I finally found my groove in my new kayak (and with myself), at least for this lake. I slowed all the way to a meander as Tracy paddled away at his own rate. As long as I’m not trying to keep up or catch up, I seem to be okay.
It’s the fast paddling that throws me into a near-panic with too many skills to track at once: are my hands in the right place, am I twisting my upper body, am I using my core, yadda yadda. When I slow down, this all becomes more natural.
It also helps tremendously to—before I embark—get the biting flies out from the kayak at my ankles, attach my hat to my shirt with a cord so it won’t blow away, and situate my phone in the waterproof case so I can take photos with it without five minutes of fiddling during which I’m concerned I’ll lose my paddle. In other words, get all my stuff straight, then go. And go slowly.
Enter the Lilies
The edges of Black Lake are where grasses lay against the top of the water symmetrically, as if they’ve been combed.
In other places, elegant purple flowers grow upright in swaths. There are two beaver lodges that we can see along the top edge and two dams in the creek that feeds the lake.
My favorite section is by the creek end where lily pads and blooms grow so densely and so wide across the lake the you just have to kayak through them. If you go slowly you enter their world.
The lily pads part before the tip of your kayak like subjects before their queen. They murmur strangely. Turtles slip into the water at your approach. The open, white lily blooms gravitate towards the kayak like they want to touch you, like your presence is welcome.
But as soon as you reach down to pluck a bloom out of the water, the scene changes. The lily stem pulls and stretches six feet, ten feet, twenty feet? and reveals a deep forest below. The underwater greenery floats up like fir needles in the breeze, and lily pads flip over to reveal undersides like rich brown mushrooms. You’re gliding on top of the forest canopy, with all of life below you.
Hiking around the Lake
Almost as peaceful, except for the flies, is the four-mile trail around Black Lake. We walked through bogs up to my calves, over pine-covered forest floor, around Paper Birch, knee-deep in ferns and then briars, and over rotting bridges, all vaguely aware the lake must be on our left, but it was mostly hidden by the thick dark forest.
I lagged behind again and carried a branch with plenty of leaves on it to swat at flies and mosquitos. Tracy marched behind Banjo, who pulled us forward like we were a racing sled team.
Once we were back at the campsite, we were so scratched and bitten that a swim in the lake was required. Sandy bottom, cool patches of water. Soothed skin.
One evening our young, cheerful campground host walked from site to site warning us of a huge storm approaching fast from North Dakota. He said if we hear him driving through the campground at 2 am blaring a siren, go shelter in the handicapped-accessible bathroom. He said he’s a storm-spotter, so we should truly listen for him.
So we stowed most of the outdoor gear, convinced Banjo to pee despite the thunder, and went to bed knowing where jeans and sweatshirts were and that Banjo’s harness was by the door. How we’d get her in a tiny concrete bathroom with other campers and their dogs I had no clue.
We did have a storm, but no hail, no falling limbs, and certainly not enough wind to drive our host to warn the alarm.
The next night, though, the lightning across the lake was spectacular. Tracy and I again stowed all the outside gear, walked Banjo, closed up the airstream, then sat in our beach chairs by the lake and watched the lightning move up one end and down the other. We saw bolts coming straight down and bolts moving across from cloud to cloud, and we watched clouds light up one after another across the lake like they were keys on a piano during a dramatic concert.
Again, no damage: I walked Banjo the next morning in the early sunshine with enough cool breeze to keep at least some of the flying bugs away.
Too many insects! If you ride quickly enough, they fly about six inches behind your head in a cloud. Slow down for gravel, and they attack. Tracy and I rode side by side until we realized we could see each other’s trailing clouds, and then we changed to single file. Insect clouds are creepy.
Tomorrow we continue north to the UP to enjoy more of this cool weather. We need to find open campsites, and I sure would like to have cell service so I can talk with Finn, but I’m thinking not. For sure we need to go to Duluth to pick up Tracy’s replacement glasses and a few prescriptions. Maybe fresh eggs and blueberries.