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Above Delight Lake where we realized how lucky we were to have Christine guiding us
General News · 26th August 2014
Carrie Saxifrage
From the swimmers perspective, we had a truly amazing and grand day that we will remember for our entire lives and that is a gift you and the lakes have given us. Of course, the whole event wasn’t really about us. We served as catalysts to turn the community’s love for the lakes into action to prevent future algae blooms. And as a whole community, we did that. We raised over $13,000 for FOCI to use for the benefit of the lakes! And we all got to express our love for the lakes. That expression of love is a good foundation for our present and future efforts to decrease the lake nutrients.

Thank you so much!

If you would like to know about our entire amazing day, read on!

In the early morning darkness, the boat wouldn’t plane. We didn’t notice it at first because at 5am the darkness made speed dangerous. Mark stood next to Jason searching the water for drift logs as we plowed out of Mansons Lagoon. We were all secretly relieved the boat started, because two days earlier it had not, and Jason had spent most of the last two days working on it as well making 143 sandwiches for the swimmers between times. And cake. He’s the biggest hero of this story.

We tried to get up on a plane as the sky lightened and decided we were too heavy: 6 adults, lots of water and swim supplies and all those sandwiches. It meant that we would reach Robertson Lake at 7 instead of 6, setting us an hour behind schedule for our first swim.

But what a beautiful morning: the pink and blue sky reflected in the water’s undulating diamonds; the knowledge that good adventures have variables and there’s no use worrying about them unless there is no way forward; the anticipation of the nine beautiful lakes.

As we approached Von Donop, the boat went slower and slower. “The engine is overheating,” Jason explained. A shrill engine alarm went off and he slowed the boat further. At that speed, it would take another half an hour to get to Robertson. But we were just offshore of the Cork Lake outflow into Sutil Channel. So we headed in: we would swim Cork first and give the engine a chance to rest.

At the outset, Cork Lake had been my biggest concern. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s because no one ever goes there. But we’d explored it on two different trips and had a pretty good idea of the best way in. Our familiarity paid off: the hike that was supposed to take an hour each way only took half an hour, the hour we had lost in getting there.
Cork Lake is about a kilometer long and half a kilometer across. There’s a small island in the middle with one tree on it that adds to the lake’s magical quality. As we laid our packs down on a low, mossy rock at the shore, an osprey wheeled away. We swam quietly toward the rising sun and the peat bog at the far shore. We climbed out into the soft, water logged moss dotted with sundews and sat quietly as the sun rose higher in sky. Two turkey vultures circled low enough for us to see them turning their heads this way and that. For the first time it occurred to me that vultures aren’t always hoping that I am dead. They seemed curious and even frolicsome, just like other creatures. As we swam back to our packs, the resident loon family visited, calling to us and paddling our direction, sometimes heads in the water, sometimes up, entirely unafraid. One came up 3 meters from Andrew. We all stopped and watched them watch us. The adults spread their wings to lift their chests and sing their song of ululation.

As we left that lake, Mark called it one of the most beautiful times of his life. Bianka declared it her favorite lake in the world. Andrew thought it an excellent setting for a children’s book. I held it as a sun-soaked perfection.

The boat engine had cooled and we made it easily to Robertson Lake. Madhurima joined us on the mossy path from sea shore to the lake. We walked the floating logs of the log jam to the lake’s edge and jumped in. I swam on my back for a bit, looking up at the island’s northern spine: Cliff Peak and the three humps to the north. Andrew and I had swum it a couple of summers previous but perhaps without so much training because the 2 km seemed to have shrunk. We stopped to greet the resident loons and before we knew it, we were at the little mossy trail up the bluff between lakes, very good timing for Mark who had come ashore with leg cramps. The trail was another fairy tale place, mossy to the bare foot.

At Wiley, we slipped back into the water. I had decided to turn three backward summer salts in each lake for the whirling view of lake bottom and sky. Here, the lake bottom seemed quite close so I dove 4 feet down to touch it. It was a layer of soft green that gave way beneath my hands. I told Mark and he descended feet first, up to his thighs in soft algae. We never did find the real bottom.

Madhurima met us on the trail up from Von Donop and we motored down to the log jam at Carrington Lagoon, slowly making our way through the sandwiches and the home made halvah I brought and laughing as Madhurima changed clothes in the engine well with grace and aplomb. We guzzled the coconut water that the co-op generously donated, along with organic almond butter for the sandwiches and other truly good goodies. We arrived at the log jam 15 minutes earlier than our wild estimate of 12:30 and Christine was just arriving, with chai tea, a gift of support from Lovena Harvey. We stopped for tea and Jason’s cake.

Christine had scouted out the trails between lakes and we gladly followed her on the long hike to Blue Jay. I had a twinge of tiredness, my first sense that this day would call upon my endurance as well as my capacity for joy.

Henry had warned us of leeches so we gingerly entered Blue Jay Lake on logs and began our swim. Andrew took the long way around, perhaps because he needed the exercise. Lovena and her friends greeted us at the rope swing with two big thermoses of chai tea, one made with rooibos and the other with black tea. She accepted our wet hugs and poured us each a big, warm cup. We all opted for black tea because our alarms had gone off at 4am, 10 hours earlier. Henry and Elijah showed up to wish us well. Georgina Silby and Kevin Pearcy joined us for Nutshell and Delight. We walked through Blue Jay Lake farm’s beauty, the wild surroundings and Henry’s fields rich with produce.

It’s a steep hike up to Nutshell Lake, which is small and bubbly. Christine swam across with us. Everyone wanted to breast stroke, which I have difficulty doing. I’m a one speed swimmer, a slow, steady crawl. Bianka liked to call our team the Aqua Tigers. I’m more of an Aqua Clydesdale. But I did my best.

We found my husband Barry at Salamander Flats and Christine lead the eight of us to Delight Lake along a cryptic trail over a stony bluff which clinched our certainty that we could not have done this without her. Delight is maybe a half kilometer long and half that across, a bright little water body surrounded by swamp grass and one of Henry’s hay fields A raft of sirens floated in the middle, laughing and waving (Shantima and Mira Braaten and Justine, Bianka’s sister).

The swimmers, including Christine, gingerly entered through leech-ville and swam to the far side and back. A big fat leech followed Mark out of the water lay on the rocks. Christine emerged with one on her arm. I have spent my whole life dreading leeches but these were the first I had ever seen. I shrieked with fear as I snatched the leech off Christine’s arm and flung it on the rocks. Then I did the spooky, shivering dance I do when startled or frightened, which is an animal thing beyond my conscious control, while everyone laughed.

Barry, Kevin and Georgina peeled off. We were now in the hands of Mira, Justine and Shantima as we rode in the Braaten’s van from Blue Jay back to Mansons Lagoon. They plied us with Lovena’s tea, energy balls, sandwiches and other goodies. Justine DJed the tunes and they all sang along.

The Braatens had left their canoe at Mansons, and there was a row boat for Christine as well. Gary Block was selling fish from the dock and the Blocks and the fish buyers whooped and cheered as we paddled past. “You’re so cute!” Andrea yelled.
We paddled over to Rick Ingrasi’s in the friendly company of Tom in his row boat. A greeting party awaited us at Rick’s. Victoria Watson took our line, Jill Purce waited on the dock ramp with her burning question: what are the other three lakes? We established that Cork, Delight and Nutshell were missing from her count. A comfy deck full of more guests and several white dogs got ready to join us for the Anvil Lake swim. Rick was proud of Anvil. “We’ve tested it many times,” he said. “It’s always clean and we drink right out of it.” It’s a small lake in a cliffy bowl and the team wanted to breast stroke to fully enjoy it. I did the front crawl and got my 360 degree lake view by doing backward somersaults.

Bianka and I were concerned that we might get high centered with the convivial Ingrasi group. Gin and tonics had been mentioned, as well as champagne, and I could feel their tug. But we still had our biggest swim to complete and, surprisingly, we were pretty much on schedule. Bianka marched me past the sociable little table littered with glasses, Andrew hurried along and we waited for Mark who, I was learning throughout the day, is a very sociable guy. And we waited. We had just decided to abandon him to his fate when he appeared in the distance. (Not really).

We paddled back to Mansons where Samuel Braaten greeted us in his kayak. Madhurima and Jason had arrived back from the northern lakes. They had solved all the boat problems and it had planed the whole way home. We exchanged another round of hollers and waves with the Blocks and the salmon buyers. Leah passed by with a salmon that the Blocks had just donated for our dinner, in search of a barbeque to cook it on. Leah, along with Jason, is a real hero on our team for all the the signs, the radio ads, the organizing of donations and the good cheer throughout. We got back in the Braatan’s van for more energy balls, chai tea, sandwiches and tunes and rode to the Gunflint public access.

We passed Barry peddling hard on his bike with kayak paddles and then Amy Robertson. At the public access, Tzeporah Berman, Chris Hatch, Forrest and Karen Mahon joined us. Amy and Barry arrived and Amy took to the water to herald our arrival at the Sandy Beach. She is one fast swimmer. As I took to the water for our final two lakes, I felt strong but lazy, like I wanted to stroll my way home. But Andrew, Bianka and Mark were off and swimming hard so I tried to catch up.

Barry came along side me, which put me in mind of all those ocean swims in which I’d entirely depending on him to guide me. As always, I felt so lucky to have his company and his support. I’d done the Gunflint-Hague swim many, many times, even the cut between the lakes. I negotiate the slimy shallows on my back so I don’t stir up the muck. When I bump into the myrica gale, I get a burst of its sweet pungent smell, my favorite in the world.

On the far side of the cut is a part of Hague Lake that compares with any lake to the north: steep cliffs, a wild cove, the sense of being a visitor in a place with a life very much its own.

The swimmers met up at the island so we could swim in together. I arrived last and they had decided on the breast stroke. I found that a head-up crawl sufficed and we began our swim to the sandy beach.

Just like the morning, we were swimming toward the sun. It was too bright to see anyone on the beach. Perhaps I heard a drum. The time felt slow, as it sometimes does while swimming, doing one small thing over and over until it adds up. Once in the shade, I could see people in a line along the beach. Then I could see the people and hear the drums. Mark’s daughters were swimming off to our left.

Everything fused into a long, perfect moment: the love for the lakes, the strength of our team, the support of our community, the joy of swimming.

We received a warm, beautiful welcome when we came ashore at 6:30pm, the exact time we had so wildly estimated and 14 and a half hours after we left the dock at Mansons. At the café, we feasted on salmon donated by the Blocks, soup and pizza made by Kirsten Vidulich and Mary Lavelle and drank rhubarb champagne made with rhubarb straight out of Jude Marentette’s garden. Hannu Huuskonen played music as we ate and then we went outside for an amazing puppet show about the lake that children had spent the day putting together, organized by Diane Brussell. I laughed and cried with the tenderness of it.

I especially enjoyed hearing about how much different people love to swim, felt inspired to swim more and wondered if the Nine Lake Swim was something they could do. Cork Lake might get a few more visitors now.

People were amazed at how strong and bright we seemed after such an arduous day. Knowing that the lakes would benefit gave us a sense of purpose. Each lake and every kindness had made us feel stronger and happier. The community’s appreciation made us feel great.

We’re grateful for such an incredible day.

Long live the lakes!

Cork Lake: Bianka after swimming in her favorite lake in the world
Cork Lake: Bianka after swimming in her favorite lake in the world
Post Blue Jay Lake and Lovena's chai
Post Blue Jay Lake and Lovena's chai
Nutshell, a small bubbly lake
Nutshell, a small bubbly lake
Our very early start: Jason driving, Mark navigating
Our very early start: Jason driving, Mark navigating