The day we reached Lake Superior fell on our 4th anniversary.
We greeted the violet tinged morning at what felt like an earlier hour than usual, due to having passed through two time zones in the past few days alone. Tents were packed and thrown into the van in a half-slumber before we piled in and snoozed through the bleary journey.
Our first stop was at a memorial lookout point.
Terrance Fox was a young man who died from cancer - but only after he had raised over $30,000,000 dollars for cancer research and become a national treasure by running a marathon a day on his prosthetic leg. His plan was to run across the entire continent, from East to West. He dipped a toe in the Atlantic on his first day and vowed to do the same when he reached the Pacific on the other side.
However he never made it. Cancer took hold of him as he reached Lake Superior and he had to end his journey there. He died a year later at the age of 23.
I truly cannot imagine the bravery and motivation of such a young man. The words awe-inspiring and inspirational are thrown around a lot - people like this deserve better, rarer words that are reserved for them. It's hard to imagine, sitting here in my comfy armchair with only academic worries to contend with, what it must be like to face death yet face it with such raw determination. I can hardly run 5k without feeling like I'm about to keel over. Life is there for the taking and we really felt it, standing in the blue blush of morning and listening to his story.
Our adventure for the day was kayaking, an activity that tempts fate on anniversaries if ever there was one! We were hustled into a little house by the shore of the lake where we changed into our spare clothes and life jackets amongst the wooden beams and fluffy insulation of the loft. Michele came out having just put his swimming trunks and life jacket on whilst everyone else was fully dressed under their safety gear - it looked like one of those nightmares you have when you suddenly realise you're naked in public! Obviously I couldn't contain my mirth and laughed him all the way back upstairs to the changing area!
But out on the water, the tables very much turned. As it turns out, my paddling skills are abysmal. We were moving at the exact same speed whether I joined in or not. We went from proudly gliding across the water to furiously beating the surface with our paddles, wondering why on earth we weren't moving as fast as the others. We tried everything, we tried putting more effort in, we tried keeping our strokes in rhythm but no matter how hard we endeavoured, we couldn't quite beat the others!
Apparently there are otters out on the lake but sadly we didn't see any. There's also supposed to be a mythical creature called the manitou who lives in these deep waters and whom you are supposed to appease by sprinkling a pinch of tobacco into the water - who knows, perhaps the wind and rain and waves that battered us from the moment we set off could have been avoided!
As we pushed out and rounded the islands, the waves began to rock us back and forth. Some were huge, rolling us about like great tidal surges. I gleefully paddled into them, enjoying the dip and sway of the kayak beneath us. It was difficult to believe that we weren't on a true body of open water as the horizon stretched endlessly away from us, unmarked by distant land. Lake Superior is so huge that it's sometimes referred to as an inland sea, crossed as it is by great cargo ships taking a shortcut across its giant surface.
We stopped for lunch in the sunshine, digging our ziplock bags out of our boats and pushing onto dry land. I stripped down to my swimming costume instantly and jumped into the water which was ice cold. After a mere couple of minutes I was back on the warm rock, trying to heat up again!
On the way back, our guide told us about the wolves, bears and moose that live on some of the islands and how when the lake freezes over, they can be seen trying to cross the ice. He may have been having us on though as he also told us that he once tried advertising whale watching trips as a joke and got many interested customers.
(I couldn't work out why that would be a joke but everyone else soon told me that there weren't any whales in a closed water mass - duh.)
By now, the sky had clouded over again and the wind was pouring through my damp clothes. Luckily the kayak and life jacket offered a little shelter but unluckily the wind was determined to push us back to the island shore. With a lot of effort and a synchronised paddling system (involving us shouting "ONE! TWO!" intermittently, then taking turns and then Michele shouting at me for not doing my share of shouting and then me singing Pocahontas songs instead to keep morale high) we managed to crawl across the lake back to the safety of the shore.
I absolutely LOVED kayaking and was more than happy to do it again on our holiday in France later that summer (in which I sucked even more at paddling but there you go). I would heartily recommend kayaking on Lake Superior, we went with Superior Outfitters as organised by Trek America.
After the cold, the van was deliciously, velvety warm and we all instantly fell asleep for the journey to our next campsite further along the shores of Lake Superior.
And when I say along the shores of Lake Superior, I mean along the shores of Lake Superior. Our campground, hidden away in the pines, was a mere handful of metres away from the pounding surf of the lake.
And so we spent a half hour on the evening of our anniversary watching the light fade across the blue.
No fancy dinners, no expensive hotels, no extravagant gifts. Just the pleasure of watching unspoiled nature and feeling at home when we were so many thousands of kilometres away from our own.
(P.s., Michele, if you're reading this, I want to go somewhere swanky this year. Five years is a big deal, k?)
After a little while, we got up and trudged slowly back through the pebbles to our temporary version of real life.