Posts Tagged ‘circumnavigation Lake Superior’

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!




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.


Safe Harbor

Author: Stephen



It was sunny and breezy as I paddled east toward the Ontonagon breakwall. Three-foot waves were breaking over the left rear quarter of my canoe, and I had to pay close attention and correct my stroke for each one. About a half mile from the channel entrance, I noticed a large crowd on the beach. Most were looking in the direction of the lake, but a line of men in dark suits had their backs to me. I saw a white dress. A wedding. Now I really didn’t want to dump. Fifteen minutes later I was relieved to make it to the channel entrance and out of sight of the wedding without mishap, but it was very choppy between the channel’s rip-rap walls, and it was another quarter mile before things calmed down.




The wide Ontonagon River was chocolate brown. On the left was a massive light brown steel building I’d seen for miles as I made my way along the white sand and green dune grass coast. It didn’t look real old, but did look abandoned. On my right was an old, cream-colored brick lighthouse, in front of which a man fished from an open aluminum boat. We waved. Downtown was on the left.
My map indicated a marina ahead on the right. That’s where I headed.

I paddled between the red and green buoys marking the marina entrance. The rock-lined yacht basin had room for about 40 boats at its docks. I paddled toward the brick office set back about 30 feet from the water’s edge. A small wood ramp angled over the rocks into the water. I climbed out and dragged the canoe onto the ramp.

The office sign said “OPEN,” but no one was there. I was in my knee-high boots, and tromped over to the fish cleaning station, where a bunch of smiling guys were deftly cutting their catches, sipping beers, and laughing about the ones that got away. I asked if the harbormaster was around, and one said, “Yeah, his scooter’s there. Try calling the cell phone number that’s posted on the window.”
I went back, found the number with the harbormaster’s name – Tom Lee – and dialed it. A cell phone on the desk rang. I was in no rush, and was happy to drop into one of the white plastic chairs and wait.

It wasn’t long before a trim, white-mustached man in suspendered blue jeans, heavy green shirt and cap embroidered with “Ontonagon Harbormaster” pushed through the storm door. “Mr. Lee?” I asked. I’m always a bit trepidatious about the reception I’ll receive, but, as usual, I was greeted warmly.
“Yep. How can I help you?”
I explained I was attempting to paddle my canoe around the south shore of the lake, and wondered if I might be able to park my boat and pitch a tent for a couple of days.
“I’m sure we can figure something out,” he said, striding over to take a look at “Seaweed.”
“She’s a decked canoe,” I explained. “Made by Verlen Kruger. Ever heard of him?” He nodded. “It’s number 114,” I said. “The only all-green one he made.”
“I like that you know those details,” he said. “Means you’re a boat person.”

That he knew of Kruger told me he was a boat person, too. Even though Kruger was from Michigan, and has the Guinness Record for most miles paddled – more than 100,000 – I’ve encountered few people on these trips of mine who’ve heard of him.

“You can put your boat anywhere it’s convenient for you,” Tom said. I asked about tying it up at a dock, and he suggested next to his sailboat. He led me down the dock, and introduced me to “Viking,” a 30-foot Allied Seawind ketch, appropriately adorned with a figurehead of a Viking. As we walked back to the office, he pointed to a grassy area with picnic tables, and suggested I put my tent there.
“Well, I’ve got to charge you something, to put you in the books,” he said. “How’s five bucks sound?”
“Sounds steep,” I said, happily. At the office, he signed me in, gave me a key to the washroom, and we proceeded to become friends. I told him that over the past five years I’ve managed to circumnavigate lakes Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario, and that I started my current voyage in early July at Silver Bay, Minn. I’m hoping to make it to the St. Marys River by September. If that works out, I’d like to paddle between those two points along the north shore next summer.
It turns out Tom and I have visited a lot of the same Great Lakes ports, as he sailed another of his sailboats, “Windsong II,” a 27-foot C&C sloop, from Ontonagon to Ft. Pierce, Fla. Windsong is now the winter home of he and his wife, Margaret.
“Hey,” he said. “You don’t need to sleep in a tent tonight. You can sleep on Viking. How about that?”
How about that, indeed.




He walked me back to his boat, gave me a tour, and I as far as I was concerned, I was checked into the best room in Ontonagon.




I’m being especially cautious on Superior, and thanks to Tom and the marina, I was able to comfortably take shelter from 3 days of wind and rain. Throughout my stay, I occasionally stopped into his office, and one of many things we discussed was the value of a marina to sailors, and to the host community.

Marinas have been a major help to me as I’ve made my way around the lakes. In addition to the sanctuary they’ve provided from the roiling lakes, they’ve been a place to fill my water bottles, take a shower, and obtain information about the coastline. Most have been a short walk into downtown, where I restock groceries and any supplies I might need, and enjoy a meal of something other than dehydrated beans.





During my time in Ontonagon, friends Nancy and Joe Kowalski caught up with me while they were on a long weekend road trip. They parked their trailer at the township park, and in the morning we joined Tom and another sailor, Dale, for breakfast at Syl’s Cafe. Then Nancy, Joe and I spent the afternoon exploring Porcupine Mountains State Park. We finished the day hitting a couple of bars in town.




Ontonagon’s economy, like many around the Great Lakes, has gone through a series of booms and busts over the past couple of hundred years. So-called “growth” industries extracted the copper, and cut down the trees for lumber and pulp. A shifting global economy, and unwillingness to mitigate their environmental impacts, brought those industries to a halt. The once-thriving commercial fishery was decimated by the introduction of the sea lamprey. A government subsidized shipbuilding business – the shuttered building I passed on my way in – folded due to corrupt management.
This area hasn’t lost it’s awesome beauty, though, and tourism keeps a variety of businesses going.

I said to Tom that marinas like Ontonagon’s could be a valuable link of the proposed Great Lakes Water Trail. The goal is to create a paddling and cycling trail route around the 7,000 miles of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River shoreline that stretches across eight U.S. states and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Tom agreed.




There’s a lot to see and do here, and if every visitor receives a welcome like the one I got, they’ll return. I’m hoping to. Maybe I’ll ride my bike next time…


Lake slippery as silk. Gentle tailwind puffing me along. The biggest quiet I’ve been in in a long, long time.




The day started with a walk around sleepy Cornucopia with Lucas Will, who let me stay on his sailboat, Si Como No, last night, which was one of many kindnesses he extended over the brief time we were together. He also cooked up some brats, filled me with fine Wisconsin beer, and passed on a boatload of insights he has about getting around Superior, based on a kayak circumnavigation he and a friend completed four years ago. He also unhesitatingly offered to loan me a battery for my solar charger, as mine isn’t holding a charge like it used to.


Lucas Will and Tisha

Lucas Will and Tisha


Lucas had emailed me a few months ago, after finding He wants to paddle around the other Great Lakes, too, and wanted to talk with me about my experience. I wrote back to tell him I was going to attempt the south shore of Superior, and he said I should look him up when I made it to Corny. He and his girlfriend, Natalie, recently bought the sailboat, and he’s living on it this summer while he leads kayak trips to the Apostle Islands for the local outfitter, and Natalie’s off leading a small group of high school girls on a 45-day backpacking trek through the Brooks Range. At least that was the original plan.

The morning I arrived, Lucas found out he’d been selected for a job running an outdoor education program at Northland College, in Ashland. The job starts in early August, and he said he was pretty sure he was going to take it. A regular paycheck, a chance to pay off his student loans, insurance, and it’s actually in his field of study.

I said goodbye to Lucas at the outfitter, and headed back to the sailboat to collect my gear. Seaweed was also tied up at the dock, so I went through my ritual of laying prone on the dock, reaching down to pull off the cover, stepping down into the seat, reaching back up for the drybags, camera box, water containers and the rest of the flotsam, and smushing it all into the bow and stern. Then I pulled the cover back over, zipping open the space around the cockpit for yours truly.
An Army Corps of Engineers’ pickup truck arrived at the launch ramp near me as I was wrapping up, dropping a big aluminum work boat into the marina basin. A smiling guy in an ample blue work shirt walked along the dock, looked down and asked, “Travelin’ light?” “Trying to,” I said. “What a beautiful day, eh?”
“Yes sir, sure is. We’re just gonna do some survey work in the channel. It’s my last day, and it’s her first day,” he said, nodding toward the young woman in an orange life vest at the boat’s wheel, as she backed the boat into the steel sheeting lining the ramp. “You retiring?” Big smile. “Yes sir, sure am.”
They motored out, she at the wheel, he leaning back in a seat at the stern. I unmoored Seaweed, and floated away, snapping a couple of photos of Si Como No as I glided past her. The work boat was banging into the channel rip rap as I left, and the man who wasn’t coming to work tomorrow gave me a big wave.



Si Como No (Why Not?)


I crossed a two-mile bay and entered the Apostle Islands National Seashore. Tall, red sandstone bluffs jut up from the lake 50 feet. Countless waves have carved smooth caves into the base. I paddled through a 20 foot wide fissure 40 feet into the bluff. High above, a massive slab of rock spans the chasm. I ogled, the lake gurgled.






Over the next couple of hours I encountered three groups of kayakers, their bright colored boats brilliant against the dark water and burnt red rock. I considered heading out to one of the islands, but saw a lovely stretch of sand beach on the mainland, and was lured in. It was still early afternoon, but the beer last night and the heat today had tired me out. And it was so quiet, I just wanted to stop and listen.



A Superior Week

Author: Stephen
Rain Day

Rain Day


On each of my previous trips, the first week was the most challenging. So far, Superior has been no different in that regard. Worries about whether I have the right clothing, enough or too little food, where I will stay, if I’m prepared for an emergency, unknown wind and waves… The list is endless. Then I push off, and what will be, is.
The cold water is scary. Water temps were in low 40’s where I started, which ruled out my daily bath. It’s in the low 50’s now, where I’m taking a rain day off on the Wisconsin coast, about 20 miles from Duluth. The mosquitoes have been happy to see me, but they’ve been manageable so far. The marshy island I stayed on in Superior, Wisc., two nights ago was loaded with American dog ticks. I’d encountered them a couple of days prior at a river mouth where I camped, and got a couple of bites, and had become very biased against them. As I got out of the canoe on the island, I said to myself, looks like this could be Ticksville. I was wrong, it was Ticktropolis. I survived without a bite, though, by stomping the grass flat around my hammock, tucking my pant legs into my socks, pulling my bug shirt on tight, compulsively brushing my hands across my shirt every few minutes, and dumb luck.


Thick with ticks.

Thick with ticks.


Thankfully, I haven’t encountered any on this beach I’m staying now. The rocky Minnesota coast was beautiful, though intimidating with its lack of landing spots.


Splitrock Lighthouse, seen on the first day of paddling in Minnesota.

Splitrock Lighthouse, July 7


The sandy stretches along this stretch of Wisconsin are a welcome change. The sun is setting over the lingering rain clouds, so I’m off to bed. Thanks to everyone for the warm wishes. If I have one regret, it’s not having said enough how much your support of my going around in watery circles means to me.



At the mouth of the Bois Brule, Tuesday, July 15.




Stephen ready to embark from a beach at Tettegouche State Park.


“My previous four trips have been wonderful, but I’m especially excited about this one. People for years have been asking me, ‘When are you going to do the Big One?’ Well, here I go.”


And go we did. Stephen and I drove 10 hours to the rugged coast 50 miles north of Duluth, Minnesota. We spent a day sightseeing around Silver Bay, which included an unplanned return trip to Duluth to pick up a replacement for the VHF weather radio that had made it around four great lakes, but gave up the ghost just before the launch into Lake Superior.




The breakdown: 138 pounds of gear, 65 pounds of boat, 50 pounds of food, 20 pounds of water, and the engine, 145 pounds of paddler.



Rocky Taconite and Ruth


Silver Bay is a town built by a mining company and is the self proclaimed taconite capital of the world. They have a mascot; imagine our surprise at meeting Rocky Taconite a block away from our hotel. The giant processing plant on the lake shore rumbled night and day through our window. There, the iron containing rock of the Mesabi Range, delivered by train, is pulverized, heated and formed into small pellets of iron ore that are shipped to steel mills by great lake freighters. The Edmund Fitzgerald specialized in taconite shipping and was carrying a full load from the iron ranges of Minnesota in November, 1975.



Moon and fireworks over the Mariner Hotel on the 4th of July.


The wind was up and the water rough, preventing his planned weekend departure, and I had to return to Petoskey. As we were saying a reluctant goodbye on Sunday, we saw our first monarch butterfly of the year. Monarchs were Verlen Kruger’s talisman, and as he was the canoeist who designed and built Stephen’s boat, this was clearly a good omen. On Monday, July 7, Stephen launched Seaweed into Lake Superior and began to head south to Duluth. From there he will make his way across northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the mouth of the St. Mary’s River near Sault Ste. Marie, roughly half the distance around this largest lake in the world. He hopes to complete his paddle around Superior in the summer of 2015.