Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kayakers finish their 'Superior Dream'

Greg Petry, left, and Lucas Will paddled more than 1,200 miles along the entire shore of Lake Superior

Two kayakers completed their expedition around the shore of Lake Superior last month.

Lucas Will of White Bear Lake and Greg Petry of St. Peter spent 97 days paddling clockwise from Duluth, covering over 1,200 miles.

Superior Dream departed Park Point in Duluth on June 26 only to make an emergency landing immediately after passing underneath the Aerial Lift Bridge when their homemade kayaks started taking on water.

Four days later they were finally paddling up the Minnesota North Shore with newly acquired plastic sea kayaks.

As the project moves on from the paddling phase, they hope to underline Lake Superior’s beauty and importance by sharing details of their expedition. They intend to accomplish this via a film, public educational opportunities and freelance writing.

Below, Will answers a few questions about their journey.

For more information and photos, visit

Please describe a few of your favorite sites you took in.

Certainly it was really neat to see the Pictographs in Lake Superior Provincial Park and the countless sea arches all around the Lake but for me the favorite sites I took in were because of what the water and the weather were doing.

Some of my favorite paddling moments was when the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see ten feet in front of us.  Most times the water was calm and we hugged the shoreline within a paddles reach.  But sometimes we were a little ways off shore or needed to do a crossing from one island to another.  We would take a bearing and creep through the cloud.  It was almost always silent with no other boat traffic and the really eerie part was when all of a sudden a mass of land showed up on our bows, we would literally almost paddle right into it.

Some other memorable locations along the shore for me include passing Beaver Bay in a really hard downpour.  We could see all the eyes watching us from the lakeside hotel rooms but the rain was warm and the water was like glass.  Also, a night paddle around Rossport, ON with our new friends in a voyageur canoe on the full moon at the end of July.  And how can I forget the countless sunsets?  From our kayaks or at camp on the beach, those might be my favorite from the whole trip.

Describe the most interesting person (or two) you met.

We came across so many amazing people.  While trying to escape a thunderstorm we crashed into a campsite where a guided group from Naturally Superior already had all their tents set up.  One of the paddlers was Max, an older German man in his 70’s who was in the midst of doing the Canadian shore of Superior.  We ended up playing leapfrog with the group for the next few weeks and getting to know Max really well to the point where saying goodbye was somewhat emotional.

Another was another long-bearded guy named Carl who we first met having lunch on a beach in the Pukaskwa.  He was paddling a Kruger Sea Wind canoe solo through the wilderness and we enjoyed each others company.  The fun part was he gave us his contact to meet up with him when we passed though Houghton, MI later in the summer.  We had planned to just call him when we got in town but it turned out he was following us on the website and as we paddled up the Portage Canal on the Keweenaw Peninsula he was waiting for us along the shoreline about a mile before town.  He treated us to beer and more great conversation at his favorite brewery.

What was the most common reaction you received from people you met along the way?

Usually when people saw us pull up on a beach or in town with our paddling gear on the first question they asked was how far we were going.  We always just said “Duluth” and depending on where we were along the lake their reactions were varied.  But, always when they then asked us where we had started and we said “Duluth, the long way” that’s when their eyes got big.

Everyone we met seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what we were doing, in awe and excited to hear about how we traveled.  Fortunately we were able to hand them our card for them to follow us as we moved on.  In the end, we had over 1,000 people checking in during our last month on the water.

When we were wind bound in town or waiting for our re-supply package we got to spend more time with some folks, others we just met briefly during lunch on a random beach or as they motored past us but almost always I think they wondered (if they didn’t ask) if we were crazy and what we did for a real job.

Did you get caught in any nasty weather? 

We did get caught out on the water, probably some of the biggest water I’ve ever paddled in, while crossing Thunder Bay.  It was one of our longer open water crossings, through a major shipping lane and in an area notorious for nasty weather.  Halfway through it kicked up and we had curling face waves crashing on us for the last 4 miles across.  We ended up surfing onto a cobble beach (not our ideal landing zone) and both dumped our boats in the surf.  We were wind bound on the next 2 and half days.

Usually we were somewhat conservative with paddling in big water and so we usually watched the chaos from shore.  The longest we were stuck anywhere was on Maple Island, just north of Sault Ste Marie where we spent 4 days due to Half Gale winds.  The island got really small quickly.  On the first evening we had the Ontario Provincial Police fly over us and then send a boat out to check on us.  Apparently someone saw us and thought we were in trouble.  We were fine, just hanging tight until the weather lifted.

Any other harrowing mishaps?

It wasn’t really a mishap to us but we found and rescued a canoe getting tossed in the surf just past Crisp Point in Michigan.  It was on a long sprawling and isolated beach.  After we emptied and pulled it a safe distance from the water we realized it was in nearly perfect condition still.  We also noticed markings on it from the Outdoor Program of Northern Michigan University in Marquette.  We took a few pictures and tried to get a cell phone call out but had no service.  We ended up paddling on and when we got to Marquette I stopped into Downwind Sports and talked to them about our find.  They were stunned to hear that we had found it and filled me in on the story.  Turns out two paddlers dumped in it a month prior and were rescued after a long night in the water.  Meanwhile the canoe drifted almost 100 miles to the east and went undiscovered until we came along.  The police had just picked it up.

How many bottles of sunscreen did you go through?

I wish I would have gone through more.  This summer was a really warm one.  The sun was a scorcher for so much of the first two months that our upper bodies got really dark.  For the first half of the trip my nose and right ear was burnt and peeling constantly. We wore hats a lot and draped wet bandanas over our heads to keep cool and block the sun.  The nice part is that we were never far from the Lake and always had a way to cool off quickly.  Getting away from the sun was the tricky part, you don’t find a lot of shade out on the water.

Have you shaved the beard and cut the hair yet?
It’s funny how both of us felt so attached to our long and scraggly beards.  My mustache had turned blonde from the sun.  It’s easy to have a long beard out on trail because of their function.  They block the sun, protect from the bugs and keep you warm in colder weather.  And though I made it a couple weeks after the expedition I did finally trim it down and I cut my hair too.  Winter’s coming though so my thick beard won’t be gone for long.

Anything you would have done differently?
I think we would have made sure to take a break between building our kayaks and departing on the trip.  The way it worked out, we worked on our boats together for 2 months then literally left as soon as we finished them where we spent the next 100 days together.  Greg and I get along really well but I don’t know any two people who can go 5 months together, nearly continuously, without conflict.  Having that break between the two phases would have helped I think.

As far as planning goes, I would be sure to plan a more varied menu next time.  Our breakfasts and lunches got old after a while, to the point where I couldn’t stomach some of our meals any longer.  It’s very evident to me now how much of a role your menu plays on your mood.

Have you started planning your next adventure yet?

For now we’re just focused on this winter, presenting the expedition whenever we can, and the film.  We handed over almost 75 hours of footage to our film editors in Minneapolis and plan to release an adventure documentary sometime in the next year.  It’s really the 2nd part of this expedition in a way.

Other than that, I’m just hoping to ski a lot this winter and to get a chance to do some instruction.  I can’t say that I don’t have a few other long distance trips on my mind though too.  I’d like to get into a canoe for one and have some ideas including my skis.  Honestly though, since we finished the expedition on Oct 3, I’ve found myself eyeballing those other large bodies of water directly to the east of Lake Superior.  A kayak really is a fantastic way to travel. We’ll see...

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