After paddling 22 of the last 27 hours I arrived at Blind River to the warm welcome from a local doctor who had seen me paddling in the rough conditions and had checked out my website. He offered to paddle with me around the corner to his place to camp out. Next thing I knew he was offering me a Hobie Adventure Island to take across Lake Superior. This craft was basically a sit on top kayak with two amas(outriggers), a mast with a sail, and two pedals to propel the mirage drive with your feet in case of no wind.
After testing it as soon as we got to land I was left contemplating the logistics of how this could work. I had a canoe that needed to get back to Algonquin Outfitters and all my gear would not have fit well on the trimaran. After a day and a half of contemplating I couldn’t refuse the offer. I will tell you more about my unfortunate stay in Blind River in a blog to come.
Three days later I said goodbye to my trustworthy canoe and was setting sail towards Sault St. Marie. Soon after I was getting soaked and cold not making much ground into a headwind. I ended up pedalling more than sailing for three days to the Soo. My knees were sore and it was hard to find a temperature balance with the drysuit, the cold water, and hot air. In the Soo I was welcomed to stay at a kind friend of a friends place that I was yet to meet. We shared Estonian roots which made me feel instantly at home in her house. I would have loved to stay longer but the forecast on Lake Superior was looking very favourable for me to get across without too much danger or delay.
I pushed on into the mighty Gitche Gumee, Kitche Kumi, or Lake Superior as it is often called. Since I had made the plan to canoe this lake I had been warned about it’s power, icy waters, ocean sized waves, and excellent ability to change quickly from a calm lake into a boat sinking monster!
It was almost dead flat for me that first day and I had a delightful stay with a super fun family that I would have liked to stay longer with if only the weather on the big lake was not looking optimal for a safe crossing.
That day I pedalled within a few km’s of the wreck of the Edmund J. Fitzgerald. The lake was dead calm and i could see my reflection in the mirror beneath my paddle.
It was hard to imagine how rough the waters were that sunk the 222m, 13,000 ton ship, with all 29 of it’s crew. Looking at a map of the shipwrecks on the lake shows that there is not much space on the lake without a boat occupying the bottom.
Thankfully, but also painfully for me, the first few days of weather were very calm and I was forced to pedal the mirage drive for an average of 7 hours to cover about 35km a day (My knees are still sensitive two months later). The conditions looked good for me to attempt my largest open water crossing of the trip. A 50km day would cut off 25 km of the distance I needed to travel along the north shore of the lake and get me to Michipicoten Island.
With a few hours of favourable wind and then dead calm conditions, where I saved dragonflies from drowning, I made it to the island and set up camp on a rocky beach.
The next morning I was able to pedal the trimaran to within ten feet of some friendly Caribou!
They were more interested in the Thimble berries and Raspberries that I myself had been munching on the day before, than they were in a floating plastic banana boat with a stinky blonde creature moving it.
I soon found myself sailing amongst granite cliffs standing guard over secluded white sand beaches that made me wonder why I had never heard of this beautiful place!
I found camp that night beside a cascading waterfall that was warmer than the lake and served as a great shower. I felt isolated enough to walk around nude but always on guard for a kayak to come around the bend in the bay. I didn’t see a single soul all day long.
For the entire duration of the journey so far I am yet to have the need to put up or take down my tent in the rain. That morning was no exception but as soon I was on the water I was engulfed by a “windshield wipers not fast enough” downpour that seemed to create a reverse rainfall off of the surface of the lake.
The rain let up after a few km’s and I found myself sailing comfortably down a rocky shoreline with dramatic rock outcroppings reminiscent of the West Coast. Craaaaaaaccccckkkk!!!!!!! I was shocked so intensely that I was left questioning if I had just been struck by the blinding light around me. I immediately turned the boat to shore only to realize how dangerous coming to shore would be with waves crashing on large boulders and steep cliffs. I looked at my boat, mostly plastic held together with glue and bungee cords, and a few metal nuts. Was I a likely strike candidate. A mast on the water is always a good target. I continued down the coast looking for a safe harbour and thankfully did not hear or see another strike for some time, and when I did, it was far away.
The wind was blowing me where I needed to go. I was surprisingly and thankfully looking in good position to arrive on time to meet Katie. To go 500 km from Sault St. Marie to Rossport in eight days was an ambitious goal and one that many thought I wouldn’t be able to do, simply because of the unfavourable weather that would hamper my forward progress. Most days the weather was favourable and this day the wind was strongly in my favour. Perhaps too strong. Half meter waves built to one meter and then two and a half and I soon found myself in conditions that reminded me all too well of the surf in Tofino. The wind grew so strong that it was necessary for me to pull in most of the sail or consistently have the bow and myself diving under the surface.
The dark blue waters were icy cold, the wind was howling in my ears, and the set waves seemed like giants hungry for a banana boat meal. Despite the potentially dangerous conditions I was being whipped down the coast towards a meeting with my first female adventure partner of the journey. I didn’t want to keep a woman waiting. I was making the fastest time of the trip yet and the boat seemed to be holding up, just barely. As the bigger waves rolled in my boat and sail would lose the wind deep in the trough and as we emerged to the peak the wind would catch what little sail was left up and the whole boat would groan from multiple joints and then catapult down the wave at nerve raising, guts left in the wake, type of speeds.
Every couple hours I would find safe harbour on another deserted white sand paradise. I needed to warm up with a dance, refuel with some snacks, and calm the heightened nerves. My biggest fear was the risk of me being that jackass who had to get rescued again doing something risky. The chances were unlikely as I was always within swimming distance of shore and knew I could walk out just fine.The thought of using the SOS on my inReach device is one that makes me plan extensively and be prepared as much as I can to avoid hitting that button.
This was the first day where I felt it necessary to call my sisters to tell them I was okay. Of course they had no idea what I had just been through so the phone calls were uneventful. I was left smiling and grateful to have the boat in one piece and 60km closer to Rossport. If only they knew.