The bugs at our campsite are ferocious. We are camped at Sand Island which I feel should be renamed Bug Island. To get here we kayaked some 18 miles from Ashmun boat landing in Saullt Sainte Maire, Michigan. It’s just past sunset and everyone has left the fire for their shelters and some relief from the bugs.
We left the campsite we had all come to the night before very early even though we all stayed up very late. Chuck (pathfinder), Chuck (Papa), Brian (soon given the name Gubamint), and I arrived at the National Forest campground near Hessel, Michigan around midnight (June 10) and found everyone else already there gathered around a large fire or already sleeping. The bonfire was not a large diameter fire but what it lacked in circumference it made up for in height as its flame licked at the branches of the trees above us. This was not a fire suitable for cooking, just for watching and feeling its warmth (and hoping to ward off bugs). Of course , with a roaring fire like this one conversations are essential and in this group of extraverts conversations of all sorts do not need encouraging. We chatted about stuff for quite a while before finally retiring to shelters or vehicles to catch a little bit of sleep.
We rose at sunrise to fairly clear skies and only a few bugs. It was too early to go to the outfitter who we were renting two kayaks from and who then would ferry us and our boats up to the boat landing so we searched for a place to have a pre-trip breakfast. We never did find an open place so we settled on a local bakery in Hessel where I had one of the largest apple fritters I have ever had. The outfitter seemed a bit scattered to me (chalk it up to their newness maybe). But in time we got things all going and only had to stop once for them to tighten up the straps on their carrier to prevent a boat from sliding off (according to a person in the group it wasn’t so much the kayak that was slipping as the rack itself). We reached the boat landing mid morning and were soon all set up and ready to go.
Our group has 11 people 10 of who are kayaking and one is driving his Zodiac. We are: Chuck, Chuck, me, the trip leader Bill (Wapiti), Dan, Randy, Brian, Shari, Vic, Matt, and Jeff. Vic is using his Zodiac, kayaking long distances just does not appeal to him but he has as much fun as anyone else.
We are a vociferous group. The Chucks can really fire up a group with their play back and forth. Other people contribute in their way and I mostly watch but that is par for my course. A lot of fun though I can only imagine what people on the outside looking in might think of a group such as ours.
We set out towards the Soo Locks which connect Lake Superior and Huron. We were angling to kayak through the Canadian side of the canal. We had fine weather so far and the paddling was pretty easy. I was, without a doubt, the slowest in the group but I would like to think I was doing alright. The lock master was surprised to learn we had a small flotilla of 10 kayaks that wanted to pass through the locks but was willing to let us pass. We waited with a tour boat at the first lock and when it was our turn to enter the lock we did so. The massive gates closed behind us and the water level began to drop. The level dropped steadily and, to my eye, quickly. In just a few minutes we were a good 20 feet lower than we had been. The lock now felt like a small canyon with sheer cement walls rising above us and red painted steel gates to our rear (and front). The tour boat went first and then we followed being bid farewell by onlookers standing high above on the top of the canal. It was a really neat thing to do.
When we left the canal it was early afternoon and we paddled on down the wide St. Marys river towards one of our many break spots. We took a lunch break on one of the many islands that dot this rather wide river and then a few hours later we paused at another smaller and rockier island for another break. We had been paddling by this time for perhaps five hours and we had about eight miles to go before reaching Sand Island. I was now starting to feel the paddling in my trapizious muscles. I was also feeling a bit of a sore spot in my neck from, I assume, my PFD. We were moving into some even wider stretches of water such as Lake Nicolet now and I was getting tired.
When I think of rivers I do not think of bodies of water where you can travel to a point well over a mile (or even out of sight) from shore or that routinely enter bays and lakes that are even bigger. But this is the kind of water we were paddling. Along with a couple others I hitched my kayak up to Vic's Zodiac and he pulled us the last couple of miles to Sand Island. We arrived a little after 19:00 and the rest of the group showed up perhaps 40 minutes after we arrived.
We had come to conclusion even before the rest of the group came that this island had a lot of bugs. Naturally by this time there was nothing we could do. We pitched our tents and hoped for the best. We built ourselves a nice campfire, had our first on trip dinner and schmoozed until the bugs drove us all into our shelters. But before that happened one final memorable event took place. A lake freighter, these are boats that can be as long as a thousand (1,000) feet and generate wakes of great size. All of a sudden the water that had been lapping at our kayaks was sucked away from the shore and then the water was returned in great force. It was like a massive momentary high tide suddenly surging or the results of a large storm surge. The boats all started floating and we all realized that the reason the beach was wet was because it was routinely inundated with these freighter made surges of water. We pulled the boats up farther and figured we would be safe. Early the next morning Vic was out, up as he seemed to be each time a freighter went by , checking the boats and found Brian’s (Gubamint because he works for the USGS in the hydrology division) boat was floating again. He pulled it up even farther.
For me the night was a horrid one. Between the bugs infesting my sleeping area, I was using my Tarptent, and the fact that I was feeling a bit sore in my arms from sunburn and the paddling it was just hard to sleep. But I was not alone. We all hated the bugs. They were awful and made sleeping no fun even if you were in the friendly confines of a tent. Still this was a good first day.