'Being your own boat': St. Paul man’s swim encompasses nearly all of the Apostle Islands
Only a single word is necessary to describe how Daniel O'Kane's recent tour of the Apostle Islands went. Swimmingly. O'Kane, a 36-year-old bartender from St. Paul, swam to 19 of the 22 Apostle Islands and paddled a stand-up paddleboard to three o...
Only a single word is necessary to describe how Daniel O'Kane's recent tour of the Apostle Islands went.
O'Kane, a 36-year-old bartender from St. Paul, swam to 19 of the 22 Apostle Islands and paddled a stand-up paddleboard to three others in 18 days. He finished Wednesday afternoon.
He was accompanied by Duluth's Paul Voge, 57, who kayaked alongside O'Kane for safety purposes, towing the paddleboard in case O'Kane needed to climb on.
"He had the hard job," O'Kane said. "All I had to do was swim. I don't know if you can swim anyplace else that lets you feel as blessed as Lake Superior."
The man likes to swim. He took up swimming eight years ago to help himself quit smoking. He took to it like - well, you know the rest.
"He's very adventurous and an upbeat guy," Voge said. "He loves being out in the water. He loves the Apostles."
It's O'Kane's understanding that others have swum among a few of the Apostle Islands, but that no one has done all of them in a single trip.
He and Voge, a Duluth attorney, left Little Sand Bay on the mainland near Bayfield on July 16. Early in the trip, due to frigid 52-degree water, O'Kane used his stand-up paddleboard to cover legs between three islands. Then the water began to warm, eventually reaching the upper 60s.
"The original plan was to swim to them all," O'Kane said. "Plan B was the paddleboard."
He found Plan B plenty challenging.
"I didn't expect paddleboarding to be as difficult as it was," he said. "It's really hard to stay on that thing in a crosswind."
He started by traveling to Sand, York, Bear and Devils islands, then worked through the heart of the Apostles down to Stockton. From there he made about a 4-mile crossing to Madeline and on to Long Island, eventually returning by way of Madeline, Hermit and Basswood to the mainland at Red Cliff. Most of the crossings he swam were from 2 to 2½ miles long, O'Kane said.
Averaging about 2 mph using a freestyle technique, O'Kane figures he swam 37 miles and paddleboarded 37 more in the 18 days. He hiked trails to cross some islands. Much of his paddleboarding was done to get from one point to another around an island to keep his swims shorter.
"With a slow, steady pace and a good song in your head, you'd be surprised how far you can go," O'Kane said. "It's like being your own boat. It's nice to know you can get yourself somewhere."
The two men camped on the islands at night and took four days off during their quest.
Twenty-one of the 22 Apostles are in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Park officials issued O'Kane and Voge a special permit that allowed them to be in the park longer than the 14-day limit and to use a stand-up paddleboard, otherwise prohibited.
Friends brought the pair food resupplies at various stops.
Weather conditions were near perfect after the first three days of the trip.
"We were striking gold every day," O'Kane said.
He ate a vegan and calorie-laden diet that propelled him with 3,500 to 5,000 calories a day - spoonfuls of peanut butter, freeze-dried black bean burritos, custom trail mix and ramen noodles.
Still, toward the end, O'Kane felt himself wearing down.
"I knew there was a wall on the horizon, but I never hit it," he said. "And by then, I had the excitement factor."
The last day dealt O'Kane and Voge a small-craft advisory and 3- to 4-foot waves. But they forged on - O'Kane swimming from Madeline to Hermit to Basswood.
"It was a little scary," he said.
For the final leg to Red Cliff on the mainland, he paddled the SUP while being towed behind Voge's kayak.