Saturday, July 20, 2013

It was hot!

It was really hot- 95 degrees with 90% humidity hot. We decided to head north for some cool air. The alternative was to be stuck inside all week in the air conditioning. We settled on northern Wisconsin- not a long drive and a place we had never been sounded interesting- the Rainbow Lake Wilderness. The plan was to find a forest service campground in the Chequamegon National Forest close to the wilderness, hopefully beside a small, undeveloped lake where we could swim, fish and hang out. We would spend a day hiking in the wilderness, following old logging train trails to some wilderness lakes. A beautiful plan. We put the canoe on the roof and headed out.

As usual, we took the back roads to our destination, passing through the small towns and seeing what there was to see. We stopped at a small drive-in in Webster, Wisconsin for lunch. It was like a step back in time, complete with homemade root beer. The truck wouldn’t fit under the drive-in canopy, so we ate at one of the round tables with umbrellas- a perfect road trip experience.
Of course a beautiful plan is not sufficient. Back on the road, Kathy innocently asked if I packed the poles for the awning and screen room. I said yes. She asked where they were since she didn’t see them on the roof. I said they were in their usual spot under the dog platform.Then it hit me- I had packed the corner poles that knock down but had forgotten the framework poles that usually get fixed to the roof rack. I got sidetracked loading the canoe and forgot the poles. For a brief time, this was a major disaster in my mind, as I knew we would encounter bugs at the campsite. I quickly went to work thinking about solutions. I was pretty much resigned to cutting poles from the forest and lashing them together when I remembered the stash of parachute cord I keep in the bag of miscellaneous stuff that goes on every trip. I would string that from truck to poles and back to truck to take the place of the framework. Hopefully it would work.

We arrived at the Perch Lake Campground at about 3:30 in the afternoon. The rustic campground had two loops, north and south, situated by the small and undeveloped Perch Lake. We turned in to the south loop, well forested with dense understory creating secluded campsites. The truck was immediately under assault by deer flies- so thick we could hardly see past them. The windows went up quickly as we drove through the vacant campground. With some dismay, I said let’s try the north loop. It was better, with more open campsites overlooking the lake but several of the sites were occupied. We decided to stay and picked a nice site by the lake away from the other campers.

View of our campsite at Perch Lake

A pretty nice campsite but for the bugs.

View of Perch Lake

The awning and screen room setup went pretty smoothly. The parachute cord worked as a pretty decent replacement for the poles, although far from perfect. Unfortunately, the hoped for cool air was not in evidence. It was hot and muggy. Sweat was running off our bodies as we settled in. We took in the view of the lake from shore. The water was high due to the record breaking amount of rain this year. The bottom was sandy and would be nice for swimming. We decided to take a quick tour of the lake by canoe. It was a lovely summer day, but for the oppressive heat. A pair of loons were fishing and paid us little mind. An osprey flew overhead. Fish swirled in the shallows. Frogs burped. Things were as they should be on a lake in the summer. A bit refreshed, we concluded our tour of the lake and returned to camp.
Canoeing Perch Lake

Kathy is either flashing gang signs or checking out her latest fly bite while Rocky enjoys the view.

The afternoon waned, the slight breeze disappeared and the mosquitoes and flies came in search of dinner. Yikes! Into the shelter of the screen room. The bugs were so thick they clouded the air; so dense that by sheer numbers, a sizeable few found their way inside through gaps in the makeshift setup. They swarmed the outside of the screen. The sound of their buzzing was intense. Kathy likened it to a freeway in the distance, the incessant whine of truck tires passing. We sat in our chairs, slapped bugs when they landed and considered our options. Not many. I decided to make dinner while we discussed the considerable distance between our beautiful plan and reality. Clearly, walking in the wilderness was not going to be fun.
Thankful for our imperfect shelter, we ate dinner in relative comfort, considering the vast number of blood-sucking insects massing outside. We cleaned up and proceeded to make a new plan. We decided to head further north in the morning. The Apostle Islands in Lake Superior were not that far away and seemed like a good option. At least it should be cooler there by the big lake. With a new plan in place, we relaxed. I even decided to brave the insect hordes to go swimming. I needed to cool off and lose the layers of sticky sweat clinging to my body (Kathy was not equally motivated and stayed in the shelter). I wrapped a towel around me and ran to the lake, diving in before the bugs knew I was there. The water was refreshing! I swam and floated for a while. My commotion in the water alarmed the loons and set off a cacophony of loon calls, a sound unique and loved by those in the north country.
In the morning we set off for the harbor town of Cornucopia on Lake Superior. We had never been there. We followed the back roads and enjoyed the drive. As we approached the big lake, the temperature dropped- 10 degrees in 5 minutes. Awesome! Cornucopia was pleasant- we took a nice walk along the shore of Lake Superior enjoying the coolness, the sand and the sights. Walking along the big lake is very much like walking along the ocean, except there is no salt air. There are big, beautiful boats to look at and the water stretches to the horizon.

The beach at Cornucopia
An impressive driftwood construction

A nice place to sit.

After the walk, we decided to find a place to camp. We drove east to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. After visiting several rustic campgrounds in the area, we settled on Russell Town Campground on Little Sand Bay. While more developed and focused on RVs than our preferred style of campground, it offered a location near the lake with a beautiful beach and an interesting historic commercial fishery to explore. The heat was building again, even by the lake. We settled in and Rocky and I took a walk down the beach. Kathy stayed in camp. I went for a swim in the cold water warmed by the sun.

Our camp at Little Sand Bay

The beach at Little Sand Bay. Lake Superior has amazing sand beaches and crystal clear water.

Beach Pea (native)

Later, we took another walk on the beach and explored the Hokenson Brothers fishery museum managed by the National Park Service. We marveled at the work ethic required to make a living from the area in the early part of the century. The museum consists of the dock and fish house where the boats were unloaded and fish processed into barrels; the ice house where winter ice was stored for use in the summer; and the twine house, a shop where nets were repaired and stored and machinery was maintained. The house is also there and provides housing for park service staff. The evening saw another swim. This time Kathy went too.

Another fine beach.

The sand and the rocks it comes from.

Hokenson fishery dock in the distance.

Another nice place to sit.

Cooling off.

Come on in, the water's fine!

Orange Hawkweed (invasive)
Oxblood Daisy (invasive)
Common Blackberry (native)

The next day we drove to Meyers Beach to launch the canoe and explore a bit of the Lakeshore. The attractions are the sandstone cliffs and the sea caves eroded by the waves. There are some cliffs along the mainland and more on the islands out in the lake. We were intent only on a short paddle near shore of the mainland.
There were probably 20 kayaks launching at the landing and us with our canoe. The good-natured park ranger came over and began his dissertation as to how they only recommended sea kayaks with wet suits, spray skirts and full rescue gear and about how unsafe canoes are in the big lake. He looked at our beat-up aluminum canoe, life jackets and our license plate and said- hmm, Minnesota, well maybe you know what you are doing. But he couldn’t resist telling a few stories of how people had lost their lives out there. He was doing his job and I appreciated it.
In truth, the canoe is not well suited for big water. I have been in canoes my whole life and I have kayaked in the islands before and knew what we were getting into. The lake can be calm one minute and stormy the next. Big boats make big waves and conditions can change rapidly. The problem is that the water is so cold that your body quickly loses its function if you fall in. You have maybe 15 minutes without a wetsuit. When you leave the beach and encounter the cliffs along the shore, there is no escape from the water except into your boat. A capsized canoe is of little use.
I assured him we were not heading far, would stay close to shore, and we headed out. The day was sunny and calm, the water was not troubled and neither was I. We paddled down the shore and around the first point to visit the first sea cave. It was impressive, extending back quite a ways and very high. I asked Kathy to hand me the camera from the pack for a few photos before we headed back to the safety of shallow water and the beach. She dug around a bit before announcing that we must have left it back at the truck. Bummer! No photos.
We paddled back to the beach, taking our time. We passed a pair of nesting bald eagles in a tree near their nest. They were having a conversation about something. Using binoculars, we couldn’t see any eaglets but the eagles were impressive. We stopped for lunch on the beach and I went swimming again. Rocky obliged and chased a few sticks into the water to cool off. Kathy discovered the camera in the pack after all (it was in a pocket with a water bottle- odd place for it). After a pleasant time on the beach, we decided to head for home. The sun was really intense and on the water it felt a bit like being in a reflector oven. We returned to the truck (to the relief of the park ranger), tied on the canoe and hit the road.

Meyer's Beach. We paddled around the point in the distance to visit a sea cave.

Beach lunch.
We again perused the map for the smallest roads home. Along the way, we drove through the Fish Lake Wildlife Management Area. Part of the Wisconsin Pine Barrens, 1500 square miles of sand plain left by the last glaciers, it is 14,000 acres of marsh, prairie and forest managed by the state of Wisconsin. Driving slowly, we flushed two sand hill cranes- beautiful- and saw wild turkeys, a couple of woodchucks, a coyote and fox dens.
We stopped again at the drive-in in Webster for a root beer float (with real ice cream) and drove the final leg home.
This was one of those trips where things did not go exactly according to plan, but we managed to have fun anyway. We resolved to return to the places we visited under better conditions, when we can appreciate their charms. Stay tuned for a fall trip to the Rainbow Lake Wilderness. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Great trip! I know what you mean about trying to escape the heat, glad you still had fun.