About twelve miles east of Waubun, Highway 4 comes off of Highway 113 and heads up toward Nay-Tah-Waush. There at the corner, there’s something unusual going on. Down in the grass there’s a scattering of tipis, two huge army tents, and a trailer, spread among a selection of cars ranging from serviceable to dead and an uneven layer of debris like chainsaws, old doors, and cinder blocks. Come down off the road and go down the hill toward the nearby banks of Gull Lake, and the theme holds and intensifies, with a half-dozen wigwams lining the trail, some covered with layers of tarps, some no more than a dome-shaped frame of bent saplings, flanking a yard full of old boards, scrap wire, insulation, a blue ’60s flatbed dually. Facing toward the road is a big banner that says
Camp Turtle Island
What’s going on here?
A couple days after we finished the Lake Superior circle, I was at the Black Cat Coffeehouse with Maria. The Black Cat, I’ve mentioned obliquely, is the crossroads of interesting people on the Chequamegon; it’s rare to go there and not meet someone you know, if you’ve lived in town long enough. That day a couple friends of Maria’s showed up. One of them, Jeff, mentioned that he was going to be taking a trapping education course soon. Eh? I got interested.
What are we doing
We rolled into Houghton, Michigan, wet with drizzle and burnt out from four straight days averaging fifty miles. A fifty-mile day isn’t any particular achievement as bike touring goes—a hundred would be—but being out in the wind, the occasional rain, the kind of autumn chill that soaks into your core, it was enough, and when we passed a coffee shop we unanimously decided to park the bikes and sit down. Cradling hot mugs full of comfort, we played cribbage and talked. “You guys,” Ava said. “We’re biking around Lake Superior. It’s so far. What are we doing.”
Nobody told us about the mountains. They told us that there were places along Canada’s north shore where we might not be able to find groceries for a few days at a time, and they told us there were no bike shops in the 770 or so kilometers between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, and they told us about the apple fritters at Batchawana Bay and the great bike shop called Vélorution that you can camp behind in the Sault. But we didn’t hear about the most salient part of our Ontario section until we were coming up on the town of Nipigon, population 1,700, northernmost town on the lake. There, after a hard day of riding on sporadically paved shoulder on a concurrency of both Trans-Canadian Highways alongside every truck going from one Canadian coast to the other, a gremlin suddenly overtook me on a bicycle, cutting sharp turns on the roadway and grinning enormously.
Departure day for our Lake Superior bike trip came with a downpour. That was okay. None of us were quite ready. I spent the day laundering my sleeping bag, and in the evening we talked gear. It ended up that the day we’d set to leave was actually the day we finally started talking seriously about gear. We also spent a lot of the next day figuring out our gear, and I had some doubts that we’d actually make it out the gate, but—at 3:45 in the afternoon—we finally rode down the gravel driveway of the country house I’ve been staying in, and took the first pedal strokes of the thirteen hundred miles around the world’s largest lake.
It’s summertime! Don’t you just feel like going outside, exploring, spending time with friends, jumping into lakes?
I’ve been trying to haiku more, the last few days. It makes me pay attention.