Five years ago I came back to Lake Superior, this time to live on the south shore. I joined the ranks of kayak guide at an outfitter in Cornucopia for the season and lived aboard our newly purchased old sailboat in the marina down the block. In between instructing kayak and stand-up paddleboard skills and leading day kayak excursions to the mainland sea caves, I had the pleasure of also doing a few overnight trips with clients into the islands.

Besides a lot of kayak and SUP day-tripping since then — as well as a good number of sailing trips — that was the last time I visited the islands for the purpose of kayak camping with a boat packed for an overnight stay.  This dawned on me last week when I found myself kneeling beside my kayak in Little Sand Bay, searching for past strategies on how to get the pile of gear in front of me into my hatches.

The eerie feeling was coming true, once again, that I would have to be crafty to get what I thought was a light load of gear to fit into the small holds of my sea kayak.  I had just finished talking with our group about how packing a kayak takes the skill of an artist fine-tuning their craft.  “There will be lots of dead space,” I’d said, “your goal is to figure out how to use it all.”

These words hung on my lips as I jammed my closed fist into a paddling jacket attempting to mash it through a sliver of opening between dry bags.  Sweat formed on my head as I contorted my body, looking for the right angle to get it in all the while trying to manage how much sand I kicked up. How is that every time, no matter the trip, I think that I’ve somehow figured out the exact amount of gear to comfortably fit, only to realize that, in fact, I had not?

Inevitably, I spontaneously cut something from the list and returned it to the truck.  I almost always over pack anyways, surely that would account for deciding to leave something behind. Surely. 

Eventually we were all on water beginning our crossing to Sand Island, my thoughts on the group and the conditions rather than the layer I’d left behind. As the trip went on, my decision came to be a good one.

With every opportunity to put these skills to use I come up with another method or technique that sets me up to do it better then next time. In camp that first night, I jotted down comments in my field notebook about the exact gear and which size dry bags I had with me thinking it’d be a quick reference guide the next time I had a trip coming up. If only I’d started doing things like this years ago.

Even so, the experience of doing this many times over gave me a leg up over others in our group. At the same time, it provided a surprising realization that I hadn’t been on a kayak overnight trip in nearly half a decade. Despite the packing flail, it was sweet to be back out there. 

Lucas Will loves wilderness and enjoys many forms of recreation around the Bay area.  Adventure is his middle name.  Actually, it’s Frederick.  When not outside, he lives in a tiny house with his partner and their dog. You can follow him on Instagram under the handle Alfresco Bum.

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