September 12, 2010
Mile 795 – 845
Isle Royale National Park, MI to Grand Marais, MN
I finally got myself out of bed early this morning, in order to take one last short hike over to nearby Lake Mason, in hopes of seeing wildlife or at least getting a few more moments of solitude. The hike was shorter than I’d thought, and there was no wildlife, but it did make a nice, peaceful place to sit and enjoy the morning. Technically, I had seen the sun rise from my shelter (and a beautiful view it was), but I got to see it actually come up, sitting on a rock next to Lake Mason, blinded by the light glinting off of wet branches. The dew and fog never quite got around to burning off back in that lake (probably because it was
actually leftover rain, not really dew), before I had to head back down and get myself packed up.
My tent had mostly dried in the night, and I made myself some breakfast and a Nalgene of tea while loading my pack for the last time. Waiting on the dock with the guys from Detroit, I reflected on how different my trip was from what theirs would be. For all of my concerns of being ill-equipped for the trek, I was far better off than they were. Moreover, my journey had been a solo one, with minimal human contact. I can’t say that it would be better or worse to be hanging out with my buddies the whole time – just different. A different interaction with myself, and with the world around me.
Before long, the Voyageur II came along to pick us up, and I got my last view of Chippewa Harbor as we pulled out into the Lake. The sun had started heating up the day by that time, causing the
winds and waves to pick up a little, and by the time we got to Malone Bay, the calmer harbor waters were welcome. The Detroit guys had been impressed by the distance we had traveled in about an hour – and a bit nervous about having to walk that whole distance back again! I felt a little bit satisfied with myself for having already hiked that – and more, and was looking forward to impressing myself with the distance we had yet to travel to Windigo.
By the time we got to that next harbor, a little under two hours later, it felt as if two days had elapsed – the boat pitched and rolled with the high waves, water crashing against the decks and leaking in around the window frames. The mate referred to the lake as a “roller coaster” that day – I might have called it a bucking bronco – but I guess it depended on whether we were headed directly into the waves or were hitting them on the side. Neither way was particularly fun, though the former provided a little more predictability. Focusing all of my mental and physical energies on not getting nauseous, listening to the clanging of deck doors and hearing the slapping and washing of water along the length of the boat, I found myself dredging up repressed memories of my journey across the Pacific. Truly, I thought that I didn’t remember anything of that day and a half of seasickness, half asleep and half puking, but vivid mental pictures of the Navarino’s storm-tossed cabin and deck came back to me! Perhaps if I had had the coves and ridges of Isle Royale to fix my gaze on then, I could have avoided it after all! As it was, I was very relieved to make it to the calm waters of the bay around Windigo. It was really beautiful, threading through the many smaller islands that surround that harbor, and I found myself thinking it would be fun to paddle on a calmer day (there are a few boat-access campsites out on those islands, too). After loading up the rest of the boat with passengers and their cargo, we headed back another wave-tossed two hours to the mainland, and I was happier to reach Grand Portage than I ever thought I would be! Kudos to the captain and crew for getting us there as quickly and smoothly as possible – I know they weren’t enjoying it any more than we were.
After seeing nothing but water streaming down steamed-up windows for all of that time, it was a bit surreal to step out into a warm and sunny, if breezy, day. It made for a nice drive back down 61 to Grand Marais. I treated myself to a good dinner (and an overpriced, but delicious, beer), and realized for the first time that I was ravenous – and exhausted! I hadn’t planned on being so tired after a day of doing nothing but sitting on a boat… but I also hadn’t planned on using all my strength to stay in my seat! I headed out of town and decided to stay at the first campground I came to, at Cascade River State Park, a few miles south of Grand Marais. I could still hear the waves of Lake Superior (along with cars passing on the highway, and folks laughing around campfires), but a couple cushy pillows in my tent made all the difference, and I fell quickly asleep…