Monday, November 22, 2010

Love Many, Trust Few, But Always Paddle Your Own Canoe

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Trip – 9/3/10 - Day 7 – Sea Kayaking

All night the wind howled and tents flapped. I was pretty sure we would not be paddling today on Lake Superior. Outfitters near the Apostle Islands will not rent you a sea kayak unless you take their orientation class, so we were part of a guided tour with Living Adventure. When I made (nonrefundable) reservations they emphasized that they do not cancel for rain but wind is a different story.

Wind notwith- standing, it’s time for wet suits and an alternate route. Our original hope of kayaking in and out of the famous Apostle Islands sea caves was scuttled in favor of the more protected Red Cliff Point shoreline near the outfitter’s base. In addition to our group, there were six other brave souls who paid a significant chunk of change to paddle on Gitche Gumee. We had plenty of gear to keep us warm, hats, gloves, and fleece under the wet suits.

Our pre-trip instructions were cheerfully delivered by our seasoned college student age guides, Zack, Chris & Jennifer. Key words to remember were “dude,” “right on,” “sweet” and “cool”. The surfer dude vernacular was so pervasive that it became part of our own for the remainder of the trip. And the guides were really very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna and all things paddling and kept up a steady stream of information sharing all through the day…sweet…(plus the guys were not at all hard to look at…)

Partners in kayaks: Cathy/Mike – Kim/Neil – Sharon/Jeff. Jeff should have been in the rear because he is stronger, but I enjoyed this first opportunity to work the rudders. Despite the lessons about using my waist to pivot rather than my arms, I still finished the day with exhausted forearms. No, Jeff, I swear I was paddling (nearly) every stroke right along with ya…

We were awed by bald eagles, Jeff’s first sighting ever, and cormorants, a first for me. One of my favorite childhood books was Island of the Blue Dolphins – remember how Wonapalei made a dress out of cormorant feathers?

Lake Superior is a graveyard for many shipwrecks. We explored the ribs of the ill-fated Fedora as our guides gave the background story. At various points we could see several of the Apostle Islands at once, Oak Island, Hermit Island, Stockton Island. This is a paddler’s paradise, but in the height of the summer season there are boat shuttles to help you hop from place to place. Some of the islands have lighthouses and hiking paths. (Note to self: this area is a great place to return to.)

Kim and Neil modeling paddling skirts

Jeff and me

Around the last bend, the wind worsened and the waves grew noticeably choppier – a quick turnaround and some strong paddling and we landed near Frog Bay for a not-too-soon lunch stop. Our guides unpacked a folding table, spread it with a tablecloth, served up hummus and wrap sandwiches, apples, granola bars and cookies – a little bit of luxury on a cloudy, drizzly day. Yes, sunshine would have been nice, but we were getting wet anyway, right? So this really was the best day for rain on our trip. Except for that part about peeling out of the wet suit to take a potty break behind a tree…
Jennifer, Zack and Chris ~ lunch is ready, dude!

Back near the take-out point, we grouped together to get a lesson on how to paddle onto the concrete ramp and get out of the water. For fun, Guide Chris demonstrated a full roll in the chilly waters. We taunted Zack until he did one too – a round of applause for both!

We changed clothes, gathered our piles of wet stuff and prepared to leave. We noticed our guides were cleaning up all the equipment in the rain and agreed that they had made the difference between an okay day on the water and a fantastic fun paddling experience in the rain. We pooled money and gave them a very big tip that brought smiles to their faces – beer money! Sweet!

With plenty of daylight we drove on to our last accommo- dations for the trip, “luxury” cabins at Apostle Islands Area Campground near Bayfield, Wisconsin: no lights or heat but dry and cozy and bathhouses nearby with lights, flushing toilets and free hot showers (hot being relative). Gals shared one cabin, Jeff and Neil shared the other, while Mike opted for his custom home-on-wheels. No one snoring in there but him!
Jeff is pretending not to be tired

Back in Bayfield, we chose dinner at Greunke’s Restaurant. This place was very eclectic, old album covers on the walls and movie posters everywhere, mismatched place mats, silverware, dishes. Another lake trout extravaganza appeared and we ate off each other’s plates until all the food was gone. I guess we can’t do that when we get back to the office…

After dinner we walked around Bayfield, talked to a couple of shop owners, and asked another outfitter what he recommended we do for our last day: go back to Little Sand Bay? Go to Meyers Beach and hike along the tops of the sea caves? Take the shuttle over to Madeline Island and Big Bay State Park? Stay tuned…

One day an Eskimo sitting in his kayak got chilly; but when he lit a fire in the craft, it sank, proving that you can't have your kayak... and heat it too.

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