Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Paddling in the Wind

Camping at the edge of a Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness was a summer activity. Various campgrounds have access points. This camping trip was planned as a day trip with our two young daughters.

On a previous trip when it was just Karen and me, she walked out of the campsite and encountered a bear that rapidly departed. She called me but the frightened bear was gone by the time I joined her.

In the interior wilderness after carrying the canoe over several portages from lake to lake, I was swimming in warm summer water under a bright sunny sky. Two Common Loons were swimming in the lake where they ventured in my direction to get a close look me. Wilderness solitude recharges one’s soul.

On a long portage of 1.5 miles, we came upon giant moose tracks in the mud. The moose was walking the portage trail but without a canoe on its shoulders. Maybe he had a rack that weighed as much. His tracks were tremendous. When we step in a light fresh snow, we find our foot print blast a larger boot track impression. The moose stepping in mud caused the imprint to become larger. Once while canoeing near shore, a moose resting at the forest edge jumped to its feet and crashed through the woods away from us. All involved were startled and we were glad the moose left instead of coming to pummel and capsize our canoe.

On the trip with our girls, we camped at wilderness edge with plans to canoe several lakes and return to our campsite at day’s end. It was a cloudy windy day. We stayed near the shore where water was shallow. If we dumped there would be no life-threatening danger. It was a warm day and getting wet would be harmless.

With a west wind pushing from behind, we paddled the south shore of lakes. The wind helped move us and I figured the wind would relax by the time we returned. Generally, Karen paddles when she desires but always helps when needed. On rivers her assistance is more essential at times and she is the scout watching for shallow submerged rocks or logs. Her sharp eyes provide advance notice so I can steer around objects and her paddling provides essential power.

Lake paddling is easier because water is deep enough to avoid submerged objects but large waves can be a challenge. On this exploratory trip through lakes that we had never canoed, it began to rain and wind velocity increased. We were fine getting wet while we enjoyed life along the shore. Waves were coming from behind and did not pose danger from hitting us broadside and potentially tipping the canoe.

At our destination lake, we reversed direction to travel along the north side of long narrow lakes. Not only did I figure the wind would subside but I thought the north side was more protected from the wind’s full force. The wind speed held or even increased during the day. It was coming straight down the lakes.

I paddled with all my strength but I could not move the canoe forward. The girls were unaware of the difficulty. It was necessary for Karen to paddle continuously if we were going to make progress toward our camp. It was exhausting for both of us and when one rested the canoe stopped moving.

Forward momentum seemed negligible with both of us working hard. Rain from the west pelted our faces as we struggled in silence. My plan to travel along the north side of the lakes protected from the wind’s strength proved wrong. The wind velocity was mighty. At least the air and rain were warm. Wildlife had retreated to secretive protected nature niche alcoves while they weathered the storm.

After tiring hours of work, we reached the campsite. Karen struggled from the canoe where she flopped on the ground exhausted and slept in the rain. I got the girls to our tent where we dried and rested. It was an adventure to enjoy more in retrospect but canoeing in difficult situations was not new. Life for the voyageurs was a hard life. We look upon their lives with nostalgia but it is a life not meant for me.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.