Let’s Go Back to the Isle: Day Seven

Image of the morning sun hitting the trees at the Windigo campground looking from inside the shelter. The view is framed by pine, aspen and flowers.

Trail/Park: Isle Royale National Park

I want to acknowledge this hike took place on I want to acknowledge this hike took place on the traditional territory of the Métis and Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ.

I know it’s early. It has to be. But there is a canoe or kayak out there in the creek with the weirdest paddle stroke. I’ve sat upright in my sleeping bag. As my exhaustion gives way to wakefulness, I look up and discover that’s not any person piloting a watercraft in front of my shelter. It’s a moose. A bull moose. I am half asleep and ache everywhere as I fumble for my camera. I’m not fast enough and he’s gone as quickly as he came. I find my watch that says it’s 6:30 a.m. I fall back into my sleeping bag and drift off to sleep again.

When I woke up again, I took in the fact that I’d gotten my final wish, to see a moose in the wild. At a safe distance in the wild. My body was still aching everywhere. I knew I’d need to get water to make something to eat and clean up. I was a muddy, dirty mess and every piece of clothing was covered in dried mud. The campground has one potable water source that I head slowly toward.

Look Both Ways

As I approach the intersection of the campground trail and the main trail to the ranger station I turn left while looking right. There in the middle of the trail is a cow moose. I stop dead in my tracks. When we’d arrived at the park the rangers had shared that of the population of the approximately 1,600 moose almost half were females that had given birth within the last six weeks. These mamas were going to be overprotective of their calves. The advice was to back away from any moose, even if you didn’t see a calf. I backed up the way I’d come and moved quickly to a different trail that would lead me to the water. I hadn’t seen a single moose in five days and now I’d seen two within a few hours of each other. Both times I didn’t have my camera handy to capture a picture.

I filled my water bottle, hobbled back to the shelter and made something to eat. The sun was shining and it was warm out. I used an empty ziplock to wash out my muddy clothes and hung everything to dry. I wandered the campground a bit looking at the options for tenting. I wondered what it would be like to have a moose walk by my hammock and decided I didn’t want to find out. As I explored, I ended up back near where I’d seen the moose. The surly dude from a couple days before reappeared and I mentioned I’d seen a moose further on. He again mumbled something my way as he passed. Back at the shelter I listened to people getting ready to meet the ferry and realized that I needed to check in at the ranger station.

Be Patient. Be Kind. Be Thankful.

When I arrived at the ranger station, she was busy giving an introduction talk to a group of boaters who were registering their arrival and trip plans. I took the opportunity to look for a park patch for my small collection and chatted with a couple who’d just arrived and were waiting to get their trip plan filed so they could get hiking. I learned that there was expectation of rain this night. I shared a bit of my adventure before the ranger was ready. When my turn came, I shared the location of the downed tree, the wolf tracks and learned that the ferry was due in within about 30 minutes. My timing was perfect for my only other task of the day.

To kill a bit of time, I headed up the hill to the small store. It had most of the basics a person could want as well as a few extras like adult beverages, clothes and mementos. I did’t buy anything. I just chatted with Irene who was running the store.

Down at the dock, I chatted with the couple I’d met the night before. They were taking a basecamp approach to the island. They’s spend a few days at various sites along the shore, using the ferry as a water taxi to move between them. During their days they’d do day hikes from their campsite. I hadn’t considered all the different ways to experience the park until I’d talked with them.

It wasn’t long before the ferry arrived on it’s northbound route. A new group got their orientation. I took advantage of the space between arrivals and departures to ask the captain if there was room for me to join them on the return trip the next day instead of my scheduled pick up two days later. I was assured there would be room and confirmed the time I should be at the dock with my gear.

With my arrangements made for the next day I headed back to the campground. On the way I took time to take photos of the flowers blooming along the trails. Everything was lush, green and bright. I sat at the picnic table and watched the view in front of me for hours. A family of Mergansers drifted by. A flock of Canadian geese, blue jays, butterflies, bees and the occasional mosquito appeared and disappeared. A light breeze kept the day cool. I pulled out my journal and added more to my entries so that I felt I’d captured my adventures well. I reflected on all that I’d accomplished and learned on this trip.

Helpful Hints and Reflections

  • I was, over and over again, grateful for the kindness of the people I ran into on my hike. People who make the effort to get to this park are a special kind. Take time to greet them. You’ll learn something from every encounter.
  • Offer what you have to others. Be it your knowledge, a tool or resource. Share your abundance with others regardless of need. The appreciation on another person’s face is the best reward.
  • Take good care of your feet and they will take you far.
  • Respect your limits and know when to stretch them. Being out of your comfort zone leads to growth.
  • Find beauty in the mundane, whether its a daily task or miles of unchanging scenery.
  • Duct tape DOES work as a foot care resource to prevent blisters and to protect your skin.
  • Being quiet and listening to your own thoughts for a few days is hard, but ultimatley can be a very good thing.

A Bit More

I spent the late afternoon continuing to watch the comings and goings of the wildlife between naps and eating. I repacked as much of my gear as I could so I’d be prepared to be up earlier in the morning to meet the ferry. The day left me with the desire to head home competing with the desire to stay. It had been a challenging and rewarding five days. I’d learned flexibility and acceptance. I learned more about what kind of backpacking and hiking I wanted to do. I learned to be less reclusive around strangers.

As the day gave way to evening, there was a bit of a ruckus a bit further up Washington Creek than my view allowed. I’d been sure I was about to see a moose again with the same sloshing sound getting nearer. Then suddenly there was a wild rushing water sound and then nothing. My hope of seeing the moose dashed, I moved on to thoughts of a shower, lunch at the Gunflint Tavern and my bed waiting for me back home.

Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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