In September 2012 I traveled from Wales to the Canadian shore of Lake Superior as a guest of Ryan Rushton’s Geneva Kayak Center. My destination was the town of Wawa Ontario, in the northeast corner of the world’s largest freshwater lake, for the annual Great Lakes Gales Storm Gathering.
The 2-day journey north, along the west shore of Lake Michigan and into Canada at Sault St. Marie, was an intriguing glimpse of Interstate Americana for this Brit boy. One language, but certainly two cultures!
The final hours followed the north shore of Lake Superior, through a brochure-perfect panorama of golden-red autumnal colours, the forested landscape occasionally revealing the beautiful rocky lakeshore. Afternoon brought us to Wawa, a remote scattering of buildings along the Trans-Canada Highway. A few more kilometers of dirt track led to Rock Island Lodge at the mouth of the Michipicoten River.
This enchanting accommodation and activity base, owned by avid local sea kayaker David Wells, was perched on a tiny rocky promontory extending into the lake like the prow of a ship. Flanked by white beaches, with a breach in the sand spit allowing the river to escape into the mighty Lake Superior, Rock Island Adventures was truly blessed with a perfect paddling environment.
Watching the sun set into the glassy waters of the lake, its southwest horizon unbroken by any sight of land, it was hard to imagine the mighty waves that my local hosts assured me were commonplace in storm conditions. Five more days of idyllic conditions – perfect for the BCU Level 1 Coach course that occupied me and the staff team of Rock Island Lodge – gave no hint of Wawa’s reputation among Great Lakes sea kayakers.
The placid weather did permit my first journey in a traditional Voyageur canoe. These remarkable craft plied the Great Lakes during the heyday of the fur trade era, loaded with pelts for the old world upper classes. Coordinating the efforts of two dozen crew brought a whole new perspective on teamwork and communication!
The eve of the Gales Storm Gathering, however, brought a dramatic change in weather conditions. As participants arrived, they were greeted by a southwesterly storm that brought with it great walls of water crashing onto the beaches each side of the lodge. The spectacular view through the dining room windows of the crashing surf on the tip of the rock spur reinforced the sensation of our being aboard a ship’s bridge – the ‘Rock Island Lodge’, steaming purposefully towards the American shoreline 200km distant.
A 2-day respite allowed the Storm Gathering paddlers to venture into the superb waters of the Michipicoten Bay, an amazingly diverse environment of current, surf, rock gardens, sheltered waters and dramatic shorelines.
The return of the storm on the final day delivered impressive surf into the river mouth next to the lodge. A rare combination of outgoing current and incoming swell over a rock reef-sand bar created unusually large and steep faces in such windy onshore conditions. It was too good to miss!
After ten days in the unique company of Lake Superior, it felt fitting that my final hour afloat should be in such fantastic conditions. Freshwater surf? Wawa delivers the goods and Rock Island Lodge offers ‘park and play’ magic. I’ll be back one day…
My trip to Ontario would not have been possible without Ryan’s invitation. David Wells and his Rock Island Lodge team – Megan Gamble, Ray Boucher and Ree – gave me a fantastic Wawa welcome. The Gales Storm Gathering organisers and coaches – Keith Wikle, Alec & Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, Haris Subacias, Chris Lockyer, Shawna Franklin, Leon Somme, Sam Crowley and many more – were a delight to work alongside.
Most importantly, the event could not have taken place without the commitment and enthusiasm of all the participants who traveled so far to paddle in Lake Superior with us. I had a great time with everyone who joined me afloat. My thanks to everyone involved in the 2012 Gales Storm Gathering.