Like many people, Mary Shideler, also known as “The Kayak Lady,” has a bucket list. The Grand Rapids, Minn., woman shared bits of her list and more during a presentation at Breckenridge Library Wednesday.
She told stories about her project to paddle in all 1,007 lakes in Itasca County, and what she learned along the way. She’s written a book about her lofty challenge, titled “The Kayak Lady: One Woman, One Kayak, 1,007 Lakes.”
Shideler shared photos she’s taken over the years of colorful wildlife and nature, and some images that illustrated the difficulties she’s encountered.
“I set off to kayak lakes and ended up becoming a pretty good map reader,” she said.
Shideler said in 1996 when she started paddling, she was married, and she kayaked with her husband and friends. Over the years, the marriage eventually fell apart and by the time she finished paddling all 1,007 lakes in 2010, she was a “single, independent woman.”
The first 500-600 lakes she was able to paddle fairly easily as she chose those with public or easy access.
“I knocked on a few farmers’ doors and asked if I could cut across their fields,” she said.
“When my mom turned 80 she started her bucket list,” Shideler said. “We went in a hot air balloon when she was 80 and at 82, we went skydiving. She’s done many things. On my list, I wrote down that I’d paddle 750 of the 1,007 lakes in the county, because I did not believe I could get to 1,007 lakes…you see how tough they are to get to.”
Once she hit 700, she crossed that off and wrote down 900.
“I still didn’t have the courage to write down 1,007,” she said.
As time went on, access to other lakes proved a challenge, and she relied on the help of others to guide her to her goal. She befriended “Willie the Minnow Man” and “Stan the Trapper,” and said she could always count on fishermen and duck hunters to keep trails to the lakes open.
She completed 900 lakes and knew she had to cross it out and write 1,007.
“I didn’t know how I was ever going to get to some of these lakes, but I did it with the help of the community and others,” she said.
The outdoorswoman used humor while regaling tales of learning to use bright pink ribbons to mark her trails because, “I hate getting lost.” She’s faced deer ticks and swarms of mosquitoes, freezing cold weather and has tromped through knee-deep muddy bogs, all to prove something to herself.
“It was a wonderful way to heal and to grow,” she said.
She said when she started paddling solo she hated it, but now she loves going onto the water alone and is very selective as to who she invites along.
“The more lakes I paddled, the more confident I got,” she said.
During her day trips on the water, she’s seen moose, deer, wolves, fox, otters, eagles and even a swimming bear.
Her favorite lakes to paddle are about 40 acres and surrounded by woods and no houses. She loves paddling close to the shorelines, she said, because that’s “where lakes have personality and you can see the differences.”
Whether admiring blue flag iris or spotting bass beds under the water, Shideler is always learning something new.
“The more I paddled the more questions I had,” she said.
“Is that clear water? What’s the underside of a lily pad feel like? Is that an island or a point of land? Is that wild rice or bullrushes? Can I look into the creek, and can I see fish?”
“When I would feel stressed, I’d take a deep breath on the water and think, ‘This isn’t the way I thought my life would work, but it’s working perfectly,’” she said.
Her curiosity drives her to continue paddling and she learned it’s OK to spend time alone. She said it’s also OK to ask for help when she needs it.
Shideler will knock one more item from her bucket list over the winter, when she kayaks in Antarctica.
For more on Shideler or to purchase her book, visit www.marythekayaklady.com.