Stockton Island, Apostles – August 22, 2012
The man looked at me and seemed annoyed that I stepped through the door of the visitor’s center. I was the only one there and the book he was reading must have been quite riveting.
“Hi,” I said, smiling. “I want to kayak through the islands and was wondering if you could help me figure out what permits I need and what to see out there.”
He frowned and closed his book.
“I don’t know anything about kayaking,” he said. “We’ll have to call down to Bayfield and see if there are even any campsites available.”
With great effort, he picked up the phone and began to dial, then looked at me sideways.
“Have you even kayaked before?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
The way he said “even” bothered me, his tone bothered me, but the question didn’t. It’s important to ask. People die every year in the Apostles. It’s easy to get to, the islands feel close, the water feels small, but a shifting wind can send waves hurtling from across the length of Superior. The wrong day, the wrong boat, the wrong decision and you don’t get a second chance.
“But have you kayaked on this lake?” he asked.
He said it in the same condescending tone, like he hoped I hadn’t, like he wanted to find fault with me and relished the chance to watch my smile fade along with my plans of sea arches and sand beaches. I looked at him and thought about how far I’d come to get there and how excited I’d been walking in the door, then decided it wasn’t worth explaining.
“Yes,” I said again. “I have kayaked on Lake Superior.”
A few minutes later I was on the phone with the ranger at the Bayfield visitor center. Her voice was bright and cheery, the kind I always expect to find in the park service, a group of people who have helped me plan adventures since I was a kid.
We went through a list of questions to fill out the permit. What’s your address? Phone number? What color is your kayak? What color is your PFD? What color is your paddle? What is your emergency contact number? What is the license on your car?
“I don’t have one,” I said.
The frowning man leaned in a bit to listen, probably hoping I’d stumbled over a critical question.
“How’d you get there then?” she asked. “Where’d you leave your car?”
“I paddled in,” I said.
“But from where?” she asked.
I smiled, glanced up at the frowning man, and relished the moment.
“From Two Harbors, Minnesota,” I said, speaking more to him than her.
He handed me my permit a minute later.
“Thanks,” I said and dashed off to see what wonders I’d find in the Apostles.