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Day 7, August 4
My comfortable sleep was shattered by the sound of my alarm, the first time I had utilized the wretched thing since coming to the island. It was too dark and windy outside for me to face the day, so I hit snooze and delayed the inevitable. After another hour, assisted by the extra sleep and my trusty headlamp, I started to take down our camp to prepare for our longest day. The wind still told of the impending storm, but it wasn’t here, yet. I was able to have coffee and watch the
loons out on the dark lake in the early morning twilight. There wasn’t much time for taking in the ambiance, and we embarked on our trip. In 12.6 miles we would reach Washington Creek Campground and the end of our journey.
The first few miles had us questioning the challenge of the Minong once again. There weren’t many of those uncovered ridges, just more overgrown foliage trails. The trails had some residual mud and moisture from the previous storms, but so far there were few challenges. Then we hit the beaver dams. Three beaver dams stand between North Lake Desor and Windigo. These require hikers to follow the wood and mud mixture comprising the dams themselves. The mud is unending, the logs and sticks are uneven and slick, and the smells were rancid. Upon coming up to the first dam, we saw trails through the tall water grasses to our right and thought that we were meant to go around the dams. As we continued, the mud covered first our ankles, then our calves, and then finally our knees as they threatened to envelop our pockets.
We eventually got to dry land, only to discover that we had in fact gone off the trail. We had no desire to slosh through the mud to our starting point so we consulted our Gaia GPS app and it told us the trail was close, just over a tall embankment in front of us. There was nothing for it but to fold our hiking poles, and pull ourselves up the ridge through a maze of thimbleberry bushes and downed trees. Scrambling up on all fours, pulling every pound in our bodies and packs up with tangled roots as our grips, we eventually scaled what must have been 50 feet of almost vertical hill. Fog oozed off of the beaver dam and we could feel the humidity only increase our fatigue.
Finally, we reached the top of the hill, only to have to ascend a second, smaller hill to get to our trail on the other side. This extracurricular activity drained our physical and mental energy. After wrenching ourselves up to the second hill, we spotted a cairn that indicated that Gaia had in fact directed us back to the trail. We were equal parts fatigued and relieved. It then hit us that we had two more beaver dams to cross.
Having already having messed up by trying to go around the dam, we finally realized on the last two that one must walk across it. With the help of our hiking poles, we were able to balance across the tangle of muddy logs and sticks and make it across the last two dams with far less bother than the first.
After that, we started to run into other hikers, just having started their trips out of Windigo only a few hours prior to our meeting. They were clean and smelled like soap and detergent, foreign substances to us by this point. We warned them about the beaver dams and continued on to our destination.
As we started to encounter hikers without packs, we knew we must be close. We saw the sign for the Huginnin Cove Loop and knew we were almost there. A large bull moose standing atop a hill greeted us as the trail wove around him, almost deferential to his size and stature. The sign for Windigo marked a mere 1.2 miles to go. After such a long day with such highs and lows, that last 1.2 miles felt longer than some of our entire days previous. Our mid-afternoon arrival was well after the boats and planes had dropped off their human cargo, so every shelter was full. We found ourselves a nice campsite right on Washington Creek with a gorgeous view of the water. Once our camp was situated, we headed up the hill to the camp store and it was a revelation. They had an outdoor picnic area on a patio complete with beer and pizza. Oven pizza might not sound like fine dining, but to us it was manna from the heavens. Other hikers were similarly relaxing and we talked and toasted and regaled each other with our various trips and adventures. They had even recognized us from our YouTube series from the year prior!
The weather started to sprinkle and we left to go shower properly for the first time in a week and it was magnificent. It is hard to appreciate modern conveniences until you are without them. Looking at myself and reflecting on the trip, I remarked that I may have actually acquired a tan. This was short lived, as my tan washed off. That’s how dirty I had become. Decked out in brand new and amazingly clean clothing from the camp store, we hurried back to the tent as the rain picked up. It was that storm that we had worked so hard to outrun.
While our fixation with shelters may have seemed silly on previous days, not having one in the rain was awful. We sat in the tent for hours, with the rain too heavy to leave or enjoy anything outside. The water absolutely saturated the ground and the liquid had turned the bottom of our tent into a waterbed. Stacking ourselves and our valuables on the sleeping pads, we huddled with our belongings and waited out the storm. Eventually we fell asleep to the sound of rain. Luckily for us, our materials possessions did in fact survive.
Days 8 and 9, August 5 and 6 – Zero Days
As Matt was off answering nature’s call in the privy, I heard a ruckus and lots of splashing in the creek. I called out to Matt, wondering what he could possibly be doing to ruin the stillness of the morning. No voice replied, only more splashing and sloshing about. I unzipped my tent to see what was the cause of the commotion, and was met by the sight of a moose, mere feet from tent. The site butted right up to the edge of the water, and the moose was only a few feet away from the shore, dunking his head and enjoying the river plants. As I admired the majesty of the creature, two more bulls appeared from the bend and I could scarcely believe it. As other campers woke up, they, too, gathered and marveled at the bounty which nature had brought. We spent most of the morning watching the moose and counting ourselves lucky for this unique experience.
Most of the day was just us wandering around camp, speaking with people, and enjoying the rest. A heavy fog had moved in after the storm, and we talked to one group of men who were actually delayed since the seaplane was unable to land. They were hopeful that the Voyager ferry would be able to get them, and we didn’t see them after that day, so I believe they did find an alternative way off of the island. After that, we did laundry since Windigo has laundry facilities in addition to real bathrooms and showers and we spent more time enjoying the oven pizza and beer at the camp store.
The next day was our originally planned zero day and we treated it as such. We wandered around, spoke to the rangers, relaxed in our chairs, and even attended a ranger program that evening. It was about the moose ticks, bats, and snakes on the island. I was surprised by how engaging it was, and I was glad to see that the rangers were stressing to people that even the creepy crawlies have a place in the ecosystem. The moose were no less active in the creek on this day, so we enjoyed the shows that nature provided to us free of charge
Day 10, August 7 – Departure
We awoke to a pleasant day and felt refreshed. Matt survived the coolness of the evening despite popping a baffle on his sleeping pad. To our relief, the previous day’s fog had cleared, leaving no obstacles for the seaplane. As we got to the dock, we talked with a ranger and gave them our itinerary and noted our changes for their data. We found some hikers and, seeing as we couldn’t take our fuel with us, gave them the remaining canister which had about ⅓ of the fuel left.
In front of the Windigo sign by the dock, we saw a fox pup and it was absolutely adorable. If you ever wondered just how close foxes and dogs are genetically, watch a fox pup play. It was rolling around chewing on a moose shed and having a wonderful time. We laughed and watched it for quite a while. We hiked to the seaplane dock and met up with a ranger heading home for family reasons. We spoke to him about the island and his tenure as ranger as we watched the plane come up. This flight was just as enthralling as the first. It was a stark snap back to reality when we were ascending and our phones were in service for the first time in ten days. As the island receded into the distance, texts, emails, work, graduate school, family, a veritable torrent of messages welcomed us back to the real world. As we jumped into the car, processing the shift back to civilization, we took the ranger up on his advice and set out for a small Finnish breakfast cafe in Hancock. We ate and it was eerie just how much noise and commotion occurs, even in a small eatery, compared with the serenity of the island. We ate, paid, left, loaded ourselves into the car, and drove off towards home. Once again, even as I was leaving, the island was calling to me to return again in a future year to explore other loops and trails that we had yet to discover.