I got the itch to do a solo trip after my son and I paddled Hunter Island in
2013. I was set to do it in 2014, but I invited a friend in my adult Sunday
school class and the adopted son of another friend to go on a trip; that trip
deserves a trip report itself. My wife and I went on a trip on Moose River in
September of 2014 and that trip determined the destination of my solo. My
initial solo destination was a recreation of my first trip ever which was into
Quetico on Agnes. I decided that my idea was too ambitious for my first
solo. I so enjoyed the area of the trip with my wife that I decided to trip in
that area. I started reading some trip reports and decided that a loop was
the thing to do. There were some reports on the Moose River, Nina Moose,
Nina Moose River, Agnes, Oyster River, Oyster, Rocky, Green, Ge-be-on-e-
quet, Ge-be-on-e-quet Creek, Pocket, Finger, Pocket, Pocket Creek, Lac
La Croix, Agnes, and on back to the start. The side trip over to Finger was
based on some reports of good fishing. I also decided to go and see the
pictographs on North Hegman on the way back to Ely. September became
my time period because I enjoyed that time on the trip with my wife.
I spent the summer dreaming, planning, and training for my trip. I
checked my equipment and got a few new pieces for my trip. I didn't NEED
anything, but I always read the Gear forum and picked up a couple of ideas
and I am glad I did. I pickup up one of the made for Bell carbon paddles
(ZRE recreation model,I think) that were
put on ebay, I am glad I did that. I have Puddicombe paddles, but after
using the carbon they felt like logs. Training consisted of my normal
jogging, biking, and swimming routine. I did add some weight lifting but not
much, I just don’t enjoy lifting. I did take my Magic out and paddle some.
As my depart day approached I got equipment and food brained.
Essentially I keep over thinking and taking stuff out and putting stuff back.
Needless to say, I brought too much equipment and food. Learning for me
is always an adventure. I had read the first solo advise threads and paid
attention to them, in theory. I learned a lot.
The Drive –
It’s a long haul from Cincinnati. I divided my drive into 2 days. I
Spooner, WI and breakfasted in Trego at the Prime Bar and Restaurant. I
then had a 3.5 hr drive to Ely and a date at the Moose with a walleye
sandwich. I spent the rest of the day checking on odds and ends, learning
to work the Delorme InReach, visiting the farmers market, and anticipating
my trip. One of the last things I decided to do was to put fresh batteries in
headlight. When I opened the light I discovered that the old batteries had
leaked, the light still worked, so new AAA batteries went on my last minute
Day 1 of 8
Wednesday, September 02, 2015 After breakfast at Brittons, buying AAA batteries at a gas station, and a 45 minute drive I was at the trail head (portage) down to Moose River. The last thing I did to my canoe before I left home was to drill 3 holes on each side just under the gunwales, I attached pipe insulation with zip ties to act as bumpers for my knees, great idea thanks kanoes! I did this in the parking area. I got to the trail early and nobody was there, by the time I was ready to go a couple of other groups had joined me. At this point I had the first clue of the biggest lesson I learned, actually confirmed, it takes at least 2x as long to do things when you solo. This is huge, more on that later. I did my double portage down to the river and shoved off, along with the other 2 groups. There were newbies among the groups, maybe all newbies, one of them said he wanted to keep his feet/boots dry; I told him that wasn’t going to happen and walked on into the water. I don’t think he appreciated my comment and demonstration. I did notice he had accepted wet feet by the second portage. All went well and I was pulling away from the other groups until I got to the first pull over beaver dam. There was a small gap in the dam but it looked like there could be a rock there and, not wanting to scratch my Magic, I decided to get out at the side of the dam and pull over. I got out pulled over and as I started to get back into my canoe, and I heard a voice saying “make sure your butt in firmly in the seat before…”, but my body said “no, you’re good” and in I went. This was the first time I ever swamped a canoe. The groups behind me passed me, offering to help, and I got back together and was done with “racing” and wet. Lesson learned. I had my camera inside my vest and it was not happy with me. I made my way to the sand beach on Nina Moose and started drying out stuff, camera included, and had lunch. My trip in Nina Moose River was uneventful save for running into sueb2b. We had a delightful chat at the last portage before Agnes. She had been doing the same loop that I was heading on and gave me some information. I told her I hoped to get to Oyster and she assured me I would make it. I decided to stop near the Oyster portage on Agnes and camp (1793), so goal not reached. Dinner that night consisted of my wife’s excellent homemade vegetable soup. It had been thawing during my first day and it was a major treat for my first supper. I built my only fire and went to bed early.
Day 2 of 8
Thursday, September 03, 2015 I wanted to get up early and get away, but I encountered three issues: 1. My old watch alarm didn’t work, I never got it to work, 2. bacon and eggs are always slow, and 3. it takes at least 2x as long to pitch and breakdown camp. I did learn the advantage of frying bacon up at home, thanks to many for that tip. It took me 3 hours to get away; clearly something was not right. I made my way across the portage to Oyster. I felt a twinge in my back on my first trek so I dropped the canoe. I ran into the groups I started with on day 1. I got everything to Oyster and decided I had had enough, I did not get the 1st choice site on the peninsula (the other group did) but I did get the 2nd choice site (1781). It was an excellent site and I had a beautiful night there. I got up during the night and checked out the clear night sky, I do love the night sky. While hanging my food bag I found a nice cedar branch. I cut it up and kept a log for carving, this became my down time project/hobby. I remember some of the solo advise being having something to do during the day/down time, carving became that thing for me.
Day 3 of 8
Friday, September 04, 2015 This was the morning of the swans. While breaking camp the swans started flying. I had seen only 1 swan in all of my other trips; this morning changed all of that. My wife would have truly enjoyed seeing the swans; they were beautiful. My goal today was lunch at the stone chairs on Gebe and camp on Finger Lake. Everything was accomplished, but it was hard. I didn’t anticipate the vegetation on Pocket Creek, which really slows you up. I also only had 1 Nalgene bottle and was running low on water. I used a gravity filter, I think a hand pump for a solo traveling trip may be better. After being short on traveling water, I started carrying some water in my Nalgene canteen, which worked well. I got into Finger on the late side and I hoped to get the good site on the island, alas, it was taken. I took the other island site (108), knowing it had issues. If I had been using a tent, this site would have been miserable. I used a hammock and the site was more interesting to me than bad. After hanging the hammock, I decided to put up a rope railing in case I got up in the night and took a wrong turn. You could walk off the cliff side pretty easily. I got a good thunderstorm this night (9/4). I have a weather radio, new piece of equipment, so I knew it was coming. The weather radio was a nice addition to my gear. I learned to move my welcome mat and camp shoes further under my hammock in order to keep them dry. I considered spend 2 nights on Finger, but the forecast over the next 2 days gave me some concern so I decided to get a lot of LLC behind me.
Day 4 of 8
Saturday, September 05, 2015 I left Finger for LLC. I developed a new mental approach to my trip. I busted my butt to get to Finger…why? I ran cross country and track and coached both. It’s a lot about the end result, place and time, in both sports. I decided I needed to enjoy the journey more and not be so obsessed with the destination and time. My paddle on LLC was much calmer and I enjoyed it more. I camped on the western edge of Fish Stake Narrows. It was a nice camp (153), but well used. I have concluded that 5 star sites are nice, but can be overused; a good 3 star may be cleaner/wilder. I had a very pleasant stay. I saw no other people today.
Day 5 of 8
Sunday, September 06, 2015 It rained pretty well last night. I had to get up and adjust my tarp, which is always fun in the rain! I took my time this morning and fixed pancakes. I don’t particularly like pancakes, why did I bring pancakes? Reason, they are a traditional camping food, how stupid. It was a solo trip; I will not bring pancakes again. Man, I can be dumb. The forecast was clear and I had an easy day of travel. My goal was to camp on Boulder Bay. I swung by the pictographs on LLC and made sure I saw the initials and date pecked into the granite above the pipe man. I got to Boulder Bay and made my way along the campsites. The last one (1821) was open and was an excellent site. I set up camp knowing I was staying at least 2 nights. This was the only site I was unable to get a lake view from my hammock, but my tarp was excellent. I set my chair on a big, flat lakeside rock and whittled and contemplated. I could have stayed there for a very, very long time. My plan for tomorrow was to explore Boulder River and fish. The weather radio said I was under storm warning number 503, I think I have been under 501 and 502 as well. My stomach has been squirrelly all day, I am glad my wife insists on putting pepto in the med kit. Speaking of squirrels, I have enjoyed the harvesting of pine cones by the critters. I find it interesting that not once have they dropped on my tarp.
Day 6 of 8
Monday, September 07, 2015 A day of ease, fishing, and the Loon from hell. I had not been able to fish with all of my moving. I paddled up Boulder River to the rapids and fished my way back. I had several strikes but only caught one. It was the biggest smallmouth I had ever caught. I told a guy I had met earlier about it; he was also fishing. He asked what I was using…Jitterbug. He just hung his head. There is a reason that some lures have been around a long time; they work. I have found that a good old red and white Jitterbug is a very effective lure. I prefer fly fishing, but unless I have a partner who can maneuver a canoe well, my son, I have discovered that spin casting is easier. I didn’t fish very long and made my way back to camp. There were several eagles squawking this evening. My plan was to leave tomorrow and camp on Nina Moose. My idea was to have a short paddle out and then swing by North Hegman on the way back to Ely. While fishing I saw a bunch of Merganzers swimming in a circle, fast and furious. I guessed they had corralled some minnows. All of a sudden a Loon rose up in the midst of the Merganzers and rotated his chest around at the Merganzers. Man, those Merganzers scatted. It was one of the funniest displays of nature I have ever seen.
Day 7 of 8
Tuesday, September 08, 2015 I got away slow. To say I was reluctant to leave is an understatement. My neighbors had already pulled out. This seemed to be the day to leave (9/8). I was still breaking camp and for the first time I felt alone. I guess it was from being in a busy place. The wind had picked up and by the time I reached Agnes it was blowing pretty hard. I dug in across Agnes and made my way into the river. I had noticed some canoes making their way across Agnes and I caught up to them at the first portage. It was a father and son and the son’s girlfriend. It was her first ever camping trip, what a great introduction to camping. We had lunch together at the 2nd portage and had some good laughs. Their plan was to camp on Nina Moose and I told them I had started out with that idea but would wait and see what Nina was like. I got to Nina and the wind was not as bad so I decided to keep going. I climbed the “Top of the World” hill and enjoyed the view for a while. I paddled on in loaded the car and headed for Ely. As soon as I got service I called Paddle Inn and got a room. I showered up and headed for a well-deserved steak.
Day 8 of 8
Wednesday, September 09, 2015 I got up early, put my canoe clothes back on, and headed for North Hegman. Prior to my trip, I had asked a young guy at Piragis how long the paddle would take. He started to say 2 hrs looked at me and said 3. So, based on my research on BWCA I anticipated 3 hrs. It only took me 2 hrs and I was taking my time. I wanted to find that young guy again! The pictographs on North Hegman are fantastic, well worth the short paddle. I had lunch at the Moose and headed home, feeling very good about my trip.
What I learned 1. I like soloing. Perhaps every other year I should do a solo trip. It confirmed what I thought about myself, and then some. I found that I thought deeper, and opened up more in my journal. This was a spiritual experience. 2. It’s easy to take too much stuff. Even after reading the warnings about this I failed. I think I had too much of a base camp/trip partner mindset. One of the issues with have too much stuff is creating too many decisions. If you don’t have it, you don’t have to think about it. 3. No more pancakes when soloing 4. No more taking the Irwin saw. I’ll take a smaller one if at all. 5. I debated taking my Cutco sheath knife, I am glad I did 6. I didn’t take my Leatherman, I didn’t need it but… I think it’s a good thing to take 7. The Nalgene canteen is a very nice piece of equipment. 8. The InReach was a good way to keep my wife informed and allow friends to follow my trip 9. The Lawson bear rope is very slick. It’s very easy to get a food bag up. It’s almost too slick when tying off. http://lawsonequipment.com/Ultraglide-Bear-Line-c148/ 10. I doubt I will bring the hatchet on my next solo, especially if moving around. 11. Frying bacon ahead of time is a good thing. 12. I think that I would like more base-camping while soloing. 13. Setting up and breaking camp takes at least 2x as long, especially when you bring too much stuff. See #2 14. No more sealskins, I just used wool socks and boots. Thin socks, like Fit, will bring less water into the canoe. 15. Going slow is the correct speed while soloing. It’s safer and, for me, keeps the intensity in check. 16. I takes me longer to integrate back into civilization after soloing. 17. Cut down the spices in the food bag. Salt, pepper, and hot sauce will do it. 18. I think a hand pump filter may be a better choice for me while soloing. 19. I think the Amok hammock may be the hammock for me. I use a Jacks R Better, but I want more internal space. 20. Luci lights are now on my must list. I bought one for this trip after reading forum thoughts. Very nice and I now know what to get for everyone in the family for Christmas. 21. Rethink meal sizes, I took too much. 22. First night vegetable soup is a great idea. 23. The Lost City of Z by David Grann is a good read. It’s about exploring the Amazon. The descriptions about the insects and parasites may give you the heebie-jeebies. 24. Check your batteries, maybe remove them between trips.