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.