Sea kayaking in the Heartland

  • Article by: BOB TIMMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2014 - 2:31 PM

A local family heads to the south shore of Lake Superior for their first encounter with this captivating sport.

Rocky outcroppings towered over sea kayakers just north of Red Cliff, Wis., during a half-day paddling excursion near some of the Apostle Islands.

Photo: Bob Timmons • robert.timmons@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

I’d like to say we heard the mystical call of the north wind before my family packed and headed toward northwestern Wisconsin. Maybe we heard it, or maybe we just needed a quick vacation to one of our old reliables: Lake Superior, a freshwater sea of possibilities.

Whatever the motivation, off to the Bayfield Peninsula we drove last August for a long summer weekend. Sure, we had relaxation in mind, but we particularly looked forward to the half-day of sea kayaking I’d booked with a local guide. It would be a new adventure on familiar territory.

Until then, our family of six had only basic kayaking experiences — nothing of the sea variety. After poking about on area lakes in simple kayaks for years, Bayfield felt the right time and place to try something more ambitious and adventurous. Maybe even a little dangerous, should an unexpected challenge arise on temperamental Lake Superior.

We lodged in Ashland, Wis., but headed the next morning for our true destination about 25 miles away and just north of Bayfield. We rolled into the sleepy town of Red Cliff, Wis., and found our way to Living Adventure, an outfitter whose guides promise a day of kayaking know-how, lake history and entry into the pristine beauty of the Apostle Islands.

Offering as many as 2,500 guided trips a summer, Living Adventure seemed like the perfect gateway to the sea kayaker’s world. When I made the reservation several weeks earlier, I was presented with the business’ menu of possibilities: half day, full day or overnight. I chose the afternoon half-day trip of a little more than three hours because it made sense for our level of experience, plus I liked the price (about $60 per person).

We arrived and found that our Living Adventure guide, Paige Olson, looked very much the part. Part whiskery mountain man, part surfer dude in board shorts and flip flops, he scored instant cred with the family, particularly our four children, ages 12 to 19. Broad-shouldered and tanned, he was casually waiting for our arrival. Meeting Olson made us all the more pumped to get on with the adventure. The trip, however, had to be honed on land before it was burnished on water.

Olson methodically detailed each of our two-person sea kayaks. From the deck hatches to the pedal-operated rudder to the leg supports for comfort, the instruction came in waves. It was enlightening. It was daunting. Who knew sea kayaking on Lake Superior was so complicated?

We mimicked proper paddling technique and smart kayak entry (“butt-foot-foot” works best). We fumbled with our life jackets and spray skirts. Finally, we were afloat on Buffalo Bay, just across from Basswood Island.

The Apostles and their pine-shrouded beauty filled our horizon. Our first moments connecting paddle with water and heading north seemed ridiculously sublime. The water was uncommonly still, giving it the look of polished glass. So much for buffeting winds or angry swells. In fact, the notoriously icy lake’s water was remarkably warm. We even left behind our wet suits, those staples of Great Lakes fashion.

The calmness sharpened my senses: the warmth of the high afternoon sun, the occasional puff of a breeze to cool the brow, the uniform lines as our kayaks carved their way northward toward Schooner Bay. We cut into the water, listening intently for Olson’s cues.

A stunning, infinite world

Flat, stable days like the one our family experienced can quickly turn over, particularly for vulnerable kayakers caught in the wide, open water.

“The winds are wicked and irregular,” Living Adventure Director Gail Green said when we connected a few weeks after our outing. “Once you start crossing to the islands, it is a whole step up in range of gear and knowledge.”

But taking that step is part of the reward. If you invest in Lake Superior and remember who’s in charge, the lake will respond in kind.

As we moved past the red sandstone cliffs carved by wind and water and time, I became less focused on the mechanical act of moving the kayak and more attuned to this stunning, infinite world just hours from our home in the Twin Cities. My mind wandered and expanded. I knew then that I’d want more than this half-day outing could provide.

We found the Big Lake — and the Apostles — compelling on multiple levels. The history of life on and around the islands, from the Ojibwe and voyageurs to the commercial fishermen and the lost ships, is deep and rich. Deeper still is the lake’s effect on the spirit.

These words from Green best capture the mystical qualities of our first sea kayaking experience: “[Lake Superior] is full of history, facts and science, and yet you can also experience it on a different level,” she said. “Something deeper, something life-affirming.

  • related content

  • Paige Olson, a guide with Living Adventures, steadied the kayaks while paddlers cooled off in Lake Superior.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco 3 Bottom 2nd Inning
Kansas City 0
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Houston 36 2nd Qtr 7:27
Miami 25
Indiana 37 2nd Qtr 3:42
Minnesota 40
Utah 35 2nd Qtr 5:42
Oklahoma City 33
Portland 8:00 PM
Denver
Phoenix 9:00 PM
LA Lakers
LA Clippers 9:30 PM
Golden State
San Jose 3 3rd Prd
Boston 2
NY Rangers 1 3rd Prd
New Jersey 2
Toronto 5 3rd Prd
NY Islanders 2
Detroit 1 2nd Prd 6:19
Montreal 0
Arizona 1 2nd Prd
Nashville 1
Carolina 1 2nd Prd
Winnipeg 2
Philadelphia 0 1st Prd 13:06
Chicago 0
Vancouver 0 1st Prd 10:43
Dallas 1
Florida 8:00 PM
Colorado
Tampa Bay 8:00 PM
Calgary
Arkansas State 9 2nd Qtr 15:00
Louisiana 13
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close