Sylvania Wilderness Paddle Trip (2014)

Sylvania Wilderness 2014

This song was stuck in my head during the trip. I think you should play it for background music 🙂

In keeping with tradition, I planned a little getaway to the wilderness. In the past two years I’ve gone by bike. I find the solo time perfect for getting very introspective. The sound of rushing wind and the rhythm of pedaling somehow put my mind in a place where I can contemplate life and find answers to questions. This year I am happily cohabitating, in a loving relationship and at a new home which feels a lot like paradise. However, I recognize that spending a little time alone in nature helps me center and feel balanced. When I brought up the prospect of a couple solo days on the bike earlier this year, I was given nothing but support. However, as my legs continue to be plagued by knots, the likelihood of riding long with camping gear was slipping away. I was frustrated. Until Steve suggested a paddling trip with my new kayak.

Steve helping me prepare

It took relatively little planning. I arranged 2 weekdays in a row off, gathered the necessary items for transporting the kayak atop the Mini Cooper, and set Sylvania Wilderness Area as my destination. It’s less than an hour and a half from home and offers wilderness camping. Another difference this year besides traveling method would be the inclusion of my canine companion, Willow. She happens to fit perfectly in in the kayak. Clothing and food would be hauled in a backpack, tent and sleeping bag in the dry storage compartment. We were to spend one night, paddling the first day to our campsite and then, depending on how the one portage of the first day went, either lake-hopping our way around or going back the way we came.

Journal on departure day

The morning of August 19, 2014, I woke up to rain as per the forecast. I had been anxiously watching the forecast for a week leading up to this, and there was a 70% chance of rain for the area we would be in. I decided I wouldn’t let the weather stop me from having an adventure. I never had before, after all. And I do own a rain jacket. The day started with bacon, eggs, coffee, kisses from my sweetheart and a hug from my daughter.

The drive was easy. Through Rhinelander, Eagle River, Conover, and Land O’ Lakes all the way up to US2 at Watersmeet, Michigan. I checked in at the Entrance Station, watched their educational video, drove through some beautiful forest and had the kayak in the water by 9:50. Within minutes I had seen two loons and the sun began to peek out.

Crooked Lake boat launch
A pic before I got too grubby

On trips past I’d have some sort of mission. See how far I could ride in day, get rid of mental baggage, meditate on my direction in life, find out who I really am and what I’m made of, etc. I didn’t really have any of this. I contemplated purpose to the point of feeling some stress over it. Then it occurred to me that bathing myself in nature is a fine reason. Maybe I’d meditate some. Maybe I’d just observe the beauty and synchronicity of life. I lost myself in the sound of the paddle dipping in the water. I shed some clothing and felt the cool breeze on my warm skin. I breathed in the pungent forest aromas of cedar and pine as I skimmed close to the shore on Crooked Lake. A copper-colored whitetail deer watched us watching it, safe on land, still as a statue. Crooked Lake narrows and widens. Wild rice grew thick on one of the narrows, and I could see a flock of geese ahead. Above, an Eagle soared. It was all so alive. Then, the geese took flight in a raucous flurry of honks and wings beating!

Eagle soaring above, wild rice growing thick in the water.

Picnic lunch was summer sausage and Swiss cheese. Willow was pretty happy about the fact that I was sharing instead of saying “no begging”. She is the perfect kayak dog. A far cry from when I took her for her first ride in June and had to chase her down, carry her to the boat, and set her in it. She willingly jumps in now and there are zero signs of resistance.

We paddled for a few hours, checking out bays and keeping a leisurely pace. The weather was holding out but questionable. I was grateful for the map I’d picked up from Sylvania Outfitters on our way in, otherwise I’d have surely missed the portage! It’s rather hard to see from any distance and not marked by any signage.

The photo on the left shows the portage to Mountain Lake, and you can see how green the water is here. It was thick with algae.

The portage is a very short one. 13 rods to be exact, although that didn’t mean much to me. I unloaded the backpack and carried it over the hill. I put a strap on the kayak to carry it on my shoulders like a purse and within seconds could feel the tendinitis in my Achilles’ flare up. My right hip made some weird popping. Now, this boat weighs probably 60# with the tent and sleeping bag in it. I consider myself fairly strong. But, I have crabby tendons. I put the kayak in Mountain Lake and set to finding our camp site. Beaver 2. It was a short paddle and easy to find. To my surprise, I had nearby neighbors. Looked like Scout tents. I could see a couple of men who were dressed like Scout leaders. Cripes. All this way for some solitude and I’m going to have a Troop for neighbors.

Camp

I set up the old Bibler tent, journaled, ate a bit and headed up to find the latrine. I’m not opposed to a squat in the woods, but at areas like this, keeping human waste contained is a big deal. I respect that. I do hate to see T.P. in the woods, after all. I filtered some water and by then it was 2pm. Looking at the map, there was a nice hike to High Lake, which I was told is turquoise in color due to it’s depth.

There was a chilly drizzle, but hiking felt good. We walked through an ancient forest of wise, twisted, gnarly trees. Moss-covered rocks and logs littered the forest floor and ferns were richly green. The random fungus would push through the earth to decorate like accent pieces in beige, red, orange and black. Mosquitoes were thick. I found a raspberry or two and wondered at the beauty of High Lake. In all, we hiked about 1.5 hours. Upon return to camp there was not much to do. I pumped more water and dug out warmer clothes. My hat was smelly :-/. Shoulda noticed that before! Oh well. It was too wet to start a fire in the fire pit. I boiled water for supper and coffee, realizing my relatively new mess kit had bowls but no cups. I brewed a bowl of weak but warm coffee, ate rice and shared with Willow. I practiced meditation for a few minutes with my bare feet in the cool soil.

I contemplated things and wrote them down so I’d remember. They included, in no particular order:
Synchronicity with nature, as in wake/sleep cycles and sun/moon phases.
Playing the fiddle more.
Reducing distractions when it comes to health and fitness. I know what works.
67 days to really form a new habit.
Gratitude for the love of a man who shows me nothing but support and kindness.
My kids, who I was missing!
My keen senses, for which I am very grateful.
Yoga, which I did a little of.

Morning bowl of coffee, anyone?

It was about 5:30pm. I was chilled and damp, so I decided to just go lay in the tent. Nothing better to do. I read an inspirational book, then the user manual for the MSR water filter. I think I was asleep by 6pm! I woke to the sound of rain, and remembered I’d left a few items out which I should bring into the tent. Headlamp on, I attended to that and my full bladder, figuring it was the middle of the night. Oh and by the way, it was not a group of Scouts next door – just a couple of guys who apparently respected my solitude as I did theirs. I checked the time. 9:40pm. Haha!

I enjoyed a bedtime chorus of loons. I’m used to a loon or two on our lake, but here it was a multitude of them, all with slightly different voices. It was incredible. Red squirrels chattered and moved in close, presumably to inspect my camp cleanliness in hopes of finding bits of food.

As per my usual camping routine, I proceeded to wake up every hour or so to roll over due to sore hips. My camping pad is alright but I do get sore. By 6am I had to get up. I heard the rain drops hitting the tent and wondered if it would ever stop? It had rained all night! I packed everything up, put on my rain jacket and smelly hat, and got out to discover the rain had actually stopped; it was just the wind blowing the moisture off the leaves overhead. Silly me. The old Bibler tent stayed remarkably dry.

Mountain Lake was covered in a thick blanket of fog. I was a little annoyed that I could not connect to mobile data, of all the dumb things, but I wanted to see the radar. I brewed up a bowl of strong coffee, wrote in my journal, and packed up camp.

Based on the short portage the day before, I probably *should* have gone with Plan B and paddled back up Crooked to the short portage to High Lake, which is one I definitely wanted to do. My adventurous side took over, though. I was already dealing with pain; might as well go lake-hopping. Our first portage of the day took 50 minutes and was 96 rods. I unloaded the backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad, and took them to East Bear Lake. I went back for the kayak and picked it up. I realized there was no way I could carry it that far, with or without a strap. Portaging wheels, which I use at home all the time, are not allowed in Sylvania. So I pushed, pulled, and dragged that thing. It was ugly, and it was hard work. Some portages were sandy and gradual. Some were thick muck and straight uphill. The weather was cool and misty. I got lost a few times in the sound of the paddle in the water and then dripping as it rises. Dip, drip… dip, drip… each lake with a character and distinction. Nothing but beauty and nature. Loons, Eagles, Kingfishers, chattering squirrels….

High Lake was astounding! The water was the color of turquoise. The sun finally peeked out and I just floated along, sharing a lunch of beef jerky and pecans with Willow. I was amazed at how fast it got deep as well as the clarity. High Lake reaches 90′ in depth. For a moment I felt a little anxious about that fact. Then, I realized that I was supported. Kind of like life in general. Love and support abound. If you let them.

After the short portage to Crooked Lake, signs of humanity returned. I never saw a motor boat, but several groups of kayaks and canoes.

A pair of loons was fishing on a point to my right. As usual, I gave them a generous padding of distance. They would dive and then come up closer to me. This continued on up through the final channel before the Crooked Lake boat launch. They did not seem afraid, making low noises to each other which I have not been close enough to hear before. I paddled to the opposite side of the channel; they dove and surfaced on that side. Willow quietly watched them. Once we were a ways past, finally, they let out their wails and I had goose bumps. I’ve never been so close and they are so loud! So beautiful. As I type this in our home on Nose Lake, the local loons have been singing all evening.

This little adventure has helped me to appreciate how good my life is. How fortunate I am to have healthy kids, love in my life, and a job I enjoy.
I would highly recommend everyone take some time to immerse themselves in nature. Bathe in it. Relish it. Soak it in. Return to your life with a renewed sense of spirit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.