Not biting hard into the previous dish ? Good, neither did we. That menacing Monday morning we departed from an additional undisclosed location headed off towards the Wisconsin break wall. Sweet Mother Superior forecasted some unrelenting winds from the Northwest as we began our journey on the south shore. The winds around time of departure foreshadowed a ‘not so fun’ potential, but once we reached the lake and paddled beyond the break wall the seas were calm muddy waters. Presumably from the heavy Northeast winds from previous days’ fury, sediment was stirred a muck and gave the water an irony inflection. Onward we paddled towards SANDY beaches. Once again we had entered a land sparse with human habitants and a multitude of possibility. Miles melted beyond blades and so did our sunshine, sweet sunshine turning the skies grey, increasing the wind and locking down a surf landing near the Amnicon River where we met our buddy Joe Ko. Reconnoitering rendezvous aside it was great to be in the company of a fellow paddler whom hadn’t experienced this stretch of shore yet and was all about adventure.
While consuming a mid day snack we watched as the Lake dun built some burly waves and ended up camping at our present locale that evening. The next day we would take to the lake in cooler conditions and make way towards the mighty Brule River. This place holds an iconic image for the area. Serendipitous sand beach greeting the mouth of the river where it meets the lake stretching on towards the horizon in either direction. Avid agate hunters may be greatly rewarded for their efforts and lush green foliage rises from the banks of the river to the forest canopy. We kept our hunker down for the luncheon hour and paddled some additional miles after the foods had settled.
Back on the water our scale of daylight availability/ time to set up camp seemed to wane slightly and we wandered up the Iron River to seek shelter, which we may or may not have found. The details are a little foggy in there. I do recollect tall grass though, a cabin of sorts on the banks. I also remember the next morning the wind was HOWLING, and eating a righteous breakfast at some little boat landing on near the mouth of the said river. The pattern of the wind that day was to be burly in the morning and kilter off in the afternoon… and you know what? It did. Cool. We paddled on to the land of Port Wing, which has a SWEET beach, and then onward to the hebran town of Herbster. Right about the time we arrived in Herbster the wind began to build again and we made for the campground. A place where all the tent sites are right by the water exposed to the wind and fury of weather. We set our tent up in a niche best we could to block the wind and get warm. Some fisher folks were attempting to outrun this temptuous weather pattern getting rocked by the oncoming waves. Luckily captain Adventure bounded down the beach in his dry suit to help them steady their boat on the trailer and get the heck out of there. They even offered us their only fish that did not escape from the stringer during the commotion of the early eve. We respectfully declined and headed into town for some pizza and adult beverages. At this infamous watering hole we met another friend whom had escaped the responsibility of the real world for a few days to paddle. There we were, a solid crew of four not more than an hour away by car from our final destination, willing to work with what the lake had to offer. Mariah and Joe went to get his truck so it was not sitting desolate at the end of some dead end road on the lake and Alissa and I joined Skip and Shirley (folks from the North shore) for another fire (they have an additional rental on the south shore) and eventually called it an evening.
Morning rose, much after the winds and we knew we’d be in for a treat. Bummer. It was fairly heavy for a while. Buddies went and ran shuttle of the vehicles in case Mariah had to duck out early. We watched the weather and waited. Upon return it did not seem so favorable. More time waiting, walking, talking and eventually eating some lunch. For whatever reason on the south shore the weather didn’t seem to subside until early afternoon, for a few hours and then ramp back up in the evening time. We pounced upon our opportunity to pound some miles in our afternoon window and landed at a delightful little beachside cabin just outside of Cornucopia near Romans Point. RIGHTEOUS (T. DOYLE rules!) There we had a marvelous dinner of veggie burgers, spirits and high hopes for the remaining part of the journey into our home turf.
Paddling by Cornucopia set us down memory lane towards the sandstone cliffs and caves we’ve known quite intimately over the previous many seasons. It was like being in the back yard. For hours we paddled over the teal colored water, admiring as if for the first time, the rusty color of the sand stone, the birch and pine stretching towards the sky and getting splashed by the caves from some rebounding waves. Very much familiar, yet slightly estranged, we had just paddled around the lake in its entirety and now we were back among familiar ground. Shore rather. We had lunch, somewhere on lunch beach and continued to paddle into the western realm of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, crossing Sand and Little Sand Bays. WOW! We were really here. The colors of the trees were just beginning to change, and after a short break facing York Island we headed around the tip of the horn beyond Frog Bay and crossing the channel to Oak Island. The water at this time was placid and pure. Of a sudden it didn’t seem so much that we were returning from a mighty journey, but just a brief jaunt in the islands we knew and love so much. Uncanny feeling really.
That nite we camped near the sand spit and had a campfire – the only one Alissa and I actually experienced on trail the entire time we were out. Temperatures dropped, providing good sleeping weather- stars shone brightly and the familiar sounds of the islands took the mind from spinning to unconscious bliss.
Our final day on the water we rose to sunny skies and southeast winds. Brisk at first, but they leveled off in due time. We were I think nine miles or so from Bayfield, 90 some days since we had left and an entire world of experience. The journey was so reminiscent of a return from guiding a trip I had begun to think in my head, now one of us can clean the dishes, the other can wash the gear, I’ll vacuum the sand out of the boats and so on… but not this time.
Meandering about the sandstone cliffs over the Fedora flooded the being with connection to this fascinating place. All that it emulates and how much more it needs to be explored. Alissa and I joked about this journey just being a scouting mission; the real adventure would begin later. We were greeted by a WELCOME BACK sign as Mariah and Joe hopped out in Red Cliff to organize the next, shuttling phase of the trip. Alissa and I paddled the remaining three miles or something like that back to Bayfield, to a world we could not even imagine.
We arrived in Bayfield amidst Apple Fest. GREAT GOOGALY MOOGALY!! So many people, so many apples, so little time. Luckily upon our inception back to the area the beach near the Cooperage was empty, save for a few floatplanes and passerbyers. WOW. We’d MADE it. A reality that would take a short while to settle in, but we’ were here, alive, well, grizzled – something no one could take from us. There we had it, ninety days from beginning to end, around seventy actual paddling days thousands of photos worth even more words, memorable moments, a heck of an endeavor coming to a close a mighty Session on Superior