Wilderness Inquiry’s Kayaking Trip

by Kara Aiello

Well, it’s summer time again and what better way to enjoy it and beat the heat, then to get out and play in the water.  And as someone who considers herself a fish, the water is where I love to be.  Recently, I wrote an article about a wonderful organization called Wilderness Inquiry (WI) who are out of Minneapolis and provide trips for people both nationally and internationally.  I took a dog sled trip with them in Northern Minnesota back in 2011 along the Canadian border and had the time of my life. But this was not my first trip with them. Back in 2004, I took my first summer excursion in which I went Kayaking on Lake Superior while camping on the Apostle Islands.

I learned of WI back in the early 2000’s when family members of mine who live in Minnesota took their own dog sled trip with another organization. They were made aware of WI and their catering to people of all abilities including those with disabilities and were excited to let me know.  I was intrigued on the spot to take a dog sled trip; but since we were heading into the summer months, it was obvious that I needed to look into a summer activity.  So I came across Kayaking and although I looked at Nova Scotia first, decided Lake Superior would be a good location because I would get to leave out of Minneapolis, spend time with family and it was a long weekend for my first trip instead of a full week.  So I signed up.

After spending a few fun days in Minneapolis with my family, I left in the early afternoon out of the city and drove four hours to the Apostle Islands where we would make our home at a campground. There were only women on this trip minus one of our two guides who was a guy named Jay and he and Adena were two of the coolest people I have ever met and made the trip an adventure to remember.  We spent our first night setting up our tents and getting dinner ready in which we made a fire and sat by it eating and getting to know each other. I remember the sky was crystal clear and all the stars were glowing in the night sky with a full moon cascading light on our camp site.  By 10pm we decided to call it a night and went to a public rest room to get ready for bed. We were in their for only 10 plus minutes when out of the blue, the sky opened up and it poured rain like it had been storming for days.  The thing I came to appreciate about this part of the country is that the weather can change at the drop of a hat and one moment you can have beautiful weather and the next torrential down pours.  There were two other women with me and offered to escort me back to our tents so we gathered our belongings and made a run for it like we were running for our lives. Although one of the women had an umbrella it did not cover all three of us so we had to run.  I remember laughing and holding on for dear life as we ran and we went so fast that we ran right by our camp site and our guides had to yell for us to turn around and come back.  Once there, I jumped into my tent and a tarp was thrown over my chair which was as soaked as I was.  I remember sharing a tent with a woman from England and we joked that we were the two outsiders, me coming from Philadelphia and she from over-seas. The rest were from Minnesota and spoke a language all their own.  Fortunately, I have spent a lot of time in the Midwest and so knew the language well.

On our first full day of Kayaking we woke up, made breakfast and discussed the day.  In the morning it was still drizzling outside but nothing like the night before in which it rained nonstop.  I have to say, however, that I had one of the best night’s sleep I have ever had in which I heard the rain hitting our tent and making for a soothing sound while I slept.  As we headed for the water, our first task was to do a tipping test in which Adena and Jay flipped over our 22 foot/120 lb Kayak in the water so people knew how to get out should it tip suddenly.  But because of my fragile bones, there was no way on earth I was going to do this and possibly ruin the rest of my trip. Fortunately, because of the size and sturdiness of the Kayak, they rarely tip over and so I would ride with Jay and bypass the amusement park ride.  Once the exercise was done and we had our briefing for our first day, we were ready to sail.  We put on our life jackets, partnered up and got into our Kayaks.  My wheelchair also went along for the ride as it fit perfectly into the center of the Kayak where food, water etc., would fit.  As we headed out, just
like magic the weather improved, the sun came out and the skies cleared up.  It stayed this way for the duration of our trip which lasted about three or four hours.  During our time on the water, which looked like the glass of a mirror, we could see the skeletal remains of old ruined ships beneath the water which was so beautiful and haunting to look at.  We also saw Bald Eagles resting on tree branches and other birds flying about.  I remember getting quite a work out on the water as I worked the Kayak along with Jay. But it was a very peaceful ride with a meditative quality unlike any water ride I have been on before.

Once we got back to land, we were hot and tired and so took a dive into the cool, crisp water in which I dove in with Jay’s help.  He was my personal assistant through the weekend and I was not complaining at all.   That evening we made dinner and sat by the fire again playing games and having a good time. Then we went to bed without incident of bad weather and slept great for a second night.  On Saturday we were slated to Kayak at another site of Lake Superior where we would go into caves and see very old sites that have not been touched for ions.  We got our Kayaks down a flight of steps along the beach side and were getting ready to begin our next journey.  But due to a sudden increase of the white caps on the water and the wind picking up, it was decided that it was too dangerous to go.  So we packed up our ten Kayaks at 120lbs a piece and carried them back up the steps and tied them to our vans and took off for another lake that was safer on which to Kayak. It was a lovely lake that we found and in addition to Kayaking, we swam and hiked as well. I remember Kayaking with Jay on the water and, although smaller in size then Lake Superior, the trees cascaded the water in such a way that the winds were whipping by us like we were out to sea. I remember Jay even saying how obnoxious this was, but we had a great time and the weather over all stayed beautiful during our time at the lake.   After another fun night at the camp site eating s’mores and downing beers, we went to bed.  Although no rain came down, I remember how windy it was throughout the night and had a fear of a tree coming down on us as the winds roared around our tents.  But by morning, the winds settled down and we were ready to embark on our last day of Kayaking which would be an adventure unto itself.

As we were heading to the big lake and hoping to have one more run on it, again the white caps were too high to Kayak on. So we found yet another smaller lake that connected to the main body of water and Kayaked there instead. It was absolutely beautiful and more narrow then the other two bodies of water we sailed on.  As we kayaked, we saw more Bald Eagles in the trees and beautiful homes with solar panels that were very supportive to the well-being of the environment. I remember thinking how much I would want to live here if I could as it was so peaceful and quiet as nature cascaded around us.  We kayaked to the mouth where Lake Superior opened up and took pictures to document our time there and then headed back to base to get ready to head home.  As we prepared to leave, we got into a circle and gave an account of our three days sailing on Lake Superior.  People were in awe of nature, and of one another as well.  I remember my new friends sharing how they were amazed having me along for the ride as they did not know what someone with a disability was capable of doing. They felt humbled and gave me honored support for my drive and courage to take an adventure on my own with WI. They also credited WI for being an inclusive organization as they went out of their way to assist me on every leg of the trip.  And Jay, my personal assistant, was an amazing friend and guide as he and Adena made this a great adventure for all of us.

In reading my story, I hope to convey that people with all types of abilities have the support and resources to go on adventures and see the world that is out there for us to explore.  And for my next adventure in 2015, I hope to throw out all the punches and take a Safari trip with WI to Tanzania. That is my big goal moving forward so stay tuned!

Kara Aiello is a new contributor for mobileWOMEN.org! Although Kara has Osteogenesis Imperfecta which simply means brittle bones, Kara has studied dance for over 16 years now and currently dances with American Dance Wheels Foundation. But for the bulk of her dance career she danced with Kardon..  Kara works as a licensed therapist part time at an inpatient mental health facility and as a Free Lance writer for Montgomery County Community College.  She also sings with the Academy Chorale as the arts are an important part of her life.

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