Caribou Cove, Lake Superior – September 9, 2013
I never saw the sun rise. Dawn came slow, like it knew the day belonged to the endless clouds hanging across the sky. Light filtered in, low and cool, giving up all hope of breaking apart the grey ceiling.
A constant mist of rain fell. It soaked through my layers an inch at a time, pooling at old seams, dripping past zippers, seeping into worn fabric. It spread over hours until my clothes stuck to my skin, cold and wet, and I wondered when I would ever be dry again.
The day felt like a treadmill. Rain kept falling, water kept appearing in the fog, and I kept paddling, following the shadow of land over my left shoulder as it curved in and out of bays, jumped over channels, and stretched west.
I thought about that cabin I’d left in the Slates. I tried to convince myself that I’d made the right decision, that fifty or sixty miles was worth sleeping cold and wet when I could have been tucked away under a roof sitting next to a fire. The miles were easier to pay for before the bill arrived. They always are.
An hour before sunset, I scanned the shore for someplace to camp, looking for shelter under a big tree or a clearing to string a tarp. Thin pebble beaches hung off the edge, no wider than a car and open to the wind. The forest crowded behind them, thick like a wall, too dense and steel to fight through. It all looked bad, the kind of terrain that works just well enough to suffer through.
I drifted around a point with a small island, still searching, hoping for something, and a building caught my eye. I stared at it, wondering what it was and paddled to the other side for a better look. There were two small cabins tucked away in the trees and a dock hanging in the cove. Neither building was much to look at. The years had worn them down and they seemed more patches and makeshift repairs than original structure, but a big sign on one said, “emergency use only, no long term camping.”
I blinked and read it again. I looked around for “no trespassing” signs and couldn’t find any.
“Hello?” I shouted.
No one answered.
I stared for a minute then got out. The wind hit my wet clothes and cut right to my skin. I shivered, pulled away a table blocking the door to one of the buildings, and stepped inside. A second door led to a small room with two benches and a stove. I noticed a sign hanging on the door.
“Sauna Rules…,” it said.
“You have to be kidding me,” I thought.
I sat down, rested my face in my hands, and listened to raindrops tap against the roof.