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Since Riga, our beautiful rescue pup, entered my husband’s and my life last summer, it has been richer. It’s been richer in laughter and joy and richer in laundry and bath time. One thing life hasn’t been richer in is kayaking. When she arrived in July 2015, our eight-week old, adorable ball and chain needed to go out every few hours, and Riga was so full of energy we felt guilty being recreational without her. Taking an all-day kayaking trip around the tip of the peninsula as we loved to do was not an option.
Now Riga is a year old, and she sleeps quite well in her kennel for hours at a time. Beautiful weather in May brought the familiar itch to strap myself into a nylon kayak skirt and slather on sunscreen. I must admit, though, that I am not an all-weather kayaker. The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend dawned sunny and very windy, so Lake Michigan seemed too intense for a first paddle of the season. We decided to head up to Europe Lake. We bribed Riga with peanut butter so that we could make our escape.
Tim and I arrived at the Liberty Grove Town Park where there is a public boat launch. A young family was fishing off the dock, but otherwise the lake was quiet. A persistent southwest wind pushed new leaves back and forth. We launched and paddled to the narrow southern end of the lake. There we were protected from the wind. In the calm, Tim took out his fishing rod and made a few casts. Given my lack of grace with a fishing pole on land, I opted not to bring mine in my kayak. I cruised around and had a close encounter with a water bird, which I later learned was probably a Green Heron. Tim joined me and we paddled north along the eastern shore, the wind pushing us so that we skimmed over tiny waves. We beached our kayaks in the northeastern bay to check out Newport State Park campsite 14 which was uninhabited but seemed an ideal spot from which to paddle and fish. Tim made a few more casts but still had no luck.
We slowly turned and headed for the boat launch. As we paddled, a single power boat cruised across the lake, the only other traffic we saw. The wind met us enthusiastically as we departed the bay and reentered the widest part of the lake. We attacked the wind head-on and powered through the roughly half-mile crossing. It felt like 20-mile-an-hour wind, but it was only 10 or 15. Paddling into the wind can be frustrating for me, as I feel like I’m not gaining any distance despite seemingly working as hard as I can. Finally I was able to let up as we neared the launch. Breathless and glad for the rest, I twisted around to take in a view of the entire lake. Out of sight of Lake Michigan, this place felt like it could be any remote lake in Northern Wisconsin. Quiet and private, Europe Lake is worlds away from the rest of bustling Door County.
Sunday dawned sunny, and having left our boats on top of the car overnight, we got an early start to Kangaroo Lake. Kangaroo Lake is separated into two parts by a causeway that is County Road E, and the smaller north end of the lake is a no-motor area. This seemed perfect for our purposes, so off we headed to explore. Tim parked the car at Coyote Roadhouse, where there is a grassy area along the lake that is nearly perfect for launching a kayak. By the time we parked and asked permission to launch, some ominous clouds had rolled in and drops were plunking on the car. We took shelter inside the Roadhouse and had a cup of coffee while we waited out the rain.
A short shower delayed our trip only 20 minutes, and soon we were ready to launch. As I said, the grassy shore made for an almost perfect launch site, except that the shallow bottom was coated in a thick layer of muck, which smelled as gross as it looked. Once I was in my kayak with my spray skirt secured, I could neither see nor smell the muck any longer. While Tim fished, I concentrated on following three families of geese as they paddled near the shore. I wove in and out of tall grasses and floated carefully over lily pads. I don’t think I had been aware before that lily pads have flowers. We had chosen the correct day because many of the lily pad flowers were in bloom, like yellow orbs hovering on the surface of the water. The lake was clear enough that I could see the long stems of these flowers reaching up from the mucky bottom.
Gradually, Tim and I worked our way north and turned east around a bend into the “head” of the kangaroo. As we did, more tall grey clouds crept up behind us, and the wind picked up. The squall came on so quickly we barely had time to land and wade through feet of muck to tie up our boats before the rain started. Gentle thunder rolled through and Tim and I hid under a large cedar tree. We got wet and cold but were no worse for wear. Actually, it was a great lesson in being prepared with rain gear, no matter how tame we think our paddle will be.
Bay Shore Outfitters organizes one “Bring Your Own Boat” group paddle each season. Mud Lake is a common choice for a late spring paddle as it is a calm, remote area that is suited to all levels of paddlers and types of boats. We met nine others on County Road Q on the banks of Rieboldt Creek. The weather was finally perfect, both sunny and calm. On our third consecutive paddling day, Tim and I were efficient at unloading our gear and launching into the narrow creek. My kayak was still damp from the de-mucking cleaning Tim gave it the day before. Excited to have new paddling companions, I chatted as I tried to navigate Rieboldt Creek’s narrows and switchbacks. My compromised attention caused me to get embarrassingly stuck in the tall grass at least twice.
Finally, the creek opened onto beautiful Mud Lake, which, like the north end of Kangaroo Lake, is surrounded by protected lands. It is a State Wildlife Area, so once we entered the lake, signs of civilization all but disappeared. Here, too, the lily pads were in abundance, though I noticed the blooms hadn’t quite opened. As the wind was light and the lake was empty of boaters, we paired off across the width of it, combining conversation with leisurely paddling. We paddled all the way to the north end, where we paused to marvel at the peaceful scene and sip water. On our way back, a bald eagle seemed to lead the way, flying high just ahead of our group.
The rest of the group went out for brunch, but Tim and I went home to spend time with Riga. The inland lakes in Northern Door were our solution to transitioning back into paddling. Their launches are nearby and convenient, and the lakes are small enough to see in a few hours. We can have our dog and paddle, too.
View the full July 2016 Newsletter here.
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