car I had to find something to eat and settled on finding something local in Hayward.  Luckily for me, I stumbled upon the Angry Minnow  Brew Pub.  The bartender there talked me into getting the Jalapeno Slaw Burger, which – aside from riding trails – was the second best decision I made all day.  The River Pig American Ale and Tre Svend’s Imperial IPA are fantastic as well.  I really wish I had more time to explore the area and try different clusters (and go back to the Angry Minnow).  Guess I have an incentive to go back!

Angry Minnow in Hayward. So Good.

Tracked with my phone, not completely accurate.