Day 43 – 4th Day on Isle Royale

Although we’re still waking up several times a night to re-inflate our air mattresses, we both noted that the temperatures here at the lake were a good 10-15 degrees warmer than they were overnight at the bay, where it dipped into the low 50s.

We’re up early again, woken just at sunrise by thunder. We both lay and wait for the rain to start but it never does. When we crawl out of the tent, we’re very grateful to find the clouds have passed and it’s sunny for our 8.5-mile trek back to Windigo Bay.

The hiking is easy under the cover of trees and we make really good time. There’s only a few short sections with the really overgrown foliage but I still resolve to let the rangers know what I think about their “lush trail conditions.” Every time I say out loud “lush trail conditions my butt” Walt laughs in agreement.

We cross a creek on a nice bridge and then head up to a ridge where we’re out in the sunshine for a brief period before we head back into the woods and down to Lake Superior. We stop for a brief break right by the water; we can see a pretty sailboat moored by a nearby island and consult our map to guess at how far we have left. We think we have about an hour left to go – and that’s if the trail stays as nice as it currently is – but in 20 minutes we hit the Windigo Nature Trail and realize we’re less than a quarter of a mile from the ranger center. A guy coming down the trail asks us if we’re lost since we’re consulting our map and we tell him, no, actually, we’re pretty much where we want to be ahead of schedule. He tells us to go to Shelter No. 1 at Washington Creek, which is the campground closest to the Windigo Bay, and where we’ll spend the night before catching the boat tomorrow.

While we’ve camped exclusively at campsites on the island, there are some “Adirondack-type shelters,” as they’re called. In the Adirondacks, the wood structures are three-sided with a slanted roof, the largest and tallest side being open. Here, there is screening and a door in the largest side and, we’re told, if we stay at a site with a shelter, we have to pitch our tent inside the shelter. We’ve never heard of this. Usually the rule is that you can only sleep in the shelter on your mattress pad and sleeping bag; no tents.

We don’t mind. There’s less bugs to worry about getting into our tent and it should be warmer if we’re off the ground, especially when our air mattresses give out during the night.

We check in with the ranger station; the ranger on duty is unapologetic about the jungle-like growth and very happy to answer questions about other trails on the island, reaffirming our decision to forego the Greenstone Ridge Trail, which she tells us is canopied pretty much the whole length of the island. We thought a ridge going up the middle of an island in Lake Superior would be more like the ridges in Acadia, Maine, with scrubby trees, lots of rocky outcrops and beautiful views. We’re not sorry to have skipped 3 days of hiking in boring forest even though it also would have meant missing most of the jungle.

There’s a store on the island and we head there looking for, of course, ice cream. There’s a cooler but all it has is a few popsicles. We guess that since it’s a Monday, they might have gotten cleaned out over the weekend and the resupply hasn’t arrived yet. Regardless, we are not going to be denied some sort of end-of-trail treat. Walt spies beer in a cooler and potato chips. I settle for a diet rootbeer and peanut M&Ms. We enjoy our snack on the store’s sunny patio.

The rest of the afternoon is spent playing gin. We have carried a small deck of cards on our hikes and I’ve played solitaire several afternoons but Walt refused to play Go Fish and neither of us could remember the rules for gin or rummy, which are the only other card games I’ve ever known how to play. We finally work out what we think are the rules for gin and spend a nice afternoon. One of us has a very strong competitive streak.

We’re sitting out, enjoying the evening when we hear splashing in the creek and, sure enough, there’s a moose grazing on the grass that grows in the shallow water. We had asked the ranger about the moose in the water and she had told us they go in both to get cool – the moose we saw at Feldtmann was clearly just enjoying a swim – and to eat the grasses because they get certain minerals that they can’t get otherwise. It’s pretty dark but eventually as he dashes down the creek away from us, we get some decent pictures. The moose have really made our visit to Isle Royale.

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