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The Daily
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Canoecopia: Paddling a remote stretch of Lake Superior shoreline
Larry Ricker previews his 'Pukaskwa Coast' program
Jose Joven paddles his home-built canoe as he and Larry Ricker approach Chimney Point and Wheat Bin Cove near the midpoint of their two-week excursion along Lake Superior's Pukaskwa Coast.
Credit:Larry Ricker

While many Canoecopia presentations tend toward the instructional, many others are first-person accounts focused on paddling destinations near and far. One such program: "Paddling Superior's Pukaskwa Coast," by Larry Ricker.

An accomplished photographer whose images have been published in such journals as Canoe & Kayak, Ricker set off last summer to paddle this remote stretch of Superior's north shore with his friend Jose Joven. The resulting program is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 11, at the Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition as part of Canoecopia weekend.

A veteran of paddling forays in the Boundary Waters and along Canada's Upper Yukon River, Ricker previews his presentation in a Q&A conducted via email for The Daily Page.

The Daily Page: How and when did you first learn of the Pukaskwa Coast, and what was it about the area that grabbed you and wouldn't let go?
Ricker: I first learned about the Pukaskwa Coast about a year ago when my friend, Jose Joven, first put out a request for paddling partners for the trip. Quick research revealed that it included the most scenic and remote shoreline of Lake Superior. Of course, I'd visited parts of the Lake Superior shoreline in the past and found most of it to have excellent scenery. How could it get any better? I was definitely intrigued to find out.

The fact that it was remote, when most of Lake Superior is easily accessed from the road, also excited me. The short Apostle Islands trip I took in 2005 left me wanting to explore more of Lake Superior by kayak or canoe. Jose's timing couldn't have been more perfect.

How did the remoteness and scenery you encountered along this stretch of Lake Superior's Canadian coast compare or contrast to your experiences along the Upper Yukon River or the Apostle Islands?
The Pukaskwa scenery definitely lived up to the hype, as did the remoteness. On the Yukon River, we encountered villages, even a town, along the way and there weren't many stretches where there wasn't a road nearby. There were definitely days when it felt remote, but not two full weeks of remoteness as along the Pukaskwa Coast.

As for the Apostle Islands, I never really had the sense of being remote on that trip at all. However, it was only a three-day tour and we only visited inner islands. I can't speak for what the experience would be like exploring the outer islands -- but hope to find out some day.

Scenery wise, the Pukaskwa coast and Yukon River are comparable, each in its own way. While the Yukon had some views of distant mountains, high rocky bluffs overlooking the river, and aspen covered slopes, the Pukaskwa coast had the craggy shoreline, off shore rock islands and secluded bays with sandy beaches.

The Apostle Islands also share the craggy shoreline and sandy beaches but the scenery was more isolated -- you had to seek it out, it wasn't a constant companion. One thing all three locales had in common was the crystal clear, blue water -- at least, the Yukon River shared that trait in the upper reaches.

What kind of an audience do you anticipate for your Canoecopia presentation? Who should attend "Paddling Superior's Pukaskwa Coast," and why should they attend?
People who have heard of the Pukaskwa Coast and want to find out more about it. People who have had a taste of paddling Lake Superior and are looking for more. People who are intrigued with the idea of paddling the big lake. People looking for a different place to paddle, but a place that's really not that hard to get to from the upper Midwest. People who want to see pictures of a very scenic part of our world.

Maybe people who just like seeing my photos? I guess I can dream. Most of my presentation will be photos from our trip showing that wonderful scenery that Pukaskwa is known for. I'll be highlighting some of the "must sees." I'll also be giving some tips to help people plan their own trips to the area.

Would you describe yourself as a photographer who paddles or a paddler who excels as a photographer? And what kind of a camera rig do you most rely on?
The paddler/photographer question is very difficult for me to answer and, in fact, the answer is constantly changing -- even on a daily basis. I definitely started paddling before I started photography. There have been periods in my life when I have done very little paddling but lots of photography.

Lately, I frequently go paddling just for the joy of paddling, and either leave my camera at home or leave it in my camera bag. When I go on a trip such as the Boundary Waters or the Pukaskwa Coast, though, the camera is as much a part of my gear as my canoe is, and as much of the experience as the paddling. The two activities have really become intertwined to the point where they are each essential parts of who I am.

I guess I would describe myself as a paddler and a photographer or as a photographer and a paddler. Neither really overshadows the other. I sometimes paddle without a camera, I often take photographs without a canoe. I'm probably happiest when I'm doing both at the same time.

My camera rig is constantly evolving. For the Pukaskwa trip I had two cameras along. One was a Nikon D200, 10 MP Digital SLR which I bought the day before the trip when my Nikon D70 quit working (this turned out to be a known problem that Nikon subsequently fixed for free). The second camera was an Olympus Stylus 500, 5MP Digital Point and Shoot.

When paddling, I typically travel with the Olympus, which is weatherproof, slipped into my shirt pocket or a pocket on my pfd. That way, I always have a camera ready for those opportunities that suddenly present themselves, when I don't have time to futz around changing lenses, worrying about shutter speeds and f-stops and focusing. I also don't have to worry about the Olympus getting splashed or rained on.

The Nikon is for the more serious photography when I have time to set up the shot or when I have the need for a longer or shorter lens, or more control over the exposure. On calmer days, I may carry the Nikon around my neck. When it's rough out, though, it gets put away in better protection and I have to rely on the Olympus.

In addition to the cameras, I also carry a range of lenses. I had three lenses along on the Pukaskwa trip: an 18-70mm lens I used most often, a 70-300mm lens with Close-up filter that I used for macro work, and a 80-400mm lens with Vibration Reduction for when I wanted to really pull the subject in. I also carried a tripod along. All the camera gear was stored in a Pelican Case.

For any trips taken this year, I'll carry the D70 body as well as the D200. I've also recently added a 12-24mm wide-angle zoom to my lens arsenal, and a flash unit. The Olympus Stylus 500 has been replaced by an Olympus Stylus 770SW -- which is waterproof to 33ft. I can't wait to explore the possibilities that will open for me.

Which other presenters or presentations at this year's Canoecopia most intrigue you?
It was by chance that I ended up using a Kruger Sea Wind on the Pukaskwa trip. Now that I've paddled the boat, I want to know more about the man who designed and built it. So, Phil Peterson's "The Verlen Kruger Story" is at the top of my list.

The Pukaskwa area, especially Cascade and Dennison Falls, were favorites of Bill Mason. In addition, I met James Raffan recently at the Wilderness Canoe Association's Winter Symposium, so his talk, "Fire in His Bones," [about Mason] is also high on my list -- although there's only one session where he and I aren't speaking at the same time.

Other than that, with the Yukon and Pukaskwa behind me, I've developed a taste for paddling in Canada. I'll have to look for a presentation or two (if I can find time) to learn about other places up there to go to.

What's on your Canoecopia shopping list this year?
Actually, nothing. Frankly, I'm not that much into gear (although my wife might argue with that ;-) ). At the moment, I'm pretty well outfitted and don't really have any strong camping/canoeing gear desires (camera gear is a different story but I doubt I'd find much on that list at Canoecopia). Add to that the fact that I've recently made some sizeable camera purchases. I'm planning to just browse and see if anything leaps out at me. You never know.

What three things do you find most appealing about Canoecopia?
First of all, socializing. I'm a member of an on-line bulletin board which is very active and very social. We've made Canoecopia an annual rendezvous with close to 100 individuals from the board converging on Madison for the weekend. We have some after hours events planned as well.

Second of all, I like going around looking at all the new gear. Bright, shiny gear -- and, all centered around paddling!

Then, the presentations and the outfitter booths so I can learn of new places to paddle, maybe some new techniques or reminders about old ones.

What will your next big photo-paddling excursion entail?
I don't have any definite plans for 2007. Jose wants to paddle Georgian Bay and that's definitely a real possibility. I have some family things to juggle this summer, though, and may not be able to go with Jose. I need to see what vacation time I have left after other parties have consumed their piece of it and decide from there what I have time for. I do know I'll be heading to the Boundary Waters at least a couple of times. Where in the Boundary Waters and for how long are mostly undetermined.

Two trips that are must-do's at some point in time, not necessarily this year are 1) the Nahani River and 2) a two-week-long Boundary Waters solo trip. Other than that, I definitely want to visit more of Canada's rivers.

This year's Canoecopia is scheduled for March 9-11 at the Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition Hall. Hours are 4-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10/day or $15 for a weekend pass (though admission is free for youths 17 and under).

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