The LONG Drive
We left Sandusky, OH on July 17, 2006 for a LONG 12 hour drive to the Upper Peninsula.
We arrived at the Makinac Bridge just in time for some 40mph winds and a fairly severe lightning storm. Seeing that we had two 17 foot kayaks strapped to the top of my Jeep, the folks who "run the bridge" decided that we needed an escort over the bridge due to the high winds. Needless to say, having your car rocked from side to side while driving over a rather large and deep body of water makes for some excitement.
As we drove deeper and deeper, jamming to String Cheese Incident tunes through the Upper Peninsular, I could tell that this would be a trip to remember. Much of the drive is on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. The scenery was fantastic and made for a great road trip. Within 20 miles of Houghton MI, our destination, a coyote and a black bear ran in front of the jeep...within feet. Unfortunately, we failed to hit a Sasquatch.
After a night's rest at a local hotel, we woke up and headed down to the dock to board the Ranger III. I had my doubts about them getting 2 kayaks on a boat, but once I saw this thing those were quickly erased.
After a 1 hour trip up the river, we headed out into open water for a 4 hour trip across Lake Superior with calm waters and sunny skies. The trip over consisted of several bowls of chili, a few presentations, and many cigarettes smoked on the deck. We couldn't have asked for better weather.
Upon arrival at Rock Harbor, we were eager to load our boats and get moving. We had approx. 4 hours of daylight to get to our first camp at Duncan Bay. Paddling counter-clockwise around the island, we passed around the infamous Blake Point, and down past "The Pallisades". We sighted several moose along the shoreline, and more birds than I can name here. To the north, the profile and summit of Sleeping Giant was clearly visible and quite impressive. Along the way, we passed a boat of scuba divers who were exploring one of the many shipwrecks on the north side of the island.
As we continued to that night's destination, the wind began to pick up which was a sign of things to come. We arrived at Duncan Narrows campground around 5:30PM, and found the shelters were sturdy, clean, and, most importantly, bug free. We quickly hauled our boats from the water and began to set up camp and unpack.
While I was busy setting up my sleeping bag, Joe called in to tell me that there was a fox about 3 feet from home. Knowing that Joe is a compulsive liar, I dismissed the idea and walked out to see what he was yipping about. I believe the first words from my mouth were "Holy shit...a fox!" And adult red fox and it's cub had decided to show up and scrounge for food. The animals were obviously used to human company as they would come within arm's length before running off again. The pair hung out with us for the rest of the evening, until they figured out that we weren't going to feed them.
Just as I had settled in on the boat dock (we had the entire place to ourselves), and began to marvel about the view...the diving boat we had passed showed up and parked right in front of our staked out site. As I ate my Backpcker's Pantry "beef stroganoff" and took in the amazing view...of a dive boat full of idiots... they proceeded to cook steaks on their boat. I had high hopes that they would offer us a steak, but my faith in the kindness of mankind is obviously misplaced. The boatful of people finished off their meal with about 173 cases of beer, and kept quite noisy until 10 or so at night. So much for the peace and quite of the woods.
We rose early the next morning, Wednesday, to pack and head further up Duncan Bay. After about 45 minutes of paddling directly into a 30 knot wind, we reached our first portage. Not much to say about the portage, other than it sucked. Hoping upon hope that we would find less wind on the other side of the ridge, we put our kayaks back into the water in another bay. We opted to take a "short-cut" to shave off a portage, and rounded Hill Point to find a very strong head wind and 5-6 foot waves in open water.
As we paddled over the open waters of Five Finger bay, it was quite clear that Lake Superior was nothing to mess around with. What had started out as fairly calm water, quickly grew larger and larger. In the 70+ degree waters of Lake Erie, this is nothing to worry about. Up here, we would have quickly been in trouble in the event of a capsize. What should have taken 2 hours in calm waters, took us nearly 4 hours of HARD paddling. There were several moments where things could have gone very badly in a hurry.
After a hellish 4 hours, we reached our destination at Belle Isle. There is nothing more frustrating than paddling hard, resting, and immediately going in reverse. For every stroke forward, it felt like we'd move 2 strokes the other way. Naturally, after we pulled our boats from the water the skies cleared up and the winds died. This is further proof that God has a warped sense of humor. Our campsite at Belle Isle is situated on the remains of an old resort. Traces of the foundation and fireplace/oven can still be found..and make for an excellent fire pit. We spent the evening climbing to the top of the ridge behind our shelter for some great shots of Five Finger Bay and to stretch our legs a bit. We stayed up late into the night star gazing and shooting the bull with some fellow hikers.
When we woke the next morning to start heading back to Rock Harbor, we quickly found that the wind had shifted to bless us with another headwind. While the lake was much more calm, the wind was still fairly strong. We took the long way back around to Duncan Narrows, stopping multiple times to take pictures. We settled back into Duncan Narrows mid-afternoon, and our fox decided to show up again.
We decided at this point that it would be a good idea for a swim....as I jumped off the dock, there was an instant thought in my head of "I bet this water is cold". When I hit the water, I could swear that my heart stopped...the water temp in Lake Superior stays around 50 degrees...I'm now a firm believer that the human body is not meant to be submerged in waters this cold. So I pulled myself out of the water, then did it all over again. We again stayed up late that evening and saw an excellent meteor shower taking place in the heavens over Lake Superior.
The following morning, we hauled around the island(in a headwind...again) back to Rock Harbor, as our ferry left the next morning. We did quite a bit of hiking, taking a tour along the Tobin Harbor trail and seeing an excellent display of "sun dogs" over the lake. That evening, a moose and her calf put on a show about 5 feet from our shelter. I was off hiking, so Joe got the pictures. That night, we finally heard the Isle Royale wolves howling. I had my doubts that is was wolves, but the rangers the next morning confirmed it. You haven't experienced the woods until you've heard wolves howling. Incredible!
The rest of the trip was uneventful: Another 5 hour boat ride, a few bowls of chili, and an insane 12 hour drive back to Sandusky to arrive home at 5AM.
Isle Royale is one of the true gems in the United States. Though I did very little hiking on this trip, it was a great "scouting" trip and I look forward to returning in the future.