Day 44 – Leaving Isle Royale

Something I forgot to mention in previous posts: the cobwebs. A part of hiking early in the day is running into cobwebs that spiders have spun across the trail overnight. It’s very common to run into them but you usually hit them with your legs, maybe your arms, because the spiders have to spin from a tree or shrub to a tree or shrub and the shrubs aren’t usually very tall in the woods and the trees’ lower branches are closest to the trail. However, due to the jungle conditions on Isle Royale, I have spent two days wiping cobwebs off my face and neck. They were really prevalent and it got to be annoying. I was trying to hold my hiking poles in front of me to push the foliage out of the way but then I’d have to swat at a cobweb across my face or neck, all the while moving forward through more foliage.

We wake up to a light rain, once again marveling at our good luck. Every time it’s rained on our trip, we’ve either been in camp or driving or in a place like New Hampshire where we don’t have to go hike if the weather is bad. We’re in an enclosed shelter, so our tent and all of our belongings are dry. All we have to do is walk down to the covered pavilion by the dock and wait for the boat; even if it’s raining, it’s not the same as hiking in the rain.

Since we’re in no rush, we wait until it tapers off to get out of our tent and have breakfast before packing up one more time. There’s a real bathroom by the dock so we brush our teeth and wash our faces at sinks with running water. We still have four days of trail funk on us but we figure most of the other people on the boat back with us will have been on the island at least as long as we have.

At the pavilion, there’s a large group of us gathered to wait for the boat. One of the rangers gives a talk about the island habitat and how it’s changed over the years. A couple of decades ago, the island had about 50 wolves but someone brought over a domestic dog that carried the Parvo virus and that halved the population. It’s since decreased and now there’s only two wolves – a father and daughter – and the U.S. Park Service is trying to decide whether to bring in wolves from Minnesota or Canada and re-establish the population.

She also shows us half a dozen pictures of the eastern garter snake, all very different looking, and says because the only predators on the island – foxes and hawks – find them visually instead of scent, the way many predators on the mainland do, they have evolved into lots of different colors to blend into their particular niche on the island and elude their predators.

Finally she tells us about the toads and, to be honest, I’m really glad I didn’t know about the toads before we hiked. I like toads generally but she says that because the two main predators of toads are skunks and raccoons – neither of which lives on the island – the toads have gotten big. As in toads with an 8-inch girth. I’m thinking that’s about double the size of what I would call a “large toad,” and frankly it would scare the dickens out of me. We didn’t see any toads or snakes on this hike, for which I’m grateful.

On the boat, we hear people talking about the hike they did on the island. A group of teen-age girls did the same loop as us; a pair of guys did it in reverse, as did another couple. All of them are much younger than us, which makes me feel good. I had been silently fretting that we were wimping out by not hiking the whole length of the island down to Rock Harbor, as originally planned. Then I hear two thirty-something guys telling a woman that they hiked long “8-mile” days twice and the thirty-something woman responded that she “would love to do that but I had my mother with me and she could never do that.” Hiking isn’t a competition and we certainly know people older than us who hike farther and longer than we do, but my ego was very happy to realize that in a lot of people’s eyes, we’d done something hard.

The boat trip back to the mainland seemed very long. The cabin was enclosed, with just a little outdoor space on the back, front and sides. I felt a little queasy so spent most of the trip on the stern. Luckily I had on a bunch of layers and my raincoat because it rained the last third of the trip and my back got soaked. Better wet than sick. Besides, I had a plan for when we got back to the car. While Walt went to pay the parking fee, I pulled out a skirt and pair of slip-on sneakers. I took off my hiking boots and pulled the skirt on over my soaked pants before taking them off, and slipping my feet into my sneakers. I’ve changed clothes in more than one parking lot in my time. Off comes my raincoat and now I’m reasonably warm and dry.

Despite the lack of ice cream stands on the way down to Duluth for the night, I manage to find an ice cream sandwich in a cooler during a stop for gas.

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