Well fed, and after a bottle of wine, we had a slightly leisurely start the next morning. Leaving Rossport we managed to avoid paddling back around the islands by taking a short cut through a culvert. The GoPro was removed this time in anticipation, but we had loads of room and both stayed in the boat to paddle through. A short haul over a beach saw us heading east once more in brilliant sunshine and light winds, hoping to reach Terrace Bay, some 40km away.
But our heads were not in it that day. Apart from the effects of the wine, we’ve increasingly had to turn our thoughts to home, and what comes next after the trip. Whilst we’ve been out here we’ve both managed to secure jobs in Perth, Australia, for 2018, which we’re delighted about. Cas doing a fellowship in paediatric anaesthesia, and myself as an anaesthetic registrar. This means paperwork, lots of it, which is tricky and stressful from a canoe and a tent in a foreign country! We’ve resented re-engaging with the real world, but we couldn’t put it off any longer and spent much of the day discussing the visa process and medical admin. We also thought my job might start in early January, which would probably mean an imminent finish to this trip. We were deflated, and upset that we weren’t even taking in the incredible scenery around us. This stretch of Superior is rocky, with lush, rich trees overhanging basalt and granite cliffs above cobalt blue water, stretching out to emerald green shallows around jagged outcrops and islands. In the coves are beaches of white, black or pink sand awash with driftwood from Superior’s perennial swells. It was a travesty not to be soaking in every moment on this great inland sea.
But Superior doesn’t let you dwell for long, and the afternoon brought the predictable wind, and returned our attention to the paddling. After a couple of short but uncomfortable crossings we reached the beach at Terrace Bay around 4pm and, wine gums all but finished, decided to call it a day. We quickly bumped into a couple of friendly locals who told us the town itself was a 40 minute walk, so another bottle of wine was out of the question. We headed to one end of the bay and set about dinner. Whilst this was cooking one of the locals, Luigina, returned. She strolled up to us carrying Boursin, a bottle of wine and an entire coffee cake. Cas politely started to suggest we couldn’t eat an entire cake, but I soon put a stop to such nonsense and gratefully accepted the gifts. Such acts of generosity continue to define this country for us.
That night was cold, which has started to become the norm as the summer recedes into the memory banks: we now dive into the tent after sundown to escape the chill rather than the mossies. We were on the water early to beat the winds and crossed a series of 3-4km bays on our way to Neys Beach, a former POW camp set on a 2km stretch of sand. Cas started with gloves on for the first time in months, but this luxury was short lived as one decided to sneak over the side when no-one was looking. Her capacity to lose stuff continues to astound me. As the swells built again in the afternoon we picked our way through narrow channels, avoiding the worst of the wind. The open water is taking its toll, with my shoulder reminding me of its injured status, and Cas’s muscles tight and painful too. We paddled well all day, and were rewarded with a fun surf landing onto the beach at Neys. After finding a nice spot to camp we settled down to share a beer with the park ranger, Robert.
Fog and a gentle swell greeted us on what was to be our final day paddling on Superior. We headed around Neys Peninsula as the sun rose over the lake, considering ourselves so lucky to be on this great adventure. The scenery east of here becomes more hilly, with steeper cliffs of grey and pink, set against an almost tropical looking forest.
Past Marathon, our destination for the day, Pukaskwa National Park juts out in to the lake, giving over 200km of uninhabited, wild shoreline, with another 200km beyond to reach Sault Ste. Marie and St Mary’s River. It is with this in mind that we have been considering our options. Our delays, due to weather and injury, combined with a forecast of strong winds typical for September, mean that to continue on Lake Superior would be to accept not reaching Quebec. Indeed, we would possibly not get further than the end of this lake. We were both resigned to driving from Marathon to ‘The Soo’ to enable us to see more of this wonderful country, and the colours of Quebec in the fall. But Superior wasn’t going to let us go easily. Our final 5km crossing into the bay at Marathon was increasingly rough as the forecast souterlies picked up, giving a confused sea and tossing us around like a cork. Testamount to our improved paddling abilities we both enjoyed the challenge, as waves broke across the gunwales and our deck earned her place once again.
Tired, sore and with mixed emotions we arrived at the boat launch, just as a truck and boat arrived to go fishing. Gary and Evelyn were soon joined by Phil and Lucy, friends of theirs who had been out fishing and watched us paddle past. After some discussion about the conditions on the lake, no more boats were launched. But our Bertha found herself on Phil’s boat trailer as they gave us a lift through town to the campsite. Grateful for not having to haul the boat 3km through town, we arrived at Penn Lake campground to finalise our onward plans. Evelyn arrived later with firewood, and we’ve spent a lovely couple of days getting our thoughts and paperwork together and spending some time in the town. We’ve even enjoyed an afternoon with Betty, a 95 year old Swedish friend of Evelyn’s who paints lovely landscape images on large fungi gathered from the woods. But now, as we write this, we are watching the trees turn to red and gold and making our way 400km southeast, to Sault Ste. Marie, where we will put Bertha back in the water.
What we’ve learnt:
Superior is the world’s biggest freshwater lake, holding 10% of the world’s fresh water.
Spread out, it contains enough to cover the entire continent – both north and South America – with a foot of water.
Our paddling has improved immeasurably since those early days back in Alberta!
There are actual people who work in actual gold mines in Canada!
Coffee cake is cake that goes with coffee, not coffee flavoured cake…
Thanks go to:
- All our friends and family who are keeping our admin in check back home.
- Luigina, for the gifts and good wishes.
- Robert for the beers and lift to the store.
- The Marathon posse, especially Evelyn for the food and keeping our woods supplies topped up.
- Mike, Spitzii and David for all their words of wisdom and support.