Foursome finishes circumnavigation of Lake Superior

Members of the kayaking team Four the Water come ashore Thursday at the Presque Isle beach in Marquette after their circumnavigation of Lake Superior. The purpose of the journey was to bring awareness of the importance of this freshwater resource. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Enthusiastic friends — and pizza — were waiting on the Presque Isle beach shore Thursday for the four men who just finished circumnavigating Lake Superior.

Karol Rajski, Ryan Busch, Jared VanOordt and Drew Etling, all Northern Michigan University students at one time or another, kayaked around the Superior shoreline as the “Four the Water” team to bring awareness to the lake.

Rajski, a native of Poland, said the trip began May 21, also at the Presque Isle beach.

“The purpose of circumnavigating Lake Superior was to bring awareness of how important this — the biggest freshwater resource — is to us and how we can protect it,” Rajski said.

However, they actually had to make the trip, which involved camping along the entire lakeshore.

That lakeshore encompassed the largest, coldest and deepest of the Great Lakes.

“One-hundred and two days later, I can tell you that we’ve only spent nine days out of our tents,” Rajski said.

For anyone who loves the environment, however, there are worse places to camp than the Superior shoreline.

“There’s times you wake up, and you realize, wow, there’s a beach right next to where we landed, and you’re sleeping on the cobblestone beach,” Rajski said. “Sometimes you just don’t know where you’re going to end up that day due to weather, due to how you’re feeling paddling along the way. It’s very situational.”

However, he said the four stayed off private property as much as they could.

Busch, a native of downstate Holland, acknowledged having some residual effects after stepping ashore Thursday.

“Honestly, we feel just like we just got off the water to enjoy some lunch,” he said, with the day to continue after that.

Thursday, though, was the final leg of the 1,800-mile-or-so trip.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Busch said. “Lake Superior actually does have an end to it, if you kind of putz around for a little bit.”

That “putzing around” included hugging friends, listening to cheers and posing for photographs in a celebratory manner.

“Every day was long,” Busch said. “Days blended together. We left May 21, and today, honestly, it feels like May 22.”

Even after paddling for 100 days, VanOordt said he felt amazing upon his return.

“It feels really, really good to be back,” said VanOordt, who hails from downstate Grand Haven.

Regardless of his good physical condition, he believes the greater purpose of the trip was achieved.

“I think we’ve been able to touch a few people’s hearts and help inspire them a little bit, but really, it’s helped inspire us a whole lot more, so hopefully we can continue to pursue this passion of protecting the Great Lakes and spreading our message,” VanOordt said.

Missouri native Etling, upon their homecoming on the beach, said he felt great even though there were days when he was exhausted.

“It went by in a flash,” Etling said.

The group’s website, fourthewater.com, includes biographies, a blog and photos of the trip. It also allowed visitors to track the kayakers’ progress and listed its many sponsors, which included the Superior Watershed Partnership located right by their launching and landing site.

One blog entry entitled “Royale with Cheese,” whose name channeled dialogue from the movie “Pulp Fiction,” detailed their trip to Isle Royale National Park.

It read in part: “We were lucky enough to be allowed access to climb to the top and view the Minnesota shoreline to come in the future and reflect on the Sleeping Giant and Canada’s Outer Islands that we have been navigating for weeks.

“Eventually, we made it into Windigo on the island’s southern side to get our National Park passes and starting inquiring about moose. Word on the island is that it has been a very ‘moosey’ season and sure enough, we make it over to our first camp site in Washington Creek and there is Mom and her two calves munching on some seaweed in the creek.

“We watched from a safe distance, they didn’t mind us, then two more cows emerge from the woods behind us. Well, now we’re fully surrounded by moose and what’s a Royale with Cheese without a side dish?”

So, the chips and salsa were broken out so the four could enjoy what they called a live premiere of “Planet Earth from the seats of our kayaks.”

For Etling, the moose experience was one of his most notable experiences.

“They just started coming out of the woods,” Etling said. “It was wild.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.