A week after graduating from college, I launched my sea kayak near my home at the eastern end of Lake Superior, loaded down with enough supplies for a 400-mile spring solo along the lake's northern shore to Thunder Bay, Ontario. The first week went smoothly, but things started to get sketchy just west of the town of Wawa. Here, the coastline veers away from all roads, forming a 110-mile-long peninsula protected by Pukaskwa National Park. It's the most isolated portion of the Great Lakes, aptly known as the "Wild Shore."
This was the wilderness I'd spent the school year dreaming of, but Lake Superior was not proving to be very hospitable. After a tenuous day of five-foot seas and 40-degree fog, I crash-landed onto a lonely beach. A rogue wave filled my cockpit with sand. Peeling off my drysuit, I heard the gut-wrenching sound of the gasket tearing apart. Then, after a hasty dinner, I crawled into my tent and discovered I'd forgotten to pack the charts for the next 80 miles of coast.
I gathered my wits the next morning. I'd spent countless hours studying charts at the university library, idling away a long winter. From memory, I sketched the landmarks one by one: Point Isacor, a granite monolith buttressing five miles of soaring cliffs; Imogene Cove, a crescent of sand once the site of a logging village; Otter Island, a stronghold of endangered woodland caribou with an abandoned lighthouse perched on its northern tip; and Cascade Falls and Oiseau Bay, a lakeside waterfall and deep harbor, both favorite haunts of Canadian canoe icon Bill Mason.
Eight days out of Wawa, I reached the visitor center at Hattie Cove. I'd paddled in wind and waves, sun and fog--my first protracted experience of profound solitude. I've paddled the Pukaskwa nearly every year since that fateful solo, rekindling memories and making new ones on the Wild Shore.
OUTFITTER: Naturally Superior Adventures, naturallysuperior.com
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