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Insights from the Apostle Islands

Greetings from Potter’s farm! After returning from our 6-day kayak expedition around the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, we snuggled into warm beds and rested our tired arms. Now refreshed and showered, I felt compelled to share some insights gained on our 50-miles of paddling.

“The lake is the boss,” a common phrase we’ve encountered over the whole course, warns about the dangers on the vast body of water that is Lake Superior. You can’t control the lake. The lake controls you. Position your boat parallel to the big wave, and you’re going under.

In relation to the lake boss, which is not paying me any money, in case you were wondering, I suppose I’d be an unpaid intern. This is to say, I got comfortable observing and soaking up information like a sponge. While we live in a society that praises leadership and initiative, on a lake much more strong-willed than I, I learned the importance of collaboration and active followership.

The lake is the boss. Every morning, we’d wake up and make breakfast while our guides Nat and Michael checked the wind direction and wave size to anticipate the day ahead of us. The lake’s mood dictated our route. We were mere passengers, guests in this terrain. Sometimes, the lake threw 4-ft-tall waves against our kayaks, forcing us to brace ourselves lest we capsize. Other times, the lake was calm. The clear, glassy-smooth surface revealed a reflection of the sky above and light refractions on the sand below.

We learned to savor the good days when the lake allowed us more navigational agency. We learned to adapt for the days when it didn’t. In the midst of 4 ft waves, we learned how to surf without a surfboard. We paddled quickly on the crest of the waves, and they propelled us along the lake. We managed to turn a force that had previously worked against us into a collaborative effort that got us where we needed to go—and in a fun way. We were quite literally going with the flow.

You can’t lead the lake, and you can’t negotiate with it either. The lake doesn’t speak any human languages. No matter how much we wanted to drift aimlessly for the 9.6 miles that we had to paddle that day and magically arrive at our destination, the lake had other plans. We didn’t always follow the lake’s lead, sometimes paddling in headwinds that threatened to push us back to our original location. There were times we silently agreed to disagree. The lake decided it would go one way, and we decided we would go another.

The boss in this situation may be the lake, but in other places it may be a person. No matter how much you may wish your environment would mold around you, the only thing you can truly control is yourself. You can’t change the people pushing you back, but you can adapt. Be resourceful. Turn tragedies into successes. Harness the energy that propels you forward.