Having grown up as a self-proclaimed tomboy, Sue Vaughn, of Two Harbors, Minn., is confident when outdoors.
So when the 62-year-old went kayaking with a couple on the Cloquet River in northeastern Minnesota on Saturday, she didn’t hesitate to say, “Go ahead … I’ll catch up with you,” when the need came to stop to drink water and have a snack.
That was a lot of mosquito bites ago.
Vaughn, who never did find her friends, had to turn back, and after paddling to exhaustion, tied down her kayak and spent a cold and buggy eight-plus hours on a trail until rescuers called her name from the river about 5:30 a.m. Sunday.
She had a slight case of hypothermia and a bad case of bug bites, but was home by about 8 a.m. and, finally, she said, “able to brush my teeth.”
The incident prompted the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office to issue a statement saying: “When doing recreational activities in remote areas it is important to stay together and be prepared for emergency situations and changes in weather conditions.”
Said Vaughn, “It was supposed to be just a day trip.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the three kayakers entered the Cloquet River about 2 p.m. Saturday off Bear Lake Trail in Ault Township, about 35 miles north of Duluth.
Vaughn, who is prone to heat stroke, said she opted to stop to take a break and sent the couple ahead, only to make the mistake of going slow to take in the scenery. When she turned back, she said, she discovered “paddling up the Cloquet is not so easy.”
After about 90 minutes, she left the kayak and climbed up a hill, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt, and with a lighter in her pocket too wet to work. She stretched across a trail and tried to sleep, but the mosquitoes were “just horrible,” she said. Her yogurt, chips and hard-boiled egg were gone, but she still had water.
In the meantime, Vaughn was reported missing, and four members of the county rescue squad launched two canoes and began to search, the Sheriff’s Office statement said.
“I was never so happy to see people in the woods or to hear my name being called,” Vaughn said later.
Reached by phone after sleeping through the day, Vaughn was in good spirits and recalled being embarrassed only at the sight of a four-wheeler waiting for her along the river with a stretcher in the back. But then, she added, she was in no condition to make her way out of the woods alone.
She was taken by ambulance to Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors, where she was treated and released.
At no time, she said, did she feel the situation was about to turn grim.
Asked if she planned to kayak again, Vaughn replied: “Heck yeah … there’s nothing better than being outside to me.”
Staff Writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.