Travel

The Apostle Islands Part 1

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Last Summer, we were given the incredible opportunity to go on a kayaking and camping trip throughout the Apostle Islands. It’s been about a year to the day that we got back. I’ve been dying to write about it, so when I realized it’s been a year, I thought it’d be the perfect time. I hadn’t ever heard of the Apostle Islands until Mike’s mom called me on a beautiful, April morning.  She said she was thinking that it would be the perfect college graduation gift for him. She asked me if I’d be interested in going too. I didn’t think about it long, but I knew that there was no way I could just turn something like that  down. That’d be crazy. She made sure that I knew it was going to be a rugged trip, like poop in a hole you dug yourself, rugged. (TMI? sorry…) I agreed and the second that we hung up, I googled it.

apostleMike graduated about 2 months later (which seemed like the longest 2 months of my life). We went to dinner where he opened his cards. Mike’s mom, Linda, is one of the most creative people that I’ve ever met. She had the awesome idea to surprise him multiple times with several different letters. I loved that it prolonged the excitement because this is a secret that we had to keep for 2 months.The first letter told him that he’d need a bottle of bug spray. The second, he’d need a bottle of bug spray and some water. The third letter said he’d need a bottle of bug spray, some water, a kayak and maybe a tent. The fourth letter restated all of that and then told him he’d be catching a plane on July 25th from Tampa to Duluth, Minnesota where he’d have a rental car waiting for him so that he could drive an hour and a half to his hotel in Ashland, Wisconsin (Adorable little town BTW). The look on his face was what I perceived as excitement mixed with a smidge of terror. Totally priceless. The next letter said, “A trip like this needs a fellow adventurer, so you will be joined by your best friend, Joey.” He instantly lit up like a Christmas tree. The two of them are ALWAYS discussing adventures. I’m pretty sure they’d both agree they were supposed to be vikings… She handed him the last letter which told him that I would be joining them. I was really nervous that he’d be disappointed, thinking that maybe it would be better if it had just been the boys. He assured me that he was glad I was coming along, but I still have my doubts 😉

Before graduation, Linda was still trying to figure out if Mike’s cousin, Liam, was going to be able to make it as well. Since she wasn’t sure, she didn’t have a letter for that one. Liam did end up coming though.

We spent the next 2 months preparing for the trip. It was going to be guided by Whitecap Kayak based out of Ironwood, Michigan. We’d be up there in the middle of Summer so we were surprised when they told us to make sure we’d have warm clothes, a rain coat and a good sleeping bag. They were going to handle all of the food, so we didn’t have to worry about that.

Those 2 months flew by and before we knew it, it was time to go. Linda dropped Mike, Joey and I off at TIA where our flight was delayed about 2 hours or more, I can’t really remember. It took just under 3 hours to get to St. Paul/Minneapolis International Airport. Now, my family has NEVER flown anywhere on vacation, so I am not used to flying or airports. St. Paul/Minneapolis is FREAKING enormous. Since our flight from Tampa had be delayed so long, we had like 20 minutes to book it across the entire airport.
apostleI’m pretty sure I ran the fastest 5k of my life, in flip flops. We made it to the gate without a second to spare. They were literally trying to leave, and had it not been for Liam stalling the girl at the gate, they would have. We boarded the tiny little 40 person plane. I was a sweaty mess. It was only about a 20 minute flight to Duluth, Minnesota. Talk about comparing apples to oranges… Duluth was so small that I could count the number of gates on one hand. We had a feeling that we’d have to wait around for a few hours because we seriously doubted our bags had made it onto the plane in time. Surprisingly, after about 5 minutes, we saw one of our bags coming around the belt. I give serious props to the baggage guys in St. Paul. Clearly, they know how to do their jobs quite well. I was impressed. All of our bags were there. We got our rental car and hit the road. Minnesota and Wisconsin are beautiful. I enjoyed the drive. There was so much greenery.

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We pulled in to Ashland around 6 or 7 pm. The hotel we were staying at for the night was just as cute as the town. It was The Hotel Chequamegon. It was right on Lake Superior. It was rebuilt as a replica of the original hotel that burned down in 1877. Many people believe it’s haunted, especially room 312 and the rooms around it. Mike and I had the pleasure of staying in room 314… right next to 312. I was all about that life, I love spooky things!

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After we got cleaned up, we went to look for some dinner. We ended up going to a place called The Alley. I think we all ordered burgers because we weren’t sure what our meals were going to consist of for the next 7 days. I got the Wisconsin Patty Melt because CHEESE (Hello, Wisconsin, duh). After dinner, we took a walk around town and then headed back to the hotel to sit in the hot tub.

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We decided to call it an early night since we’d have to get up bright and early. I slept like a rock that night, but I wish I had cherished it a little more…

I woke up early. I was pretty bummed that I hadn’t seen any ghosts that night. I  got my bag all packed and then I went to catch the continental breakfast. They had a pretty good spread down there. I made sure to eat as much as I could. We began our 2 hour drive to Little Sand Bay, where we’d be meeting Neil, our guide and Josh the cook, later to be called chef Josh.apostle

If I had to describe the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in one word it would be magnificent. I went to Chicago once with Mike’s family for New Year’s, so I had seen one of the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan) before. Granted, that was in the winter time so it all kind of looked the same to me. The Apostle’s are in Lake Superior’s southwestern corner, off the coast of Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula. We pulled into the parking lot at Little Sand Bay and got out to meet Neil and Josh. They were busy packing up the 5 kayaks, very strategically. These were large sea kayaks (sit inside). There was a hatch in the front, a little one directly in front of where you’d sit and one in the back. One of the 2 hatches was reserved for food and other things like toilet paper. Basically, we were left with a hatch that was maybe 2X1 feet of space to keep our clothes, sleeping bag, tent and shoes. I began to panic. I was going to have to pick and choose the things I’d bring. Like I said, it was a beautiful, sunny and 75 degree day. “I’m not going to need an extra blanket. I’ll leave the beanie and mittens too, my mom’s crazy. I’m going to leave my big sweatshirt, that’ll save room. I doubt I’ll need anything but this thin one…” Oh my goodness. I kicked myself in the butt for that one every single day of that following week… You know the saying, “Mother knows best?” Well, she does… clearly. Listen to her next time.

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As we carried our kayaks down to the shore, I was stunned by the beauty and magnitude of the view. I’ve seen plenty of lakes, there’s even a little one in my backyard, but I have never seen anything like this. Superior is, well, just that. When I saw Lake Michigan in Chicago it never really occurred to me that it was a lake. Im so used to seeing the Gulf of Mexico, that my mind never made that connection. There was something about Superior though. It’s weird to look at a lake and not be able to see the other side. It was incredible. Our journey began. I had paddled in a sit-on-top kayak many times at the beach down in Florida, but the sea kayaks are a lot different, at least to me. I was pretty wobbly for the first small stretch. “This is nice” I thought. Little did I know that the first day would be one of the only sunny days that we would have. We paddled for about 2 hours before we got to our lunch stop, Raspberry Island.

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We hiked up a trail to the lighthouse. We ate turkey wraps and veggies. After lunch we toured the lighthouse, which was on a hill on the side of the island. I want to say we were a couple hundred feet above the water. the view was like a postcard.

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After a nice break, we paddled another hour or 2 to our campsite for the night, on Oak Island. It was right on the beach and there was a small trek up the bank to our campsite. We set up the tent and then the guys decided they wanted to swim in the 40 something degree water. Luckily, we had wetsuits that we’d wear while kayaking, ya know, just in case we rolled. Guiding kayak tours was just one of Neil’s jobs. He was also a Pastor and and an ER doctor. He informed us that staying in the water for more than a few minutes without the wetsuits would result in hypothermia and a bad time. Mike went in without it… shocking.

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They got some really great footage with the GoPros. While we were down by the lake, Josh was busy cooking dinner. I think that night he made BBQ chicken. It was really good! (We could only eat meat the first 2 days because after that, there would be no way to keep it cold.) If I recall correctly, we also had smores after dinner! Yum! The temperature had dropped considerably and the mosquitos were out like crazy. I’m all too familiar with mosquitos coming from swampy Florida, but Wisconsin mosquitos hover. There were so many. I got all bundled up in the warm clothes that I hadn’t abandoned in the car, to both keep warm and keep the mosquitos away! It was about that time, as I hosed myself down with my can of Off, where I was seriously reconsidering why I wanted to come along on this trip. (Side note: I was the only one to bring Off and kind enough to share it with the boys). 😉 There was a thunderstorm forming in the distance right around sunset. That was a really awesome sight. I think we went to sleep about 9pm.

 I woke up to a damp, grey morning. I slept on a root all night and my back was killing me. Neil had been calling for us to wake up and get packed. I was so tired and absolutely freezing. I stepped out of the tent and glanced down at the lake. I could only see about 5 feet out, then there was just this thick wall of fog. I over heard Neil’s radio calling for storms throughout the day. “Oh man, I don’t like this,” I said to Mike. I shoved a bagel down my throat just to get something in my nervous stomach and headed to pack up my kayak. It was a totally different environment than what I had experienced the previous day. This was what turned out to be the first experience of many with pulling on a cold, rain soaked wetsuit over my dry clothes. I put my rain jacket on over my wetsuit. I just knew it was going to be one of those days. This was also my first experience with fighting the wind. It definitely made it more difficult. We paddled along the coast of Oak for as long as we could but eventually we had to cross the channel. If I’m being honest, I was a nervous wreck. Neil and Josh had been telling us about the big ole’ log and ore freighters that go back and forth. All I could picture was one coming out of the fog and running us all over. It was a tough paddle to Manitou Island. We stopped there for a quick bathroom break. There was also a fish hatchery on Manitou so we stopped to talk to the park ranger that lived there ALL BY HERSELF. After about 20 minutes, Neil said we should get going before the storms rolled in. HA. Too late… We rounded the corner of Manitou and the rain started. There was also a little bit of lightning that was totally intimidating considering you’re basically a fish in a barrel. It was a pretty big gap between manitou and our second campsite on Stockton Island. Stockton was kind of shaped like a rectangle. About 75% of the way to the Northwesternmost point of Stockton, I had reached my breaking point. I remember sobbing to myself. I felt so helpless. I’m not trying to sound conceited when I say that I’m pretty strong. I can usually physically hold my own, but when my mind starts to override my body, I lose control of the situation. I was starting to panic because with the wind, waves and freezing rain, I was taking one step paddle forward and two paddles back. Josh came to my aid. He tied a tow line to the front of my kayak. That helped in two ways: I didn’t have to fight as hard and it made me more stable when the waves were coming from my left. We made it to the Stockton coast but our campsite was still on the other side (Northeastern corner) of what is the largest of the Apostle Islands (figures). Neil decided that it was going to be too difficult to fight the waves for another 3 or 4 hours and had us beach ourselves early. It wasn’t a campsite we stopped at, it was a random beach, covered in plants and weeds with woods about 20 feet from the water. He told us to unpack our kayaks and set up our tents because we were going to ride out the storm there. I assumed that meant that that’s where we’d be staying for the night. I was soaked to the bone and shivering like crazy as I unloaded all of my stuff from the kayak. I forgot to mention that I packed all of my stuff in several gallon size Ziploc bags before we left for this trip because I read that it’s a good precaution to ensure you keep your stuff dry. I also couldn’t fit my hiking back pack in the hatch so I left that, too, in the car (I assumed I wouldn’t be unpacking the kayak every night). We had to carry all of our stuff into our tent every time because of the bears. Yeah, there are bears too. There aren’t just some bears, the Apostle’s have one of the largest black bear populations in North America. Great, right? Anyway, Mike and I set up our tent and changed into dry clothes. I put on all my warm clothes and bundled myself up into my 30 degree Marmot sleeping bag.

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I was uncontrollably shaking. It was SO cold. Mike looked exhausted and I felt absolutely sick. We were miserable. If there’s one thing that I know about Mike, it’s that he doesn’t give up on things easily, especially when it comes to adventure. I had been thinking about this 4 letter word since I woke up that morning. It was then that I heard the words I never thought I’d hear come out of his mouth… “I wonder how common it is for groups to just…QUIT…”

*Note: I didn’t originally intend on this post being a 2 parter, but that’s what it’s turned into. Check back next week for part 2. Thanks for reading!!!*


Until next time…

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I'm a 26 year old NASM certified personal trainer with a corrective exercise specialization! My love for fitness and nutrition blossomed several years ago. It has changed my life. Now it's my mission to help and encourage all of you through my blog as well! Feel free to contact me!

1 Comment

  1. Dave

    August 8, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Wow…..you could write an adventure book ! I had forgotten about much of this…one thing I love are the pictures attached. The one with you and Mike and Liam doing the “Zoolander” pose is good 🙂 I am going to print this one and save it in a file, because you actually said ” I should have listened to my Mother”…Lol
    Great job Erin, can’t wait for part II

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