Tag Archives: adventure

Good buys, better living: H20 helpers

Water is life.

And we’re going into 2017 resolved to continue standing with the water protectors at Standing Rock, battle government efforts to sell public water to Wall Street, challenge the proposed leasing of public land and take over of private land for fracking operations and champion regulations aimed at keeping pollutants out of our waterways and removing contaminants from our water supplies.

Many of us also are going into 2017 with personal resolutions aimed at improving and protecting our health and the wellness of our families.

Throughout the new year, WiG will be browsing the marketplace, testing items and recommending products and services we think are good buys for better living. The first products to catch our attention? Two H20 helpers — a water purifier for the home or office and a water purifier for on-the-go.

  • ZeroWater pitchers feature a pour-through filtration system that is certified by the NSF to reduce chromium and lead in tap water.

ZeroWater might sound familiar because the company in 2016 partnered with United Way on the Filters for Flint program, providing purification pitchers and filters in the Michigan community, particularly in homes with children, who are most susceptible to high lead levels.

ZeroWater pitchers feature a pour-through filtration system that is certified by the NSF to reduce chromium and lead in tap water. PHOTO: Courtesy
ZeroWater pitchers feature a pour-through filtration system that is certified by the NSF to reduce chromium and lead in tap water. PHOTO: Courtesy

Most traditional pitchers use carbon filtration and only two stages to remove water impurities — and they may not remove harsh chemicals and solids such as Chromium-6 from tap water. ZeroWater five-stage filters use an ion exchange technology to deionize tap water, which has proven to be an effective method of reducing heavy metals like Chromium-6, as well as lead.

WiG tested two ZeroWater BPA-free pitchers — a futuristic-blue 23-cup dispenser with a spigot kept in the fridge and a 10-cup pitcher/dispenser for the counter — for 60 days.

The Zerowater system includes a filter, the pitcher with a tank and reservoir and a meter that looks like a digital thermometer and detects “total dissolved solids” that may have entered the water supply through old pipes, run-off from road salts, pesticides, fertilizers and other sources.

First, WiG found the filtered water to taste crisp and refreshing with each pour. The water meets the FDA definition for purified water — without generating all the plastic bottles.

Second, and more importantly, we found the ZeroWater filters remove considerably more impurities than other filters, which is why tap water takes longer to pass from the reservoir into the tank.

Third, we love the simplicity of using the meter to show water quality and also indicate when a recyclable filter should be replaced.

A filter, on average, lasts for 15 gallons but this is dependent on water quality — the cleaner the tap water, the longer the filter lasts.

A note: Zerowater filters and pitchers are for use with tap water and the systems do not remove bacteria.

But this next product does…

  • The SteriPEN traveler water purifier uses ultra violent light to destroy more than 99.9 percent of disease-causing microbes — 99.9999 percent of bacteria, 99.99 percent of viruses and 99.9 percent of protozoa — in a liter of water in about 90 seconds.
The SteriPEN traveler water purifier uses ultra violent light to destroy more than 99.9 percent of disease-causing microbes — 99.9999 percent of bacteria, 99.99 percent of viruses and 99.9 percent of protozoa — in a liter of water in about 90 seconds. PHOTO: Courtesy
The SteriPEN traveler water purifier uses ultra violent light to destroy more than 99.9 percent of disease-causing microbes — 99.9999 percent of bacteria, 99.99 percent of viruses and 99.9 percent of protozoa — in a liter of water in about 90 seconds. PHOTO: Courtesy

The promotional materials from the manufacturer, Hydro-Photon Inc., promise “safe drinking water. Anywhere. Anytime.” And the makers of the hand-held device promise about 3,000 treatments — which is a lot of water on a lot of camping trips to Devil’s Lake or hiking around Lake Geneva.

Operation is simple: Fill a container with water, push the button on the SteriPEN, place the device’s lamp into the water and stir until the LED turns green.

WiG tested the SteriPEN traveler over a 30-day period. We took the SteriPEN on outdoor adventures – a camping trip in the Florida Everglades and hikes through two state parks. We also used the SteriPEN on urban and suburban adventures — drawing curious glances as we purified the tap water at one shopping mall and regrettably offending the parents while purifying the tap water in their condo.

We found the SteriPEN — recently named one of the best gifts for adventurers in a USA Today survey — convenient, reliable, simple to use. It never failed to work and was simple to keep clean with dish soap and a cloth. Our test product was provided by CureUV.com.

You’ll want to be sure to use lithium or rechargeable nickel metal AA batteries — not alkaline. And you’ll want to make sure you memorize— or take a phone photo — of the LED indicator guide.

A note: This device is not certified effective against parasites and their eggs, in part because of restrictions on animal testing.

The cost for the SteriPen? About $50.

The ZeroWater 23-cup dispenser retails for about $40 and the 10-cup dispenser costs about

Foraging for food on holiday in England

“This,” said our guide James Feaver, “is our main course.” We were standing in front of a dung heap in a high meadow in the English countryside.

Pushing up out of the ooze was a low-growing weed. He bent down, plucked a sprig and held it up.

“Fat hen. Humans have eaten it for thousands of years. We’re going to need a lot of it.”

After a glance among us, my family and I set about picking with an approximation of gusto. When you are foraging for your food you can’t be too squeamish about little things like cow dung beneath your fingers.

I have long been fascinated with the idea of living off the land, finding sustenance among the wild plants that teem in hedges and fields. So a week’s holiday in Dorset, in southwest England — a county bursting with picture-book countryside — gave me the chance to see how abundant nature’s larder really is.

Foraging is increasingly popular in the U.K. and there are many teachers to choose from. On a recommendation, I contacted Hedgerow Harvest and booked a half-day course for me, my partner Fon and our 7-year-old son, Jimmy.

On a classic English summer’s day — meaning we experienced all weather conditions in one afternoon — we met up with James Feaver, who gave up office work for professional foraging eight years ago. He now runs courses in south and southwest England, but mostly in Dorset, his adopted home.

We met him in the village of Toller Porcorum, donned rubber boots and light waterproof jackets, and set off in search of wild provender.

We spent the next few hours walking through lanes hedged in with soaring banks, down tracks drenched in birdsong, beside clear streams and across uncut meadows in search of ingredients for a three-course meal.

If like me you can’t tell wild sorrel from a blade of grass, this quickly becomes daunting. But Feaver has gimlet eyes and an encyclopedic knowledge of the edible.

High in a hedgerow, a spray of tiny white flowers stood proud of the foliage. He hooked it with his hazel stick, pulled it down to picking height, and inhaled.

“The smell of summer,” he said.

For centuries, country-folk have used the fragrant elderflower to add a zesty flavor to food and drink. Now it would bring its zing to our dessert. We plucked head after head. I lifted up Jimmy so he could join the harvest.

In quick order we found red currants, wild mint and tiny, sweet, wild strawberries. The wicker basket James provided — a nice touch — began to fill.

So far so idyllic, but this arcadia comes with thorns.

Of the many rules of foraging the most important is this: Don’t eat anything unless you are 100 percent certain you know what it is. Some edible plants look uncannily like ones that are deadly. For example, cow parsley goes well in salads but is easily mistaken for something you wouldn’t want near your dinner plate: hemlock.

Other rules include don’t uproot anything (it’s illegal), only take sustainably and don’t pick from ground-hugging plants near footpaths “where dogs can wee on them.” That was Jimmy’s favorite rule.

Time was getting on. From Toller Porcorum we drove down steep, narrow lanes to a nearby beach. Here you can see the stunning coastline sweep in an arc from Portland in Dorset right into neighboring east Devon. A trove of fossils has earned it the name Jurassic Coast and UNESCO World Heritage status.

But we weren’t there for beauty or geology. We were there for sea beet leaves, a close relative of garden spinach that grows in low belts along the pebbly foreshore. More free food, right at our feet.

But don’t go thinking you can kiss goodbye to supermarkets just because your eyes have been opened. That’s not the idea of the course.

“Foraging isn’t really about survival,” Feaver had said at the start. “It’s about taking the best of the wild and adding it to conventional ingredients to make great-tasting food.”

Great tasting? We’d be the judges of that.

Back at our holiday cottage, Feaver supervised the preparation of the feast. For starters, sea beet soup. For main course, fat hen pesto bake, with more fat hen as a side dish, washed down with sparkling elderflower wine. To finish, elderflower and gooseberry fool, garnished with wild strawberries.

It was a revelation, especially the sea beet soup which was one of the most delicious soups I have ever had: rich, velvety and homey, like swallowing a big bowl of contentment.

It had been a long day. We’d started at 1:30 p.m. and the last spoon didn’t scrape its empty bowl till 9 p.m.

As he packed away his stick, basket and scissors, Feaver said that after doing the course, “people look at the countryside with different eyes.”

Yes, I thought. With eyes like dinner plates.


If You Go…

HEDGEROW HARVEST: http://www.hedgerow-harvest.com .

Our course with James Feaver cost 150 pounds (about $198) for two adults and a child. Price varies by number of people and itinerary.

ASSOCIATION OF FORAGERS: List by region, http://www.foragers-association.org.uk


A touch of humor invades ‘Star Trek Beyond’

In the previous “Star Trek” installment, Spock cried. In the latest, “Star Trek Beyond,” he laughs.

And not just a little snicker, either, but a belly-full one.

What bold explorations into the farthest reaches of the galaxy hold for Spock no one knows. A sigh? A hiccup?

“Star Trek Beyond,” like most of the rebooted properties flying around our movie theaters, delights in nostalgically resurrecting iconic characters and tweaking them anew. The balance is a delicate one, as seen in the pre-release debate around this film revealing Sulu (John Cho but formerly played by LGBT icon George Takei) as gay.

The scene in question turns out to be a mere moment, lightly handled, showing Sulu greeting his same-sex partner and their daughter after a long mission. It’s all expressed with just a few arms tenderly draped across shoulders. And it’s the kind of welcome touch that director Justin Lin, the “Fast & Furious” veteran who takes over for J.J. Abrams, has brought to this pleasingly episode-like installment.

The opening scene, fittingly, plays with a smaller scale. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), on a diplomatic mission, appeals to a snarling beast looming above him in a crowded amphitheater. Enraged at Kirk’s offer, the alien beast hurtles down upon him, only to turn out to be no more monstrous than a feisty bulldog.

The film finds a bored Enterprise finishing up a five-year tour in deep space. The (albeit brief) change of pace is immediately appreciated. The last two beefed-up “Star Trek” movies, as if overcompensating for decades of Trekkie nerd-dome, threatened to make the once brainy “Star Trek” less distinct from other mega-sized sci-fi adventures — just another clothesline of CGI set pieces strung together.

Like its recent predecessors, “Star Trek Beyond” is mostly an assortment of effects-heavy scenes with bits of talking in between. But unlike the previous film, 2013’s bloated “Star Trek Into Darkness,” not everything is quite so much of a life-and-death issue (the exhausting de facto pitch of today’s summer blockbuster).

The Starship Enterprise, led by Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, looking more natural in the role), is lured through a nebula where a would-be rescue mission turns into a trap set by the villain Krall, whose spectacular army of mechanical drones (“bees” he calls them) attack in an overwhelming swarm. In a galactic blitz, the Enterprise is torn to shreds and crashes down on a rocky planet where the ship’s scattered crew tries to gather, survive and understand Krall’s motives. A local becomes an essential guide for them: Jaylah (a nimble Sofia Boutella), a pale loner with black streaks running down her face who helps the crew discover the Federation’s history on the planet.

The backstory, though, never quite gets filled out, and the plot serves as little more than a mechanism to test the efficient camaraderie of the Enterprise crew. Among them: Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, Simon Pegg’s Scotty, Karl Urban’s Bones and Chekov, played by the late Anton Yelchin, a fine actor who’s disappointing underused here. They’re an entertaining enough bunch meandering around, and screenwriters Doug Jung and Pegg (who, as the writer of “Spaced,” knows plenty about the intersection of comedy and science fiction) have injected some humor to the proceedings.

The heart of the film, though, like the previous two, is the bromance between Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock. They’re Felix and Oscar in outer space, and still the highlight of this batch of “Star Trek” films.

It’s only late in the film that the alien mask is pulled away revealing the actor underneath Krall: Idris Elba. For those who didn’t place his baritone earlier, the reveal comes as a disappointment. It should be a crime in deep space, as it is on Earth, to shroud such a tremendous force behind mountains of extraterrestrial makeup. But I suppose had Elba been an unadorned baddie all along, the Enterprise might really have finally met its match.

Madison chefs shine in week of culinary collaboration

The idea of two popular chefs collaborating in the same kitchen may seem a little like two famous artists sharing the same canvas. The clash of content, style and occasionally — OK, maybe often — egos could be enough to scuttle even the most well-intended entrees.

The chefs involved with the Madison Area Chefs Network think differently. MACN’s Chef Week, scheduled for March 4-13 at restaurants throughout the Madison area, will highlight the individual culinary skills of more than 30 chefs while offering a mashup of tastes, textures and styles of food, much of which will be created under collaborative circumstances.

The returning event, inaugurated last year by the 2-year-old group, is designed to put a public face on MACN. The organization’s mission is to improve the performance of Madison chefs through alliances and cooperation, according to MACN executive director Theresa Feiner.

Chef Week also is very different from Madison Restaurant Week, held twice a year during traditionally slow restaurant months in winter and summer, she says.

“Restaurant Week highlights the restaurants, while Chef Week highlights the chefs,” says Feiner, who also works as a business development consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “Each of the 35 events has at least two chefs participating.”

Chef Week’s collaborative nature reflects the organization’s purposes to promote cooperation in an otherwise highly competitive industry and provide a network for chefs to share common concerns and resources, according to MACN board member Patrick DePula, owner of Salvatore’s Tomato Pies.

“We’re also devoted to improving and showcasing Madison’s culinary scene,” says DePula, a former Dane County supervisor who decided to tap into his family’s Italian culinary roots in 2011 and now owns and operates two highly successful pizza joints patterned after those he grew up with in Trenton, New Jersey. “Madisonians already know we have something pretty special here, and part of our mission is to elevate that perspective and let others outside the area know, too.”

MACN invites participants — the organization does not have members, Feiner stresses — from any brick-and-mortar establishments that are locally owned and operated and have the independent capacity to make their own purchasing and marketing decisions (that’s a polite way of disinviting the local Olive Gardens, Red Lobsters and Chili’s).

This year’s Chef Week events run the gamut from a March 5 “Bourbon Brunch” at Julep, featuring the culinary teams from Merchant joining those from that relatively new and notable Southern-style restaurant, to “My Big Fake Persian Jewish Wedding,” a March 12 festival of food, drinks and dancing at the LGBT nightclub Plan B and featuring the culinary teams from Layla’s and Banzo Shük.

DePula also will be collaborating throughout the week, most notably with Shinji Muramoto, the city’s top sushi chef and owner of Sushi Muramoto, Restaurant Muramoto and 43 North.

On March 5, Muramoto will bring izakaya — Japanese tavern-style small plates — to DePula’s Sun Prairie-located Salvatore’s, preparing them alongside the restaurant’s pizza-twirling staff. On March 7, DePula will reciprocate, commandeering the kitchen at 43 North for one of the restaurant’s monthly Monday wine dinners.

The experience will be good training for DePula, who recently purchased a building in Sun Prairie and will expand his pizza enterprise into a full-service Italian restaurant. He also enjoys working with Muramoto, with whom he collaborated during last year’s Chef Week.

“I love working with (Muramoto) because of what he brings to the table from his native Japanese culture,” DePula says. “There is a Japanese ethos of feeding people with food from the local area that I really admire.”

Muramoto, too, appreciates what DePula contributes in terms of insight and cooking styles to which he previously had not been exposed. In fact, the sushi chef sees DePula’s techniques as opening new doors in his own culinary career.

“Madison and my hometown of Sapporo, Japan, are located on the same latitude — 43 North,” Muramota says. “My home province of Hokkaido is known as Japan’s ‘Milkland.’ I am dreaming about the day I can bring Patrick’s style of pizza to Sapporo.”

DePula emphasizes all fresh ingredients in his pies and draws heavily on local producers. Hokkaido offers similar resources, which would enable Muramoto to replicate the style of pizza in a country mostly dependent on takeout varieties.

“Working with Patrick inspired me to think about this,” Muramoto says. “It would be pretty cool.”

On the menu

The Madison Area Chefs Network 2016 Chef Week runs March 4-13 at multiple restaurants throughout the Madison area. For complete information, visit isthmus.com/chefweek.




An Oscar onslaught for ‘Mad Max’ blindsides Miller

Of the many roads to the Academy Awards, none is as unlikely as the one taken (at ferocious speed, with engines roaring) by George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Whatever one’s concept of “Oscar bait” is, it does not include action-movie dystopias with face-painting kamikazes and blind, fire-shooting metal guitarists who answer to the name of “Doof.”

“There’s a great quote from Hunter S. Thompson where he said that when something turned right for him unexpectedly, it was like falling down an elevator shaft into a pool of mermaids,” Miller says. “It’s been a little bit like that.”

Despite Fury Road being far from the usual Oscar-friendly costume drama, Miller’s fireball of a film heads into Academy Awards on Feb. 28 with 10 nods (second only to The Revenant), including best picture and best director for Miller. Nominated in every technical category, Mad Max stands a good chance of being the night’s most-awarded film.

It’s a gratifying if utterly unforeseen outcome for the 70-year-old Miller, who spent more than a decade trying to get various iterations of a Mad Max sequel off the ground, not to mention months of shooting in the Namibian desert and several years in post-production — along with the bad word-of-mouth that accompanies such delays.

But when Fury Road was finally unveiled in May, the response was rapturous. Here was not the average, bloated summer sequel at all. Here was a blisteringly cinematic movie stuffed with allegorical meaning, with much to say about gender roles and power.

“I treat action movies very, very seriously,” Miller says. “It’s not something like: Here’s a movie with talkie bits and now some action. We were trying to conflate the two.”

The multitude of Oscar nominations for Fury Road speaks to the widespread admiration for the movie’s old-school craft. Though it includes extensive visual effects, Fury Road was shot with real vehicles at a real location. 

Miller is the rare action filmmaker who speaks of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as inspirations.

“It finds its antecedents in those early films, those pre-sound movies where arguably the film language, this very new language we had, was forged,” Miller says. “When I first came to cinema that’s where I first went to with a pretty strong sense of inquiry as to: What is this new language? It’s not much more than 100 years old and we can read it before we can read books.”

The language of Fury Road — an essentially nonstop chase through a post-apocalyptic wasteland — is wildly kinetic. It’s expressed almost entirely through imagery rather than dialogue. Tom Hardy, who inherited the role of Max from Mel Gibson, described Miller’s movie as “if Obi-Wan Kenobi could make an action movie.”

It’s composed of approximately 2,900 shots. The average shot is two seconds and 9 frames. “Film is a mosaic art and this one had many pieces,” Miller says.

The mammoth task of assembling footage from scenes sometimes shot with a dozen cameras fell to Miller’s wife, editor Margaret Sixel. She received daily footage at home in Australia while shooting continued in Africa. She, too, is up for an Oscar.

It’s Sixel’s first nod, but several of Miller’s films have previously been Oscar nominated, including 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil, 1995’s Babe and 2006’s Happy Feet.

It’s a jarringly varied filmography bookended by Mad Max, the franchise Miller first introduced in 1979. The story has remained a constant in Miller’s life, an omnibus onto which to latch ideas pulled from the real world. In the ‘70s, the problem is an oil shortage; in Fury Road, it’s water scarcity.

But for many, it’s the film’s story of female empowerment, led by Charlize Theron’s one-armed warrior Furiosa, that’s makes Fury Road exceptional. Some have called it a feminist action film.

“It was really, really gratifying when people did respond and saw all its resonances and really picked up on it,” Miller says. “The attraction of something like Mad Max: Fury Road is basically allegorical. You’re trying to find those things in the story that seem to be constant in humanity.”

Fury Road, which made $376.7 million globally, was named best film by the National Board of Review, and won four BAFTAs. The American Film Institute named it one of 2015’s 10 best films, hailing it as “a journey of fire and blood through which the action genre is razed to the ground and reborn.”

Fans old and new should take heart: Miller has two ideas for further installments based on the backstories of different characters.

“I always thought that you really don’t know what your film is until some time passes and it’s reflected back at you by the audience,” he says. “That process seems to be accelerated now. It’s been surprising and gratifying.”

Spielberg plunges into the Cold War | An interview with the director

The nearly three year wait since Steven Spielberg’s last movie (2012’s “Lincoln”) comes to an end this October with the spy thriller “Bridge of Spies.”

Good news for moviegoers: There won’t be another gap like that for a while. Having just locked “Bridge of Spies,” Spielberg is already editing his next film, Roald Dahl’s “The BFG,” and is in pre-production on “Ready Player One,” a sci-fi adventure from Ernest Cline’s best-seller.

It’s a pace that Spielberg, 68, says he plans to continue.

“I’m doing a long stretch of directing over the next several years,” Spielberg says. “We put our last child into college. Number seven went to college last week and (wife Kate Capshaw) and I are enjoying the empty nest. It gives her a chance to get more involved with her art — she’s a wonderful painter — and it gives me a chance to direct movies back to back now.”

“Bridge of Spies,” due out Oct. 16, is a new chapter in history for Spielberg and one he knows personally: the Cold War. Tom Hanks stars as James Donovan, a lawyer the CIA recruited to rescue a spy pilot downed in the Soviet Union.

In a recent interview while taking a break from editing “The BFG,” the director spoke about making the true-life tale, the unexpected success of “Jurassic World” and his distaste for superhero movies.

AP: What attracted you to “Bridge of Spies”?

Spielberg: I’ve always wanted to make a spy movie. This is not James Bond. Only James Bond can be James Bond. I’ve always been fascinated with the entertainment value of the James Bond spy series of movies, as well as the serious John le Carre spy novels, especially the Martin Ritt movie “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” Also spy pictures like “The Quiller Memorandum” and “The Ipcress File,” and “Torn Curtain” by Hitchcock in the ‘60s.  

AP: Were you interested in making a film set during the Cold War? 

Spielberg: I lived through the Cold War and I was very aware of the possibility of walking down the street and seeing a white flash and being atomized. I was very, very aware of what a tentative and insecure time it was, especially for young people. It’s something that made a big impression on me as a kid. We were shown instructional 16mm films of what to do in the event of the air raid sirens going off or seeing the flash and ducking and covering under your desk and holding, hopefully, a very large book over your head.

AP: Do you see a connection between that time and today?

Spielberg: There’s so much relevance between the late ‘50s and today. We fly drones today; they flew U2 spy planes over Soviet Russia in the ‘50s. Our story is also about the shooting down of Gary Powers’ U2 and the apprehension of a Soviet spy working in this country for over a decade: Rudolph Abel. And the negotiator — a fish-out-of-water — an insurance attorney who used to be the associate prosecutor at the Nuremberg war-crime trials who was called upon to defend an alleged Soviet spy, and the kind of charged atmosphere he was willing to endure to see justice served. It’s a story about a very righteous, principled individual _ and for Tom Hanks, it’s right up his alley.

AP: This is your fourth film with him.

Spielberg: Every collaboration is better than the one before. We’re having a great time together.

AP: You caused a stir two years ago when you predicted Hollywood was headed toward an “implosion” because of the over-abundance of mega-budget movies. Do you still feel that way?

Spielberg: I do. I still feel that way. We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.

AP: Were you surprised by the success of “Jurassic World,” on which you were an executive producer?

Spielberg: I’m back in the dinosaur business, it appears. We promised them more teeth and they rewarded us for it. I would have been ecstatic if we had done what the town was expecting, which was a $100 million three-day weekend. That would have just made my whole year. But the fact that it did over twice what the prognosticators were predicting, it just blew me away.

AP: “Bridge of Spies” is the first film in years you’ve made without John Williams composing the score.

Spielberg: Johnny Williams will be back to do “The BFG.” We’ve only not worked together twice in 42 years. The first one was “The Color Purple” in 1985 and the second time was because Johnny had a small medical procedure that precluded him from writing and scoring my movie in the window that he was going to do it. He’s fine, he’s 100 percent back to work on “Star Wars,” but it sadly precluded him from working on “Bridge of Spies.” I was able to work with Thomas Newman, who I’m a huge fan of. This is just a blip and we’re both sad about it, but we’re excited to get back together for “BFG” now.

Experiencing the fickle beauty of Lake Superior

The early morning hours in Presque Isle Bay, just off Stockton Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, were characterized by a quietude the likes of which I had never before experienced. Floating in a sailboat on the pristine water, I knew I might never experience such serenity again.

The gentle waves undulated smoothly across the water’s surface in this pocket of Lake Superior, as if glass had been manufactured and kept in a cool, liquid form, flowing ceaselessly, effortlessly and peacefully in the dawn sunlight. The silence was absolute, save for the sound of a single loon in the distance that called once, and then was silent out respect for those still asleep on the various vessels floating in the bay.

If heaven involves sailboats, I thought, then this is what it must be like.

This was the final morning of a new type of sailing adventure offered by Sailboats, Inc., the Bayfield firm that had taught my wife and I to sail last year. On this final day, the journey’s end — like the lake itself — would be a peaceful one. 

Not every day of the voyage had been smooth, although the interactions among the passengers lacked the storminess for which Lake Superior is well known. Cold seas, little to no wind and a route one of the veteran mariners thought equaled more than 200 miles created a sometimes-stressful lake passage.

Our group of six included experienced hands and sailing novices, a crew of students, teachers and passengers lured by the charms of the big lake the Ojibwe first called gichi-gami (“be a great sea”), and which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow changed to “Gitche Gumee” in his poem The Song of Hiawatha.

In addition to several Apostle Island stops, our itinerary included Isle Royale National Park, a part of Michigan but located just off Minnesota’s coast. We also would dock at Grand Marais, a colorful and quaint Minnesota tourist destination, before one last night anchoring in Presque Isle Bay.

Our itinerary, while appealing, may have been too ambitious for a five-day sail. But like all journeys, our Lake Superior voyage offered valuable lessons, some of which solely applied to sailing and others that applied to life.

Lake Superior, the largest and northern-most of the Great Lakes, is considered the largest freshwater body in the Western Hemisphere and one of the three largest lakes in the world. With a surface area of 31,700 square miles, Superior is roughly the size of South Carolina or Austria.

Superior has an average depth of 483 feet and contains 2,900 cubic miles of water, enough to cover all of North and South America to a depth of nearly 1 foot. Her power is not to be taken lightly, according to Capt. Beth Cozzi, who captained our voyage, nor are the microclimates created by the lake’s vast expanse.

Cozzi’s boat of choice was Sequel, an Oceanus 430 manufactured in 1998 by the French firm Beneteau. With a beam (width) of not quite 14 feet and a draft (keel depth) of almost 6 feet, the sleek, 43-foot sloop had a displacement factor of 16,000 pounds. She was a substantial craft that could handle Lake Superior.

The first lesson we learned was a chilling one. Given her size and depth, Lake Superior operates like a vast refrigerator with its doors flung wide, creating a frigid effect further compounded by the speed at which a boat travels across her surface. Rather than the August-appropriate shorts and swimsuits we had worn on the mainland, Superior demanded storm gear, warm jackets, wool gloves and insulated pants.

The second lesson was that Lake Superior’s vast distances, coupled with the sailboat’s modest speed, make for long, arduous voyages. Isle Royale was a 75-mile trek across open water from the outer Apostles. Even at a relatively brisk pace of 7 knots (roughly 8 miles per hour), the trip would take more than nine hours, not counting the hour or so entering Washington Harbor at the island’s remote west end and docking the boat at the Windigo landing. We arrived late in the afternoon.

Isle Royale is the least visited national park in the lower 48 states, according to a friendly ranger at the Windigo Visitors Center, but it also has the highest number of return visitors, thanks to its remoteness, wildness and nature of its purpose.

Isle Royale, the U.S. Park Service’s experiment in natural selection, is home to both moose herds and wolf packs that use each other to keep nature in balance. Long-time visitors speak of seeing moose somewhat regularly and wolves almost never, but the wolves help thin the herds, keeping the moose from eating all of the island’s vegetation.

Lately, however, the situation has become unbalanced, which has brought the whole experiment into question. The moose population now numbers about 1,250, but there are only three wolves left on the island, far too few to keep the herd in check. Various proposals, including the introduction of more wolves to the island, are being considered by the park service.

Our time on the island was limited to one night and, other than some moose tracks, we saw little evidence of either species.

We had a little more time to spend in Grand Marais, the quaint harbor village of about 1,300 people in Minnesota’s arrowhead. Restaurants, brewpubs, galleries and gift shops dot the small downtown, including Sven & Ole’s Pizza and World’s Best Donuts. (I haven’t tasted all the world’s doughnuts yet, but these are worthy contenders for the title.)

We also stopped at the local Ben Franklin store to try on an Original Stormy Kromer Hat, named for George “Stormy” Kromer, a semi-professional baseball player and one-time railroad engineer. Legend has that Kromer got tired of losing his hats in the wind on the train and in 1903 asked his wife Ida to make him a warm hat that would stay on his head. She modified one of his old baseball caps with a continuous earflap that circled the cap, folded down and then tied at the chin.

The red plaid hats, which were manufactured in Milwaukee from 1919 until 2001 when manufacturer Bob Jacquart purchased the rights and moved production to Ironwood, Michigan, were warm as well as comfortable. But at $49.95 each, they would have proved an expensive novelty. The hat stayed on the rack.

A fourth day of no wind found us motoring back to the Apostles. The experienced sailor among us expressed frustration with the practice he wasn’t getting, and we all missed the smooth glide of a boat with its jib and mainsail unfurled and filled with wind. Sequel’s Perkins engine was loud and the ride through the chop rocky, characteristics that had colored much of the trip.

But the journey was also filled with unexpected highlights. The whole experience, in fact, could have been encapsulated in the legend printed on the “Advice from Isle Royale” sweatshirts offered for sale in the Windigo Visitors Center.

“Roll with the waves,” the shirt said. “Open yourself to the journey.”

On that last morning, floating silently in Presque Isle Bay, I learned to do just that. And I was happy I had one of those sweatshirts packed away in my duffel bag to remind me of that sage advice whenever I needed it.

Wisconsin Ducks celebrate 70 years

The Wisconsin Dells’ best-known water attraction celebrates its 70th birthday this summer. Since its founding, the Original Wisconsin Ducks have taken more than 15 million visitors on tours of the Wisconsin River’s picturesque rock formations.

Able to operate on both land and water, the tour’s “ducks” are former military vehicles invented for amphibious transport during World War II. The ducks’ finest hour came on D-Day, when 2,000 ships were used to land invasion forces at Normandy.

“At the core we are about a fun, family ride on a unique vehicle, but we are also about helping preserve the legacy of the ducks and their importance to the war effort,” says Dan Gavinski, the current general manager and part-owner.

After the war, surplus military equipment was sold off. The tour’s original founders, Bob Unger and Mel Flath, bought one and brought it to Wisconsin Dells to offer river tours. Today there are duck tours in port cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle. But the Dells’ were the first. 

Wisconsin business grew and grew. Today the operation has more than 90 vehicles and is the largest duck tour operation in the United States — not that there aren’t problems.

The ducks are a challenging fleet to maintain due to their age, says Gavinski. Original parts still turn up in Europe — the company has a firm that seeks them out. What they can’t buy, they either make in-house or contract out from other shops.

More than 300,000 people ride the Ducks every season. Each duck is 31-feet long, weighs 7 tons, has six wheels plus a propeller in back and can carry 25 people. Top speeds are 50 miles an hour on land and 11 knots (a little more than 12 mph) in water. 

The 8.5-mile, one-hour excursion includes two water entries and views of the Wisconsin River’s sandstone rock formations, along with narrated historical accounts of the region. On shore, wildlife is often seen, as animals on the company’s 200 undeveloped riverfront acres are unusually tame.

“When you have hundreds of ducks go by every day throughout the summer, they can get used to it,” says Gavinski. “That’s one of the highlights: seeing the deer that are along the trail. You can get a good picture of them. Besides deer there are fox and turkeys that are on the property, also.”

Tours run through mid-November, weather permitting. For more information, call 608-254-8751 or visit

How do you find a mountain that disappears? | Tracking the elusive Denali

A mountain shouldn’t be able to disappear. Yet the Alaskan peak Denali, the highest mountain in North America, does so quite often, blinking into existence only for a lucky few visitors. You can’t plan for it. It’s simply an atmospheric game of chance.

Denali doesn’t go anywhere, of course, but a mountain that rises 20,320 feet comes with complications. Because of its massive height and size, Denali creates its own climatic conditions. That usually means clouds, ranging from a light cumulus crown on the mountain’s highest peak to a complete shroud covering the entire formation.

For many visitors — including my wife and I — that creates a case of vacationus interruptus. Denali, once known as Mount McKinley for the former president but now referred to by its original name meaning “The High One,” is the crown jewel of a trip to Alaska, the resounding crescendo to days and weeks viewing the magnificent sights of the 49th state. Alaska is almost unparalleled in its rugged beauty, but after days of massive mountain ranges and deep and wide valleys, luminescent blue glaciers and frequent wildlife sightings, something needs to bring every trip to its climax.

For all its presumed majesty and grandeur, when our busload of fellow travelers climbed the road through the national park of the same name, Denali was nowhere to be found. We saw black and brown grizzly bears, herds of elk, a random moose here, bighorn sheep there and even a gaggle of ptarmigan chicks, Alaska’s state bird. 

But the closer we got to the mountain, the less visible it became. We were forced to take candid self-portraits in front of where Denali should have been, many miles in the distance, and had to content ourselves with the fact that we knew where we were despite lacking photographic proof.

Not that there is nothing to be seen at Denali National Park when its mountain is missing.

Denali is not the most remote national park in Alaska. That honor is reserved for Gates of the Arctic, its northernmost cousin, a park roughly the size of Belgium that has no roads, trails or visitor amenities. But Denali’s only road is 92 miles long, of which only the first 15 miles are paved. After that, visitors are on their own.

Outside the park entrance is a thriving little visitor community of hotels, restaurants, shops, outfitters, a gas station and other enterprises that add hustle and bustle to the pristine outdoor surroundings, from the time they open in May until the season ends around Sept. 23.

Alaska has become big business for many cruise lines, as the most popular way to arrive and depart is by water. Both Holland America and Princess Cruises operate hotels in this commercial enclave, blending comfort and amenities with the appropriate rusticity. It’s from here that various tours and concessions depart.

There are river-rafting trips, with passenger wetsuits provided for those seeking a little wild Alaskan flavor. You can hike with or without a ranger, on or off trail, and even cycle the paved part of Denali Park Road. There are also wilderness hiking, camping and mountain climbing options, but those things rarely fall under the purview of cruise passengers.

We opted for a chance to visit with Denali’s sled-dog huskies, which are well-trained, relatively friendly and hard workers, since dogsleds are still the primary way that rangers patrol 2 million of the park’s 6 million acres during most months of the year. The free kennel visit is one of the most popular of the park’s attractions.

The kennels are home to roughly 30 sled dogs, with at least one new litter of puppies born each spring. During the kennel visit, travelers will learn about the daily life of a sled dog as well as witness sled-pulling demonstrations. 

The other popular attraction is the wildlife tour, where we spent the better part of a day in a former school bus “tracking” wildlife that were visible from the road. Our guide, a knowledgeable Alaskan who had lived there most of her adult life, knew where to look and what to look for. We weren’t disappointed, even if we didn’t see the mountain our guide said hadn’t made an appearance in almost three weeks. 

Whether you see the mountain is just the luck of the draw, she said, and we were fairly certain we had been dealt a bad hand as we climbed aboard a train observation car the next day for the 8-hour trip from Denali National Park to Anchorage and our flight home. But the game wasn’t over yet.

Because an hour later, there it was, the fabled mountain revealing itself as we rode alongside in the train, much closer than we got on the tour. Throughout the ride we saw the mountain from the north, the east and the south, almost up to the time that we entered the Anchorage city limits. Denali had become our constant traveling companion, reminding us at every turn why we had come to Alaska in the first place.

In a state known for its rugged magnificence, Denali may be its most spectacular asset of all. A challenge for even the most proficient climbers, Denali exists as a dream for the many and a goal for but a few.

“By bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives,” wrote Jonathan Waterman, author of In the Shadow of Denali: Life and Death on Alaska’s Mount McKinley.

Waterman scaled the mountain; I didn’t. But I know exactly what he meant when he talked of passion and conviction. Watching Denali from the train, in my heart I was right there beside him.

The San Andreas Fault — fact and fiction

The San Andreas Fault awakens, unleashing back-to-back jolts that leave a trail of misery from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Skyscrapers crumble. Fires erupt. The letters of the Hollywood sign topple. Tsunami waves swamp the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hollywood’s favorite geologic bad guy is back in “San Andreas” — a fantastical look at one of the world’s real seismic threats.

The San Andreas has long been considered one of the most dangerous earthquake faults because of its length. At nearly 800 miles long, it cuts through California like a scar and is responsible for some of the largest shakers in state history.

In the film, which opened Memorial Day weekend, a previously unknown fault near the Hoover Dam in Nevada ruptures and jiggles the San Andreas. Southern California is rocked by a powerful magnitude-9.1 quake followed by an even stronger magnitude-9.6 in Northern California.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough accompanied The Associated Press to an advance screening of the film. Despite the implausible plot, she said the San Andreas will indeed break again, and without warning. 

“We are at some point going to face a big earthquake,” she said.


The San Andreas is notorious for producing big ones, but a magnitude-9 or larger is virtually impossible because the fault is not long or deep enough, Hough noted.

The most powerful temblors in recorded history have struck along offshore subduction zones where one massive tectonic plate dives beneath another. The 1960 magnitude-9.5 quake off Chile is the current world record holder.

The San Andreas has revealed its awesome power before. In 1906, a magnitude-7.8 reduced parts of San Francisco to fiery rubble. Nearly five decades earlier, a similar-sized quake rattled the southern end of the fault.

In 2008, the USGS led a team of 300 experts that wrote a script detailing what would happen if a magnitude-7.8 hit the southern San Andreas. They wanted to create a science-based crisis scenario that can be used for preparedness drills.

The lesson: It doesn’t take a magnitude-9 or greater to wreak havoc. Researchers calculated a magnitude-7.8 would cause 1,800 deaths and 50,000 injuries. Hundreds of old brick buildings and concrete structures and a few high-rise steel buildings would collapse.       

Computer models show the San Andreas is capable of producing a magnitude-8.3 quake, but anything larger is dubious.


In the film, Lawrence Hayes, a fictional seismologist at Caltech (a real university), notices spikes in “magnetic pulses” that light up California like a Christmas tree, heralding a monster quake.

Despite a century of research, earthquake prediction remains elusive. Scientists can’t predict when a jolt is coming and are generally pessimistic about ever having that ability.

Every warning sign scrutinized — animal behavior, weather patterns, electromagnetic signals, atmospheric observations, levels of radon gas in soil or groundwater — has failed.

“We wish it were as simple as the movie portrays. It isn’t. Researchers have scoured every imaginable signal trying to find reliable precursors, but nothing has panned out,” Hough said.

The latest focus has been on creating early warning systems that give residents and businesses a few seconds heads up after a quake hits, but before strong shaking is felt.

Japan has the most advanced seismic alert system in the world while the U.S. is currently testing a prototype.


Unlike the film, the San Andreas can’t spawn tsunamis.

Most tsunamis are triggered by underwater quakes, but they can also be caused by landslides, volcanoes and even meteor impacts.

Giant tsunami waves are formed when the Earth’s crust violently shifts, displacing huge amounts of seawater. The larger the magnitude, the more these waves can race across the ocean without losing energy.

The San Andreas is strike-slip fault, in which opposing blocks of rocks slide past each other horizontally. A big San Andreas quake can spark fires and other mayhem, but it can’t displace water and flood San Francisco.

Hough said the movie got one aspect right: The tide suddenly ebbing out signals a tsunami is coming.

More than 80 — mostly small — tsunamis have been observed along California’s coast in the past, triggered mainly by faraway quakes.


In the movie, the scientist warned that shaking would be felt on the East Coast.

Even the largest possible San Andreas quake won’t rattle the East Coast (Sorry New York).

While seismic waves from great quakes can make the Earth reverberate like a bell, the ringing can only be detected by sensitive instruments because it’s so low.

Historical accounts show shaking from the 1906 San Andreas quake was barely felt in western Nevada and southern Oregon, Hough said.


When the ground starts to shake, the seismologist played by Paul Giamatti makes the ideal public service announcement: “Drop, cover and hold on.”

Since 2008, millions of people in California and elsewhere have participated in yearly disaster drills in which they practice diving under a table and learn other preparedness tips.

If you’re outdoors when the ground moves, experts recommend bracing against a wall, similar to what search-and-rescue helicopter pilot Ray Gaines, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, told scared survivors in the movie.

“Having Paul Giamatti shouting, “Drop, cover and hold on!” and The Rock telling people to crouch against a wall if they can is one heck of a PSA,” Hough said.