steaming ready for anxious passengers to stream in. The ferry deckhands shuffled around making final preparations for loading gear and safe passage. Lines of cars filed into the parking lot and unloaded enormous bags stuffed with gear and food for backpacking adventures. Layers of outerwear of all types and colors paraded through the doors each checking in and relishing in long awaited boarding passes. The tension was palpable as most first timers faces showed the same emotion of wonder, delight, and worry.
As returners and third time ferry passengers, we relaxedly walked our kayaks over from the neighboring King Copper and piled our bags by the ferry for loading. It happened to be National Donut Day (June 3rd) and one of the latest dates we had ever gone to the island. As we enjoyed our thimble berry donuts, we commented on how the Jamsen Bakery had grown over the years, now employing numerous people and clearly thriving on ferry day. This was the most crowded ferry ride we had ever encountered, and we worried what was happening to the best kept National Park secret of Isle Royale. Would it, too, succumb to lottery systems and the craze of reservations online to those with the fastest internet connections and army of callers all trying to reserve spots? It had already proven to be the most difficult planning this long adventure than we had ever encountered. About 1/4 of the travelers were day tripping and returning to the mainland, 1/4th were return visitors, and the rest were all wide eyed first timers to the island.
Clearly not concerned for being first in line, we were left traveling down in the belly of the boat where the temperature continue to drop throughout the voyage as the waters of Lake Superior chilled the hull. With 1 1/2 foot seas, we were glad to have taken our Dramamine and were lulled back and forth as we passed the 3 1/2 hour journey trying to capture any last rest we could fit in. With the most stressful year to date and my new job, we had been going full throttle for an entire year and it was comforting to put that all behind us and disconnect physically and mentally from the grind of work life and daily stressors. On the trail, things are boiled down to the most basic of needs and responses and putting one foot in from not of another becomes the soothing repeat and your mind lets go.
After the required Leave No Trace lecture, I hopped in line to fill out our permits as my husband unloaded gear and relocated the kayaks to the rack where they would await our return in 2 weeks. It was an odd experience to watch the rangers faces light up when they asked for our plans and we laid out a 30 day itinerary. The people in line behind me leaned in craning to hear if what they thought they heard was true. It was slightly exhilarating to be the people others were eyeing and talking about. Uncomfortable in this role, but also proud, we quickly realized it was a paradigm shift we needed to make. When people asked if we are experienced backpackers, we never quite knew how to approach that answer. We certainly are, but so many factors come into that equation. Do you ever really think of yourself as experienced when you know there are others out there that have more than you? There are certainly faster people as we age. There are certainly people with more expensive gear. There are certainly people who have gone places we’d love to put on our list. But as we compared ourselves to the younger versions of ourselves that had arrived on the island 3 times before, it was time to acknowledge we are certainly more experienced than ever before.
We took our classic picture in front of the Rock Harbor sign, and away we went, eager to put distance between ourselves and the crowds and to finally get out on the trail we had dreamed of for over 2 years and test our grit and determination to tackle our dreams. The biggest difference this time around was with our sense of urgency. Before when we had only a week on the island, we felt a rush to get from one place to the next and go as fast and far as we could. But this time around, we are settling into the place of sustained effort, knowing we have 30 days on the island. Our goals and path is laid out and we can meander in the effort, taking our time with it. We are no longer the eager beavers, or rabbiting to the next site. We are simply existing on the island for the long slow haul. As I sit hear and hear the first tremolos of the trip from the pair of loons on the dock, and see the squirrels and rabbits darting around camp, I have to pinch myself to remember this is not just the vision of things from my mind’s eye over the past several years, but that we are doing it. It has really begun.