Door County Adventure Center does a lot of trips. We lead school retreats, women’s retreats, couples trips, and Girl Scout trips. One of the many popular locations we take people is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Aka: Kayaker’s paradise. If you love serious kayaking, this is the place to be. However, it takes a bit of skill, talent, and stubbornness to truly kayak around the Apostle Islands.
The first time I co-led a multi-day trip for the center we were outfitting and guiding for a group of Girl Scouts. I was co-leading the trip with our seasoned guide, Sue, who knew the area like the back of her hand. Knowing my co-guide was awesome, experienced, and had a whole slew of back-up plans for bad weather was great! But going into this trip I was still a bit nervous, and therefore over-prepared. We were car-camping, so I took the opportunity to pack so many layers I was ready to summit a mountain and go surfing in the tropics all on the same trip. I brought along so many water bottles I could have supplied two troops of scouts. I packed snacks for an army of squirrels. I checked and double checked gear. I got up to the campground (about 5 hours from base camp) and I realized that I brought a single spray skirt the wrong size. A spray skirt keeps water out of your kayak and is absolutely essential for kayaking the area and the skirt I had wasn’t going to fit any of the boats we took along.
On a normal trip, this would be pretty bad. I’d be running around to all of the local kayaking shops and hoping that one of them had a spray skirt that fit my boat. Which would probably have been a long shot. Thankfully, the owner of the company, Tim, happened to be up in the same area leaving the next day after finishing a couple’s retreat in the Apostles and he happened to be using a spray skirt that would fit my boat. Tim says he doesn’t believe in luck. I’m pretty sure that luck was the only thing that kept me from having a real nightmare that first day of my trip.
After that crisis was solved, I met up with Sue, who was coming from Nebraska, and we had dinner and chatted about the trip. The next morning the scouts arrived, set up camp, and we got the group out to the paddle location. When I asked who had kayaked before every girl raised their hand. It was kayaking on a small inland lake, which is pretty different than Lake Superior, but it’s a start!
We got the girls paddling after an on-land lesson, and worked on maneuvering before moving to wet-exits (getting out of your kayak when it tips over) to conclude the day. The girls all did very well, and I was looking forward to the next day on the water when we would have an opportunity to go see the caves.
The next day paddling to the caves was great. We moved boats down some steps and onto the beach, maneuvered around a couple of day-tour kayakers, and got onto the water pretty swiftly! The first bit of the paddle was pretty rough! We had 1 foot waves or more which was a challenge for the girls. But they were determined to see the caves and did a great job! We were able to get into one cave right away and a few more later on in the trip once the waves died down a little. On the paddle we had a couple of seasick girls which is curable by water and ginger candy (pro tip!) and a little mental toughness! The girls powered through and I managed to help out my two first sea-sick participants.
The following day the weather called for 4 foot or higher waves on Lake Superior so we moved to a sheltered little bay where we were blocked from the lake but still had a great paddle! We started out rough, a boat got stuck in some very shallow water but I managed to get them out even with the wind working against us! We didn’t make it out to an island like we wanted, but we explored some unique ecological areas and had an easy paddle. The girls loved the easy day and the cool scenery!
Overall this trip was a great success. The girls had a blast, developed amazing paddle skills, and had the chance to learn about their own capabilities while enjoying the natural beauty of the Apostles. The massive caves, cool lake, and sunshine make the Apostles a unique paddling destination. We’re always looking to bring new paddlers out to the Islands, and I personally look forward to spending more days out on the water!