Archive for July, 2009

Greetings from Canada

Author: Ruth


Stephen at Lighthouse Park in Port Huron. The Bluewater Bridge and Michigan's oldest operating lighthouse behind him. The Canadian shore ahead of him.

Stephen at Lighthouse Park in Port Huron. The Bluewater Bridge and the Great Lakes' oldest operating lighthouse behind him. The Canadian shore ahead of him.


The Ontario shore of Lake Huron is Stephen’s home tonight. Today was a psychological crossing as well as a border crossing, the Michigan leg (the short one) is finished! I stayed with him in Port Huron last night at a Days Inn that has seen better days. We both woke a little anxious this morning, me about the strong current and heavy boat traffic at the mouth of the St. Clair River near the Blue Water bridge (imagine Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron draining through this narrow channel, I did,) he about how the Canada Border Services would respond to his voyage, and both of us about how our (so far) frequent phone contact would change now that it is international.


I watched him paddle steadily against the current, avoid boats and make the crossing in about twelve minutes from the beach at the Fort Gratiot lighthouse, the first of Michigan’s lights. The beach was filled with wanderers, families and sunbathers, some of whom were intrigued enough to speak to us. Stephen has met so many interesting and kind people already and is energized by these contacts. And I am grateful to know there are great people wherever we go.  He made it to the marine reporting site at the Sarnia Yacht Club without incident and the customs officer he spoke to on the phone was cordial and allowed his entry.

There were no problems after all.


That evening I received  this from the paddler 


"I've rounded the corner, and am headed back to the north country.I'll 
try and bring home some universal healthcare.
Beautiful sunset over the lake. Sleeping in the canoe tonight. Sweet 
P n L"

Port Austin

Author: Ruth

Stephen has made it to Port Austin on the tip of Michigan’s thumb and is sleeping on a yacht tonight. Not fair! I’m headed down on Wednesday to visit, resupply his larder and obtain photos of the trip though Saginaw Bay. More anon….

Sitting here on the banks of the AuGres River with Ruth in the little camper/trailer I built. She arrived Thursday night, and we’ve been taking it easy for the past couple of days. It’s Saturday evening, and I’ve finally pulled the laptop out of its waterproof case after lugging it in and out of the canoe for three weeks. The reason, Denise, I’ve been so “reticent” about writing, is that paddling, setting up and breaking down camp, boiling water for breakfast and dinner, and spreading sardines on crackers for lunch, takes a surprising amount of time. But I’m gradually streamlining the process, and hopefully will be doing a better job of posting to the blog.

I’d been paddling at least a few miles every day until I met up with Ruth. Longest day so far was about 14 miles. At this pace, I should make it back to the Mac Bridge in time for Obama’s second inauguration (assuming he does something about healthcare, the war(s), etc.). Seems most of the time I’m heading into the wind, when I clock about 2 mph. With the wind, I crank it up to a bit over 3 mph. I’ve used the sail three or four times, during some downwind stretches, and it speeds us up to over 4 mph. I fear, though, at the high sailing speeds that I may be missing things. At any rate, I prefer paddling. The sail, although it has a clear vinyl window, blocks the forward view more than I like. Both hands are busy controlling the loop of line attached on the sail at the “10” and “2” locations, and (as when paddling) I steer with my feet using the rudder pedals. In short, under sail it feels too much like driving a car. Paddling engages my body much more harmoniously. Twist from the waist away from the paddle side, plant the paddle straight into the water, twist toward the paddle side, pulling the boat to the paddle, slicing it out just after it passes the hips, then rewinding for the next stroke, and the next, and the next, switching to the other side when this one tires. The whole process a synchronous movement, emanating from the abdomen. The first few days I felt a few aches in my arms and shoulders, but after a week or son, my muscles firmed up, and my love handles started melting.

I’ve been camping most nights. The first couple of weeks it was pretty easy to find a quiet beach and stand of woods in which to pitch the tent. South of Alpena, it’s been more of a challenge, with many more cottages and small resorts along the way. But still, I’ve had no problems finding a place. A thunderstorm in the distance led me to pull over early one afternoon, onto a beach lined with cottages. It wasn’t long after I landed that a friendly couple on a stroll, Jim and Marijane, told me the property I was on had been for sale for years, and no one would care if I set up camp there. They said they owned a resort a few cottages down, and welcomed me to use their shower, which I did. Not long after I set up the tent, Jim wandered down the beach and presented me with a plate of trout wrapped in grape leaves, with lemon and little onions, which he had just grilled. The day before, on the beach of what used to be booming timber town, Alcona, a family invited me in for a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie. That was on the Fourth of July, and I left their home on glassy waters under a bright moon, with fireworks bursting in the distant sky. Stayed that night on the beach at Sturgeon Point lighthouse. Another day I was treated to a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich and a beer at a lovely cottage perched on a bluff overlooking the lake.

So far I’ve spent two nights in the homes of friends old and new, three in motels with Ruth, and two nights in our camper. The rest have been spent on the ground, which feels surprisingly cushy after a day’s paddle.

Well, it’s the crack of noon, and time to get back in the boat and catch a wave. Thanks so much for everyone’s well wishes. Bay City, here I come!

Alpena to Au Gres

Author: Ruth

The pictures posted here contain a lot of information. For those of you who are interested in lighthouses on the Great Lakes, this site, looks well researched and extensive.







Here is a map of the ring of gypsum in Michigan from the Michgan Department of Natural Resources. (Their website contains a treasure trove of maps of all kinds.) Lower Michigan is a series of concentric rings formed when it was a shallow sea, the ring of coral reef limestones lies outside the ring shown here and mining it was a huge industry in Michigan.




June 27 through July1

Author: Ruth

In which Stephen paddles his canoe from Cheboygan to Alpena, traversing the northeast Michigan coastline. This is the period in which he begins to develop his antagonistic relationship with the type of fly we call the mosquito. He’ll be horrified tonight when I tell him that there are about 60 species of mosquitos in Michigan, and even though malaria has been eradicated in Michigan, mosquitos still infect animals with various diseases. Mr. Daniel Hager in the Mackinac Center for Public Policy quotes Alexis de Tocqueville on this topic from his writings of a visit to Michigan in July, 1831, 

” Tocqueville encountered Michigan mosquitoes in force between Pontiac and Saginaw on a barely perceptible trail through the nearly impenetrable forest, where they were so fierce he couldn’t even pause to write in his notebook. After a day of hunting near Saginaw, “surrounded by a cloud of these insects, against whom one had to make perpetual war,” he spent a night that was, in his words, “one of the most painful of my life.” He was overwhelmingly fatigued, but the buzzing and the biting kept him from sleeping.

Tocqueville later wrote that he had “never experienced a torment” like mosquitoes, which were “the scourge of the American solitudes.” He agreed with the surveyor’s assessment: “Their presence would suffice to render a long sojourn there insupportable.”

On the brighter side, Stephen is developing lightening fast reflexes and an acute sense of hearing for tiny whining sounds. As he was extolling the virtues of his tent last night, he said, “if this tent gets a hole in it, I’m a dead man.”