Swamp boardwalk on Isle Royale
Not one other person on the trail. Light footfalls on the long swamp boardwalks. Heavy moose tracks in the mud below. Legs slice through knee-high rough.
Keeping the quiet turns up the volume to the absolute blankness. In fact, it’s so quiet that you begin to imagine aircraft or automobile noise. Your mind looks for a familiar tape-loop – there must be something there.
Breathing. The stretch of dri-weave clothing, socks turning in boots, the backpack’s shoulder straps sliding.
Stopping. Hold breath. Heartbeat . . . and wind. The treeline bends.
I grew up on the west side of Detroit. Each night we could hear Telegraph Road drag races, the rail line at the Detroit Diesel Allison plant, an overhead flight path to Detroit Metro Airport, an occasional gunshot.
I find the absence of sound unnatural . . . but unforgettably beautiful.
Like balancing over a water obstacle on a Japanese game show, you know it’s likely to be wet and miserable at some point on Isle Royale.
Mt. Ojibway fire tower
Overnight rain had hosed the tent fly and surrounding dirt pad with Lake Superior’s finest.
Nine miles away Chickenbone West offered no shelter and fire restrictions so that by the time we ascended the 1,000 or so feet of the Greenstone Ridge we had made plans to push on for McCargoe Cove on the island’s north fringe. Shelters (simple three-sided shacks) and the possibility of a communal fire pit would provide options to squeeze out the soak.
Dri-weave? In theory, these magic garments perform pretty flawlessly on a run or cycling jaunt. A steady downpour and waist-high grass guarantees that water will find a path around and into everything.
The fire tower on Mt. Ojibway might have been delightful in clear sunny weather, but a climb up to the locked entry cage only exposed to the stiff wind that reminded of each layer of wet clothing.
The entire 11-mile hike to McCargoe Cove revealed no moose or wolf (but plenty of scat), and passed only four other backpackers, minting the island’s reputation as one of the least visited national parks in the United States.
Our two tasks upon arriving: Drying wet gear in the shelter and asking the lone sailboat at the dock to share weather info on their radio.
- Sunset zen rocks at Lane Cove
When you take a three-hour boat ride with an ex-Navy guy, you figure that he’s not going to lose his breakfast along the way.
I could’ve gone either way.
The Isle Royale Queen IV takes about three hours to make the trip from Copper Harbor, Michigan to Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior. A little more or a little less is added depending upon the weather and waves.
A fairly clear August morning pointed to a quicker three-hour crossing. However, from Gulf of Mexico fishing trips I had learned that the deck is shuffled each time. I have tried medicated patches and sipping water in calm seas, which produced sickness, then bagged the proactive approach for no medication on rough seas and, guess what – nothing. Not a bit of nausea. So go figure.
So it was a relief that an hour into ripping a path through fresh water I was no worse for wear. Good, I thought. I’m saving the calories for four to five days on the island. Options: what you’ve packed in or whatever is available at Rock Harbor. Once we would have moved away from Rock Harbor, north to Lane Cove, it was just us, the moose and a few wolf packs.
Lane Cove on the island’s north end is about nine miles up and over the island’s natural spine, the Greenstone Ridge. We took a leisurely five hours to find the Lane Cove camp sites – deserted. We had our pick of eight empty pads to pitch our tent. No fire pit, well, there’s no one to fight fires. Backpackers are tied to their stoves.
A light and intermittent wind made the cove gloriously peaceful. The lack of noise accentuated the volume of what was there. Like the breaks and rests that make beautiful music, the gap was the good stuff.
Whiteout near Whitehouse, Ohio.
Must . . . get . . . to . . . Whitehouse.
Can’t see, though.
Joe was happy.