Trail/Park: Isle Royale National Park
It’s early again as I come awake to the same sound from the morning before. The slow sloshing sound that I now know is a moose. It’s again getting closer. This time I’m prepared, having set my camera out so that it would be at the ready. I move as quietly as I can to sit up and start it up. I sit inside the shelter with just a wood frame and large screen separating me from the outside.
There is movement to my right so I steady the camera on the frame of the shelter’s frame and wait. As the moose appears, I hold down the shutter capturing a series of photos as the bull moose comes into view between the trees that frame the window I have on Washington Creek. The moose stops, looks straight at the shelter and in this moment I think this is what the animals in zoos must feel with humans on the other side of the fence. Only right in this moment, I’m the one in the cage being viewed. It’s a humbling feeling. Moments later he’s gone, the sloshing quietly fading away.
Another wave of gratitude for this adventure washes over me. From the moment I’d started planning my family supported me in moments big and small. My son giving me the map of the park that I’d poured over in my planning and that had helped me gain experience here in navigating in the wild on my own. My parents, who’d taken some convincing that this was a good idea, who finally became my trip plan holders. My dear, sweet man who’d given me his support, asking questions about my plans to be sure I’d considered every aspect, but never questioning my ability. The strangers who’d showed the kindness I’d hoped along the way. And Mother Nature who’d granted my wishes for wolves and moose, while reminding me that she was squarely in charge of the weather.
My last breakfast was bitter sweet. I did my final packing, swept out the shelter for the next campers and quietly placed what was left of the bug spray on the shelf inside the shelter. I didn’t need it, but perhaps the next person would. I made my way back toward the dock and the ranger station. I considered again if I wanted to take time shower here or at the campground at Grand Portage, ultimately deciding on waiting. Slowly I was joined by a few others also returning to Minnesota. Conversations varied from a perspective that the park was “overgrown and uncared for” to the appreciation for the wildness of the park. A light rain came and went.
As we waited, the ranger came down to the shelter near the dock and offered a talk on the health of the moose population and how the research collected on them has lent perspective to arthritus in humans. A call came on the radio that the ferry would be a bit late so we quizzed the ranger on what it’s like to work on the island for the summer. Then came the call that the ferry was on its way into the harbor.
I’ll fully admit that I was excited to meet the ferry because of who might be on it. Nick and the small family I’d sat with on the way over were set to be on the ferry today. That was assuming they’d kept to their schedules. The idea of returning with the people who were there at the start was exciting after being on my own for these few days.
It wasn’t long before I could see the ferry and my excitement was rewarded. There at the front of the ferry was Nick who’s face sported a broad grin. The captain docked, we went through the boarding process and it wasn’t long before I was seated at the front with Nick and the family, eagerly sharing our adventures. Nick commented that he’d wondered if I’d be there after meeting me that day midway on the island. When I shared that his words had encouraged me to consider doing more than I’d thought possible, he pointed out that most of us can do much more than we think.
On our way out of the harbor, the captain told us that the clear skys and calm waters were a perfect opportunity to make a quick “stop” over the wreckage of the U.S.S. America. As we neared the wreck he had us all stand on the bow and navigated us in a sweeping arch over the bow of the America sitting just below the surface. The way we moved over it made it look as if the ship would rise from the water. It sent chills through me and I had to move away.
We settled in for the two hour ride. Nick offered me his copy of Walden Pond to read, telling me it was a book that he returns to as he moves through is outdoor adventures. I politely decline. I wanted to take in this beautiful day, in such stark contrast to the way my trip had started. We talked a bit about what our next adventures might be, where we were all planning on eating on the way home. The time passed quickly and before long we were unloading our gear and climbing into our cars.
I made my way to the campground and paid for a day of camping so I could simply take a shower. Ultimately I was disappointed, being greeted with little warm water, but at least I was now dressed in the clean change of clothes I’d left in the car for my return. Then it was down the road to Grand Marais for my celebration lunch of a stacked enchilada at the Gunflint Tavern and beer. I had contacted my family to let them know I’d both survived and that I’d be home a day early.
Hours later I was home, unpacking my gear, washing clothes all the while still basking my accomplishing my first solo backpacking trip. I made notes about what I’d do differently on my next trip. What items I could have left behind and what I wished I’d brought with me. I had learned so much. I want to carry it forward to my next adventure.
What I Learned
- I’d packed way too much food for myself. Now, after two multi-day backpacking trips, I know I can take less that I think I need.
- I took both a camera and my phone that had a camera as well as a portable charger. Next time I’d only take my phone and portable charger.
- I need to practice using my hammock tarp for shelter when I need to “go to ground” (no hammocking trees are available).
- Bring a deck of cards. It’s a good way to occupy yourself when it’s raining or you are solitary and have lots of time to fill.
- Journal as you go. Doing so gives you a great record of your journey and helps you remember all the crazy, fun, scary things that happened.
- Spend some time doing research about the park you plan to visit. You’ll be better prepared and might learn some really cool stuff in the process. Like that Isle Royale is the least visited of our National Parks, but has the most repeat visitors. Seriously people get hooked on it.
- Did you know that there are 25 major shipwrecks surrounding the main island, making the waters of the park a hotbed for divers?
- The park is part of the longest running study of wolf populations in the world, which has since resulted in the introduction of additional wolves to increase the count from two at the time of my visit in 2017.
- I found much that resonated with me on reading Walden on my return home. Thanks to Nick for planting that seed along with the one that I could easily make up my “lost” day. May your global adventures feed your soul and thank you for allowing me a glimpse into them via social media.
- Most importantly, if you have an adventure dream, find a way to make it happen. You’ll never regret the effort.
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