It’s Monday, and I’ve been sitting all day on a wood framed green plaid couch, looking out a sliding glass door at Superior roiling into wavy whitecaps. As the wind has shifted from northwest to north to northeast, the waves have slowly grown larger and larger. The weather report last night predicted that today had a pretty good chance of rain, with waves to two feet. Which is why I’m on a couch instead of in the canoe. It said the chance of rain would increase tonight, and that tomorrow winds would rise to 25 mph, with waves building to eight feet. Which will mean more couch time, and reciting my mantra, “It’s better to be on land wishing you were at sea than on the sea wishing you were on land.”
I’m in a cozy little cabin overlooking Big Bay. It’s the home of Bill Kinjorski and Kristi Mills, and their son Thomas. I met them through my friend Timmo Skallerup, whose family owns the cabin. Bill and Kristi own Big Bay Outfitters, a wonderful shop in what used to be the village firehouse, township hall and jail. The village’s colorful history includes being the site of the shooting that inspired the book and movie “Anatomy of a Murder.”
I paddled into Big Bay on a sunny, calm Friday afternoon, passing on the way the tree covered red sandstone cliffs and white beaches of the Huron Mountain Club. As I rounded Salmon Trout Point into Big Bay, four peregrine falcons started kack-kacking, and swooped over me. They zoomed far out over the lake, chased each other a bit, then zoomed back to their perches atop trees high on the cliff. The fastest bird on record when diving, peregrines have been clocked at 175 mph.
Once in the bay I called Bill, and he directed me to a spot on the beach with a couple of kayaks and an aluminum canoe. The cabin, “Dunwerken,” was set back about 50 from water’s edge. Bill welcomed me at the beach, we talked a bit about my canoe and a place for me pitch my tent, and then he had to leave to shuttle some paddlers who had rented some of his kayaks.
I unloaded my gear, and was walking the mile or so into town when Bill and Kristi met me a short distance from their cabin. Bill was giving Kristi a lift home, and after he dropped her off on his way back he picked me up. I hung around the shop while I waited for my sister Pamela and my brother-in-law Dave to arrive from Madison, Wisc.
Big Bay comprises just a couple of churches, an inn, gas station/convenience store, bar, K-8 school, and Big Bay Outfitters. Bill stopped at the convenience store to buy us a couple of pasties, just out of the oven and about the size of the size of footballs. People were waiting at the shop when we arrived, and Bill was suddenly busy packaging worms, showing knives, and telling the “Anatomy” story about the visiting soldier who shot the local tavern owner. I retreated to the back of the shop, next to the old jail cell, and chewed into my pastie. A few minutes later, Bill came back with a tall, talkative guy, who was carrying a 60-inch bent shaft canoe paddle with a massive blade. “Paul, I want you to meet Stephen,” Bill said. “He’s paddling a Kruger canoe around the south shore.” Paul, retired military, knew all about Kruger, and his paddle was one designed by Kruger and made in Oscoda. Paul wanted to trade it for one in the shop. He knew Bill likes having unusual stuff in the shop, especially if it has an interesting history. Paul asked me all about my trip, my canoe, and the gear I’ve been using. He asked me what I had for a horn, and I told him a whistle. I said I’d used it recently to warn off a motorboat, and it wasn’t as loud as I would have liked. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I’ve got a small canister fog horn I don’t need. You can have it. I’ll drop it off here and Bill can bring it to you.”
Pamela and Dave arrived after a bit. The short cut they took from L’Anse turned into rutted gravel road, and the last 30 miles had taken them an hour and a half, which is lightening speed to me, but pretty slow by their standards.
As we were discussing camping possibilities, Kristi came forward and offered to let us use the cabin at their camp. “It’s for sale, but no one’s
using it,” she said. “There’s no water or electricity, but there’s an outhouse. It’s on a pretty little lake about a mile and a half from here. You’re welcome to stay there.”
We said it sounded perfect and, after following her directions, discovered it was. Set up on a birch tree and fern filled hill, the small wood cabin overlooked a sparkling little lake, which the three of us scrambled down to for a swim. Pam and Dave jumped in naked, but I was the shy one, and left my pants on, as there were some other cabins across the lake. Dave said they’d never notice, as “lots of people have flesh colored bathing suits.”
The next day the three of us took a hike to an outcrop on the bay known as “Black Rock.” We drove a mile or so out of town, and walked a half mile under a leafy canopy of tall birch, white pine and hardwoods. The woods suddenly ended at a steep cliff, from which descended a narrow trail. There were small trees and rocks to grab on the way down. Soon we were on the Black Rock, an upheaval of basalt, the original kind of rock on the planet, brought to the surface by an ancient volcano. The rocks were warm from the sun, and were perfect launch sites for jumping into the turquoise water. All three of us wore our flesh colored suits this time, which caught the attention of some people in a motor boat, who swerved near and tooted their horn.
Ruth arrived later that day, and we spent another night at the cabin. In the morning, we drove to Marquette. We found a funky motel, and then drove about four miles north of town to Sugar Loaf Mountain. It’s about a 20 minute, steep climb to the top, where it opens up to stunning views of the lake and surrounding hills and forests. I looked down at the islands and peninsulas off of Marquette. There were a couple of kayaks off in the distance, and seeing how small they were made me queasy.
Back in town, we gawked at the massive old sandstone buildings downtown, then ate dinner at The Vierling, an historic saloon for men, with adjacent “sipping room” for ladies.
My family left me on Sunday, and I set up my tent in the woods behind Dunwerken. The wind off the lake was building, and I wanted some distance and trees between me and the shore. The weather report was predicting waves as high as eight feet, though I don’t believe they got that big. They did get big enough to wash away a big section of the beach in front of the cottage, transforming a gentle slope to the beach into a four foot drop off. I had no desire to venture into the water, but Bill and Thomas couldn’t resist the pull, and spent a half hour diving into the surf. The lake quieted down a bit overnight, but by mid morning the waves had picked up steam again.
Bill and Kristi and Thomas have been so kind to me, feeding me, and letting me hang around the house reading from their library of great fiction and huge selection of books about canoeing. Today Kristi and Thomas took me on a hike up to the top of Pine Mountain, a 40-acre parcel her father bought the minute he saw it. On the way up we picked thimble berries and raspberries and blackberries. From the summit were amazing views of the Huron Mountains to the west, Superior to the north, and my water route to the east. A pair of juvenile red-tailed hawks hovered on an updraft about 30 feet above us.
The lake is finally calming down tonight, and it looks like I’ll be able to return to my water voyage tomorrow. The only delay I foresee now is waiting for a thimble berry scone to come out of the oven.