Impromptu kayaking trip

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 6:30 a.m.: Come up with idea for an early morning kayaking trip because I can’t sleep even though it’s the weekend.

7 a.m.: Grab 4-liter Sea to Summit dry bag containing compass (in case I get lost), whistle (in case I need help) and Gerber knife (in case of something), and slip out while everyone else is asleep.

7:15 a.m.: Drive off with kayak, paddle, backup paddle (in case I lose the paddle) and life vest lashed to or otherwise stowed in the Jeep.

7:24 a.m.: Reach the shore, ease into the kayak with the plan of circling the Island of No Worries, begin paddling upstream.

7:35 a.m.: Spot a yellow and orange bobber tangled in a mass of tree limbs reaching up from the river. Liberate it with the knife (so that’s why I brought it), spot a fishing lure in the same mass and collect it as well. Continue on.

8:05 a.m.: Reach the upstream tip of the island, begin traveling downstream on the other side.

8:15 a.m.: Round the downstream side of the island and begin back upstream to the port.

8:25 a.m.: Land at a weed-covered boat ramp that I didn’t notice when I started. Load up the kayak.

8:35 a.m.,: Drop by my favorite downtown, non-franchise coffee shop, discover it doesn’t open until 9:30 a.m. on the weekend. Bah.


Trip shot: Kayak Duck

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I took a quick paddle around a local lake for exercise this morning and stopped out at a small island. This little guy came to visit.

Video: Hashima Island

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HASHIMA, Japan, 2002 documentary version from Thomas Nordanstad on Vimeo.

We found this interesting video on Hashima Island off the coast of Nagasaki. The island was built up starting the 1880s to provide housing for a coal mining operation. It shut down in the 1970s after petroleum began replacing coal for energy and remained off limits to the public until 2009 when the ruins were opened to tourists.

The narrator in the video (Japanese language with English subtitles) tells of growing up as a child on Hashima, which was also called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island).

Island hopping

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The Canadas have invaded the island.

Not the Canadians, the Canadas, because they’re called Canada geese and not Canadian geese (and not gooses).

At any rate, a whole gaggle of the fowl were there waiting for me when I kayaked out. It’s been years since I’ve been to the island, a small tree-covered affair in the middle of a lake usually populated by powerboats and water skiers. I’ve walked across the ice to the island in winter, and in the summer we used to canoe out to a beach on the far side for picnics.

But this time, after heading out early to avoid the high-speed watercraft, the honking greeted me as I approached, and geese appeared on the banks, lined up like a hostile army preparing to defend its position. I circumnavigated to the other side where two Canada geese were wading on the beach and a few more waited back in the woods.

At this point, I decided against making a landing. Geese can be mean, with their hissing and charging, wings spread wide. I once saw a pair of angry geese back a hiker into a pond. He tripped, and they picked his bones clean. But the guy had it coming. He hissed first.

Sure, I could have met the tribe of geese head-on and reclaimed the island in a fair fight. But there were other things to consider. They may have been nesting, protecting a clutch of eggs. Or perhaps they were just stopping for a few days during a trip back north after winter. I did’t want to trigger an international incident.

But mainly I backed down because of the poop. Geese can saturate an area with their droppings in no time, so the island isn’t worth reclaiming, at least not until after they have moved on and the next floods rolls through and cleans out the mess.

Paddle-up ruins

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Six years ago, floods of Mesopotamian proportions washed away the small settlement on the Island of No Worries. Hundreds of volunteers and thousands of sandbags weren’t enough to protect the community from the swollen Midwest river, and when the water subsided, the homes, which numbered about a dozen, were bought out by the government and leveled or burned to the ground by vandals.

Since then, the island was turned into a park. The city mows what used to be the lawns, although most of the land is wild forest. There is no parking, and motorized vehicles are verboten, which means visitors have to walk across a bridge. So, the island remains largely unnoticed.

Another way to get there is by boat, and during one late summer day off, I launched my new Pelican kayak on its maiden voyage, putting in at a nearby ramp and circumnavigating the island, first heading upstream on the island’s east side. The river was calm and very shallow in spots. I followed a pair of ducks until they became annoyed by me and took flight. At one section, I spotted a golf ball and reached down to pluck it from the sandy bottom.

Rounding the island’s northern tip, I glided across some choppy swirls and then floated down the west side with the swift current. Passing under a bridge, I came across traces of the island’s former inhabitants. Concrete steps and walkways led from what used to be shore-side homes to what used to be private docks. Near where the last house on the block once stood were the remains of a loose-stone outdoor oven. Finding a natural landing in an inlet, I headed ashore to explore.

Island hopping


Even since my canoe was swiped from my backyard — I assume by area methamphetamine aficionados
seeking aluminium to sell as scrap to feed their habit — I’ve been looking for ways to explore the minor islands that dot the local waterways.

I’ve shied away from inflatable watercraft because of possible punctures and have resisted swimming for fear of the flesh-eating bacteria (and I’ve resisted buying a new canoe because we don’t have a garage).

Luckily, I can get my island-hopping fix in the dead of winter by simply walking. After weeks of sub-zero temperatures (and there are plenty of weeks’ worth), the watery obstacles become a smooth, somewhat slippery path to the unknown.

Sure, winter island hopping lacks the relaxing warm air one finds in the summer, but at least there aren’t any mosquitos and poison ivy. And the low temps also slow down the above-mentioned bacteria.

A few years ago, we walked out to a Dead Man’s Island, which was mainly a frozen mud flat in the Cedar River. Last year, we hiked out to the island in Brinker lake to find a geocache (more here ). And a few weeks ago, I tromped out to the wooded island at Meyers Lake. Not that there was much out there. I did find the remnants of an old recliner in the vegetation.

I have another month or so to plan more expeditions before the season is out.

If you go: Don’t forget your ice safety card courtesy of Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Frozen Lake

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We finally bagged the Brinker Lake geocache.

Julie and I used to paddle our aluminum canoe out to this island before the cache was placed here (before someone swiped the canoe and likely sold it for scrap). After the cache was hidden, I tried to walk out to it a few times in winter. But I never could get the time and temperature lined up right.

Then today we drove past while trying to figure out what to do with our day and spotted a half dozen ice fishing tents on the lake. Someone even parked an SUV out there. I figured the ice would hold us.

Kaden and I set out for the quarter mile trek to the island via the NW passage. It wasn’t difficult to find, and you have to admire a cache built to survive flooding. People who found it in January described a stench it has taken on, and the smell is still there. The wooden cross inside wasn’t enough to fend it off.

“Is that smell rabbit poop? You might want to avert your nose,” Kaden said, using vocabulary impressive for a second grader.

I thought it was more of a good-cheese-gone-bad type thing. It stuck to our gloves (I stashed them in the trunk on the ride home). Left nothing, didn’t dare take anything.

We explored the rest of the island.

“This area here covered by snow and ice is were your mom and I would land the canoe and have a picinic,” I told Kaden.

There was a pause.

“Yeah, you really have to see it when there isn’t any snow,” I explained.