There are many warnings about crossing large bodies of water in a canoe or kayak on the DNR maps. All of these warnings are reinforced by locals and their tales of tragedy. Naturally, I was nervous about my first very long lake crossing. Luckily I overslept so I started later than I had planned. The water looked calm when I set out, but that quickly changed in about 15 minutes! Thank goodness I was near the shore instead of the middle of the lake when the storm blew in.
My first attempt across Lake Winnibigoshish was thwarted by wind and waves. Lake Winnie isn’t very deep. There are some deeper pools in the lake, but it’s mostly shallow water all around. This combination of creates some pretty troubling waves. Imagine small waves like you might find in the Gulf of Mexico. The water would pull back causing my canoe to touch the lake bed and then I would get slammed by a wave, most of the time coming over the gunwales. I made it down the south shore about 4 or 5 miles to a boat launch and had to come ashore to bail water. I probably took on about 3 gallons of water. It was a pretty intense ride!
A Minnesota DNR employee helped me ashore. He was stationed there conducting invasive species inspections on boats going in and out of the lake. I learned some interesting facts about a few species of animals. John and I chatted for awhile until the weather cleared. It was only 2 or 3 pm so I felt I needed paddle on. I paddled directly across the lake which was the shortest distance. The weather and lake were nice and calm so I kept paddling. A very long paddle! Probably took me around 6 or 7 hours to reach the dam. I had considered staying on this little finger a couple of miles from the dam, but it appeared to be a nesting site for some pelicans. The sun was getting low in the sky, so I paddled hard to reach the dam before dark. Plus, I could see some more clouds approaching from the distance.
I had trouble finding the portage site, so I pulled right up to the dam going beyond the orange warning buoys. It was a dangerous thing to do, but I really did not have many options and that point. The sun was setting and it was getting darker by the minute, so I made a risky decision. There were a couple of Native American kids playing by the water. The boy, who was maybe 13 years old, pulled me ashore and asked if I needed some help portaging. How awesome of this kid! That was short lived once he asked me for a cigarette. I don’t smoke and even if I did, I wouldn’t have given a kid that young a cigarette. Without any compensation, the boy took off leaving me to carry all my gear and canoe up a very steep bank. I chuckled at my luck.