Editor’s Note: This winter Jim DuFresne’s Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes will celebrate its 40th year of continuous publication. Our favorite author is celebrating that amazing achievement and the end of his guidebook writing career with a farewell speaking tour at more than two dozen libraries and outdoor clubs throughout Michigan. For the most up-to-date list of presentations click here and then keep checking the MichiganTrailTrailMaps Facebook Page for new additions.
By Jim DuFresne
In the summer of 1982, less than a year after moving back to Michigan from Juneau, Alaska, I lashed my sea kayak to the top of my car, drove to Houghton, and boarded the Ranger III for Isle Royale National Park.
My first outdoor guidebook, Tramping in New Zealand, had just been released by Lonely Planet, and the NPS staff at Isle Royale seemed eager for me to spend the summer researching one for their park. But they were stunned when I arrived with a kayak, a double-bladed paddle, a skirt for the cockpit, and a yoke my father made so I could portage the boat across the Island.
The previous summer, park officials told me, they saw two kayakers. That’s going to change, I said; this is sea-kayaking country even if there are no kayaks.
It did. That summer I encountered four.
The first edition of Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes was released in the winter of 1983-84 as a thin, 136-page guidebook with hand-drawn maps and black and white photos that were a little fuzzy having been converted from Kodachrome slides. Missing was my byline on the cover because a designer inadvertently left it off during the production stage. But the guidebook included six pages on paddling Lake Superior.
Today, you can rent a kayak in Rock Harbor or Windigo. Watch them being unloaded daily from mainland ferries or see a dozen beached in July at a shoreline campground like Daisy Farm. I now see more kayakers during my trips to the park than canoeists.
Time changes things. My guidebook is now 192 pages, including 20 pages on paddling the outside coast and a special section on circumnavigating the Island. It’s full color with a series of QR codes that allow you to download georeferenced versions of the maps to a mobile device.
The first edition featured a backpacker, moose, and a canoer on the cover. The current one a kayak at sunset . . . and my byline
What has never changed is the wilderness nature of the Island or my desire to keep returning to it, the reason the guidebook has been in continuous publication for 40 years. That’s a remarkably long time for a book to be on the shelves of a national park visitor center.
Occasionally, somebody will ask me if I ever get tired of going there. I don’t know how you could, I say to them.
After more than four decades of writing and publishing, I made that monumental decision – the one we all have to make late in life – to wrap up my career, at least the guidebook portion of it. I suspect I’ll never stop writing, it’s who I am. But I want to free up more time to focus on non-commercial projects while I still have the energy, creativity, and passion they will require.
I’m not sure what will happen to my current and past books; Amazon still displays more than 30 titles, many of them old editions that have been out of print for years. You can buy a copy of that first New Zealand book for $1.95.
In particular, I don’t know what the future holds for my Isle Royale guidebook or my latest bestseller The Trails of M-22. What I do know is while my titles are still in print, I want to embark this winter on a farewell tour. If Metallica can stage one (actually several), why can’t I?
My presentation is entitled The End of the Trail: A Life Well Spent Walking in the Woods and Sleeping on the Ground, and I have already given it several times this year. It focuses on my best wilderness adventures in Alaska, New Zealand, and, of course, that 1982 summer spent on Isle Royale.
It highlights the many titles I wrote, the writer who influenced me the most, my most extraordinary wildlife encounters, and the people who made it possible for me to enjoy a career writing outdoor books.
I can’t thank you enough. But I hope everybody who has greeted me on the trail, sent me a kind email or purchased my books can attend one of my shows this winter so I can try.
If not, then thank you, all of you.