IRNP Day 6, Todd Harbor to McCargoe Cove, 6.2 miles

True, the sun and the wind inspire. But rain has an edge. Who, after all, dreams of dancing in dust? Or kissing in the bright sun?

Cynthia Barnett
Sometimes you just have to jump right in.
Sometimes you just have to jump right in.

Rolling thunder wakes me with flashes of light like so many strobes. I feel scared as the wind picks up and wonder if the enormous birch behind my head with branches only at the top will stay standing. I pop out to poop and pee before it rains. 

No rain hits until it’s light and it’s only a sprinkle, so I pack up and get started on the short walk to a bay with shelters. I liberate three spiders with bulbous bodies and stringy legs who spent the night huddled under my pack’s lid. A slender black fox with a bushy striped tail visits for handouts. 

The trail heads up through dense woods. My rain pants protect me from the wet overgrowth. I catch glimpses of small islands off this main island, all uninhabited except for their native creatures. 

I walk straight into a refreshing wind and think about the pipe passed around last night. I’m not against smoking, but like headphones on the trail, I don’t see a need to alter my mental state while hiking and prefer to be completely alert and in tune with my surroundings. 

Right now, my surroundings are threatening and expectant. I hear thunder to the north and south, growling like a warning. It’s so dark when I walk through forest, I can barely see where to put my feet to avoid the mud. 

The rain stopped long enough for me to have some views from the ridge above Otter and Beaver Lake with the Lake Superior behind.
The rain stopped long enough for me to have some views from the ridge above Otter and Beaver Lake with the Lake Superior behind.
Drying in my shelter with a "beer for the road" and a can of tuna left behind.
Drying in my shelter with a “beer for the road” and a can of tuna left behind.

But I feel good and it’s not far today, just shy of seven miles. The sky suddenly lights up. 1-2-3-4-kaboooooooom-boom-boom. The storm is still far-ish and the thunder sounds like it’s in the clouds rather than hitting the ground. 

I think.

I pass a huge pond created by beavers and it begins to rain. It’s still light, so I forge ahead without stopping. From the ridge I can see the Sleeping Giant a dark slate blue, the clouds heavy gun metal gray. 

Light flashes and I count this time to 13. Surely I’m safe from being hit, but usually rain follows lightning. On cue, it begins raining harder and I stop to put on my rain coat and cinch the hood. It’s not cold, and I feel safe and swaddled in my cocoon as I push on, up on exposed lichen-covered rock, small inland lakes below. 

The sky is angry but the rain stops long enough for me to catch the views from above and find the trail which seems to disappear any time I walk on rock. 

It’s a long way on this exposed ridge and I’m happy not to have lightning as I move along quickly, using my sticks to negotiate the steep downs. Finally I am going down for good just as the heavens really open up and it pours. 

I pass the sign for the Minong Mine, the oldest in the United States, a copper mine used for at least 4,000 years by Native Americans. This is hardly the time for a visit and I skip it, sloshing my way towards the cove and hopefully a free shelter. 

There’s never any knowing for sure what awaits a hiker at the end of the trail. I’m sodden and hoping for a place to spread out, but I tell myself I will be fine in my tent if need be, to hope for the best – and be open to it – while planning for the worst. 

Good grief, Tim, you've only been away from Shelly for two days!
Good grief, Tim, you’ve only been away from Shelly for three days!
During the Covid year, these sorts of stressors were largely absent.
During the Covid year, these sorts of stressors were largely absent.

The campsite is deserted, so I make my way to shelter four as recommended. I can’t possibly express how welcome this structure is in a rainstorm. But before I spread every last thing out on the wooden floor and hang my things, I head to the water to filter two liters. 

Of course, it immediately stops raining. The moment alone here on the rock, one lone seagull sitting on the dock, is magical. Quiet, mysterious, the long, thin bay reaching out into the mist, it’s entrance obscured. 

I haul my water back up and make lunch. Someone left a can of tuna in oil and the guys gave me a beer ‘for the road,’ so it’s a feast on the floor of my shelter. I put on my dry camp clothes and crawl into Big Greenie to read and take a nap. 

As I said, a hiker never knows what to expect and have to learn acceptance and to take things as they come. It would be easy to be angry because the day was so wet, but it feels better to be elated that I snagged the best shelter, that it’s absolutely quiet, that I have a bonus beer and tuna. 

The sky is gray but getting lighter. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Graffiti on my walls tell a good story, especially what it must be like in a more usual summer, one hiker wanting to kill boaters who race into harbor to claim all the shelters, another wondering if a person has the ability to keep their voice (and laugh) to a low bellow. 

Soon, other hikers arrive and claim all the shelters. The two from last night, one who lost his tent, end up sharing with a single guy. The rain starts up, but doesn’t last long and I head back down to the dock.

Black bugs flutter above the water, their reflection a perfect dance partner. Water bugs with legs like oars, pull forward then let the current drag them back. A loon sounds its mournful call as a fish jumps. A large snail slowly makes progress along an algae-covered rock. A white throated sparrow sings its ascending melody and light raindrops create rings on the placid water. 

Toes first, then maybe more body parts under water.
Toes first, then maybe more body parts under water.
The technical divers relaxing with beer and cigars on the dock. Jeff at the far right and I talked for hours about risk taking and adventure.
The technical divers relaxing with beer and cigars on the dock. Jeff at the far right and I talked for hours about risk taking and adventure.
Mark and Laura carried wine in their pack.
Mark and Laura carried wine in their pack.

Four hikers wade into the ice cold water as a boat slowly makes its way towards us, slowly as to cause no wake and disturb the loons. It’s moving so slowly, we can’t figure out what kind of boat it is. Black. Big. The ranger? 

It’s a dive boat with dozens of tanks and compressors. Six men jump off and unload their gear on the dock to clean it, then refill it for the next dive. This is serious business; technical diving to 250 feet in the icy water of Lake Superior. Regular air doesn’t work at these depths, so the men breathe a mixture of helium. 

Of course I have to ask if that makes their voices sound funny and indeed it does. I’m surprised to learn helium is not renewable and there is a limited supply. Jeff, a Canadian I talk to the most, fills me in on this risky hobby. 

He’s been honing his skills for 30 years and has many redundancies for any possible equipment failure. The gas they expel from their lungs is captured and reused since it takes 90 minutes of decompression to return to the surface after only 30 minutes at depth.

And why do this activity, one expensive and dangerous? Because Great Lakes wrecks are preserved in pristine condition and are absolutely fascinating. None of these guys have a death wish or appear out to prove something. From my vantage, they appear genuinely curious and highly trained. 

What really caught my attention was the mantra ‘three strikes, you’re out.’ When they dive, if three things go wrong – even minor things – they stay on the surface. 

It reminded me of Richard’s thoughts the day we kayaked and we had a few minor problems – launching in the wrong place, forgetting our lunch, bringing the wrong hat. They added up in his mind so say that particular day was not our day. The waves weren’t huge, but the wind was weird and the sky was black on a day that was forecast as calm. Jeff would say they’re messages to give up and try another time. 

The rain starts again, so I get my jacket and return to the dock. The men have dinner and I talk a while with Laura and Mark who tell me that when Mark was young, his friend carved a vulgar statement about the park ranger who confiscated their beer into one of the shelters. We have a laugh about it and enjoy talking more until it gets dark. 

A bit of levity after more serious topics, but something ties it all together. Expectation and driving towards a goal is good up to a point. Even in the lower risk hiking world, being able to know when to stop or change plans is extremely important. Being flexible and allowing the day to unfold brings possibility when hanging on tightly can at best, make one unsatisfied or at worst, in danger. 

It’s quiet now except for crickets and beaver tails splashing cannonball warnings. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and I’ve been given suggestions on the best sites, but I will be open to whatever comes and the surprises that await. 

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

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