The following is a true story, only the names have been changed, to protect the guilty.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Skunked !

Sunday, the boys and I headed south to meet up with my Mom and Brother. We planned to go on a mushroom hunt, looking for the elusive Morel. From reports I've gotten from my neighbor(a seasoned hunter) and "The Mushroom Guy", my dad, they are fruiting now. My bro has a secret spot he was willing to share with us, with mushroom hunters all spots are secret. When we got to the spot there was a truck in the lot, kind of strange since it's a small  piece of public land with no real purpose other than an area for animals to live. There are no trails, no hunting, no fishing, no nothing, just woods. Within minutes we found 2 Morels. Finding these would mean the "right spot" should yield a large amount of these tasty fungi. A few minutes later we ran into the guys who were parked in the lot. To my surprise, it was a guy both my brother and I have worked with off and on over the last ten years. He was also hunting this spot, only by the fact that it was revealed to him by my brother, with the understanding that he would not return without him. Lesson learned: don't reveal good spots to anyone if you want it for yourself. It wasn't a big deal this time, since they only found four Morels. We didn't find any more the rest of the hike but had fun anyway. Some might argue that the woods (public) don't belong to anyone and everything is fair game,which is true, but....... What you need to understand is my dad is a mushroom master, my brother and I have been exposed to hunting many different varieties of mushrooms for over twenty years, whether we liked it or not. It started when we were young kids on camping trips and day hikes all over the state. When I say master I mean it, he now grows them for a living, in the past he has headlined sold out seminars, teaching the science of fungi and identification of wild edibles. We as a family, have spent many hours and days hiking and searching out wild mushrooms. When you find a good spot it is usually good  for a long time, giving it away is foolish. My dad has been burned by "friends" many times and now has become even more secretive. These "friends" tell their friends, and pretty soon a good area is crawling with people and there is not a Morel to be found. The ease of identification of the Morel also brings out lots of people. Later in the year when many other varieties come out, less people are hunting them, as it's difficult to discern edible from deadly. I'll try a few of my spots later in the week.............just don't ask where

Our one lonely Morel 

The kids tried to pick up this guy, not a good idea, it's the biggest one I've ever seen, about 3.5 feet long

My brother is moving soon and has been burning things in the back yard that he wants to get rid of. Most of it is scraps of wood, but also includes clothing, furniture, books, anything flammable and this bike.  

As kids, one of our(my bro and I) favorite pastimes was destroying things. This included bikes , TVs, cars,  motorcycles, a boat, other kids bikes, and anything breakable. Sunday was just like being a kid again


Monday, April 23, 2012

The Star Room

The Star Room is a large room in Niagara Cave in southeast Minnesota. It was discovered roughly ten years ago by some hard core cavers. The route to the room is difficult and access to the cave is limited so very few people have ever been there. A week and a half ago I knew nothing about the cave, but got invited along on a dig trip because I have a little bit of a climbing background, they needed people to dig, and I was at the right place at the right time. When I heard about it I jumped at the chance. The plan was to try and finish digging out a passage way that would connect an easily accessible part of the cave to the Star Room with out having to go through the difficult upper route, and later explore several leads radiating out of the room. Two teams would be working from either side of the passageway, making twice as much progress and hopefully breaking through after many years(10) of digging. On the front side of the dig was Dave G, Nick S, Al S, and Brian K. On the back side was Steve S, Yours Truly and our fearless trip leader Javier G.
    When we entered the cave we were a little late and had to move fast to avoid running into the people on the  cave tour. This is a big no-no when exploring commercial caves, we are lucky to be granted access by the owner, so we hustled along and missed many of the cool features along the way. That's alright, I will most likely come back with the family and do the paid tour. At the end of the tour route is where the fun begins for us, we climbed off the main platform, onto a ladder, and into the abyss of thick mud below. This cave periodically floods and leaves a thick coating of mud on everything. Over the "jilloin" years or so of this, there is a lot of mud that builds up, which is also the reason for our dig. Not far from our drop off point is the head of the dig and also the up-and-over route that I was going to attempt. Al was originally supposed to climb over to the Star Room, but let Steve go instead, on account of recent shoulder surgery, and not wanting to re-injure himself. I didn't care either way since I was on the short list to climb over. Javier went first, I was lined up second, I immediately doubted if I would even fit in the crack in the earth Javier was now shimmying up. He was grunting and breathing hard. I used my hands to help prop him up and give something to stand on just to make some upward movement. Once he made it up around 12 feet the slot opened up, he set up a rope for Steve and I to grab onto, and it was my turn. I stood on top of the little trolley that was used for hauling dirt out, and proceeded to wedge my self into the crack that was getting smaller as I went up. It was so tight I could not take a deep breath. I shifted a little to the side and was able to grab the rope and pull myself through the narrow slot and into the bulbous opening at the top. From there I climbed over Javier in an odd sort of "Twister" way and moved to the lead position. Up came the gear (this is what the rope was really for) and then Steve. Shuttling gear through the cave is nearly as difficult as getting your body through it. I thought the worst was over until went through the next tricky spot. The floor rises up at about 45 deg, is made of slippery mud, and is only wide enough to pass through sideways. There isn't even enough room to turn your head side to side with your helmet on. I made it through with a little panic attack I kept to myself (my head got stuck), and was greeted by a very nice "feature" complete with flow-stone, stalactites,and a small rim-stone dam. We all slithered through this spot and set up for a 25 foot ++ climb down a cable ladder. This was the first time I've used one of these, so I was stoked get on it. We set up a belay and wore our harnesses as a back up, Javier was first, me second, and Steve third. Once at the bottom we explored the room a bit before starting the dig. I felt very fortunate to be one of only about 10 people to make it here.
      The fun and excitement of the climb was over, now it was time to dig. Armed only with a crow bar and three buckets we each took turns at the front of the dig. Each time it was my turn, I dug feverishly in the thick clay until I was covered in sweat and completely exhausted. I think Steve and  Javier were doing the same, as each one of us was envisioning pushing through to the other side. This carried on for about four hours, on my last turn I was sure I could make it, I could hear the group on the other side. I ran into a large rock and fell into an exhausted slump just after I got it out. Steve took over and it seemed like only a few minutes, when I heard him yell that he punched through to the other side. Al was there and the two shook hands, I was so fried it was hard to get excited. Moments later the passage was cleared enough that the four of them from the other side now entered the Star Room. Victory was ours. Everyone milled about the room for a while, taking photos, exploring, and planning the next dig on one of the five leads the room has to offer, including the "drain" at the bottom, which is an underground river. I believe this river is the original way the room was accessed and has lots more to be explored.
       The only thing left now was to retrieve the ladder and head out. I was all over this, so was Steve, but if I was going up to get it, I would also follow the whole route out. Now that there is an easier way to the Star Room it is unlikely anyone will ever subject them selves to the harder route. Rarely, in life, do I ever like to take the easy way over the more challenging one. If I would not be the first on this route I might be the last. Steve with his much lighter frame, breezed through the constrictions. I did too, as I was covered in wet slippery mud from the rim-stone dam. My only concern now was slipping into a slot that I could not get out of, gravity was on my side for the most part, but could also work against me if was not careful.
This is the last time we were clean

On the way down

The jump-off point

Just past the first hard part 

I hope the cable ladder does not break!

Steve on the ladder, Javier looking muddy already 

In the Star Room, this didn't go very far but was the only passage that was open to explore.

Just after the break through

The Star Room is quite large, and shaped like a star fish if you use your imagination.

Brian was the last one through, this is his light as he makes his way  through the new opening

Lets eat, after 9++ hours in the cave, an old boot would have tasted good

       It took almost an hour to get out of the cave, we had to remove all "super muddy" clothing and boots before moving past the platform at the end of the tour route. Once out, we parted ways, Steve, Al, Nick, and myself headed for Mexican food, Javier, Brian, and Dave headed for a nearby hotel and prepared for the next day's dig and survey in the Star Room. I had a great time, Thank You; Javier, for the invite, Niagara cave for access, and all the guys in the group for sharing an excellent experience.    

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sand Creek

For a mid-week adventure Steve and I headed for Jordan to kayak Sand Creek. The creek is listed in  Paddling Minnesota guide book as a white water route with class I and II rapids in early spring/high water. It's still kind of early spring now, but the water levels were low, which is good since we are not white water paddlers. Our boats are not made for it either. The  route is only 3.5 miles but proved to be a lot of fun for a couple hacks like us. We did the standard, leave a bike at the take-out, and then drove to the put-in. Once in the boat, the rapids came quick, with the first set only a hundred yards from the start. It was a really exciting ride, most of the time the boat was more like a bumper car, slamming into rocks and submerged logs. The danger factor was quite low, which makes it more fun, if you dump it, all you had to do was stand up. The scenery was great too, when we actually had a chance to look around between the chains of rapids. The creek has so many twists and turns, we crossed under the same train tracks six times. For some reason this is where the best rapids are. Steve broke his paddle on one of these sets when his boat got sideways and stated to roll, putting the paddle down to brace himself snapped it like a twig. Just before this incident we were talking about using shitty paddles for this sort of thing. Steve's wallet will be a little lighter now (275 $ for a new one, Ouch!) On the plus side we got to do a field repair by jamming a stick inside of the paddle shaft, duct tape would have made the repair bomber. Note: add duct tape to possibles bag. Despite the broken paddle the rest of the ride went well. Both of us will be back again when the water is higher, so get your gear together and come with ,you won't want to miss it!

Just after some rapids

All the train bridges look the same, old and crumbly, very cool

This is where Steve broke the paddle, his boat is full of water too

fine tuning

Paddle is good as new from this distance

better scenery toward the end

This is where we get out!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Terrace Oaks

There is also a playground at the trail head that the kids always stop at

Terrace Oaks MTB trail in Burnsville, is the first real single track built in the Twin Cities. Going off of memory, two guys both named Scott built it in the early ninties. I belive it was a sort of renegade trail and later had signs put in making it legit. At the time this was the only true single track through the trees, up and over hills that we had to ride. The river bottoms to the north were also single track but that was kind of different with all the sand and it was made by people just walking it. The river bottom trial also cut through a chunk of Issac Walton League land, and they were not happy with this, threatening to close it to bikes. I remember seeing hand written signs with nasty comments on them, posted on the trees. This all went away and the river bottom trail still remains one of my favorite. Terrace Oaks still remains virtually the same as is was 20 years ago. I don't believe a lot of people ride it since it's close to Murphy Hanrehan and Lebanon Hills and it's short (3 miles ++). On the other hand this is the place I take my kids, we can ride there from home and the trail is not too long. They can do one lap or several and not have to commit to a ride that will turn them off to MTB riding. It's cool to think they are "cutting their teeth" on the very same trail I did 20 years ago.    

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Ravine

Last Friday I met up with Brett to ride a ravine that he had been telling me about since last fall. Kurt was the one who originally found the ravine and set up the ride for Friday. His car broke down and he could not make it. I know what your thinking, big deal it's a ravine, there are probably millions of them all over the planet. I thought the same thing, but when I got there it was really cool. This ravine has just enough rocks and boulders to make it a challenging ride. It is not all choked out with weeds and underbrush,also missing are trees which seem to always fall across spaces like this, making a ride impossible or a real pain in the ass. Now we just have to figure a way to incorporate it into a longer ride with similar features.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Super Tuesday

No, I'm not talking about the presidential primary that is known as Super Tuesday. I'm referring to the Tuesday I took off work to go paddling, biking, and caving. I can't take credit for this particular adventure, although the caving part was my idea. Steve called me early last week and informed me of a vacation day he had to use or lose, and would like to spend it kayaking. I was in, we just had to figure out a day that would work for both of us. Tuesday was the day. Also joining in was young Tim. Tim is a great guy and always up for fun. He is also single with no kids, which makes him the perfect person to invite since he has no one pulling the puppet strings. Tim met at my house before 7am, helped me load up gear, and rode to the hide-a-shuttle-bike in the woods, where we met our trip leader Steve. We were somewhere east of Farmington where we launched our boats into the Vermillion River. The river appeared much deeper than it actually is. Most of the time it's no deeper than a couple of feet.  Other times it was so shallow we had to get out and walk. There were also nine portages around log jams, which was kind of nice for getting out to stretch. We ended up with almost nine miles in the boat for 4++ hours.
       Next we headed back to the vans via bike shuttle. The gloomy clouds during the paddle gave way to bright sunshine and we were cruising through the town of Vermillion with a nice wind at our back. We stopped in town for a quick meal of tacos at a German restaurant. Yes, they were quite shitty, but filling just the same.
       Once back at the vans we geared up for the third and final leg of the day, Miles Cave. It's a short, smelly, very tight, cave in Hastings. The route is a door-to-door (in one hole, out another) with three very tight squeezes. If I had not been shown the route earlier this year, I would not even think of doing it. The first constriction requires an exhale holding your breath, and quick forward movement to pass through! It only takes a couple of these maneuvers to sneak by the first tight spot, but there are two more like this, and to top it off there is no way to turn around once your past this squeeze. It's the point of no return, the thought of trying this while moving backwards is a little scary.
      Back in the sunlit world above we did a little exploring. There is a large waterfall nearby, with nice, clean looking water. This is farm country and I'm sure it's filled with pig and cow shit as well as fertilizers and chemicals. I would not want to drink it or have open wounds touch it. This is purely speculation from past, witnessed, experience. Despite the possibility of harmful run off, if we had wet suits we would have been swimming.

Steve, showing the proper way to launch a kayak

One of nine portages

Walking on water

Tacos ahead

Squeeze !

Behind the falls
Thanks for the great times Steve and Tim. Lets get back out again soon!.........and anyone else for that matter