Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Boundary Waters Day 3

Saturday was our last full day in the Boundary Waters. We woke, did the morning two hour ritual of making fire and breakfast (blueberry pancakes and hash browns -- very yummy) and plotted out our day.

We decided that we wanted to go to Canada and paddle in one of its lakes. We plotted out a route that would be an up-and-back route, instead of a loop. It would include a single portage that was listed as 220 rods, or over two thirds of a mile. All told, this route was about 20 miles and had more than two miles of portages. I had signed up to do them all as a test of how hard could I push myself.

The day was beautiful, probably low 70s with no wind and light cloud cover. We all dressed lightly and headed towards Canada.

We saw a number of people along the way, both on land and in the lakes. Most were fishing. Clearly we were the odds one attempting to travel rather than fish.

We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I had prepared while waiting for the hash browns to cook. The sandwiches had all but collapsed under their own weight and had gotten quite soggy. I'm used to wheat bread where PB&J sandwiches keep much better. None the less, they were yummy (apple cinnamon was my favorite) and hit the spot.

The trip to Canada was largely uneventful. We surfed the wake of a passing fishing boat and were rocked by the wake of a speeding canoe taxi. When we got to Canada at about 4pm, I paid $10 for a day pass (good until 10pm!) so we could paddle for 5 minutes in Inlet Bay before reversing our route and trying to beat the sunset.

Our fears of getting back in the dark were unfounded as we made great time when everyone was paddling rather than trying to figure out where we were going or pumping water from the lake. We returned to Snowbank Lake with plenty of sun to spare, but were shocked to find driving winds had whipped Snowbank into 2 foot white-capped waves.

At first, none of us were too worried since our canoe sits rather high in the water and seemed to be pretty stable. However, the waves were coming such that we would fall into the trough of one and have the next one nearly break into the canoe. Luckily we didn't have any waves come into the canoe, though many tried, and Jon took the brunt of the waves since he was sitting at the front. He later admitted that he was worried about a couple of waves that nearly entered the canoe. Mike strapped his backpack to the canoe just in case we were to capsize.

I was at the back, paddling hard, trying to keep us on track for our island. I had to paddle hard to keep us angled slightly into the waves to prevent them from hitting us broadside and rolling our canoe. At one point I called out to have everyone paddle on the right side of the canoe (Mike and Jon were both paddling on the left) only to have a mutiny because they did not believe that we needed to go to the left. I was sure that's what we needed as we were drifting to the right and were taking more waves broadside. I screamed again "paddle right!" only to have them argue the point again. Finally I yelled out something along the lines of "I'm in back, I'm steering, and I know what I'm doing! Paddle right!" and got the needed strokes, just a few, to get us on track and pointed the right way. Once into the shadow of the leeward side of the island, it was easy to make landfall.

Upon returning to camp, we found that our garbage bag had been chewed into. Not by anything big (we were assuming that no bears would make it to our island since we were well out in the lake), but probably by a squirrel, or maybe a bird. Luckily it didn't chew into our food bag and only licked (maybe) a few empty jelly packets. I was grateful that it didn't make anything resembling a mess and the holes in the garbage bag were at the top, rather than the bottom.

We started dinner, and finished about the time we heard the first clap of thunder. I was not happy to have a thunderstorm coming our way. We looked at the sky, but couldn't really tell if we were in for a lot of rain, or just a little. The thunder seemed to be far off in the distance, and the clouds were moving slowly (so slowly that I couldn't see them moving, but Jon claimed that he could), so I couldn't guess when we might get rain, or how long it might last.

It started to rain just a few minutes later, but thankfully it lasted for only 20 minutes. Jon used his hiking umbrella, and I put on my poncho while Mike dove for cover in his tent. The rain wasn't strong enough to put out the fire with some logs protecting it on the fire grate, though we considered letting it do that since it was late and none of us wanted to stand around in the cold rain. Before we could decide, it stopped raining and I decided that now was the time to get into my tent (something I didn't want to do in the rain since it's so hard to get into my one-man tent).

The thunder and lightning stopped when the rain did and the wind died down. It became quite peaceful. I slept much better that night, though apparently I still snored. We were all woken by a noisy crow around 7am.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Boundary Waters Day 2

Day two at the Boundary Waters was the first day that we actually made it into the Boundary Waters. But, before we could do that, we all did a gear check in the bunk house to make sure that we weren't duplicating anything needlessly. I was able to leave a lot of my stuff in the car, though no one wanted to take any of the water-proof disposable cameras I had bought, instead opting to take their own digital cameras. I took two of the three disposables with me. During the gear check, we realized that the lighter I had was busted, it's flint wouldn't strike. We would need to get matches or a lighter from the outfitters when we got the rest of our stuff.

The rest of our stuff was to be provided by the outfitter I had chosen, River Point Outfitters, food and a canoe. We had opted for the more expensive, but lighter, 3 man Kevlar canoe. It's a We-no-nah Minnesota 3 which is listed at 49lbs. This is important because I would have to carry it on my shoulders during the portages.

For food, I requested all freeze dried food to save weight and make cooking and cleaning easier. I wanted something that was just-add-boiling-water-and-eat simple. Something that you don't have to clean, and something that doesn't take much time to prepare. Instead, they gave us a couple of freeze dried pouches like that, but also a full mess kit, steaks, eggs, bacon, freeze dried pancakes and hash browns -- all of which had to be cooked with pots and pans. They told us that matches would be in the mess kit (along with towels, pot holders, soap, etc.). They gave us a ton of food. Way more food than I expected, or really even wanted. I think I actually gained weight while out there. There was that much food.

They gave us a brand new canoe, loaded up our gear and drove us about 45 minutes out to our entry point on Snowbank Lake.

We had a restricted permit, which means we were supposed to camp on Snowbank lake every night. I suppose for Memorial Day weekend, that's as good as we could get, but it clashed with our plans of getting far into the wilderness. We would settle for day trips.

Jon wanted to camp on an island, and no one else opposed, so when we put in the water at about 9:30am, we immediately (though not very directly due to steering issues) made our way towards the islands that were marked as having a camp site (since you can only stay on designated camp sites that have a fire grate and latrine). If you click on the Snowbank Lake link, you'll notice a red dot in the middle of the lake, just under the shaded portion of the lake. The dot is bigger than the island. That's where we stayed. The island was about 2-3 acres in size and had one camp site. We claimed it as ours (by setting up our tents), grabbed our first day's lunch and dinner, and headed out to do some paddling.

It was a cool and overcast day. I put on my light weight windbreaker/rain jacket to keep warm, which was just right considering the work out of paddling the canoe. It threatened to rain, but it never did, and that was just fine by us.

We did a loop through a number of lakes. In order, they were: Parent, Disappointment, Ahsub, Jitterbug, Adventure, Cattyman, Gibson, Swing, Abinodji, Haven, Boot, and finally returning to Snowbank. This involved about 460 rods of portages (a rod is 16.5 feet -- I have no idea why portages are measured in rods).

I carried the canoe every step of the way, and Mike and Jon carried my water bottle and the rest of our gear. Mike and Jon would help me put the canoe on and off my shoulders because after a couple of portages I was too tired to lift it all by myself.

It was an amazing isometric exercise for the arms to hold the canoe while walking. The canoe was very well balanced and didn't really require me to hold it tightly, but on uneven terrain and with such a long moment arm, I couldn't afford (the canoe costs $2500 and is easily broken) to let it get tilting too far.

Unfortunately, this meant that my arms weren't free to fend off mosquitoes. However, the 100% DEET that we applied worked reasonably well, as long as I didn't sweat or get wet. Pretty hard to do in a canoe with 1.5 miles of portages thrown in for good measure.

During one of the portages, Mike discovered that his water bottle had opened and had soaked a lot of his day-trip gear, including his digital camera. I tried hard to not say "I told you so" since it didn't actually die by falling into lake water.

We ate lunch (a cold lunch of rye crackers, beef sticks, and cherries) along the way, at the portage entering Parent Lake, but couldn't find an empty camp site to cook the steaks, so we had dinner at our camp site. Steaks, hash browns, corn, and pudding.

It was there that we determined that we didn't have any matches (other than the three in Jon's emergency pouch) or a lighter. However, we did have my portable camp stove which has a piezoelectric igniter, so we were able to set bark on fire and use it to light our camp fire. Disaster averted.

Mike later checked our packing list and, sure enough, the matches weren't checked off as being in our kit. Next time, don't take their word for something so important. Though since I knew we had my stove, I wasn't too worried, but it's always nice to have a backup, and we really should have done a visual on the matches. That's the kind of screw up that can get you killed in the wilderness.

We didn't eat the pudding, and we almost didn't eat the hash browns because they had to be fried in a pan, and the only one we had was in the mess kit provided. However, it was fused to the pot above it. I bashed it on a rock (denting it slightly -- oops), and deformed a couple of their knives before I was finally able to free it. After that, the hash browns took probably more than 20 minutes to cook, and we had to cook them over the fire using the mess kit's pan, something that we had been told not to do. But what were we supposed to do? When we noticed the pan deforming in the heat, we moved it off the direct heat and it straightened itself out. Took us at least 20 minutes to scrape the soot off of it though. This definitely didn't go along with my idea of quick and easy meals.

We were all pretty tired and called it a day around 10pm, which isn't completely dark up near the 48th parallel. However, it was cloudy, so we didn't get a view of the moon or stars.

The smell of cigarette smoke from the previous night had gotten into my sleeping bag. As soon as I put my head down, I couldn't breathe. Even though my one-man tent was 20 feet from Mike and Jon's two-man tent, no one got a good night's sleep. A bonus for them, however, was that the clouds broke at about 2am and they reported having a brilliant view of the stars, something that's nearly impossible to find in CA. Too bad they didn't think to wake me.

Boundary Waters Day 1

Day one, or rather night one, at the Boundary Waters went smoothly and according to plan. I picked up my friends Mike and Jon at the airport, we went to REI for some last minute items (I decided to get the sandals I had been looking at, and a hat to replace the one I own but couldn't find), and then headed followed my PocketPC's GPS based directions to the lodge.

We were stuck in some rush hour traffic leaving Minneapolis since we were leaving around 5:30pm. This is the first rush hour I've been in since moving here. Not bad by CA standards. The GPS software calls out turns and tells you how long you'll go before it calls out the next one. When it said "Proceed north on 35 for 129 miles" I knew we weren't going to make it to the lodge by 9pm.

No matter, they left the door to our bunk house open (just a room with a folding table and two bunk beds of college-student quality -- there was a latrine outside) and we bedded down at about 11:30pm. The beds had only mattresses, the plastic coated kind, so we used our sleeping bags. This would prove to be an issue for me.

Unfortunately for me, people in MN like to smoke, and whatever brand they were smoking I was seriously allergic too. I couldn't breathe through my nose, which left me alternately drooling, tossing and turning, and snoring all through the night.

Hey, if I'm not sleeping, no one else is!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Boundary Waters

Today a couple of friends are flying in from CA and we're going to head up to The Boundary Waters. We should get there about 9pm. We've got a lodge reserved and will start out first thing Friday morning with our rented canoe after getting a talk about the area and suggested hiking/paddling trails.

Should be lots of fun, though probably a bit soggy as there's a good chance it may rain, at least a little, every day we're there. Doesn't look like there are going to be any storms or strong winds, so it shouldn't be too miserable. The forecast calls for highs in the low 60's, which is about 10F cooler than average, but I've discovered that "average" is a number often spoken of, but usually meaningless. What you really need to know is the average and the standard deviation, since MN, unlike CA, has vastly varying weather and most of the time it's either far above or far below average, unlike CA where the normal temperature is the average temperature (it doesn't have weather, it has climate!).

Should be lots of fun and hope to be able to post some pictures upon my return to civilization.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Weird part 2

This morning, after getting more and more paranoid about the random college student asking me if had a room for rent, I decided to call the Cottage Grove Police to ask them if they had any calls on similar situations.

Apparently they had several calls over the past weekend. They tracked the kids down to a bunch of out of state college students working with a marketing firm doing door to door sales. Apparently the police told them they were not wanted in the community. They shouldn't be bothering us anymore. The police were not worried that they were doing any shady.

So, there you go. It was completely above board. Weird, but at least their story checks out.

Now I can go on vacation without worrying the whole time. That's a load off.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Show me the money!

Today at work I received a call from lender that I used to re-fi my house saying that the title company hadn't received a check with the final packet of paperwork that they got. They couldn't disperse the funds to pay off my loan and the proverbial stuff was hitting the fan.

They, quite indignantly, asked if I was sending the check separately or what. I informed them that I had wired the money the Friday before, and had gotten conformation that the money had arrived. Somehow this got translated into "last Friday" as opposed to the actual "the Friday before the closing" (which was on a Thursday) and they were mortified since "wire transfers can take a day or two to process and that means that the money might not be there even today." Yeah, understood, that's why I wired the money a week before closing.

They asked for the conformation number, which I gave them. A wire transfer conformation number is like 20 digits long with a couple of letters in the middle just for good measure. They then had the audacity to ask me for the account information that I had used to wire it to (which unfortunately I didn't have at my desk since it was at home with the re-fi paperwork) claiming that searching for a particular wire transfer among the "thousands of transfers they get every day" would be too difficult without the destination account information. I can't imagine why I would have to tell them the account information they gave me (because I'd pretty much have to call them and ask for it again which would instantly turn into a "Who's on first?" sort of conversation).

Come on people! You're a title company, you deal with "thousands of wire transfers every day"! If you don't have a system in place that lets you pull them up based on the wire conformation number, then you don't deserve to be a title company handling thousands of wire transfers a day!

Sheesh. I don't write database software, or financial software, and even I know that feature has to rank in the top three of the required features for any title company dealing with thousands of wire transfers a day.

While I had them on the phone bitching about their incompetence, hey, look at that, they found the money. Yep, they had it all along.

Once again I have to wonder about people whose sole job it is to track money and do paperwork when they can't figure out something as simple as a wire transfer.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


So we've all heard of, and probably experienced, door to door sales people. But have you ever had someone knock on your door to ask you if you know of anyone that's renting a room?

That's what just happened to me. A guy claiming to be a college student with friends trying to save money was looking for leads on rooms for rent. I swear it's the same kid that tried to sell me an alarm system for my house last weekend. He had a badge and was carrying some paperwork, but I couldn't make out the paperwork, and the badge was on a necklace and was swung around onto his back.

He stammered out the words like a school boy asking out his first girl, so he might have been telling the truth. And who cases houses at 5pm on a Sunday? By ringing the front door and talking to the occupants? While wearing a name tag? The naive boy in me wants to take him at face value, but the guy that had his stuff stolen just a few months after moving here is more wary. After all, are there even any colleges in the Cottage Grove area?

I suggested that he check out craigslist.org as a good place to search and post for rooms to rent.

If I had to guess, I'd say that he's telling the truth, and that he's also out and about Cottage Grove trying to sell alarm systems.

Very weird though.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Today I'm sitting at home, waiting to do the paperwork on refinancing my home loan. I'm switching from a 6 month ARM tied to LIBOR to a 5/1 ARM tied to US Prime. I'm doing this just in time. LIBOR has moved up a bit, and my first 6 months are coming to an end. My rate was about to go to 5.375, and by moving to the ARM I've been able to lock in 5.25 for the next 5 years.

This length of time seems about right since I'm not certain that I'll be in this house more than 5 years from now. Like the LIBOR loan, this one is interest only, and I plan on investing the difference in the market so that I can reduce the principal with one big payment in 5 years, if I don't buy a new house before then.

This plan works with my idea of me keeping my money for as long as possible. With automatic investing and dollar cost averaging, I should be able to make a decent amount more than 5.25% in the market, so investing makes more sense than paying down the principal.

So far, the only hitch in the re-fi has been that the money people look at you with a blank stare when you tell them that you're going to need bank wire information. They're all set up for dealing with cashier's checks. Too bad E*Trade doesn't actually issue cashier's checks (and makes doing wire transfers a serious hassle).

Let's hope they don't do again what they did last time, which was after verifying that the wire transfer happened, still asking me if I had a cashier's check for that amount.

You would think that people whose sole job is to manage paperwork, and the money associated with it, would do a better job of it.

Monday, May 16, 2005


This Saturday I invited a few friends over to my place for a BBQ and general camaraderie. Unfortunately, the weather just didn't want to cooperate. A week ago they predicted that Saturday would be a lovely day, but as the day drew nearer, it was obvious that it was going to be rainy and windy. The rain subsided around 3pm, and it started to warm up to a balmy 55. I decided to fire up the portable fire pit that I bought for this occasion for this eventuality (basically a giant copper bowl and mesh top). That would have made things reasonable for a Minnesotan for dining alfresco, but then the wind kicked up. And when it gets windy here in the Midwest, it gets windy. We're talking 20-30mph winds, far beyond the limit of keeping paper plates on a table without extraordinary effort, so we ate inside.

The wind and the weather meant that we didn't get a chance to play any disc golf or Boche Ball, though we did break out the discs and balls and the two-year olds were suitably entertained for a brief period of time.

The food, however, was very good, and the preparation was excellent, thanks to Dave. One of the diners had requested organic, free-range, meat, and the task was suitably interesting that I decided to try to buy as much organic food as I could. Partly this was a challenge to see how much organic food I could buy, and partly there was curiosity to see if it was any better than "normal" food. There was no question it was more expensive.

I have to say that the fruit (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries) was no better, and possibly a little worse (harder and less tasty) though I didn't have a side by side taste test. The tomatoes looked far worse than their non-organic counterparts (smaller, oddly shaped, not fully ripe), but hey, I wasn't eating them. The meat was great, no complaints there, but it was also Black Angus, so it had better be great. I didn't get a chance to try to ostrich, and picky eater me is only slightly sorry for that loss. But, hey, I know where to get more, and I still have the buffalo burgers to try.

The most shocking thing to me, however, was the one who requested the organic food was later found to be eating Frito's. Frito's! I'm pretty sure those are as close to non-organic as you can get.

All in all, it was a great afternoon/evening with some really nice people. I hope we can get a chance to do it again some time soon. The problem is you never know when it's going to be nice enough to have a BBQ. Planning in advance seems iffy, and getting a number of people with kids or who work occasional weekend shifts free on random Saturday or Sunday afternoon for an impromptu get together seems even more iffy. Hopefully the weather will become more stable in July/August/September and the next BBQ will work out better.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Spend, spend, spend

A dozen years ago I was a supreme example of consumerism. I always had to have the latest and greatest and I was working just to feed a "new toy" addiction. After a lot of soul searching I realized that buying stuff doesn't make me happy (well, it does for a while) and tried to cut back.

I was pretty successful, until recently, and I'm trying to figure out what's gone wrong and what I can do about it. Granted this latest batch of spending isn't aimed directly at happiness, but still, I'm getting the feeling like it's getting out of control. I'm trying to cut down on spending, but it seems like there's always something that needs to be bought.

I guess owning a home does that to you. For this weekend's BBQ party that I'm hosting I ended up buying $500+ worth of stuff. Granted it's all big ticket items (patio table, chairs, grill, etc.) that I'll have for a long time, but it seems like that's always the excuse. As I was unloading all of it, it left me thinking about how much I'm going to have to spend to move it when I eventually (hopefully many years from now) leave this house.

Then there's the weed whacker that I had to buy. And the lawn mower. And the new camping gear for my trip to The Boundary Waters. And the, and the, and the... It seems like the list never ends.

It's time to make a concerted effort to stop spending. It's not so much that I don't have the money (I do, but just barely), it's more that I want to save the money for other things. What those other things are I don't know, but it seems like hoarding money gives me happiness now. At least for a while.

Maybe I'll just hoard it until I have enough to buy the next big thing.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Getting outside

I've been hoping that at some point Lucy (my cat) would want to go outside and experience more of life than the 3600 square feet she's been living in. I've previously opened doors and tried to entice her outside, but she hasn't been interested. The most I could get her to do would be to hunker down and peer outside in a curious, but incredibly timid way.

That's why I was so happy tonight when Lucy made overtures of being interested in going outside. She was sitting in front of the sliding glass door and peering out -- something she never did before. I opened the back door to the deck and she almost immediately, though timidly, inched onto the deck. At that point I was expecting her to immediately want to turn around and come back in, but she didn't. Instead she started moving towards the stairs and the darkness.

But, before I would let her out for a long and unsupervised excursion, I wanted to get her collar on (with ID tag). When she headed over towards the stairs, I decided that I needed to get her back inside and put her collar on.

Putting the collar on was far easier than I expected, but watching her try to lick the (rather large) ID tag off of her chest was absolutely hilarious. It's basically just under her observable limit. She knows it's there, but can't tell where it is. She would lick at it, then get up and look at where she had been sitting, expecting to see it there. She would turn in circles looking for it. She was rolling around on the floor, curling up in a ball trying to figure out where it was. She was trying to grab it with one paw, then two. Words just can't do it justice -- it was quite entertaining.

I'm hoping that by tomorrow she'll be used to it, and that it will still be on, and I can feel a bit more confident about letting her outside. On the bright (or maybe bad, I haven't decided yet), the bell and ID tag banging together on the collar mean that I won't have a hard time figuring out where she is, or if she's scratching an itch. :-)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Too cool

Found the site "How Much Is Inside" and believe it to be too cool not to share. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Random thoughts

Nothing really to report of late. Getting my permit to go camping in The Boundary Waters at the end of May is the most exciting thing to happen so far this week.

A friend forwarded me this link which I thought was cool enough to share:
A bicycle frame made out of bamboo. Looks interesting, and it appears to be light and strong.

Another forwarded me this article about a group of high school kids, actually illegal aliens from Mexico, that beat MIT at an underwater robot contest. Pretty impressive, especially considering that the presentation (which for ESL students would seem to be daunting) was more than 50% of the score, that they had a budget more than an order of magnitude less than MIT, and they're high school students without any experience in the field of underwater robots. Too bad that winning this means nothing because they are illegal aliens.