I Still Have to Pinch Myself

Picture of a kayaker taken from the bow of the instructor's kayak

Reflecting on the Shifts of the Past Year

By Kris Barber

I look at the guests paddling their kayaks for the first time. Their paddle strokes are awkward and clumsy. Tentative. Kind of like Bambi on his new legs. That will change soon enough. It always does. By the time a half hour goes by, they’ll have it mastered. Their paddling improves with their confidence and they’ll be getting around with adept proficiency in no time. This is my job now. I still have to pinch myself. Only a year ago I was a prisoner of corporate America. Sitting at my computer, I’d steal quick moments to look at pictures of my happy place, Grand Marais, as I tried to ignore the heavy stench of boredom permeating my office. I still remember asking the boss for my week off to visit the Great Lake-town once again. He’d look up from his desk with bleary, bloodshot eyes. “You go,” he’d say, sporting a smile that wasn’t quite believable. “I’ll be fine here,” he’d say, and reach for the bottle of Pepto Bismol he kept on his desk.

Now I’m guiding kayak tours. A big shift, I know, but personal tranquility and big city commutes go together like cats and vacuum cleaners, and I needed the change. Now my office is adorned with stunning views of the Sawtooth Mountains. Rather than looking up to see faded inspirational posters from 1976 I’m looking at mile after mile of the Superior National Forest. I’m looking at vast expanses of Lake Superior’s peaceful serenity. The guests feel the Lake’s power too. “The water is so clear,” they say. Boulders glide underneath us like orcas. Once in a while, we hear loons.

We continue down the shoreline and eventually land at the Fall River waterfall. The tour guests constantly shift their glances between the tranquility of the falls and the majesty of the lake like trying to decide between two appetizers at happy hour. The air is warm and the leaves are beginning to change. Surrounded by all this beauty it’s hard to imagine how in a few short weeks the lake is going to show us her own version of shock and awe. As they say in “Game of Thrones: “winter’s coming.” The temps will plummet, the waves will grow to heights that would make an eagle queasy.

I’m ready for it. I say that because although I’ve never lived through a winter here, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to visit. I ski. I snowshoe. I winter bike. And if Grand Marais’ bag of summer adventures looks full, her winter menu offers even more—if you’re brave.

The winter tours at Stone Harbor begin just as soon as the snow allows. Until then, I’ll ride out the fall kayaking for as long as I can and be thankful for getting sprung from my corporate life.

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