Trail/Park: Isle Royale National Park
My alarm goes off. It’s still dark and rainy outside. I need to go to the bathroom. I head for the relative warmth of the bathrooms. I didn’t sleep well last night and know that the day is going to be a long one. Only after I get to Isle Royale, get my permit and make the four hour hike to the Daisy Farm campground will I be able to sleep again. It will be getting dark by then.
I get moving, getting my breakfast. Packing up the gear I will leave in the car as best I can. As I’m finishing up my packing a truck rolls up with three young men in it. They stop and ask if I know where they will find the ferry. They look not much older than my son. I explain that they need to drive further up the road and offer for them to follow me when I get packed up.
I’m excited and my nerves are getting the best of me. The weather hasn’t changed. In fact, when I took my last look before losing service, the rain looks like it will continue all day. I’m fully prepared that I won’t be making the trip to the island today. But I park my car and start slowly acknowledging the others who are unloading their gear. The ferry office is still closed and doesn’t look like anyone is any hurry to open it. It’s kind of chilly so I grab my rain jacket and an extra layer.
The three guys from the campground are a bundle of energy. We start talking and I learn they drove up from Chicago overnight. Drove straight through. They tell me they are in college. Then another guy walks up and introduces himself as Nick. He’s hiking solo, northbound. We exchange pleasantries as more people start showing up. Before long the ferry and its crew arrive. We head to the dock that looks like it is sinking into the lake, joking about how sketchy it all looks. There’s a woman who has been spending a week of her summer every year for more than 50 years on the island, kayaking its shores. More people show up.
Before long, there are about 30 or so people with gear, kayaks and canoes. We listen to the instructions from the captain. Our gear will be loaded up top so we’d better have anything we want for the trip over (water and snacks included) before our packs go up top. He goes down the manifest calling out names. Everyone is present except for two people. We’re told that we won’t start loading anything until those last two people arrive. We wait it’s past the scheduled departure time, but I know this is the beginning of me going with the flow. Finally a car comes barreling into the parking lot. I lean over to Nick and mumble “Please tell me that they don’t have a roller bag.” They do. We chuckle a bit and realize that they must be staying at the lodge at Rock Harbor. Fair enough.
Finally our gear is loaded and we’re given permission to get on ourselves. I pick a spot at the back of the boat near a window and Nick joins me. We get more directions from the crew, including that the back of the boat is for “feeding the fish”, not the head. We’re informed that it’s going to be a bumpy ride as there is potential for 6 foot waves. There is palpable excitement with lots of conversations about hiking plans and we’re off.
An hour later the group is much more subdued. The waves have picked up, there is a small contingent of the group that’s already been to the back of the boat and is now feeling better. A smaller contingent is still out there. I’ve wedged my head next to the crack in the window that is providing wet, but fresh air to offset the diesel fuel smell. Nick is taking a solid nap. I try to do the same.
First Stop Windigo
What seems like an eternity (it’s only been three hours) later the ferry pulls into Windigo on the southern end of Isle Royale. The sky is an angry grey and the rain has only let up for a short while. We all have to get off the ferry for our orientation talk by the ranger. Then, following the same protocol as before, our much smaller group heads into the cabin on the ferry. I’ve said goodbye to Nick and the adult family of four who were sitting in front of me. They’ll be hiking northbound and it’s likely I will cross paths with them in a few days as I head southbound.
The group of three young men is still onboard and I learn they are heading to Rock Harbor for three or four days of hiking with no real plan. One of the three has learned he’s not the seafaring sort. He’s been on the back of the ferry quite often. The lady that’s been kayaking for 50 years is also still on board.
The Long Trip to Rock Harbor
We make one additional stop at Moskey Bay to drop off a group as we slog in the rough water toward the northern tip of the island. I’m grateful for the spot by the window and am bundled in the layers I’d hurriedly pulled out of my pack before it was hoisted up. Somewhere on the ride along the north side of the island we figure out that the young man from Chicago that isn’t the seafaring type has become hypothermic. The ship hand gets a bucket and we place him firmly on a bench inside at the back of the ferry. About this same time we learn that we are heading south, back the way we came, to stop at the Ranger’s station on Amygdaloid Island because it’s not safe to take the ferry around the north end of the island.
We dock at the station and get clearance to get off the ferry if we want. The ranger is stuck elsewhere in the same storm so the main building is locked up, but we can use the outhouse if we want. The crew also agrees to bring our gear down from the top of the ferry so we can get more layers and try to help out our sick hiker. As we chat, waiting out the weather we learn that the young men just graduated high school, that they didn’t eat much of anything on the way to the ferry and had lots of energy drinks. Then there is the fact almost everything he’s wearing is cotton. So the break in movement, while now completely destroying my hiking plan for the day, ends up being a good one to get this kid warmed up and a little food in him.
Nearly two hours later we get word that the captain is going to try again since the weather seems to be letting up a bit. He makes the trip around the north end and we start south toward Rock Harbor. It’s nearly 8:30 p.m. when we finally dock. It feels like the entire park staff is waiting for us. They’ve opened the restaurant for anyone wanting a hot meal. The few people who are staying in the lodge head for the warmth of its’ walls. I, on the other hand, join the small group heading to get permits. I know it’s not even remotely a part of my plan to hike yet tonight.
Then I head to the campground to start looking for a shelter. We’ve been told that both the campground at Rock Harbor and Daisy Farm are full thanks to the weather. So I go hunting for a few kind souls who will make room and am quickly rewarded by a Jimmy and Brianna who just finishing up their Windigo to Rock Harbor trek. The make room for me, I make some dinner and then fall promptly to sleep, hoping that my wet gear might dry out a bit before morning.
Next Post Preview: Dry is a relative thing. At some point a person starts accepting that everything you own is going to be wet.
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