Thursday morning work started out heading to the water, where I took a crew of intrepid scientist out the get them trained for our next aquatic mission. Really, it was just traveling about a half mile up river to get to our buoys by the outflow of a wastewater treatment plant, but being on the water beats sitting in front of a computer.
The Fourth of July weekend found myself and a very pregnant Sara Lee (due July 20th) heading to Traut’s Resort on Upper Eau Claire Lake. This is where Sara’s family gathers and has spent many a wonderful summer fishing and swimming at the lake. We were leaving Thursday after work, so we could get a jump on the relaxing. First thing that happened was the car had to be packed. Neither Sara nor I are minimalists, so the car was packed to the gills, leaving just enough room for Rio in the back. Rio went to hang out with her friend Rex for the weekend – much thanks to Michelle. The Rambler was packed with a 10ft carpet that I was bringing down for Theresa and Franks deck to prevent the loss of small parts, chips, quarters, and dominos. Theresa had bought it on Wednesday, but it was too big to fit into her minivan with all the people. Accompanying the carpet were all my tools (both regular and power) and a whole bag of other tools and accessories I was bringing along to gear up my kayak. I also brought a plethora of fishing equipment, a full size cooler full of craft beer, a laptop bag (with laptop in case I got the urge to write or work), and bag full of my clothes. To the mix were a couple of bags of food (one cold food with milk and fruit, the other with cereal, chips, buns, and beans). Then we added Sara’s Go into Labor – Head to the Hospital (holy shit this is really happening) bag, with hospital clothes, baby clothes, a few drinks and Luna bars and other things we might need at the hospital. Then we added a bag and a laundry basket of Sara’s lake clothes just for good measure. Oh, I almost forgot, I also brought along three camp chairs and a bag full of assorted useful camp items (binoculars, awesome nylon hammock, beach blanket with fish on it, etc.). With the car fully loaded (plus Rio, Sara, and I) we took off down the road for a weekend of relaxing fun. We dropped off Rio in Superior without much trouble (she likes to play with Rex who is just as awesome and chill as Rio). We then found our way to Superior Meats, which is in fact, a superior meat source, particularly if you would like some sort of sausage. We were initially overwhelmed but settled on chili-cheese hotdogs, German style brats, apple brats, and chicken sassy saucy sausages. We also were able to get some smoked meat sticks (think slim-jim but better made without so many preservatives or gross tastes). We got some sweet and spicy meat sticks and something called the bacon cheddar chunk (which was about as big around as a brat, but cut into 4” lengths). Both of them were delicious and provided excellent sustenance as we made our way through the wilds of Northern Wisconsin.
Due to road construction, we missed dinner, but we still got great leftover with lots of pulled pork and rasberry-crème pie. Since we were visiting at the same time as Sara’s cousin Shannon and his wife Micah (who I just met but were awesome and so much fun to hang out with) we got to stay in the cabins in Thursday and Friday night (instead of a blowup mattress). We unloaded our stuff and said our hellos and commenced to relaxing. One of my major goals for the trip was to add a rod holder and tool deck and anchor trolley to my kayak. Both of those things are available for purchase, but I felt I could do it myself for much cheaper (total purchase cost from store $195, DIY $65 including a number of tools and reusable items). I was going to make it out of wood. I’d seen some videos from DIY kayak fishing sites, but I wanted to make my own. While it doesn’t seem relaxing to design, plan, and implement a project for me it was awesome. A chance to create something tangible and useful with no deadline, just for fun. So I started the project on Thursday. I sorted through the parts and started construction. Eventually it was getting too late to work with power tools, so I put everything away and focused on being social. That was fun too, since I really like hanging out with Sara’s family and everyone at the resort is very friendly. I had a few Bent Paddles and a couple of Indeeds (both newer Minnesota craft beers), just enough for relaxing. As night approached Sara and I worked out sleeping arrangement in the cabin. We started in one bed, together, but the old spring frame and mattress gave us two choices either roll out or be squished together in the middle. I love my wife and am not at all adverse to the idea of being very close, with her pregnant and me snoring like a very large, very angry grizzly bear after a few beers, we decided it would be best if we made use of the other open bed in the cabin. It worked out very well, as Sara was able to sleep in a bit on Friday and I was able to get out and get moving on my kayak modifications. On Thursday I’d finished the risers which attach to the kayak (using toilet flange bolts) I just needed to attach the table and make some modifications. That turned out to be both easy. I just attached the board to the risers with some screws and was good to go. I then used a hole-saw to make three holes in the board for the rod holders. For rod holders I used 1½ “ PVC tubes. Once I had everything mocked up I took it apart and painted it with deck sealing paint that should give it some waterproofing and also some style. It is painted Atlantic blue which, it turns out is very close to Fish Tale Blue, which is in turn very close to the color of the Rambler. It maybe a coincidence or it could just be that I like that range of colors. Once it was painted and dried, I remounted it, attached and secured the rod holders. I even added some points to attach small bungee-cord to keep the rods in place if I want to troll with them. Next I set out to make an anchor trolley. I had purchased perhaps the smallest anchor ever, 1.5 pound grapnel anchor. The anchor trolley moves the anchor point from the front to the back of the boat depending on the wind and fishing direction. My boat came with a number of pre-attached screw points so I only had to make two holes in my boat to attach the guide-lines for the trolley. That went together really quickly with the use of a riveter and some silicone caulk. In the end, both ended up working out really well. I’m not sure if the anchor will be heavy enough, but I can easily upgrade, and I was trying to keep the budget low (evidently anchors cost about $10 a pound at least for the small ones).
While I was fixing my kayak, everyone else went into Barnes, WI to enjoy the 4th of July parade. The big winners were the kids who got large sacks of candy and Frisbees and a few other assorted goodies. When everyone came back we decided to cook up the brat and dogs we had purchased (along with pretzel buns). They were delicious, as expected. Apple brats with real chunks of apple in them, German brats with real chunks of German (actually just really authentic good German brats), and the Sassy Saucy Chicken brats were as promised sassy and saucy. The star of the show was the chili-cheese hotdogs which tasted amazingly like a chili dog without any of the mess. They were fantastic. After lunch I took my kayak out on a test paddle. The table worked awesome and didn’t get the way at all. By having the rods in front I could see where they were and didn’t get them tangled while casting. The table was able to slide far enough forward so that I could easily reach it without over-stretching or losing my balance. The anchor trolley worked well, but I want to test it again with some wind so that I can make sure it works. In this short session I caught a bunch of bluegill (a new species for the kayak). It was almost like I caught a fish every-other cast. It made it very hard to return for dinner. I was also using the Tom Lee special: a mighty-mite jig head with a Gulp minnow on the hook. Well after having such luck I headed back for a dinner.
Dinner on Friday was a crappie fish fry. The fish were fresh, delicious and well prepared (zero bones for me, with the only casualty being a chunk of Tom’s thumb). There was also corn on the cob, potatoes and jello salad (of course there was jello salad, you can’t have a get-together in Minnesota or Wisconsin without a jello salad). It was all great and great fun. The different families each take turns preparing dinners for everyone. We do the same thing within our family on vacations, breaking up the family into teams so that nobody gets stuck in the kitchen all vacation long. After dinner it was a bit more hanging out, then we all piled into cars to head out to the big fireworks show in Barnes. We got there about an hour early but it was fun to just sit and chat with Shannon and Micah, Patty, Theresa, Mac and Heather, while the kids (Brophy and Logan) ran around. Faces were painted, hotdogs were eaten (despite having eaten fish fry just a few hours before), a few more beers were drunk, and a good time was had. Once it got dark, the fireworks kicked off. There was music and booms and explosions, and while it wasn’t the best show I’d ever seen it was still pretty impressive. Next year they can work on the musical choreography, but mostly to explosions were too loud to hear the music anyway. It was a colorful celebration. The way home fought us through perhaps the biggest traffic jam in Barnes history, complete with a garage fire (caused by fireworks??), but Sara brought us safely home.
Saturday morning we had to move out of the cabins (since they rent from Saturday to Saturday). We got everything moved back into the car and the everything situated by about 10. The morning was great and glorious. Sunny and warm we swam in the lake. We called Michelle to see if she could keep Rio till Sunday and she said no problem (again many thanks). So we had another day on the Lake. It was a shirt off day of swimming and paddling around on the kayak. I caught a very tiny bass (largemouth; about 10 inches) but it was on light tackle so it was fun none the less. That makes four species on my kayak (northern pike, crappie (presumably black), bluegill, and largemouth bass. I know Upper Lake Eau Claire contains a few more species so maybe if I get back I’ll aim for catching them (Smallies, walleye and muskie this means you!). Catching a muskie on a kayak might be the most fun thing I could do on a kayak. When I got back there were games of Frisbee stick (throw the Frisbee and try to knock the cup off the stick). We played several rounds and eventually were rewarded with a pizza dinner.
So while being in the sun without a shirt is fun, not wearing sunblock has consequences. As a result I got pretty burnt on Saturday. So much so that by late Saturday evening all I wanted to do was hang out in the hammock and not move. I tried the rope hammock, but each knot in the rope felt like a fresh scourge being flayed across my back. So I switched it out with the nylon one. For awhile I was able to zen out and avoid thinking about the sunburn to come and the fact that I’d been drinking since 10AM (but slowly so as never to be drunk) and was certainly now dehydrated. The zen only worked for a little while, because before to long the gang of kids found me and started to swing the hammock, ask me questions, and poke me with various toys. I explained to them that you should leave sleeping dogs lay and that you shouldn’t “poke the bear” both because it isn’t nice and because bears who are poked are often grumpy, and nobody wins when you poke a grumpy bear. Well, I’m not sure that they got the message, because instead of going away and leaving me alone, there was a rousing chant of “POKE THE BEAR”, followed by more poking. It wasn’t painful pokes with sharp objects, but being sunburned on you back any pokes are a bit aggravating. So rather than teach the children an object lesson about making large people angry, I got out of the hammock and moved to a seat. I was able to read a little bit and drink a few bottles of water (and a handful of Advil) before retiring for the evening. While it was a blowup mattress it was pretty comfortable (minus sunburn agony). The Advil quelled the sunburn and the waters removed the headache.
Sunday morning found everyone slowly packing up. Most folks had been there a few more days than us, so it was time to return to our real lives, relaxed and re-energized and ready to face the weeks ahead. For me the weeks ahead don’t seem very relaxing, but incredibly exciting. Sara and I floated in the lake for about an hour on Sunday morning (albeit with me wearing a long sleeve shirt). It was cool and comfortable and quiet. Sara and I had a long quiet moment talking about the events to come and all the accompanying changes. Well those moments never last forever and we finally got out of the water and headed back to Duluth.
Once we got home it was back to reality. I unloaded the Rambler and worked on laundry, while Sara went through all the new stuff for the baby, trying to get everything under control. With so many gifts (a blessing of having so many wonderful friends) we needed to sort the baby clothes into size groups and figure out what is for now and what is for later. It also gave us a chance to ensure that we have everything ready for Katie’s pending arrival. I need to reattach the car seat base still and set up the pack and play again. There are few things to pick up or order from Target, but I think we are ready. Or at least as ready as two first time parents can be. I find myself at work, calmly anticipating the call that will inexorably change my life (our lives). Concentration was hard to find, but I want to get some of the projects done before I take some time off with baby. Thirteen days to go, sun-burnt, and nervously expecting, joyously awaiting the moment that a new life appears and my life trajectory takes off in a glorious new adventure.