West Trip, Day 1 – Rocky Mountain National Park

We left Chicago at around 6:30AM flying into Denver on Southwest.  This was my first time flying Southwest after a lot of flying, mostly on Delta.  A few things were different – the main one being no predetermined seats.  Southwest has everyone line up by check in number and then you board taking any seat you want.  This is apparently for efficiency since people who want to hurry to find their seat will board faster and people boarding later will just sit in a seat since they don’t have to make their way to any specific seat.  Janet and I were able to get seats together about 2/3 of the way back on the plane both in and out of Denver.

By the nature of leaving at 6:30 AM, we got to Denver quite early.  After claiming luggage, we went to Avis.  (Side note:  Avis somehow charged two different rates depending on whether I was logged in or not.  I’m not sure what settings I had going on, but when I was logged in, using my standard work account, the car cost about $150 more than when I was logged out.)  While walking down the row to our car, we passed a  green Mazda 2 which yielded some entertainment.  Upon reaching the end of the row, we realized we had passed our car and turned back to arrive right at that very same Mazda 2 – which was actually fine, it served the purpose nicely.

Our first stop in Denver was the REI, with the only real reason being the need to acquire a single isobutane canister for the Narrows hike later in the trip.  On the way out of Denver, heading toward Rocky Mountain National Park we stopped at a Sam’s Club and a Walmart (Colorado doesn’t have Meijer) for supplies.  We ended up getting into Estes Park around 3:00 in the afternoon, just in time to come to a complete halt on behalf of some elk in the road.

After marveling at our first wildlife spotting, we noticed there were more elk wandering through town.  We drove up into town a bit to see about 12 elk walking around what was a Senior Center.  Pretty soon, they headed back over to the lake, and like the gawking tourists we were, followed them there in the Frog.  This was a sizable herd and we were not by any means the only ones who wanted to watch them.  We parked and spent a good bit of time wandering in the park with the elk and taking pictures and videos.  I did get one good video of two bulls doing battle, but at the moment, I’m not sure how to cleanly embed video in this page.  Maybe later.

After our elk curiosities were satisfied, we continued up into Rocky Mountain National Park for a drive through tour.  We stopped briefly at the ranger station, discovering that it was apparently the last day they were going to be open for the season.  This didn’t really affect our plans at all, but it did mean we were there on the border of what’s considered to be the normal season.  As we drove up into the park, we came upon a second herd of elk just at the park’s official entrance.  We stopped along the road there to again watch the elk, listen to the bulls bugle and got to see the kids play fighting.

Up up up and then down down down again into the town of Grand Lake just a bit after sunset.  There we found the Bighorn Lodge, which seemed a suitable place to stay for the night.  It had a hot tub, which was a major advantage for Janet given that she had just run her marathon the day before.  You might wonder who runs a marathon and then goes on a hiking vacation and think that such a person might be rather insane.  I couldn’t really argue with you on that one either, but that’s a different story, and not really my story.

Grand Marais Kayaking 2012

Here I sit, freshly returned from Grand Marais this year.  Josh and I headed up to do some paddling in the U.P. but we weren’t officially attending the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Symposium. We did get to hang out with some people though, and as a result may be going up to instruct next year.

We left Thursday late morning and got there in the early evening. It was a bit late to paddle, so we drove down to Sable Falls to wander and shoot some pictures. It turns out, Doug was leading a trip up the West side of Grand Island on Thursday, so we could have joined up with that, had we gotten in Wednesday night.

Sable Falls
Sable Falls, with a stupid fallen birch tree
Sable Falls
The run-out of Sable Falls and the dunes next to it.

Friday, we joined up with Doug who was leading a trip from Whitefish Point to a couple shipwrecks and the shipwreck museum. This was a pretty leisurely trip. After some GPS mishaps, we were able to employ modern technology to download GPS apps on our phones and found one of the two, the Saturn. I sat right on the coordinates of the second wreck but saw nothing. The map said it was in 10 feet of water, but at the given coordinates, it was only about 3 feet deep.

Saturn shipwreck
One decent picture of a portion of the Saturn. Josh went swimming and dove down, so he may have some better ones.
Lighthouse at Whitefish Point
The lighthouse from the water to the north

Since we had driven about two hours to get to the paddle, we also took the time to stop at Tahquamenon Falls on the return trip. It wasn’t really part of the day’s plan, but we were basically there already. The lower falls are the smaller, and there are two sides. Without renting a boat, you can really only get close to the west side.

Miners Castle
Miners Castle from the overlook above. It used to have two turrets, but one collapsed a few years ago.

So, we weren’t officially symposium bound, but it was a fun trip just to go up and do some moderate paddles, hang out with fun people (some of whom were new acquaintances to Josh and me), and have a few beers at the Lake Superior Brewing Company.

As a side note, I see that it’s been more than year since I posted anything here. That’s hardly something we can call a blog. I’ll have to make an archery related post sometime since that’s been my winter spring obsession. I’m not really sure how to turn it into a story though – my hobbies are not necessarily interesting to those who are not me.

Lime Island Kayaking

I’m not sure of the exact date at the moment, but sometime in mid July, Todd and Linda had organized a kayaking trip to Lime Island in the UP / Canada. The plan was to get to the launch around 5:30 on Friday evening and head over to the Island where there were government cabins for camping. On Saturday, we’d paddle around the Island with a stop at St. Joseph Island in Ontario. On Sunday, paddle back and head home.

Janet and I drove up to get to the launch site in Raber, MI at 5:00 Friday afternoon. We got there a bit early – which is odd for us, so we decided to turn around to go back to some rumored general store that had coffee.

We never did find that stupid store… Instead, during a moment of brilliance trying to read a sign behind us, I managed to drive the Subaru into the worlds largest ditch, where it stayed for the next few hours.

We walked back down to the nearest establishment – a bar / restaurant on the corner and called the nearest towing service. While waiting, we got to meet the owner of the property on which my car was now located. She gave Janet a tour of the farm and offered us her four wheeler in case we needed to go anywhere.

The group headed off to the island around 7:00 – 7:30 after Todd helped move our kayaks over to the launch site just in case the Subaru wasn’t driveable. Ends up, the car was fine other than some scratches on the wheels and a bend safety ring on the trailer hitch from the wrecker. Janet and I headed over shortly after 8:00

We got there just a bit before dark, and I insisted on making a fire to cook, because I believe that cooking on a fire is essential for a camping trip.

On the island there are a set of government owned cabins in which we resided for the weekend. They were minimalist, but nice. I think I even have some pictures of them and the general “camping” landscape, but apparently I did not set them aside to be posted here.

Saturday, as planned, we circumnavigated Lime Island – with a little jaunt over to St. Joseph’s Island in Canada. While on St. Joseph’s we toured the remains of the fort there. Very importantly, they also had Reese’s PB ice cream sandwiches.

This was the most prominent remainder of the fort on St. Joseph's, but there was no explanation of what it was for since it was detached from everything else.

Toward the end of the day, most of the group wanted to head back to the cabins to make dinner. I took a small group out to the light house North of Lime Island – which is really a glorified mansion at this point.

This buoy marked the East side of the shipping channel. We paddled up this east side and crossed at the buoys.
The lighthouse itself - like I said, it's now a glorified mansion.

Sunday, we took a hike across the island in the morning, then headed back to the mainland. On the trip back, we got to see a Coast Guard ship in the channel.

Coast Guard
Todd with the Coast Guard in the background.
Kayak group crossing
The group on the return to the mainland
Janet testing the water temperature.

When we got back, we were “greeted” by the boarder patrol who breezed through to make sure we all looked American. Some of the group gathered at the restaurant/bar, but we opted to head back since it was about a five hour drive to Grand Rapids and another three to Chicago.

Subaru with kayaks
Packed up for the return trip - the side that didn't have mud packed wheels.


Last weekend was the annual Western Michigan Coastal Kayakers Association symposium.  It runs from Thursday evening through noon Sunday and is pretty much two full days of various classes, events, talks and socializing with other semi-local kayakers.  Since Doug and I started kayaking in ’05 it has kind of marked the start of the season.

This year ‘our’ group consisted of Doug, Josh, Megan and me.  The Dresslers were going to come (no one who reads this will know who they are anyway) but they were saving their vacation time for their Baranof Island Circumnavigation.  Yeah, I’m jealous of that.

Anyway, back to the symposium.  I’ve gone now for the last four years 05-08.  The first year, Doug and I had to learn everything we needed to know about kayaking so as to go on stupid missions without excessive endangerment.  The second year we were integrating Callum and Josh into the fun.  The third year we were taking what classes we needed to bone up for our IDW/ICE.  This year, I didn’t have a solid ‘goal’ for the weekend.  Doug was teaching, or at least assisting, and Josh and Megan still had useful classes to take.

Not to sound overconfident, but beyond my person practice and tweaking, I have taken most every class offered there.  I am certified to teach, but am not really comfortable doing so with such a large group.  In hindsight, I should have signed up to instruct but only as an assistant, not a lead.  I will say that taking a class from the guest instructors was good.  They were Leon and Shauna from Body Boat Blade in Washington.  It’s always interesting to see new methods of teaching beyond those that I was taught with.  I did claim instructorship for the one ‘private’ class taught by them for exactly that purpose.

I had to head out on Sunday night, so I didn’t get to participate in the putting it all together paddle that morning, which is always a fun time to practice skills with a group.  Overall, the weekend went well.  I will admit that it was overshadowed by other events in my life which should not be taken as an indication of the general enjoyment of the weekend.

Magnetic Conference (Denver, CO)

Wednesday through Friday was the 2008 Magnetics Conference put on by webcom in Denver, CO.

Wednesday was the magnetics boot camp, which was pretty much a one day crash course in magnetics.  In theory, this makes up for the fact that neither Josh nor I have any magnetics classes or experience in our background.  It was pretty good, from the point of view of someone who didn’t know shit about magnetics prior.  Some good ideas were had for what we need to be focusing on and how to make the calculations and measurements we need to properly profile the system.  Wednesday evening Josh and I let one of the guys from Invesys buy us dinner at a local steak and seafood place.  Very nice and rather expensive.  Interestingly, where we sat, we got to see several waiter collisions resulting in plates of food flying onto the floor.  Unfortunately, dinner with company reps takes a lot of time and didn’t really give us time to recover on sleep.

Thursday was the first day of the conference.  Various companies did presentations on different magnetic technologies, concepts, developments, etc.  Some of the presentations were very specific to a company’s application, others were more general as far as standards and measurements.  There was also time to browse various vendor booths and meet with more reps.  Apparently the Fulton Innovation sticker on Josh’s laptop was noticed by one of the reps from Vaccumschmelze, so we were tracked down and invited to dinner Thursday also.  Not wanting to be rude, we of course accepted – second night of very good dinner, but very little recouperation.

Friday was a partial day.  Events were pretty much on par with Thursday.  One of the vendors we have worked with in the past and who I have ordered some magnets from was there.  Josh and I were sitting, waiting for one of the talks to start and he came up and asked if I was Matthew Norconk.  It’s very odd being asked that if you’re in a group of about a hundred people and not wearing any form of nametag.  He explained that he knew I was a younger person, and Josh and I were probably the youngest people there.  It was nice to put a face with someone whom, up to this point, I had only had contact with by phone.

Apparently the entire magnetics industry in the US is aging.  There are regulations, mainly environmental, which pretty much keep anyone new from joining the game.  This means that the current players in the market are either staying in, getting out or being bought up.  The result is an inherently shrinking base of magnet suppliers in the US.

Josh and I stayed an extra day, being we had flown all the way to Denver and the conference ended on Friday.  Friday afternoon we went downtown for two main purposes – one was to visit the Flagship REI store, the other was to check out the Confluence whitewater park.  The REI store was cool.  We spent a few hours wandering around in there, but of course, everything being retail priced, and me being cheap, no purchases were made.  The whitewater park was somewhat underwhelming.  It didn’t look that well built – all the eddies were moving pretty good and kind of boily.  We did go check out the near by kayaking outfitter.  Their deal was that for $40 you could rend the boat and gear for the day, and you could bring the boat back and swap for a different one as many times as you wanted to.  While this sounded like a good idea – given that I’d like to get a new WW boat – neither of us were that impressed with the whitewater to want to bother.  Instead, we drove out to one of the parks and went hiking for most of Saturday.  One of the interesting discoveries was that the Denver area is arid enough to support cacti.

More Travel, with Carbombs

Monday I was in Novi for a work meeting with one of our suppliers.  Six of us went down from Grand Rapids and 9 or so of them came up from Ohio.  Lots of discussion on where we stand and where we are going as far as eCoupled building blocks.

Monday night, we went out … the Cavaliers were on, and being from Ohio and all, it was important that we find somewhere to go get some dinner and watch the game.  I naturally didn’t care about that game, but fortunately the Wings were on also.  So, we monopolized three of their four pool tables for most of the night.  There’s something about the joining of those two groups which prompts the ordering of Irish Carbombs.  I ended up having four of them, but I guess it was over enough time to not cause too much issue the next day.

Tuesday we had half a day of meetings, followed by Josh and I flying out to a magnetics conference in Denver for the remainder of the week.