Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mr. Canoe

Today we had the pleasure of meeting Ralph Frese aka Mr. Canoe. Ralph started Chicagoland Canoe Base years ago after he began building canoes for his boy scout troop in his blacksmithing workshop. His enthusiasm and knowledge for canoeing has garnered him the nickname Mr. Canoe in the paddling community. This shop has grown into a unique historical space hidden away in northwest Chicago.  As we arrived at the shop, we spotted a fleet of enormous replica canoes of all shapes and materials.  Check out these monsters!

As soon as we walked in the door and started drooling over all of the canoes, we found a sign

"About time you girls got here!" Ralph said from the back of the shop. After a few handshakes we were soon off to lunch.  Over some tasty food, we talked adventure.  This man has been on some pretty epic adventures.  For starters, he likes reenactments.  In 1973 he reenacted the Joliet-Marquette expedition of 1673 in Ralph-Frese-Authentic-Fake-Birchbark canoes.  The trip was 3,000 miles long and was of course performed in traditional garb.

He also told us about other adventures and some famous friends. Francis BrentonBill Mason, and Verlen Kruger to name a few.  He also told us about his current project. Ralph is currently in search of Le Griffon! The "Holy Grail of the Great Lakes"(according to Ralph). It is assumed that Robert de La Salle's boat may be laying at the bottom of the lake in a known location and Ralph is keen on finding it.  Back at the shop, Ralph instructed us on some possible boat layouts and paddling techniques.  Video show and tell-

We toured the workshop and were able to meet some other canoeists coming in and out of the shop.

*tappity-tap-tap* "That's the anvil chorus."-Ralph
This is the old blacksmithing station where Ralph used to work with his dad.

We were thankful to meet some wonderful people today and learn a bit about traditional canoe construction. We'll see you on the water!

Finally Back on the Lake!

Well I've finally made it back to the Third Coast!  After living in California for nearly a year, it's great to see Lake Michigan again!  It was hard to leave the west coast, especially with the birth of my first nephew being just 2 days fresh, but I knew I needed to come home to the lake I love.  My time in San Jose was fantastic.  I surfed in salt water for the first time, walked through the mountains, hugged giant sequoias, and ate delicious fish tacos.  I hungrily took in the scenery of foreign plants and animals and my appreciation for the west grew tenfold.  This place became my home.  With that, felt a constant split with myself and my longing to return to Lake Michigan.  Even when I was living in this new exciting place, I spent the majority of my time preparing for this summer's trip.  I was obsessed with it.  I am STILL obsessed with it.  My last few months there were especially focused on the lake.  Between training at the gym and building campaign gifts, I kept myself pretty busy.  I was at Techshop, San Jose constantly working on our Indiegogo perks.  I did feel a bit out of place making a bunch of stuff etched with Lake Michigan's face in the west coast, but this workshop was perfect for helping to raise money and build my portfolio.  Here I was able to learn about and use CNC machines and develop some new craftswoman skills.  I was able to finish constructing our contribution gifts here as well as shape another lee board for Makeba and sew together some costume made trampolines for the outriggers.

Packing up these items in my little Ford Focus made the drive back home a little more cramped this time around.  Since my brother Kurt and I planned to camp the whole way home, we were packed to the max.  We could barely fit in the extra gear my Aunts and Uncles lent for the boat trip when we passed through Albuquerque.  Thanks to them, Amy and I now have some better functioning and lightweight equipment.  My uncle, Mike, is a geologist who has spent almost all his life traveling and seeking out the less traveled dirt roads of the world.  When Kurt and I were in New Mexico he shared a great Lake Michigan story with us.  When he was in his mid twenties, he and some friends decided to visit Poverty Island.  They didn't know it when they set up camp, but a big storm was headed their way.  He said the wind blew so hard that night they thought they were going to lose the tent.  When they got up to check on the boat the next morning, they were in for a surprise.  Their little boat had completely severed its bowlines and capsized bow over stern in the slip.  They spent that morning searching the shore for parts and supplies, including the little boat's motor itself.  They were stranded until a passing boat spotted them.  The guys had been able to flag down a nearby sailer who called in the coast guard for them.  They left the island completely boat-less.  Hopefully, that won't be the case when Amy and I pass through Michigan's islands.  Lasting between one and two days, we'll need to time that leg of the journey just right to account for currents and winds.  My dad will be shadowing us then too, so we'll have a little more support than the boys did.  Also, we'll be sure to pay our respects to Uncle Mike's lost little boat when we pass Poverty Island's abandoned shore.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

MMM Sunsets

I have a slight obsession with sunsets. And a slight obsession with the lake. What a perfect combination for this trip, eh?! I was able to get out on the lake last night with my buddy Andrew for a great sunset paddle. We started paddling in the early evening fog, took a midpoint trek up one of the largest sand dunes on the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan, and enjoyed sharing stories until it was almost time for sunset. After getting back in the canoe we paddled out a little ways and let ourselves drift as we enjoyed the setting sun.

Soon we saw the horizon line changing and the skyline of Chicago growing, shifting, flipping…it was quickly becoming a beautiful and confusing trick on our minds. We have both seen these strange upside down cities form on the horizon on hot summer days, but neither of us could explain what was actually going on. We just stared, wondered, admired. I decided that I would find out what was actually going on (nerd alert). So, thank you Wikipedia.

“A mirage is a naturally occurring optical phenomenon in which light rays are bent to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky. The word comes to English via the French mirage, from the Latin mirare, meaning "to look at, to wonder at.” This is the same root as for "mirror" and "to admire.”

A Fata Morgana is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. It is an Italian phrase derived from the vulgar Latin term for "fairy" and King Arthur’s sorceress Morgan le Fay, from a belief that these mirages, often seen in the Strait of Messina, were fairy castles in the air or false land created by her witchcraft to lure sailors to their death.

Fata Morgana mirages distort the object or objects which they are based on significantly, often such that the object is completely unrecognizable. The mirage comprises several inverted and erect images that are stacked on top of one another. Fata Morgana mirages also show alternating compressed and stretched zones. This optical phenomenon occurs because rays of light are bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures in a steep thermal inversion (A thermal inversion is an atmospheric condition where warmer air exists in a well-defined layer above a layer of significantly cooler air. This temperature inversion is the opposite of what is normally the case; air is usually warmer close to the surface, and cooler higher up.)”

Ahh, so that was what we were looking at... The cool fog over the still very cold water had interacted perfectly with the hot air that has moved into our area recently. Upside down cities and deceptions of your mind are not always so easily explained!

This unusual sunset got me thinking about all the sunsets we will be seeing on our trip. All along we’ve been excited about this aspect – we’re going clockwise if for no other reason than the knowledge that the tiring second half of our trip will be satisfyingly full of sunsets over Lake Michigan each night. (Don’t worry, this isn’t the only reason we’re going clockwise, but I’ve got to admit it was a large factor!) I wonder how many more upside down cities we will see? Let’s say we’re gone for 2 months – that’s around 60 sunsets! What if we’re gone for closer to 3 months? 90 sunsets! Now that’s just crazy talk. There will indeed be a lot to look at, wonder at, and admire on this adventure.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thanks Loreen!

Loreen Niewenhuis gave a great shout out to us on her blog about her Great Lakes trek. Check out that first picture of the two of us - that's pretty much what you can expect us to look like during the trip! Haha, only half joking.

See for yourself! :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Loreen Niewenhuis also loves Lake Michigan!

Today I got to meet up with Loreen Niewenhuis in St. Joe, Michigan. I was first introduced to Loreen via her book, A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach. My mom gave me this book after realizing that I was actually serious about taking this trip – she thought I at least better have an idea of what I was getting myself into I guess. This book is about the trek that Loreen took along the shoreline of Lake Michigan in 2009. Her journey around the world’s fifth largest lake was an exciting and eye-opening experience for both her and now all of her readers. She chronicled her day to day travels past beautiful untouched shores, nuclear power plants, and everything in between. She saw the natural beauty and man-made destruction of our lake first hand. This made Loreen a great resource for finding out about the geography, history, and ecology of various portions of Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

She advised me to check with all of the power plants around the lake to make sure they are aware we will be passing by and see if we will have a safe place to land if need be.  She said some of them have very scary signs such as the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant that has warning signs reading “Personnel are authorized to use DEADLY FORCE.” Seems a little blunt. We will be sure to call them. Especially them. Hopefully our passage on water is calmer than Loreen’s passage on land. Loreen also told me about areas where bluffs, steep dunes, rocky shallow passages, and tall invasive phragmites may pose a problem for landing and camping. It’s good that we are learning about all of these areas now so that we will be well prepared to avoid and/or tackle them!

We talked about how Lake Michigan is obviously the best Great Lake. I guess we all probably love the lake we are most familiar with, and for Loreen, Mary, and I that lake happens to be Lake Michigan. Loreen is currently in the middle of her next big adventure – she is off on another 1000 mile trek that will be comprised of stretches of shore along each of the 5 Great Lakes. She just finished up a 300 mile segment that allowed her to have some time off this month for family obligations, rest, and thankfully a meeting with me. Check out Loreen’s blog at http://laketrek.blogspot.com/. The next segment of her trip will start at the beginning of June on Lake Huron in Bay City, Michigan. Her trip will conclude in October when she walks right up to Niagara Falls – what a great visual ending! Maybe we’ll be able to meet up after we are all finished and swap adventure stories. Who knows, perhaps after this trek she’ll change her mind about her favorite Great Lake. But I doubt she will. :)  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Talking to Tom Heineman about Adventure

On Friday I was able to meet up with Tom Heineman of Chicago. Tom circumnavigated Lake Michigan in his kayak back in 2006. (http://mathtutorchicago.com/Heineman_Trip_2006/ ) He finished in a record 49 days – super impressive! We will by no means be traveling that speed, but I was able to pick up lots of tips and pointers to help us along the way. Tom graciously offered advice on difficult open water stretches, food (peanut butter and tortillas were great!), and gear selection. He even helped us out by providing us with his old marine radio and an extra SPOT Satellite Messenger. This is a handy device that uses GPS satellites to provide our exact coordinates to whoever may need to know them. We are hoping that only our friends and family need to ever know our exact location – we will have the SPOT update our location every day so that you will be able to follow us on a map of Lake Michigan! (I guess you can even bug us and tell us if we’re going too slow, huh?) In the worst case scenario, there is also a button on the device that sends our exact coordinates and a help message to the appropriate emergency responders. We already have one SPOT, but now Mary and I will both be able to have one tied to our PFDs. Better safe than sorry when you’re out on a lake this size! I don’t want to get in any fights with Lake Michigan because she certainly has the strength to win. This way we’ll have our backup to call if she ever starts bullying us.

It was great to hear stories in person from someone who has completed a trip so similar to ours. Tom loves Lake Michigan and realizes how precious she is. He also fully understands our want for adventure. He told us that he meets with basically anyone who plans a trip of this sort – someway or another they get directed to him. They come with various incentives and various modes of transportation. He said our dugout is definitely a first! Haha. But each person comes with a purpose, if for nothing else than adventure’s sake.

He told me about an area where he stopped on his circumnavigation where he talked to a young boy (maybe 6) and his slightly older sister (maybe 12). The boy wore a quizzical, puzzled look on his face when he asked, “Why would you ever go around Lake Michigan in a kayak?” Of course his dad was not too far away starting up the engine of his huge yacht. But his sister got it. She snapped back at her younger brother, “He’s going on an adventure, stupid!” Tom said he could tell that she knew about adventure, or at least had read about it. She had been fascinated by stories of past adventures and her imagination had been stirred by adventurers that would live on in history. Tom guessed she had studied someone like Amelia Earhart in school that year. I think he’s probably spot on.

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” – Amelia Earhart

Well it’s a good thing Tom, the young girl, and Amelia believe adventure is worthwhile in itself, because this will be one big adventure for us. Tom thinks we are headed in the right direction and that is great to hear. Tom says, “The wild card is indeed the dugout. But, boy, if you can pull this off in a dugout you would not only have an adventure, you will make history.” Pretty exciting stuff. We aim to make it all the way around Lake Michigan in the dugout, but even if we somehow don’t, this will be the adventure of a lifetime. 

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” – Amelia Earhart

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Do you know what a diva is? A diva is not necessarily a word that I would automatically choose to describe myself, Mary, or any part of this trip. But thanks to MTI Adventurewear we'll be feeling like divas in our PFDivas! So more importantly, do you know what a PFD is? PFD is the abbreviation for a personal flotation device aka a life jacket. We knew we would be wanting the best life jackets out there for our safety and our parents' peace of mind. Luckily, MTI Adventurewear hopped on board as our very first company sponsor. 

They have provided Mary and I with their PFDiva model life jackets, as well as two of their APF model life jackets for anyone who tags along for part of our trip (hint, hint, wink, wink).

Here is Amy in the PFDiva. This life jacket has the unique Adjust-A-Bust women's fit system to keep "the girls" in place. We'll let you know how that works out. Also, we love that this jacket has pockets for us to carry our safety signaling gear. It is the most comfortable life jacket I've ever tried on which is a good thing considering I may be wearing it everyday for 2-3 months - excited to try it out on the water soon!

Here is Amy in the APF life jacket. APF stands for All Person Fit, meaning it will easily and comfortably fit a 30" chest or a 56" chest. Also meaning you have no excuse not to come join us for some safe fun along the way!
 "MTI Adventurewear – Making life jackets for people who LOVE LIFE and ON WATER ADVENTURE for over 20 years. Proud to support the adventure dream of  Two Girls and a Tree Named Makeba."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

LOTS of Help in Making Our Dreams Come True

When thinking back to the beginning of our idea for a trip of this sort, I remember thinking that we would probably need to circle up at least a little bit of support along the way. As we started off on this journey, we quickly realized that we would be needing more than just a little - we would be needing LOTS of help. Thankfully, preparation so far has been full of words of encouragement and advice from family, friends, fellow adventurers, and others who see a dream being chased and want to see it get caught. We really do appreciate it. We couldn't have imagined a more rewarding experience so far. Hearing about other people's dreams in the process has been just as gratifying as telling people about our own.

Even a few great companies have offered support for our endeavor - we're absolutely ecstatic to be able to pack up some great gear into our dugout canoe! Be on the lookout for new posts about the companies, their awesome products, and how they are helping make our dreams come true. 

And just because Mary and I love this song - take a listen, you're welcome. But seriously, thank you!

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Welcome to our blog! Take a look around enjoy! Be sure to type in your email address to follow this blog and receive email updates of our trip around Lake Michigan.