Civilization

It was the horizontal sleet in my face that was the hardest to take. It nearly blinded me.

Saturday we had gale force winds, sleet and snow. The winds kicked up some good size waves on the western shore of Lake Michigan. We had quite a bit of rain the days before and along with a ton of melted snow the sewage system here in Milwaukee was overwhelmed and the water works was dumping sewage into the rivers and lake. That shut down a couple of beautiful surf spots, leaving few choices if you wanted to paddle out.

One spot far enough away from the sewage release had a hellatious current. That left a spot just south of the ruins of a once well maintained beach resort. All that is left these days are three groins made of jumbled concrete that go from the beach directly out into Lake Michigan and the rotting slabs of concrete along the shore of what were once large structures, bath houses, concessions, and even a tramway. Now the slabs thrust rusting rebar up into the waves near shore making surfing there especially dangerous.

With north winds the groins create a point break of sorts, bending the waves around in clean arcs of peeling grace. Saturday was a different story. Saturday was just this side of manageable chaos, near washing machine conditions.

The wave period, the time between wave peaks was a mere 6 seconds. The waves were waist to chest high but were being blown in as chaotic peaks. The air was 38 degrees as was the water and the sleet came in horizontally. Looking out into the lake to watch for incoming waves hurt like hell.

I paddled out by myself around 3:30 Saturday afternoon, turning around just in time to catch a great wave. That is the sucker wave of course. Not because you’d paddle for it and miss it, but because that one great ride would entice you to stay out in the storm looking for another great ride. Tim G. joined me before I could catch another wave. There wasn’t much chance of talking. Occasionally we shouted a few words, but mostly we watched each other over the tops of the waves as we traded rides.

I was done in after an hour. My face felt sunburned from the pelting it took from the sleet and I headed back up the bluff. Here’s where civilization comes in.

From the time I paddle ashore to the time I was soaking in the most delicious hot bath was no more than 30 minutes. It was there, lying in that tub of hot water that I realized what has to be the best mark of a civilized society, the ability to heat water and to bathe, to luxuriate, to spend time thinking and philosophizing, letting your mind wander down lazy pathways, soaking in that wonderful warm, nay, hot liquid.

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