A Much Delayed Trip Report


Posted on : 3/06/2010 10:21:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

After much delay, here is my trip report from a kayaking a section of the Grand River.

Denis invited me to join him and his friend Jamie on a little kayaking excursion during the third week of July 2009.  I knew two things before we left; where we were starting and where we were finishing, theoretically.

You can follow along by viewing my Google map of our trip.  Or you can use the map below.

View Trip 6 - Vandercook Lake to Ella Sharp Park in a larger map

Also, the "bird's eye" feature from Microsoft/Bing can be quite helpful.  If you find your view of the river obscured by summertime foliage, then change the viewing angle.  At least one of the views offered will have been collected after the trees have shed their leaves.  None were collected in winter.  The two mapping tools used in combination are quite effective.  Google Earth is pointless for this particular trip due to the summer foliage.

We started off by dropping my car at the finishing location and boogying over to the public park at Vandercook Lake.  The location is marked with a blue marker on the map.  The Grand River Environmental Action Team calls this their Trip 6 on the Jackson County portions of the Grand River.  Trip 6 is one of the few examples where their labeling is accurate.  The parking was good at both the beginning and the end.  Access was great at the beginning.  Our total trip time was about 3 1/2 hours.

Trip 6

I would only take issue with a couple of the descriptions on their map.  Part of having good access is having a good spot to get into or out of your boat.  The exit at point at Ella Sharp Park left a bit to be desired in that regard.  More on that later.  Also, William's Lake does have a few of houses on it.  Their description of "undeveloped" is inaccurate and at least 20 years out of date.  Fortunately, it does not have wall to wall houses all around it like many of our other area lakes.

The depth of the Grand River as measured much further downstream was about 9 1/2 feet.  Another foot or so of water would have reduced the number of times that our kayaks were grinding over things in the water.  If the river were any shallower, we would have had to get out and walk at least a couple of times. 

We started our trek a little after 6 PM.  The park had a few visitors so we just dumped our kayaks in at the swimming beach and took off from there. 

Vandercook Lake is big enough to have waves if the wind picks up.  I mention that as we had thunderstorms rolling through the area that evening.  Aside from one round of rolling thunder, the only trouble the storms caused was some heavy riffling of the water's surface for about ten minutes as we paddled west towards Brown's Lake.

One of the owners of one of the lakeside houses happened to be putting away her kayaking things as we paddled by with dark clouds racing by overhead.  Her advice was pretty straightforward; get off the lake before we get toasted.  Jamie asked what the chances were of getting hit by lightning.  I said they were pretty good if you are on water as you are probably the tallest things around.  I am a great confidence builder.

But the clouds passed on by, the sun came out, and we paddled on.

There is a small waterway that connects Vandercook Lake to Brown's Lake.  That would be the first green marker on the route.  The waterway is only about ten feet wide and is partially covered by a concrete bridge where Brown's Lake Road passes overhead.  To add to the navigational issues, one of the homeowners docks a small boat in the uncovered portion of the waterway.  As luck would have it, those folks were just loading into their boat as we passed by.  It would have been a little extra embarrassing to have accidently nudged their boat with them sitting in it.

So I ran into the sea wall on the other side instead.  Better safe than sorry. 

The outflow into Brown's Lake was pretty shallow.  There are a couple of large stones there as well to add to the challenge.  It only took a couple of bumps and a long scrape before we were once again in open water.

This trip was my first time in a kayak.  I used to sail as a kid.  I have rowed a rowboat.  I have also paddled a canoe.  While this was a new experience, it wasn't totally foreign.  I used to almost live on the water as a kid.

I am in pretty good shape.  At least, I am in good shape if round is your idea of a good shape.  Pushing a desk all day does have a negative impact on one's physique.

One of the first things I noticed early on was how easy it was to paddle along.  There were a few times when I had lagged behind and had to sprint to catch up, but for the most part I was able to maintain a respectable speed without an uncomfortable amount of effort.  I could hear the water rushing by when I was digging deep to sprint to my paddle mates.

Now there is a phrase that brings to mind a vision of Kevin Bacon in Animal House.

There is no such thing as easy exercise.  But there is such a thing as pleasant exercise.  That is how I would describe kayaking.

After traversing the length of Brown's Lake we found ourselves in rapidly shallowing water that feeds into a sandy bottomed stream.  We finally had our first opportunity to rest for a bit while the current carried us along.  The inlet to the stream is the second green marker on the route.

We had passed a couple of fishermen in a boat on the way out of Brown's Lake.  We asked how the fishing was on William's Lake.  Apparently the stream was so shallow that neither of the fishermen had ever been down stream to find out. 

Can you guess what I have in mind for future outings?

Eventually the gentle current dropped us into William's Lake where we were presented with our first minor obstacle of the day; a weed bloom.  The entrance into the lake was choked with weeds.  I ran my paddle deep a couple of times and found that we were in water that was at least a few feet deep as we stroked our way through the mass of stringy, water bound vegetation.  Eventually the weeds dropped away and the paddling got easier.

There are a few houses on William's Lake.  So anyone thinking of getting a little "extra" sun on a secluded lake should think twice.  But the fishing should be great!

We paddled around a little to explore the lake.  Well, to be honest, we also paddled around a bit because I was sure that the outflowing stream was in a small section to the east.  I was right about following the lake shore on the right to get to the stream.  I was wrong about how far we were going to have to follow the lakeshore to find it.

Just head north, not east, for a hasty exit from William's Lake.

We found ourselves once again cruising in a shallow, gently flowing stream that meandered through reeds, rushes, and other flora.  The depth of the river never seemed to be more than three or four feet deep.  Mostly it was only one to two feet deep.  The river ranged from 15 to 25 feet wide as it wound through a marshy area.  Eventually it narrowed down to 10 to 15 feet wide as we found ourselves floating through the back yards of some of the area's nicer houses.

Our second bridge of the trip was at Glenshire Drive.  WKHM and WIBM are both located at the end of the road.  The Glenshire bridge is all corrugated steel tubing.  It was tall enough and the river was low enough that we had plenty of clearance.  Perhaps it was just the prospect of paddling under the bridge, but there did not seem to be a very thick cross section of soil and pavement at the highest point of the bridge.

At least, I would not want to have a serious truck passing overhead as I was paddling underneath.

Our first decision of the day, after that whole deciding to paddle in a thunderstorm thing, came just north of Glenshire Drive at the yellow marker where the river splits into two branches.  This entire area is full of reeds.  The open water narrows to the point where you can barely keep your paddle out of them.  One little error and your kayak is entangled in lily pads and reeds.

We came to a point where there was somewhat open water to the left and a narrow opening to the right.  There are no signs to tell you which is the correct path.  But there is a tall steel pole about 60 feet down the right hand branch with some orange tape up high.

We took that as a sign.  And it was, too.  It just was not a sign about which way to go.  Of course, we did not have a chance to check out the left branch, so only my fevered imagination can tell you about the wide open water and easy paddling.

The right branch got very narrow very quickly.  Instead of dipping your paddle into open water, you end up using it to grab the lily pads to drag yourself along.  It was quite a bit of work.  After the lily pads cleared away, the river runs through a wooded area.  There are quite a few trees down.  At one point, we had to run our kayaks over a submerged tree trunk and under another part of the same tree that was still out of the water. 

A little teamwork, a lot of encouragement, and your's truly squished through the gap.

Shortly thereafter, the right branch and the left branch rejoined, the stream opened up and we continued on.

We then found ourselves floating along a long bend in the river that surrounded the back yard of one home.  The yard was home to three tremendous willow trees.  You could almost see them straining to suck all the water out of the river.  One of them had helpfully tossed a substantial limb in our way.  We paddled around it only to find ourselves faced with our first major obstacle; a metal deck sea wall that covered the entire width of the river.  That would be the purple marker on the map.

We backed up and made a running start at the sea wall.  Each of us ground to a halt as our kayaks ran aground with us up in the air.  A little wiggling and jiggling will get you close enough to grab the sea wall with your hands.  With one good shove, and a bit more wiggling and jiggling, you should get beyond the sea wall with relative ease.  At least, that is how Jamie and Denis did it.

My first run at the sea wall ended up with my kayak coming at it crosswise instead of bow first.  There were a couple of moments where everyone expected things to end poorly.  Eventually I got free from the sea wall, backed up, and make a second run at it.  After much wiggling and jiggling, I eventually made it over.

Although there was a second moment when my bow was buried in the river below the dam and my stern was balanced precariously on the dam when my position had the makings of yet another opportunity for things to "not end well".  You see, in that position, I had no water under me!  Kayaks are pretty stable when there is water from stem to stern.  Not so much in the position I was in.

There were a couple other spots where we ended up grinding our way over or through some minor obstacle.  There is a spot were a concrete foot bridge used to be that was a little tricky.  And there were more than a few fallen trees that required a little zigging and zagging to find a way down stream.

We got to see a great many back yards.  There were several homes adjacent to the river that had some sort of are to sit and enjoy the view.  A couple have brick walls built into the earth and brick patios along the river.  Most look pretty unused.

The only other obstacle of note was at the third green marker.  There is a small island in the river.  The right hand branch is blocked by a foot bridge that is too low to let us past.  The left branch was mostly passable until we got where the two branches rejoined.  There was a tree down there.  When we tried to go around it to the right, we ended up getting hung up on the muddy bottom.

Our tour came to a close as we passed under Probert Road and into Ella Sharp Park.  There is supposed to be a boat launch on the left.  I never saw anything formal enough to call it a "boat launch".  We managed to get out of our kayaks without falling over.  It was a close thing with your's truly, but Jamie thankfully kept me dry.  A little work on the boat access/ramp by the county would be money well spent.

Thanks very much to Denis and Jamie for a great trip and a great time.  I'm off to buy a fishing kayak tomorrow and look forward to the coming season on Jackson's lakes and rivers.

Muslim Women Standing For Freedom


Posted on : 3/04/2010 04:25:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Asra Q. Nomani tells the story of a recent stand-in protest at a Washington D.C. area mosque where Muslim women demonstrated for equal treatment within their faith.

What unfolded that day inside the mosque underscores a growing agitation inside the American-Muslim community by women frustrated by separate-and-unequal status. A survey by the Council on American Islamic Relations showed that two of three mosques in 2000 required women to pray in a separate area, up from one of two in 1994. In 2003, I challenged rules at my mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia, that women enter through a back door and pray in a secluded balcony. I argued that, in the 7th century, the prophet Muhammad didn’t put women behind partitions, and the barriers were just emblematic of sexist man-made rules. The men at my mosque put me on trial to be banished.

To me, the women’s space in a mosque is an indicator of whether the interpretation of Islam being practiced is puritanical and dogmatic, or open and inclusive. This one choice is a harbinger for other controversial interpretations of Islam, including domestic violence, honor killings, suicide bombings, violence and interfaith relations. Just this week, a hard-line Saudi cleric issued a fatwa on his Arabic-language Web site calling for the killing of Muslims who don’t enforce strict gender segregation.
Shaking the tree that needs shaking most.

Architect To The Stars


Posted on : 3/04/2010 04:21:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

Mark Bennett....and his vision of the floor plans for many famous homes.  Like Fred and Wilma Flintstone's!!

The Iraqi Political Miracle


Posted on : 3/04/2010 04:19:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

It's 2010 and they still have a democracy.  Tunku Varadarajan of the Daily Beast expresses it well.

Of those Americans who will carp about Iraq’s elections being no better than a census (with the country cleaving along sectarian/ethnic lines), and who will underscore many other imperfections, I would simply ask that they look at their own history. It took the U.S. until 1787 to adopt the Constitution, until 1870 to (very imperfectly) enfranchise black adult males, until 1920 to enfranchise adult females, and until 1964-65 to guarantee voting rights to black citizens. Democracies go through a very long process of consolidation. It will not take the Iraqis anywhere near as long as it took us, because there are examples for them to emulate, or to beware of. It takes time—sometimes a very long time—to apportion power among different groups within a nascent political system. What Iraq has achieved in five years is a political wonder, and those who would deny that are being very, very dishonest.
 Thanks, of course, due to President Obama's decision to stay the course of victory instead of fulfilling his promises of withdrawal and defeat.  Pity that Joe Biden couldn't have gotten on board before 2010.

The above reminds me of a soliloquy in John Wayne's "The Green Berets".  Well heck!  Watch it yourself.
The question and the outstanding response begin about the 2:30 mark.  Although I recommend the entire clip.

Now that movie obviously contains more than a little propaganda.  Movies about the war in Vietnam often do.  It also contains more than a little bit of truth as well.  Including the fact that it takes time....months....years...and sometimes more for a civilized democracy to fully develop.  

A high price was paid to achieve this fledgling Iraqi democracy.  A price measured in Iraqi and American blood.  Now the Iraqi's have was what few other Arabs have but that most want; an equal voice in how their country is run.  We should not rush to dismiss how important that achievement really is.

You Know We Are On The Wrong Path When.....


Posted on : 3/04/2010 08:22:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

...the police are asking that replicas of the Venus de Milo be covered so as to prevent offense.  What a crappy thing to ask a police officer to "enforce".

At A Sarah Palin Photo Op.....


Posted on : 3/04/2010 07:50:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Mrs. Palin was in Hollywood and was invited to the Oscar gift lounge [who knew? -ed.] for a photo op.  She was given a number of nice baubles that she promptly donated back....along with $1,700 out of her pocket for the Red Cross.

Perhaps the best summary of the reaction to the story comes from the comments:

Mention Sarah Palin, and the frothing liberal heads pop up like carnival moles….
Although I dislike the gratuitous use of the word "liberal".   Otherwise, as Glenn Reynolds would say.....heh.



Posted on : 3/03/2010 10:08:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,


The cornerstone to incorporating successive waves of immigrants.  It is only through assimilation that new arrivals can learn the culture of their new country and discover how they can become a vital part of it.

Yet assimilation is not a one directional phenomenon.  Food would be the easiest area to identify where various waves of immigrants have altered the culinary landscape by bringing the flavors of their native lands to America.  Language, cultural festivities, and music are other areas that demonstrate where assimilation is an exchange as well as a process of education and unification.

So why bring this up?

It appears that the University Arkansas ZTA sorority has won the 2010 Sprite Step Off competition.....sort of.

The long story goes that UofA AKA sorority decided to take the ZTA girls under their wing when ZTA decided to form a step group.  If you haven't heard, stepping is a sort of dance/rhythm performance that is popular among predominantly black sororities and fraternities.  It is particularly popular on the campuses of institutions of higher learning that have almost entirely black student bodies.

After years of practice, the ZTA girls won the 2010 competition sponsored by Sprite/Coca-Cola.

Some memorable quotes from the story.

Lawrence Ross, author of "The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities, said the increased interest in stepping is a natural evolution, much like other urban staples such as rap music that went from an underground phenomenon to mainstream.

"Others are always going to be attracted to what you're doing and are going to want to participate," said Ross, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically black fraternity.

He said the nation is integrating more than ever and blacks who embrace President Barack Obama making inroads into previously all-white bastions can't have a double standard.

"If (black Olympian) Shani Davis was prevented from speed skating simply because traditionally, no African-Americans were in the field, we African-Americans would be up in arms," he said.
"What has happened is black youth culture, what people would call hip hop, sort of made black culture accessible and appealing to all kinds of people," said Walter Kimbrough, president of historically black Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., and an expert on black Greek life. "It really now has become an American experience."
Video link here.  The crowd's reaction was interesting.  They largely accepted and appreciated this performance by such an unlikely group.

Now the victory by a bunch of white girlsat what is perceived...by some...as an all-black competition was not without some modest controversy.  But consider how far we have come.  

Fifty years ago the Arkansas National Guard had to be called up to protect black high school students seeking an education.  Such was the condition of the times that people actively fought to prevent the successful assimilation of blacks into mainstream America.

And today, we have a bunch of white college students [from Arkansas - Ed.] that have absorbed so well the addition to our culture brought by black Americans that they won a national competition.

We still have a long way to go when it comes to race relations and cultural assimilation.  We ought to enjoy those rare moments when we discover a sign that we are headed in the right direction.

Goodbye MANzine


Posted on : 3/03/2010 06:23:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

I have pulled MANzine from my blogroll.  It was an interesting concept; a site unabashedly devoted to the perspectives of men.  I thought it had potential.

But too many stories lacked a firm conclusion.  And as you could tell until recently, the site had not been updated for over two months. 

Someone lost interest.  I guess that makes two of us.

Rumour Control


Posted on : 3/03/2010 07:09:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Apparently New York representative and tax scofflaw Charles Rangel is going to step down.......from being the chair of the Ways and Means committee in Congress.  He's not actually leaving Congress.  That would be far too much accountability for a person of his ...ahem..... stature.

Of course, he still hasn't been subjected to the full force of the IRS like any normal taxpayer that skipped out on over a million dollars in taxes by filing fraudulent tax returns.  If it was good enough for Leona Helmsley.....

Update:  It appears that half a maggot-infested loaf is better than none.  Mr. Rangel has temporarily stepped down as chair of Ways and Means while the Ethics Committee does their work.

Sadly, there is not much hope that the Democrats will hold Mr. Rangel accountable for his serious breach of the public trust.  They very rarely ever demonstrate the capacity to eat their own.  Not that the GOP has a stellar record on such things, but it is somewhat better.

Grow Your Gas


Posted on : 3/02/2010 08:39:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are working on a process to turn bio-mass into gasoline for our cars....and jet fuel for our...um...jets.  I don't think that they are quite to the point of being economically viable, but we are getting closer to the day when we can be free from foreign oil without sacrificing our standard of living.

Medical Advances


Posted on : 3/02/2010 08:15:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

Via the Blogfather comes this story about a Harvard professor that is developing a medical lab on a piece of paper.  [A longer story was presented by CNN.]  No really.  You put one drop of blood on the paper and a series of chemically treated layers along with comic book inks react to tell you....or your doctor....if you have any of a half a dozen medical problems.

Professor George Whitesides believes this simple deployment of complex technologies can be done for as little as $0.01 per test.  Such a cheap test method would not only benefit the developed world.....consider how easy liver function tests might be if all you had to do was prick your finger, drop the blood on the test strip, take a photo of the results with your cell phone, and mail it to your doctor.....it would be a definite boon to the developing world where electricity and doctors to operate more complex laboratories are in short supply.

As Glenn Reynolds says when uncovering these miracles...."Faster, please."


Then the lawyers will get involved.  And the FDA will demand 15 years worth of testing.  And there will be packaging requirements that will cost $15 per test strip.  And there will be malpractice insurance.

The damned thing will cost $50 a piece and we won't be able to use it for 20 years.



No Up-Butt-O-Scope For Mr. Obama


Posted on : 3/02/2010 08:01:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Glenn Reynolds noted yesterday that Mr. Obama underwent an inspection of his colon that did not include the up-butt-o-scope.  Instead, Mr. Obama's physicians used a new procedure known as "CT colonography".  The nut of his post was to observe that while he can access this new technology, people on Medicare cannot.

Apparently....I have not looked.....the website of the government agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid states that “evidence is inadequate to conclude that CT colonography is an appropriate colorectal cancer screening test” to be covered for Medicare beneficiaries.”

There is a lack of evidence that CT colonography is an appropraite colorectal cancer screening test for Medicare patients, but it is good enough for the President of the United States??!!!???  Am I the only one that finds that a bit....nuts?

Keep in mind, I'm not criticizing Mr. Obama.  I'm glad he has a healthy colon.

I am criticizing an approval process that delays the deployment of lifesaving medical technology based on perceived costs.  I am also criticizing a system that is evolving into one where your access to medical technology is based on politics rather than costs.

How many Senators and Congresscritters would have been on the "public option" if that abomination had passed?  None.  Care to guess who would be getting better health care?  Our elected officials, our civil servants, or the rest of us saps that just pay the bill?

"Cost containment" is only a concern when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.  When it comes to the health care for our government employees [elected or otherwise], there is no such thing as "too good".

The best laugh of the day came from the secondary consideration that the old-school colonoscopy requires the use of sedatives that would put Vice President and leading Gaff-a-matic Joe Biden in the big chair.

There is one reason and one reason alone why we should give Obama a pass on the virtual colonoscopy: President Joe Biden. Colonoscopies require general anesthesia, which would require a temporary transfer of power to Biden. Who knows which country Biden would trisect during the procedure. I for one applaud this judicious use of money.
 As do I.

The Round World


Posted on : 3/02/2010 07:22:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

One of the educational benefits of following Miss Watson and Miss Sunderland [links are to the right] on their globe trotting adventures is the opportunity to learn just a little more geography.  For example, there are thousands of islands scattered around the southern hemisphere.  Some of them I had heard of.  Others I had not.

Today's lesson in geography comes via Miss Watson.  Her interactive map of her voyage includes a feature that uses the Google Earth plug-in to render way points [certainly not weight points] of her trip.  I flipped the globe so that I was looking at Antarctica.  My objective was to see as much of her trip at one time as possible.

Instead I learned a thing or two about the relative location of Australia, South America, and Africa.  I had thought that Australia and South America were closer together.  I also used to think that Africa and Australia were a bit further apart.

Needless to say, I don't believe those things any more. [then why'd you say it? -ed]