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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Are we done yet?

We’ve all been there before. You know what I’m talking about…that feeling. What feeling you ask? It’s that I’m at the end of my rope, there’s nothing left in the tank feeling. I am so there and beyond. I’m like a little kid waiting in eager anticipation for something that cannot come soon enough. What is it you ask? Well, here’s a hint-rocker Alice Cooper wrote a pretty great song about it 😉

So if you have not guessed it (and you should since I’m a teacher), I’m talking about the end of the school year. Hallelujah! Yes, we have finally reached the end of the year! I know, poor teacher right? Such an easy job and now you get two whole months off to relax. Well, if you’ve never done it before, you don’t know how mentally (and physically) draining it can be. I am pooped! As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’ll be using this time to “recharge the batteries” and prepare for the start of another year in September. For now however, I am not thinking that far ahead and I’m focussing on the foreseeable future.

Even though we are days away from the end of the year, my work is not done yet. Yes, all my exams are done and marks have been submitted, but I still have one more thing to do. Believe it or not, this task is actually going to involve me putting in some overtime. I am supposed to be done on Friday, but I will not officially be done until Saturday night. Confused? Let me explain.

So I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I would be travelling to the University of Minnesota-Duluth with the football team to participate in their team skills camp. Well, that time has arrived! We leave tomorrow morning bright and early (7am to be exact) for the 3.5 hour drive south to Duluth. We’ll be taking 23 players (4 Gr. 9’s, 17 Gr. 10’s and 2 Gr. 11’s) down to the camp, along with 7 coaches on a charted bus. I’ll be taking my own truck though as I need to pick up a few things on the way home. It’s been four years since we’ve gone to this camp, and based on our past experiences, it should be a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved.

So if everything goes to plan, it will be a short turn-around once I get home from Duluth. My wife is scheduled to do the Advanced Placement Math course in Toronto on July 1st, so we decided to make a trip out of it. She’s flying down on June 30, and I’ll follow her down a few days later with the boys in the van. Ethan and Noah are really looking forward to the trip, especially since were planning to go back to Wonderland (Noah couldn’t do much last year because of his broken arm), visit the Medieval Times and watch the Toronto-Calgary football game.

If anything, this trip will be a good start to my much needed vacation, but it will also get me away from the depressing weather around here. Now I’m sure you’re probably tired of me bitching about the weather, especially since I’ve been doing it for the past year. I can’t help it though…it’s bloody awful! All it does is rain. The ground is still very wet from all the snow we got over the winter and it hasn’t really dried out. It’s rained the past few days and I’m sure everything is saturated by this point. I don’t really care if this summer is really hot, but it would be nice if it could just dry out.

Now you know why I want things to dry out…it makes it really hard to do any hiking if the bush is wet. Right now all the creeks and rivers are high, as are all the swampy areas which the railway does run through. I’m hoping that by the time I get back from Toronto it will have dried out a bit. I’m scheduled to do a presentation on the Paulson Mine and the railway on July 20 at the Chik-Wauk Museum and I’d like to get some field work in after that. Fingers are crossed.

Now speaking of hiking, I did get some in a couple weeks ago. I was back in Minnesota with the idea of exploring some of the mines and test pits along the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails. I had not been to one mine shaft, located (ironically) at Mine Lake, since 2010.

I was up bright and early on Friday the 13th for the 2+ hour trip down to Gunflint. I would be by myself for this hike, since the boys were on a PD day from school and wanted to spend the day at my mom’s house. I was a bit concerned about how things would go, since it did rain a bit the day before and the ground was very wet. By 10:30 I was on the trail heading west toward the Mine Lake shaft, 3km away. It was a bit cool that day, but the strong wind mercifully kept the swarms of black flies and mosquitoes away. It was nice to be out in the bush, especially as I passed by all the history in the area.

After about an hour of walking, I arrived at the west end of Mine Lake; during the time of the railway it was known as Akeley Lake. On the way in I had attempted to look for a series of test trenches that were supposedly located at the east end of the lake, but I was not really sure what I was looking for. I did make one surprise find about 50m from the shaft, which was an adit along the north side of the trail (I had been there in 1998 and 2010 and missed it both times). That led me to explore a mass of rock work that was located just west of the adit and on the opposite side of the Kekekabic Trail from the shaft. It appeared that a whole section of the ridge had been subjected to a massive amount of blasting.

Railway grade near the second switchback, June 2014.

Railway grade near the second switchback, June 2014.

Adit, Mine Lake, June 2014.

Adit, Mine Lake, June 2014.

After carefully exploring the blasted area, I moved south to visit the shaft. Unfortunately I was disappointed with what I saw. The Akeley Lake shaft was the best preserved mine shaft in the whole area and now it had become the worst. The 1999 blowdown and the 2007 Ham Lake fire removed all of the forest cover in the area and now it has all begun to grow back. The opening was so wide open and easy to see into before, but now it is clogged with deadfall and trees growing along the shaft collar that you can barely see into it.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

On my way back to the Gunflint Trail I spent my time shooting some new video of the test pits alongside the trail. I even went on a little adventure to look for what I thought were some other test pits but came up empty. I am looking forward to heading back down to Gunflint after my return from Toronto. In the meantime you can watch my videos from the hike here and here.

Iron rocks, June 2014.

Iron rocks, June 2014.

Test pit #5, June 2014.

Test pit #5, June 2014.

Test pit #1, June 2014.

Test pit #1, June 2014.

So since it will be a while before I’m able to do more field work, I’m going to be doing a “different” type of field work while I’m in Toronto. What kind of field work could I possibly do in Toronto you ask? Well, the archival kind. Yes, for the first (and only) time since 1999 I am paying a visit to the Archives of Ontario. The Archives has some really important files pertaining to the railway and I can’t wait to take a look at them with a more mature and discerning eye. I’ll be sure to write all about it in my next post.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Three times is not a charm!

We’ve been here before right? This is now the third year in a row that this has happened. Déjà vu? (from French, literally “already seen”, is the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced has been experienced in the past, whether it has actually happened or not). A very clinical answer from our friends at Wikipedia, but it seems to be the best way to describe what has gone on. Unfortunately this is not the good type of repetition and it is very frustrating, in my opinion anyway. Cryptic? For sure…I haven’t done that in a while.

So what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, there’s not a lot of “new” stuff, but there’s certainly a lot of “excitement” going on. I guess I should clarify, for “excitement” may not be the correct term to use…maybe controlled insanity is better. Ya, let’s go with that. It’s now June, obviously, but this generally is one of the busiest times of the year for me. So many things going on!

Work is a big part of the current craziness. There is the ever-present marking that I can never seem to get ahead of (the only time you’re ahead of your marking is at the end of the year). We’re down to our final 10 days before exams and there is the usual rush to get everything wound up on time. Isn’t it supposed to get easier as you get older and more experienced? I’m finding it gets more challenging!

This week we started into the annual spring football season, though it began on a sour note on Monday, which led to a cancellation of that first session (ya, it ties into to the title). That left us with only two days of camp, but it still turned out to be very productive nonetheless. Now my time on the grid iron is not over though; our whole program (junior and senior) will be travelling to Duluth, MN at the end of the month to take part in the annual University of Minnesota-Duluth team camp. So I’m staying on the field for two more days to help get the kids ready to participate in that event.

Well, I should get to the title of the post shouldn’t I? What’s your best guess? If you said the weather, you’re the grand prize winner…cheque is in the mail! The end of May was absolutely fantastic; it was sunny and very warm. June unfortunately hasn’t been so kind, especially with regard to the rain. In May 2012 we had a pretty massive storm that dumped a lot of rain on the city and caused some flooding. Last year it was the same story; almost the same itme of the year, but with a little less rain. It was like a broken record this past Monday, with a good dose of rain that put a damper on just about everything. It is so frustrating! We had such a long and terrible winter and things were just starting to look up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the end of the world, but the ground is still very wet and it’s been a long wait for it to dry up. Now we’re starting all over again.

Why am I so concerned about how wet everything is? Well, as someone who likes to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, it makes it very challenging to get out there and hike. I was hoping to go out again this weekend to North Lake, but I had to push my plans back another week. Fortunately I was able to go on my first walk of the year a couple week’s ago and it was great to get out.

This hike took me to the Minnesota portion of the railway and I had been planning this for quite some time. I was really anxious to try out my new video camera and capture the grade in the grandeur of 1080p! The boys accompanied me on the hike, along with my old friend Terry (our hiking adventures go all the way back to high school) and my friend John from the Cross River Lodge. I actually needed some help on this walk since I had been itching to shoot some wireless footage of the 400-foot trestle near the Paulson Mine.

It was a nice drive down to Gunflint Lake as it usually is. After a brief stop at the Lodge to pick up John (and for Terry to get his caffine fix), we made our way to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. After a short walk the trail merges with the former right of way and then it is about 600 metres to the trestle. On the way I decided to re-shoot a few areas that I previous taped in the fall (I really wanted to see what it would look like with the new camera). When we arrived at the trestle location I was already sweating; it was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures already pushing the mid-twenties before 11am. The sweat would become profuse very quickly!

We set everything up and John would man the camera as I made my way into the valley and then up the fairly sheer face of the western side of the trestle. My biggest concern was if the wireless mic would work at such a distance (I tested it to over 450’ at home); thankfully it performed flawlessly. The leaves had yet to open on most of the trees, so it made for a pretty clear shot across the valley. After the filming was done, we all headed over to the western side to resume the hike. It was pretty interesting trying to get everyone up that cliff safely, especially the boys, but we able to do it without any incidents. On the way we came across a lot of metal bridge remains, even a spike still embedded in a piece of wood.

The grade on the west side of the valley had been blasted right out of the side of the cliff. The valley is over 100 feet below the railway (I approximated 50-80’ in the video) and the cliff above is rough 30 feet above the railway. It is really something to see! In the past 122 years many large boulders have fallen from the blasted cliff face and now sit on the grade, making it very challenging to walk. From the western side of the trestle it is approximately 300 metres to where the Centennial Trail re-acquires the grade; at points it is very heavily grown-in and not easily navigated. We ended our hike here, and slowly made our way to back to where we started. The video turned out great (with the exception of me repeating myself a lot); you can watch it here.

Lower grade from the Centennial Trail, May 2014.

Lower grade from the Centennial Trail, May 2014.

Looking west at the 400' trestle, May 2014.

Looking west at the 400′ trestle, May 2014.

Spike in wood, May 2014.

Spike in wood, May 2014.

Metal bridge parts, May 2014.

Metal bridge parts, May 2014.

Blasting hole, May 2014.

Blasting hole, May 2014.

Looking east at the 400' trestle, May 2014.

Looking east at the 400′ trestle, May 2014.

John graciously invited us to stop in to the lodge for some lunch and it was nice to relax for a bit. Afterwards we headed farther up the Gunflint Trail so Terry could take a look at the Chik-Wauk Museum. The visit also gave us some time to walk around on some of the trails at the site. From there it was getting close to supper time, so we drove back to the Gunflint Lodge for what would be a great meal. The temperature was now topping 28C and it was almost *gasp* too hot to be outside! It did cool off considerably as we headed home and got closer to Lake Superior. In any case it was a great day and I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to visit Minnesota.

Gunflint Lake, May 2014.

Gunflint Lake, May 2014.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I was planning to add more recollections from my twenty years of railway work, but I’ll save that for my next post. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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