Daisy Farm, Isle Royale National Park – August 1, 2012
A wave lifted me into the air. For a moment, it felt like hanging over the world from a mountain top. Then I dropped deep between two glassy walls of blue that swallowed the horizon until I saw nothing but water and sky.
Part of me wanted to turn back, slip behind one of Isle Royale’s small islands and wait for the wind to change, but the rest of me felt so alive, so lost in the joy of rolling waves, that I kept going, rising and falling like a small toy in the hands of a giant.
Seven miles later, the rock cliffs on the shore broke away and I slipped into a slim, protected bay. I knew I needed to rest, but hated leaving the wild of it all.
On the dock, I met four Canadians from Thunder Bay who’d battled the same waves in the opposite direction. Wetsuits hung on trees, shirts dried in the sun, and the Canadians were filling a pot to boil water. Their eyes lit with the brightness of life and we smiled knowing smiles, like people who shared some great secret. We both knew we’d gone to our edge, but not over.
“Sit and eat,” they said. “We’ve got plenty.”
I shook my head and told them I had enough food, but they just grinned, called my bluff and got out an extra bowl. There’s always room for one more at the table.
The five of us sat around laughing, telling stories, and feeling alive. When they heard that another group of Canadians in Windigo had given me a box of wine, they wanted to give me two just to top them. Instead, we ate soup filled with sausage and salmon and had a hunk of white chocolate for desert.
We talked about islands to paddle out west, Canadian comedians, and what brand of brandy was twice as good, but twice as expensive. They told me stories about road trips down highway 61 to New Orleans and tricking a girl’s father into letting his daughter ride across the country on a motorcycle. I even got entangled in an ongoing debate over whether white chocolate is really chocolate at all.
Then one of them leaned in close and said, “you know how the Americans got Isle Royale from us, eh?”
I grinned at him.
“Now were getting serious!” I said.
He laughed and grinned back at me.
“After the revolution, when they were negotiating where the border would go, they were using these old French maps, eh, because the French were the ones who knew this area,” he said.
I nodded. The French came first, back when La Verendrye was still searching for the Northwest Passage. Then they lost North America to the British after the French-Indian War, then the colonies rebelled.
“They had these old French maps and King Louie back in France was real fond of islands, eh,” he said. “So the map makers had drawn in a few extra to make the king happy.”
He leaned in close, his voice low.
“Ben Franklin knew and the British didn’t,” he said. “So Franklin offered the Brits these islands that didn’t exist, eh, and the British took em. We got these fake islands that weren’t real and you Americans got Isle Royale.”
He leaned back and shrugged.
“That’s a true story,” he said.
I smiled and ate my soup, glad Ben Franklin was on our side, glad I ran into four wild-eyed Canadians in the only safe harbor for miles, glad to be alive.
The first thing the four Canadians I met talked about was how crazy it felt to watch your buddy’s boat completely disappear over the top of a wave.
Later in the day, when I arrived at Caribou Island to camp, I met four American kayakers. The first thing I heard one of them say to another was, “where’d you put the hand sanitizer?”
Canadians 1, Americans 0.