Monday, June 15, 2015

Explorers and Mosquitoes

In 1832 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and his native guides identified Lake Itasca as the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Joseph Nicollet and his native guides came along in 1836 to map the upper Mississippi and all the land it drained. Both journeys were troubled by mosquitoes.

Nicollet talks about one particular night in his journals:  “Here we were assailed by swarms of mosquitoes, that came upon us in torrents, causing me to extinguish the light of my lanterns 3 times whilst I was making my astronomical observations.”

The next morning they were up at 4:30 but slow to depart. “The night having been very hot and the mosquitoes troublesome, we were exceedingly overcome, and consequently slow in getting our loads ready”.

Nicollet's map was used for the next 50+ years as the definitive guide to the upper Mississippi. You can look at and zoom Nicollet's beautiful map here.

While my adventures are much more modest, I also encountered the exceedingly troublesome torrents of mosquitoes on my walk in the deep woods over the weekend. By the middle of June it’s best to leave the bush to the king of the forest, the lowly mosquito. I’ll be back later.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Stock Pick of the Day

I'm looking for stocks that pay a good dividend and have the potential for growth. I'm hoping to someday have enough dividends coming in to use as a source of income. If the stock grows in value well that's even better.

Today's pick is Cisco Systems CSCO. Cisco makes computer networking equipment. They're currently paying a dividend of 21 cents per share every quarter. At the current stock price of $29.30 per share, that's an annual yield of 2.86%. Compared to savings accounts, CDs or bonds this is pretty good. But of course it's not guaranteed.

On top of the great dividend, the research sources I'm using are very bullish on Cisco and rate it a strong "Buy". I'm somewhat familiar with Cisco and I have a lot of respect for their products.

If you buy before March 31, 2015 you will be eligible for the April 22, 2015 dividend payment.

Good luck with your investing and please let me know if you have any dividend stock picks for me!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Grand Silver Bay Loop

Silver Bay is one of my favorite towns on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It's a company town, built by the Reserve Mining Company in 1954 to process low grade iron ore. The ore is extracted from the ground and shipped by rail from the mines in Babbit, Minnesota, sixty miles to the northwest. After decades of mining, low grade ore is all that's left. Reserve's revolutionary (at the time) process concentrates the ore, creating taconite, a high grade ore pellet used in making steel. The taconite pellets are then loaded onto ships and sent to steel mills on the lower Great Lakes. A ship can be seen loading in the photo-map below.  The Silver Bay area is an interesting mix of State Parks, heavy industry, motorized recreation, a bicycle trail and last but not least the stunning Superior Hiking Trail. I'm constantly amazed by how well all these competing interests get along in the area.

The Grand Silver Bay Loop is a great multimodal day hike that I pieced together mainly on the Superior Hiking Trail.  You'll be hiking on the SHT of course, but you'll also spend time on the Twin Lakes Trail, an ATV trail, a bicycle trail and a few roads and city streets too. Park your vehicle at the Beaver Bay trailhead (see the SHT guidebook). The hike departs from either one of the SHT's Beaver River camp sites, a short mile or 2 from the trailhead. Get to the camp site early (but not too early, last night's campers may still be sleeping), set up your tent, grab your day pack, lunch and water and head out. I've also stayed 2 nights at the campsite, arriving late the afternoon before the hike and setting up. You also may be able to get dropped off or park your vehicle for the day somewhere on the W Road and hike the loop from there, avoiding camping altogether (I'm not sure about parking limitations, if any, on the W Road). This 12.5 mile loop hike is a real workout but you'll be slack packing so you should have no trouble. According to my GPS the hike took me 8 hours, 3 hours of which I was resting, eating or taking pictures. I climbed and descended about 2000 feet  (see the elevation profile at the bottom of this post) . Click the picture below for a larger view.

Follow the blue blazes of the SHT from your campsite heading northbound. Please see your SHT guidebook for a complete description. This very scenic and hilly section of trail  crosses over the mining company railroad tracks and eventually leads you to the Penn Blvd Trailhead in Silver Bay. From there you head up, down, up, down, up, up up and eventually up to the cliffs overlooking Bean and Bear Lakes. Plan to spend some time at the top basking in the beauty that's all around you. This is a great spot to eat  your lunch and take some pictures.

Past the Bear Lake campsite and trail register, you'll see the Twin Lakes Trail spur. Leave the SHT here and follow the white blazes of the TLT. You'll eventually descend down towards town. The first ATV trail you encounter is known as the George's Gorge Trail. You can short circuit a couple miles of relatively uninteresting green tunnel by taking this ATV trail back into town. If you prefer you can stay on the TLT and hook up to the same ATV trail closer to town. Once in Silver Bay you have opportunities for food, refreshment and resupply. Make your way down the main street through Silver Bay to the Rukavina Ice Arena. Anyone you encounter can point you in the right direction. Next to the ice arena is a trail head for the paved Gitchi-Gami state bicycle trail. Follow the Gitchi-Gami for a couple miles and go under the railroad tracks, using the new box culvert. The bike trail terminates at the W Road. Take a right on the W for a short distance until you come to an unmarked but wide open ATV trail. Take a right on this trail a short distance until you see the blue blaze of the SHT, which should look familiar because you were there 8 hours earlier. Take a left and head back down to the lovely Beaver River and your campsite.

This is a busy campsite because it is so close to the Beaver Bay trailhead. Be prepared to follow the SHT ethic and share your camp. You're bound to meet fun, interesting and knowledgeable people with whom you can share a fire and your day's adventures.

 At no time while you're on this loop are you required to trespass. The SHT exists in this area due to the good graces of Cliffs Natural Resources so we need to be proper trail stewards.

If you use Google Earth let me know and I can send you a KML file for the Grand Silver Bay Loop. It's really awesome.

A new multimodal trailhead is under construction in Beaver Bay for the SHT, Gitchi-Gami and motorized recreation trails, so be prepared for changes when that is complete, probably some time in 2015.

Elevation profile.  Click the picture below for a larger view.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Social Security

Ever since Social Security began in 1935, there have been more workers paying into the system than retirees withdrawing. The excess payments are saved in the Social Security Trust Fund. Social Security benefits to today’s retirees are paid with earnings from current workers and with money from the trust fund. A demographic shift known as the “baby boom” is underway, with more retirees receiving benefits than workers paying into the system. As you can imagine, the balance of the trust fund is declining. According to a report published by the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees earlier this year, the trust fund is expected to be depleted by 2033. So what happens then?

One of two things will happen in 2033 if reforms are not implemented before then. Social Security taxes will rise for current workers or benefits will fall for current retirees, or some combination of the two. According to estimates, if all of the shortfall were to be shouldered by the retirees, benefits would need to decrease by 25%. It’s unlikely that politicians will have the courage to take on social security reform before 2033. So why am I telling you all this?

Well if you’re of a certain age you need to decide when to start drawing your social security benefits. The longer you wait the bigger your check will be…for the rest of your life. Benefits starting at age 62 are less than if you wait until 65. And much less than if you wait until 70. How long you should put off collecting social security depends on how much of your own money you saved and how long you think you’ll live. If you wait to collect, it takes years to make up the social security benefits you would have received starting at age 62. But if you live to a ripe old age you may wish you had waited. Tough to know what to do. Here’s something else to think about, another factor to plug into your equation.

If your social security benefits were to be slashed because of the depletion of the social security trust fund in 2033, it might make sense to start receiving benefits as early as possible before any cuts are implemented.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Burger King Pursues Tim Hortons

Burger King wants to purchase Tim Hortons, the Canadian doughnut chain. You can read all about it here. As my mother-in-law once said on a trip to Canada, those Canadians LOVE their doughnuts.

The deal involves a tax strategy known as inversion, where Burger King's corporate registration will be moved to Canada to take advantage of Canada's lower corporate tax rate. A couple of observations.

I am shocked to learn that even Canada has lower corporate tax rates than the US. In the world of global corporate competition, our tax structure puts us at a disadvantage with the rest of the world.

In the article, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is calling for a consumer boycott of Burger King. His energies are misplaced. He would do better to work to level the playing field for American business in a global economy. After all, corporations are owned by stockholders like you and me.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Get These Now Before You Hurt Yourself

I wish I had done this years ago. I've always used generic ear plugs but I felt like I was not protected. The generic plugs are uncomfortable, difficult to insert and do not work for me. Coming away with ringing ears after 2 days of snowmobiling finally pushed me over the edge. I made an appointment  for custom fitted hearing protection with an audiologist at East Central Audiology in Forest Lake. The audiologist squirts a gel into each ear that conforms to the shape of your ear canal. In a few minutes the gel hardens, is removed and sent off to Starkey Labs, where they manufacture the ear plugs you see here. I can use them in the wood shop, snowmobiling, shooting or running a chain saw. I would even bring them along if I ever went to a rock concert again. Once you get the hang of it they insert easily. They are very comfortable and stay put. They are easy to clean. The string is handy for removal and makes them a lot harder to lose. They cost me $160, which I was able to pay using our medical plan flex spending account. You should get a pair of these too. Or you could wait and be fitted for Starkey Labs hearing aids later.