Adventure for Everyone
Some people go for the big thrills, like circling Lake Erie on a bike, swimming across it, walking around it or paddling through it. Then there are the rest of us. Here are four big adventures to read about and five easier outings to try yourself.
By Mike Crissman, Jennifer Keirn, Amber Matheson, Kara Murphy and Colleen Smitek
You Try It
An inexperienced angler heads to Ohio State’s island campus for a crash course on lake fishing.
By Mike Crissman
“Here, Mike. Why don’t you take this over for me?” I hear Fred Snyder say from behind, as I stand on-deck at the rear of the rickety Gibraltar III. “I’ll take yours.” I turn around to see the 63-year-old instructor handing me his fishing rod, which had already been cast out into the water.
Despite my puzzlement, I dutifully exchange rods with him. As I adjust to the left-handed rod and reel, I quickly understand why he gave it to me. The line is tugging from the lake. The pull feels different from the rocks on which I had gotten my hook stuck several times earlier this morning. This is definitely a fish — and a big one too.
“Just let him wear himself out. It’s not a strength contest,” Snyder assures me, as I slowly reel in what seems to be the fabled Lake Erie Monster. This creature is heavy. As I draw it closer to the surface, it swims furiously toward the underbelly of the boat. The rod is bending at almost a 90-degree angle. With my fellow fishermen looking on, I muscle it up. A second later, Snyder swoops down with a net and lifts it onto the deck: a big, beautiful catfish about 7 pounds and 24 to 25 inches long.
It is the largest catch of the weekend for our Sport Fishing workshop, a three-day, non-credit, introductory fishing course offered by Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory every summer. It is a hands-on learning experience that has plenty to offer for both the novice and the experienced angler.
Lake Erie is one of the top places in the United States for freshwater fishing. Its diverse population includes large amounts of walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, white bass and steelhead trout. “What can often be considered a poor day on Lake Erie would be a magnificent day on many other lakes,” Snyder says.
The course begins in the classroom on Gibraltar Island, headquarters for Stone Lab. Several college-credit courses are offered on the Ohio State island campus just north of Put-in-Bay. Gibraltar Island is the oldest freshwater biological field station in the United States, and research projects focused on issues concerning the Great Lakes are regularly conducted there.
When you step onto the island, you’re transported to a different time. The residence hall was built in the ’80s, but most of the buildings date back to when Ohio State acquired the land in the 1920s. The highpoint of the scenery is Cooke Castle, a 15-room Victorian mansion built in 1865 as a vacation home for Jay Cooke, a native of Sandusky, Ohio, who made his money as a banker in Philadelphia.
The charming Gibraltar Island provides comfy accommodations for its visitors too. Each guest is offered camp-like lodging at the Harborview House, the main residence hall, which features bunk beds, wooden dressers and desks, as well as a private bathroom and shower for each room.
In the class, Snyder instructs us on fishing techniques, equipment, rules and regulations, different species we’ll find and even a few secrets of the trade. Lake Erie contains only about 2 percent of the water in the Great Lakes but has more than 50 percent of the fish. Our lake’s shallow basins and high algae count provide us with an abundance of underwater creatures, making it a prime spot for sport fishing.
The lectures are only a small part of the workshop. Each day, Snyder takes the class out on the waters aboard the Gibraltar III, a 42-foot steel research boat. After dinner, we’re free to fish off the docks or take a rowboat out to try for largemouth and smallmouth bass or panfish. (If you enjoy the night life, you can also take a $3 water taxi for a short ride over to Put-in-Bay. Though, such festivities might affect your sea legs the next morning, as I find out.)
We experience some especially turbulent weather the weekend of our workshop. Rain and choppy waves make the fish harder to come by than usual. Luckily, we have Snyder.
He’s somewhat of a legend in the Lake Erie island region fishing community, and his constant encouragement and extensive knowledge keep our spirits afloat — both when the fish are biting and when they are not. Having taught the course for years, Snyder knows the waters in and out. When one spot proves unsuccessful, he always has a backup location ready to try.
Stone Lab provides all the hooks, sinkers and lures we need to fish. Each student is lent a tackle box of equipment and a rod and reel (if you don’t have your own). Leave your worms at home, because Snyder has plenty of those too. What you do need to bring, however, is a fishing license.
Boat fishing is part adventure and part relaxation. And the camaraderie commonly found in fishing is heightened when everyone onboard is learning together. That makes for a great experience, with good people, on an extremely abundant lake.
If You Go
Visit stonelab.osu.edu for a list of non-credit workshops offered this summer at Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory, including the popular sport fishing and outdoor photography courses.
You Try It
It takes a splash or two to learn, but devoted SUP-pers hit the lake for views, exercise and balance-building
By Jennifer Keirn
It’s the best kind of SUP day, a weekday with mid-70s water temperatures and light boat traffic.
Or so I’m told by Bill Cochrane, who’s brought me to this small pier-side beach in Rocky River, Ohio, for my first try at stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP to those in the know.
Cochrane — owner of Nalu SUP and Surf, which sells and rents paddleboards and organizes group paddles — presents me with a pink board he’s hauled out of the back of his truck. It looks like an extra-wide surfboard, about three feet wide and 11 feet long, accompanied by a long paddle with the handle adjusted to about shoulder height.
Perched on this board, I’ll glide in a standing position along the lake, gently propelled by my trusty paddle.
Really, how hard could it be?
SUP is the latest newcomer to Lake Erie watersports. It’s been well-known on the coasts for about a decade but is now coming inland. Paddleboard rentals, sales and even races can be found throughout the Great Lakes, where calmer waters are friendlier to newcomers. Even some local yoga instructors are offering classes on paddleboards to further challenge participants’ balance.
Today, Cochrane gets me started paddling in shallow water on my knees while I get acclimated. When it’s time to stand, I grab the paddle handle and brace it perpendicular to the board, then push up with equal pressure as I get to my feet.
I’m up on the second try, steadying myself and slowly working some paddling into my stance.
“This is the hardest it will be,” he assures me. “When you get some speed, it’s easier to balance.”
He’s right. I gain confidence as I paddle parallel to the shore, enjoying an experience that’s feels like kayaking freed from bodily constraints.
Then my trouble begins. One unfortunate shift in my balance and I plunge over the side of my board into the water.
Cochrane assures me that I’m not the only beginner SUP-per to make such an unplanned dip. Good balance is the key to achieving the “stand up” part of stand-up paddleboarding, but Cochrane says SUP is a great way to improve balancing skills for those, like me, who are deficient in it. Thanks to the board’s wide platform, steadying paddle and the sport’s calm-waters setting, SUP can be easier to learn than watersports like surfing and windsailing.
Getting back on the board requires positioning my body behind it and shimmying up in a most unladylike fashion. Once I’m back on, stomach-down, I can shift again to my knees.
Now a group of older women have gathered on the pier to watch, seemingly amused by my fail and waiting for me to do it again. They don’t have to wait long. This time I fall in the water thanks to some newly-arrived waves. Cochrane warned me to come at a wave head on or at a 30-degree angle; allowing a wave to catch you sideways is a sure-fire way to lose your balance.
In all, I spent about three minutes of this 45-minute long paddle on my feet, still an achievement Cochrane says I should be proud of. Learning SUP takes some practice, especially for the balance-challenged like me.
You Try It
On the Burton section of Ohio’s Buckeye Trail, a couple of novices test their mettle in a three-day adventure on foot.
By Amber Matheson
I’m an aspirational outdoorswoman. I’ve dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but managed just a long weekend across a single peak. Potential vacation cities move up my list if they boast an REI outdoor gear store within their limits. And I’ve definitely got boots made for walking — even if it’s usually just to the grocery store.
So it is with that amateur’s excitement that I pounce on the idea of a three-day hike through a region right in my own backyard. Now with a family in tow (our toddler son’s baby backpack is the pinnacle of German engineering, natch), an achievable goal springs to mind: Why bother heading all the way to Tennessee or Virginia when we could rack up more than 1,200 miles on a trail in our own home state of Ohio?
The Buckeye Trail, as this unusual system is known, is the only hiking path in the nation that traces a circle around a single state, without ever leaving the state’s borders. The trail organizers utilize national, state and local park trails where they can, but often the path’s trail markers (light-blue hand-painted slashes on telephone poles and trees) lead hikers through cities and towns and Amish countryside, over railroad tracks and down old farmers’ lanes.
We start out at Camp Asbury, heading north toward Lake Erie on the Burton section of the trail. There are 26 sections altogether — many hikers tackle them over the years with the eventual goal of covering the entire trail. Most sections range in distance from 40 to 60 miles long. Our course charts an approximately 57-mile path that will (hopefully) culminate in a ceremonial toe-dip in the lake. It’s a lot of ground to cover in three days on foot, but we’ve discovered this trail’s secret: Three hotels are situated strategically along the route, making it the perfect spot for a long weekend of hiking.
Of course, we’ve got to make it to each hotel. Within half an hour — and probably half a mile — of leaving our car on the first day, we’re lost. Not panicky lost, but tromping-around-in-a-marsh lost. We split up, hollering to one another about faint trails, broken branches and whether this small creek is meant to be crossed or followed. We’re like a couple of rambunctious kids who’ve run off from the camp counselor; we’re making the rules up as we go along in a tangly natural setting that highly out-rates our recent Metroparks excursions.
Eventually we figure out the most vital information about the blue blazes: two blue marks signify a turn in the trail. Back on track, we ramble through the woods and eventually tumble out onto a rural road.
As it turns out, more than 50 percent of our hike covers a patchwork of paved and gravel roads that dip in and out of Amish Country. On that first day we walk —with some trepidation — single file alongside a busy road during rush hour. But it’s not the norm. Mostly, we won’t have to compete with many cars on these country roads. And sometimes it’s not the whoosh of an engine we hear, but the clip-clop of horses’ hooves as buggies whisk by. It’s funny how even vehicles that require orange safety triangles on their backs can seem fast when you’re chasing them on foot.
The blue blazes literally wrap around the beautiful old brick Goodwin House Bed & Breakfast in downtown Burton, where we spend our first night. We’re treated to a plush, modern room with a private bathroom featuring a Jacuzzi tub perfect for soaking our tired tootsies. Owner Robyn Morris whips up a multi-course breakfast feast to prepare us for our long second day ahead, with smoothies, loads of Ohio bacon, waffles with real Amish maple syrup and heaping plates of fresh fruit.
That morning, we wander down beautiful, lonely dirt roads deep in Amish country, where the only sounds are the barking of a lone dog and the wind flapping through shirts and pants on clotheslines. By evening, we’re settled in to our room at the Bass Lake Tavern & Inn in Chardon, just a few hundred yards off the trail. Another Jacuzzi tub fills the bill just fine, and the adjacent fine-dining restaurant offers welcome post-hike belly-fillers. We dig in to a hearty, rich, short rib pasta ($25.95) and a burger ($10.95) with no regrets whatsoever.
Our third day on the trail features the most diversity. Patti Cook, the Burton trail steward, hikes part of the way with us and notes a particular appeal of the trail. “It’s a cultural experience, more than anything else,” she explains. Like scenes glimpsed from a long-distance train trip, this hike deposits visitors into a series of tableaus, one as different as the next.
We tromp along the Chagrin River, past the locally famous “Flintstone House,” molded into its surroundings like a Hobbit house. We hike down railroad tracks turned into easy running paths. We wind around Lake Erie College. The impetuous nature of the trail means we can be in the middle of a pristine forest in the morning, and smack dab in the middle of a town just in time for lunch or dinner.
By evening, we’ve made it to the trail’s northern terminus at the Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor. We pose for the obligatory finishers photo, then take a windswept path marked with white blazes (which signal a side path off the Buckeye Trail) through sandy dunes to the lake itself. We free our son from his backpack and he toddles around the beach, amazed at this sudden change in vista. The lake is right in our backyard, but we’ve never experienced it like this: as a challenge met, and as a destination three days in the making. For ever after, driving here will feel just a little passé; we’ve done it the old-fashioned way, and lived to tell the tale.
If You Go
Start your trip at buckeyetrail.org. You’ll find trail information and maps, along with contact info for trail stewards and the Buckeye Trail organization.
Where to Stay
- Goodwin House Bed & Breakfast. $140 per weekend night. 14485 N. Cheshire St., Burton; 440-834-5050, goodwinhousebb.com
- Bass Lake Inn. Rates start at $115 per night. 426 South St., Chardon; 440-285-3100, basslaketaverne.com.
- Rider’s Inn. Rates start at $89 per night. If you want to make it a long weekend, this bed-and-breakfast is also situated directly on the Buckeye Trail, just a few miles from Lake Erie. 792 Mentor Ave., Painesville; 440-354-8200, ridersinn.com
You Try It
A day spent with legendary birder Kenn Kaufman teaches one beginner how to find warblers and, in the process, inner peace.
By Colleen Smitek
I’ve always admired birders for their ability to be still in a moment and take in every detail around them. What a great way to go through life — quiet, calm, appreciative and aware. Unfortunately, I just don’t get it. Sure, I see a few birds during my feeble attempts to take up the hobby. But I never get that magical feeling birders describe. I certainly don’t get how anyone could call birding “the most fascinating pursuit imaginable,” as Kenn Kaufman does in his book, “Field Guide to Birds of North America.”
So I call Kaufman and ask him if someone like me — a non-science-minded, indoors woman who doesn’t like camping, being cold or too much mud — could ever develop a true appreciation for our feathered friends.
“Absolutely,” he assures me. “I believe that birding has something to offer to everyone, and I’m constantly trying to convince people of that idea.”
Kaufman is from Indiana, but left home at age 16 to search for birds across America — an experience he wrote about in “Kingbird Highway.” He has lived many places and finally settled in Oak Harbor, Ohio — partially for love (his wife is from here), but also because, in May, when the songbirds migrate north, he believes there’s no better place to be in the world than northwest Ohio.
Kaufman agrees to meet me at the Blake Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor the first week in May to experience one of the premier birding events in the country — The Biggest Week in American Birding. He sets me up with a pair of binoculars and we’re off on the mile-long boardwalk that runs through the trees along Lake Erie.
There are many types of birds that migrate through the area, but the real draw is the warblers. There are more than three dozen types that pass through here, Kaufman tells me, and most winter in the tropics and summer in the boreal forests of Canada. When they’re migrating north and see the great expanse of Lake Erie ahead, northern Ohio becomes a logical place to rest and refuel, which is why Ohio is the place for birders to be in the spring and Ontario is the hotspot in the fall.
The birders that we run into on the boardwalk are excited; at least three pairs of Prothonotary Warblers are nesting here and everyone hopes to spot one. As we talk, Kaufman points. One is flying over my shoulder. “I don’t know when you have that opportunity,” he says.
We go on to see a Swainson’s Thrush, a Cedar Waxwing, a Cape May Warbler, a Blackburnian Warbler, a Warbling Vireo and many other birds that Kaufman quickly and easily identifies.
On the boardwalk, he is a celebrity. “Are you Kenn Kaufman?” people ask tentatively, as if they’ve just spotted a movie star. Some want to have their picture taken with him; others ask him for help identifying a particular bird.
It’s impressive to see Kaufman’s powers of observation and knowledge at work, but I still don’t get the feeling. Finally, I take my binoculars, point them on the first bird I see and try to identify it myself. Kauffman instructs me to first notice the bird’s shape and then try to discern, with the help of his field guide, which group it belongs to — typical songbird. I open the book to the songbird pages and find the picture that matches best. It’s an American robin! Hardly the most glamorous bird, but still, it’s a rush, kind of like the feeling you get when placing a difficult puzzle piece.
Kaufman finds that, even if he can get out only a half hour a day, it centers him. “I’ve known people who have taken up birding and it’s increased their awareness of everything,” he says. “I would like to think that birding is good training for living in the moment.”
Our day is done, but hopefully my life as a birder — and a more centered person — is just beginning.
If You Go
The Biggest Week in American Birding is May 3-12 this year and is held at four locations along Lake Erie in northwest Ohio — the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Maumee Bay State Park, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area Bird Center. Visit biggestweekinamericanbirding.com or call 419-898-4070 for more information.
Three Things Beginning Birders Need
- A good pair of binoculars (some migration centers, like Black Swamp Bird Observatory, offer loaner pairs).
- A guidebook. We suggest Kenn Kaufman’s “Field Guide to Birds of North America.”
- Advice. Locate the nature center closest to you and use the staff there as a resource.
You Try It
An inside look at how to make a smart bet at a horse track
By Kara Murphy
The horses thunder around the bend, and suddenly I’m screaming in excitement. They’re by us in a flash of color and smell and sound, and my husband and I turn to each other, grinning. My heart is racing. We give each other a high five and I do a little jig of joy. We’re not sure how much we won, but that’s beside the point.
Or at least the horse we plunked down a $5 bet on did.
The win by the 2-year-old filly, Eddington’s Note, ends up making us $21.50, enough for a round of celebratory drinks.
An evening at the racetrack at Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie, Pa., is always a good time, whether it’s date night or a night out with our kids, who also are welcome at the track.
We don’t have to spend much — a minimum bet is $2 — and despite the fact that we’re novices, we’ve figured out how to place bets. But while we know how to bet, why we do so has stalled out at picking a name we like or my daughter’s favorite horse. She and my son always love to come to the track and watch the “horsies.”
So, having a chance to talk with Katie Mikolay, one of the track’s announcers and handicappers, gave us a new edge at the track and ended with our win by Eddington’s Note.
An expert on all things horseracing, Mikolay and her co-announcer Ron Mullis make themselves accessible to racing fans at classes on how to bet. The free classes are held during the racing season. Mikolay says the classes help beginner bettors learn how to read the racing program and what kind of bets to place to maximize their chances of winning.
“If you’re a beginner it can be very intimidating — there’s lots of numbers and stats,” she says. “It’s hard to figure out what you’re
Mikolay shares three tips with us (see sidebar) and we’re off to the races, a little smarter about which “horsies” we should steer our daughter to pick.
Three Tips for Beginning Bettors
• Check out each horse’s most recent starts. If a horse has been coming in the top three in the last few races, it’s a good sign that it’s at peak performance and might be an odds-on favorite to win.
- Look to see who’s on top. A jockey with a high winning percentage might be a good bet to bring your horse in first.
- Visit the paddock. “You can tell a lot about a horse by visiting the paddock,” Katie Mikolay says. “One prancing on his toes, that’s very alert and very attentive, might be a good bet even if he’s not a proven winner.”
Info to Go
Presque Isle Downs and Casino
199 Perry Highway
Live racing Sundays through Thursdays, May 12 through Sept. 26. Post times 5:25 p.m.
Read About It
By the third night of his breakneck bicycle journey around Lake Erie, Phil Nagle could barely stand up, let alone ride his bike a mile farther.
So he took a two-hour break.
He then finished his trek in a 110-mile ride that brought him back to his home in Cleveland on Aug. 27, 2012. “I couldn’t stop, couldn’t let the pain make me stop moving forward,” he says.
All told, Nagle, 27, rode 625 miles in nearly 75 hours in a circumnavigation of Lake Erie. As far as he and others can determine, it is the fastest anyone has ever ridden a bicycle around the lake.
Along the way he raised $23,000 for a handicap-accessible observation deck built for the Cleveland Metroparks’ Nature Play Area in the South Chagrin Reservation, a project the engineer completed with co-workers from his Ohio company, Turner Construction.
Nagle sped past farms, towns like Detroit and Buffalo, and beautiful countrysides. “It’s amazing how diverse the different towns are all around the lake,” he says. “You’re going through big cities, small towns, farmlands, into Canada. ... Every region really has its own special features, and it was neat to discover that along the ride.”
But Nagle didn’t stop to explore along the way. The first day he biked 140 miles, then slept four hours. The second day he biked 185 miles and slept four hours. The third day he biked 190 miles and slept two hours. The fourth day he finished, with that last 110 miles back to Cleveland.
This isn’t the first extreme bike-riding challenge Nagle has taken on. In 2009, in another fundraising challenge, he biked through 48 states in 57 days, logging 8,200 miles.
“I can’t describe the feeling,” he says of his love for the sport. “I just enjoy the freedom of it, the feeling of going fast and the thrill and adrenaline rush of it.”
He’s given talks about his extreme rides and offers advice to those who want to undertake their own adventure, whatever it might be.
“The biggest thing is to not be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone, because I think that is when you really come alive and discover who you are,” he says. “If you keep persisting, you can do it.”
Bike Advice: Phil Nagle rides a Softride Solo that cost about $3,500. If you plan to ride more than 1,000 miles a year, he suggests spending at least $1,000 on a quality road bike or finding a used one on Craigslist and eBay. “People who ride generally take pretty good care of their bikes,” he adds.
Read About It
Loreen Niewenhuis started walking on the beach and never stopped.
This isn’t a sand-between-your-toes story, though. Niewenhuis walked the entire way around Lake Michigan, a 1,000-mile adventure. Then, three years later, she hit the road again on a 1,000-mile journey that touched all five Great Lakes.
“It was a challenge of personal discovery for me,” she says. “I felt I needed to take on something much bigger than myself, and something I could fail at, something that would reshape me.”
Niewenhuis, who lives in Battle Creek, Mich., broke up her walks in segments over all four seasons both to experience the lakes at different times and to make time for the rest of her life, which includes a full-time writing career and two sons. She says the appreciation she gained for the lake, the life that depends on it, and the people who live around it ended up being just as important to her as completing her personal challenge.
“I want to transform people’s pinpoint views of their lake into a broader understanding,” she says. “The lakes are vast, but fragile, and we need to protect them.”
She detailed her first journey, her 64-day walk around Lake Michigan, in a book called “A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach.”
Once it was published, she found that, rather than satisfying her itch for adventure, she’d simply proved to herself she could do it. Which made her want to do it again.
So, in 2012, she walked another 1,000 miles, this time in the journey that touched all five Great Lakes and ended last October when she successfully made it to Niagara Falls. “I learned each lake has its own distinctive personality, and the geography and geology really determine how people relate to each lake,” says the 49-year-old Niewenhuis. “Lake Erie was different because people there love to get out on the water, not just look at it. And the islands are very special.”
One of her favorite parts of her second journey was visiting Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio. Visitors can see as many as 200 species of birds a day there during migratory season. Along the way she also found shipwrecks and took hundreds of pictures of birds, plants and, of course, the lakes.
She plans to write a book about this adventure too. But even while she’s working to complete that manuscript, she is looking forward to her next great adventure.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” she mused. “But I definitely have ideas, and I definitely will do it.”
Best Shoes to Use: Loreen Niewenhuis says her Keen hiking boots keep her feet and back feeling good — and they last. “I put 700 miles on one pair of boots and they held up,” she says.
Read About It
Eric Mizuba spent long hours staring out over the open water of Lake Erie while working as a lifeguard at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pa.
It was on those hot summer days — about 25 years ago now — that Mizuba first started thinking that he would like to take
on the challenge of swimming the expanse across Lake Erie.
“I thought about it for a long time and then I moved out west,” he says. “I always knew if I moved back here I wanted to
He came back to Erie in 2000. His family grew to four children. He opened his own chiropractic business. In other words, life took over. His dream of swimming the lake was pushed aside.
But in 2011, after a car crash damaged his shoulder, he began swimming again regularly as part of his rehab. “Before I knew it I was doing really long swims and forcing myself to push through all the pain and discomfort,” he says.
Mizuba, who has successfully completed Ironman Triathlons, says training to swim across Lake Erie was the most difficult
thing he’s ever done. “It’s when no one is watching, when you have to get out of the bed at 4:30 a.m. in the middle of the winter to go to the pool, that’s the hardest for me,” says the 45-year-old.
He set out from Long Point, Ontario, at 8:29 a.m. on July 29, 2012. It is a 24.3-mile journey from there to Erie’s shoreline. “I’d had this vision all these years — it ended up being a very emotional moment for me,” Mizuba says.
One of his favorite memories from the day was how beautiful the water was below him. “When I got to the middle of the lake it was clear,” he says. “The sunlight was filtering through, and the water was different shades of blue underneath me, and I could see thousands of minnows and the game fish underneath them. It was amazing.”
The toughest point? When night was falling and the lake started to get rough. “I asked ‘how much longer?’ he remembers. “They shouted back, ‘6.8 miles.’ I remember wishing we were a lot closer.”
But he never wavered, continuing his push toward the Erie shore.
He walked on land at 11:03 p.m., some 14 hours after starting his journey. More than 100 people were there to cheer his achievement. He was the 13th person on record to swim across Lake Erie. Dozens of others have tried the feat, but failed.
“What I learned from this is that it’s OK to put dreams on the back burner, but when the time comes you have to recognize
it,” he says. “You just can’t ever stop believing in what you can do.”
Suit Up: Eric Mizuba’s wife, Andrea, kayaked next to him when he crossed the lake, but she was not always able to be with him on his practice swims. On those occasions, he strapped a buoy around his waist that held his water, food (a banana or power gel) and a waterproof pouch with a cell phone for emergencies).
Read About It
On June 23, 2012, Stephen Brede of Petoskey, Mich., set out from the mouth of the Detroit River on Lake Erie’s shoreline in his 17-foot canoe. Nine weeks later, Brede returned to the same spot — from the opposite direction.
He had paddled about 600 miles during that time, circumnavigating Lake Erie. It wasn’t his first trip around a big lake: He also has circumnavigated Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, with each trip measuring about 850 miles.
That’s 2,300 miles total in his canoe, nicknamed Seaweed, with another two Great Lakes to go. If he’s successful, he believes he will be the first person to circumnavigate all five lakes.
“Lake Erie was definitely the most challenging so far,” says Brede, 62. “It’s the most shallow lake, and, as the wind goes over, its waves whip up a lot quicker and come at you a lot faster than they do on the other lakes.”
Lake Erie stood out from his other trips in another important way: He met many more people along the way while paddling its waters. “I hardly saw anyone out on the other lakes, but on Lake Erie, I’d encounter all sorts of people,” he says. “There was hardly a day that went by that I didn’t see someone.”
Sometimes the folks he met along the way invited him for a meal, or even asked him into their homes to spend a night. Their kindness and interest in his journey kept him motivated to continue. “The wind hasn’t done much pushing, but some great people have got my back,” he wrote on his blog, greatlakescanoe.com.
Brede’s trips each have taken two to three months, a big commitment for someone who didn’t really know what he was getting into when he started his journey. “I heard all these stories from people who did what they wanted with their lives, who seemed happy and had no regrets — they just did it,” Brede says.
So he quit his job and took to the water, with the full support of his wife, Ruth. “The first time, I didn’t know if I’d be gone for a week or the whole summer because I didn’t know if I could do it,” he says. “It was really daunting and I went really slowly.”
But his confidence grew as the days passed and he got into what he calls a “moving meditation.” And, in the end, he says it came down to persistence. “It was just patience. Just putting one foot in front of the other until it was done.”
Camp Canoe: Stephen Brede stuffed a lot of gear under the bow and stern of his canoe, including a backpack with camping gear, a camera, a solar panel, a small stove and lots of dry food. His must-have item, though, is gloves to protect his hands both when rowing and when boiling water or cutting wood.