Team River Runner’s Apostle Islands Trip
At the extreme northern tip of Wisconsin in Lake Superior, the beautiful Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are a sea kayaker’s paradise. Last week I had the honor and pleasure of leading a group of Team River Runner military veterans and volunteers on a sea kayaking trip to the Apostle Islands. TRR events and trips usually involve whitewater kayaking. I’ve been a TRR volunteer and chapter co-coordinator for about six years, and a sea kayaker for many years prior to my involvement with TRR, so for this trip we branched out by with a sea kayaking and camping trip.
Planning for this event began back in January when I entered AINL’s lottery system for group camp sites. We were fortunate to be selected number three out of 36 groups entering the lottery. This meant we could choose virtually any itinerary we wanted.
We chose group site “A” on Sand Island, well-known to me from my previous visits. Sand Island is one of the most accessible of the 21 Apostle Islands; situated just three miles from the mainland at Little Sand Bay. Sand Island has potable water, a beautiful lighthouse, and best of all, amazing sea caves on the east side of the island. A perfect destination for our initial sea kayak trip.
Back in January we had no idea how many veterans and volunteers would go on this trip. In the months and days leading up to our departure, the number of paddlers expressing interest fluctuated from six to as many as 12. To qualify for a group site, we needed at least eight campers. As it turned out, we ended up with eight. Most had little experience paddling open waters of the Great Lakes, so throughout the summer we organized several evening practice sessions on the bay of Green Bay. Some evenings during these practice sessions the bay was calm. Other times we had two- to three-foot waves — a good learning environment for what Lake Superior might have in store for us.
On Saturday July 29 four of us (David, John, Paula and me) drove together from Green Bay to Ashland, Wisconsin pulling a TRR trailer loaded with sea kayaks and gear. There we met up with four other members of our group (Linda, Fred, Willie and Hether) traveling from Milwaukee, Lacrosse and Chicago. The group did some initial bonding over a evening meal of pizza at Frankie’s Pizza in Ashland, where our server promised we would enjoy the best pizza we ever had. It was good. But best ever?
Sunday morning we drove 45 minutes north to Little Sand Bay where we spent the next two hours unloading kayaks, sorting gear and food, and packing kayaks on the beach and having a final safety talk on the beach before paddling the three-mile crossing to Sand Island.
I could describe our six days and five nights on the island, but instead I’m going to post this short video.
I’m also reposting photos from Paula and Linda (“LT”), two of our volunteers. Based on the number of photos they took, Paula and LT were our official trip documentarians. Here’s what LT posted about the trip on Facebook:
Our trip began in mid-hi 80 degree warm, sunny days and mid-hi 60 degree nights with refreshing water temps of mid 60s… and YES, that’s warm for Lake Superior!!! Paddling was pleasantly challenging for our low-intermediate group and we all felt safe and comfortable with our surroundings! The plan was to head back to the mainland on Wed morning – but the wind/weather changed leaving us to extend our stay for two additional days on beautiful Sand Island. Most of the meals we had were “double servings”, so some of us paired up to ensure enough provisions for the extra time!
Wednesday morning’s posting of “Small Craft Advisory” warning for Thurs had us somewhat concerned (and slightly excited I have to admit) about the expected “up to 10′ waves”!! We moved a few tents more inland and hunkered down during the soaking, all-day rain. I will be the first to say that I might have been a little more concerned about sleeping Thursday night had it not been for Anita, (from Rockport, TX) the sweetheart of a Volunteer Park Ranger who invited us in for a couple hours to dry off while teaching us to play RummyKub – one of her favorite games! I went to sleep in warm dry clothes and had no fear in the low 50s for our last night.
Friday morning we awoke hearing what sounded like more crashing waves on our private little beach, but Ken yelled out that the conditions were fine for us to paddle and to begin getting ready for leaving! I have to admit, the sound was much greater than what I saw when I finally climbed out of my tent!! 8 people embarked on this first trip and not a single problem in a boat, on land, with food, allergies or even with the bears who reside on the Island! BTW – I slightly feel responsible for the extra days of getting weathered in as I had (secretly) wished pretty darned strongly for a longer trip and in the end it was perfect – absolutely perfect!!!