Coming aroundMike Link and Kate Crowley are growing weary by mid-afternoon when they come upon the rope. It is tied in an ancient knot to a tree along the Kabeyun Trail on a rugged peninsula that juts into Lake Superior northeast of Thunder Bay.
By: Sam Cook, Lake County News Chronicle
Mike Link and Kate Crowley are growing weary by mid-afternoon when they come upon the rope. It is tied in an ancient knot to a tree along the Kabeyun Trail on a rugged peninsula that juts into Lake Superior northeast of Thunder Bay.
The rope is heavy hawser, damp and festooned with green moss. But the Willow River couple – he’s 64, she’s 60 – will need to rely on it to make a controlled 12-foot descent of a wet slab of shale on this 16-mile hike.
This challenge is just one more that Link and Crowley have encountered on their five-month, 1,800-mile walk around Lake Superior. Here they were 115 days and 1,252 miles into the trek. They left Duluth April 29 on the adventure they call Full Circle Superior. After spending most of this week along the lake in Lake County, they plan to arrive back in Duluth Saturday, striding down the Lakewalk.
The trip is a way to celebrate Link’s retirement from the Northwoods Audubon Center in Sandstone. The couple, both naturalists, also are calling attention to protecting freshwater resources, especially the lake that has been over their left shoulders for so many miles.
Link, wearing elastic bands to support his tired knees, grabs the rope and leans back, rappel-style, to scramble down the rock. Then he holds the rope as Crowley, 60, makes the descent.
“This is a Canadian trail,” Link says. “U.S. trails are kind of a domesticated path through wild land. In Canada, it’s a wilder walk through wild land.”
All they thought
The expedition has lived up to all expectations. Crowley and Link first traveled Wisconsin and Michigan’s shoreline, averaging 15 miles a day. Once in Canada, they dialed the distance back to about 12 miles a day. They’re right on schedule and glad to be heading south again.
“We feel really good,” Crowley says the evening before, sitting in the motor home that serves as their mobile base. “I don’t have the sense we have to rush to get home. Just get up every morning, look at where we’re going and look at the weather.”
The couple rarely knows their precise route more than about two days ahead. Rather than walking roads, they seek the advice of locals along the way about paths that take them closer to the lake.
Those routes have taken them along dirt roads, forest trails, sand beaches, cobble beaches, boulder beaches, highways, abandoned railroad grades, active railroads, streams, clay banks, sand dunes, bedrock, bogs — and even the lake itself, as they walked waist-deep water to get around a protruding point.
“We’ve walked across stuff we wouldn’t want our grandkids to do,” Link says.
Where the road leaves the Canadian lakeshore between Michipicoten and Marathon, Link and Crowley were joined by nine others to paddle a 36-foot voyageur canoe along the shore for 11 days. They encountered 8- and 9-foot waves, Link said.
“We were windbound for parts of seven days,” he said.
At a stop on Otter Island, an assistant guide from Naturally Superior outfitters in Wawa, Ontario, fell from a cliff and had to be airlifted off the island by helicopter. He has since recovered.
The physical aspect of the hiking is evident. Link had lost 20 pounds in training before the trip, and he’s dropped another 29 on the trail. Crowley has lost 6 or 7 pounds.
“That’s a sore point,” she says. “We’ve walked the same distance.”
Link’s knees were a known risk when the trip began, and they have caused him plenty of pain and some lost sleep along the way. He probably will have a pair of knee replacements sometime after the trip. But his resolve to continue is unwavering.
“Oh, I’m going to make it,” he says.
People ask Link and Crowley how far they go each day. When they say 15 miles, people often say, “Oh, that’s a nice distance,” Link says.
But most of us haven’t hiked 15 miles in a day for some time – maybe ever. That’s like walking more than a half marathon with a 20-pound daypack, then getting up and doing it the next day, and the next, and the next.
“Walking has reinforced the idea of being in the moment,” Crowley says. “You’ve got 15 miles to go, and you can only walk 2 or 3 miles per hour. I decided early on in the trip to be in the moment.”
In those moments, small events occur. A loon calls out on the lake. A pileated woodpecker swoops ahead repeatedly. A huge whitetail buck comes swimming across a bay and approaches the shoreline.
The trek has reinforced their appreciation for the natural world, something Link and Crowley have always shared.
“What’s made it so great,” Crowley says, “is that we both love everything we see. In towns, it might be a garden. For Mike, it’s often rocks. There’s hardly anything we see that we don’t feel like sharing with each other.”
The Kabeyun Trail stretches on in late afternoon. Link and Crowley walk mostly in silence. Legs and shoulders complain, and the trail is difficult.
But this day’s events will take their place with all the others that are now part of the couple’s conversations.
“In the Huron Mountains…” one of the two will say, starting a story.
Or, “That day at Gros Cap…”
Or, “Remember, on the Casque Isles Trail…?”
And one day, they will talk about the summer they walked around Lake Superior.