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Wisconsin; The Apostles; Serious Kayakers; Red Cliffs; Fish Livers?

We departed the Greater Coon Rapids Minnesota Metropolitan District Wednesday morning after checking in on our good friend Terri of the Frozen North. Good News: Terri is recovering from surgery and should be home in a day or so, unless the snowfall exceeds three feet, which they say is unusual, but not unheard of, in early September. (I think she was actually asked to leave the hospital because she was telling too many off-color Ole and Lena jokes, and the Charge Nurse, Hildegaard Olsson, had been insulted… but that’s another story.) Poor Pam has this cross to bear…

We drove north from Coon Rapids through suburbs, then corn fields, then forests, all interspersed with lakes, ponds and puddles, on scenic roads with unique names like Lake Road, Lake Drive, Lake Highway, and Lake After Lake Parkway. We finally left the big highway in Da-Lute, MN. Foreigners call this town Duluth, but residents of this working town on Lake Superior pronounce it a little differently.  A major port for iron ore and grain, Duluth is at the far southwest corner of Lake Superior, and doesn’t get the brunt of the winter storms that are always respected and sometimes dreaded by mariners up here (remember the song about the steamship Edmund Fitzgerald?). 

After driving down a scenic two-lane road for a couple of hours with virtually no traffic in either direction, we arrived at our designated campground in Russell, Wisconsin. Within the Apostles Islands National Lakeshore, Little Sand Bay Park sits on the shore of Lake Superior with a very well-kept campground and a small marina and harbor protected by seawalls of very large rocks. Here is My Lovely Bride with our Docks-hounds Rudy and Gretchen checking out our new digs; not a bad view, eh?

Nearby are The Apostles themselves… not the original Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but beautiful tree-covered islands a few miles off shore. Lake Superior is known for its storms and we were hoping to kayak the beautiful shoreline and offshore islands. Just offshore 2 or 3 miles is Sand Island, which we planned to kayak to later in the week. Sunsets here are sublime…
On Thursday morning we noticed a couple in a nearby RV stirring. Not only did they have Wisconsin plates on their car, but they had two sea kayaks on their roof and wetsuits drying in the early morning sun. (Wetsuits, you ask… in September? Yes, Dear Reader, because even with a balmy 70F high in the afternoon, at night the temps fall into the high 40s, and the lake water temps average around 58-60F.) We wandered over and met Roy and Kathy Green, experienced kayakers who have a relatively unknown condition known as kayakitis, the uncontrollable urge to acquire more and more Eskimo-style boats until your children see their inheritance dwindling to nothing, forcing them to seek out legal help to have you committed to an institution for the nautically-deranged. They offered to accompany us on a trip to the Red Cliffs near Meyer’s Beach on the south shore of Lake Superior. The sea caves in the cliffs here are considered one of the world’s top kayaking destinations. That’s Kathy exiting the cave mouth talking to Suzanne at left.

Kathy, as it turns out, is the real instigator here (she is a former swim coach and lifeguard); Roy, a retired school superintendent, gave up his second career as a horseman/cowboy because Kathy had the sense to know that unlike horses, kayaks don’t bite and kick you. Now they have seven kayaks between them, and are both highly skilled paddlers. Roy also was a pole vaulter, and now uses an Olympic-style rowing machine for upper body fitness. Here is Roy exiting a narrow slot in the rock wall…

Earlier I mentioned the fierce storms that breed on Lake Superior, with 50-60 foot high waves, large enough to sink large ore carriers without a single survivor. This photo shows what can happen when the wind and waves pick up and smash into these lovely cliffs and caves…

Some of the caves have openings large enough to drive a bus through, and other were so tight that you had to duck your head, put your paddle parallel to your kayak, and pull yourself through with your hands on the cave ceiling and walls.
Good thing it was a calm day, or you could be squashed on the ceiling like a bug; there have indeed been numerous injuries and fatalities in these caves during bad weather. Today, however, was a perfect day for visiting these unique natural attractions. We were very grateful for Roy and Kathy’s offer to go along with us; not only were they expert kayakers, but they were also tireless. My Lovely Bride and I normally paddle along at what we call a “mellow” pace; Roy and Kathy are hard-core kayakers, and didn’t break a sweat in their fast, steady pace, and politely slowed down a bit for us.


On the way back to the beach where we put in, Roy decided to do some practice rolls, just for fun. For those who have never rolled a kayak (and that’s probably most of you, right?), it’s a learned skill that needs constant practice. Imagine hanging upside down under your boat while holding your breath, and using your paddle and hips to twist your kayak upright; hopefully your spray skirt (yes, some guys do wear skirts) keeps Lake Superior out of your boat, and you pop up nicely with wet head and hands, but the rest of you (relatively) dry under your wetsuit. (Wait, let’s see, they call it a wetsuit because yes, the 58 degree water does get inside, but it helps keep you warm by not losing as much body heat… hmmm…). Few paddlers hit every roll perfectly, and I recalled that it had been about 20 years since my last rolling session. (Maybe I should find a warm pool back home in The Villages before trying out my kayak roll in Lake Superior!)

After our paddle, we invited Kathy and Roy over for drinkees in The Coach, and then they took us to dinner at Maggie’s in Bayfield, a charming lake port town that has a fishing fleet as well as pleasure boats and a quaint town center. It also has several historical buildings like this Victorian inn. It is a famous sailing destination, with the Apostles being a wonderful place to anchor for several nights of solitude before returning to the madness of civilization.


Whitefish and lake trout are the usual catch of the day here. We weren’t too sure about the whitefish livers that Kathy ordered (neither of us had ever tried fish livers). She assured us they tasted just like chicken (where have you heard that line before?) and we weren’t disappointed… they were actually quite yummy! The whitefish sandwiches (both sautéed and broiled) were also delicious. I also wanted to try the local microbrew, Running Naked, but My Lovely Bride said not to embarrass her, so I stuck to the mellow Amber brew instead. (Sometimes she is SUCH a prude.)

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