Isle Royale Planning
Isle Royale National Park is an island in the northwest corner of Lake Superior. It is not easy to get to and, since you can only get there by ferry or floatplane, it's also a very expensive trip. You can get there by private boat if you are willing to deal with the unpredictability of Lake Superior and understand that it's 18 miles from the closest point on Minnesota's shore.
Most people take one of two ferries from either Copper Harbor, Michigan (three hours each way - 53 mile crossing) or Houghton, Michigan (five hours each way - 73 mile crossing). Both ferries dock at Rock Harbor on the eastern end of the island where there is lodging, a restaurant, and guided tours.
The Copper Harbor ferry, Isle Royale Queen IV, is $60 - $65 (depending on the season) per person EACH way. You can do this on a day trip.
The Houghton ferry on the National Park owned Ranger III is $53 - $63 (depending on the season) per person EACH way. This ferry stays overnight, and then returns the following day.
We will be taking the Grand Portage ferry, Voyageur II, (two hours each way - 22 mile crossing) from Grand Portage, MN. It's $75 per person EACH way ($85 if you get dropped off mid-island). The Voyageur II docks at Windigo on the western end of the island, and then travels around the north shore until it eventually ends of at Rock Harbor. It makes a couple stops on the north shore to drop off hikers/campers along the way. The next day, it travels along the south shore of the island making a couple of stops to pick up hikers/campers and then makes one last stop at Windigo before heading back to Grand Portage.
The same company also has another boat that does day trips from Grand Portage to Windigo. It's a faster boat making the crossing in an hour and a half, but it's less comfortable and is still the same price ($75 each way).
The lodging at Rock Harbor is very expensive ranging from $224 - $256 per night for very basic accommodations. They have "camper cabins" (electric but no indoor plumbing) at Windigo for $52/night.
There are several campsites scattered along the shores and inland lakes. The campsites are first-come, first-served and are only reachable by hiking or by kayak, canoe, or water taxi (from Rock Harbor). They are free and there is a combination of shelters, individual tent sites, and group tent sites. Most don't have firepits, but they do have latrines or pit toilets.
Campsites are free, but there is a $4 per day user fee for each person and you have to get a permit to camp.
The logistics planning and the cost of getting there keep the visitors down, and most of those that do visit tend to just spend a few hours at either Rock Harbor (most people) or Windigo. But my goal is to get out into the interior of the island away from where most people go.
I wanted to hike the Minong Trail which is a 37-mile trail that gets very little use. However, after reading about the difficulty of that trail and the distances between campsites, I knew that we weren't going to be up for that.
I then selected a couple of other options. There is the Feldtmann Loop which is highly recommended, but it would take four nights, and I was lucky to get Linda out there for three (and I only got three because that's how the ferry runs). :)
Then I selected a more gentle loop trail where we could camp on the Lake Superior shore for a couple nights. Unfortunately, no campfires were allowed at the campsites, and Linda didn't like that. She felt like the chilly nights would chase us into our tent far too early if we couldn't have a fire. On to plan four, which appears to be a winner. :)
So, Saturday, we're going to get dropped off in the middle of the island at McCargoe Cove on the north shore, camp there for one night (fires allowed in a community firepit), hike south 6.3 miles to Lake Ritchie (campsite on an inland lake, but no fires allowed) for one night, and then hike 4.3 miles to Chippewa Harbor (campfire allowed) on the south shore of the island where we'll camp our last night and where our ferry will pick us up on Tuesday.
Our second attempt at backpacking. We'll see how it goes.
If we have a moose encounter, that will make it all worthwhile. There are lots of moose on the island, and it has been a place where wolves and moose have been studied for years. Unfortunately, there are only three wolves left on the island, so the chance of seeing a wolf is extremely remote.
The weather should be good (which is why we're going now, and another reason Linda has agreed to go), and I'm sure I will enjoy the wilderness experience no matter what.
The ferry leaves at 7:30 a.m., so we'll have to stay one night in a hotel. With the hotel, ferry charges, daily user fee, and parking our Jeep at the marina, this is going to be a $500 trip to sleep in a tent.
It's really hard to justify, but Isle Royale is also a place relatively few people will ever get to experience, and it may be our best opportunity. Also, we're making about $1,500 a month working here on the farm, so that makes it easier. :)
Wednesday and Thursday were more of the same. Pulling weeds, cutting grass, picking vegetables, etc. We wanted to get all our hours in before our Isle Royale trip.
Wednesday, around 5:00 when we were ready for a break, Mike & Cheryl stopped by. We had considered going out for dinner, but we just needed to work longer and hadn't had time for showers and getting cleaned up.
We chatted for a couple hours, and then we had to get prepared for a phone call. That leads us to the next topic.
A few months back, our friends Esther & Steve called. They were planning a two to three month trip to Costa Rica and wanted to know if we might want to come for a visit. There timing was perfect in November/December when we don't have any rallies or speaking engagements.
Well, that started a whole other research project. We love Esther & Steve and we travel well together. We have the same interests and positive outlook.
Linda & I got excited, but decided that if we went, we would go for a whole month. Just like our South Africa trip in 2011, this was just an opportunity to do something nature-related and share experiences and expenses. Another potential trip of a lifetime.
So, behind the scenes, along with everything else we've got going on, I was looking into costs and a possible itinerary. And, we have to make sure my Dad is being well taken care of. He is our biggest concern. Fortunately, he is doing well, and the system of care we've established is working out great. We'll have trip insurance just in case, but we've gotten comfortable that he will do just fine.
The four of us agreed that we would tour Costa Rica for a month, checking out various towns and doing as many nature activities as we could with some relaxation time mixed in.
After discovering that transportation across the relatively small country is not easy, and finding myself struggling to choose where to stay, we contacted a Costa Rica-based travel planner. I told them where we wanted to go (small towns), the things we like to do (hiking, wildlife viewing, paddling, photography, waterfalls, rivers, beaches), and our budget (not hostels, but not resorts either). Within five hours, they had a first draft itinerary back to me. Wow.
We tweaked it five times over the last week or so and everything was incredibly easy. Our Wednesday night phone call was to do final review of the itinerary and book the trip if we were all in agreement. Deposit made and we're going to Costa Rica!
All our transportation is taken care of, our hotels, villas, and bungalows are booked, all taxes and fees are included, many meals are taken care of, and we have a mix of excursions ranging from popular tourist attractions to off-the-beaten-path guided nature tours. And we have enough free time to relax, do some things on our own, or add additional tours when we get there.
Our month actually turned into a six week trip from the middle of November to just before Christmas. Five weeks will be touring, and the last week will be spent with Esther & Steve in a condo they rented for family to come visit after the holidays.
This trip was not in our plans for this year, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity. It's our ten year anniversary as full-time RVers, and it is our RV lifestyle that has made it possible for us to do things like this. We're very excited and very blessed. :)