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When You Think You're Going to Die

Once summer officially happened, Esa and I tried to plan a day to paddle our kayaks together. We each lead busy lives, so Sunday is really our only day to get out for a venture like that.

With Sunday as our only option, I dutifully checked the wind speed and direction to see if there was possibly a chance we could paddle safely in the big lake. Ohhhh, it sounded so nice!

I think it was two Sundays ago now that I decided we should do it. All the sources I checked claimed the wind was about 12-14 mph out of the Northwest. Now, you probably know that a NW wind is not ideal (or even safe, really) for paddling out of Copper Harbor, and anything over 10 mph is really pushing it.

I decided to push it and take Esa with me.

Hey, at least I didn't go by myself!

Our plan was to launch at the little beach by the Harbor Haus, paddle into the wind through The Gap and see how far West we could go toward Hebbard Park.

We knew we were going into the wind (and waves), so we didn't pressure ourselves to go far, but that was our general plan.

Okay, so we got in with no problem. Right as we did, I saw a freighter through The Gap. Now, that is not uncommon, but it must have been close because, from the angle I was at, it filled the entire Gap! I mean, there was only maybe five seconds where a person could get a picture with the whole vessel at once.

Five seconds.

I didn't have five seconds. I was paddling into the wind with such a chop that there was no picture taking. No taking a hand off the paddle at all.

"I'll take one once I get through!" I thought in my innocent hopefulness..

I looked back, and Esa was still at the launch. I tried yelling to him to look at the freighter, but he was focused on... whatever he was trying to do. Haha! That sweet man.

But no matter how long it takes him to get ready for something, he always seems to catch up to me after I take off. He shimmied in front of my boat as I told him about the freighter. We were about to cross The Gap.

Since we were in the shallow, somewhat protected water, I managed to snap a photo. But the freighter was nowhere to be seen on the other side.

I eyed up my line for The Gap crossing as it's curently a bit shallow through there. Esa picked a different line.

And then...

Then we got onto the big lake.

Her Majesty Lake Superior.

Once I saw what a supposed 12-14 mph from the NW meant to a person in a tiny boat, I sent my deepest respects to her. "Hey, Lake! We're in this together now. I will listen to you, and I respect you." Or something like that.

She may have heard me, but she was already laughing.

I forgot about the freighter.

We started our battle into the wind. I kept thinking, "Once we get past that shoal" or "Once we get further out" or "Once we..." yeah. It was not a day to enjoy a paddle on that part of Lake Superior going in that particular direction.

After a few minutes, our boats were close enough where we could discuss what to do. I was sort of terrified, but I didn't want to give up.

Now, there are one of two things at play when we scare ourselves. One can be that our brain tricks us into being afraid of a safe situation because of our past. Two is that our intuition is sending signals fast and hard to get us the hell out of a dangerous situation.

Once I pondered which part of me was being fearful, I told Esa I wanted to turn around.

Turning around.

Luckily I have paddled by Isle Royale in similar or worse conditions. I knew how to read the waves and how to angle my boat. How to steer quickly, how to keep up speed and how to stay balanced.

All that is great information, but turning a kayak 180 degrees when the waves are so big that only half your boat is in the water sometimes is kind of dangerous.

It's most dangerous when the length of the boat is paralell to the arms of the waves. But when you have to turn, you have to be in that position for at least a few seconds.

After some of the waves I just paddled through, I didn't want to be at that angle at all. But turning and going back through the gap seemed safer than angling in to smash up onto Hunter's Point.

See where my adventurous spirit got me?

That's not the worst of it.

I also know that the biggest waves come in threes, so after a big group of three, I looked ahead at a relatively calmer grouping and turned my boat as fast as I could. Within those seconds, I was spared and facing the opposite way.

I shook my head when I realized the short distance we had gone. It was more of a battle than I realized!

Once Esa turned too, he asked, "Should we go around Porter's?" That would give us a bit more of an adventure, so I agreed.

One our way Eastbound, we covered ground (or sea) ten times faster. It was quite enjoyable!

If you've ever been on Porter's Island, you know there's a little cove on the north side. Well, kind of a big cove for Porter's, actually. I thought we should pull in there, spend some time on the south-facing side of the island and then portage into safer water.

Esa agreed.

But the cove into Porter's is not a wave absorbing beach of rocks. It's two arms of conglomerate. You know how waves bounce off conglomerate, right?


And it sends the water refracting back with almost the same force. So as we approached this cove, we would have waves coming from at least three directions at any given time.

I took a deep breath and summoned all my courage.

I paddled North to get the right approach angle.

Then I paddled as fast as I could.

Once I felt the force of all the waves hitting my boat at the same time, I doubted myself completely. I almost turned back to shout, "Don't do it!!!"

But for me, it was too late to turn around. I had to move or I would flip or slam into the conglomerate and then flip..

I am not a religious woman, but I prayed. I prayed so hard that I would make it into that peaceful little lagoon. And I wanted to make it there dry and alive.

Suddenly I felt like I had done this 100 times before. I knew where to put my paddle at every stroke. I knew the importance of keeping my speed up. And I knew I was going to make it.

I also felt like I was not on earth. Almost like I was watching myself do all the right moves in slow motion.

To say it was surreal is an understatement.

It was like... other dimensional.

Once I made it to the safety of that cove, I looked back to see if I could still tell Esa not to do it, but he was almost through himself.

I was so relieved.

When we got to the East shore of that cove, Esa hopped out quicker than I did. I was so bedazzled by what just happened.

What did just happen?

I guess he thought it was funny because he took a picture of me in my daze.

My body didn't even feel real.

Behind me in that picture, you can see the tiny inlet we went through to get to the calm water. You can also see a few whitecaps going different directions beyond it.

We carried our boats to the south side and sat in the sun, covered in flies that luckily didn't bite.

We ate some snacks and exchanged stories about that escapade. We both felt perplexed and lucky and strange and... we didn't know what to make of it.

But it sure was fun to share that experience with someone else.

I mean... how would you even explain it otherwise?

These days the wind has really died down. I think it might be time to get out there again. Maybe Lake Medora?

Thanks for reading. That was a long one, you know.

If you need something to listen to, here's our latest podcast episode with the Copper Harbor Trails Club's Executive Director, Nathan Miller. It was great to get his perspective on how he sees things shaping up recreationally here in the Keweenaw.

If it's hot where you live, come to Copper Harbor. It's like 60 degrees, and the blue and huckleberries are just starting to get delicious. I had some on my bike ride today.

I hope you push yourself a little bit harder sometime... but don't do anything too dumb. Ha!

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Dang girl! Adrenaline is a beautiful thing!

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