Day 1 of 5
Thursday, September 27, 2012 [paragraph break] Day One: The Sentinels (The day being clear the sky being bright) Lakes: Bower Trout, Marshall, Dugout, Skidway, Stinky, Swan, Vernon, Brule Bay 9 miles paddled 731 rods portaged Pack weight at start: 40lbs Canoe: 32 + paddles, yoke, pfd etc. = approx 82lbs total weight at start [paragraph break] They watch – turning their eyes only as much as they need, but hopefully entranced by the sun. [paragraph break] I was up to my ass in muck and some sort of water for the second time today. Still, it was a better day than others I’ve had. I’d managed to lose my cap somewhere between Marshall and Skidway so now had to squint whenever I looked toward the sun - but at least I was wet. Normally I try to refrain from getting stinky until about day 4 or 5, but now was far ahead of schedule. So I had that going for me, which was nice. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I’d been awake since 3 am and on the road 15 minutes after giving the wife another squeeze and each of the kids a kiss on the cheek. They’d rather I slip them a fiver but have to take what they can get. The drive was fine – I listened to the BBC on MPR and since the state patrol is largely off duty between 3 and 6am I made fairly good time up 35. The sun seemed to be just rubbing its eyes as I slinked through Duluth and finally broke the horizon at Two Harbors where three ravens stood frozen to the guardrail to watch the glow of morning begin, darker than they needed to be in the half light – while the soft yellowy orange pushed away the moon on Superior as if the morning couldn’t wait – even though it had all day. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I had breakfast and a short visit with some friends in Grand Marais and was finally on the water about ten. I’d stepped balls deep in the muck at the Bower Trout put in as well. Now it was noon and I was on Swan. A raven picked at the carcass of a gull along the shore. I had rocks and a few short portages under my belt and the promise of the day’s toughest carry just ahead. I ate a few fun size Oh Henry bars to give me strength. I’d have brought a Guinness but for the rules and it's a well known fact that Oh Henry bars are indeed one of nature's most perfect foods. I thought about the ravens, having seen a fair few of them today. There had been another on Dugout and I think not the same one on Skidway. Though they only ever passed me and seemingly paid me no mind, I somehow felt watched. I don’t like the feeling of being watched, no matter how benevolent. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I remember when I was 15 and my father had given me an errand to run before school – a message or delivery of something we needed – and I had to leave the Falls Road and cross over the Shankill to the Crumlin and back again. The trip crossed a few checkpoints in the day and so could be a bit dodgy. I'd done it before and would again after. It was best to do it early, just as the sun was rising to lift the chill off the streets and before it got too high because there wouldn’t be as many peelers and the chance of being chased or having to fight wasn’t as great and on the way back the sun would be in the eyes of the UDR black squads with their guns on the rooftops who watched and maybe too the squaddies watching from their tanks and I hoped I could make my way unnoticed by them and the eyes I couldn’t see and get through the checkpoint back home for toast and tea and then off to school where the christian brothers could give me a fair whack for learning what I didn’t know under their baleful eyes. Bastards them all. A raven had flown at me that morning as I stepped around the back of a garden. Sometimes it's the smallest things that bring you back.[paragraph break]
[paragraph break] The long portage from Swan to Vernon was done in a flash. I don’t remember much about it now except that it was a bit rocky with a climb at the beginning, a descent down at the very end, and the put in was a bit rocky. The paddle though was brilliant, every stroke a gift. Sun, easy water, only the slightest breeze, more cooling than anything. Vernon Lake was a charm. [paragraph break]My new for me Bell Magic moved easily along the water and I worked on my solo strokes from the center of the canoe. How different it is than paddling my SR Q17 turned around. I lingered a bit on Vernon – just to have the luxury. Both camp sites were unoccupied as they’d all been this day, but I had it in my mind to make into Brule before I set up camp. Even though the weather promised to be fair tomorrow, I wanted to be on the water early so I could beat any chance of the wind. And so I did. I chuffed the 90 rod portage over to Brule Bay and paddled easily along the southern edge – practicing my solo C’s, a brace or two, some sweeps, draws and shallow J’s – deciding that there’s no bluffing it in a solo canoe – you’d better know what the hell you’re doing and there's always room for improvement. [paragraph break] I snuck out of Brule Bay and into the thin east end of the main lake – claiming the first campsite set back into a small bay. It was perfect. It seemed small from the water but opened up nicely into a site much larger than I needed. 3 or 4 good tent pads, nice fire ring and a few good places for tarping. I didn’t need any of them – I had my hammock. My hammock is one of the small reasons I love solo trips – so easy to set up and a pleasure to sleep in. I nearly feel guilty having it. On my group trips I always share a tent, so when I’m on a solo trip it always feels a bit like the first time I ever slept in a bed to myself and didn’t have a few of my brothers in it head to foot with me. At 52 it still feels special. [paragraph break] Setting up camp was fast. I pulled the pack out of the canoe and the canoe up on land. I know, I know, that's quite uncommon but it is the way I do things. The hammock went up as did a clothes line and I hung my paddling clothes up to dry in the mid-afternoon sun while I sat with a cup and a book to let my feet dry and have a snack, a drink and a bit of a read while looking at the water and no sound of anyone near. I looked at the map and knew I could have gone much further that day but I had made my goal and wanted time to think about where I was and the how and the why. I wasn't trying to make big distance on this trip, but just to have some each day. I was in the mood to linger on and explore a few of the lakes en route. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I always single portage on solo trips – but this time I tried to go even lighter than usual. My base back weight before food and drink was 25 lbs- almost 3.5 of which is my CCS pack itself. After adding food, fuel and the drink I was at 40 lbs – perhaps a bit more as my scale is not that accurate. I brought an extra shirt and a bit more first aid than I needed.I doubled up on a couple of other things and so could have been lighter. I brought in 5L of wine (whiskey would have been lighter). I brought my trangia alcohol stove and my Vargo wood stove – so there’s an extra 4 ounces for you. All of my evening meals were dehydrated stuff I made myself. Of course there was also the chocolate. I'm mad for the chocolate. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I decided against a fire this night in favor of darkness. I did collect wood of the very small variety however so I could test my new Vargo Titanium wood stove. It’s amazing how much small stuff can be gathered in a 5 step circle. I read, I made some notes, I looked at the water and the sky and was happy with most things. [paragraph break] As evening drew near I sat near the lake's edge and fed the wood stove to boil water. Luckily I was in no hurry for my dinner– pasta with parmesan, dehydrated chicken, sundried tomatoes, salami and pita bread- it took 15 minutes to boil the water – a few more to simmer and let sit before I could eat. A canister stove or even an alcohol stove is faster mind you. The stove worked fine – the wood left my pot fairly sticky with resin – hard to clean. But. The reflectix cook-cozies I made worked brilliantly – keeping the heat in the pot and the food for the duration. I sat and watched the stars and then the moon rise over the silent lake like a benediction. [paragraph break] As often happens on the first night of a solo – I had too many thoughts running through my head to focus on just one or two. I tried to let the quiet of the water and the woods calm my mind. I was already relaxed – but it takes a bit longer to stop the dialogue. A cup of Powers would have helped but a few glasses of wine did part of the job. After some time, I decided it was dark enough to clean up and get myself into the hammock, so I did.
Day 2 of 5
Friday, September 28, 2012 Day Two: Horace Greeley (Following his advice I go west and then turn north for an equal measure)
Lakes: Brule, South Temperance, North Temperance, Sitka, Cherokee, Gordon, Long Island.[paragraph break] 18 miles paddled 350 rods portaged
Some trust the wolf they have kept since birth not to turn on them.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] [paragraph break] I had read the weather forecast but decided to not quite trust it. The day had called for minimal wind and warm temps – but I had a lapse of faith I suppose. As so, I was awake in the dark and packing up my gear before light eased its way over the water. I had a few almonds and dried blueberries with a slug of water for breakfast, knowing I’d stop at some point for another wee snack or two that morning. The sky lightened and there was a mist on the water as I left my campsite. I love paddling into the mist. I always half hope I'll disappear -that the mist may be some portal into an infinite lake and woods and I can spend my days being part of it all, the water, the sun, the mist. The mystic. Into the Mystic - our man Van had it right. I wanted to paddle Brule before the day warmed and the wind came up. And oh, but wasn't it brilliant? The water was glass and calm and I sliced my way quickly down the lake – not pushing so much as paddling with intent. Can they arrest you for that, do you think?[paragraph break] [paragraph break] I stopped once about midway to eat a clif bar (I don't much like them) and have a drink but was then on my way again quick as a wink. [paragraph break] [paragraph break]I saw a pair of nesting eagles near Jock Mock point, one sitting higher than the other in a tall pine. I suppose they were looking at me too, disappointed that I was a person and not a fish. Join the club. I paddled across the larger stretch of open water and made the length of Brule in just under 2 hours, pulling over to the creek linking to South Temperance without so much as a whisper of wind. I’d never been on a Brule that calm. Someone was smiling on me that day. I hoped she was pretty.
On South Temperance I saw a pair of fisherman in an aluminum canoe. They’d cast their lines into a snag and said they normally fished that way. They may have been Welsh, but more likely Iowans. I left them to their tangle and continued on my way.
It’s pleasing to be on the move. I’ve always liked it. I spent my time criss-crossing paths with the sun and paddled my way through North Temperance and Sitka, picking my way along the rocks and root strewn hills of the portage and came into Cherokee. I stopped for lunch and took the sun at the peninsula campsite mid-way up the lake. [paragraph break] [paragraph break]Lunch was tuna fish with mustard, relish and pepper in pita bread. Pita bread is fine when it's fresh and abysmal when it's not. Mine was moving towards not. I took off my boots and socks, my shirt and stood and sat and had a lie down over the next hour, enjoying the sun. I heard but did not see a loon, saw, but did not hear wood ducks and in general enjoyed what was being given to me. I saw no one else on the lake and thought it strange. It was a Friday after all. None of the campsites I’d passed appeared to be occupied. When I got back on my way and paddled up the narrows of Gordon Lake, the feeling of solitude continued. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] The portages and put ins to and through Gordon lake were rocky and I’ve a few new scratches on my canoe now. As I expected, a raven waited for me at the portage into Long Island Lake looking at me with its ancient eye. I looked back, wondering if it would go get me a beer. [paragraph break] I paddled then not quite halfway down the lake, noting no other canoes on the water or at camps and put out at a nice site with a southwest exposure just behind an island. I like islands - they're proud. It was early and I could easily have made it to Kiskadinna yet that day but I decided to spend time exploring Long Island Lake instead. I set up camp and then paddled up and around the largest mass of land on the lake, jumped the 35 rod portage and paddled back to camp. I had a bit of a scare when it seemed I’d left my hammock back at last night’s campsite. Eeejit! Are you kidding me? I was giving out to myself and pissed. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] I decided to sleep on a groundcloth beneath my tarp and began setting camp for that when I realized my hammock was only snuggled up next to my sleeping bag in another pile I’d made when I unpacked my pack. Exclamations of relief ensued but I still felt myself an eejit! I did NOT want to retrace my steps from today and changing my route but was prepared to do so if I’d indeed forgotten the sling. I gathered enough firewood for an hour or so of burning, changed clothes and spent 11 minutes making dinner. Tonight's feast was dehydrated chili made at home with fritos gone stale in the ziplock but once added to the chili softened and tasted just fine. There was still only the smallest of breezes while I washed out my pot (a snowpeak 900 cup – my 700ml cup, trangia, matches, spoon and fork all nest inside) and put it all away – deciding I didn’t need to bother with a hot chocolate later that night. I just ate some more of the Cadbury bar I’d brought along. I’d rationed 4 thick squares for each of the nights – which turned out to be enough even though I’d worried it mightn’t be. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] And then it was dark. The moon had not yet risen, there was blackness on the water to match that of the trees and the stars began to unveil themselves for me. I sat for awhile before making the fire and thought some of the things I yet wanted to do with my life, the things I want for my children, for myself, for others. All those desires. I looked into the sky and realized that it’s always there, never exactly the same, but for the most part unchanged by time, by us, by desire. The air cooled then a bit and though I was dressed for success I made my small fire, ate some more chocolate, drank wine and water from my chalice and decided it had been a good day. I let the fire burn low to just embers before giving it a stir and a douse and climbed into my warbonnet with a book and read awhile before deciding on sleep.
Day 3 of 5
Saturday, September 29, 2012 [paragraph break] Day Three: (And on the third day I rose again) Lakes: Long Island, Muskeg, Ogema, Henson, Gaskin. approx: 9 miles 5 portages: [paragraph break]11 miles paddled[paragraph break] 365 rods portaged [paragraph break] I don’t want a pickle. I just wanna ride my motorcycle. [paragraph break] I’m not sure why, but that Arlo Guthrie song was in my head as I awoke. I slept in a bit longer today – not in any real hurry. The morning was cool and bright and I was on the water at about half 9. Breakfast was oatmeal and granola with some dried blueberries and honey and honey in my tea. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I paddled east into the sun down the rest of Long Island. The east end still shows signs of the blowdown but is a fun paddle all the same. Muskeg. What a useless excuse for a portage. I think a bushwhack would be better. 20 rods of boulders and then a beaver dam followed by a short, mucky paddle and another beaver dam pull over. If I could have got going fast enough I think I could have jumped the thing. The paddle through Muskeg was quick and fine. Not so the 185 rod portage into Kiskadinna. It's not the worst portage I’ve done, but I’ll wager they’re cousins. Rocky, a shower of choked roots, and steeper than an Amsterdam staircase, its only forgiving quality is that it is in the woods. These woods. In the Dub. You’ll do well to be part billy goat. Even if you’re just the little goat gruff. It does level out after you reach the top and then has a longish slight descent with just a bit of grade down at the end. I cursed nearly everyone I dislike while picking my way through this one. [paragraph break] Kiskadinna. It was my first time on it despite being close many other times. I like it. Long, narrow, with enough hills and trees to frame it and keep it well. I paused in the bay just after the put in to treat a liter or so of water and drink it down. I don’t like to carry water and so just “camel up” occasionally and then steal the odd sweep of a cup or two from the lake while paddling. [paragraph break] The portage from Kiskadinna to Ogema was perhaps even steeper than the climbs previous, but it was short. Ogema is a nice wee bit of water and I paddled its outline thinking of a girl named Olicia I knew as a kid back home. She was Irish and Spanish – and we all called her Orlaith (Orla) because it was the closest Irish name we could think of. I was that in love her when I was twelve and she ten I think. She of the dancing dark eyes and hair – even though Orla means golden princess –the name seemed to fit her. She was born in Belfast, her ma was Irish and from the Falls Road but her da from Spain and I remember thinking that Spain must be a real shithole for him to come to Belfast hoping for something better. But who knows the way of the world anyway? I barely remember a time in Belfast before the troubles – the blessing of my generation. Her family was burned out in one or more of the riots and stompings we often took in those days. I remember seeing her on the brick and broken glass strewn street the morning after, wearing her blue and gray checked school dress and a jumper, a settee still smoldering behind her, her dark hair standing every which way and she holding her youngest sister in her arms, only one sock on her foot and staring wild-eyed out across the way. She was still beautiful even in that hurt way. Maybe more because of it. I fell in love with her again but love is hard to hold when you’re young, hungry and fairly hopeless. I’m sure I saw her after that because I know they stayed on the Falls and I didn’t leave for another year or so when I made 18, but I've no memory of her after that. Thinking of her now makes me think of Van Morrison and The Chieftains singing Raglan Road. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dobte0rRKUA&feature=related You'll need to copy and paste that to hear what I'm thinking. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I tried for 20 minutes to find the portage from Ogema to Phalanx lake – I’d heard there were beautiful, moss covered rock outcroppings there and I wanted to see them. Sort of like the Raphaels and Bellinis in Rome. But I couldn’t find the damned thing. Too much windfall at the shoreline and even when I got out of the canoe in two different places and searched a bit I couldn’t find the portage trail. Not meant for my eyes I suppose. I suppose I hadn't earned it. I paddled back down Ogema’s throat and then hiked over to Henson with the canoe on my head. Henson was grand so, much like Kiskadinna – and I stopped for my lunch of nuts and berries, cheese and salami and some peanut m&m's at the second campsite in. A group of seven in 3 canoes passed by and I watched them. They didn't wave. Nor did I. I sat in the sun with the lightest breeze to keep me company. I treated the water I’d pulled from the lake with my steripen, had a drink, added some Gatorade powder just for something not quite sweet and looked around for a raven or two. There weren’t any. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] What else of note had I seen this day? Saw bear scat and a bear print. Saw wolf scat, and the print of a bob cat I think, Saw a loon, Saw an airplane. [paragraph break] I rose, stretched, got back into the canoe and paddled the rest of the way down Henson and over the wee hill to Gaskin. Well, I didn’t paddle the hill – I portaged that and was the better for it. Gaskin is quite a beautiful lake. It has a couple of nice bays and is dotted with lovely small islands. It was empty. Well, there was water in it to be sure, but no people that I could see. I took the peninsula campsite with the three islands in front of it and a very sweet site it was. Very large, open -it would suit a large group very well. Even though it was only afternoon, I left the light on in case a group of Canadiennes might need last minute shelter, knowing how they can be. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I did what I always do in the afternoons, change out of my wet shoes and any clothes, pull out my gear, allow anything damp or wet an attempt to dry in the sun and the breeze, gather a bit of firewood, set up my hammock, have a bit of drink, sit and read, review my maps, think about the day, and tomorrow and anything else that crosses my mind. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] The last of the day passed quickly. I had my dinner (repeat of day one), washed my fork and cup, watched the stars come out to play and when it chilled I made a fire, and sat there, staring into past, eating chocolate and drinking wine, thinking of a story to tell myself. I went to my bed that night, lying in the dark, the slight sway of the hammock – my tarp pitched high for the fine weather and watched the moon arc its way from the vee of my feet up across the sky. An owl called out a great many times and I stayed awake for all of it, a long time, looking and listening and thinking of where I’ve been.
Day 4 of 5
Sunday, September 30, 2012 [paragraph break]Day Four: (It being Sunday, I had more time than I needed) Lakes: Gaskin, Allen, Horseshoe, Vista, Jake, Lus, Carl, Morgan, Jake, Vista, Misquah[paragraph break] 11 miles paddled[paragraph break] 351 rods portaged [paragraph break] I took my time this morning knowing it would be an easy day, easy paddling and easy portages. I didn’t get on the water until 10. I had my breakfast of oatmeal, almonds, dried cherries and granola, tea and honey and briefly considered just staying on Gaskin and paddling out the next day. But the day was brilliant and I like to move, so I did. I took the north portages out of Gaskin to Allen and then over to Horseshoe because I wanted to curse the rock or root that maimed Mocha. None of them admitted to it so I just cursed the lot of them. Going into the south arm of Horseshoe would have been faster, but I like Horseshoe Lake and felt like paddling. I love winding my way down through Horseshoe- between the two peninsula sites and then through the reedy throat and curve of the lake as it moves to Vista. I took some time to explore the Brule River a bit, but the water was low and rocky and I walked my magic more than it carried me. As I approached the portage to Vista I heard voices and could see a group of 4 at the portage. Two couples having a snack and casting a line. I asked if there was room yet there and they said yes, so I made my way over. Nice people. We chatted a bit, saw an otter, shared information on each of our trips and then I was on my way. They told me the campsite on Misquah was open and they'd seen a moose and its calf there earlier that day. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] It was still only noon and so I decided to explore a bit more before heading to Misquah. I paddled the east arm of Vista, left my pack in the woods at the portage and then looped my way through Jake, Lux, Carl, Morgan and Jake Lakes. They were all looking fine in the autumn gold of the tamaracks just as Mocha said they would be. Very pretty – and the portages in between were easy, only the one between Morgan and Jake had any bit of a challenge to it and that was only from the muck at the take out(lots of moose prints though). I added some downed logs to the take-out area in an effort of improvement. After crossing Jake and the portage into Vista, I reclaimed my pack and paddled back through and down Vista - very pretty in its southern half – and by 3:30 was on Misquah.[paragraph break]
[paragraph break] The portage was rocky but relatively easy and the view across Misquah was gorgeous though moose free –shimmering in yellows and light orange and bits of green. I was close and could well have paddled out – the exit at Ram Lake being only a few miles away - but I had food, drink, the weather was fine and promised to be dry so I decided to keep the night for myself. I’m happy I did. I let the day linger in me as I set up camp. I prepared my packet of soup, had a sip and promptly knocked it over. I made another and this time got all of it in me then sat by the fire as the night darkened and thought about what brought me here and how this place has saved me. I rely on it yet to keep me well. [paragraph break] The fire burned out and was doused. I spent some time looking at the stars and the silent water. I drank the last of my wine, tied off my ursack and took my time falling asleep, feeling too content to have a worry in the world.
Day 5 of 5
Monday, October 01, 2012 [paragraph break] Day Five: (Monday, Monday) Lakes: Misquah, Little Trout, Rum, Kroft, Ram. 5 portages.[paragraph break] 3 miles paddled[paragraph break] 517 rods portaged. [paragraph break] It was 7 am before I stole out of my hammock, wishing I had another few days or so in front of me. It was clear, a dry and easy start to the day. Still, I was not all that eager to be on the move. I took my time with breakfast – and packed up. My food bag was empty save for the one just in case meal and a few snack items. All the alcohol was gone – both for fuel and fun – and my pack was now a good few lbs lighter than it was at the start of my trip. This would be good news soon enough. [paragraph break] After a last linger and look around camp to make sure I hadn’t left any of the various pieces of jewelry I normally trip with, I was off like an old shoe and at the start of the 230 rod Misquah Hills portage within a few minutes. The portage is not that long, nor that steep in its two uphill portions, but it is a bit in want of good footing. My lightened load was welcome. In spite of being careful, I did manage to slip on the downhill portion just toward the end but as luck would have it, there was a nice rock to break my fall as my ass hit the ground and my legs splayed out in front of me. It was as if I’d suddenly decided to sit in front of the TV and fold some laundry. The canoe stayed on my shoulders, my hands stayed on the canoe, my bones stayed in my body and after a choice word or two I stood up and got back on my way, shaking my head at myself. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] The next three portages were about as rocky but shorter, and the lakes were all nicely done up in the glint of the morning sun which glared at me like a scar in the cool morning. I saw paddlers across the way on Ram, and someone’s gear at the take out. The final portage to the parking lot is actually pleasant – the crest of the hill affords a beautiful view across the Misquah Hills – which shimmered in yellows and golds. It looked like god kept her autumn home just there. I regretted packing my camera so deep in my pack. [paragraph break] I left my pack and canoe at the end of the portage and walked the mile or so to my vehicle at the Bower Trout entry. I changed out of my paddling clothes, into the clean clothes I’d left in the car and drove back to Ram to load up and be on my way. I was nearly finished loading when Dennis from NW Canoe made his way off the portage. We had a quick chat, he went back to collect his wife and gear and I was on my way. I drove slowly along the forest road on my way to the Gunflint – it always takes me a while to get back to driving speed after savoring paddle speed during a trip. I had music on in the car, didn’t stop in Grand Marais, nor Duluth but in Moose Lake for gas, a soda and a sandwich. I arrived home just as the family was finishing dinner and gave them all whiskery hugs and kisses. After some time giving them the quick report on my trip, I went out to unload, clean and hang the canoe, unpack and hang gear to be cleaned and dried, packed a few things away, tossed the trash, got the clothes into the wash. I showered, shaved, drank two beers and went to bed next to my wife, feeling strange to be inside. I thought about my next trip, whenever that may be.
[paragraph break] Silly Data that some might enjoy: Pack weight at end: 26lbs Canoe: 32lbs + paddles, yoke, pfd etc. = approx 68 total weight at end[paragraph break] Total Miles paddled: 52 miles est. Total rods portaged: 2,314[paragraph break] Casualties of the Trip: 1 lost Hat 1 broken strap on my floatie for my sunglasses 2 sporks [paragraph break] Things that worked well: Trangia Stove - Ursack (lighter than the bear vault) Hammock and UQ Reflectix Tuna in the foil packet [paragraph break] Things that didn’t work as well: Some slipping and sliding.