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March 28, 2008

Trophy Trips

trophy

Yesterday, I received a call from a journalist at one of the “biggie” national magazines. She is working on an article about moving to Vermont for the June issue. She wanted to know about kayaking on Lake Champlain.

Hmmm. Yup, I can talk about that.

trophy

I took her on a “verbal” tour of my favorite section of the lake – putting in at the mouth of Otter Creek where one might see osprey, kingfishers, turtles, beaver, mink, fox, deer, and dragonflies among the wealth of species that make their home where river meets lake. I described the backdrop of the Adirondack and Green Mountain ranges that flank the lake, the 200 foot-high cliffs that rise from the water where paddlers may sight a rare peregrine falcon, a species that was almost eliminated in the days of DDT and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

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I could hear the reporter yawning from her Manhattan office. “That sounds nice,” she said. “Are there any seals and sea lions?”

Seals and sea lions? On Lake Champlain?

It’s not the first time someone has asked if they might see marine mammals in our freshwater lake. I went on to explain that our lake is not connected with the ocean today, but that Lake Champlain was filled with saltwater for a period after the glaciers of the last ice age retreated 10,000 years ago. I told her the story of the Charlotte whale – bones of a beluga that were found by railroad workers digging a railway bed in the nineteenth century.

I could hear the yawning again.

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My naturalist friends have a term for what the reporter was looking for. “Charismatic megafauna” – large animal species with widespread popular appeal. The polar bear. The Asian elephant. The giant panda. The blue whale. That’s what today’s ecotourist wants to see.

I mentioned the increasing number of bald eagle sightings, including the one that flew over the top of Gypsy Rose late last fall.

“That’s nice,” the reporter replied, but I knew that I hadn’t yet uncovered the big one for the story.

Despite our apparent lack of charismatic megafauna, the interview progressed. I moved on to the cultural highlights of the area. I spoke of the many shipwrecks on that section of lake, adding that the paddler can make a stop to learn more at the Maritime Museum along the route.

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More yawns from Manhattan.

We’ll just have to wait and see what (if anything) shows up on those glossy perfumed pages when the article goes to print in a couple of months.

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 I was still pondering the interview when an article in this morning’s New York Times caught my eye.

“TROPHY TRIPS”
“For today’s jet set it’s a braggart’s banquet.”

Here are a few excerpts:

“ . . . lately the idea of the trophy trip has reached a peak, as the travel industry keeps offering rarer and more meaningful ways to connect to the world.”

‘‘Most of our clients have ‘been there, done that,’ ’’ says Mollie Fitzgerald of the high-end outfitter Frontiers International Travel. ‘‘People are seeking richer experiences because the ‘flop and drop’ concept is passé.’’

“Trophy hunting comes at a price, of course, and as global wealth keeps expanding, there’s no shortage of punters. ‘For people at the very top, there are not many surprises left,’ says the Cornell professor Robert H. Frank, author of ‘Luxury Fever: Money and Happiness in an Era of Excess.’ Like modern-day Edmund Hillarys, the über-elite are going to the ends of the earth — and beyond — and they want to get there first.”

“Such is the power of bragging rights. As Ann Mack, who monitors trends for J. Walter Thompson in New York, puts it, ‘The more experiences you have — and the more obscure and upscale they are — the more interesting you are at cocktail parties, because you have done something that most people haven’t.’”

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Okay, okay, now I get it. If only I could offer an exclusive opportunity to sight Lake Champlain’s legendary lake monster, Champ! Talk about charismatic megafauna! Talk about a Trophy Trip!

Wow! If I could have promised Champ, that upcoming article (and me) might even have had a chance at the front page!

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March 08, 2008

Vermont Has Two Seasons

camels hump 

It is said that Vermont has two seasons – winter, and two weeks of damned poor sledding.

camels hump

We must still be in winter because the sledding has been incredible! During February we set a new record for snowfall. When the sun rose through clear skies on the first weekend of March the conditions were perfect for an exciting run down the mountain trail on Camel’s Hump.

camels hump

The lower stretches of the Burrows Trail rise through a beech/birch/maple forest before transitioning to spruce and fir on the higher slopes. The combination of heavy logging in the nineteen century and a fire that burned thousands of acres in 1903 left the forest beginning anew one hundred years ago.

camels hump

The peak of the mountain (Vermont’s third highest) rises 4000 feet above the Champlain Valley. The hike to the top of the “sledding hill” takes a little less than three hours. Trails from the four points of the compass converge in a clearing below the summit. The sign post under Marion’s foot (above) is over my head on summer days, but the winter snowfall buries it almost beyond a trace.

camels hump

The thermometer near the summit read fourteen degrees, but the wind was howling at 30 to 40mph. Wind chills were, well, very cold! We stopped only long enough for a few pictures and to take in the view from the summit. The White Mountains of New Hampshire stretched across the eastern horizon. The Adirondacks and Lake Champlain dominated the view to the west. To the north, the farmlands of Quebec lay in the distance.

camels hump

Three hours up and less than thirty minutes down. Except for a couple of flat spots, the sled ride is continuous. We whoop and holler in gleeful delight (and to warn any hikers that may be on the trail around the next bend). Our Mad River Rockets are steered with hands extended to the side as we whoosh past the trees and around the switchbacks. The packed trail is lined with deep winter snows that soften the occasional missed turn. Those who haven’t experienced it often call me crazy for venturing to run a sled through those mountainside glades. I guess they’ll never know what they’re missing!

 

March 03, 2008

Row Hard, No Excuses!

snow row

Pilot gig racing is big sport in the Isles of Scilly. The World Pilot Gig Championships, held annually on the small islands southwest of Cornwall, England, attracted 103 men’s and 95 women’s teams for the 2007 event.

snow row

Here in the U.S., gig racing is little known, but for those who participate in North America’s only open water racing circuit, the annual Snow Row in Hull, Massachusetts is the signature event.

It was the coldest morning of the winter when we hitched up the trailers and began the drive south to Boston Harbor. Fifteen below zero outside Gypsy’s door and twenty-four below at Geoff’s home in Westford. A snowstorm was forecast for the return trip on Saturday evening, but bad weather wouldn’t deter the two crews that set out from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum last Friday morning.

snow row

Among the sixty boats lined up on the beach for this year’s March 1st race, more than a dozen were gigs. Vermont is usually well represented in the race, but forecasts for a winter storm kept the youth crews at home this year. (The Champlain Longboats program at the Maritime Museum has been building a new pilot gig each year since 2000. Its fleet of nine boats is the largest this side of the Atlantic - perhaps even in the world!)

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Above, one of the Vermont crews prepares for some pre-race practice in the Saturday morning rain.

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Rowers compete on a 3.75 mile course at the southern entrance to Boston Harbor. The start is “Lemans style,” with all the bows on the beach and the crews standing ready thirty feet away. When the gun sounds, racers run for their boats, leap over the bow, and scramble to their assigned oar. The rower closest to the bow pushes the gig off the beach, hops aboard, and the race is under way. In tight quarters among the other 32-foot gigs, crews have to turn the boats 180 degrees before they can start pulling toward the first turn at Sheep Island. (We are the boat at the lower right corner of the picture above.) There are inevitable collisions and tangled oars, but soon the racers have settled into the rhythm for the haul.

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The mighty “Fishcakes” have been rowing in the Snow Row for eight years. Above, our leader and coxswain, Geoff Kerr, steers us off the beach for a pre-race warm-up run. Below, the rest of the crew sits ready at the oars. I’ll be pulling the stroke oar. Next in line sits “Papa” Nick Patch, followed by Jeff Meyers and finally Jeff Severson on the number one oar at the bow.

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We arrive each year in Hull with a few more grey hairs and admissions to being sorely out of shape. Moments before the starting gun went off, I turned to my teammates and confessed, “This is going to hurt really bad.”

It doesn’t matter. The bumper sticker we found years ago sums up the spirit of the event. “Row Hard, No Excuses.”

We finished well ahead of all boats in the four-oared class, winning our division. The following line from Geoff Kerr’s post-race email sums it up well.

“That was the best time in ages guys, thanks for letting me play too.  I can't help but be satisfied at how dominating we'd be if we gave a damn!  Between natural ability and evil genius we are tops.”

 

*My ability to photograph the event is limited by the fact that both hands are clutching an oar, but you can Click Here for photos from the 2007 race.