May 2- First Day on Superior:
My first good look of Lake Superior happened while driving over the lift bridge towards the launch point, the beginning of my Great Adventure.
I was welcomed with the sight of eight to ten foot swells (rollers) with three to four foot chops on top of them. My heart slipped a notch lower when I saw the condition of the water as we drove over the bridge, but I knew I still might be able to leave on schedule. I also knew it all depended on me. This is a decision I alone had to make. This is one of the benefits of a solo journey. When you travel alone you make decisions based on your own ability.
At 8:10 AM, my wife Rebecca, my two close friends Darin Lee and Allen Logelin, and myself pulled in and parked at the small boat access located on the East End of The Canal Park Lift Bridge.
This launch point is a protected area in The Duluth Harbor and directly around the corner lies the shipping piers that extend out into Lake Superior. I paddled out onto the great body of water the same way the thousand-foot ships do, only in a seventeen-foot kayak.
After parking at the launch point I immediately hurried across the road and walked out to the end of the east pier. I had to look at the water up close. Superior was teasing me because I knew this was nothing compared to what she was capable of; but yet, the morning before she was calm as glass. I got a good look at the way the wind worked the water and how far apart the swells were. I was more concerned about the water between the piers than out on the lake. The incoming swells reflect off the walls of the pier and add unexpected side movement to the existing swells and waves. If I can make it through the 1/4-mile gauntlet, I am safe on Superior. Thats a funny way to think about it "safe on Superior" but that is how I felt. I knew that if I made it out onto Superior I would be fine.
After contemplating the great body of water I rushed back to the launch point. It was 8:30 and I was running late. It was my decision and I had talked it over with Gitchi Gummi (Lake Superior) and decided "Yes" this was the day.
After loading my gear and camera equipment into the kayak, I paused from the concentration and the routine of getting ready. I took a minute to visit with the many friends and family that came all this way to be a part of the adventure.
There were "Hugs" and "Good Lucks" and even a tear or two. I gave my wife a hug and then climbed in the kayak. I turned on the video camera, set it to record and adjusted the controls.
When all was ready I had one more very important thing to do, a tobacco offering. The Ojibway Indians called Lake Superior "Gitchi Gummi" or The Big Shinning Sea Water. They believed superior was home to "Missipeshu," a beach stalker that unleashed the fury of Gitchi Gummi. To satisfy Missipeshu they would sprinkle an offering of tobacco on the water before beginning a journey on this great inland sea and I must begin my journey by showing the same respect.
Once my offering was made, I slowly floated out of the calm water into the path I must take to enter my voyage. When the first swell rose me many feet into the air, I started paddling and did not stop for three hours. All of my concentration was on paddling my seventeen-foot kayak out to sea. I blocked out all other thoughts as I rode the swells up and down.
I was facing a strong head wind and was moving very slow. So slow in fact, I had to look to the side once to see if I was even going forward. I am used to going much faster when paddling so hard. "Yes" I was moving forward and would not look to the side again while leaving the port. As I went under the lift bridge, I rode so high on an incoming swell that I looked up for a split second to see if I was going to hit the underside of the bridge. How foolish, I later thought.
The lift bridge operator blew the horn as I crossed the magic point. The horn is used to signal a ship going to sea or returning to port. Yes, I thought a seventeen-foot ship. As I paddled forward, I made slow progress, but progress it was. The water was throwing me around like a cork with the side waves coming at me just to keep my attention level high. Paddling on this type of water was definitely not my first choice, I would much rather have a calm day to begin my 1826-mile kayak voyage.
I eventually cleared the piers and was on the open vastness of Lake Superior. My adrenaline level was going down and I knew I was on my way. As I paddled about a half-mile out on to Superior, I came to an ore freighter that was heading into port. It appeared to be waiting for me to clear port before heading in. It is possible, I guess, as yesterday I visited the core of engineers at "Duluth Maritime Visitors Center" and interviewed Pat, the superintendent of the facility. Could Pat have notified the authorities that I was scheduled to leave at 9:00 AM and the freighter was actually waiting for me? I do not know, but for now I think maybe.
After paddling for three hours, I had only gone four miles. Thats only 1.25 mph, much slower than my normal 3 mph on calm flat water. It was time for lunch and to let the wind die down. After a hearty meal I prepared on a cook stove, I proceeded to take a nap. Four hours later, I awoke and the wind was going down. By 4:30 PM I was back on the water making much better progress. After paddling for 3 beautiful calm hours, I pulled up on shore for my first nights stay.
My voyage has begun! To me that is success and each day forward is a bonus. For this trip is not about a destination; but, about the journey each and every day.