Two Weeks, Two Dogs and Five Great Lakes
- Cristina Stavro
Story and Photography by Ruffwear Ambassador Maria Christina Schultz
It had been on my bucket list for a few years – to paddleboard on all five Great Lakes. Having spent my childhood along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, I was almost halfway to my goal. Yet I wanted to set my paddleboard – pups and all – in each of the five massive freshwater bodies. As a professional paddle boarder and instructor on how to ‘SUP with your PUP,’ the accomplishment just wouldn’t be the same without my Australian shepherds.
As my husband and I packed for our two-week excursion at the beginning of July, Riley and Kona excitedly danced around the massive pile of bags gathering in the garage. With two dogs, two mountain bikes, and two paddleboards, we didn’t expect to pack lightly. They could smell adventure in the air, and they knew they were going to be a part of it.
Our trip started in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. I had already paddled in the Lake Erie waters, but having Riley and Kona to join me again never gets old. After an 8-hour drive the day before, they were eager to play.
As was tradition for my husband’s family, we spent the Fourth of July on the beach in Angola. Veteran paddle boarders, Riley and Kona were right at home as we took in the view. The Lake Erie water spread out before us, creating the perfect setting for a gorgeous sunset after a day of paddling and swimming.
From Buffalo, we made the short drive to Toronto, Ontario. Having paddled on Lake Ontario from the American side before, setting into the water in Toronto was a new experience. Despite colder waters and windy weather, we were able to find a small harbor with access to the Lake. With the Toronto skyline behind us, we took a short ride before sunset, conquering the chop as we went. Then we set off for Michigan, where we would have access to the final three lakes.
Copper Harbor, Michigan is a world-class mountain biking destination, but the paddling there is just as good. While my husband hit the local trails by bike, I explored the water with the dogs. At sixty-some degrees, the water in Lake Superior is every bit as cold as people say, but that didn’t stop Riley and Kona. After bounding up and down the red-pebbled beaches, nothing was going to keep them out of the crystal-clear waters. Gliding out of the harbor and over the lake, it was like paddling on glass – we could see every rock and pebble on the lake’s bottom.
Lake Michigan & Lake Huron
As we drove south into the “mitten” of Michigan, we made stops along Lake Michigan to check out the water and hike the local sand dunes. A strong breeze and white caps kept us off the water until finally made it to our campsite in Saint Ignace. We were staying at the Straits, a state park located on Lake Huron within view of Mackinac Bridge – the boundary between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
With the winds still blowing, I left Riley on shore and headed out with Kona, my more adventurous dog. Starting in the Caribbean-like turquoise water of Lake Huron, we paddled under the Mackinac Bridge into Lake Michigan. The winds were significantly stronger on the Lake Michigan side of the bridge. At that point I was glad I had only taken Kona. Riley stresses in choppy water, and I don’t want to put him in situations where he becomes nervous. I also decided it was time to attach Kona’s leash to my belt pack PFD. If Kona fell off the board we could get separated quickly, so I tethered us together and headed back into Lake Huron.
With calm waters the following morning, Riley got his turn. Rising before breakfast, I did the same paddle with Riley to complete the bucket list. At one point Riley looked up at me with his eyes sparkling and head tilting – I think he was saying ‘thank you.’
Camping, biking, swimming, and paddling for two weeks was the perfect break from our hectic summer schedule. Dogs really do make the best traveling partners, and my dogs are always up for anything. I’m thrilled I got to check this item off my bucket list, but more importantly I can’t imagine doing a trip like this without my dogs. It’s not how far or how fast you go, it’s the company you keep that makes the adventure significant.
It is my hope that our trip inspires more people to take their dogs along on road trips. With a little bit of planning, the right gear and some flexibility, your dogs will appreciate the extra time they get to spend with you. Riley’s nod at the end of our trip really hit my heart and made the extra effort worth it.
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