Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cooling my heels in Grand Marais (MN)

I lied, I guess there will be a post before I get back from the Sauna Islands. I'm in the kayak/coffee shop in Grand Marais, biding my time between the departure of the VOR and Co. and the arrival of TheCommish, RangerMark, and the GreenThumbChef for our annual Fall trip. The paddling this weekend was nothing to turn up ones nose at either, with quite possibly the best day paddle of my paddling career taking place on Saturday. Weather, waves, scenery, the company, and the general ambiance of the area made for a superb day on the water.

The route was close to the old voyageur route from the fur trade era. Four of us, the VOR, JackiePack, Racin'Rick, and I launched from the obscure boat landing on the Pigeon River, virtually next to the US Customs station. When we slunk off Hwy 61 on the dirt road to the landing, appearing to be ducking the customs checkpoint, I could almost feel Border Patrol eyes and sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment watching us. Nonetheless, we threw em in the river and paddled out toward Pigeon Point and Hole in the Wall. The destination was the marina in Grand Portage where the Isle Royale boats depart, a distance of about 16 miles including meandering among the Susie Islands, a small archipelago owned by the Nature Conservancy. We stopped at the hole in the wall, a hidden little harbor with a cabin that folks use, repair, and improve as they see fit. We ran into a group of folks from Thunder Bay, a couple and three relatively young kids, in rec boats, no spray skirts, etc. The day was so nice, the lake so flat, and the forecast so benign, that I didn't have the heart to go into the 'safety nazi' mode. They had about a mile crossing back to the bay they launched from and it seemed pretty apparent that "The Boss" was in a very serene and mellow mood this day. That was borne out when we rounded the normally nasty Pigeon Point and could barely summon up a swell to ride on. The Susies were spectacular. You will have to rely on the pictures from the previous post because I'm technologically incapable of retrieving the images I took Saturday. This small, unique group of islands is not visited very frequently and their owners, the Nature Conservancy, like it this way. The islands feature some rare sub arctic flora and fauna and its rumored that not only is camping not allowed, but neither is landing of any kind. This alleged rule was violated, but we 'left no trace' except for a couple rocks being pitched back into the lake and a small area of the islands having a temporary spike in salinity. The weather was perfect. I had on a long sleeve paddle shirt and kept mentally switching between 'think I'll slip on my paddle jacket' and 'think I'll put on the short sleeves. There was a slight southwest breeze with just a ripple on the water as we left the Susies and headed toward Hat Point and the famous Spirit Cedar, or Witches Tree, the French translation of the Ojibway word for 'spirit'. The tree is at least 300 years old and legend has it the voyageurs used it to mark the location of the fort at Grand Portage, just a short paddle around Hat Point from the tree.

We reached the marina the same time as the Wenonah, a lucky coincidence since there was a shuttle breakdown. As a man who almost screwed up the Vasaloppet relay race shuttle, I can empathize and have sworn that no fingers will be pointed. We wound up hitching a ride up to the cars with a wired, eccentric character named Roger, from Ann Arbor, MI. He had a small Old Town rec boat and told us it was the anniversary of his first trip to Isle Royale 19 years ago. This trip was his fortieth. I guess a man really has to like a place to vacation there 40 times, especially a place as difficult to get to as Isle Royale National Park. He did say he was not a kayaker, he just used the boat to get around....all the way around the island at least twice. Once again, we weren't sure he even owned a spray skirt for the thing but I was on a one day sabbatical from my safety nazi mode and just enjoyed the conversation as well as the ride.

My hour is almost up on the computer, the Ben Franklin is open for my last minute gear needs, and I need to stock up on adult beverages at the liquor store. Racin'Rick is paddling from Hattie Cove in Pukasawa to Rossport via the Slate Islands and we wish him safe paddling, favorable winds, and a dry camp. I wish the same for us intrepid fall trippers, but nothing will match the combination of excellent physical and mental paddling conditions on Saturdays adventure. I guess that's what its all about.

1 comment:

Silbs said...

It has to be great up there. And...I admire a man who gets his gear at the Ben Franklin.