While mostly I’ve written about building kayaks, the fact of the matter is that I paddle them sometimes too. I returned a few days ago from another trip to Rossport, Ontario, at the northern tip of Lake Superior.
There’s an archipelago that stretches for miles to the southwest. With my paddling pals Peggy and Sam, I set out on an island-hopping spree.
It’s Lake Superior. If you’ve been there you can hum this tune. Cold, clear water. Jagged rock. Birch, pine and cedar. Some moose, a few eagles. Bold ravens. This time the weather was mild, but you never escape the sense that the wind could start roaring in a heartbeat.
Everybody has a different goal for a trip like this. A large measure of mine was to get away from the phone, email, the constant lure of the web — all the mundane, pixelated aspects of modern daily life — and get down to something more elemental. I also wanted to make sure we got to Nirivia.
I paddled past the place a couple years ago but for reasons I don’t quite remember, didn’t bother to stop. I’d read a few short descriptions that pegged it as a product of the hippie-ish 70s. A small group of our northern brothers exploited a gap in the law to grab a long-term lease on some island land and declare their own break-away kingdom of Nirivia (this being a mash-up of the name of a nearby town, Nipigon, and Nirvana). They created titles for themselves, established an embassy, wrote a national anthem. I don’t really know, but I imagine much of the thinking took place under a cannabis cloud.
We made some sketchy arrangements via email with a guy named Jim, who told us the fee to stay at Nirivia was $125. To our question about how much time that paid for, he replied that it was anything from one to three days. Didn’t matter. It was all the same. Let’s just say I appreciated the logical inconsistency.
It’s a 25-mile paddle from Rossport — a lot of paddling for one day, or two pokey days. We took the latter approach, which was probably in keeping with the ethos of the destination. Sam, Peggy and I bumped along in a mild chop along the south face of a couple large islands. A narrow, rocky channel funneled us into the harbor between two islands. The Nirivian embassy complex was tucked into the corner.
Bucky Fuller was here! Four tiny geodesic domes were hidden back in the woods. One was a sauna. Another, Peggy declared, was the women’s bunkhouse. Sam and I grabbed the bunkhouse/dining facility created from two domes bumped together.
Hard to explain how perfect all this was. There was a slight whiff of dilapidation in the air. A cedar/canvas canoe rotted on one side of the path. A fishing skiff rotted on the other. The domes were dry and clean, but more on the order of old-school hunting cabins than modern lakeside McMansions. This was one of those rare instances where the level of ambition matched the enterprise. Not too much, not too little. A good vibe, as we would have said back in the day.
Shortly after we arrived, a fellow named Russ powered up in a fishing boat. “You the people from Michigan?” he wondered. Well, Minnesota, but close enough. Jim had let him know we were arriving, which indicated a greater level of organization than I had imagined. Russ urged us to pick up some wood for the sauna and generally to enjoy ourselves. That we hadn’t brought fishing gear struck him as a disappointment. Seeing his face, I was disappointed in myself.
We stayed a couple nights. We fired up the sauna. We cooled off afterword in the lake. We paddled during the day, and made our supper over the propane stove in the cookhouse. With the exception of a visit from a moose and two calves, nothing much happened except the lazy unfolding of time, uninterrupted by the clack of keyboard or the noise of a phone.
Here’s a prediction: in the not-so-distant future, people will pay extra to be disconnected and left in touch with nothing except the forest and the water and the wind. I didn’t really want to leave.