I HAVE always enjoyed camping. I also love boating. A few weeks ago, my friends and I combined the two into a wonderful adventure on Lake Superior in North America.
Due to the isolated nature of the Marianas, there are only a few islands that can be reached by boat from Saipan. In other parts of the Pacific, in the Solomons or Chuuk, for example, one has access to dozens more. Lake Superior does not contain many islands, but the shoreline is very long and there are hundreds of bays and coves. In addition, a large and beautifully pristine island sits roughly in the middle: Isle Royale.
The entire island is a national park and there are no permanent residents, just hikers and park rangers. There are more moose on Isle Royale at any one time than people, which made it the perfect destination for Nathan, Jim, Rick, Larry and me.
We loaded our two 17-foot boats with supplies and did what every local resident said was crazy. We took off across the lake that has claimed thousands of vessels over the last two hundred years. Have you heard of the Edmund Fitzgerald? We sailed right past the the wreck. How about the SS America, whose wreck is so shallow it can be seen on Google maps? We boated right over it.
We were not crazy or foolhardy. A year had been spent planning this trip, getting to know the route and the weather on the lake, which can change in a second. Having boated Lake Superior before, we respected it, took it seriously.
The plan, based on the moods of the lake, was to boat out to Isle Royale and then circumnavigate the island, stopping whenever conditions made it advisable. The first night was spent where we first made landfall after the crossing. Although the water was relatively smooth for Lake Superior, it was rough in our small craft. We set up camp, devoured a meal, and spent the evening enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of nature, as far away from civilization as was possible in this part of the world. Five friends camping in unspoiled nature. It was a great day.
As good as the voyage had been to that point, the next day was that bad. We tried to boat around the northern shore of the island but the lake had become a stranger, angry and tempestuous. The waves were at the limit of our boats’ abilities, and we feared the worst. At one point, a giant wave slammed into us, knocking off Jim’s hat and glasses and sending them to the bottom. We cut that day’s run short and sought shelter in a protected cove, and after a meal and a strategy meeting, agreed that we would stop for the day and try again the next morning.
After another evening spent mesmerized by nature, we settled into a night of restful sleep, disconnected from the troubles of the world. No cell phones, no wi-fi, no news, no worries.
On the third day of the run, the lake was in a much better mood. In fact, it was the best water we had so far. We made a good run, explored an old lighthouse, settled into a new camp sight, and met a few other explorers who had come to enjoy the place as we were. With Canada on one side of us and the United States on the other, people came from all over to explore this island.
The forecast for the next day predicted the best water conditions for weeks so we decided to make the run back across the main lake. We would have preferred to explore Isle Royale for a few more days, but it was agreed that we should cross while the lake cooperated rather than risk making the run through rough conditions.
Crossing Lake Superior from north to south that day was the most sublime moment of the trip. The wind died completely, and the surface was nearly smooth as glass. We had never seen anything like it and neither had the locals. Halfway across, where we were nearly out of sight of land, we stopped and shut off the engines just to take it in. I imagine it was how the astronauts felt on the moon. Other than the five of us and our two boats, there was nothing but smooth water in every direction and the slight suggestion of land in the distance. Total isolation in sight and sound.
After reaching land, we all agreed that Isle Royale deserved more time to explore. The main goal of this trip, to cross Lake Superior in small craft, had been accomplished but the trip had filled us with questions and curiosity, which is just what such trips are for.
BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.