The annual Fall Trip found us back at the Sauna Islands between the US-Canadian border on the Pigeon River and Thunder Bay, ON. The three stalwarts, RangerMark, the BadHatter, and I were joined by RickH as he worked on another leg of his two weeks per summer goal of paddling around Lake Superior, which he will complete with three more week long segments if my memory is correct. It was the most beautiful weather and water that any paddler could hope for and we dawdled from island to island from just south of Thunder Bay to Little Pigeon Bay on the border. Other than the popular sauna on the eastern tip of Thompson Island, where we ran into two native Finlanders drinking cans of Bud and enjoying the heat, we only saw three other people on the entire trip but they were an interesting trio.
We had just finished a healthful lunch of sausage, cheese, and pretzels, washed down by a fine lake temperature Surly Bitter, and I had launched to get a little more fishing in at the prescribed trolling speed of 2mph before the rest of the armada caught up. I saw paddle flashes ahead and a large double and a single were heading my way. When I was able to make out the headgear on a couple of the paddlers I thought I might be seeing the first Muslim paddlers that I've ever encountered on the water but I was wrong. It was just protective headgear which covered the neck and lower part of the face from the sun. The boats had Canoeing Down Under logos on them and the first words out of the paddlers mouths confirmed that this was indeed a Australian group. It turns out that Terry is the owner of a popular kayak and canoe shop in Perth, AU. He has done several long expeditions including the entire Mississippi, Yukon, and McKenzie Rivers. His two companions, Alaine and Leo, had joined him a few weeks back as he paddled the old fur trade route from the eastern edge of the Canadian Rockies to Montreal. Portaging a kayak is not something I ever want to do but apparently they had done so innumerable times, each one a three trip carry. We immediately felt at home with the group and kind of wished we were going in the same direction so we could hear more about the trip but that was not the case. We steered them in the direction of Smooth Rock camp on Spar Island, told them there was beer resupply in Silver Islet, and encouraged a stop at the Rossport Inn and Serendipity B&B when they got to that point. We wished them the best of luck and safe paddling. They commented that they had heard about Lake Superiors reputation but had nothing but flat calm and a bit of chop since they launched from Grand Portage. We told them we hoped that would continue but Tuesdays forecast looks like Gitchee Gumee may become a bit angry.
Fish were biting as well. Not a lake trout to be seen this trip but we did catch and dine upon Rainbow Trout, Steelhead if you prefer. It seems that even the spawning run is a bit behind this year. RangerMark got the prize winner, which was poached in white wine and lemon juice with fresh herbs and roasted root veggies as the side. The BadHatter is known for his Caesar salads and pulled one out for the feast. No dehydrated beef stroganoff for this crew. Nor were there any reservations required for this trip. I know I've written about this before but its refreshing to stop at the border, pick up our fishing licenses and Crown camping permits, and be turned loose. There were a couple campsites on the Thunder Bay side of Pie Island that were trashed but not any of the remote beaches on the outer islands had any signs of overuse at all. It was apparent that folks had camped there but no garbage, live trees with branches lopped off, or massive fire pits full of burnt cans. I guess if a person is going to paddle out that way they have enough pride, ambition, and sense of community to police their campsites. A large storm last October left a bunch of trees down and the driftwood supply for fires and dutch oven cookery seemed endless. As much as I love to paddle the Apostles, this laissez-faire trip always recharges my camping fervor. I also got to meet up with two more friends on either ends of the trip. I met Bryan Hansel in Grand Marais harbor on the way up and we paddled around Artists Points and then repeatedly tipped over in front of the Gunflint Tavern, clad in our tuliqs. He has some great shots from Grand Marais of the fire that's burning southeast of Ely in the BWCA. On the back end, I stopped at Grand Portage State Park and BS'ed with Travis Novitsky a bit. He had finally seen one of the AINL's Lake is the Boss T Shirts and asked me if I heisted the name from there. I told him that both me and the NPS had lifted the phrase from Julian Nelson, the old fisherman and former Bayfield mayor, who is still with us at 90 plus. He also showed me an incredible Northern Lights time lapse that he had done the night before while I was snugly in my tent sleeping. While I would have immediately gotten up to watch, this video is the next best thing.
I never cease to marvel at the connections that kayaking seems to throw our way. We are off to Iowa in a couple weeks and then a crew will be heading to Marquette for the Gales event. Bow deer and grouse opens Saturday but I haven't 'entered the rut' for that activity yet. It needs to freeze at night, a few leaves need to turn color and drop, and there can be no insect life in my bow stand. There is plenty of paddling left in the Great Lakes region folks. Get out there and enjoy it.