Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Following Verlen and Valerie-XVIII-Paddling the Great Lakes in Winter

In their Newsletters Verlen and Valerie skipped straight from Grand Portage, Minnesota, to their first Michigan landfall at Black River Harbor. I decided I shouldn't do that so I took to my virtual helicopter and followed their path along Lake Superior's Minnesota and Wisconsin shores until I caught up with them. Their strategy for paddling the Great Lakes as set out by Verlen was to average about 32 miles a day, sit out windy days, and paddle the miles very carefully "...with one foot on the shore..." 
The Newsletter Editor, Dorothy Webster, filled in some detail: "...after two days spent refitting at Grand Marais, Minnesota, the big lake began acting like an ocean and tossed Verlen and Valerie around on giant waves. Val, who didn't take all her seasickness medicine, was more than queasy..."
I put Google Maps Satellite on the screen and carefully followed the Minnesota shore southwesterly to the twin cities of Duluth and Superior, then went easterly and northeasterly along the Wisconsin shore and through the Apostle Islands and arrived at Michigan just where the Montreal River enters the Big Lake. Then a few miles further is Black River Harbor.
Valerie: "Landfall in Michigan was something to celebrate. We arrived just before dark, paddling into the shelter of the slag breakwall...We were windbound three days at Black River Harbor. Little did we know that we had just began our struggle. Getting to Michigan turned out to be the easy part". She tells of stops in Ontanogan and Houghton-Hancock where they were windbound for several days.
 She goes on: " When paddling was possible again, it was also unusually difficult. The cold temperatures of the early onset of winter caused each wave and splash to freeze on our canoes. Sitting on the waterline we became human ice chunks, and within a few hours of paddling each day, we were literally frozen into our canoes by the ice build-up on our spray covers...My paddle shaft was coated with ice. The bow line was glued to the gunwale...My gloves got so stiff from the ice they became immovable..."
Following the Krugers along the Lake Superior shore from Black River Harbor to the Portage Lake Ship Canal on the Keweenaw Peninsula brought on another nostalgia attack. As I flew over the mouth of the Presque Isle River and along the Porcupine Mountains I was reminded of backpacking trips in the "Porkies" with my late brother Dick and his daughters. Over Silver City I was reminded of another of life's great beers in the sole local tavern at the thirsty end of one of those trips. Sighting McLain State Park by the entrance to the canal I remembered camping in my Jayco pop-up trailer with Dick during a geological field trip, the last time he and I ever camped out together.
Jack McHugh of Escanaba paddled with the Krugers as they crossed Keweenaw Bay from Portage Entry: "Before we left the protection of the canal the Krugers linked their boats into a catamaran arrangement with two stout cross poles. Tremendous initial stability is thus attained...I did not have this advantage but felt confident as long as the seas did not become mountainous...We moved into the swell and chop of an icy Keweenaw Bay, being conservative and heading southeast so crossing the shortest distance..." He goes on for about six paragraphs on the awful wind, wave and ice conditions of that crossing. "Eventually a difficult landing was made on a steep, wave swept, rocky shore...the three of us resembled abominable snow men, with icicles hanging everywhere..." He allowed as how he was not anxious to make any similar crossings.
I find no words from either Kruger covering their adventures from that landing until they arrive at the Au Train River. Thus no description of their travels along the Huron Mountain shoreline which is absolute wilderness most of the way. They would certainly have stopped at Big Bay where "Anatomy of a Murder" was filmed. They would have rounded Presque Isle Park on their way into Marquette.
Editor Webster describes their arrival in Marquette: "The paddlers rounded the breakwall next to the Marquette Lighthouse and paddled the 600 to 700 yards to a sandy beach near the US Coast Guard boathouse. It seemed to take them forever. Small whitecaps broke the lake's surface and the spray formed a thin film of ice over the paddlers, their canoes and their clothing. Beaching the canoes was difficult - no one wanted to get wet feet in those conditions - so the paddlers backed off, gathered up steam and paddled those craft right onto the beach with a mighty effort. Everybody cheered!"
NEXT: Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

1 comment:

Jack McHugh said...

Alas, my dreams of a surf-landing with Verlen at the Huron Mountain Club were dashed by the premature arrival of winter on Gitchee-Gumee, and freeze-up of the Au Train and other rivers by which the Kruegers planned to cross the U.P. to Lake Michigan. It must be revealed that the crossing of Keewenaw Bay was their last paddle on Superior - boats and paddlers traveled by truck to Lake Michigan.

Cheaters you say? Maybe, but in the context of a 12,000 mile intercontinental adventure a temporary bout of common sense didn't really mar the achievement. Those guys paid their dues and more.
Jack McHugh
Lansing, MI