A Yooper's Summer on Isle Royale


The story takes place on the only island National Park in the United States: Isle Royale, a natural jewel in the middle of Lake Superior, 45 miles long and nine miles wide, making it the most remote place in the lower 48 states. The island has no roads and electricity, except for a small area on the northeast end which contains three lodge units and 10 house-keeping cabins where the author worked as a bell hop. The rest of the Island is populated by 1000 moose and a wolf pack.

A Yooper’s Summer on Isle Royale is based on a true story. It is classified as fiction as some of the stunts may not have outlived the statute of limitations. The term “Yooper” is the designation of someone that lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the U.P. (read as “Yoop”, hence, “Yoopers”). One doesn’t grow up in this remote part of the country burdened by a lot of rules and Kemp certainly didn’t expect to find volumes of them when they got to Isle Royale. He stood out from day one when he crossed Lake Superior in a 14-foot aluminum boat with his partner-in-most-crimes. They were one of the smallest boats to cross the Big Lake since John Jacob Astor’s fur trappers did it in the 18th Century.

Michigan native Kemp offers a hilarious personal story of a madcap summer—disguised as fiction to protect the not-so-innocent.

As a student at Michigan Tech in 1965, Wayne Kallio gets a summer job on remote Isle Royale, a National Park Service island on Lake Superior. Wayne and his buddy Digger are “Yoopers”—natives of Michigan’s isolated Upper Peninsula—and they aren’t strangers to the area’s challenging physical and atmospheric conditions. However, they seem determined to prove their idiocy early by traveling to Isle Royale on the Sisu, Wayne’s tiny 14-foot aluminum boat. Their arrival, after a harrowing journey, sets the tone for their summer as they go on to face disapproval and distrust from local National Park Service rangers; one vindictive, obsequious ranger, nicknamed Dudley, seems determined to catch them on a misdemeanor. Wayne and Digger are told that the first question tourists ask upon their arrival is, “Sonny, where can a person get a drink around here?,” so Wayne decides that he will supplement his meager earnings by selling smuggled beer and whiskey. The pair’s laugh-out-loud antics prove the saying, “God protects idiots and drunks”; they’re running, and dumb, in away that only college men can be. The novel reads like a memoir, with little dialogue and, sometimes, inadequate character development; for example, Wayne describes Kathy, his summer love interest, purely in terms of her physical assets, but readers can only infer, through her continued association with him, that she’s either extraordinarily patient or as crazy as he is. That said, Wayne occasionally strays from his frat-party behavior long enough to reveal that he’s empathetic and has a healthy intellectual curiosity, and Kemp memorably evokes the mid-century setting.
A lighthearted novel that makes for a fine summertime diversion.
"This book is a rollicking, humorous, read – unlike any book ever written about Isle Royale. Dan Kemp is a great storyteller."
Peter Oikarinen, Author of Island Folk – The People of Isle Royale