By Sea Kayak
The aroma of freshly brewed camp coffee draws me from the depths of my sleeping bag like a turtle emerging from its shell. I unzip the tent fly and am reminded why I slept so well: My "front porch" view opens south across an expanse of silvery blue water studded with islands and lined by rocky outcrops.
We paddled through that inkblot drawing of blue and green yesterday, the beginning of a three-day "Beaches, Waves and Caves" sea-kayaking excursion with local outfitter Living Adventure. "It wasn't that long ago that people would look at us and say, 'You're going out there in those little boats?'" recalls Dustin Long, the guide for our group of five women.
Sleek kayaks 16 to 18 feet long have become one of the most popular ways to explore the Apostles. Loaded with food and camping gear, they're the ticket to exploring the islands' backcountry. While only those with plenty of experience should tackle Superior's vast waters alone, even beginners safely can take shorter paddles with reputable outfitters.
Besides, guides like Dustin get up early to make coffee and breakfast burritos. They also know the marquee attractions. After departing the mainland yesterday, Dustin led us along weather-torn red rock walls, dissolving like sand castles. We floated over the shipwreck Ottawa-its timber ribs poking from the sand like dinosaur bones-then made the 40-minute crossing to Oak Island and our blufftop campsite.
Today's itinerary promises even more: paddle and hike to a 200-foot-high overlook on the north side of Oak-the highest of the Apostles-then hopscotch west to Raspberry, York and Sand islands, where we'll tour the lovely Gothic lighthouse and camp our second night. As we nudge our boats off the beach and round Oak's southwest corner, I'm enamored by a bald eagle glaring down from high in a hemlock right above me. It isn't until fellow paddler Jodi Charlton yells, "Bear!" that I spot a glossy black fellow less than 100 yards away, foraging on a hillside. Stealthy kayaks make for great wildlife sightings.
They offer a great vantage point, period. This close to the water, you feel more intimate with your surroundings. You can examine the sun shining on the lakebed, creating a tortoiseshell pattern through the chop. Or marvel at the immense bluffs looming above, trees crowning them like giant flowerpots. On open-water crossings, I'm almost hypnotized by the rhythm of paddle strokes pulling my boat forward, the bow porpoising through sparkling waves.
And there's certainly no better way to explore the Apostle Islands' sea caves. In several areas of the lakeshore-including Sand Island's Justice Bay, near our campsite-eons of wind and waves have gnawed through the soft sandstone bluffs, leaving behind a Swiss-cheese shoreline of arches and tunnels just waiting for us to explore.
I backpaddle into a tiny cave where the smooth rock wraps around me, delightfully cool and musty. My kayak bobs like a pool toy as the water sloshes and trickles and pours out across the miles, spilling onto other wild island shores. From high vantage points, the Apostles offer a magnificent view; down here at the water line, they stir your very soul.