Aug 20, 2012

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

    I will forever remember the Apostle Islands as the place where I was taught that, despite being thirty years old and married, we can still be scared like a little trembling children. There’s not much in this world that truly scares me. Apparently a violent thunderstorm while camping on a tiny island off the northern tip of Wisconsin is one of them.  The lightning flashed with such frequency that it created a strobe effect as Amanda and I peered through the tiny window on the roof of our tent at the trees above flashing and dancing in the storm. That wasn't the scary part. The rain came in spurts, sometimes heavy. That wasn’t the scary part. What truly made me fear my maker was the wind. The sound started with a whisper and steadily grew with every bolt of lightning above. Within twenty minutes we were certain there was a tornado. We heard the train roaring through. The sound was absolutely deafening. I was waiting for trees to start falling. It roared and howled for another twenty minutes and then it quickly dissipated.

    Amanda and I let out a sigh of relief and went back to worrying about the bear that paid our campsite a visit three hours earlier. 

    The Apostle Islands consist of 22 islands of similar shapes and sizes. We had chosen to explore them by sea kayak. It was a quick adventure. We spent only two nights on the islands. I would guess we kayaked about thirty miles in total. The islands were indeed beautiful. Each island boasted red rock cliffs the fell into Lake Superior forming caves and beautiful sculptures on their way to the water’s edge.

    The windy conditions and accompanying whitecaps made our crossing from island to island more harrowing and difficult than we would have hoped for. However, once we reached the leeward side of the islands we were greeted by beautiful and peaceful calm. We sat in our tandem kayak and watched the bald eagles skillfully hunt fish from the lake. We ended both days by eating our dinner on the west-facing beaches eating our pre-planned dinners. It was a memorable and sometimes scary adventure that we will always remember. 


Isle Royale

    “Are you the passengers on the flight off the island?” The approaching long-haired park ranger asked the four of us. The answer of course was “yes” as we sat on a dock wearing self inflating orange personal flotation devices staring at a plane floating in the water with all of our bags on board. “We’re in a holding pattern” he replied back.

    About thirty minutes prior to this Ranger’s uninspired attempt to cover the truth, Amanda and I, along with Willy and John, two guys who had been fishing for the past seven days from a canoe, were sitting in that small seaplane. Our pilot had loaded us up and was untying from the dock when a different Park Ranger with a crew-cut motored up in a boat, tied off, and began arguing with the pilot. It was odd. The pilot told the Ranger that he had to fly, the weather was changing for the worse, and that he had been docked for over an hour and would have been happy to discuss said dispute which brought this overzealous park ranger to our dock that day, but now, he had to fly.

    Then the Taser gun came out.  The pilot, obviously fraught with disbelief, took one look at that Taser in the crew-cut Park Ranger’s hand and walked away. Not that I can blame him. However, as the park ranger chased after him, Taser in hand, us four passenger were left in a situation that none of us had ever encountered before. Being the obedient humans we are, we sat on the plane waiting for someone to tell us to do otherwise. The boat taxi driver came by about fifteen minutes later advising us that he thought we’d be here a while.  So we de-planed ourselves.

    After the long-haired park ranger proudly used his airport lingo on us, Amanda and I decided to hike over to the only restaurant on this remote island in Lake Superior for some much needed lunch.  We had, in fact, hiked more than seven miles that morning without a proper meal.

    Our adventure began four days prior. The same pilot flew us from the Houghton/Hancock airport in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That’s the part of Michigan with trees and moose, rather than blighted cities and car factories.  Thirty minutes later we landed in the bay at Windigo on the west end of Isle Royale.  Isle Royale is the least visited National Park in the country. It is an island about 40 miles long and maybe ten miles wide, boasting healthy moose and wolf populations and no bears. 


    The four day trek from the west to the east end of the island was absolutely wonderful. We averaged about 11 miles per day. The weather was perfect. And while we never saw a moose or wolf, we spent hours upon hours simply soaking up the raw, untamed beauty of nature in this pristine island ecosystem. In day one we saw one other group of hikers. In day two we saw one other hiker. We camped on the water and drank from the lakes. Each day we looked forward to reaching our next campsite so that we could just relax and get bored in nature. Isle Royale was not the most beautiful or most challenging hike we had ever completed. But it was somehow the most comfortable. The path was mostly soft dirt, the climbs were never more than 800 feet, and there were no bears to worry about. The weather was nearly perfect and the mosquitoes nearly non-existent. The trip was perfect, except for one thing.

    As Amanda and I drank our beers at this only island restaurant, discussing the amazing hike we had just completed, we saw our pilot being escorted in handcuffs. Great.

      I will abruptly end this story by saying we never got our food.  A third Park Ranger rushed us off away from our beers to the plane and suddenly our pilot appeared in front of us. We flew away feeling a bit like escaped convicts.  It was a strange ending to an otherwise incredible adventure. We don’t know exactly what was going on between the pilot and the Park Service. However, the pilot seemed calm enough and we landed safely at the airport thirty minutes later. I’m pretty sure the one passenger waiting to fly back to the island was certain the plane had crashed over Lake Superior. Nobody had told him a thing in the two hours he sat alone at the tiny airport. He looked scared out of his mind. We asked him to take our photo.

High Stakes in the Great Lakes

    We skipped stones into lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior. We rode bikes through the Tunnel of Trees. We rode a tandem around the perimeter of the car-less vacation destination of Macinac Island. We flew in a sea plane. We hiked 44 miles in four days across Isle Royale. We ate whitefish for breakfast. We kayaked in Lake Superior for three days. We spent the night on an island all by ourselves. We admired maple, birch, helm, and countless other tress. We saw bald eagles, bears, snakes, and everything in between. We ate amazing meals and not so amazing meals. We camped six out of eleven nights. We hiked in the sand dunes. We contemplated life while staring at the calm Lake Michigan. We traveled from Wisconsin to Michigan in the last operating coal powered steam ship in the country. We visited with family, we danced at a wedding, and we got bored in nature. Most importantly, we loved every minute of it. We cooked twelve meals from a camping stove aptly named a “Pocket Rocket”.  We read, we talked, and we sat in silence. We drove nearly 1500 miles passing hundreds of lakes.

    Amanda and I skipped a foreign destination for this year’s big vacation. We instead opted to explore Amanda’s own backyard. The great lakes are an incredible, if not underrated, region of our country.  We encountered endless miles of beautiful farmland set amongst dense and healthy forests. It is a region that while heavily populated, still has a lot to offer in the way of solemn serenity.  Our Great Lakes vacation may not have been our most scenic or interesting destination that we have embarked on. However, what it lacked in these qualities it made up for in other ways. We loved the hospitality and immaculately manicured gardens. We loved the clean trails and litter-free highways. We gawked at the endless miles of vacation homes lining hundreds of lakes busy with vacationers from further south. We engulfed ourselves in the nature and aside from one violent thunder storm, never worried about a thing. Everything went according to plan, including the weather.

    We ended the trip in Amanda’s hometown of Ann Arbor for her dad’s birthday. The only thing Amanda and I enjoyed more than the trip itself was each other’s company.