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Home » Adventures » Apostle Islands » Stockton Island

Day 2 — Endless Expanses of Water

It Begins

Track & Trail

Trek & Trail, the source of my kayak.

I called beforehand to make reservations to rent a kayak from the outfitters Trek & Trail. Since I had absolutely no experiencing kayaking before, I had to take their safety course to be allowed to rent the craft. Even though they charged for it, I figured that it was a good idea anyway since being on Lake Superior on a kayak (especially by yourself) could be quite dangerous. (To show you how little I actually know about kayaks, I was surprised when I learned that they had rudders on them. I figured that you just steered with your paddles. The rudders sure were nice to have though.) The safety course did help too. For about half of it our guide, Phil, described to me and the four other people in the course basic kayaking and problems you can run into, like weather.

After all the chatter we got to the fun part of the course, going onto the water. After awkwardly getting into the small vessels we pushed off and started paddling. Being on the water did not seem bad, and I felt relatively stable. Going backwards was not very intuitive for me, and I did not do it very well. Other than that I felt pretty comfortable in the kayak. At the end of our excursion on the water though came the fun part of the safety course, reentry into the kayak from open water. I had to intentionally flip myself over and get back in the kayak in the manner we were instructed. It actually was not too difficult, but it is also something I would rather avoid doing if I could. One of the best parts about it though, was that Lake Superior was actually pretty warm; swimming in it would be no problem. So I did not freeze being in the water. The safety course also provided you with a wet suit to help you stay warm (although I did not rent one for when I actually went out on my own, as most places recommended).

On the Water

Acting like I know how to kayak

A highly staged shot of me acting like I know how to kayak.

After completing my safety course, I retrieved my supplies from my car and began packing my kayak. I am pretty anal about making sure that I had my keys and did not lock them in my car when I headed out. Being locked out of my car hundreds of miles away from the nearest person that I knew was not something of which I dreamed. Everything I had fit in my kayak well. The compartments aft and stern were actually quite big. After packing everything, I left for Stockton Island at about 12:30, my destination and campsite for this trip. Kayaking started out really well. The sea was calm, and I seemed to be making pretty good time. The first couple of hours passed pretty quickly. It was amazing how distorting distances were at sea though. I could see a long way, so something may not appear that far off, but it would actually take several hours to get there in a kayak. There were no markers from which to gauge distance. At about 3:00 I stopped at Hermit Island for a quick break to get something to eat and drink. I was not feeling too bad at this point. I could see Stockton Island, but according to my map I was only a little over halfway there. I put the realities of distance behind me, and headed back out towards Stockton with spirits high.

I quickly reached Stockton Island, but the campground was located on the other end of the island so I had to continue pushing forward. I did not, however, realize just how long Stockton Island was. In the distance I could see a white speck about where the dock and campground should be. By this time my arms were starting to get pretty tired and sitting in a kayak for so long was getting old. I really wanted to just get to my campsite. Of course, since I was in Lake Superior that was not really an option. I was at the point where I was sort of wishing that some sympathetic boater would let me stowaway with them to the island. Unfortunately, no boats passed anywhere near me, and I just kept paddling. My arms and shoulders had also been exposed to the sun for most of the day, and stupid me did not put on sunscreen, so they were tender but luckily not burned. I had almost tunnel vision, just focusing on the ever slowly growing white speck, trying to keep my boat pointed in that direction. I must also mention that during this time I was remembering the disclaimer by the National Park Service that they were allowed to give away my campsite if it was not claimed by 6:00. Now I told myself that the odds of them giving away my campsite would have to be low (who would sit on an island waiting for the off chance someone does not show up), but it nagged in the back of my mind anyway.

On the Island

Kayak on Stockton Island

Landed on the beach of Stockton Island.

But finally, just after 6 pm and about 5½ hours of kayaking, I hit shore right next to the dock on Stockton Island. I immediately met someone on the beach and talked to him for a while. I learned that there was a bear that had been hanging around the camping area…reassuring thing to hear. After I talked with him I was able to find a couple of rangers so that I could get my campsite straightened out. I learned later that these rangers were not normally on the island, but were actually using pepper balls fired from a paintball gun to try to scare the bear that I just heard about away from the visitors. Regardless of the reason for the rangers’ presence, they told me that that I could settle in any unoccupied campsite. I made my home in site three…the first open site that I saw. The campground was actually really nice. It only had nineteen sites spread ¾ of a mile along the shoreline. I set up my tent and had a dinner consisting of miscellaneous dry foods that I brought along. While unpacking my gear, I also realized that I did not know where my keys were. I was really paranoid about not locking them in my car, but I did not see them in any of my stuff either. Not much I could do about it though. I hoped they were either still hidden in my stuff, or I dropped them somewhere on the beach in Bayfield. I was almost certain that they were not at the bottom of Lake Superior, because I did not remember any time I could have dropped them.

And yes, did I mentioned that I paddled for 5½ hours!? My arms were extremely sore at this point. I did not even have to be using my arms, but I could still feel them throbbing and hurting. I honestly did not remember the last time my arms hurt that much. I guess that was why the National Park Service gave warnings about how far one should kayak in a day. I also ran regularly, so it was not like I was horribly out of shape. Then again, running does not help a lot in preparing your arms for ungodly amount of kayaking.

Route for Day 2

The route I paddled this day

Earlier while I was hunting down the rangers to ask about my campsite, I also noticed signs about a a ranger talk on bears that night. It sounded interesting, and I was too tired to do anything physically exerting, so headed over to it. The ranger talk was done very well and was quite informative. Maybe it has just been a long time since I have been to one of them, but I was actually surprised at how good it was. I learned a little of how bears live and act. Also, the ranger said that Stockton Island has at least twenty-six bears on it, with one recently poking around camp. Stockton Island was pretty good size, but that still seems like a lot. I was not scared though because the campsites provided bear boxes, and it was really doubtful that a bear would come after me for no reason. They were also black bears, which are not exactly house cats, but are not as dangerous as say a grisly bear. From the all the discussion I heard, it seemed that bear sightings were quite common. I do not believe I had ever seen a bear before so I was excited that I may have been able to spot my first. Besides bears, the island also had many other kinds of animals. At the talk I also heard that the Northern Lights can sometimes viewed from the islands. I thought this was really cool because I had never seen the aurora borealis before.

After the ranger talk I walked around the docks some, and then headed back to camp. I had also forgotten my flashlight, so I could not be wandering too far away. I sat around my campsite some looking at the stars (it was a clear night) and hoping to see some Northern Lights. Unfortunately the sun did not seem to be emitting enough solar particles that night, so the sky did not dance with lights. Hopefully tomorrow night would fare better.