Here’s a word from the wise (and the cold): do not challenge a thirteen-year-old boy to a Lake Superior North Shore swimming challenge. I did that yesterday, and nearly didn’t live to tell the tale.
I took my boys up to Little Marais to visit my parents and my Chicago sister’s family, who were all in residence at the family cabin. A friend of my nephews’ was along, Max. On our Carlton Peak hike earlier in the day, Max had blithely told me he’d been swimming in the lake.
“Swimming?,” I asked. (You must be crazy, I thought. North Shore water temps have plummeted in the last week with strong NW winds).
“Sure. We dunked and everything.” Blithe indeed, like Chi-town punks have no respect for our clear, cold Lake Superior. Like they’ve never heard a Gordon Lightfoot song.
After the hike, we returned to the rocky shoreline. After a few weeks on Minnesota Point, I forget how clear North Shore water can be. Sure enough, Chicago Max heads into the water. He huffs and puffs with the cold, but he’s out there. He’s only in to his belly-button, however. I see an opening.
I step into the cobbly water. It is, in fact, cold. No thermometer, but I’m guessing low 50s. Too shallow to dive, so I back in and flop backward, pinch my nose and I, ***I***, am the first and only to go ALL THE WAY.
That lasts all of a minute. Within 60 seconds, Chicago Max is in the water and dunking. So is my nephew, age 10.
I can handle this. After warming up for a bit on the sun-kissed basalt, I’m back in the water. No easy dunk this time: I’m in belly first and I do the front crawl to the next point out, about 10 yards. I’m cooly checking out the big cobbles below but I feel a little panic kick in too. It is cold. Rocks are slippery. No one on shore is going to rescue me.
I climb carefully out on the far shore. I have made my point. I am the Lake Superior boss. Then…BIG MISTAKE…I gloat, “Take that, Chicago punks.”
A few minutes later, Max returns to the water. He steps in. He gets horizontal. HE starts to swim. Only he’s not swimming toward the nearby point, he’s swimming out into the lake. Out to Wisconsin. Someone calls, he stops and looks back to shore. He gurgles something. He thrashes back to shore and emerges, victorious.
Do I go jump off the cliff into the deeps? Do I swim a lap around the point and back?
No, the clash of cold stops here. It’s a Mexican standoff, or in this case a Max-ican standoff. This kid will go all the way, match me blow for blow. And the first to drown loses.
“Good job, Max,” I call, as tepid as a Little League benchwarmer in the postgame handshake line.
The moral? In any clash of wills on the North Shore, Lake Superior will always win.
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