Archive for July, 2015

Island Time

Author: Ruth

If you have to spend a couple (so far) of days wind bound on an island in Lake Superior, Number 10 Island is a sweet one. There’s a little wooden lighthouse, recently painted in the traditional Canadian colors, white with red trim. The original light is long gone, replaced by a solar powered light clamped to a rail, but folks are doing what they can to preserve the maritime history here.



The island is one of an archipelago of almost 500 comprising the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Created in 2007, the area encompasses all of the water, shoals and shoreline from Thunder Cape east to Bottle Point. Dumping, mining, and oil and gas exploration are prohibited in the area, making this the largest body of protected fresh water in the world.





“A Paddler’s Guide to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area,” by Zach Kruzins and Darrell Makin, published in 2012, identifies established campsites, points of interest and launch sites throughout the area. It says of Number 10 Island that “since this site is a highly visited spot by both boaters and paddlers, and there is not privy site as of yet, human waste has become an issue.” I figured that since the book came out someone might have taken the initiative to deal with that issue.




Indeed, just a few meters from the cobble landing are a couple of recently hand painted “Toilet” signs, with arrows pointing beyond the clearing where the lighthouse stands, to the edge of the woods, where there’s a red box with a toilet seat. An outhouse without the house. Usually this type of “facility” is tucked in the woods out of sight. Here, it’s front and center, with a view of the lighthouse, flashing whitecaps, and the mysterious, roadless Black Bay Peninsula in the distance. There’s an Edwards Coffee can next to the box with, I can’t believe it, a roll of toilet paper in it. Not that I need it – I’m packing my own – but it’s comforting to know it’s there, and someone cared to put it there. There’s also a picnic table, and a cozy tent site tucked amongst the spruce trees. Maybe what’s best is what’s not here: mosquitoes, and bears (I think…)




Highlights on my way here included sighting a moose as I rounded the tip of Black Bay Peninsula. It appeared from a clump of trees on a small island to my right, entered the water about 100 yards in front of me, and swam to the mainland. Other critters I’ve seen are a young black bear which Ruth, Matt and I saw along the highway at the start of the trip; a trio of playful otters one foggy afternoon on the water; a bat warming up the toilet seat for me the other morning; a couple of frogs and snakes. Lots of eagles, a cedar waxwing, loons, big robins, a great blue heron, sparrows, and I’ve heard a great many songbirds.




I also spent a couple of days helping four great guys frame a cabin at Moonlight Beach. The owner of the camp, Jim, offered to let me stay on his property while I was waiting to meet Ruth last weekend, and for a change I was able to repay a bit of the kindness I’ve received from people all along the shores I’ve passed. It was great fun pounding nails and trading stories with Bill, the contractor, and his carpenters Veikko and Chris. Go Denmark! Go Finland! Go Canada!

I’m off to the beach again to see if the wind has died down so I can Go Paddle!




Wind Bound

Author: Ruth


“Say hi to Wilson, Jr.!”

Stephen spent four days on Pie Island trapped by high winds and waves. He couldn’t go far on the beach due to cliffs and the interior of the island was impenetrable bush. He had plenty of time to watch the four lanes of the shipping channel that freighters take into Thunder Bay and plan his strategy for the five mile crossing.




He was able to get some texts through to me.

“Too many mosquitoes to leave tent again. Flies arrived today, too.”

“I have never seen so many mosquitoes!”

“Looks like another day in mosquitoville.”

“Windier today than yesterday…not very promising, though it’s shifted to the northwest. Finally went ‘swimming’ yesterday. Shallow here, so not so cold. Sleeping Giant looks like Buddha.”




“Moved my campsite a quarter mile west, away from beaver dam(n)ed creek. Much better mosquito wise, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Wind and waves still rolling along.”

And yesterday, “Crossing shipping lane now, nothing in sight :)”


On the Rez

Author: Stephen

Pulled into the Grand Portage Marina Saturday afternoon, after a day paddling along the rocky coast through an ethereral fog. Beyond a hundred yards, everything was white, so I hugged the shore to keep my bearing. I lost my deck mounted compass a couple of days ago, and am now relying on my handheld, which I have tucked into my mapcase on the deck. 

I spent the previous night at Antonia’s Stop, my final campsite on Minnesota’s Kayak Trail. What a great thing the trail is: Campsites along the Minnesota shore every 15 miles or so, marked by signs visible from the water. The state DNR provides excellent maps, available for free at local outfitters. Launch sites and picnic areas are also identified. Matt and I had tentatively planned to meet at Arlo’s stop, which is close to Antonia’s, but we lost phone contact, and our paths diverged. It was great spending time with him. How can you not love a guy who makes you spruce tip tea?

The marina and campground is owned and managed by the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, “Gichionigamiing” in the Ojibwe language. It is one of six bands comprising the federally recognized Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

As I hadn’t had a day off from paddling for eight days, I decided to take a rest day Sunday. I slept in, then spent time organizing my jumble of food into breakfast, lunch and dinner bags. My solar panel seems seems to be dying after six summers on the lakes, and the marina manager, Ron, let me charge my radio, camera and phone batteries in the office. 

When I returned later to collect them, I ended up spending an hour talking with Ron. He’s a NavaJo, and most of his family is in Arizona.  He hasn’t seen them in nine years, and has watched his neices and nephews grow up via Facebook. One of his little brothers has been in jail for a year, awaiting sentencing for robbery. Unless he informs on the bad guys he’s been hanging with, he faces 40 years in the penitentiary. Ron said another brother is waiting to be sentenced on a drunk driving conviction that involved a head-on collision that killed someone. 

Ron has established a family of his own here, and become a valuable employee of the tribe. He works 10-15 hours a day, seven days a week, either at the marina or at a job just down the road at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, the band’s big money maker. I ate a huge walleye sandwich dinner there. I returned to my tent and slept like a waterlog.

It started to rain in the middle of the night, and when I awoke Monday the prediction was for it to continue all day. I rolled over and went back to sleep. When I finally crawled out of the tent, I set up my camp kitchen under the restroom roof overhang and made breakfast. 

Michelle, whom I met at the marina office the day before, was there cleaning the restrooms and laundry. I thanked her for doing such a good job. She said she works there four hours a day, four days a week. She’s saving money to buy a van. 

“Everybody calls me Tubby,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s been my nickname since I was a little girl and I fell into a wash tub.”  I laughed, and told her my sister put my brother in a dryer when he was little. “You and he would make a great couple,” I told her.

As Wikipedia says, “The Grand Portage National Monument is located on the reservation and managed by the National Park Service. The site includes a reconstructed trading post which is authentic for the 18th century.” Matt told me a couple of times that I should check it out. I popped open my umbrella, my favorite new piece of gear, and stolled through the rain a half mile down the road to the Heritage Center. The center is filled with artifacts and displays depicting the fur trading era, and beautiful examples of Ojibway art and craft. 

Across the road is the trading post. I walked there with one of the site interpreters, a retired teacher dressed in period clothing. This was her first season, and her job was to fill in for the more experienced interpreters when they took breaks, so she was in the process of learning a little bit about everything from wood turning to birchbark canoe construction.  

At 3 pm in the “Great Hall” there was a talk about canoe paddles, which I found fascinating. The park employee giving the presentation was making his first paddle, and was clearly enraptured with his subject. He started his talk with the quote, “We shape out tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” He called the paddle an “international tool.” 

I returned to the campsite, and made dinner under the overhang. Ron came up to use the restroom, and we were talking when his stepson drove up in a van. He was wearing a flat brim hip hop NY ball cap, and had “Family” tattooed in large script on his forearm.  He gave Ron a big hug and told him he’d missed him. He ask Ron when he was getting off work. “In an hour and a half. I’ll see you at home.”

“Good,” his son said, and gave him another deep hug. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, ” Ron said.

After the van left, Ron was quiet for a moment, then told me his son had just returned from a memorial for two of his cousins, who died a couple of weeks ago. The pair had spent the day at a powwow, and went out drinking with friends in the evening. Five of them got in two cars for a race. They didn’t know the road they were speeding on ended at a lake. Both cars when in. The cousins were in the front seat of one car. A girl in the back escaped, they didn’t. The kids in the other car managed to get out, and tried to dive down and rescue the cousins. It was too dark, and too deep. 

Ron said the boys’ mom was very strong at the memorial service, and focussed on sending a message to the youth.

“This has to stop here,” she said. “No more.”

I’m sitting at the casino now, typing in the hallway between the gaming room and the restaurant, at a little table flecked with cigarette burns. A couple just walked by. The man suddenly took the woman’s hand.
 “You’re holding my hand,” she said, beaming. “How sweet.”

  “I missed you,” he said. “Really bad.” 

Your papers, please?

Author: Stephen

Pushed off from the Tettegouche State Park kayak camping site July 4, where I started last summer’s trip, headed north this time around. Ruth drove me from Petoskey a few days earlier, and after a night at motel in Ashland, Wisc., one of the myriad funky motels that hug the Great Lakes coast, we arrived at an Air B&B in Grand Marais. We were joined there by friend Matt Pierle, who kindly took a break from living out of his Toyota Prius. I got right to work finalizing my packing, which meant fiilling every square inch of the living room with gear and food. We also brought Ruth’s Kruger canoe, and she and Matt took turns paddling around the Grand Marais harbor, which is lovely. The town was filled with visitors for the holiday, and Matt, who spent time here last fall, introduced us to some of the local folks and establishments, including the North House Folk School, where you can learn to build everything wooden, from spoons to schooners.


Filling boats with gear.

Filling boats with gear.

Matt, ever questing, joined me for my first day of paddling. Highlights included being dive bombed by an angry gull; Matt dragging his canoe up a cobblestone beach, heading up shore for a break, and the canoe zooming down the cobbles and back into the lake; and getting pulled over by a couple of Minnesota Conservation officers, who gave us two weeks to buy licenses for our canoes. Non-motorized canoes don’t need to be registered in Michigan, but every other official I’ve encountered around the lakes has let me slide. Not these two. They let me take their photo, though. Which they have to do, of course, as they are public officials on public property.




Matt and I ended up paddling about nine miles into a light wind, landing at Fenstad’s Resort, a postcard-perfect cluster of small varnished log cabins set on a sweet little cove. I called the office, and the man who answered (one of a few Mr. Fenstads, I learned later) gave me permission to leave my canoe in their little marina. Minnesota nice? You betcha.




Back at the B&B later that night, Matt announced that, despite our offer to loan him Ruth’s canoe and paddle, he wasn’t in the position to buy the $3 million dollars worth of additional gear he’d need to join me for the push around the north shore. Even if he sold his mountain bike and extensive collection of craft brewery coasters.


Bon voyage breakfast at the Blue Water Cafe in Grand Marais.

Bon voyage breakfast at the Blue Water Cafe in Grand Marais.

So the next day, I bid Ruth farewell for three weeks or so, and pushed off from Fenstad’s alone, boat loaded to the gills. I paddled about nine miles, into the wind again, passing beautiful smooth cliffs and wave-carved caves. Minnesota is unique among Great Lakes states and Ontario in that it has a designated kayak/canoe trail, with signed campsites along the shore. I found the Last Creek site, pulled Seaweed into a protected pool, emptied her of her living-room load of gear, and dragged her up the the big rocks to a safe spot above the waves for the night. The forecast was for lots of rain that night, continuing into the next day, so I anticipated a rain day.

Matt was still in the area, and had offered to provide support, so I gave him a call to see if he’d give me a ride back to Grand Marais so I could buy a boat license. He said yes, and ended up driving to Last Creek to camp with me that night. Michigan nice, eh?

So, papers in order, I’m at the Grand Marais library with Matt, typing away on my phone, which is bluetooth connected to a lightweight keyboard I bring along. (And I wonder why there’s no room to sit in Seaweed…) The old guy who took my chair when I got up to use the restroom mumbled “all these gadgets today” when I returned. He said when he was a boy the latest gadget was a crystal radio set, which he operated with a “cat whisker,”  no batteries required. I told him we don’t use cat whiskers anymore, they’ve been replaced with mouses.