Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Push for Cush


I was woken in the most horrible way. Everything was as I had left it when I zipped up my sleeping bag a few hours before. I was in my tent. It was still up and I could hear the waves breaking along the shore. It was still dark, and I was shivering. The cold had gnawed her way through my sleeping bag, past the extra clothes I had crammed into it and finally bored her through the layers I was sleeping in. To be woken up in the middle of the night by the cold licking your skin is miserable if for no other reason than it means you are now awake for the remainder of the night.

I wrenched on the draw strings to further close the breathing hole I had in my mummy bag-- hoping to seal in as much warmth as possible. I cinched down the hole until the opening looked like the anus of a giant green caterpillar. There I wiggled in my cocoon for enough warmth to pretend to sleep, and waited for sunrise.

Such a solar event has never been more welcome. As the yellow yolk of the sun broke the thin blue horizon line of a calm, cloudless Lake Superior day Luke got out of the tent and fired up the Jetboil for morning coffee and tea. Still in the tent and in my cold cocoon, I slowly convinced myself that getting dressed in damp paddling gear was something I really wanted to do. Mist hovered over the surface of the lake as Luke and I sipped our beverages and I rotated in the warmth of the sun. Today we hoped to round the tip of the Keweena Peninsula. Today was going to be a good day.

Breakfast in our bellies mixing with our morning bevies we shoved off into the light surf. There are times in my kayak when my paddle feels like Excalibur and I am on my--albeit leaky--noble steed. Other times I feel I am paddling a bathtub of cold water with a foam noodle. This morning was an Excalibur morning.

The first half of the day went well. That is we battled a head wind and big water but nothing that raised our eyebrows. Our desire to round the peninsula was great and we grew more excited as the point came closer. The blue skies of the morning changed to a dull gray, which grew darker as we approached the tip.

Just as we could see the last point of the Keweena it began to rain. A slow steady soaking kind of rain. The kind you can tell will last the rest of the night and possibly into the next day. The wind blew away any warmth I had and I, again was cold. My rain jacket, which is nothing more than the gear I wear when it rains and does not do much in the way of actually keeping me dry let the rain bleed through. Luke was figuratively, in the same boat.

It was important to make Copper Harbor, MI because the weather was predicted to deteriorate over night and we needed to reach our cache. So we pushed on. It was six o'clock in the evening which gave us roughly two and a half hours to get there before dark.

An hour and a half later Luke and I are cracking jokes about hypothermia and both lost the fine motor skills in our fingers. At this point I am paddling with a foam noodle and trying to figure out a good way to evaluate my mental status. It was getting dark, it was still raining, the wind and the waves were still a constant reminder to stay focused. Then we saw it. Just above the tree line no more than a handful of miles away hovered the green light of the lighthouse that marks the entrance of Copper Harbor. It glowed with the promise of warm food and maybe a beer.

It was within our grasp!

Just before the entrance of the harbor and the calm waters that lie within Luke and I realized something special. Given the long day, the weather, the physical strain and poor paddling conditions not once did either of us whine. Not once did either of us wish to be anywhere else, but right where we were. We were cold, wet and full of life.

We've said it before and I'll say it here again. There aren't too many other people that I could do this kind of trip with. Most would have tossed in the towel long ago, or would have been a bad match to begin with. Not all, but most. Luke and I have something in common. Some might argue stupidity, I beg to differ.

As we entered the calm waters of the harbor a belled bouy rocked and rung out through the pissing rain and the fading light. Slowly and randomly in a low belled tone it announced our arrival to the quaint little town of Copper Harbor that glowed with the promise of hot food.


  1. Good onomotopia Greg, or is that alliteration? Your Mom would know. Stay dry, stay warm, stay alive. Your Dad and I are at Grand Ely Lodge, warm food, great view, glass of wine, warm bed, here's a toast to you. Oh, this hot juicy cheeseburger is divine. There is a beautiful babe at the bar. She is thinking of circumnavigating Lake Superior. I told her it's already been done, well, "almost" done. It could become the biggest lake you have not circumnavigated. Only time will tell. Good luck to you and Luke. John Skolte, Chuck Petry, Oh it's nice at the Lodge. See ya later.

  2. Great piece of journalism. Glad you're safe:)