Thursday, August 2, 2018

Summer Trip 2018 stop 2

Minneapolis and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

From the Black Hills of South Dakota we drove to Minneapolis where we arrived at bed time. In the morning our neighbors the Gardners flew in and we met up with them at the Mall of America. We rode a couple of roller coasters and the Fly Across America ride- which is similar to Soarin at Disney.  After lunch it was time to hit the road.

We made a stop at Walmart to stock up on breakfasts and snacks for the next day or so. We then made the 4 hour drive to Wisconsin's Apostle Islands. Once there we checked in to these cute little cabins on Lake Superior. Our other neighbors, the Despain Family were already there, they flew in a few days earlier. We ordered pizza for dinner and enjoyed spending time together.

 In the morning, David and I took the ferry over to Madeline Island to pick up a small boat rental. We took the boat to the marina near our cabins to pick up our kids and the Gardner Family for a day out on the lake. It was a beautiful sunny day and we headed out 20 miles to Devils Island to see the sea caves. They were amazing. The water was so calm we were able to take the boat inside a few of the caves which was really cool.

We tied up to a rock area and met the volunteer rangers that were staying on the island. They gave us a tour of the lighthouse and some history of the island and it's light keepers. The kids had fun swimming in the cold water, then laying on the warm rocks to warm up. We decided to take the boat back near the caves and cliffs to anchor and have lunch. The kids braved the cold water again to climb through the caves and explore. Then they climbed the cliffs and jumped into the water. It was a fun day. 

The boat was acting a little odd so when we found we had cell service at Devils, David made a call to the guy that rented us the boat. He suggested we make our way back. So we did, slowly. We went by a few of the other islands between Devils and Madeline. We stopped at South Twin Island, and then went by Stockton to see larger cliffs and more sea caves. There were crazier teens climbing higher cliffs to jump. We stopped at Stockton to visit the ranger station there and pick up- you guessed it, junior ranger packets.

As we headed back, the boat seemed to get slower and slower and then started making a screeching noise. We'd stop and let the engine rest and then start slowly again. David texted the boat owner and he wanted us to just wait. After about 45 mins of just making our way slowly towards the mainland, he finally reached up, about 3 miles for the marina near our cabin, but he insisted he tow all of us back to Madeline Island. This was quite frustrating and took nearly an hour. SO instead of getting back at 6:30pm to the cabin for dinner with the Despains, we were all taken to the island and had to take the ferry back. David tried a few times to discuss the issue with him, but he was not interested in having a conversation about the the situation. I told David not to worry about it, to not let it ruin our day. After finally docking the boat, we made a quick dash to the ferry dock to catch the 7:30pm ferry. Had we been 5 mins later, we'd of had to wait another hour for the next ferry. We felt blessed we'd made the 7:30. A text to Diane, and she agreed to come pick all of us up at the ferry dock in town. She even agreed to squish all 12 of us in her 7 passenger SUV. And then she made all of dinner and brought it to our individual cabins while we showered and packed for our kayaking camping trip tomorrow. What an amazing friend! Despite the delay in our evening, we had a great day, ending with amazing service from a great friend.

The next morning the real adventure began. The Despains, Gardners, and Millers all met early in the morning at Lost Creek Adventures to take safety training and prep for our kayaking adventure. The national park only allows 21 people to camp in each group site in the Apostle Islands. Our group totals 22. Plus we hired a company to guide us in kayaking, bring tents, and cook for us(very important!). We have been planning this trip since December, the company we hired did not tell us until just before booking the campsites that our group was too large. So we decided our family would attempt to book and individual campsite near the group site so we could all still go together. Group sites are booked 6 months out, but individual sites can not be booked until 30 days before. So after booking our group site, 2 months later, Lost Creek owner informed us that maybe my family should book another family vacation that he did not think he could take my family in addition to the group, he didn't think he could book our individual sites near to the group site. Well this was disappointing. So I contacted another company, that agreed to take us, even with the odd situation. They also thought it would be easier for just one company to take us, but the 2 owners knew each other and agreed to work together.

So 30 days ago, Neal from Whitecap Kayak booked our campsites for us. As anticipated, he was able to get the closest sites to the group site booked for the other group. And here we are ready for our trip!

So the other 3 families, and Savannah- to even numbers out at the campsites, met early in the morning at Lost Creek Office. While our family slept in, and packed up that morning. We met our guides Kyle and Reiley at noon at the launch point, Little Sand Bay. The other 3 families were there, eating lunch when we arrived. Our guides soon arrived and set up lunch for us as well. We all packed our kayaks and set out in one large group to make the 3 mile paddle to Sand Island. Kyle was great to coordinate with the 3 Lost Creek Guides. Truthfully the LCA guides had more experience guiding, and especially in the Apostle Islands. Kyle was new to both this summer. Really, our second guide, was 15 and in training. Although young, he loves paddling and is quite experienced in both guiding and kayaking. They both did a great job.

We made it the first 3 miles! David and Benjamin kayaked in a tandem with Matthew in a middle hatch. Isabel and I kayaked in a tandem together and Calvin had a solo kayak. Savannah was paired up in the other group with Sawyer. We had thought she would be paired with Mirelle, but the LCA guides made the determination, and put her and Sawyer together and they made a great team.
The kids had a great time running around at the campground together. We had fun visiting as adults. We had made it 3 miles, but we still had tomorrow...

After breakfast the next day, we broke camp and packed up our tents and gear. LCA took a little longer to get going so our family and guides headed over to the sea caves on Sand Island to explore. Once the LCA group arrived there we started towards our first of 3 stops for the day. I thought we'd just paddle slow and they'd catch up, but they must have been paddling slow too. We arrived on York Island with them trailing behind us still. After a short bathroom and snack break, our family started out again in the lead. David was anxious to start out and keep a slow pace. The other families soon followed but were still behind us just a bit as we arrived for lunch at Raspberry Island. Lunch was delicious and needed! Paddling was hard work and our muscles were tiring quickly! We started out after lunch as one large group and stayed together for our last paddle to Oak Island where we would spend 2 nights. The paddle was hard, and we were all tired and struggling by the end, but we made it! 12 miles over the day, and we did it! We couldn't have planned the trip more perfectly. We had great weather for our days of paddling but that night rainstorms would pass through with winds and high waves. We were blessed that weather would pass on the day we planned to rest and hike on Oak.

After setting up camp, the kids played in the water and David jumped in with Matthew. I braved the cold water just to rinse the last 2 days of sweat off! It was so very cold, but I was so glad I did it! The rain dropped the air temps more than 10 degrees and it was so nice not to spend that time with sweat glued to my skin. The rain started early the next morning and drizzled on and off through out the day. Two days ago I was wondering if I had over packed. Nope. No way. I used all my layers. Savannah even used the extra fleece shirt I had packed for her, since she refused to pack it with her stuff. She was sure she had enough warm clothes. But we all had to layer up, including PJs under pants, to stay warm.

The kids did great playing games in tents or hanging out around the fire when the rain would stop for a bit. They enjoyed the day and just hanging out together. Even the teenagers seemed to enjoy their day. They even included our 15 year old guide with them. Of course the girls were happy to have him along; Reiley is pretty cute.

The adults took a hike out to the other end of the island to see if we could see the waves raging off shore. We heard from the campsites on that end of the island that there were bear problems over there the night before. As we started our hike we hadn't realized that Matthew and his buddy Olivia, the two 8 year olds, had run up ahead of us on the trail. Olivia's mom and I were at the back of our hike group. Once we realized they were far out of sight, we picked up the pace, and even jogged a little to go find those 2. We knew the kayak guides were a head of us on the same trail, but hadn't realized how slow we were hiking behind them. It took us several minutes of jogging and fast walking to catch up with them. When we finally did, we found the guides aggressively scaring off a bear near the trail. Olivia and Matthew had even tried to run a head of them, when they came upon the bear. All was well, the bear was off the trail aways, but not scared of humans or moving away. So the guides were taking progressive action to chase the bear away from the trail. I was glad to know the guides were ahead of us and watching out for the two kids, who got a stern talking to by us, to not run off from their parents! Once the rest of the adults caught up with us we finished our hike out to the shore line on the south east end of the island. But we couldn't see the waves any better from this area. So we headed back to our campsite. The rain eventually died down late afternoon. We enjoyed the rest from kayaking for the day.

That evening we discussed several ideas for where to kayak to for our finish point. Hoping the wind and waves drop as predicted we could head towards Bayfield. Or we could maybe Kayak to a closer take out point, but it would require a short hike with the kayaks. In the morning, the wind and waves had dropped as predicted, but the closer take out point was ruled out due to damage from a previous storm. So we opted for heading towards Bayfield but pulling out on the Indian Reservation, so not quite as far as originally planned, but still a distance of 6 miles. We put in, and started on our way. The water and wind were so calm. The sun was still hiding behind clouds, so the air was still a bit chilly, but really it was a pretty perfect day. We took it slow and just kept paddling. Little by little we crept closer and closer to our finish point. We even stopped to see a few shipwrecks hiding just below the surface, but without the sun shining over head they were hard to see. Finally we pulled up to shore! We had made it! over 20 miles in 3 days of paddling. We can do hard things! And we even got to see beautiful scenery along the way, and enjoy it with good friends!

LCA provided a shuttle for some of the adults to go pick up our vehicles parked at Little Sand Bay. Once they returned we quickly loaded up our stuff. Well not as quick for us, we had to unload the bikes from inside the van and move our stuff back to the back of the van. But i'd say we did it in record time. We were done not too long after the others, and they only had to pack up their kayaking stuff. They did have to unpack it from LCA's dry bags and repack in theirs, but still... we did good.
After all that kayaking, the kids deserved ice cream so we all headed into Bayfield for ice cream. Then we realized we were hungry so we walked to a nearby restaurant for a dinner. The Gardner clan had taken off on their drive to Minneapolis already, but the Millers, Despains and us, enjoyed some dinner together before each starting our long drives. Like the Gardners, Millers and Despains were headed to Minneapolis for a few days before flying home. We were headed east to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Summer Trip 2018 Stop 1

The Black Hills of South Dakota

We left Sunday evening after church and drove to the small town of Montpelier on the border of Idaho and Wyoming. In the morning we made a quick stop at the small local grocery store for donuts and lunch items. Then we were off. A short 4 hour drive and we arrived at Martin's Cove in Wyoming. This site is owned by the LDS church to remember the saints that crossed the plains by handcart. The Martin and Willey Handcart Companies got a late start on their trek to the Salt Lake Valley. Combine that with early winter storms and their circumstances became dire. When the Saints in Salt Lake learned of their circumstances, the church leaders told them to go and get the handcart companies and bring them home. Nearby to Martin's cove the rescuers found the dieing and starving immigrants. They helped carry them across one more river crossing in the bitter cold and took them to a sheltered cove, now named Martin's Cove, where they waited out yet another winter storm before helping them finally reach the Salt Lake Valley.

The kids had fun pushing a handcart on a short trail, and we took a short hike around the area. After a couple of hours at the site it was time to move on. We had another 4 hour drive still.
It was just after dark when we reached our little rental in Custer, SD. I had checked the weather several times over the last few days, as they were calling for thunderstorms for the next few days. It appeared the next day would be sunny. So in the morning we packed in as many activities we could.

We started the day with a 7 mile hike up Black Elk Peak, the highest point in the area with a beautiful view. We hiked up trail 9, it was a nice hike that increased slowly in elevation throughout the hike. On the way back we took trail 4 by the cathedral spires, to make a nice loop hike. The boulders throughout the area are just beautiful! I think David is trying to figure out how to get one in our backyard.

We lunched at Sylvan Lake with it's beautiful boulders on the lake's edge. Deer ran around the area like happy horses. I'd never seen deer act that way, darting in and out, and around people. After lunch we took a few scenic drives through Custer State Park. It is quite spectacular scenery and David and I were wondering what winter is like here and would it be a great place to live when we are older.  We drove through the Needles Eye tunnel.  Savannah was driving, and the tunnel is one way, decided by whoever gets there first, through a rock.  The rock walls of the tunnel were barely wider than our big 15 passenger van.  It was incredible.

Then we headed out to the Badlands National Park, about an hour and a half away. It's desolate and isolated, and beautiful in it's own way. The kids had fun getting their Junior Ranger Badges.

Back towards the Black Hills area, we stopped in Rapid City for dinner at a pizza buffet. Then we rushed over to Mt. Rushmore for the 9:30pm lighting ceremony. We were a little late but got to see the presidents lit up for the night sky. On the way home we talked over plans for the next day in case of rain.

We had decided if the sky was clear in the morning we'd try a bike ride on the rails to trails system here. The 109 mile long George Mickelson Trail. I picked a section about an hour north of us that was mostly down hill with one section of incline. It covered 4 tunnels and several bridges. We stopped at a bike shop in Hill City to pick up trail permits and asked if they could provide a driver to drive up to the trailhead we wanted to start at, then drive our van back to their shop where we would pick it up after our 32 mile bike ride, that would end in Hill City. Sure enough for $65 they were able to do this for us.

As soon as we arrived at the trailhead to unload, it was as if the kids were hit with a dose of extra whininess. All of them were full of complaints, from "I don't want to ride that far" or "I hate my bike!" or "I don't want to carry the backpack!" I was planning to buy them all ice cream when we arrived back in Hill City, but threatened to not buy ice cream for any whiners that continued. There were still a few tears, but most of them quit complaining. After a few miles of what should have been coasting we realized both Isabel and Matthews brakes were rubbing their back tires, so they were having to pedal instead of coast. After fixing those it was a more pleasant ride, until we reached the incline. The scenery was absolutely beautiful! We even stopped for a break at a waterfall. But once we started the incline, it was 8 miles of crying. Mostly from Matthew, but Isabel would pitch in occasionally too. It wasn't a steep up, but a long long up. But then we reached the top, and it was a sweet, sweet 8 mile coast into Hill City. The tears all dried up and the kids finished on a high note. We then topped it off with ice cream. We walked to the local shop and Matthew pointed to the waffle cone and declared "I want this!" I pointed to the regular cone and said how about this one. Savannah then looked at me and said "Mom, 32 miles!" I relented. Waffle cones for everyone! If I were to do it again, I would have dropped David and the kids at the same beginning trailhead and then driven the van myself to the Mystic Trailhead just as the incline is starting. It's still a 22 mile ride and all downhill. You'd miss 2 tunnels, and more beautiful scenery, but it would have been an easier ride on the younger kids. Also I would have missed out on riding with the kids, but I could have ridden it backwards till I met them, then finished the ride with them. I do think it might be fun to make a couples trip and come do the whole 109 miles over 2-3 days.

The weather was still perfect outside. No storms in sight. But the locals had told us that while it may say it's going to rain or storm in one town, that the next town over the hill, 10 minutes away could have sunny skies. Regardless, we headed back over to Mt. Rushmore to learn about it. The kids earned their junior ranger badges there too.

As we headed back to Custer for dinner, it was still a pretty nice day outside. Not sure what happened to the rain storms.

The next day it was raining, but that was okay. Today we planned to see the caves-- all indoors. We had reservations already for Jewel Cave at 10am, but Wind Cave required we get tickets the same day. So David woke up early and headed out to Wind Cave at opening time to get tickets for after lunch. I made breakfast while the kids scrambled out of bed. Both Jewel and Wind Cave are National Parks so the kids were excited to work on junior ranger badges at each. Jewel Cave is the 3rd largest cave system in the US. They are still exploring and expanding it's map. It has all the usual features of stalactites, stalagmites, and ribbon formations. It was a pretty cool cave. We've been to some amazing caves and this one was just cool, not spectacular.

After lunch we drove out to Wind Cave for our tour. Neither cave has a self guided tour, you must have tickets to go in. Wind Cave was really cool. We did the fairgrounds tour there which went through 2 different levels of the cave. They measure barometric pressure in the cave and find that it attracts storms to the area. The pressure also tells them, the cave is way larger than they have explored. This particular cave has a formation we had never seen before, mostly because it is mostly only found in Wind Cave. The Boxwork formation. It looks like honeycomb and it has a sound proofing effect in the cave. It was really cool to see and learn about this formation.

It started raining as we headed in Wind Cave, and was still drizzling a bit when we left. On our way home we stopped in Custer at the Purple Pie Place to order 7 different pieces of pie to try. A unique pie was the Raspberry Rhubarb JalapeƱo. It was delicious. The kids enjoyed taking a bite and passing, so we could all try every kind.

It was so nice to rent a house through VRBO. We had a washer and dryer which made it easy to do laundry and leave for our next stop with all clean clothes! Next Stop Minneapolis and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore