Map of events
Joe’s Diner Logo

Home » Adventures » Apostle Islands » Traveling to the Mainland

Day 4 — Getting Home is Hard

Attempt #1

I woke up at about 6:00am so that I could get an early start back. After all, it would take awhile to paddle back, and I was pretty ready for a hot meal and a real bed. I broke camp and took a short hike looking for any last signs of wildlife, but I did not see any. I then got into my kayak and tried heading out. Of course though, the weather had worsened overnight and the wind was blowing pretty strong, making the sea rough. I did not really realize how bad it was though until I actually tried paddling through it. I had my rudder pointing full left and was only paddling on the right side (this is the fastest way to make a forward left turn), but the wind and water were just pushing me straight down shore. Waves were also crashing over my skirt some, so I was getting wet. Mother nature clearly showed me that that paddling in this weather was futile, so I turned back to shore. In my entire time on the water (which was probably only about ten or fifteen minutes) I got maybe fifty yards from shore but got pushed down shore about half a mile. So I end up sitting on the beach pretty far away from my original campsite, uncertain what to do next.

Inside the Kayak

Picture from inside the kayak (not during the ruff weather though).

I could have just stay another night on the island and tried heading back the next day, but there were a couple problems with that. First off, my parents were expecting me home that night, so they would be worried sick if I did not show up. I forgot to tell them that it was possible I could have been delayed due to weather (the Park Service recommended that you did that too). Another problem was that I rented my kayak for three days, and my time would expire at noon on the next day. That meant I would have had to really push it to have returned my kayak on time. Of course I always could have just paid for the extra time. The worst problem, however, was that the weather predicted for the next day was even worse than it was presently. Tomorrow’s weather had 4-7′ waves, as today’s waves were 3-5′, with a possible gale warning (my safety course said not to paddle in anything over 1-3′). So paddling back the next day did not look to promising.

I decided to head over to the friendly ranger’s house and ask for some advice. She told me that there was a ferry that headed to Bayfield at 4:15, but she was uncertain if it would come today because of the weather. The park service had a cell phone in case of emergencies, but she was uncertain if I could have used it to let my parents know that I would have been delayed. I figured my best bet was to wait around until four and take the ferry back.

Since my kayak and supplies were blown down shore (away from the dock), I had to drag everything back. My kayak was a little too heavy and elongated for one person to easily ford, so I had to drag it through the water up the shore. This was a very slow process. There were lots of rocks and trees in the water which I had to avoid. On top of this there were still relatively large waves crashing and whipping my boat around. Eventually though, I was able to drag my boat back to my campsite. At this point, about 10 a.m., I was in the same predicament (and maybe a little worse) as if I would have slept another four hours that morning.

I relaxed for the next couple of hours, reading and looking around the nature center. By about noon though, the sky was starting to clear. A couple of the boaters had even brought out their kayaks and were playing in the water (they were not trying to travel between islands though). The ranger said that there have been no significant changes in the weather report though. After much internal debating however, I decided to head back out again to try to make it to Bayfield. One problem though, was that Trek & Trail closed at 5:00. It took me 5½ hours to get out here in good weather with only one stop, so I was not sure if would really be able to get the kayak back in time. I was thinking that if I got back too late, I would call home from the mainland letting my parents know I was not dead, sleep in my car for the night, turn in my kayak the next morning, and then headed home. Not the most fun, but might would work.

Attempt #2

The water was slightly easier to paddle through now, and I was able to make some progress. The waves were pretty high (probably about three feet), but it was actually kind of fun to paddle through. Despite the waves’ height, I felt stable and was not afraid of capsizing. The big problem though, was that I was paddling into a very strong headwind which came from the direction of of Bayfield. After two hours of pretty intense kayaking, I had only made it to the far side of Stockton Island. At this rate I would not make it to the mainland until eight or something. So for the second time in this trip, I made a wise decision and turned back to return from where I had to tried so hard to paddle away. The trip back was actually a little more precarious kayaking. Since the waves were coming from behind, I did not always see them so they would catch me a little off guard. Of course, having the wind at my back also sped up my trip considerably. It only took me only an hour to get back to my campsite. That means if I would have tried to continue, the trip would have been about 50% longer than on the way out. I think I again made the right decision to turn around. But now, around 3:30 and three hours in the kayak, I was the same situation as if I would have stayed in my campsite the whole day.

Attempt #3

My ride home

The (expensive) ferry which will whisk me back to shore. My kayak is on top.

So now my choices were either take the ferry or spend the night. Getting home was about my number one priority, so I decided would take the ferry when it came. One problem with the ferry though was that I had left my wallet in my car. This meant that I would have to hope that they would let me travel back to shore and pay when I arrived there. I talked with the boat crew though, and they said it would be fine for me to do that. The other problem was that the ferry left at 4:15 and took an hour to make the trip. Trek & Trail, however, closed at 5:00 pm. This meant that if unless I was lucky, everyone might already be gone and I would still be forced to spend the night in Bayfield so that I could return my kayak in the morning. I did not have much choice then though, so I just hoped for the best. The trip back on the ferry went really quickly. But I guess after being human powered for the last 2½ days, a little man-made assistance went a long way. When we first left Stockton Island the waves were still pretty ruff. As we got closer to Bayfield, however, I noticed that the water was actually becoming really calm. It would have been perfectly enjoyable and safe to paddle through. I was upset because I probably wasted some money taking the ferry, but since I could not see into the future, I think overall I made the right choice.

Back On the Mainland…

After the fairy arrived in Bayfield though, the real fun began. It was about 5:15, so I was uncertain if anyone would still be at Trek & Trail. First though, I had to run up to the ferry’s ticket office and explain my situation. Luckily, they were very understand (and I probably looked pretty desperate to them at this point) so they let my quickly run over to see if I could still return my kayak. All of my supplies were still on the boat too, so I was not really a flight risk to them. So I dashed over and the outfitters had closed, but thankfully a couple of employees were still around closing up. I explained that I had to take the ferry back because of the inclement weather that morning, and they said if I hurry I could go get my kayak. So I dashed back to the docks (which were only about a block away), loaded my kayak onto a cart that was not meant to carry kayaks, and clumsily hauled it back to Trek & Trail.

So I got the kayak turned in with relatively few problems. Now to the next (and bigger) problem…paying for my trip to the mainland. As I am sure you recall from before, I had misplaced my keys and my wallet was in my car. I looked around and asked the employees at Trek & Trail, but no one had turned in a set of keys. I did not see them either after a pretty thorough search of the area I would have likely dropped them. I did not really want to keep the ferry people waiting while I feeble tried to gain access to my car, so I did what any good college student does and called home for money. It was long distance and my calling card was in my wallet (aka car), so I was forced to call collect. My brother was home, and I basically told him that I was not dead, I needed a credit card number, and I would explain everything when I got home. He gave me a number, which I then used to try to pay. What did I get though? Unrecognized card. My brother had given me a Discover Card number, and this place did not take Discover. So I called him back again and was able to get him to cough up a Master Card debit card number. That went through the machine fine, and I was now all square with the ferry company.

I must say that the attendants for the ferry were extremely nice and understanding, but boy was my ride to shore expensive. They did not offer any one way tickets, so I had to pay for round trip. They wanted $30 for myself + $20 for my kayak! $30 for a round trip ticket did not actually sound that bad, but one way was another story. Plus the twenty bucks for my kayak was awfully expensive. All they did was throw it on the roof where they could have fit like fifteen kayaks, but I guess when you have a local monopoly and people (like me) who really want to get back, you can charge that amount. I would also later learn that my collect calls cost $15 each! Apparently, all those 1-800-COLLECT commercials were very misleading and long distance, state-to-state calls are freakin’ expensive. So screw you 1-800-COLLECT.

…Without any Keys

So now it was time to reassess my situation. I was on the mainland, my kayak was returned, my boat ride was paid for. Not sounding too bad, but wait…I was still in northern Wisconsin, and my keys were in an unknown location. Not quite out of the woods yet. I headed back to the beach where I had launched my kayak from two days previous and performed a little more in depth search of the area. After a fairly exhaustive search though, I still could not find any keys. At this point I pretty much gave up on locating my keys and moved to instead to breaking into my car. It was at this point that I caught a break. I had taken a spare set of keys with me to Minneapolis, so heading back to Indiana I had them in my car. I was also fortunate enough to have packed the keys in my car, rather than my trunk (which can not be opened without the keys). So if I could get my door open, I would be set. Unfortunately there was that locked door in my way. I scrounged around the area looking for something that could be used as an improv slim-jim. My search came up empty though, and I continued to become more and more desperate. I stopped in a clothing store, and the very nice saleswoman gave me a clothes hanger to try and get my car open. Of course, I was no grease monkey, and had never used a slim-jim before, much less a bent clothes hanger. The only experience I had was one time when Rose security used a slim-jim set to let me in my car after I left my keys in it. This time I was all by myself though so I went to my car, shoved the clothes hanger next to the window and started fiddling around. I really had no clue what I was doing though and my progress was less than spectacular.

It was at this point that I caught another break. A ferry company that ran between the mainland and Madeline Island was located across the street from my stranded car. One of the attendants saw my vain struggle and offered to help. The ferry line had a real set of slim-jims for when people locked their keys in their car on the boats. So the extremely considerate attendant offered to let me use their set. Unfortunately though, the attendant only had experience in opening automatic locks, and my ghetto car had manual locks. She was even so nice as to call the police, but they said that they did not open locked cars anymore. I messed around with it for probably about half an hour. I really did not want to call a locksmith because he would have charged me at least another $50, which I did not want to pay if I did not have to. Almost as I was getting ready to give in though, I finally was to open the lock! I just ended up pressing down on the rod that ran from the switch inside the car to the edge of the door, and I was able to move it forward enough to unlock the door. I was so very relieved at this point. My day had been quite stressful, and this had lifted a big burden off me. Also on the plus side, I now think I can break into my car in about twenty seconds if I need to. My relief was only short lived though, because I was still in Wisconsin and needed to get home. So I jumped in my car after graciously thanking the attendant, turned on the radio, and headed south, hoping not to see this town again for a long time.

Traveling to Minneapolis only took a little over seven hours and somehow on my map I though I was about the same distance from my house as Minneapolis, so I did not think it would be that bad got getting home. It was only about 7:30 (about six hours after I had planned on leaving), so 2 or 3 a.m. did not seem that bad. My route started out slow though because I was not yet on Interstate. Also, I heard Wisconsin cops were pretty bad on speeding tickets, so I was going exactly the speed limit the whole way. At around 9:00 I stopped at a rest area and called my parents. I gave them a slightly longer explanation than I had revealed to my brother about my situation. I promised them that I would not push myself too much through the night and would stop if I got really tired. I was guessing that I could make it most of the way, but would possibly have to stop for a couple hours of sleep at a rest area.

I Like to Drive

Driving at night through Wisconsin was pretty much like driving at night just about anywhere else…dark and not very exciting. About the only vehicles on the road were trucks. After a couple of hours though, I eventually hit interstate so at least I could move a little quicker. A short while after I got onto the interstate though, I passed a really bad one car accident. A car was flipped on its roof, and firemen and policemen were searching the median looking for victims and/or survivors. It was really bad because no one was even searching by the car. I almost flew through the accident site too. I saw a cop car on the side of the road with its lights flashing so I figured he had pulled someone over. I moved over to the left lane and pretty much kept my speed. Since the road curved by where the cop car was stopped, I could not see the accident site and other emergency vehicles until the last minute. In fact one of the rescue personal was standing next to that cop car waving frantically at me to slow down. I felt bad about this because I was pretty diligent about moving over and slowing down for people on the side of the road. Thankfully though, I did see him and was able to slow down in time. I sure did not want to make a bad situation worse. This accident also brought to mind the promise I had made to my parents not to push myself too late. It was definitely a wake up call to me to remember my limits.

The rest of my drive home was not very eventful. I stopped for gas and broke my no pop rule in order to get some caffeine in my system. There was a semi-interesting electrical storm driving through Wisconsin, but the lightning was few and far between. I was also slowly realizing that my ETA I told myself was horribly wrong. It looked like I probably would not be able to make it home at the earliest until about 5 a.m., and that would be driving straight though. Surprisingly though, I was actually not feeling too tired at this point. I was not a big night owl, but I was still pretty awake as the clock ticked on. I stopped again at the Illinois welcome station to stretch my legs some. If it had been the middle of the day I probably would not have stopped here, but I needed to move around to wake myself up some since it was about three by this time. As I entered Illinois I also remembered that those bums have toll roads heading into Chicago. I had totally forgotten about that, but luckily I still had a five dollar bill on me to pay my way though. As I passed through Chicago I noticed a slight increase in traffic from earlier birds commuting to their jobs (it was about 4:00 a.m.).

Eventually though, after about nine hours of driving, I finally made it home at just about 5:00 a.m., which was the same time my parents were waking up to get ready for work. So I sat up with them for a while and recounted my tale. They eventually had to leave for work though, so I headed to bed. Just as I laid my head down on my pillow though, I heard my watch alarm go off — the same alarm that woke me up twenty-four hours ago to try to kayak back to the mainland and started today’s adventure. It was quite ironic to hear that. Of course, it was 6 a.m. so I was too tired to appreciate it at the time. I instead just shut my eyes and quickly fell asleep. For some reason though, I woke up the next morning at eleven to try to clean up the mess I had brought home with me.

Closing Thoughts

Although a few things went wrong, it was still a pretty fun trip. After all, the only major problem was because of the weather, which I was unable to control. The other problems were my fault (navigation and keys). I also had never been sea kayaking before so that was quite a fun experience. I was also amazed at the nice people that I meet camping. Everyone on Stockton Island was very friendly and enjoyable to be around. I wonder how much better the world would be if we just relaxed some and did not get so caught up in life. It would not be perfect (lousy original sin), but I think it would be an improvement.

I also never found my keys. Even after unpacking all of my belonging in my car, they were still MIA. About the only thing I can think of is that someone picked them up from the beach or else they fell into the water, even though I have no clue when that could have happened. I guess it will just remain one of those mysteries in life that perhaps is best not knowing the answer to.

If I go to this national park again though, I may just either ride the ferry out and explore one of the islands in depth, or take a guided tour of some of the sea caves. I defiantly do not recommend doing what I did to other people. Lake Superior can be quite unforgiving and going by myself was not the best idea. Also bring money and ID along with, even if you do not think you will need it. And finally, do not leave Bayfield, WI at 7:30 pm for Northwest Indiana, it is a long drive.