A Wet RIde Home

Trip Start Aug 24, 2012
Trip End Sep 07, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Michigan
Thursday, September 6, 2012

We get up early, as usual. I remain snug in my sleeping bag while Julie rolls up hers, deflates her pad, and packs everything neatly back into her pack. It’s the last time she’ll be doing that for awhile. 

I’m not ready to leave. My feet are sore, my hips ache, I’m cold, and sick of dehydrated food. But I’m going to miss the island. There’s something about this place that I can’t explain that makes me want to stay. Given that this is the only place I’ve really been camping (local state parks don’t count because you’re still so close to civilization), perhaps I’d feel this way about anywhere in the wild. Maybe not though. Isle Royale doesn’t have any bears or poisonous snakes or even any ticks, all dangers you’ll find most other places in the North American wilds. That means less for me to worry about, and given my penchant for worrying, that’s a good thing.

When I finally do rise and shine, my clothes are still damp and cold. Luckily, the sun is out and I can begin the drying-out process right away.

We arrive at the dock an hour before the ferry is due to arrive and chat with our fellow voyagers. We sit down with Jane and she tells us more stories about the couple that colonized her shelter last night. “At dinner, they had wine,” she leans forward to tell us.

“Wine? In a bottle?” Julie asks.

“In a bottle,” Jane confirms. I think about how much a bottle of wine weighs*. “What idiot carries a bottle of wine into the wilderness?” I blurt. I’m getting an inkling about why they might have been desperate to get settled in a shelter.

Jane continued, “It was bad enough having them in the shelter with me, but then, the guy snores. I finally go to sleep and I have a nightmare and in the dream I’m screaming when I wake up.” I offer Jane some of my pretzels and she takes a few. Julie shakes her head, no. “Anyway, the lady whispers to her husband, ‘that girl is screaming.’ I think she woke him up because he just grunted. Then I had to go to the bathroom, and I stumbled over their things on the way out. ‘Excuse me, excuse me,’ I kept saying. I thought of letting the door slam but it would have bothered other people.” Later in the night, Jane says she woke up again. “The wife was complaining about being cold. The husband said, ‘do you want me to get you your second sleeping bag?’” 

Second sleeping bag? That’s an extra two to three pounds for a lightweight bag. Plus that bottle of wine… I wondered what other unnecessary gear they’d been humping through the woods. 

Jane continues, “The wife said yes and her husband actually got up to get it for her.”

“You should have told him he was pussy-whipped,” I say. That’s not a term I generally approve of, except in a case like this where it is used to shame someone I want to punish. I mean, what’s that woman’s problem? She’s the one who’s cold, so she should get her own damn sleeping bag. And he just lets her get away with playing helpless. With all this pathetic codependence and ignorance about what to bring on a backpacking trip, I’m wondering how far they actually managed to hike. Sounds to me like they were barely qualified to do the 1 mile Nature Walk at Windigo.

I spot Sarah, the solo woman hiker I met back on day five, and I get up to invite her over to join us. When I get back, Sarah in tow, Julie is telling Jane how we had our own run-in with the clueless couple. I try to keep my eyes from bugging out of my head in fear since I neglected to mention to Jane last night that I knew anything at all about these people. Somehow, Julie manages to tell the story in a way that omits my specific mention of Jane’s shelter and I’m grateful for that. 

I introduce Jane and Sarah and the four of us chat on the dock and eat pretzels (except for Julie who doesn’t like pretzels).

The harbor looks a little choppy. Last year, both Julie and I got seasick on the trip back, so this year, I brought some anti-motion sickness medication. We take our doses and offer some to Jane and Sarah, who decline. Finally, the Voyager II arrives, drops off a few hikers, and we clamber onboard. The four of us sit in the prow, on a bench in front of the bridge’s windshield. The sun is out, there is a little wind, and we’re excited and laughing. We wave goodbye to Ranger Cindy as the boat pulls away from the dock and heads out to Lake Superior. 

I’m wearing my rain jacket and polar fleece because even on a nice day it can get wet and brisk on the boat. The ride starts calmly, but suddenly the prow dips down and a wall of water slams the boat from the right, drenching us all. “Whoa!” “Woo Hoo!” “Yow!” we cry, laughing. The waves are getting bigger out there, and we get splashed again and again. We learn that when the prow dips a certain way we need to duck and cover because a wave is about to come on board. Despite my rain gear, water is running down my stomach and into my underwear. My socks are soaking. “Woo Hoo!” I yell whenever a big one hits. “Yahoo!” Jane cries. Then she leans over to ask me about her camera, which she is trying to protect under her thin windbreaker. “Should I take the card out of it? I’m worried about that getting damaged.” Another trough, another wave, another round of laughter. I tell Jane not to worry about the card, but the boat’s motor is too loud for me to explain that it’s the electronics in the camera itself that need protecting. My own camera is in my soaking wet fanny pack, inside a ziplock bag that I only remembered to seal after the first big wave hit.

Over the noise of the engine, Sarah and I talk about our lives. Sarah, it turns out, considers herself to be a novice backpacker, but she has a lot of experience in my opinion. A friend of hers has been her camping mentor, teaching her over the last three years all about backpacking and camping in all seasons. She was alone at Isle Royale because her friend injured her back and Sarah decided to take a solo trip. 

About an hour into the two hour trip, the sun dips behind the clouds. I start shivering. Sarah is also getting uncomfortable. I decide to check the cabin to see if I want to be in there. That involves inching myself along a narrow walkway on the boat’s side, gripping the handrail tightly to avoid losing my footing as the boat pitches, rolls, heaves, and sways. I get the door to the cabin open and everyone looks at me like I’m something the cat dragged in, and I can’t blame them. A puddle is forming where I stand. 

I can tell immediately that the cabin is somewhat warmer, but the air is dense and thick. I’d much rather be outside. So I inch my way back to my seat on the prow. But the sun stubbornly refuses to shine and soon even Julie is complaining of being cold and we all decide to head in. 

I return down the same side I just used, port, but the other three take the starboard side. Julie tells me later that Jane is using her hands to protect her camera, and therefore is not using them to grip the handrails and she goes down. The first mate leaps out of the bridge and helps her into the cabin before she can wash overboard. She’s laughing when they enter the cabin. I admire her pluck.

The seats in the boat are all taken, so we sit on top of the engines, which look like two big, metal boxes. They are warm and vibrate. I share a box with Julie, and Jane and Sarah share the other. It takes a long time for my shivering to subside. Water is pooling under my butt and legs, which is not helping matters. I lean into Julie and she into me. 

The mate comes out to let everyone know we’re about a half hour away from Grand Portage. Then he and Jane talk. He tells her that he and the Captain were impressed with how long we stayed out on the prow. That makes me feel proud. I wonder if they had any bets going.

The anti-nausea medication has worked very well and when we disembark, my only problem is how wet and cold I am. I leave Julie to collect the packs while I pay for parking. The way it works is that you park, and they leave an envelope on your car that shows that date. When you return, you take the envelope to the office and pay $4 or $5 per day. I get the envelope, but I can barely hold it I’m shaking so hard. I manage to get my car open and the inside is nice and toasty, even though the ambient air temperature isn’t. I have dry clothes in the car and I change my shirt right in the parking lot. I figure everyone who can see me is a grown up and has seen boobies before. I carry my jeans to the office. My hands are quaking as I hand the clerk the cash to pay for parking. I change into my jeans in the bathroom and ring my underwear out in the sink. 

Once in dry clothing, I’m still cold, but no longer shaking. I join Julie on the dock to pick up my pack. Rex is in his camp chair under a tree, waiting for his wife Michele to pick him up. I wish him the best. Maybe I’ll see him next year.

We’ve arranged with Jane and Sarah to meet in Grand Marais at Sidney’s for pizza. I see Sarah and tell her we’ll caravan, but by the time Julie has put on dry clothes and shoes and we are ready to go, I don’t see Sarah or Jane anywhere in the lot. Julie says they must have left already, so I head out, hoping that I’m not leaving Sarah behind. 

When we reach Sidney’s, Jane is already there, ordering her pizza. Sidney’s isn’t a restaurant. It’s a hole in the wall where you order your food and sit outside to eat. That’s wonderful when the sun is out, but today there’s a cold wind and I’m shivering again, so I run over to a nearby tourist shop to buy a jacket (since my polar fleece is soaking wet). By the time I get back, Jane has already left. She wanted to drive all the way back home tonight, so didn’t want to take the extra time to hang out. Sarah has arrived though, and has even provided Julie with a jacket. The three of us eat our (delicious) pizzas. After I finish my half of the pizza, I’m still hungry, so I also eat a hot dog. Julie gets some frozen custard. 

We offer to let Sarah stay at our place in Finlayson tonight, but she’s heading into Wisconsin, so it would be too far out of her way. She’ll stay in a cheap motel on the North Shore [of Lake Superior] and finish her journey tomorrow. We say our goodbyes and promise to stay in touch. 

Then we drive to Finlayson, spend the night, and drive to Minneapolis in the morning. Eating real food again is wonderful. Sleeping in a bed again is wonderful. Seeing my kitties again is wonderful. 

 But I still wish I were back on Isle Royale.

*I weighed a standard 750 ml bottle of wine: 2.75 lbs. 
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