The Great (Lakes) Escape

The Great Lakes, Superior and Huron, have dominated our lives for the last five weeks. And they’ve dominated our thoughts for much longer, as we always knew they would be a key factor in the success of the trip. They have been beautiful and brutal in equal measure, have offered much more to the paddler than we had expected, but taken their toll. At 9am this morning, both physically and mentally exhausted but ultimately relieved and delighted, we paddled off Georgian Bay on Lake Huron and into the French River.

Dawn from the tent

The last few days on Lake Huron have been characterised by wind, and a constant feeling we were always trying to paddle to the source of it. It has been pretty much continually in our faces. We left our little island (of the panoramic pictures on the last post) at 2pm, when the wind looked like it was going to drop. After paddling 3.5km it was clear it wasn’t, so we found refuge on a cabin pontoon whilst the owners were out fishing. By 5pm we were bored, and decided to try again, sneaking a few more kilometres along the coast before dark, and being treated to a faint aurora away to the north. Up at 5.30am again, as has become the norm, we headed off before the mandatory afternoon break hiding from the wind. An evening limp east, with two or three further stops, finally found us on the edge of the Bay of Islands, our target for the day. We are still managing 30-40km a day despite the wind, it’s just tougher and far more frustrating, whilst still being utterly stunning. But dawn rewarded us with a beautiful sunrise paddle through the islands as we headed for Georgian Bay. A family of otters were out enjoying the early morning calm too, porpoising and playing in front of us, until they noticed we were there.

Daily hygiene in the Bay of Islands

Our target for the day was Killarney, a fishing village in the north channel, around 40km away. Fine, we thought, if we don’t get stuck. This day the wind came even earlier, and just after noon we were hunkered in a bay cursing the lake and Cas swearing she’d never come here again. We sat, and we read, and we drank tea, and we waited….and waited…until at 4.30pm, with falling wind and little hope of reaching the village, we set off. We paddled hard for the portage, which skips across a long peninsula saving over 15km of paddling, and got there after 6pm having surprised a second family of otters out fishing. A portage, and then 5km paddle to Killarney. Phew. Maybe we can do this… At 7.45pm, having raced the rapidly encroaching dark, the flashes and rumbles of an impending storm (which turned out to be truly epic!), and the closing time of the fish’n’chip shop, we pulled up outside Herbert’s Fisheries and ran inside, just as the heavens opened. And they served beer. We could not have been happier. Having shared tales of travels with the staff, and probably slightly alarmed some fellow diners with our table manners, we found a bed for the night at the Killarney Mountain Lodge. They also had a bar, with whisky, and a bloke from Derbyshire playing covers.

Happy wife!

We don’t know how far these two paddled…

Showered, slightly hungover, and resupplied with ibuprofen from the local store (for our tiring bodies, not our heads), we paddled off into the fog the next morning. We knew it was 30km in a straight line to the French River, but more like 40 via a sheltered channel that would keep us out of the wind and allow is to make more steady progress. We briefly rued taking the longer route, but it was an absolute dream paddling on flat water all day and escaping the wind. It also turned out a howling south westerly had been blowing most of the day, so by staying on the main coast we would have gone nowhere. We met some fellow paddlers from Toronto and paddled with them for a while, discussing paddling and politics, and defending our paddling style! And finally, having battled the wind back towards the main lake for the final 10km and realising our hopes of reaching the French that day were being dashed by the wind and swell, we arrived at an incredible archipelago and possibly our best campsite of the trip.

Sunset on our Great Lakes paddling 

Thanks goes to:

  • Herbert’s Fisheries, for the best meal we could have wished for!
  • Killarney Mountain Lodge for accepting two very smelly paddlers.

11 thoughts on “The Great (Lakes) Escape

  • I toasted you both with a few sips of ‘Such a perfect day’ when you reached French River. It sounds like your days have not been so perfect but the fish and chips looked lovely. Hope the rest of French River goes better for you with more shelter.

  • Well done team. Happy AND beautiful wife I think. Your knew little nephew looks very serious and wise and has been exercising his lungs all night. Roo, perhaps in an exercise of empathy has been singing ‘the Wild Winter Wind’ over an over. Love you. x

  • Warming and heartbreaking sometimes but seeing your faces and hearing your harmonious (I think) dialogues is a real pleasure. Cheers both.
    Just eaten the bestest ice cream, ever. Yep. Almond tart ice cream On a beach in Portugal. Like praline and cream but so much more so.
    Thought of you Mike. A staple.

  • Hello brilliant people! Things keep happening to make me think of you, of which the most unexpected was receiving an email which included an illustration of the ex-church opposite your house… I’m happy to hear you both sounding (and looking!) so well, and hoping it won’t be too long before you reach your goal (and then we can see you!) xx

    • Hi lovely! Why did the church feature?! What news!? We have made it to North Bay which is a huge milestone as it is the end of upstream paddling and big lakes – yes, it’s all downhill from here! Flights home are BOOKED (just). Arriving 28th October. Expect visits soon after! Xxx

      • Well, isn’t this lovely news! The “Save Bellfield” campaign came up in my Crowdfunder email (because I supported the opening of a very nice Mexican restaurant), and they are trying to pay off the loan they took for the community buyout. As I was opening the email I was reflecting on how poor their targeting generally was (e.g. advertising Edinburgh projects to me, a Londoner) – and then the first thing I saw was happily familiar! 28th October is only a month away! You’ll be buying new threads and drinking fizz with me before you know it xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Been enjoying your blogs and pictures and following your progress since you passed by on the Winnipeg River. Explorer Alexander Mackenzie would be happy two intrepid Scots are following in his paddle strokes. Safe paddling and fair winds to Quebec City!

    • The Winnipeg seems like a long time ago now! We can’t quite believe it’s the same trip! The winds aren’t being very fair just yet but there’s a good few hundred km left for them to change their tune… one of the portages we did the other day was mentioned in Mackenzies records apparently. Pretty cool.

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