Monday, November 17, 2008

HELLO WISCONSIN!!! -Bustin to Bayfield

Not biting hard into the previous dish ? Good, neither did we. That menacing Monday morning we departed from an additional undisclosed location headed off towards the Wisconsin break wall. Sweet Mother Superior forecasted some unrelenting winds from the Northwest as we began our journey on the south shore. The winds around time of departure foreshadowed a ‘not so fun’ potential, but once we reached the lake and paddled beyond the break wall the seas were calm muddy waters. Presumably from the heavy Northeast winds from previous days’ fury, sediment was stirred a muck and gave the water an irony inflection. Onward we paddled towards SANDY beaches. Once again we had entered a land sparse with human habitants and a multitude of possibility. Miles melted beyond blades and so did our sunshine, sweet sunshine turning the skies grey, increasing the wind and locking down a surf landing near the Amnicon River where we met our buddy Joe Ko. Reconnoitering rendezvous aside it was great to be in the company of a fellow paddler whom hadn’t experienced this stretch of shore yet and was all about adventure.

While consuming a mid day snack we watched as the Lake dun built some burly waves and ended up camping at our present locale that evening. The next day we would take to the lake in cooler conditions and make way towards the mighty Brule River. This place holds an iconic image for the area. Serendipitous sand beach greeting the mouth of the river where it meets the lake stretching on towards the horizon in either direction. Avid agate hunters may be greatly rewarded for their efforts and lush green foliage rises from the banks of the river to the forest canopy. We kept our hunker down for the luncheon hour and paddled some additional miles after the foods had settled.

Back on the water our scale of daylight availability/ time to set up camp seemed to wane slightly and we wandered up the Iron River to seek shelter, which we may or may not have found. The details are a little foggy in there. I do recollect tall grass though, a cabin of sorts on the banks. I also remember the next morning the wind was HOWLING, and eating a righteous breakfast at some little boat landing on near the mouth of the said river. The pattern of the wind that day was to be burly in the morning and kilter off in the afternoon… and you know what? It did. Cool. We paddled on to the land of Port Wing, which has a SWEET beach, and then onward to the hebran town of Herbster. Right about the time we arrived in Herbster the wind began to build again and we made for the campground. A place where all the tent sites are right by the water exposed to the wind and fury of weather. We set our tent up in a niche best we could to block the wind and get warm. Some fisher folks were attempting to outrun this temptuous weather pattern getting rocked by the oncoming waves. Luckily captain Adventure bounded down the beach in his dry suit to help them steady their boat on the trailer and get the heck out of there. They even offered us their only fish that did not escape from the stringer during the commotion of the early eve. We respectfully declined and headed into town for some pizza and adult beverages. At this infamous watering hole we met another friend whom had escaped the responsibility of the real world for a few days to paddle. There we were, a solid crew of four not more than an hour away by car from our final destination, willing to work with what the lake had to offer. Mariah and Joe went to get his truck so it was not sitting desolate at the end of some dead end road on the lake and Alissa and I joined Skip and Shirley (folks from the North shore) for another fire (they have an additional rental on the south shore) and eventually called it an evening.

Morning rose, much after the winds and we knew we’d be in for a treat. Bummer. It was fairly heavy for a while. Buddies went and ran shuttle of the vehicles in case Mariah had to duck out early. We watched the weather and waited. Upon return it did not seem so favorable. More time waiting, walking, talking and eventually eating some lunch. For whatever reason on the south shore the weather didn’t seem to subside until early afternoon, for a few hours and then ramp back up in the evening time. We pounced upon our opportunity to pound some miles in our afternoon window and landed at a delightful little beachside cabin just outside of Cornucopia near Romans Point. RIGHTEOUS (T. DOYLE rules!) There we had a marvelous dinner of veggie burgers, spirits and high hopes for the remaining part of the journey into our home turf.

Paddling by Cornucopia set us down memory lane towards the sandstone cliffs and caves we’ve known quite intimately over the previous many seasons. It was like being in the back yard. For hours we paddled over the teal colored water, admiring as if for the first time, the rusty color of the sand stone, the birch and pine stretching towards the sky and getting splashed by the caves from some rebounding waves. Very much familiar, yet slightly estranged, we had just paddled around the lake in its entirety and now we were back among familiar ground. Shore rather. We had lunch, somewhere on lunch beach and continued to paddle into the western realm of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, crossing Sand and Little Sand Bays. WOW! We were really here. The colors of the trees were just beginning to change, and after a short break facing York Island we headed around the tip of the horn beyond Frog Bay and crossing the channel to Oak Island. The water at this time was placid and pure. Of a sudden it didn’t seem so much that we were returning from a mighty journey, but just a brief jaunt in the islands we knew and love so much. Uncanny feeling really.

That nite we camped near the sand spit and had a campfire – the only one Alissa and I actually experienced on trail the entire time we were out. Temperatures dropped, providing good sleeping weather- stars shone brightly and the familiar sounds of the islands took the mind from spinning to unconscious bliss.

Our final day on the water we rose to sunny skies and southeast winds. Brisk at first, but they leveled off in due time. We were I think nine miles or so from Bayfield, 90 some days since we had left and an entire world of experience. The journey was so reminiscent of a return from guiding a trip I had begun to think in my head, now one of us can clean the dishes, the other can wash the gear, I’ll vacuum the sand out of the boats and so on… but not this time.

Meandering about the sandstone cliffs over the Fedora flooded the being with connection to this fascinating place. All that it emulates and how much more it needs to be explored. Alissa and I joked about this journey just being a scouting mission; the real adventure would begin later. We were greeted by a WELCOME BACK sign as Mariah and Joe hopped out in Red Cliff to organize the next, shuttling phase of the trip. Alissa and I paddled the remaining three miles or something like that back to Bayfield, to a world we could not even imagine.

We arrived in Bayfield amidst Apple Fest. GREAT GOOGALY MOOGALY!! So many people, so many apples, so little time. Luckily upon our inception back to the area the beach near the Cooperage was empty, save for a few floatplanes and passerbyers. WOW. We’d MADE it. A reality that would take a short while to settle in, but we’ were here, alive, well, grizzled – something no one could take from us. There we had it, ninety days from beginning to end, around seventy actual paddling days thousands of photos worth even more words, memorable moments, a heck of an endeavor coming to a close a mighty Session on Superior

Sunday, November 16, 2008

And just like that we arrived: SHIZAM Bayfield Wisconsin. DONE.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Navigating da' North shore: The Final Frontier

The next morning we would do our best to get on the water before the wind (northeast to 15 knots picked up), however we eventually learned the harder you try to hurry the longer you have to wait. Some strange paradox that only seems to exist when you actually need to get somewhere. Anyhow, I digress. So there we, blue skies, sunny, lake doesn’t look too bad – we shouldn’t be in any trouble as long as we get our move on. After several trips of hauling gear to and fro to our boats the Hildebrandt’s dog decided to follow us over to the lake. A place that, I have been told, is ‘not for dogs’ without their owners. Luke is running about, being a yellow lab, because that is what they do. They also are very intrigued by anything that remotely resembles something to play fetch with. It’s Sunday, people are about enjoying the day and some young couple tosses a stick in the water. No big deal right? WRONG. The break wall is 15 ft above the water so when a large lab drops into the water it’s a trite hard for him to get his footing and back out of the water. I didn’t notice for a short while, but five minutes elapsed time I noticed the dog swimming in circles by the end of the break wall. “What the flipnasty basty is going on?” I had denoted in my mind. Do I take a kayak over there, do I swim, do I… well the water is cold, so immersion is out of the question. I ran over to the other side of the break wall and holler at this dog. People are around, presumably believing this is my dog and I am irresponsible for letting it plop into the lake. I have no time or tolerance to care about this notion though. I climb down to water level and holler more at the dog. He swims over, but unable to see where to get out swims away from the rocks. Rationally, I cinche up my sandals, pull my up my pants and climb into the water at thigh level so I am supported by the rocks. I call the dog again and he swims over, then away, then back, then I grab his blasted collar and pull him towards me. I crouch down and lift this K-9 er out of the water and place his paws on some solid ground, he seems obliged. Then not knowing where to go from there, he starts to meander back down to the water. Not on my watch though, so I pick him back up and hoist him to the next level of rock, eventually making it to the walkway. The walkway where a crowd has gathered, giggling and reinstituting my faith in human kind… The same human kind that threw the stick in the water in the first place, saw the dog could not get out and walked away. Anyhow our slaphappy lab buddy was then put on a towrope, a.k.a. leash and escorted back to his respective home on the other side of highway 61.

Nice, so we’re outty correct? WRONG. We shuttle the boats back to the landing at the harbor and begin to load up. At this time our DNR friend returns. He lets us off with a smile today and goes out in the building seas to check people’s registration (a.k.a. play in a powerboat in waves). He’s out for all of 15 minutes and then heads back into the harbor. People get paid for this. We head out. Paddle towards the ominous bluster of D town. Houses are constant and the waves are getting bigger. The mind peace starts to get a little knackered and the wind is pushing hard. By the time we are within a mile of the lift bridge we are in 4-6ft seas. We see one motorboat venture out and constantly monitor the banter from the lift bridge to see if any LARGE boats are coming in. We cannot see any on the horizon, but then again it’s rising and falling a four plus feet at a time. Within a half mile of the bridge it becomes apparent we’ve been blown off course. STRESS!! We fight the wind and waves to jockey back into position and get right on track to enter the burly break wall near the Duluth Lightbridge. As luck should have it there are no shortage of people on this break wall wondering what the whoo nasty, we are doing out there. COMPOSURE. We keep on fighting the good fight with the waves until a 45’ yacht comes screaming into the canal. To their credit they probably could not see us, as when the waves break they are white precisely the color of our boats. So this boat blazes us, creating more chaos in waves, and musters a bolstered ‘sorry’ as we get rebounded between their swell and that from the wall. In a matter of moments we are out of the insanity around the corner of that channel and watching a bustling Duluth do what it does…

Floating amidst a real concrete jungle we took some time to gather our thoughts, emotions and theatrical outbursts. People walking by above offered congratulatory remarks or absentee thoughts of “what a ride eh?” It’s consoling to know people acknowledge your existence and commend your efforts. It served as a reflecting point, actualization as it were, to process that this event was probably one of the more dodgy experiences on the journey. Take a constricted area, big water, rocky shoreline and what seemed like a myriad of spectators- add that to an area you can’t really make any mistakes in and ‘you’re in DULUTH’.

We kicked off towards Canal Park and found a beach allow our lower extremities to regain consciousness with gravity. Walking around never felt sooooo good. We changed attire and roamed across the same lift bridge that had served as an eternity moments previous (not before watching a MONSTROUS BOAT- the American Courage venture into port). From there we met up with friends, had a festive beverage and then planned the precise experience of parking our boats in a safe hold and spending the night on a real live futon. (Thank you friends formally from Bayfield living in Duluth) We are in the home stretch.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Navigating da' North shore: almost done...

At this point we were roughly 26.2 miles or something like that from Duluth, which we held vaguely ambiguous excitement and fear for. Excitement because we would be in the home stretch and fear because Duluth is a BIG city, which does not really house many places to ‘camp’ and store a kayak. As luck would have it we would depart from Two Harbors a slight bit later than we would have liked. When you get into the later parts of September you cannot leave at two in the afternoon and hammer out 20+ miles before the sun goes down like you can in July. Regardless we knew of a few places en route to D-town that may serve our needs. Plus there was the mighty Duluth Tent n Trailer for any weary campers. We paddled toward the city as the sky went from azure to opaque in a matter of hours. Houses jogged by with a higher frequency and we pushed on past Knife Point to avoid any wryly waves, should they had arisen. Somewhere in that remaining stretch, appreciating the geology, changing colors, steam train that was flying by, we accepted the fact we would not make it to Duluth. No worries though, we could camp at the previously mentioned campground right? So we thought anyway.

Its right about here the story starts to get interesting so we’ll ensure it is well documented:

We arrive to the McQuade Safe Harbor, a new establishment created by the Minnesota DNR for boaters. This is a marvelous area for boaters and outdoor enthusiasts, no camping, but a dandy place nonetheless. We hop out at the boat launch and I make a pilgrimage across the highway to find a number for this ‘campground’. You know, make sure that there are sites, as we were entering the ‘fall color’ season. The first place I stop by had no vacancy. So I meander further down the way. A quaint little locale known as the Beachside Cabins, a locale where we would end up staying, informed me that the very campground I had desired to inquire about had, as it were, been bulldozed for condominiums the year before. BUMMER. However, it was better to hear that there, than have paddled an additional mile and a half down the shore get shot down in the end. Fair enough, they rented us a little camper for the evening, heat, electricity- all those things.

I skipped back down to the boat launch did a handspring over the guard rail by the highway… Just kidding, wanted to add a little zest to that. But really, back on track now. I am walking down to the boat launch to see what appear to be authoritative figures… SHOOST! I thought to myself. Not because we had anything illegal about us, but literally two days previous I made some joke about making it the entire way down the MN shore and not having to show our boat registration. (Something all boats must have in MN). But here we were 10.5 miles from Duluth and the law was on a mission, an investigating mission. Now this would not have been such an ordeal, however my boat, technically wasn’t registered. I had a license for my original boat, but since I had swapped that out in Marquette I wasn’t about to pay an additional $24 fee to register another boat. So I held my breath and now was going to pay for it. Alissa did all the sweet-talking she could, but at the end of the conversation I was still in handcuffs and getting finger printed. Then as luck would have it through the mandatory boat search, apparently it is illegal to carry Leinenkugel Honey Weiss in Minnesota. You following that? Well if it held any validity I would have some nice ocean front property in Colorado for you. Catch the drift? So we didn’t get busted for having the boat technically un-registered. Because we were good law abiding citizens and had gone through the trouble to get the registration in the first place they would merely flex their lawful muscles and let us off with a ‘warning’ of sorts. (E.g. you’d better pass along to all your other boating buddies to make not make haste with the boat registration business).

Wiping sweat from my brow I informed Alissa the GREAT news about the campground. As we had no real choice we proceeded to unload the boats, schlep gear, paddle the boat to the other side of the harbor, schlep some more and then carry our boats across highway 61. WEEEEEE!! (Why is it whenever we are really having fun we refer to ourselves in the plural? – thanks Mitch) All righty, so we’re staying in this trailer in some quaint little locale. Cool. We meander to the local eatery and retire to a festive campfire at the Beachway. Owners Skip and Shirley Hildebrandt are notorious for housing campfires every evening for their guests. An event that can draw a diverse crowd to share the warmth of flame and tales of their travels.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Navigating da' North shore: Grand Marais to Two Harbors

Through the next week we would essentially take a fly-by tour of Minnesota’s notorious north shore. Learning that state parks are indeed a paddler’s safe haven due to the spacing of the sometimes-apparent primitive sites on the water trail. We would gain additional support of human presence tooling by highway 61, increased housing and towns that began to grow in population.

Those concrete jungle-esque formations aside (we denote formations because the towns there are small, but when you’ve been out a rambling for many months in the company of one generally a small town suddenly seems BIG) the north shore does contain some of the sweetest rivers a day’s paddle you could wish for. If these rambunctious waters ran year round it would certainly be a Mecca for those short boats (see post from November 4, 2008). Paddling by them via the lake route roused pangs of longing for some river running experience, but to no avail the weather didn’t produce days of rainfall to raise the mighty waters. Regardless they were appreciated nonetheless, watered or not.

Reflecting back on the North Shore, it seemed like a slight blurr, due to the travels, boondoggles and ensuing adventure perhaps this is why:

Leave Grand Marais, paddle to Cascade River State Park. Appreciate the close proximity to G town. Awe in wonder over the geological immensity of the shoreline. Arrive near large retaining wall and cobbled beach. Stash boats in an undisclosed location, shuttle gear and bodies into campground.

Depart Cascade River State Park paddle towards Temperance River State Park. WOW there are some HOUSES on the shore. Lay over at Lutsen for some lunch. See a short boat on a car, have strong desire to follow the flow to some moving water; break daydream, climb back into boats, hammer remaining miles to Temperance River. Fail to fight urge and paddle up the mouth of the river. Sweet rock formations enwalled in last little part of canyon. Paddle back out to beach, scope campsite. Find primitive cart-in site, get back in boats, paddle down to beach closer to campsite, and haul the goods up the bluff… Sleep

Watch burly waves crash into beach next morning. Figure we’ve gotta be making ground Set out towards Baptism. Unable to find primitive campsite (back up plan) as weather was getting a little rowdy. End up finding primitive campsite, which was totally exposed to wind and waves, entry move was timing land on sheer rock between sets of 3-4ft breakers. This type of landing probably would have eaten one of our boats. We hem and haw about camping on private property, in the end move on. Paddle, paddle, paddle a little more to State Natural Area-, which denotes ‘no camping’. Work out some deal with Naturalist of sort (this part, by the way could totally be hypothetical depending on who reads it) to stash boats in undisclosed location. Boats safe, cool. Reconvene with the Mom unit and seek shelter with some local Inn- they rent us a little house and we spend the night indoors out of the NASTY thunder storms.

Next day, attempt to paddle from this undisclosed hypothetical location, which may or may not be 14 miles from the Baptism River. Solid. Ok, so we haul all the gear down to the boats. The lake is ROWDY. South westerly ripping down the shore at 15+ knots. Darn. We debate. There is no place to land between this safe haven and the Baptism. Bag paddling that day due to wind. Haul all the gear back up to the car and head towards the baptism to camp. In ranger station meet some lady who is a business partner to the woman who wrote Deep Water Passage. Small world. Friends from the North Country arrive later that evening and we generate a plan for tomorrow’s paddle.

Wake early the next day. Break camp, load gear, head back to boats. Not thinking clearly we load the boats, realizing this could have been the SECOND time we could have paddled empty boats. (First time was when we paddled into Ontonagon for our food box). BLAST- missed opportunity. Anyway, we loaded the boats up and set out to paddle a delectable stretch of shoreline. Wind building slightly, no big deal. Witness the mighty Manitou Falls, a great blue Heron and continue along the shore. WILD big houses and really no where to get out. We get met by our friends near the Baptism and head into the river for lunch on a very unique sand bar. Fueled up and ready to go again, we paddled out into the lake towards Palisade head. WOW. BIG BIG ROCK. Little exploration in some sea caves/ stacks and keep on headed west down the shore to Split Rock State Park. There is an infamous lighthouse here. Definitely cool. Attack the landing rigmarole and load our gear into a cart for the cart-in campsite. Ahh home for the evening. Set up camp and head out to shuttle vehicles. Couldn’t help notice that there was a sweet restaurant between the campground and location of friends’ vehicle. Delicious food. Back to camp for sleep.

Fairly decent morning next day. Got quite close to a grouse in camp, exploded into the sky right in front of me. COOL. We make breakfast, break camp and then cart our goods back down to the boats. Load on up and kick off towards Two Harbors Minnesota. Great paddle. Lot of houses and sketchy shore line. The colors had begun to show a bit more of themselves and the presence of higher population became much more apparent. We stop on some island about six or eight miles out of two harbors and gain wind of heavy storm system moving toward our present location. Bummer. So we huff, and we puff and we blew the miles behind us. Arrived in Two Harbors Campground to find the last campsite had just been taken, (by my Mother) and began our daily ritual of unpacking, hauling boats and setting up camp. Knowing the weather was going to boost it up later, we set a solid camp and did the only responsible thing we could think of: go into town for pizza - way safer than cooking outside in a lightning storm. We then took advantage of a laundry mat w/ internets to clean our clothes for the first time in (mumbled) days. It rained, poured and kept the folks at the National Weather Service busy. The sound of thunder in the distance and patter of the rain eventually brought soothing closure to an event filled day.

Righteous rock formations

Friends from the North Country, on the North Shore...

Sneaking through something...

Where the Baptism meets Superior

Grand exit of the Baptism River

Great Blue Heron, gellin', err I mean standing there on a rock...

Da' mighty Manitou dumps into Superior...