120 miles on Lake Superior
By the shores of Gitchi Gummee…
Four and a half years ago, we ran our first CAT kayak camping trip. We paddled on the south shore of Lake Superior, 6 miles from a campground on the mainland near Munising, Michigan to Trout Bay on Grand Island. For three young people, it was the first time camping out of a kayak, paddling on Lake Superior, building a fire, navigating on the water, getting an introduction to fog… The mosquitoes were worse than ANY of us had seen.
Every fall I try (not always successfully) to get away alone for a week. My first solo fall trip, in 2012, was the same itinerary as that first CAT kayak camping trip. I often try to take youth to my favorite paddling places – young people who were on that camping trip in 2014 have paddled with me on San Francisco Bay, on the Pacific and Sea of Cortez sides of Baja CA, in Scotland, Maine, and on Lakes Michigan and Superior.
We run programming almost every day during the summer, sometimes more than one. This summer, we worked with over 260 youth, delivering over 5,000 participant hours of programming. That’s a lot of hours of pulling gear, cleaning gear, repairing gear, putting gear away, keeping track of gear… It’s also a lot of hours of email, scheduling, program planning and program debriefing. When we’re not on the water or on the rock or on the trail, or dealing with the gear and logistics to be on the water or on the rock or on the trail, we’re visiting youth in prison or the hospital. We’re attending court dates and funerals; graduations and award ceremonies. We’re trouble shooting with young people who’ve lost their housing or are trying to figure out transportation to a job interview when they don’t have money for a bus pass or to keep their phone on. We’re listening to the tragedies in our young people’s lives, and celebrating the victories. Around the edges, we’re raising money, monitoring the cash flow, trying to return emails and phone calls.
It’s rewarding work – we’re lucky to have jobs that are meaningful and help make life better for at least one person. And, by the time the summer is over, I try to get away. Because it’s also demanding, exhausting work.
This year, I got back to Grand Island. It’s in the middle of the 120 mile Hiawatha Water Trail. I learned about the trail, and got the map, on that first solo trip in 2012. Then, it didn’t occur to me to paddle the full length – a 2 night solo trip to Trout Bay, with a water spout sighting to add excitement, was plenty daring and daunting! Over the years, I got curious about it.
A few of the spots that caught my breath…
About 2 weeks ago, I realized that there was a fortuitous, and relatively unlikely, weather window just when we were closing the office for a week as summer programming ended. We got back from a camping trip on Sunday – on Monday I went grocery shopping, did laundry, re-packed clothes and food, arranged a shuttle and logistics for both ends of the trip, and headed to the UP. For 5 days and 120 miles I paddled along towering dunes, multi colored cliffs, jumbled boulders, steep cobblestone beaches and wide sandy beaches. I paddled along red sandstone, black and gray granite, and yellow sand. I paddled through sandy water murky from eroded dunes, stunningly clear turquoise, green and dark blue water, steel and bronze colored water reflecting the hazy sky, tannin-stained water gold by shore and red where small rivers meet the Lake. I saw mink and a baby snapping turtle, and several bald eagles every day. I think, for the first time in my life, I heard wolves in the wild.
Lunch spots were as good as the camping spots…
The trip was well within my abilities, but challenging nevertheless. With a 2:00 pm start the first day (it’s a long shuttle to drive first…) and about 15 miles to my first campsite, I had to average a bit over 25 miles a day after that. I’ve paddled that daily mileage and more, but not on consecutive days. It took its toll – I was really tired at the end of every single day, and moving slow every morning. I had a good weather report – south winds would provide protection for the whole trip. Coupled with clear skies, my forecast would mean safety. But on Day 4 and 5, a “chance of showers and slight chance of thunder showers” crept into the forecast. I started listening to the forecast – marine and regular – every hour to see if it was changing. Both days, the wind unexpectedly turned to the north for a while. If it stayed north and built, my protected paddle would become exposed quickly, with limited landing or camping spots. Day 4 had enough places I could land and camp, and even end the trip if I needed to; Day 5 had precious few places to land, fewer that looked like I could camp, and almost no places I could end the trip instead of hunkering down and waiting. While these were gorgeous paddling days, the stress level was higher as I constantly re-formulated plans, re-checked the weather and watched the water and sky.
The north winds settled down both days, and my original itinerary proved more than possible. By Day 5, I was pleased to find myself ready to be thinking about CAT again, making plans for next year with enthusiasm instead of beleagueredly. The most exciting of those plans is that I won’t be around next season. I will be taking a sabbatical, and 2 long-term staff will be running the organization. You can find more information about Laura Statesir and Zorbari Nwidor coming soon. (Until then, you can check out their bios on our staff page.) I’m confident about leaving the organization in their hands; and I’m pleased that CAT is organizationally ready to run without me. When I return next fall, it should allow me to return in a different role, putting the time and energy needed into several projects we’ve been dreaming about for several years now. Laura and Zorbari’s jobs will be much easier if you can help us even out our cash flow a bit by becoming a monthly donor. We are 20% of the way to our goal of 10 new monthly donors before the end of 2018.
I’ve included some photos of my trip here. For more photos, check out the Google album.
(more photos here, where you can see them better… 🙂 )