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Home » Adventures » Apostle Islands » On and Around Stockton Island

Day 3 — There is a Reason People Invented Compasses

A Peaceful Morning

Before I ever hit the water, my plan for the second day had been to go to Outer Island, hike to its lighthouse, and then return to camp. With the realities of distances between the islands and the newly found knowledge of how interesting Stockton Island itself was, I decided to alter my plans some. I would explore Stockton Island in the morning and head over to Michigan Island in the afternoon (which was closer than Outer Island).

Julian Bay

Beach at Julian Bay

I began my morning by hiking along a couple of the trails covering the southern part of the island. I really hoped to be able to see some wildlife during this expedition. The trail went along Julian Bay, which had a nice beach extending along it. I was told that you could often see bear prints on this beach early in the morning, but the only thing I discovered were some seagulls. The trail then turned back into the island and wandered through some of the swamp and forested areas. Unfortunately I did not really see any wildlife, but a ranger pointed out to me a spot where lightning struck during the big storm Monday night. I could clearly see where the lightning traveled down the trunk. The ground was also still smoldering a day and a half after the strike. This area had received enough rain and someone had pulled back some of the dead leaves though, so there was no worry of a forest fire. Anyway, I think it is park service policy to let natural forest fires burn. It was amazing to think that if this would have occurred in some western states (where I just was) a large forest fire could have erupted.

I got back to camp after my hike and ate some lunch. My arms were still sore at this point (although better than yesterday), and I was not looking forward to the long trip back to the mainland. While around the camping area, I also finally examined my map closely. For the first time I actually measured how far I traveled. (I know this is something I should have done before I left from Bayfield.) I discovered that I traveled about 16 miles across the water! This was quite a bit farther that I thought I would have to go. I also noticed that in the park service literature that they do not recommend a beginning kayaker (me) go more than ten miles in a day and even an experienced kayaker (not me) go more than fifteen miles. Oops.

A Not so Peaceful Afternoon

The sun reflecting off Lake Superior

The sun reflecting off Lake Superior

A little after noon I packed myself into my kayak and started heading towards Michigan Island. According to my map there was a trail on the nearside of the island which headed to Michigan Island’s lighthouse. It was not clear exactly where the trail began, so I steered myself toward the general area of where it looked like it should start. It took me about an hour and a half to make the crossing. As I approached the island, I noticed several houses along the shore. I know that there was a little private property throughout the National Park so I did not think much of them (Mistake #1). I landed on a beach, and started hiking along shore looking for my trailhead. I passed several more houses (again ignoring them) before I found a path leading inward. It was not marked, but I decided to follow it anyway. After only about ten minutes, it dead ended into a road. On my map there were absolutely no roads marked on Michigan Island or even a ferry route to it, but somehow I convinced myself that there was private service for the few houses on this island (Mistake #2). I walked along the road in the direction I thought would take me to the lighthouse. As I followed the road, I noticed quite a few more properties and some that were even for sale. Now I thought that people who owned land in a National Park were not allowed to sell it to other parties, but once again I was able to blow this thought off (Mistake #3). I had been walking for quite a while and several cars had also passed me. I was wondering how far it was to my lighthouse and was thinking about turning around when I came across a trailhead which had a big sign next to it. At first, I could not match their map of the trail to my map. There were no other trails on Michigan Island, and even the shape of the their island did not match very well. Eventually though, I got it through my thick skull that I was on the wrong island! It turned out that I paddled to Madeline Island, which is not even part of the Apostle Island National Park. It was also about a mile or two further away than Michigan Island. I felt pretty stupid about this glaring mistake and hurried back to my kayak. Being on Madeline Island also meant that I have probably walked though private property. I hear by apologize to anyone on whose land I may have accidentally trespassed.

It was amazing how many obvious facts I was able to overlook and justify just because I “knew” that I had to be on Michigan Island — the large number of houses, a road with cars, for sale signs. Somehow for each of these I was able to ignore it or make up a semi-plausible excuse for them existing. The worst part is that after I realized I was on the wrong island and actually looked closely at the real estate signs, they said “Madeline Island Reality” on them. It would probably be an interesting psychology problem as to why humans can act like this and ignore so many facts in front of them. I am no psychologist though, so I will just stick to playing with bits.

An awesome sunset

After I got back to my kayak I started heading to what I now believed was Michigan Island. With my previous horrible navigation error though, I kept questioning whether or not I was really heading towards the right island. About halfway there though, I realized that I was getting tired of kayaking and still had a considerable distance to the island. It was only about 4:30 or so, but I realized that with the distance I must still travel + time hiking on Michigan Island + my trip back to Stockton Island, I still had quite a few hours ahead of me on the water if I continued on. I would even start pushing nightfall by that time I would get back. So I, for once, actually made the smart decision of aborting my trip to Michigan Island and just heading straight back to Stockton. I was actually kind of surprised I made this decision because usually for adventurous activities I have the attitude of “I can do it despite the realities around me dictate.” Maybe I was just getting old. Either way, I do believe I made the right decision not to push it that day.

I got back to Stockton Island at 5 or 5:30, and it was nice to be back at camp. Anyway, all I would have been able to see was a lighthouse, which I could see anytime on the Apostle Island website. (I am not trying to say that looking at a webpage is even comparable to seeing the real thing, but I am trying to make myself feel a little better about giving up). I did have to take a little blow to my pride, but that is not always a bad thing. After I got back I took a second look at my map to see how exactly I made such a big error. I had based my navigation on the false assumption that Stockton Island’s peninsula pointed directly towards Michigan Island, and that Michigan Island was visible from my campground. On closer examination (which again should have been done before I left) the map really showed that there was no way Michigan Island would have been visible from where I was on Stockton Island. The peninsula actually pointed between Michigan and Madeline Island and blocked my view of Michigan Island. I guess that is what I get for relying totally on visual based navigation and using maps which the National Park Service does not recommend for marine navigation.

Back on my Original Island

Black Bear

A not so clear picture of my bear

After getting back to my campsite quite embarrassed about my navigation mistake, I rested some before heading over to another ranger talk that would be happening that night. On my way over to it though, I spotted a bear in the picnic area. At the time it did not seem too big, and it was just minding its own business eating grass. After I actually looked at the picture of the bear later though, I noticed that the bear was actually the height of a picnic table while standing on all fours. So it actually was a decent sized bear. Anyway, I knew that bears were not supposed to be there, so I called to a couple of people ahead of me and asked them to get the ranger. She hurried over and was able to easily scare the bear away with some yelling and an air horn. This was good because as long as the bears stay afraid of humans and do not know that they are a source of food, they are not really in danger from us.

Even with the pre-ranger talk excitement, the ranger (a different one than the night before) was able to give another good presentation. This one covered the yearly cycle of a bear. Hint: It sleeps and eats. After the talk I headed pretty much straight back to camp. I was pretty tired and decided to turn in early. Unfortunately, I did not see any northern lights this night either. I even checked once when I woke up at 3 am, but still there was just darkness in the sky. On the bright side though, I guess going to try and see the Northern Lights gives me a good excuse for another adventure some time.

Other Pictures

A lightening strike

Lightning strike which could have caused a fire if conditions were a lot drier

The Dock at Stockton Island

Stockton Island dock for people smart enough to use modern technology for traveling

Route for Day 3

The route I paddled this day