West Chickenbone to McCargoe Cove

Trip Start Sep 02, 2011
Trip End Sep 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
Shelter 5 at McCargoe Cove

Flag of United States  , Michigan
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 4: approximately 2.9 miles

He wears a beige uniform, and aviator sunglasses. A gun weighs heavy on his hip, and he carries himself like a man who knows how to use it. He is headed right for my shelter.

"Afternoon," he growls. “I'm here to check your permit.” My permit is hanging in plain sight on the door of the shelter. I step outside to hand it to him.

“Where were you last night?” he asks.

Huh? What is this, an interrogation? Suddenly, I can’t remember where I’ve been. Was it Moskey Basin? No, it was something fowl. Chickenbone! “West Chickenbone,” I blurt out. Is he looking at me suspiciously? I can’t see his eyes through the sunglasses. I should have known the answer right away, I know he thinks I’ve done something wrong. I brace myself for more questions. He checks the permit, looks up at me, grunts, and hands it back.

“Have a nice stay.” He turns around and heads back down the hill, just as Julie comes up it with a bag of water from the lake. I think he’s going to give her the third degree, maybe compare our stories looking for inconsistencies, but he just tips his hat to her and heads to shelter number six.

This is our first and only encounter with a park ranger in the interior of the island. He is an enforcement ranger, essentially a policeman, unlike the friendly and accessible interpretive rangers at Windigo.

McCargoe is different from the other campsites we’ve visited so far. It is at the end of a long finger of water jutting into the island on the northern side, about three-quarters of the way between Windigo and Rock Harbor. Named for Robert McCargo, a British lake captain who hid his boat in the cove during the war of 1812, it’s a stopping point for the ferry, something I didn’t realize when I planned it as our half-way rest day. That makes it busier than the average site. And it is definitely busy.

That morning, we’re hiking the Indian Portage trail from Chickenbone to McCargoe. Because it runs along Chickenbone Lake, we’re keeping our eyes open for moose, though we don’t see any. One of the easier trails we’ve been on so far, it runs through forest and marsh. At about nine, we run into a couple on the trail who tell us they were in McCargoe last night, in shelter nine, and that it is very nice.

An hour later, we reach McCargoe, and decide to check out shelter nine. It’s only ten in the morning, so we assume it will be free. First we have to find it. This is the most complicated site we’ve seen and I can’t keep the map in my head as we wander from shelter to shelter trying to figure out which is nine. For some reason, these sites are missing their numbers. Every shelter we see is already taken, despite the early hour. We head back to the campsite map and leave our packs on the communal picnic table near the fire ring. I draw the map out in my notebook, while Julie looks for shelter six, which is right on the Minong and will make it easy to head out in the morning. Just as I finish, she tells me she found six and it is empty, but when I follow her up, I realize it is site five. So we have a shelter, possibly the last one available, but we don’t know where the Minong trail is. That’s all right. I just want to rest for awhile. We have a beautiful view of the Cove, and a picnic table where we can sit and enjoy the view.

An red squirrel scolds me and skitters up a tree. Wind blows through the aspens and birches, a gentle rustling backdrop. I’m standing on the steps filtering water, when a flock of waxwings settles on the tree in front of me to eat its berries.

I realize I’m not feeling very well and go into the shelter to lie down, maybe take a nap. There’s a splash down at the cove, and a whoop and cry. Some yelling and general merriment. More splashing. Men are talking in their outside voices, laughing. People are walking up the trail past the cabin to the tent sites, chatting. More yelling and splashing from the cove. I even briefly hear a radio, probably from one of the boats at the dock. I’m so busy wishing these people would just shut the hell up already that I can’t get to sleep.

A rest day at McCargoe was not the best idea I’ve ever had. A rest day at any other campground might not have been much better. Julie and I aren’t good at resting.

“Did you bring any games?” Julie asks.

“Games? No. I thought they’d add too much weight.” I also thought I’d either be too tired, or too enthralled with nature, to want to waste my time with games. I was wrong. It is only noon, and we’ve already explored the campground, found the Minong trail, set up our “beds” and filtered our water. We are so desperately bored, we read every piece of graffiti in the shelter. Some of it is actually interesting. In July of 1975, a woman walked over 100 miles on the island in bare feet. Someone else wrote about being on the island for three weeks when he found himself caught between two angry bull moose. Too bad the rest of the story was illegible, though we do know s/he made it out alive.

“Death March 08 Complete.” We can only assume it is the same “Death March 08” we saw at Three Mile. We didn’t think it was a Death March, but maybe they walked it in one day.

A fifteen year old boy bragged about carrying 45 pound pack, while a ten year old girl informed us that her pack weighed 20 pounds. A sweet one: “Joe & Dad 2008.”

If the graffiti is to be believed, a number of people had hot sex in that shelter, multiple times.

“I need a shower,” both of us can relate to. “Isle Royale is Boy Scout infested” describes a situation we are thankful we missed.

Julie is fond of a Canadian flag drawn in red ink, and “Last night we shared the shelter with a man who snored like a bull moose.” I don’t think that one is particularly funny since I share a shelter (or tent) every night with someone who snores. Also, she shakes the shelter practically off its foundations whenever she turns over, which is about every five minutes. First her hip hurts, so she rolls onto her back. Five minutes later, her back starts to hurt, at which point she turns onto her other side and thumps up and down a few times to get the sleeping bag arranged properly. To be fair, I have the same problem with hip pain that she does, but I only roll over every ten minutes.

It is hard enough to get a good night’s sleep under these circumstances, but at McCargoe the situation is even worse. When it grows dark, someone builds a fire in the ring by the cove and we can hear just about every word of every story told around it. Because of the way the water carries sound, they might as well be right in front of our shelter.

So much for our “rest day”.

On the good side, the food problem is now moot. Tonight, we skip a hot meal and are back on track for dinners, plus it’s apparent that I’ve brought enough gorp to last eight years on the island. But also, I’ve lost my appetite. I feel hot, feverish, my stomach unsettled. Julie tells me I’m sunburned, so I attribute my symptoms to that. I force down some gorp and a nutrition bar for dinner, but my appetite does not return.

Suggestion for improving the park: All rangers should be nice.
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