Aug 20, 2012

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.

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