Isle Royale – Part II

Our first full day on the island was slow-going. We slept a little later than we’d expected, but as we had nowhere in particular to be, it didn’t matter much. When we awoke, we headed down to the dock. Part of our package included a ½ day rental of a canoe, so we had decided on a day on the water, only to discover that all of the canoes and kayaks had already been rented (early bird gets the canoe as they say). We could come back later, but there was no guarantee that we would get anything.

We strolled around and considered the various hiking trails on the island. While deciding, I stopped into the Visitor’s Center to speak with the Ranger (Lucas again) and get a crash course on some of the vegetation I’d seen on the island the day before. I was most curious about the variety of shiny hard berries (in red, white and blue), as I’d never seen anything like them. I was told they were not edible (they didn’t look edible, so no worries).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The white berries with the black dot were Baneberry (also known as Doll’s Eyes) and are quite toxic. The red berries also fell into that same category. The hard blue colored berries are a type of lily – the Bluebead Lily. I thought those were really interesting. The bead apparently forms after they flower.

As the morning drifted away, we decided that rather than test our luck waiting on a canoe return, we would hop on The Sandy and head over to nearby Raspberry Island for a spell. Despite the name, you won’t find many raspberries on the island, though it was once full of them (a shame really, as I do love raspberries). We did come across a great rock cliff where we sat to enjoy the view for a bit. Just as I was getting up to leave I noticed some wild blueberries. We snacked on a few before exploring the island further – they were so delicious. Far superior to any supermarket blueberry I have ever eaten.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on the Island (we were hoping for an elusive moose, but alas, despite signs of them, we did not see any actual moose). But there were lots of flowers and wonderful views on the island. The bog in particular had some really unique plants. This pretty flower, which likes to munch on insects, is called a Pitcher Plant.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

There was also a plant called a sunburst which was tricky to photograph. Here’s my best attempt.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The plants weren’t the only things that were tricky to photograph. After many failed attempts (including while he sat on my leg for a spell), I finally got this guy to sit still long enough for me to get a shot.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It was a very nice visit to one of Isle Royale’s other islands and you’d be hard-pressed to beat the scenery.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Though we left with lots of daylight remaining, once back on Isle Royale we stuck to the trails in the Rock Harbor area, as we didn’t feel we had time for a major hike. I spent quite a bit of my time munching on thimbleberries as we went. Having only discovered them that day, and knowing my time with them were limited, my strategy amounted to if it is ripe, pick it. Wondering what a thimbleberry looks like? You’ll have to google one, as I was apparently too busy eating them to capture a good shot of one.

In the evening, we ended up back down on the sea plane dock with a few other people to watch the sunset. A private plane had come in. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of it. And of course, we also took pictures of the setting sun.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

With the sun down, the chilly night air had us making our way back to our cottage. It was a short trip, but we’ve very much enjoyed our time in the park.

Saying Goodbye to Isle Royale

The morning of our departure we headed for the seaplane dock for our 9am flight back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula only to find out the plane was delayed 40 minutes. Seemed strange as the skies were clear and the weather was beautiful. Perhaps something was brewing on the mainland. But it was a lovely spot to wait, so we hung out on the dock taking photos and hoping for a last minute moose sighting.

Twenty minutes later we were informed that the plane wouldn’t be coming – mechanical problems needed to be addressed and the part would not be available until the next day. We headed up to the park office to find out what our options were. Our choices? Get on the afternoon ferry if they had room, or stay an extra night, hoping to get out on the plane the next day.

We opted for the ferry (this was a shorter three hour ferry) and then determined to make the best of our extended stay, we used our free ½ day rental to take a kayak out in Tobin Harbor. We’d been down at the harbor while waiting for the plane and it could not have been more flat, so I had no concerns about this kayaking trip. This picture of a nearby canoe shows just how flat the water was.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We spent about an hour and a half out on the water and simply enjoyed the stillness and the peace and quiet. At one point, along the shoreline we could hear voices of hikers on the trail that seemed to be following us. We’d later connect with some of those voices in the guest house while talking to some friends we’d made earlier.

In the afternoon we made our way over to the ferry and after waiting until all of the scheduled passengers got on, made our way aboard. The seats had filled up quickly. I found a table with two empty seats and asked the two young men who were sitting there if the seats were free. They were, so we joined them.

Alex and Ian had been backpacking on the Island as a final trek before the start of their sophomore and junior years at Michigan Institute of Technology. They were really great guys and we enjoyed a lovely conversation on the crossing, discussing everything from travel, to business, to school and families. And they gave us a couple of restaurant recommendations for back in Houghton, which is always great.

Coming into the dock in Copper Harbor the captain blew the whistle and told us to watch out the window, as employees of the restaurants like to come out and wave the ship in. Staff at the Copper Harbor Inn will even come out and dance the cancan. I assumed he was joking, but they did indeed come out and dance.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Overall, the experience of Isle Royale was great from start to finish. The staff were fantastic and extremely helpful. And Alex mentioned on the ferry ride that while it’s the least visited of all the National Parks, it is the most RE-visited. With such a lovely and unspoiled experience, I can certainly see why.

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. We love getting feedback on the trip.

Advertisement

Fear Factor

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Wise words from America’s former First Lady. And yet, I have much trouble with this advice. For starters, at my age, I feel I’m allowed the ability to simply say that I don’t want to do something (for any reason, including fear) and be ok with that. But, I do like to try new things – within reason. I’ll experiment with foods, and have gone to many new and different places in recent years. I don’t love flying, but recognize it as a necessary fear to conquer for the privilege of exploration. Yet…

To wise Mrs. Roosevelt’s point, this whole trip is a little bit of a “do something that scares you” kind of proposition for me. I’m very much a homebody, and the thought of this many weeks on the road is a bit terrifying to me. I like being close to my friends and family, and I like the comfort of home. Not my things, per se, but my space – that psychological cushion that comes with familiarity. Additionally, I’ve never been big on camping (and rumor has it we’ll be doing a lot of that), so when you add that in, the potential for anxiety was that much higher. But even accepting that, and choosing to do this thing anyway, I recognized that within the confines of the trip, there would be things that would scare me.

I faced one of them today – with mixed result. I kayaked on Lake Superior.

I had kayaked before. Once. You could call it “trip training.” Back in July, I went with my friend Courtney, in anticipation of this trip. Sriram likes to kayak, and has often mentioned wanting to go together. I found the whole prospect terrifying. I’m not a confident swimmer, and even though I’d be wearing a life jacket, my one experience with being dumped out of a raft while white water rafting left me pretty sure that panic would ensue if I got dumped again. He would never force me to go, or pressure me into it, but I wanted to be open to the experience, so on a random Saturday afternoon, Courtney and I went kayaking on the Sudbury River. It was nice. A little daunting at the start, but overall it was relaxing and fun. I was pleasantly surprised.

But kayaking a small river in Boston just isn’t the same as kayaking Superior. Lake Superior might as well be an ocean. It’s so big it has tidal variations. The waves can get pretty high and because there are so many tourist boats heading to Pictured Rocks (where we’d be heading, too) a significant wake was pretty much guaranteed. Still, I was willing to stop into a kayaking rental place and get some information before making any kind of decision.

So, we stopped into Uncle Ducky’s Outdoor Adventures

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Uncle Ducky’s is a family owned business that’s been operating guided adventure tours since 1988. We spoke to a really nice gentleman who gave us information about the tours offered. The tours are of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and vary anywhere from 2.5 hours to 8 hours on the water. I instantly ruled out everything but the 2.5 hour tour. If I was going to give this a shot, it was going to have to be a short trip. After further discussion I realized the 2.5 hour tour included getting to the beach, getting geared up, the safety speech, etc. The time on the water was closer to 1 hour, 40 minutes (which was about how long I’d gone with Court). Even more doable.

I explained about my severe hesitation and asked about the water conditions. I was told that the kayaks were very stable, that the tour won’t go out if the conditions were unsafe, and that the lake in the last few days was only at 1-3 foot waves in that area. That 3 was still pretty daunting to me. He also mentioned that all season only one girl had ever tipped, and that was because she had reached for something outside of the kayak. He was honest about the possible conditions though, which I appreciated. He also provided information about the training and experience level of the guides (all trained and have Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder Certifications). We thanked him for the info, took a brochure and told him we’d stop back if we wanted to go.

I was still very much on the fence. Strangely enough, one of the things that kept the door open just a bit more was the fun array of stickers they had available. As mentioned before, we’re collecting stickers along the road to decorate our Thule roof box with. They had some good ones, and a part of me really wanted to face this fear and earn one.

So the next day we went back to Uncle Ducky’s and asked about the conditions again. We spoke with the same great guy (I really wish I could remember his name), and he said that every trip out that day had been a great one, and that the lake was really calm. I decided to go for it, knowing that I could back out right up until the last second (and could even turn back if absolutely necessary).

We set out in a caravan down to the beach with the other kayakers and guides. There would be two groups for the 2.5 hour tour, and another group heading out for 4 hours. We were paired with 4 other sets of kayakers and a guide named Chris.

Into the kayak we went, and before long someone was pushing us off the beach out into the lake. We were one of the first kayaks out, which made things a little tricky right off the bat. We ended up a little further down than the rest of the group, which made it harder to stay with the guide, which was my ultimate goal. We managed to linger until the group caught up and then started the wonderfully picturesque ride.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I was having a really good time. The ride was mostly peaceful, and the scenery was fantastic. We passed the lakeshore’s smallest waterfall (at a mere 4 feet), and some amazing cliffs. I snapped a bunch of photos of our travel companions and the beautiful scenery. We drifted in and out of some caves and got rained on a bit.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Blur is due to water on the lens

Then two tour boats passed in quick succession on their way down the coast, and the “seas” swelled. When we got caught in the wake it felt so big (huge to my scared mind), that I ended up having a full blown panic attack. The fear was overwhelming and I found myself caught between my inability to effectively paddle, and my inability to not paddle at all. Paddling felt like control, even though I wasn’t doing it in any helpful or productive way. Deep breathing helped to calm me down. The wake passed within minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Once it passed, the fear passed, but the tension in my body lingered for the rest of the journey.

Still, I powered on and managed to enjoy the rest of the paddle. We played in some more caves, and even paddled under an arch.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

And, we even finally thought to hand our camera off to Chris for a while so he could get a few pictures of us.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

He also couldn’t resist a selfie.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

By the time we made it back to the beach I was definitely ready to be done, even though it was a mostly positive experience. I won’t say that I’ve conquered the fear. I won’t be hopping in a sea kayak anytime soon (read: ever). But I faced the fear, worked through it, and have a (mostly) great memory and some beautiful pictures.

And I got my Paddling Michigan bumper sticker. Because I truly felt like I earned it.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Thanks Uncle Ducky’s for helping me face my fear!

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. We love getting feedback on the trip.