MARQUETTE - Maybe it's not a case of saving the best for last, but it's definitely saving the biggest - and coldest - and deepest - for last.
Stephen Brede, 63, a canoeist based in Petoskey, has circumnavigated all the Great Lakes, except for one: Lake Superior, the most remote of the lakes.
"I always thought about taking a trip, a non-motorized, self-propelled trip," Brede said.
Stephen Brede, pictured with his canoe, is attempting a canoe trip along the southern shore of Lake Superior. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Brede)
Split Rock Lighthouse in Minnesota marks the start of Stephen Brede’s canoe trip across Lake Superior. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Brede)
That he did, and them some. Brede paddled around Lake Huron in 2009 and Lake Michigan in 2010. Brede added Lake Erie to his paddle list in 2012, then Lake Ontario the following year.
Now Brede's taking on Lake Superior, but not all at once. After being driven from Petoskey to Minnesota by his wife Ruth, Brede set off Monday from Silver Bay, Minnesota, heading for his end destination of the mouth of the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie, where he hopes to arrive by September.
That trip of 650 miles or so accounts for only about half of Lake Superior's total shore mileage. Brede hopes to complete the entire Superior paddle in the summer of 2015.
"I'll see how far I get," Brede said via cell phone Tuesday from a bluff near Two Harbors, Minnesota. "Whatever it takes. It's a whole new ball game with this ride."
One shouldn't set out to paddle along a Lake Superior shoreline in potentially choppy waters in a makeshift, birch-bark canoe. So, Brede uses a high-end Kruger canoe, named for the late famed canoeist Verlen Kruger - Brede's inspiration - who paddled more than 100,000 miles and created more than 40 canoe prototypes in his lifetime.
Brede said it's easier to get gear in and out of his decked, 17-foot Kruger canoe than with other boats. Brede even he sleeps in his boat at times, pitching a tent on the boat (on land, of course). Another option for him is sleeping in a hammock in the woods, with the necessary bug net surrounding it.
Brede also said he stays at marinas, campsites and the occasional town, although he acknowledged that Lake Superior's ruggedness will make it easier to camp because it involves just putting up a tent instead of traveling a quarter mile away to find a campsite at a state park.
"I like the areas that are more remote," he said.
Brede said he will meet with his wife Ruth occasionally along the way.
She said via email, "Although I don't enjoy my separation from Stephen during the summer, and have been known to worry occasionally, it's been a wonderful experience to be a part of his quest to circumnavigate all five Great Lakes. I have loved getting to see parts of all of the Great Lakes on my visits to meet up with him."
Each lake, she noted, is amazingly different in character, geology, ecology, biology and history.
"I've also seen at close range some of the challenges facing the lakes and want people to know what a vital resource we have at our back, or if we are lucky, front door.
"I feel very proud to be an active partner in this endeavor. I love the paddler and the lakes."
Lake Superior is known for its spectacular scenery, so Brede has many spots from which to choose to enhance his paddling experience, with two - the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising - being at the top of his list.
"Marquette's always fun," Brede said. "I've been there a few times."
Brede can paddle by the scenic harbors in Marquette and the bluffs at Pictured Rocks, but that still leaves the challenge of canoeing in the most remote, and possibly most dangerous, Great Lake.
What, to Brede, will present the biggest difficulty?
"The cold water," he said. "(It's) the biggest challenge, I think. It's the one that makes me the most nervous."
That means Brede will hug the shore more on this trip since capsizing in Lake Erie takes on a different meaning than capsizing in the cold waters of Lake Superior, where getting to safety quickly is more important. It also means carrying waterproofed items.
"It's such an unknown to me right now," he said.
Regardless of the water and weather conditions, a person needs to be in reasonably good shape to take on such a long trip, and Brede said canoeing has helped in that capacity.
"It's definitely made me more fit," he said.
His trips also have given him an idea of each Great Lake's condition: the polluted Lake Ontario (where he picked up Lyme disease), the lesser-polluted Lake Erie, Lake Michigan with its sandy coasts and Lake Huron with its scenic north shore.
Meeting interesting people - mostly on shore - also has been a part of Brede's solo journeys, although being comfortable in his own company only probably has its advantages.
"You leave the shore and you're pretty much alone the entire day," he said.
Brede carries a locator beacon, and his progress can be followed on his blog at www.greatlakescanoe.com.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.