Dirtbag Diaries: Superior Dream

1,300 Miles Around the World’s Biggest Lake

This story featured in the 2012 June issue.

Greg: One day over some PBRs in Duluth, Luke and I decided to paddle around Lake Superior. It’s the largest lake in the world by surface area, and the idea soon turned into us building our own skin-on-frame, Greenland-style kayaks in Luke’s dad’s garage. We thought it would take us two weeks to build them. It ended up taking us over two months.

Lucas: Greg found these building plans Google searching ‘seven easy steps to building your own skin-on-frame kayak.’ It was seven steps, but each step was broken down into about 100 different sub-steps. And they weren’t easy.

Greg: We couldn’t find any place that would sell us green wood to bend for our kayaks’ ribs, so we got out our chainsaws and felled an ash tree.

Lucas: Unfortunately, when we set out in late June, our boats sank. I’ll never forget the moment when Greg said ‘Dude, your whole back end is under the water.’ That was about 20 minutes after we had started. We made a beeline back to shore, and had to pump out our boats three more times before we got there.

Greg: We ended up buying two secondhand, roto-molded sea kayaks and launched those from the same place we had scuttled our skin-on-frames.

Lucas: We had scheduled 12 food drops so we could have seven to 10 days worth of food with us for each 60- to 100-mile leg of the trip. We used post offices, outfitters, even a motel up in Canada to hold the caches for us.

Greg: A lot of people don’t think sea kayaking on Lake Superior can be all that dangerous since it’s not the ocean, but it’s actually pretty unpredictable. Fog will roll in, the wind will pick up, and the water is always 42 degrees. So it only takes about four minutes to start going hypothermic on a sunny summer day if you go for an unexpected swim. On the six-mile crossing from Pie Island to Sleeping Giant, we hit some 4- to 6-foot swell and fog through an active shipping channel—that was definitely some white-knuckle paddling.

Lucas: We saw a lot of eagles. They would fly out of their perches down the shore when we paddled by, and then we would keep catching up to them, watching them take off over and over again as we slowly ‘chased’ them along the shoreline. We saw a lot of moose too. We even saw one swimming, and paddled up next to it. We also had a black bear wander into camp once while we were eating dinner. That was exciting.

Greg: We finished on Day 96, and we just had this giddy, giddy feeling. But when we got done it was like, ‘Okay, what’s next?’ We knew the next day our regular lives were going to start again, and we had just had this great separation from reality for such an extended period of time that was so wonderful … or maybe it was a more true reality. I don’t know. But it was definitely a little hard coming back.

Greg Petry, 30, and Lucas Will, 31, also made a documentary about their circumnavigation of Lake Superior. As told to Dave Costello.

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