One of the things about a trip in this area leaves you with, its big, really big. With good weather, calm seas and wind, I was able to get out to some great spots like the Rock of Ages reef and lighthouse on Isle Royale as well as the entrance islands to Thunder Bay. Sitting out there one gets a feeling of being dwarfed as one does in the mountains out west. Big vistas, the
largest cliffs on the lake and remote rugged shorelines has a size that can only be home to a
Total days on water – 21; total mileage 275; 1 weather day; 2 rest days; 4 days under 10 miles. Click here for a link to a photo gallery of the trip with captions that tell part of the story.
Numerous days the lake was flat calm with mirror like seas but not always. One day stands out, my first day on Isle Royale (the second day of the trip). Tucked in at Belle Isle, I didn’t know what was brewing. Checking the weather forecast, all the American forecasts were going off with warnings of severe thunderstorms, one of which was to hit Isle Royale at 8:30am. They were right in calling it severe. Waiting for the warning to expire at noon, it got extended, then the Canadian forecast started going off with more severe storms from another direction. Things seemed to subside by 6pm. But there was only an hour+ break before the next one hit. At 9pm, a large squall line hit with winds to 45 mph and hail. For the next two weeks I ran into people who were hit by this storm. One group on Isle Royale had a near death experience and a sailboater with decades of cruising on Lake Superior required assistance. Fortunately all ended up safe.
Another thing that stands out is that planning for redundancy worked well on this trip. A water filter cartridge failed, the first time that has happened in 20 years, and was replaced with a spare. For the first time in a decade, food spoiled. I lost jelly due to a poorly sealed jar and carrots rotted because they got wet. Despite the loss, food was plentiful as it should be on a trip. And the trip ended without food cravings. Quite a difference from 12 years ago when I didn’t bring enough protein or dairy items on my first multi-week trip.
These waters were paddle by Natives and French Voyageurs centuries before today. It was the latter who named the formation Sleeping Giant that dominates Thunder Bay. Of course, the Natives have a story as well as a name for that formation. To them, it just wasn’t a Giant, it is Nananbozho, their Creator. And their Creator lives with them.
This is the latest trip in the season for these areas. I will admit to being concerned about Isle Royale being crowded but that wasn’t the case. What was the case was the surprising number of boaters in the Thunder Bay and on up to Rossport. Folks in sailboats cruising for a month, fisherman out for a weekend to a family out on vacation, there were all kinds of boats and all kinds of people.
The generosity of the folks at the Wray Bay sauna continued with folks from Minneapolis sharing bratwurst and beer, as well as a sailboater from Thunder Bay ensuring I always had a beer. Not everyone was this friendly everywhere, but friendly enough to know that boaters and kayakers can mix even though we often share different viewpoints that our respective sports give us.
One of the disappointments was with kayakers. Few were seen but the skill level and in particular, the risk management, was poor for the majority. The first kayakers I ran into at Belle Isle took a rec boat around Blakes Point, one of the most notorious places for rough seas. At Blakes, their reaction to a bulkhead failure was to keep paddling. That boat arrived at Belle Isle with its back deck awash. Both situations could have resulted in a long time in the water for one of them, none of whom had a wetsuit and it seemed they were lax in wearing PFDs. It was all I could do to stay patient with them when they started in on lecturing me on how dangerous it was to paddle there. Additionally, the backcountry volunteer I met was out paddling on the lake without a pfd, sprayskirt or wetsuit. Hard to take him seriously. But there was a group that was heartening. They had gone to the Grand Marais sea kayak symposium and came out afterwards. Sea kayaks, sprayskirts, wetsuits and pfds were all worn and they were attentive to risks being taken as they were building their experience out there. Thank goodness they showed up.
Magic is one way to describe the trip. My car’s alternator failed in Superior. Thanks to having a smartphone, I was able to find a quality place that fixed it in 3 hours, including the tow. The
crossings were perfect weather windows that provided calm seas and on the first crossing to Isle Royale, a bubble world where the horizon disappeared as mirror seas reflected the fog & sky while there was an absolute silence. The geology in the area is of old, old volcanoes. This seeps into one’s soul in so many ways that it takes perspective to notice the minute and subtle differences that lie beyond words. Then there were the animals. Loons were everywhere and if there is a special bird for me, it is this one. Everyday there were calls and pairs around with one day there being 20+ rafted together. And finally the last day – an Eagle flew straight & true and two Loon’s were bill dipping & calling to each other on the paddle in; on the drive home, Bear Cubs, 8 rainbows and a lightning show after dark that took me back to my first time out west .
Sometimes it seemed as if the Giant was dreaming a dream that covered the land. A dream that can only be described as big.