Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Islands In The Sun

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

This month MotorHome Magazine released my story on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Because the islands have been rated as one of the most pristine units in the National Park System, I’m posting a condensation of that story here. Editors there do a wonderful job of layout, and I was delighted to see the creative jusxtaposition of text and photos.

Despite the pristine nature of the 22 islands, all is not right in paradise, and if you are philanthropically inclined, you might want to consider contributing to the restoration of Raspberry Lighthouse, one of the eight preserved on these islands. And, if you are a kayaker, you’ll be hard pressed to find an area offering greater adventure, regardless of your level of expertise.



Pristine Shore

©Bert Gildart: According to a park service ranger at the Visitor Center in Bayfield, Wisconsin, the 21 verdant islands now comprising the Apostle Islands National Seashore were once so rundown from excessive commercialization that managers wouldn’t consider including them as a unit in the system of parks.

Because we’d recently hiked along a trail where oaks reached toward the sky, and then on to a marshland where a black bear reared up and bounded off—the 50-year-old image depicting desolation and erosion seemed improbable. But great recovery is what’s happened in the Apostles. Here, nature has so reasserted herself that in 2005, the National Geographic Society proclaimed this national lakeshore to be one of the two most pristine units in the entire National Park Service System.


Hidden Artifact

“That doesn’t mean,” said a VIP (Volunteer In the Park) on Stockton Island, “that if you walk into the woods and probe deeply you won’t find timbers from abandoned homes now almost dissolved. Or evidence of past logging and mining.

“But these are timeless islands, struggling to preserve something of essence. Sure, you’ll see settlements were attempted. But you’ll also see islands as they were when Indians hauled ashore here in birch bark canoes.”

Though we’d only been in the Apostles a few days, we already suspected what the informative lady on remote Stockton Island was trying to help us appreciate. At park headquarters in Bayfield we’d learned about the islands’ early lighthouse keepers. From a campground on Sand Island, which we’d reached by kayaking, we’d watched from a cliff of red rock while distant ocean-going freighters moved across the horizon of Lake Superior as vague anachronisms.

apostle sea cave

Apostle Island Sea Caves

On another day, we’d attempted to kayak to a series of sea caves, but weather had temporarily turned us back. Now, we were departing the mainland by ferry to Madeline Island—the only island that permits vehicular traffic—to learn more about early day history. Truly these islands located along the southern shore of Hiawatha’s Gitche Gumee (remember Longfellow’s famous poem, The Song of Hiawatha?) embraced so many eras they seemed struggling for definition—like a kaleidoscope of images about to reassemble…

Historic recollection is, of course, a function of the NPS, but in part it is done in conjunction with local concessions, and we took advantage of this arrangement. One day, we purchased tickets for a day-long trip on a cruise boat, and watched as an enchantment of islands paraded by—22 in all. That, of course, goes contrary to the idea that the islands number 13 after the Biblical Apostles, but Lake Superior is often shrouded in fog and so perhaps early settlers initially saw some diminished number.

As the cruise continued, we passed Oak and Sand islands, and then, in the distance, we saw Hermit, made famous by a man with a secret that clouded his life. Some believe the hermit’s name was Wilson and that the man was a lonely fur trader, still longing for a past love. All the islands have stories associated with their names.

As well as just cruising the islands, the excursion boat made two stops, one at Raspberry and another at Stockton. Raspberry Island offered an intimate view of the lighthouses keepers who once operated the Apostles’ six lighthouses. An excerpt from one of the park service logs provides insights, and helped us further appreciate the potential of Lake Superior.

“In the dark” wrote Lighthouse Keeper Francis Jacker, “I missed the point of landing, sailing beyond it [Raspberry]… thus drifting over to Oak Island. The storm did not abate until noon of the third day [and] there would have been no escape for me… were it not for a passing Indian…”

pitcher plants

Carnivorous Pitcher Plants

At Stockton, we disembarked and joined Naturalist Doug Wekley for a walk through a forest of oak to a deck overlooking a marsh. Wekely pointed out carnivorous pitcher plants and the paw print of one of Stockton’s 26 black bears, tallied through the advances of DNA. Wekley said he thought some of the bears were newcomers, having swum several miles from the mainland across these open, frigid waters.

That night we returned by the boat to our vehicle and then drove back to our campground at Little Sand Bay, where we watched the sun set over the Hokenson Brothers fishery—and over a number of islands we’d seen earlier in the day.

Sand Island was one of those islands, and once it was alive with the buzz of cross-cut saws and the voices of village people. It’s a destination for kayakers, and early one morning we checked with the visitor center and learned the weatherman portended smooth sailing. Temperatures were predicted to be in the mid ‘80s with winds slight, meaning waves should crest at no more than two feet. Weathermen, of course, have been known to be wrong.

As we pushed off we watched a group of kayakers going through all the techniques necessary for emergency rescues. Intentionally they dumped, and then righted the boat. Instructors then made sure they could perform a self rescue and an assisted rescue; simple techniques, sure, but useful only if you’ve practiced them a time or two in these cold, clear waters; something we had done.

Kayaking to Sand Island (3-miles away) required about an hour, and as we swept into the park service dock, we saw an ageless forest that extended to the sandy shore. Prying ourselves from our kayaks, we walked a narrow path, and saw deer bounding from near the weathered remains of an old Model T. The path continued and soon led to a small cabin, which served as the home of Mike and Cherie Reverie, now working here as VIPs.

lighthouse keeper

Lighthouse Keepler

Cherie not only provided tours of an abandoned home, but was researching the history of women who once ran lighthouses. Meanwhile, her husband hiked back and forth each day to the Sand Island Lighthouse, where he worked as an interpreter, recounting tales of seas and ships, and sometimes of tragedies.

Lake Superior, of course, is not a body of water to mess around in. Through the years, She has sunk over a thousand ships, and the cold waters have taken the lives of kayakers. Several years ago, a father and son tipped their boats and the young boy died of hypothermia. The tragedy occurred in the sea caves which we had earlier attempted to reach.

apostle sea caves

Apostle Island Sea Caves

Sea caves are a marvel of creation, resulting from the erosive effects of wind and water. You’ll find them on several of the Apostles, but one of the most beautiful series is located along the eight-mile mainland section of beach controlled by the National Park Service. From our time in the Apostles, we’d learned late afternoon was the ideal time to visit this particular set. Typically, the light is great for photographs and the afternoon winds have died. That’s just the way it was for us.

Departing from Meyers Beach (a 5-mile drive from our campground), we paddled two miles to the first of the caves. And then, although park brochures say to enter the caves with caution, they drew us in with all the carefree abandonment endowed in youthful explorers.

airstream camping

Airstream Camping

In one place the cave was hollowed to a depth of 30 or more feet. And what was so lovely is that from this recess, we could then look out at the verdure of several of the other Apostle Islands, islands with names like Gull, Eagle, and Otter; islands with symbolic names projecting this sense of timelessness we had come to feel.

That evening we returned to our trailer and listened as wind blew through the trees, and the sun descended into the Apostles—now remote and distant—lost and obscure in a timeless but meaningful struggle to preserve something of essence.

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