Friday, July 11, 2008

from Les Cheneaux Islands, Michigan

It’s Wednesday afternoon. We’re at the Cedarville boat launch. Kayak properly inflated (I hope). I’m properly attired.

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A push and we’re in Cedarville Bay. In the company of gulls, the rare swan, and the occasional, annoying motorboat (ban the wake!).

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Purchase photo 1875

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Purchase photo 1874

Sometimes passing a barge pushed by a tug. To get stuff to the islands.

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Our goal is modest: paddle past big La Salle Island and set camp on the uninhabited Government Island (it’s part of the Hiawatha National Forest). But the wind! I raise the possibility of capsizing and drowning. The waves are bouncing us around relentlessly. But Ed can’t hear. The wind rips out my words and tears them to nothing.

As we get closer to our destination, Ed pulls up and shouts out – great wind, wasn’t it? He and I often regard acts of nature quite differently. Terrifying! I respond. Your boat’s like one big life preserver. You can’t sink in that thing. My imagination can concoct a number of scenarios in which Ed is dead wrong, but I choose to not go that route. We are safe, we are on land. From which, btw, the waves look fairly… modest.

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Purchase photo 1873

Our chosen site is so very pretty!

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Purchase photo 1872

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Purchase photo 1871

And quiet, except for the occasional boat putting along to who knows where. And here’s the upside of the strong wind: for this one night, there are no mosquitoes! They’ve been blown away, hopefully across Lake Huron to Ohio (but probably just to the next island).

We hike to the other coast admiring everything. It is the season for wildflowers, and their upturned faces surprise you in clearings and at the water’s edge.

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Purchase photo 1870

In the evening, we sit down to a meal of organic freeze dried vegetarian Jambalaya. Mixed in a pouch, with boiling water – made possible by Ed’s archaic gas burner and enhanced by my cool bottle of La Vieille Ferme rosé (I believe in scaling down to meet the occasion). Possibly, the observant reader will have noticed the pink screwtop sticking out of the side of my kayak.

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We sleep for upwards of ten hours. In my dreams I am the doomed explorer, the failed protector and the terrible parent. I wake up thinking I can do better. Waves? I’m up for you! (Taking a morning bath in the cold waters of the lake adds punch to my resolve.)

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Purchase photo 1869

At first, it is smooth out there. The winds are clearly recharging and we are paddling with big smug grins. A piece of cake.

Our goals are loftier though. We want to head out on the open waters of Lake Huron and cut across to an island further down the chain: Marquette Island. Now, maybe you’ve paddled on the Great Lakes or even the open seas. I have not. It is an entirely different kettle of fish out there!

The waves roll in heaving masses of dark deep water, in a slower, mightier motion. You are but a drop of nothing out there. THE LAKE is in charge. In competition with the sky, which threatens to spill blood or at least water on top of water. So that everything is having, moving, threatening. And I have to remember that I am on a “life raft” (Ed’s term) and the wind is blowing me in, not out. And I do remember, when the brain takes over and the palms stop sweating.

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Purchase photo 1868

Finally, we turn into Voight Bay and gradually, the waters settle. (As does my stomach. Eventually.) Indeed, the air here is quite still. We find yet another lovely, empty spot and set up tent. With the smell of juniper berries and the sight of flowers.

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Purchase photo 1867

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Purchase photo 1866

It’s not dusk yet and so we take a walk across the island. The forest has a powerful smell of cedar. And indeed – we cross one of the few remaining cedar swamps in the area. The mosquitoes are so pronounced that we walk slapping our legs in a nonstop windmill action. But it’s worth it. The woods offer occasional clearings of flowers, but mostly they are dense and wild.

And on the other side of the island, we come to the marshy bay where reeds give a different tone to the still waters.

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Purchase photo 1865

At dusk, we are in our tent. I am just in awe of the technology that gives us this bug free and rain free existence. Oh, did I mention it? It's raining now. Hard. For hours, we listen to the heavy drops on rain fly. So steady is the rain that we almost give up on our organic freezedried vegetarian Bare Burito dinner. But we're lucky. The patter turns into a drip and Ed braves the bugs to boil the water for our pouches of food. I bring out the remains of the rosé and chocolate. I have camping skills, no?

And in the morning (Friday), the clouds are less threatening. Or at least, the threat is still to the south of us. Somewhere in Ohio.

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Purchase photo 1864

I’m anxious to leave. Instant espresso, a bite of cereal, no lake bath, no no no, let’s GO before that cloud explodes on us.

We need to head back into Lake Huron to go around the island and I want that part behind us. My kayak bow is swept with waves again and again and even the skirt doesn’t keep the water from dripping in. I am sitting in a puddle, even as I know, I KNOW, that I am in a huge life preserver, right??

Finally we turn in, paddling through the gentle waters of the inlet leading toward the village of Hessel. It’s our longest trip yet, but it ends on a quiet, contemplative note. Ed is drifting, with an open bag of trail mix, I am closer to the shore, looking at flowers and driftwood.

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Purchase photo 1863

Closer to Hessel, we admire the small and great boat houses – some with antique wooden runabouts inside, we pass an occasional fisherman, and we look at the distant regatta of sailboats.

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Purchase photo 1862

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Purchase photo 1861

We are in Hessel. At the Marina, I head for the shower. Warm, long, wonderful. A local resident with a bushy gray pony tail gives us a ride to Cedarville where we retrieve our car. At the library, I recharge my batteries and I post. Tomorrow, we paddle further east, by Drummond Island. Tonight? Unclear. Ed's hoping for a desolate campsite...