July 30, 2006


Do you know what it's like to love a place too much?

I do, I think. I love the camp that much. The camp? Well, yeah. "The" camp. My parents' camp. Which is not a camp in the kids running around doing ropes courses sort of camp, nor is it a northern Ontario camp that is really a cottage. It was, until recently, one of those old-timey northern Ontario housekeeping cottages affairs. You know, where people come, and rent a cottage, and go fishing every day, and sit on the deck or on the lawnchairs and maybe there are kids playing, but there are no jetskis, nor is there a pool, tennis court, lodge of any sort, or even payphone.

Those sorts of places are mostly gone, now. When I was little and we first got the camp, there were four of these on Rock Lake. Maybe even five, I'm not sure when the Finlayson place shut down. There was Crystal Cove and Rock Lake camp, and both of those are "private" now - I don't know what we meant by that, really. Somebody's private heaven. In my childhood mind, that equated to selfish. There's still the place across the lake, the Sunrise Shores place, but I think it's mostly a trailer park. And there was Amogla Camp, which was ours. We bought it at the tail end of that northern Ontario institution, the camp consisting of cabins, outdoor water taps, and outhouses but geared to families. We turned it into something else, slowly, one cottage at a time. Septic beds and new power lines and clearing brush for more lawn and a new well and so on, and slowly, it turned into the "new" Amogla Camp.

And the new got old too. Roofs need reshingling, water heaters are breaking. And people want to retire. Last year, my parents finally did. But we still have the camp, for now. I guess it's "private". It's closed for business.

The thing about these old-style camps was, the same people came back every year. It wasn't exactly easy to get a "week" - i.e. a booking. Once you had it, though, unless you screwed up (for example, by insisting on a jetski) you could come back year after year. And people did. For generations, really. Many of the customers pre-dated our purchase of the place (or, at least, their parents did). We called them "guests". For me, as a kid, they were part of my summer landscape, and in a loose way, my extended family. And for them, it was "their" cottage. If you come back to the same cottage the same week every year, year after year, you feel that way. When the cottages were replaced, first dibs on weeks in the "new" cottages always went to the people who'd inhabited the closest old cottage, the one that was replaced.

You assume that the old camps shut down because people want all those fancy amenities - from a dock to spa access. I don't think that's true. I think it's because my generation doesn't share that willingness to work that hard during our brief, wonderful northern summer for so little money, and somehow make the sacrifices that it would take to fit that with a job the rest of the year. You can't live off a 10 (or even 14) week season from one of these places. Not at the standard of living we've come to expect. And you can't raise the prices without getting into all that value adding amenity stuff. So you close. When my parents closed, they turned away bookings for the next year. It would not have taken much for them to be fully booked. But then, they also didn't charge that much. Nothing compared to what you pay within easy driving distance to Toronto.

But it's still there. And I don't go there as much as I should, or even could, if I was willing to paddle less. I love it too much. When I go, it hurts a little bit. It's like a twisted part of my brain says, but wow, won't it be hard, when this place is no longer *yours*. Don't come too much. If you do, it will rip a hole right out of you when it's gone. I suspect I know what that says about me on other levels, but that's the way it is.

So when I end up there, even for a precious night or two, on the way to or from somewhere, it's like I must do all these things - make my rounds, if you will. I must get to the top of both the bluffs behind the camp. I must go to the rock with the windsock, and get the view. I must swim off that point. And I must visit the MacKenzies, who I never see enough of, and see what new animals Aurora has added to her collection. And so on. When I'm there, I'm constantly late for meals (because I must also eat my mother's food), because there was somewhere to be, something to explore. Something I've probably explored a hundred times, but I am checking in.

But I don't go enough. I blame it on the distance (which is not inconsiderate), mostly. But it's also because it is too important. And as the years pass, and now with the retirement of the active housekeeping cottages part of the operation, it just gets harder. It's not just the camp I'm afraid of losing. Make of that what you will, but we're not going there.

Last time I was home, I had Hart and Ray with me - we were coming back from Isle Royale. They got their own cottage (now that we are closed, bringing people home is even more fun). Hart commented that he wanted to stretch his legs and maybe paddle a little bit. And I, innerly 10 years old again, I dragged him to many of my places, and I *showed* him. It was like show and tell, but heavier on the show. Look at this! Look how special it is! (But really, it is easier to show to a stranger and have him see how special it is than to deal with that on my own. ) And we ambled up bluffs, and we paddled, and we swam (but in a fashion born on the Isle Royale trip, we didn't communicate very well, and Hart went for a hike while I swam, and I wandered off when he came back). And then, because no trip with Hart is complete without a portage, we had a lazy trip down the Thessalon through Gordon Lake to the bailey bridge on West Road. And we were late for dinner, because our drifting meant slow progress. I was a few hundred meters ahead of Hart, and got entranced by sandhill cranes, and I watched the ravens and the turkey vultures and the cattle and the courting herons and the hawk. Hart later reported more wildlife that I'd missed (and dead-life, a dead horse in the river) that I'd missed. It's better that way, slowly paddling, and far apart from anyone else. You see more.

And there's no humour in this blog entry. There's only sadness. I don't understand that. How can I be sad for something that still is, and is wonderful at that? Why is it that it makes me sad for the time when (though I'd rather, "if") I lose it? I don't know.

I don't really want to know. I have no word for this in any language.

Posted by Johanna at 09:11 PM

July 24, 2006

Isle Royale, p. 5

Start the Isle Royale trip report at the beginning, click here.

The VHF promised benign conditions, including tailwind, for most of Day 4. After that, though, it warned of a shift in wind direction. And Day 1 had given us all the insights we needed into kleppers and wind direction. So Hart proposed we skip the Rainbow Cove campsite and shoot for something closer to our Windigo takeout. If all went well, this meant not using any of our wind days and even finishing one day early. Ray explained that this was not a problem, since our shuttle boat, the Wenonah, could take us back if they had room at no extra charge. I was of mixed minds - I loved the south shore of Isle Royale, and would have liked to stay. But I also like having a job, and my employer was not thrilled about my lack of guaranteed presence the following Monday. So, I figured, just as well...

I solo-paddled the south shore, with instructions to stick my flag where I ended up. This part of Isle Royale is more remote than the rest - there are no facilities for powerboats, and given the guidebook doom/gloom warnings, it is not overrun with kayakers. This is a shame for them - because there are all these beautiful red beaches, and it feels like true wilderness. And I enjoyed it. For a change, I landed and took breaks. Even with the change in itinerary, we didn't have far to go. Our goal was Grace Island, though our permit also permitted wilderness camping in designated areas (which I understood as *inside* Washington Harbor, but it turns out I didn't listen well enough).

I was swarmed by gnats on parts of my paddle, which was not fun - they went wherever there was no breeze. There was no breeze inside my pfd, inside my nostrils, behind my glasses, and in my ears. Grrrrrr. They stopped abruptly when I entered Grace Harbor, but instead it felt like I went from cruising easily to stirring molasses. I don't know if this was due to some headwind I didn't notice, or a current, but I felt much like a kite must feel (yes, I know, personification) when the wind stops lifting it. So I happily landed at the Grace Island dock (at 11 a.m.).

I didn't like Grace Island. It felt overgrown. It had two shelters and no tent-pads. It was nice, in the camping in a meadow nice, but keep in mind that I'd just spent a night on exposed coastline at Atwood Beach. I am a fan of exposed coastlines. I looked around, I thought about it... and I relaunched my boat. And paddled into Washington Harbor, and looked... and found nothing. So, not overly happy, I returned to Grace Island, and claimed a shelter - and lost no time scrambling to the other side of the island with my book. It was from this vantage point that I saw Hart, and he came close to my rock to say hello.

Hart had a good point: if we didn't like the site, it's not like we had to spend time there. More specifically, he expressed a desire to paddle to Windigo, because he was out of cigarettes. Windigo was only 6 or 7 km away from Grace Island. When Ray showed up, he proposed this. Ray in turn proposed that we all sleep in one shelter. I did not like this idea. Men snore. I had not brought earplugs. I like sleeping. So I pouted, and Ray and Hart agreed to take the *other* shelter and leave me in my splendid girly isolation. And then Hart and I paddled to Windigo. This was the first time since the beginning of the trip that I got to paddle with Hart, and he *flew*. I felt like we were in a race. I did not want to lose. Neither did Hart, apparently - because we got to the dock in Windigo in 45 minutes! Where Hart swam, and I explored a bit, and then we drank cold pop on the dock waiting for our energy levels to come back from that sprint. And then there was a pleasant hour-long paddle back. It was lovely. I got lost in my own puttering again, and forgot Hart was even there (within 500m "there"), so clearly I have nothing to complain about with this paddling alone thing...

At Grace Island, Ray told us of the ranger who explained the one shelter per party rule, but I guess he also told of the princessy girl who won't sleep anywhere near snoring men, because the ranger sort of agreed. He apparently said that we'd have to clear one of the shelters if another party came. And apparently, during the course of this conversation... another party came. And the ranger magically convinced them to go away! Hurrah. But I missed this excitement. I was paddling.

Our last evening was mellow. Since there was no good place to sit by the water at the campsite proper, we followed a trail to a sandspit for the sunset. And then I slept in my palatial shelter by myself, and then... it was morning. And the trip was over. I paddled by myself once more, into Windigo, where I had a shower and put my gear away long before Hart and Ray showed up. And then there was a fair bit of hanging out and killing time until the Wenonah took us away at 3:30.

Of note: Hart kept saying we could cross back to the mainland. A crossing bigger than anything I have *ever* done. He must have had too much sun. Or really hated waiting for the ferry. In any case, we did nothing foolish like this. Instead, we ate chocolate bars. And felt out of place with all the daytrippers in blue jeans (but they were so clean!). And then, we went home. And now, I have finished writing my trip report. The end.

Posted by Johanna at 11:16 PM

Isle Royale p. 4

(The Isle Royale blathering begins here)

Day 3 started out sunny and calm. The forecast was for nothing much either (this was the first day I did not hate the VHF). And, best of all, there was a prediction for at least two days of easterly winds - ie. tailwinds. This was good news for us, since the klepper is a much bigger fan of tailwinds than headwinds. And thus Hart - who proclaims himself to not be a fan of big crossings - proposed that we skip the Siskiwit Bay campsite and cut across the big bay itself and get back to where we would be if there had not been a wind day. I should note that the guidebook says doom! gloom! foolish! about this crossing, but I also take guidebooks with a salt lick. They say doom and gloom about everything that is fun. They are in cahoots with the VHF.

(And before you get all huffy on me here: please note that I do not take silly risks. I know what my limits are, and I stop well before I approach them. I just realize that guidebooks are written on the conservative side. They are like trail signage that says two hours, but omits to mention that that is if you smell every daisy you find and test every bench you sit on. What the sea kayaking guidebooks describe as "full day trip" can be achieved well before lunch too. Just saying.)

So, back to the non-guidebook-recommended crossing of Siskiwit Bay, and our flat as glass water at 8:30 a.m. CDT on Day 3. We decided we'd go for it. And then I went. And that was the last I saw of Hart and Ray for six or seven hours. My crossing was easy. I rounded Point Houghton, and there was the predicted tailwind. I puttered, I putzed, and I piddled... and I landed at Atwood beach by 11:15. This was the beach was covered with fresh wolf tracks. We were in the wilderness camping part of our trip - no outhouses, tent pads, picnic tables, plaque of rules, or dock. The only rule that I knew was, camp on the beach (and Ray later told us the no campfire rule too).

It was a bit gloomy when I first got there. Atwood Beach is a big beach, it was windswept, the sun was flirting with the clouds and having a period of shyness, I was a bit cold, and there was no focal point for camp. I walked up and down the beach and decided on a gully with lots of flat stones and convenient deadwood for a kitchen focus. Then, knowing that where I was would not be that easy to spot, I planted my salvaged flag as a marker (I'm sure it is against the rules, flying a non -US flag as a marker here. But I did it anyway. It marked the spot. And it was pretty.) Then I started to climb all over the deadwood to hang a tarp - it looked like a chance of rain, but more than that, I wanted a windbreak.

I was done with the tarp and puttering about with flat stones for a patio when Hart and Ray showed up. They clearly approved of the shelter/patio idea, because - while still in their wetsuits - got to work on helping. Hart pulled out a huge piece of canvas which we bungied to the bottom of my tarp to make the shelter complete. Then we did some heavy duty landscaping for the flat patio, and Ray and I lugged flat stones which Hart placed. I don't know which was more uncomfortable: being bitten by irate sand fleas while wearing shorts, or digging in the sand in a wetsuit. I think I'll take my fleabites...

By the time the shelter was done, the sky was clear. And the most wonderful afternoon of the trip followed. Ray puttered in the shelter. Hart disappeared on an exploratory walk. I relished trundling up and down the beach in bare feet (a first - and only - for this trip). Ray swam (I did not. Still no desire to be a new man, or man in general), Hart said later he did too, in a secluded bit of water on his walk. I read my book. I drank a beer. I listened to the waves. I felt like I really truly was on Superior. Wilderness camping is better than backcountry campgrounds. The afternoon and evening were magic, even if I did not get to see a wolf as I'd hoped. I checked the next day - the wolves came nowhere near the beach while we were there. Which would have made the getting up at night and wandering about the beach a bit a waste, except it wasn't, it was wonderful. I even took a picture by moonlight. I finally felt that relaxed backcountry feeling, when all is right with the world. If we'd been winded in at Atwood, I would not have been upset.

Posted by Johanna at 10:42 PM

Isle Royale p. 3

(The Isle Royale blathering begins here)

And then! It was sunny! And still windy, and cold, but sunny, and most of all, we were thoroughly tired of West Caribou Island (there is only so much to explore on a small island), so we got going by 8 a.m. CDT / 9 a.m. EDT (we never did figure out what we were *supposed* to be on. Grand Portage is in Central. Isle Royale is in Eastern. The ferry runs on Central. Thunder Bay, due north, operates on Eastern...). And the worst part of the rough water was right at the beginning, where we had to get past some huge rollers which hit us broadside until we rounded Saginaw Point. My loaded boat feels totally stable, and I figured I shouldn't get *too* far away from Hart and Ray at this point, so I zigzagged through the rough water, practicing doing sharp turns with waves broadside. As long as I was paddling, I was ok (because paddling = bracing), but I didn't want to stay still. So, despite the zigzags, I lost Ray and Hart (Hart is much better at paddling slowly in big stuff, and he and Ray paddled together throughout this trip). I waited on the other side of the point. There was tailwind. I drifted. It seemed like a long time - I got very cold. When I saw the entrance to Chippewa Harbor on my right, I realized I was moving pretty quickly even without paddling, and turned my boat back into the wind to build up some heat paddling back to Saginaw Point. There, I discovered Hart and Ray - Ray was consulting the map. Hart was having a smoke. We drifted.

We took a short break in Chippewa Harbor. I was still very chilled, so quickly took off exploring the campsites - primarily because they were uphill from the dock, and thus conducive to raising my body temperature. Also, because the spot was really pretty. And maybe it took longer than it was supposed to, but that could be because I discovered wild strawberries near the tent pads (in Isle Royale NP, you get the shaft if you use the tent pads - the shelters are invariably in prettier locations, and the tent pads off in the buggy woods). Fortunately for me, Hart was waiting (Ray had already launched) when I wandered back, but I think that may have had something to do with the fact that he was out of drinking water and I'd announced that I had four liters in my boat if anyone wanted any...

After Chippewa Harbor, with a nice tailwind and no big water, I returned to my pretending I was on a solo trip paddling style, and did my own thing. There were a lot of strange debris floating in the water - it felt like just after a storm. I saw some strange things - a golf ball, water bottles, band-aids... I concluded that the boat the stuff had washed off from was Canadian, since all the labels were in English and French. And this suspicion was confirmed shortly after that, when I saw a Canadian flag floating in the water - attached to the kind of flagpole you would find on a boat. I almost dumped myself trying to get the pole under my decklines (it was too long for my boat to hold anywhere without interfering. I ended up settling on dragging the end off the stern - I already had my rudder down due to tailwind, so I could at least compensate).

This part of the shoreline was pretty, but without a lot of good landing spots for the first stretch. Toward Malone Bay, there were more - I poked into Blueberry Cove, and I looked at Greenstone Beach - but I didn't get out. I later learned that Hart and Ray, who were far behind me, stopped for lunch and swimming (minus bathing suits! no wonder they were so eager to get the girl to do her own thing!) in one of these, but I puttered my way to Malone Bay without landing.

As soon as you get to the islands east of Malone Bay, you are in protected, shallow water - and it feels very un-Superior like, more like on an inland lake. It was pretty. And the Malone Bay campsite is pretty too - the dock is nowhere near the campground, and there is a nice pebble beach for kayakers to land on. I love pebble beaches. I wanted to set my tent up on the pebble beach, but there are *rules* in this park. And these rules required that you set your tent up only on designated tent pads. Which are off in the bush. There is no camping near the five or so wonderfully situated near the shoreline shelters. And there is another rule that you may only use a shelter if you intend to sleep in it. And I know all of this because a young and very friendly ranger came for a chat while I sat next to my boat on the beach. He did agree to relax the rules enough to allow one compromise: not *all* of us would have to sleep in the shelter, we could *also* set up tents on the designated pads. So I declared myself willing to shelter-sleep when Ray and Hart showed up later, and despite the mosquito population in the shelter, this was nice. I could see the moon all night (except when I put my towel on the railing running along the screen because "oooh pretty" had turned to "how annoying" already).

Malone Bay is connected to the Isle Royale hiking network, and the hiking trail from here goes to Siskiwit Lake - and *I* am not prepared to swim in Superior. Ray declares it makes one feel like a new man. I have no desire to be made a man of. Thus, I happily trudged along the trail to the lake for a swim, and a soak in the jacuzzi made by the rapids. It wasn't balmy, but it was bearable. Hart wanted a picture of himself in the jacuzzi, and I was the only one who had brought a camera for this portion for the adventure, and it took me a while to focus. I think the smile was starting to get strained on Hart's face by the time I finished fiddling. It's hard to smile with blue lips.

There you go: clean (well, I swam. As clean as I get on paddling trips), warm, sleeping in luxurious accommodations. So ended the first real paddling day of this trip...

Posted by Johanna at 10:29 PM

Isle Royale p. 2

(The Isle Royale blathering begins in the previous entry)

I got to West Caribou well before sunset, but somehow, I felt all guilty about having ditched the guys. So I scoped out the tent sites (both shelters were taken by powerboaters, but I didn't even know there *were* shelters, so was feeling spoiled by the mere existence of outhouses and picnic tables), and I hung out on the dock, waiting. I even had two appeasing beers in my hand, unopened... (come on... you'd be pissed at me if I just took off and had a lame excuse like "I had to pee" and, if pressed, also admitted that I really liked paddling away from you because it was *fun*. You would, wouldn't you? If you'd invited me on a trip? Yeah.)

And then Hart pulled up, and I handed over the beer and tried to apologize for being a ditching sort of girl, but he had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently, he and Ray *expected* me to ditch. He told me they'd invited me in part because they figured I'd bugger off on my own! I would have mulled over the sulkworthy potential of that, except they were right on all counts: I am the ditching sort, I was thrilled by the official permission to bugger off on my own, and I wouldn't follow them around saying "whatcha doin'?" very often (the notable exception to this would of course be if one of them started unwrapping a *big* bar of chocolate. Then I would likely not be above whatcha doin' level).

While Ray - who came a bit later - set up and opened his own beer, Hart started cooking dinner for himself and Ray, and I enjoyed the other of the two beers I'd dug out of the boat (my tent was set up pretty fast after I got the word that nobody was mad at me! You can follow the logic, can't you... if someone ditches you and gets to the site first, it's just doubly insulting if she also sets up her tent. So I didn't until Hart started scoping out his preferred site. Which was under a fallen tree. Some malarkey about lightning never strikes twice, which we *know* is bunk. But my tent was nowhere near that spot!)

Oh, and then there was a birthday celebration, tripper style. Last year, Bill made a cake out of some bizarre no-bake mix. This year, Hart and Ray assembled a cake out of granola bars, and lit birthday candles, and pulled out a bottle of kahlua. And at a picnic table by candlelight (and the whine of mosquitos and the smell of citronella and deet) we ended our first day of the Isle Royale trip. I was so excited for some bigger distances (with ditching permission!) the next day.

But of course, that didn't happen. There was some wind, and some rain. And Hart's tent didn't get smushed, but our travelling plans did. I was very frustrated with the doom-and-gloom squawking of the VHF. I proclaimed it to be a liar. I wanted to paddle! Three days of driving! A tiny paddle! And now we sit! Grrrr. There was nothing to do but help the guys move the picnic table into one of the now vacated shelters and cook my lazy day breakfast of bacon and eggs. And check the water on the other side of the island every 20 minutes and proclaim "I think it's good! we can paddle!". I was overruled. We were sheltersitting.

Except, of course, sheltersitting is boring. A fact we figured out before we were even done breakfast. So there were a few hours of exploring the shores of West Caribou (the outer, Superior side felt very much like a reef shelf on an ocean. Minus the tide pools). There was some bushwhacking in an unsuccessful attempt to circumnavigate the island. There was the exploration of a trail near the park headquarters compound - and this required paddling! And that paddling allowed a few minutes of play out on the exposed side, and that was fun fun fun. Also fun was when Hart balanced on a a slippery board on the trail and tried to place his food for scale for a picture of the huge skunk cabbage, and just after I took the picture he lost his balance and leaped into the swamp. Ok, that was more fun for me than for Hart, but still. You take what you can get on windbound rainy days, and this was fun while being outside and exploring. I'm not that picky...

But mostly, we sat: in the shelter, by the fire (later, some powerboaters joined us), in my tent, on a log on the beach...

I feared the VHF would squawk fearful warnings for the next day too, and pored over the map for local paddling expeditions just in case before going to sleep that night...

Posted by Johanna at 10:27 PM

Isle Royale Half Solo (p. 1)

You know what I love? Kayaking. You know what I love even more? Kayak trips to places I've never been that I didn't have to organize. I love that so much that I find a way to say yes if I'm invited, even if it's invonvenient for work and requires a really really long roadtrip (I don't love sitting in cars). Thus, when Hart spoke of needing a third member for an Isle Royale trip Ray was organizing during Sam's Opeongo trip in May, I all but jumped up and down chanting "pick me! pick me!" And then, when I got the official invite from Ray, I gulped, and had a moment of "but that's in the U.S., and I still haven't cleared up that visa waiver mistake the United gate attendant made and I didn't catch in time! what if they won't let me across the border?" But I asked the Bossman if I could go anyway...

That means in early July, after the endless roadtrip to past Thunder Bay (via my parents, via my sister's house, so it was much better than roadtrips of the drive drive drive nature generally are), I presented myself at the border in Minnesota. I had everything I needed: a valid machine-readable passport, which included stamps from countries other than the US during the time I would have had to be in the US to actually overstay my visa waiver, the boarding pass from the flight I left the US on, and the expired I94. Still, I was nervous - this was my vacation! It had to work out! But I needn't have been - the Pigeon River DHS people were friendly, courteous, and understanding - all was straightened out in about 10 minutes. Wheeeee! Isle Royale!

Ray had booked us on the Voyager II from Grand Portage. Ray paddles a Klepper folding kayak, so he needed some extra time to assemble. Thus we were in Grand Portage about 20 hours before we the boat left. I amused myself by sorting through my food bags (I concluded, too much food, but did not care), going to the casino (where I drank two beers and ate dinner, but did not investigate the slots. That's all that casino has, I think, video terminals. Not that I'd know what to do with real casino style gambling either), trying to hike on a buggy ATV trail (verdict: the trail took a long and winding road up Mount Hopeless-if-Wanting-View) and turning back, and reading my book. Ready!

The Voyager II is a nice boat - but it is not a big boat. Lake Superior is a nice lake, but it is definitely a big lake. And little boat + big lake + long crossing + storm = seasick. Unfortunately. I spent a good chunk of my 35th birthday feeling cold and wet and hanging onto the railing at the back of the boat. Hmmm. A sign of things to come for this trip? There was one other woman, in far worse shape than I was, out there. And sometimes Hart would pop out, wanting a smoke, but I ignored. I was devoted to my important task of feeding the fish, after all.

We had a brief stop at Windigo, where I spent a dollar on a plastic rain poncho (my gear was packed away in duffles, which were strapped to the roof of the Voyager, under a tarp) and another dollar on chocolate. If you spend the morning of your birthday wet, cold, barfing, mostly alone, and are approaching borderline hypothermic, I challenge you *not* to shove chocolate into your face during a half hour stop on solid ground where you stomach has settled. I'm just saying. I was so interested in my chocolate that I ignored details like backcountry permit-getting (Ray was on that) and field guide procuring.

Sometime between Windigo and Rock Harbor (the Voyager goes from Grand Portage to Rock Harbor via the north side of the island and several stops Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; and from Rock Harbor to Grand Portage via the south side of the island on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday), the sun came out. And I got the first notion that this was a land of rules - men taking their shirts off on the boat was against the rules, for instance. (I will admit that, while not a fan of rules for no sensible reason, I find this a sensible rule. Skin cancer, you know. And my eyes.) And in Rock Harbor, it was sunny. And windy. And I realized just how difficult Kleppers are to pack - see, no hatches! must turn oneself into reasonable facsimile of very small person to get stuff into bow and stern. Fortunately, I do not paddle a klepper, so had plenty of time to eat more chocolate and marvel at my wonderfully settled stomach while Ray achieved the klepper-packing-feat.

And then - finally - it was Time! To! Paddle! (you have no idea the level of antsiness that is produced by driving along the entire (!) Canadian shore of Lake Superior with kayaks on the roof and not paddling!) We excitedly launched into the fairly stiff headwind. And I learned another klepper lesson: they are beasts in headwind. Utter beasts. Where my skinny little hardshell slices through the waves and presents very little profile to the wind (that could of course also be related to how heavily I was loaded...), the klepper requires the paddler to pretty much push the water out of the way. And presents a lot of wind resistance above water too. I piddled. I paddled a bit, and went back to piddling and dilly-dallying. We only had 10 km or so to go to our site on West Caribou Island, but it seemed to take forever. I watched the loons with their three week old chick - at one point, I sat still in the lee of an island for so long that they were no more than 10m from me. That was exciting.

Unfortunately, it was exciting enough that I realized I needed to pee. And thus, I weighed the odds of Hart and Ray being cranky that I took off against solo paddling the rest of the way (I love paddling alone) and thus getting to the outhouse that much faster. And my bladder won. And I established the half solo pattern for this trip: paddle alone, get to the site on my own in my own time, putter around by myself, then get a few hours with Hart and Ray before nightfall. Repeat.

I can't complain about the half solo. And I'll tell you all about it in the next entry. (Must keep uploads of a manageable size...)

Posted by Johanna at 10:24 PM

July 22, 2006


Last week, I was paddling alone, and landed on a remote beach that probably hadn't seen a human foot in weeks. My trip companions were hours behind me. The beach was covered in wolf tracks, and the tracks were really, really fresh. My thought was, neat! I hope a wolf comes to the beach while I'm here! (They are very very elusive. But I hoped anyway.)

As a child and teenager, I wandered around our home in northern Ontario, alone, knowing that there are bears and other wild things, and it didn't occur to me to be afraid. I once saw a sow and her cub on the bluff, and I was alone, and I knew that I should never ever get between the sow and her cub - but I wasn't, so I just stayed in my blueberry patch and watched. I had to learn to worry about bears after I moved to southern Ontario.

The first time I saw a rattlesnake, I was enchanted. One of the highlights in my mental photo album is seeing a mating ball of garter snakes. When I was 11, I routinely picked them up (hold them just behind the head). I was fascinated by what their skin felt like.

There are various creepy crawlies and the like that I'm not particularly fond of, but if they're on my tent or in my way, I will calmly move them out of my way. The list includes slugs and spiders and even salamanders.

I am far from fearless. But I spend a lot of time outdoors, and I'm comfortable there. Except for one thing.

Last summer, we were sitting around a bare Georgian Bay rock campsite. A toad hopped into our circle. Everybody was delighted, except for me. I didn't want to call attention to myself, but I had to get as far away as possible, right now. I moved right away. Ron noticed, and he made a collegial, teasing comment about it. And then he saw my eyes.

Once upon a time, I was sharing a tent with a friend. I went to get something out of the vestibule. I had my headlamp on. I zipped open my side of the tent, turned on my headlamp, and saw a frog. I was on the other side of the tent in one leap, my heart was beating like mad, I was short of breath. My friend clued in that something was very very wrong, and zipped my door shut and calmly asked why I was so terrified.

There was a dead, dried up frog on the concrete pad outside the barn last year. I jumped about three feet when I saw it, and walked as far around that spot as I possibly could, I couldn't go near it. I was grateful when a friend removed the frog carcass.

One night, summer before last, I went to shut the barn door. There was something blocking it when I pushed. I turned on the light, and saw the toad I'd just killed. I screamed. I sat in my apartment, same shortness of breath, same heartbeat. It took me ten minutes of total utter agony to work up the courage to go get a shovel and take the dead frog and throw it away. I remembered the spot where I threw it - I'd wanted to go to the manure pile, but I couldn't make it, I was freaking out too much. It left the shovel as soon as I hit the vicinity of the sand ring. I ran away, and I didn't go near that spot for the whole summer. I am still afraid of going into the barn in the summer without the lights on.

Even pictures of frogs bother me. I had a friend, a sweet and wonderful woman, who had a stylized frog pendant hanging around her neck most of the time. I had a hard time looking at her when the pendant was exposed.

I could recount dozens of anecdotes like that. I don't like to. It's totally embarrassing: I'm irrationally, unbelievably afraid of frogs.

Yeah. And I spend every moment I can outside. I have a garden. And I freak out when it comes to frogs and toads. People laugh when I tell them. I have, to date, avoided telling - because human nature is such that there will always be someone who thinks this is funny, and I would have a frog in my sleeping bag. This would be a nightmare. I can say with absolute confidence that this would ruin the trip for me, and whatever relationship I had with the person doing this.

Today, I'm listening to CBC Radio weekend programming, something I never do in the summer because it's not exactly a frequent occurrence that I'm home on the weekends. And the topic of the show I'm listening to is fear. And fear of frogs - or ranidaphobia - is actually a lot more common than I would have thought. Who knew. Giving it a *name* actually makes it less embarrassing in my head. But still...

Posted by Johanna at 04:15 PM

July 17, 2006

Western Islands Crossing and Sitting

I was looking forward to the first real summer trip on the Bay on the July long weekend for a long time, ever since I'd asked Sam if I could come on the Opeongo trip in May. He couldn't think of a reason why not fast enough, so I put it in my calendar. Then, on Rendezvous weekend, I asked him if I could crash at his house the night before, because I wanted to avoid the getting up in the middle of the night for a 9 a.m. put-in routine. This time his wife said yes before he could think of an excuse. So he had no choice but to hand me a beer and put up with my chatter while he packed for this trip. And in my chatter, I told him that we couldn't carpool after all because I'd talked to Kevin and we were planning to stay out an extra night.

Sam's response? "I shtay too" (to me) and "I need another pack of meat" (to Sonja). Score! Now I could snooze in the car on the way up too... Too bad for Sarka, John and May, who were all heading back to their respective towns on Monday night, but I had a great weekend lined up!

We went to the Western Islands, which require a 14 km open crossing from O'Donnell Point. Sam had some contingency for rough conditions, but we didn't need. First we navigated ourselves into a not passable at low water channel, but by lunchtime we were sitting in the Westerns. The crossing was bumpy to say the least, and 14 km gets awfully boring. John and Sam were out front, I was in the middle somewhere on my own, and Kevin, Sarka and May paddled together. I was kind of glad of the big water, since I find crossings so boring... but I was even gladder to get to the Westerns, and land my boat, and ... well, sadly, sit some more.

Not just sitting, mind you. After lunch (sitting) I set up my tent by a patch of irises (briefly not sitting) and then I helped put up Sarka's tarp (also not sitting). My next task was to set up the Georgian Bay beer cooler, aka a mesh bag with beer and rocks tied to a shtring by Sam. Sam and Sarka had their beer in one bag, Kevin and I had ours in another (and John and May were apparently not in need of the beer cooler). I punctured one of my beers while loading the bag, so I had to sit and drink it! Thus I sat while Sam, Sarka, May and John hiked around the island. During that sitting, Kevin wandered by and briefly sat too, and said he had too much dinner for one. I had a solution! I would eat half his dinner! Like Sam, Kevin is not so good at thinking of reasons why not when presented with my bright ideas, so I ensured myself some more sitting time while someone else made my dinner!

And then we were glad we put the tarp up, and the sitting was relocated to there for a while. We got lucky, in that there was enough of a break in the rain for Kevin to cook dinner and me to eat it (I contributed! I did the dishes, ok?) And then there was more tarp sitting (I have spent far too many hours huddled under various tarps with several of these people. No wonder they cast around for excuses when I brightly propose they hang out with me!) And then there was sleeping, with a plan to go to Double Top Island, which is where the lighthouse is in the Westerns and which requires another open crossing, the next day.

Except the next day it was super windy. I followed Kevin up to the top of our island and played with his portable weather station while he called up the forecast - I measured sustained winds of over 20 knots. Launching looked nasty. So I decided not to! I had a book! I had beers in the beer fridge! I am a wimp! Sarka was also in the mood for downtime, but the rest of these people braved the roaring surf. John helped May launch, Sam carried his boat to the calmest bit of water (which was not calm at all) and did a wet launch, John did the same, Kevin had to work awfully fast to get his new boat off the rocks. All things considered I was glad to sit. When John came back, Sarka and I went into the water to help him land - the surf was even bigger. Kevin, May and Sam landed at a more protected shore near our campsite. And then Sam marched to the beer cooler. And pulled up a mesh bag with a hole in it... the turbulence had ground the rocks against the mesh, and rocks and beers went swimming. They were not located using binoculars. Sadness.

And then, because I am brilliantly lazy, I once again watched Kevin cook dinner and helped him eat it (if you're lucky enough to be on a trip with Kevin and even luckier in that you can convince him to cook, eat it before anyone else gets any bright ideas. Actually, you don't even need to be on a trip. If Kevin volunteers to feed you, say yes. Best kayak cook I've ever met.) We climbed back up to the top of the island (in between bouts of sitting, I circled the island once and climbed to the top about eight times that day) and watched the sunset. I fell in love with Georgian Bay for the 100th time. I was happy it wasn't my last night.

Our crossing the next morning was easy - flat. A bit boring, even. We didn't leave til fairly late, and Sam and Sarka demonstrated excellent form in the Georgian Bay workout show (which turned into a push-ups challenge that May took up. Not me! Sitting!) Sam and John were waaaaaaay ahead on the crossing. May was paddling with a two by four greenland paddle, and Sam made fun of her shtick. That is, until he disappeared in the haze. May determinedly paddled all 14 km with the greenland shtick (she made it herself), and Sarka and Kevin again paddled with her. I was on my own. At one point, Sam and John waited for me, and we finished the crossing together - but couldn't see the rest of them. This suited me fine. I had to pee. I followed this up with a swim and sunscreen re-applying, and then I found the crew again.

We had lunch at O'Donnell Point, where it was smokin' hot. Soon after, Sarka, May and John disappeared. Sam went for an exploratory paddle. Kevin practiced re-entry and roll. I put on my paddle float and played with the high brace and some other stuff. I got bored with being in the boat. I swam. I swam again. And then some more. Kevin and I split one of my two remaining beers and ate potato chips and... well, sat... and then Sam came back, and he drank the other beer while Kevin and I made inroads into his wine and we all threw out snacks for standard paddling trip horse dovers. The appetizers combined with the alcohol, a day of sun and sitting on hot rocks meant we were disinterested in dinner. There was more swimming. There was sitting high up on the point and watching the sunset. There was early crashing.

And the next morning there was some rain. Which made me conclude not to bother taking out my stove and eat cold cereal instead. This was a good plan, because Kevin - perhaps afraid of my mood if I went without coffee? - then made me the world's biggest espresson in his fancypants espresso maker, and I restrained myself from begging him to come on every trip I ever do from now on. Mostly because I suspected he had been working on his reasons why not...

Sigh. Then it was over. And now it's two weeks ago that this fun was had already, and I finally show you the pictures. Why do they just shift the clock by an hour, not give us an extra hour (or better yet, an extra day every week) in the summer? I need that.

Posted by Johanna at 10:05 PM


I am here. My blog main page is blank. I have been busy.

Since we last chatted I have:
roadtripped for over 3000 km
done a 14 km crossing on Georgian Bay (twice!)
paddled Isle Royale from Rock Harbor to Windigo
taken my kayak down the Thessalon from Rock Lake to Ottertail
climbed the bluffs of my childhood at camp
destroyed the waterproofing on my tent
rewaterproofed tent
had car repairs done (this one is neverending)
obessed about my garden, ignored my garden
visited with my sister, my sort-of brother in law, and the bump on my sister's belly that will be my niece (or I suppose nephew, but I believe niece)
celebrated my 35th birthday
fallen in like with Grand Marais, Minnesota
picked up a bunch of information for an Apostles Islands trip
eaten a lot of chocolate, drunk a lot of beer
gotten excited about upcoming August adventures
cleared up what looked like an I94 overstay but wasn't (it happened thanks to a not very attentive United Airlines gate attendant in Denver in April 2005, it was cleared up thanks to a very nice DHS person in Pigeon River, Minnesota)
not slept very much
not updated the blog with all this new content


Posted by Johanna at 07:29 PM
visitors since August 16, 2005.