BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 29 2022
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1364 feet
2019 Team BeaVer Fever Kruger Waddell Challenge
September 14, 2019
Little Vermilion Lake (Crane Lake)
Number of Days:
Bob Vollhaber (BeaV) - 5x
Kendra Leibel (MAKK) - 2x
Thomas Head (Deke) - 2x
Jim Kretsch (Jimmy Justice) - 3x
Jeff Bloomer (White Wolf) - 4x
Troy Troskey (McPipes) - Nugget
Chad Shields (Esteban) - Nugget
Todd Troskey (MeatPuppet) - 3x
Team Canoe Makeup: Three boats, to-whit:
BeaV & MAKK in a MN 2;
Deke, JimmyJustice and Whitewolf in a MN 3; and
McPipes, Esteban and MeatPuppet in a MN 3.
[paragraph break] Goal: 102 hours
[paragraph break] Completed: 235 miles, in 94.55 hours, which equates to 2.5 mph total elapsed average speed from start to finish.
Of Note: Roughly 75 hours on the move, 21 hours in camp, 14.5 total possible sleep hours available (with no chance of it being used up)
Each crew member prepared in their own way. The distance between each of us precluded regular group training runs.
MeatPuppet: Paddled 100 miles with BeaV, me and Pigeon River Dave during a leisurely 18-hour lily dip down the Namakagan. He and McPipes did paddle trips of 28, 36, and 20 miles. And he put in another 250 miles of solo time. Clearly, he is dedicated to his craft.
Esteban: He ran. He ran like the wind 5-7 days a week between 3 to 5 miles a day for months. While not exactly the best choice of training for this type of event, his feet were tough as nails. He did not get one blister or sore spot. His upper body, however, was a complete train wreck. As the adventure got closer, he canoed where & when he could. Mostly solo. Sometimes with a boat full of kids or the dog and sometimes with rocks and tree stumps. Overall, he spent his summer building motorcycles, growing a beard envious to all who appreciate beards and mastered his general coolness.
McPipes: In between bicep curls, he did tips of 28, 36 and 20 miles with his brother MeatPuppet and lifted a shit ton of tile. He owns a tile shop so lifting tile is a job requirement. You need tile, McPipes is your guy.
WhiteWolf: Paddled with BeaV, MAKK and me on Forest Lake for a short 10-mile paddle helping BeaV and MAKK with one of their final training runs before their record attempt. He also paddled 20 miles with BeaV, MAKK and me on Gunn Lake at Grandma L’s cabin on Gunn Lake Chain of Lakes. I am pretty sure he also worked on his repertoire of pondering questions. Twenty hours a day in a canoe gets long without a Q&A session with WW.
JimmyJustice: I paddled 100 miles with BeaV and MP on Memorial Day Weekend along with Pigeon River Dave (PRD is an interesting dude). (Note to self…next time don’t’ paddle 100 miles without practicing first.) At this point in life one would think that I would know better. Guess not. Glad to have been paddling with BeaV though because he offered up some advice about the height of my paddle stroke. I tried in earnest to implement his observation into my routine and it really helped on the KWC. We paddled the Namekagan River to the St. Croix. I also paddled with BeaV, MAKK and White Wolf on Forest Lake for a short 10-mile paddle helping BeaV and MAKK with one of their final training runs before their record attempt. I paddled 20 miles with BeaV, MAKK and WW on Gunn Lake and 10 miles the next morning all at Grandma L’s cabin on Gunn Lake Chain of Lakes. Other than that, I did not practice paddle…but I did practice portaging. With a full pack I would mow the lawn and every other day (for a month) go on a 3-mile hike. The neighbors laughed regularly at me. A couple of days before the KWC I did a 6-mile hike with gear. As was typical for me, I felt very comfortable about my stamina for the upcoming portages but not so much with my paddling skills. What I did this year for paddling prep was way more than I had done in prior years….so I had that going for me, which was nice.
Deke: In March he and BeaV completed the WaterTribe’s annual Everglades Challenge which is a 300-mile unsupported Gulf of Mexico excursion from Tampa Bay (Bay) to Key Largo. Deke has sailed this before but this year he stepped up and paddled his kayak along with BeaV and his Sea Wind. I watched from afar and was truly impressed by his efforts. Once hearing from him the details of the actual trip, I was even more impressed. Deke, as he is known to do, probably paddled every day for a month…“just for fun” before our adventure. The dude is in shape. After the KWC he sends out an email wondering if any of us wanted to pay for a weeklong class put on by former Navy Seals…to see if we could handle Seal training. Ok, pay good money to go to Seal training? Ah, that’s a hard no. Deke is officially signed up for the 2020 Sealfit KoKoro. The KoKoro is a whole different level of crazy. Good luck Brother!!
BeaV: Managed to get in a measly 1,500 miles and help set the Kruger Waddell route record at 63.27 hours. Blah blah blah. What have you done lately? All joking aside, BeaV is pound for pound the best there is. Glad he is on our team.
Kendra: Managed to put up with BeaV all summer long during multiple training runs, set a World Record with BeaV making it from EP 37 Kawishiwi Lake to Adams Lake in 6 hours (cause no one else would think of doing that). Set another World Record with BeaV completing the KWC in 63.27 hours. In the process, MAKK maintained her status of supermom and proved once again the girl from Delano is second to none. [paragraph break]
TIME ALLOCATION #1 (8:06 am – 5:43 pm)
Lakes/Rivers: (5) Rainy, Ash River, Kabetogama, Namakan and Sand Point
Portages: (2) Gold and Grassy
Camp: Ingersoll Cove on Sand Point Lake
Rest time: 6.25
As has become custom, those starting from International Falls wake up early and meet at Piragis around 5:00 am to make final adjustments. From there participants took shuttles to International Falls. This year, there were 22 individuals comprising 9 teams leaving from the Sha-Sha Resort, which is where Clint and Verlen departed from in 1968.
Our goal for the “day” was to make Sand Point Lake and stop short of EP 12. Why? Because someone in our group pulled our permit into the BWCA for Sunday September 15, 2019 NOT this day, Saturday the 14th. Never a complaint department around when you need one.
It’s tough for me to be away from home this time of year. The bride teaches 5th grade and her Super Bowl is the first week of school. I missed one challenge because it was scheduled in early September. This year, it was later in the month so less pressure on being away. I am keenly aware of the sacrifice she makes allowing me to be gone for 10 days while she is in her first week or two of school; not just teaching but with our kids as well. I tend to feel a bit guilty about that (just a bit). While that feeling never subsides, it is pushed aside by all the other emotions that accompany an adventure like this.
What I remember most of this day was that it was fluid yet defined by a set of emotions and pain. I have a bit of anxiousness about me when something “big” nears. I believe I keep it to myself but not entirely sure what others perceive of me in this regard. To be aware would require me to have paid attention. Having done the Kruger Waddell Challenge (KWC) previously, having previously paddled with everyone but McPipes and Esteban, and now knowing that Grandma’s bars are not meant for me, I felt prepared. The anxiety that may perplex some is rarely a part of me. Rather, once prepared, I am wanting to get on the road.
This day however is in some respects, about others and not me. It’s about all of the other participants (non-team members) loitering around Piragis slowing me down! (me being the team – cuz let’s be honest…without me, what would the team be? Just a couple of world record holders and 7 really good adventurers…pffft.). Let’s Go!! is the theme in my head. I was ready, packed repacked, thrice packed. What the hell are we waiting for…get your shit together and let’s roll.
Because of our crew size, BeaV procured a van just for us. Nice job BeaV.
Finally, it’s nap time. The ride to International Falls is actually an important step in the process. It provides an opportunity for me to internally adjust. No turning back now, so how about not wasting any fuel, adrenaline, rest etc. This will be the last time I get any unpainful rest. To be sure, it will be the best I feel mentally and physically until the KWC is done. I take in some donetts, a bit of liquid and sneak in a nap.
We stop at a gas station outside of I-Falls on our way to Sha Sha. Good idea. My kudos to the planning committee. The rest stop was well received. We make it to Sha Sha, unload, prep, take some pix and again I am wishing everyone (other than my crew) would just get the hell out of the way. (Side note: is it Sha Sha or Sha Sha). Presumably all other challengers are thinking the same of me…so as usual, I was out voted, and everyone stayed and work around each other. As it should be.
Our crew loads up its 3 boats, float out a bit, collect ourselves, someone gives a short pep talk and we are then off to the races! I ignore the fact Whitewolf (WW) is not wearing his life jacket. We have discussed this on a prior trip. He is an adult capable of making his own decision and a few trips to counseling has allowed me to look past such things.
My observations to this point: Brother Deke is amped and ready to go. He came prepared to go fast and was willing to share the bitch (middle seat); WW a wily veteran is at the helm of our boat so no 4-5 foot swells are going to impede our progress; McPipes and Esteban dressed the part and are under the tutelage of brother/B-I-L-B MeatPuppet so what can go wrong there; and while BeaV and MAKK are average to above average canoeists their limitations probably will not hold us back. This is one badass crew. Let’s Go!!
So, we are on the water and set the pace (let everyone else watch us leave them behind). Having never felt it before I wondered how those behind us felt knowing that at this point in time it will be the closest, they ever get to us. That feeling must really suck. So, we are cruising along, our boat in first position with BeaV and MAKK, the world record holders (“WRH’s”), behind us (seemed to be a theme for the days ahead) and the pet shop boys (our third boat) behind them. Side note: Not that it is important, but our boat seemed to be out front an awful lot on this trip.
Well it was not long before I got to feel what everyone else outside our crew was feeling as MuddyFeet paddled up next to us in his handmade, sleek, super-fast canoe. That thing was moving! It sucks watching yourself be left behind. Hard to begrudge a guy who had a plan to build a fast boat and did just that. Congrats to him. Seeing his hard work pay off was both frustrating and inspiring. I think his finish time was somewhere around 84 hours. Whatever MuddyFeet. At that point, at least in my mind, it was time to embrace the suck and move forward. Which we did as a team.
We hit our planned resting spot on Sand Point Lake a couple hours ahead of schedule. The official float plan (“OFP”) had us arriving at Sand Point around 8:00 pm. We got there around 6:30 maybe. A couple of competing crews finally made their way by, stopped and stared at us wondering what the hell were we doing? Is there a portage that they did not know about? Eventually they relied on their skills, confirmed with their maps and proceeded onward into the BWCA.
We were ahead of schedule and although BeaV would not admit it, even if under oath, I knew it then and there; the OFP was out the window. Let’s Go! The new plan was to have us rest until 11:00 pm, get up and be on the water by midnight. Hit the BWCA as close to midnight as possible so as to not break the rules. (recall this plan was necessary due to our permit date…who got our permit anyway?). EP 12 was just down the way a bit so getting to the BWCA border was going to take no time at all. Back to my original point, what I remember most of this day was that it was fluid yet defined by a set of emotions and pain. My emotions were as I expected them to be. Eager to get started but not nervous about what lie ahead. The pain was less than anticipated. I presume that was in large part because BeaV advised me to change the height of my paddle stroke while we were on the Namakagan. His advice was very helpful and made a big difference. Only problem is I now have too long of a paddle.
The Good: 40 miles was an easy day which left us lots of energy for the next day. According to our OFP we were scheduled to paddle 63 miles during the next leg of our challenge.
The Bad: I found out that it is nearly impossible for me to sleep when the sun is out, and my adrenalin is flowing. Note to self, bring melatonin and a sleeping mask on future trips. They are lightweight and will do the trick if needed.
The Ugly: No sleep since 3:30 am (20.5 hours) and 63 miles ahead do not a good partner make.
TIME ALLOCATION #2 (12:00 am – 6:39 pm)
Lakes/Rivers:(8) Little Vermilion, Loon River, Loon Lake, Lac La Croix, Bottle, Iron, Crooked, Basswood River
Portages:(6.5) Loon Lake, 56 Rapids (.5), Beatty, Bottle, Curtain Falls, Lower Basswood Falls, Wheelbarrow Falls, and Unnamed. Camp: Horse Portage campsite on Basswood River
Total Time: 18.7
Rest time: 7.5
Notable: McPipes quote – “BeaV has broken me”
For those who were able to muster some sleep, the Raven called them awake at 11:00 pm. For the rest of us, it was just a reminder that our day was about to get A LOT longer – for me, it started at roughly 3:30 am so at this point a couple of us are on no sleep and roughly 19.5 hours of awake time. Initially when drafting this report, I had written about the wake-up meal stating, “Oatmeal and coffee (hot water) as the only menu items”. My editor BeaV subsequently advised… (Jim…if this is the second morning, we slept til 1 am. If you are still talking about the first morning on Sand Point, no oatmeal for breakfast. We had donut balls.). It’s months after the fact and I must still be sleep deprived because I swear that we had oatmeal at 11:00 pm on Saturday September 14th in preparation for our big push on Sunday the 15th. In his editorial comments, BeaV falls pray to the classic error of time computation i.e. what is a “Day”? At this point I don’t recall what the hell we had for breakfast on Sand Point at 11:00 pm on September 14th.
What I do remember about this point in time is feeling “ready” for the day ahead. I remember looking over the OFP and discussing it with BeaV weeks earlier at Grandma L’s. Even though I had never paddled 60 miles in a day on flat water, let alone two days in a row, I felt good about the plan. Maybe I was being naive but at Grandma L’s and again getting ready to push off Sand Point, I had confidence in the plan. For his part, BeaV takes this shit seriously; and rightly so. He put time and thought into the OFP. His prior experience and dedication to challenges and knowledge of our team’s skill sets allowed him to put together a float plan that was not just feasible but methodically achievable. Thank you BeaV.
The OFP for this time block (we will call it Day 2 – irrespective of what the MN Court of Appeals has to say on the definition of a “Day”) was to make it to Wheelbarrow Falls. According to the OFP this jaunt would take us 18 hours if we kept a pace of 3.5 mph. Those in the know, were accustom to BeaV’s float plans. They are there for a reason…to give you hope. Hope that something might be accomplished if you worked really really hard. In his mind the plan is always in flux. To be sure we are on need-to-know basis. BeaV will let us know when he thinks we need to know and that is typically never. I embrace that concept. I use it regularly on my wife and kids. They like that approach about as much as some of our crew does. That said, my brain is wired to get to the end. From point A to point B. I pay little attention to anything else. Hell, I am so focused on the goal that I wouldn’t even notice a bottomless beauty sunbathing on Flat Top rock. Ok, that’s not true. I did notice. So, for me, BeaV’s approach is…well…refreshing. He does the figuring and all I need do is keep moving forward.
I remember three things about this day. It was long, I was tired, and we camped at the Horse Portage camp site along the Basswood River. I have pictures to prove the last part. Why didn’t we stop and camp near Wheelbarrow Falls? Cause we was fast and blew past Wheelbarrow. The OFP is out the window and we are on a need to know basis. I love it. Let’s Go!!!
The OFP had us doing 63 miles and I think we ended up well past that. I think 67 miles. There is someone out there (BeaV, GrandmaL) who keep official stats. The rest of us grunts are assigned to tell stories. Somewhere along the way (I don’t recall where) the pet shop boys’ boat came up alongside of ours and McPipes states in his sly tone and without reservation “BeaV has broken me”. I trust that was a true statement.
We get to camp, and everyone is tired. Deke and I had worked out an efficiency plan prior to leaving Sha Sha. Deke would set up our tent while I helped with food prep. BeaV had more than enough on his plate since he had to set up his own tent. It made sense for Deke to set up the tent because it was his and he could set it up in the dark if need be. The intent was to let everyone set up their tents while I unpacked and prepped food. Hopefully that plan provided some efficiencies in camp. We took a lesson from last year where we were wasteful of our camp time.
Not unexpectedly, after a long hard day, some negotiations on tent pads took place. All was resolved without incident or hurt feelings. It’s all love. Textbook example of positive conflict resolution. I took some pictures of us setting up camp and see the WRH’s smiling. I call bullshit. They are just as tired as everyone else is. Those were fake smiles for the camera. Music was available for those who wanted to listen. I had downloaded the songs each of us suggested would be our day and night songs of choice. Hopefully it provided some enjoyment to what is otherwise a physically and mentally challenging trip.
I don’t recall what we had for dinner that night. I know it was pasta, it was hot, and it was yummy. I just don’t recall what protein BeaV put in. Although I rested at Sand Point, I never fell asleep. For me it was the first time I would sleep since around 3:30 Saturday morning. Just shy of 40 hours. McPipe’s comment was as humorous as it was profound. But I was not going to let BeaV break me. Not today. This challenge, for me, is as much about finishing as it is about competing. What/who I am competing about/with/for is often open for discussion. Falling asleep was not an issue. R.E.M was about to be my friend.
The new plan was to be awaken by the Raven at 1:00 am and be on the water by 2:00 am. At this point, we are an hour ahead of our OFP and several miles further down the way. The new plan is working. Weather has been on our side…so far.
TIME ALLOCATION #3 (2:10 am - 7:30 pm)
Lakes/Rivers: (17) Basswood, Sucker, Birch, Carp, Melon, Seed, Knife River, Knife, Little Knife, Ottertrack, Swamp, Saganaga, Granite River, Maraboeuf, Gneiss, Granite Bay, Clove
Portages: (19) Horse, Prairie Portage, Carp Portage, Melon Portage, Seed, Knife River, Big Knife, Ottertrack, Monument, Swamp, Saganaga Falls, Horsetail Falls, Devil’s Elbow, Gneiss Lake, Granite River#1, Granite River #2, Granite River #3, Swamp, Granite #4 .
Camp: Clove Lake. Campsite 440
Rest time: 7.25
The sleep at Horse portage was a god send. I did not waste any time in camp. Once food was in my stomach, off to bed I went. Deke made up a good tent; REM was at hand. Comparatively, I felt pretty good once the Raven called at 1:00 am. Having an ample supply of BioFreeze helped get the muscles loosened up. Again, Deke and I split up chores to make our morning obligations as efficient as our evenings. The crew’s plan was to spend no more than 1 hour between Raven call and being on the water. We did a pretty good job of sticking to that plan.
Breakfast included hot water for me, coffee for the others. Oatmeal for all. Off we went to embrace the suck. All in all, attitudes were still intact. Sure, there was an occasional grouse or snip, but at the time, I think generally we were on the same page. In my mind there is a keen difference between discussing or commenting about the pain, the endeavor, the collective struggle versus complaining about it. The former, to me, can be cathartic and bonding. The later, if employed too often can become divisive and segmenting. I saw more of the former than the later. We signed up for this, nobody made us do this. It’s our job to see it through. Hopefully I was more helpful than hurtful in that regard. The others would know better than me if I was.
As the day progressed, I think the pet shop boys were fighting the good fight. Yesterday certainly took its toll on McPipes and Esteban and maybe even MP. How Esteban sat in the middle seat the entire time is beyond me. He gets an extra star for dealing with that encumbrance. Way to go Esteban! Deke and I traded seat positions between the bow and the middle. We tried to do it every 3 hours when portages allowed, but we switched when it made sense. WW had the stern the entire time and did a great job. Side note: WW goes straight as an arrow when he is not talking…when he’s talking…not so much ??).
BeaV got lost on taking a left in to Granite Bay rather than a right into Cove Lake. We laughed at him. It costs us like 16 hours. Seriously…not serious. It also was also a lesson learned because our boat decided to catch up to BeaV and MAKK instead of meander our way to them. Had we meandered we would not have had to back track. We camped on Clove Lake. I’m feeling good. Let’s Go!! Day 3 Thoughts from Whitewolf follow-
Camped at site closest to the start of the Horse Portage. Evening was thick with humidity and no breeze. BeaV and JJ quickly make something-boiled supper. In bed at sunset- BeaV and I took the leftover site to pitch our tent (this being the only night we set up on the Challenge). As a result, ground was pitched on a slight incline and the bottom of tent is very slippery and I kept rolling into BeaV most of the night and both of us got very little sleep. Alarm goes off at 1am and I wake up to BeaV sleeping in the vestibule. No others are moving or lights coming from tents so the infamous raven call is given by BeaV and within minutes groans and flickers of light are observed. Everything wet with dew as we packed up. Portage to Basswood in the dark was uneventful.
Basswood Lake- remember following the Luci light in the stern of BeaV's/ MAKK's canoe and just trying to keep it in sight as we wind around US Point etc and not let them get to far ahead which is easier said than done. Water was glass and the clear skies allowed the heavens to be reflected off the water. An experience few get to witness and reminded myself of Rose Lake the year before under similar conditions. As we turned east before you enter the south part of Baley Bay I witnessed what must have been a variable star changing intensity - not a shooting star or International Space Station as this remained in the same location. Never seen anything like this before but it only lasted perhaps 2 minutes and my fatigue and concentration of steering didn't allow me to share it with my canoe mates before it went back to steady state. Just before this - I nearly vomited on a Hammer Bar and JJ asked if I was OK. Everything is fine except these Hammer Bars are getting old. Everyone eating them in my canoe agrees and not again on the next trip. Next thing I remember is we are entering Inlet Bay as the first rays of light are making navigation a tad easier. I don't even remember canoeing through Bayley Bay -- a VERY good thing!!!
At Prairie Portage I think to myself we are making very good time and are likely well ahead of the next planned resting spot (in the Conners Island area, just NNW of Sag Falls). I mention to MeatPuppet that we are going further than Sag Falls area today, perhaps much further
Beautiful sunrise on Birch Lake.
Lost BeaV in the sunlight on Carp Lake. My canoe was going in wrong direction when we heard the raven call which directed us to the next correct portage and BeaV and MAKK.
Changed into shorts right before Knife and the long paddle that was about to start. It's very warm and Knife is like glass. A few hours down Knife (Little Knife area) we started as a group to paddle side by more often. The conversations that take place and being able to look at your teammates as your talk (hard to do with just those in your canoe) really make the time and distance go by much faster. Soon we are entering Ottertrack Lake, one of my favorites.
Ottertrack to SAG port- MeatPuppet falls in the drink of the boardwalk.
TIME ALLOCATION #4 (2:45 am – )
Lakes/Rivers: (18) Pine River, Magnetic, Gunflint, Little Gunflint, Little North, North, South, Rat, Rose, Rove, Watap, Mountain, Fan, Vaseux, Moose, North Fowl, South Fowl, Pigeon River
Portages: (16) Pine River, Blueberry, Little Rock Falls, Magnetic, Railroad, Height of the Land, South, Rat-Rose, Long, Watap, Lesser Cherry, Vaseau, Moose, Fowl, Partridge, and Grand
Rest time: 0 (YES – 0)
Notable: Portages, especially the Grand were in terrible condition. Some claim the worse condition they have been during the entirety of the Waddell-Kruger Challenge. Others claim they may have been the worst they can remember in their collective trips to the BWCA.
Having a full 2.5 hours of sleep, most in the crew felt rested and ready to go. Yeah right. Unbeknownst to most of the crew at the time, BeaV’s plan (in his head) was to forego camp and go all the way from Cove to Grand Portage. I knew…well to be fair, it was more of a strong feeling than actual knowledge. A couple timely placed inquiries upon BeaV over the past couple of days with wordless smirks in response was enough intel. As he got up that morning, he may have not yet committed in his brain to a go big or go home approach but that thought was in there percolating. That’s for BeaV to explain. All I know is that I felt confident that the fort gates were a possibility.
At Sand Point, that the OFP was out the window. For days now, the scheduled breaks were ignored, and designated rest stops passed us by. If BeaV was going to be true to form, this day would be no different. Any chance BeaV has to improve upon the plan, he will. I tried to do the math in my head, but it hurt so I stopped. We were miles and hours ahead of where the OFP had us being. Meaningful timelines could be crossed if we pushed. We had set a goal for ourselves of 102 hours. At the beginning it felt like a doable but hefty goal for this crew of 8. Now, absent a meaningful injury or boat damage, (insert foreshadowing music here) 102 was out the window. 100 hours was easily in reach. Good job guys! In the back of my head, I had had two numbers…95 and 90. They were just numbers having no real meaning other than they were better than 102 and in 5-hour increments. I couldn’t do the math and estimate how long it would take from this lake to that portage etc. All I could do is think, yeah if we worked hard, we could get to 100, 95, 90. I don’t recall discussing it with anyone (maybe Deke) but I thought if our group of 8 could best the cross-eyed Norwegian’s time (98) from 2018, that would be something. It was not until later in the day that I thought there was a chance of pushing up against some stupid number like 92 or 93…OMG. Let’s Go! I felt BeaV was thinking GP or Bust. Some others though were not in tune with the BeaV. Others may have been in denial. At this point it matters not. BeaV is on a mission and all he must do at some point is get buy-in from enough of us. Let’s Go!
We had good weather the entire time so why would today be any different? Because someone pissed off the canoe gods that’s why. Thanks, MP. Today we had wind and rain for a meaningful segment. We began by finishing the last part of Granite/Pine River and are about to head into Gunflint which is a decent sized and long body of water. It was still very early in the morning so way dark, but we could tell the chop was up. The closer we got to Gunflint the louder the wind became. Until the pinch from Magnetic Lake to Gunflint, we had been somewhat protected. Once into Gunflint, it became clear that if we took the short route along the northerly shore, a very strong wind would be in our face the entire length of the lake. As is common with this crew, a mini cabal was forming. Out of the WRH’s earshot, ideas were floated, and focus groups consulted to gather the votes necessary to spring the quartering plan upon the WRH’s. We gathered and agreed to quarter across Gunflint to the leeward side. BeaV and MAKK may claim to have led that discussion but my memory recalls that they were told and not asked about the impending quartering plan. Either way it worked, and it was the correct thing to do. Yes, it took us longer and we lost time, but we were safe.
It was every bit as difficult as a prior crossing of Basswood a few years earlier. WW and I were doing our level best to quarter across Basswood in a storm trying to stay up with BeaV. I in the bow and WW in the stern. It seemed like each wave broke at the top of our canoe. This crossing was no different and, in some respects, worse. This crossing was in the dark and some lightning was about. The rolling waves were strong and plentiful. It would not take much to capsize. It took the entirety of our skills to remain focused on the task at hand, communicate to each other about waves and not get broadsided. Each boat worked well together, and we made it across. Make no mistake, it was a dangerous crossing. I think WW even put his life jacket on, that’s how bad it was. But there also was something mystical about it as well. It definitely added to the challenge and strengthen our team bond.
Once on the leeward side of Gunflint we still had to get to the end. It is a long lake and although we had some protection from the southerly hills, we were still paddling into strong and swirling winds. At some point a dog started barking at us. F’ing dog. Then, it just stopped. Not the dog, the wind. It just stopped. After apologizing to the gods for whatever MP did, the wind just stopped. Order having been restored in the universe; we were off to the races.
The OFP indicates we had a bunch of portages and lakes to cross this day. I don’t remember most of them. What I do remember is that Deke and I throughout the trip alternated who carried the canoe and who carried our packs. This worked well for us because our shoulders were taxed differently as between the canoe and the packs. We felt good after the portages into Moose Lake. Once on the lake we all stopped to hydrate and consume some food. I was starting to get frustrated with the Perpetuem. My body was no longer liking it and I switched to just water. This is where BeaV cut open a vein, explained his plan and sought buy-in from the crew. Tepid response at best. My interpretation was that folks were eating and did not feel the need to interrupt a chew with a verbal acknowledgment. All of us had put in substantial effort to this point in the trip and while the end was nearing, it was still some distance off.
I didn’t know if I could finish without stopping to rest or eat, but I want to try. By my way of thinking, if we keep pushing then we will be that much closer to the end. If at some point we had consensus that it was time to stop and rest, we would. If we decided to keep going, then no time was lost. But if we stop and rest now, then we will never get the time back and never know what we “could have done”. So, I stopped chewing long enough to say something profound like “who needs a nap” or something like that. I guess that was about as much enthusiasm from this group that BeaV was going to get. Nuph said. We progress under duress. The pet shop boys will have to weigh in on this but while not totally spent at this point, they may have been at the middle of the beginning of the end of their energy. WW was also probably looking forward to food and rest at some point, but he didn’t lobby too hard (more on that in a bit). Deke was the cool cucumber he always is…just another walk in the park for him. It was also here that BeaV may have lied. He promised everyone a rest and hot food at some point. WW did not catch on to this lie until it was too late. Only BeaV and his maker know if he really intended to fulfill that promise or if it was just motivational B.S. I hope he has done something good in his life because St. Peter ain’t gonna be happy about this one.
As the day wore on, I remember the pet shop boys’ kind of thinking they were too cool for school. They pretty much gave off the air that they were the fastest boat going. We were making our way across North Fowl and all was going well. We cross over into South Fowl and there they came. The pet shop boys, all in sync, looking all cool and shit pull up and are about to pass us. Without a word, Deke, WW and I put the paddles in deep and off to the races we went. The entirety of South Fowl, neck and neck the entire way until we hit the beach. Nice effort in the loss pet shop boys. I’m not sure if the spot tracked it properly, we may have been going to fast, but my internal speedometer had us cruising at about 9.5 mph.
As we heaved for air on the beach taking in lots of water and consuming rations, it never occurred to me (us) that we may have just reached the peak of enjoyment on this trip and it could be all down hill from here. Nor did it occur to me that the great expenditure of energy was akin to FUBAR. Hmmm…maybe next time just paddle like a sane person, conserve your energy and don’t drink 50% of your remaining water when you have the Fowl Portage, the Pigeon River, and the GP ahead of you!
Deke took the canoe for the fowl portage because he missed out on that opportunity last year. He took off, I followed. The name of that portage is correct. Lots of downed trees and big mud holes at the end. I made it cleanly through without getting my feet wet until the very last mudhole near the 90 degree. Oh well. BeaV has great video of Esteban and MP coming down the end of the portage. Deke and I put into the Pigeon and it was quite a while before anyone caught up to us. The day was getting on so if we were going to go the distance, it would be in the dark. BeaV promised multiple times during the trip that the water level in the Pigeon would be so high we would essentially float down to Ft. Charlette. No getting in, no getting out, no wet feet, just a nice easy float down the Pigeon over the English Rapids and whatever else may come our way. “Sit back and enjoy the scenery boys” is what he said.
Well based on that I don’t bother to take my boots off. Nor does Deke. WW has his duckies on. Good move WW. We don’t get two feet into the first set of rapids and BOOM. Canoe on rock. We push off and ten feet later BOOM. Canoe on a different rock. We get off and twenty feet later BOOM. Get the point? WW gets out multiple times, because he has his duckies on and gets us unstuck. Deke and I sit patiently for it all to be over. WW is not happy with BeaV. I cannot repeat the things he was saying. Not pretty.
At some point, WW has had enough of our laziness and mumbles something under his breath. I think it was, Jim is a great guy, but that Deke is lazy. Or something like that. I’m not entirely sure as it was dark and noisy. It seems plausible though. In any event, WW was right. We had taken advantage of his good graces. But in our defense, BeaV lied, so we will stick with that defense for now.
We are completely in the dark now, WW has us going down the Pigeon backwards (true), the pet shop boys swamped their canoe with MP lodged underneath. Complete shit show. It is an unmistakable sound when a canoe swamps. Not a pleasant sound at all. Everyone is yelling at anyone about everything. Packs are in the water, emotions high, anger at BeaV even higher, anger at the Pigeon is turned up to 11. It was a mess and it could have been the end of the trip, but a few things happened in near immediate succession that saved us from ourselves. MP was quickly brought above water by Esteban, BeaV and MAKK saved the two packs dislodged from the capsized boat, a couple of us witness the WRH’s chiding each other and Deke comments on the folly of it all.
The unflappable WRH’s showed a chink in their armor and that startled me. Not to be scared but rather to realize it was not an easy travers for them either. We figuratively were in the same boat. I took it as refreshing and somewhat of a positive sighting. Knowing the pets shop boys were safe lowered the adrenalin quite a few notches. Although the river was not deep (waist height) the water was moving fast and anyone of them could have been swept into a widow maker, hit a rock etc. They were in a bad way and knowing that they were only wet and cold was a good thing.
Once gathered we traversed the rest of the Pigeon. Along the way, I keenly remember: -A Swan flew into a tree and that made Deke cry. The swan lived. -BeaV broke his boat because MAKK can’t see rocks under water in the dead of night. Optometrist much? -We see a camper on the banks of the river…odd place to camp. He yelled at us to make sure we knew he was not in the race. Ok, whatever.
We make it to Partridge Falls portage. It had rained a good portion of the day and that portage was a mess. It’s not long but it was slick clay with impossible footing. I don’t recall specifically but it feels like me and Deke may have double portaged that for some reason. I think we were helping the pet shop boys with some gear…don’t recall. Esteban, MP and McPipes are cold and wet for sure. They are not in a good way. I quietly suggest to BeaV that maybe now is a good time to get hot food into them. I may not have spoken loud enough. I presume he did not hear me for we soldered forth to Ft. Charlette. I am now starting to get cold and put on my rain jacket and hat to help stay warm. I was dry and could only wonder how cold the wet guys were. I think everyone was keeping an eye on them to make sure they stayed alert etc. Every now and then I would ask a question of them testing their alertness. Our boat was the last to leave Partridge Falls. Deke and I did that on purpose to make sure the pet shop boys got to Ft. Charlette. If they needed assistance, we would have been right behind them and able to assist. They did just fine.
The wood-timber landing at Ft. Charlette was covered with exposed rebar. The dock had been torn apart and what was there was slick as ice. It presented some challenges.
We get to the campsite, reorganize packs, dry our feet, eat some snacks, drink some water and get ready to do the GP. I tossed Esteban some dry socks. Not a lot was said. A lot had happened since we left the fowl portage earlier that day. Some good, some fun, some very bad. Nobody was in the mood to chit chat. In hindsight, the race across South Fowl may not have been the best idea. It was fun though.
There was some horse-trading as to what was going in whose pack. Again, diplomacy prevailed.
My stomach was not well at this point. All the Perpetuem over the past 3 days had taken its toll. My body said enough. I fought nausea the entire GP. WW hits the trail, Deke, MAKK and I follow and am not sure what order the rest were in. Everyone is on their own pace, which is normal. Deke, MAKK and I are out front for a while. I am fuzzy on what happened when, but I know these things happened. We pass MAKK, she passes us. BeaV catches up to Deke and me to let us know that those behind us are in tough shape and he is going back to help. Deke and I get to some road (cowboy), I don’t know. It’s a f’ing road is all I remember. We drop our gear and Deke and I discuss going back to help. Deke makes the decision that he will go back, and that I will keep going. All the stuff needs to get to the end anyway. I met up with MAKK again. She claims I was talking to the moon. Seems plausible. MAKK gets stuck in a downed tree she used as a chair. I think I help her out or maybe I just laughed. At some point I stop for a moment to chat with MAKK. She moves on down the GP. After a bit I take off and keep walking and walking and walking. MAKK and I had agreed to meet at the next intersection. 61 maybe? I got there and she was nowhere to be found. Only two options, she either kept going or fell off a cliff. I noticed the florescent plants along side the portage. Interesting. I hear noises. Rotate my paddle so I am ready for battle with the bull moose that is sure to come at me. I am convinced something is following me in the woods. Is it MAKK or the moose? I keep walking. At some point, I turn around. I am thoroughly confused as to where I was at…did I make a wrong turn etc. Nothing looks familiar. Did MAKK fall off a cliff or is she at the end? I did not want to drop my pack because I did not know where I was, so I turned around and walked and walked and walked back until I met up with Deke and MAKK. Apparently, I passed MAKK and never knew it. As I later learned when we walked in together, I was within few hundred feet from the highway that runs next to the Fort at Grand Portage when I turned around. Stupid, stupid, stupid. When I met up with Deke and MAKK, discussions ensued. I learned stuff – interesting stuff. I was out of water and Deke needed some. He really needed some. Note to self: water and food is important for the GP. Bring enough next time or stay next to whoever has the filter. Over time, we all congregated at that location and I learned more stuff – more interesting stuff. We walked in together as a team.
The GP was difficult. It was wet, muddy, slippery, deceptive, cold, hot, uphill, and treacherous. It was as it should be. Our challenge was over. We did better than we set out to do but not as good as we could have. Or maybe we did do as good as we could have. I don’t know for sure, but I am one to always think there is more in the tank…more to give…always can do “better”. We had good weather but not perfect weather. We had good winds, but we have had better. We had tough winds for a bit but not all day. There are too many variables to know for sure. Did we leave any meat on the bone?
In hindsight, I think the race across South Fowl was ill-advised. Had we not done that, would we have had better stamina for the GP and maybe done it in 5 hours and not 8? I think so but who knows for sure. Had we not raced on South Fowl would the pet shop boys recovered quicker from the capsizing? I don’t know. Could we have done it in 92 hours? I think so but who knows for sure. That is why it’s a challenge.
What I do know for sure is that I tried. The entire crew tried and tried hard. We, as a team, tried really hard to the very end. The GP did not break us, BeaV did not break us, the WKC did not break us. One observation though is that after 48 lakes and rivers, 43.5 portages, 235 miles, one stint of 40 hours without sleep and another of 30, at some point during the GP I lost my edge. My ability to garner the mental stamina to deal with what was in front/behind me had left. And I could not get it back. Fate was whispering to the warrior with no response.
What I also know for sure is that we did well. And well in this instance was good enough. It was good enough to show anyone who cares to know that 8 people (these 8 friends) can go from Sha Sha to GP in 94.55 hours and that this 8 could do it in 92 if it wanted to. Or, if we had not raced across South Fowl. It was good enough to relearn a life lesson; that teamwork is important. It was good enough to make me want to do it again and again. It was definitely good enough. I had fun.
What follows below is BeaV's Trip Report from our last long day.....
Leaving Clove Lake camp at 2:45 am well ahead of our proposed itinerary, I gradually start considering when we might arrive at the South Fowl Portage (the next intended resting spot). The original plan had us arriving there at midnight, resting 5 hours, and then tackling the Fowl Portage late in the night and doing the Pigeon River and Grand Portage in the daylight (this is the gentlemanly way to tackle these last obstacles). A possibly unwanted thought starts forming in my head… we’re setting a real fast pace, faster than our goal. What if we push harder, hard enough to break 100 hours? If we push a little harder, we could break 98 hours (the time the Norwegians did the previous year, albeit a longer route they did). I am grasping for little tidbits to entice the team into agreement.
We stop at Little Rock Falls Portage to take our group photo at the same spot we always do.
We finish the Granite/Pine River area, into Gunflint Lake with a southwest wind blowing harder than preferred. If we stay on the direct line across, we will be battling unsettling rear quartering waves the whole way of 6 and ½ miles. We make the decision to paddle a longer route, cutting across to the south shore to find protection in the lee. It is a little bumpy making the crossing but we make it intact with bow paddlers wet from overtopping waves. Thru Gunflint (and the return of daylight), Little Gunflint, Little North, North, South, Rat, and Rose. Over the Long Portage, complete with a small beaver pond flooding over part of the trail, into Rove, Watap, and Mountain.
While paddling the lengthy expanse of Mountain, my mind returns to earlier thoughts of pushing it a little more. Doing the math…rough calculations of times I think we can make the lakes and portages ahead, the Pigeon River, and the Grand Portage. If we skip the next rest (camp) period on South Fowl, I think we can make it in 92 hours! Wow, what an opportunity! I finally couldn’t resist…I let MAKK (Kendra) in on my plan. I need allies in this idea and MAKK is a good one to start with. “Kendra, I’ve been thinking….if we push it and don’t sleep, I think we can make the finish in 92 hours”, I say. She quickly without any convincing says “great idea!” She adds, “I really want to at least break 98 hours”. Ha, we often think alike! A little more discussion ensues and she wants to know if we should let the rest of the team know now. I say “no, let’s wait until we get closer to the Fowl Lakes. It’ll be easier for them to accept if we are close to our proposed resting lake with daylight to spare”.
We finish those three tough, back to back to back portages into Moose Lake. The time is ripe for the plan to be sprung. We all launch into Moose and we gather for a drink and bite to eat. “Guys,” I say “we’re making really good time and the tough stuff is behind us. The next portage into North Fowl Lake is a cakewalk”. Pausing a little to let that positive report sink into sleep-deprived brains, “we have an opportunity to make a really good finish time, if we don’t stop to rest on South Fowl”. I scan their faces looking for expression- expression of support, anguish, or hatred. The statement mostly appears to have been well received…but there is some quietness- which I hoped was not a sign of unexpressed negativity. Quickly before it’s too late I add “we’ll stop briefly at Fowl Portage for a hot Mac & Cheese with Spam supper and a short nap” as additional enticement. In the prior year’s challenge, Mac & Cheese night was a favorite. JimmyJustice yells out “a nap, who needs a nap!” I knew I could count on JimmyJ to make a hard final push! With the promise of a hot supper and maybe short nap…who could say no....and none did. We are now pushing hard to get to that yummy meal- their tummies on my side. Everyone is happy and motivated, for now.
Earlier in the day, we were warned by other canoeists of impending bad weather coming in at 4:00 pm. And as warned, the rain moved in. Rain gear is put on and paddler’s moods started falling like raindrops. The portage to North Fowl is easy- it’s flat but it does have a huge amount of small boulders. Now wet, this portage paved with boulders became slippery. The entry into North Fowl is swampy and boggy…maybe some get wet feet again. As we neared the Fowl Portage, the guys in the MN 3’s put on a sprint race to the finish. All 6 guys paddle as fast and hard as they can as they challenged each other neck in neck to the beach. They race past MAKK and I pushing hard but with happy challenging words to each other’s boats. It is fun to watch’em go although I’m not sure what spurred them on….hope it wasn’t Mac & Cheese….
I know heading to Fowl Portage that there will be no cooking or sleeping with a steady rain coming down. On arrival there, I gave the bad news similar to what the crew of the Edmond Fitz Gerald heard “fellas it’s too rough to feed ya”. I push off the promised meal until it stops raining…likely spots being Partridge Falls or Fort Charlotte. The team’s tummies are not happy with this realization! Pushing onto the mile-long Fowl Portage, as usual, it’s a tough bugger with a passing thunderstorm for amusement. 85 logs to step over per JimmyJ’s count and deep slippery clay mud at the end for kicks (slips). The time between the first person to finish and the last to finish is concerning...it is a big gap. Thunder rolls away into the distance and the team is fighting to stay cheery as we enter the Pigeon River, and doing a good job of it given the circumstances.
The crew has been hearing from me for some time “how easy the Pigeon will be this year as we float over all the shallow class 1 rapids”. The water flow was very high when we launched a few days ago and it can’t possibly drop down to problem levels again…right? Right? We travel downstream on the Pigeon River and my paddle occasionally hits the bottom… I swear under my breath. Realizing my predicted promise of just floating over the rock-strewn rapids ahead may be wrong, I show the new team members how to do the draw and cross-draw paddle strokes, just in case. We enter the first shallow boulder field area that I promised would be a float over. It’s not and we take turns getting stuck on shallows and rocks. Some getting out freeing the boats and some staying in the boats hoping to keep feet dry (BeaV promised, right?). I apologize for my false hope and quickly hatch a plan. Darkness is falling and we’re not yet to the English Rapids where a little more challenging stuff will be found. “Stay back about 80 foot spacing and follow me thru the rapids” I say.
The first stretch of the English Rapids is the fastest. I pick a line and shoot in with headlamps on. MAKK and I make it thru this first 600 feet before we smack boulders and get hung up. In frustration, I jump out so fast I think MAKK thinks I’m going to capsize the boat. I free us and look upstream to see how the other 2 boats fared. I see headlamps and hear a lot of excited yelling. Then, in the beam of my flashlight, I see 2 canoe packs bobbing in the deepest fastest water coming at us quick. I yell “packs in the water!”. Someone lost 2 packs and they were coming down side by side, one too far out in the deep fast current. I quickly swing the bow of the boat out into that zone for MAKK to grab that pack as I grab the other. Not known to me at the time, MeatPuppet, McPipes, and Esteban got pinned sideways on a rock. The current quickly capsized them with MeatPuppet in a bad way under the boat. Powerhouse that he is, Esteban with one arm, grabbed MeatPuppet and pulled him free.
We continue on, bouncing into, over, around boulders. We can’t see far enough ahead to pick the good line before it’s too late and the dark stained water doesn’t reveal lurking boulders. Shouts from all canoes ensue “left, right, straight!!” 2 or 3 people all at the same time yelling to be heard over the noise of the fast water. MAKK and I smack twice really hard. Frustration mounts, I yell over the noise of the rushing water to MAKK “can’t you see the rocks?” My nice carbon canoe is taking a beating and she feels terrible about it…she quits talking to me. Nothing seems to be working- I can’t see far enough ahead to pick a clear route, rocks beneath the dark stained water don’t show themselves until it’s too late, and if seen, there’s not enough water depth to pull the canoe to avoid them. Our three boats at some point get close enough to hear each other. Deke throws up his arms and yells “this is comical, left, right, straight…I can’t see shit”! His statement is not meant to be humorous, but we all felt exactly the same way. MAKK relinquishes her vow of silence and yells “exactly Deke!!” as loud as her voice would allow. Stating this frustration, we move forward united to make it thru. I hear Whitewolf yell encouraging words, “we’re gonna make it thru this, it’s just taking a little more time.” He is right and that reminder was well received by me and probably the others.
Occasionally we stop to bail water and my canoe seems to be gaining water too quickly. We make it thru the rapids into slower water but I must continue to bail every few minutes or sink…I have a bad leak. Paddling the next 4 miles to Partridge Falls, 3 of us are wet from the neck down and the rest are wet from the waist down. Three or four of us are getting chilled and one would like to take a break at Partridge Falls to cook the promised Mac & Cheese and another wants to change into dry cloths. Unfortunately, both are time wasters at this moment and will just lead to others getting colder. I am adamant that we cannot stop there to cook- we will all get cold. Instead I say we finish the paddling and continue to Fort Charlotte where the trail head of the Grand Portage starts. There, it makes sense to dig out our dry clothes and then warm up as we walk. I am not feeling much love from the others right about now.
We paddle downstream seeing some wildlife in the darkness. We pass a large tree leaning over the river and see a lone swan hanging out with a merganser duck in the river. We get within 100 feet of them and they take flight…unfortunately, the swan came our way. The eight of us instinctively beamed our headlamps on this swan, like the bird was some superstar on a stage. We blinded it! It flies right into the branches of that overhanging tree crashing hard and falling down into the river. I cheered in amusement but I hear Deke shriek in terror as if someone had dropped a human baby from a second story window. Different reactions for sure but the big bird other than being startled appears to be OK.
We struggle thru pottery quality clay on the Partridge Falls portage. All our gear and packs are saturated and heavy. Progress is slow and moods are sour, I feel responsible… We’ve been pushing hard now for almost 20 straight hours, things are not going good, we’re tired and uncomfortable, and now many unexpected obstacles at a time when we least can handle them!
Making it to Fort Charlotte, everyone moves their gear to a campsite where we drain water from packs, put on dry clothes, and repack for the 9-mile walk ahead. Being this close to the end, I ignore requests for a little sleep and a campfire. The majority of the group wants to push forward, I think, so that is what we do. Nearby at the next campsite, a voice in the dark says “BeaV is that you?” I reply it is and a friend of the MN Border Route Challenges, Ben aka Nctry, emerges from the dark. Ben watches this frenzy of 8 people repacking noticing, as he later wrote, “how the guys were all sober faced at best…but Kendra? Yep, big smile like I got this!”
Most of the team changes into dry clothes- I don’t bother…I know how wet the trail ahead will be and know it is just a waste of time. I do dump the water from my boots, wring muddy water from my socks, and put wet socks and feet back into my boots. Seventy-five minutes later, we’re ready to commence walking.
Starting around midnight, we portage together but soon separate into 3 groups. JimmyJustice, MAKK, and Deke out front; MeatPuppet, McPipes, and Esteban in the rear; and Whitewolf alone (in typical lone wolf style). Everyone’s pace is slower than what we need to keep on pace for under 92 hours, but as I am about to pass the front group to move on, I realize I should not leave the group. Instead, I drop my canoe and wait for the last portagers to pass, giving them time to pull away from me before I shoulder my canoe and eventually catch up. And I always catch because the slowest four make frequent rest stops. Way too frequent and way too slow. It takes twice as long as it should to go the first 2 miles to the beaver pond boardwalk! And when they stop, they sprawl on the ground in apparent utter exhaustion. I know this is the easiest part of the portage…it will get muddier and hillier, with more slippery boardwalks to balance on- all obstacles to slow us down and cause an injury. MeatPuppet, McPipes, and Esteban appear to be physically done in. Whitewolf never did mentally get his head into this plan. I know this because every time I pass him he tells me so and about the 3rd time he confesses he really needed to have that Mac & Cheese meal. He is tired and maybe not thinking straight, I understand but can’t come up with any clever motivational words. When he rests, he starts taking what he is calling 2-minute naps where he collapses his body over his canoe pack in an awkward looking way.
I’m feeling worried for the others and somewhat helpless, 4 team members are hurting bad with little hope of going much further. The other 3 members have gone on ahead, who knows how far, and don’t know the dire straits we are in back here. I am not sure how to push any harder or give them encouragement. I ask Whitewolf and MeatPuppet to allow me to carry their packs…both refuse my request. Sometime after the beaver pond, I find myself following Esteban who is currently carrying their MN 3. His stride is baby steps and his footing is wobbly on the boardwalks and even on flat ground. It looks like a bad fall is inevitable. Passing him and then the three others, I get well ahead, drop my canoe, and turn around. This time, I decide, I will not let anyone turn down my help. Back up the trail without a load feels good. I am surprised to first come upon a briskly moving MeatPuppet alone by himself as he had been sticking close with Esteban and McPipes. I explain how bad I think Esteban is and he concurs and MeatPuppet also is concerned about his brother, McPipes. MeatPuppet agrees to go back with me and we will shoulder their load for a while. I am less worried about Whitewolf now…his 2-minute naps seem to be working to get himself back into the fight recently. We find MeatPuppet’s crew and I tell Esteban that I will carry his canoe for a while. He declines. I say more forcefully, “I’m taking your canoe, you need a break. Individually we all want to do our share but we are a team first and you need to accept help”! I bud-in under the front of him and took the canoe off his shoulders. MeatPuppet grabs the canoe pack off of his brother and away we go. Later, Esteban said he has no memory of me taking the canoe from him.
My exact memory of the next series of events isn’t completely clear- not that I have forgotten, it is just somewhat of a blur even while it was happening. The trail in pitch black feels like walking into a dark tunnel and my mind and body are tired... MeatPuppet and I do a couple leap frog carries- carrying our gear and then going back and carrying others gear. Esteban refuses to eat or drink at a time he clearly needed to do both. MeatPuppet becomes severely thirsty; I give him most of my fresh water. MeatPuppet warns me he is about done-in himself and needs water or else. I take a load down the portage fast enough to catch up with MAKK. MAKK is doing well. MAKK and I rest at mile 4.5 located at the first road crossing called Cowboy Road. Whitewolf catches up and I give him some of my remaining peanut M&M’s to eat. He promptly vomits them back up when he tries to slam them down. He tells us not to worry...ha? Not worry? MeatPuppet joins our resting party and MAKK gives him her water filter so he can make some water at Poplar Creek whenever he gets there. MeatPuppet goes back for another load, probably his last extra trip back, while MAKK, Whitewolf and I continue down. Whitewolf’s mood is better but his feet were really causing him pain now, he limps along gingerly. I pull away from the others eventually catching up with Deke.
Deke is doing well but I am surprised he is not long gone down the trail. The previous year, he was known to have run down parts of the Grand Portage with the canoe on his shoulders. I explain how bad things are behind us and asked Deke if he will be able to help leap frog other’s gear. Deke is absolutely willing to help. We drop our loads and return back up the trail. Deke needs water badly so as we intercepted MAKK, she gives him most of what she had left. Sometime later, MAKK, Deke and I meet up at the next road crossing, Old Hwy 61. Deke grimly reports coming across MeatPuppet lying in a canoe somewhat unresponsive and sleeping. Further up the trail, he found Esteban and McPipes sprawled on the ground refusing to get up. They were going to take a 10-minute nap. Days later, Esteban recounted that they did rest, but while in a dream (or delirium), he was awakened when he saw MeatPuppet throw McPipes on his shoulders and walk away. Seeing this, Esteban felt cheated in that he felt they still had 5 minutes left in their planned 10-minute break (none of this really happened…). It seemed now, even with Deke’s help, things were getting so bad that the group’s progress was grinding to a crawl.
I push forward as fast as I could with my canoe leaving it after the hilly area and turn back up the trail. Coming across MAKK again, I tell her she should take a break. I’m not sure she needed one, but I did take MAKK’s canoe pack for a spell to give her a boost (I kind of tricked her to get her pack). Dropping her pack, I once again turned and go back up the trail. JimmyJustice is still somewhere out in front of all of us making progress, followed by MAKK, Deke, and Whitewolf. By this time Deke is getting worn down and warns me that he is about done with double portaging. We part ways.
Suddenly, the stillness of the night is shattered! Someone screams out in pain at the top of their lungs! I stop in my tracks and try to figure out which way the sound came from and waited for an expected follow-up cry of help. I hear no further sound so I continue back up the trail for another dreaded load belonging to someone else. This is near the area that has the creek valleys with 72 steep wooden steps to climb at one particularly steep incline. I have already climbed these steps 2 times tonight and wasn’t looking forward to a third. And of more concern is the fact that MeatPuppet and Deke are now getting spent and the someone who screamed in pain must surely need medical assistance. I first intercepted MeatPuppet carrying a canoe and moving fast down the trail. Before going down the dreaded wooden steps, I intercepted Esteban and McPipes and am relieved to see them making good progress. To my pleasant surprise, MeatPuppet, Esteban, and McPipes had stopped and filtered/drank water and were rejuvenated enough to be moving again! With everyone now moving, I will stay behind them all until we reach Highway 61, mile 8.5. The plan was this would be our rendezvous place where we would all gather before making the final push to the finish at the Fort.
Later, I learned, it was Whitewolf who screamed in pain at the condition of his feet/ankles. MeatPuppet was the first to find Whitewolf who excitedly explained his “flesh was falling off his feet!” MeatPuppet, in a slight panic, hurried down the trail to get help, finding Deke, they both turned back to help extract Whitewolf. Upon further assessment of his feet, they found the flesh intact but painful blisters and a sprained ankle. The would-be rescuers were relieved but also a little upset given what seemed like an overreaction to pain all of us to some degree were dealing with. Deke and MeatPuppet had used up precious adrenalin and energy to come to his aid. Deke relieved Whitewolf of his pack, for a while, and they continue down the trail.
In defense of our team’s physical and mental conditions, we had started this day way back on Clove Lake, 60 miles back and over 24 hours ago; had already portaged 7 miles; been hot, cold, wet, capsized, fought thru boot sucking clay mud, rained on, walked thru a thunderstorm, multiple slips and falls on portages; and waded thru boulders in the Pigeon River. Everyone was tired and was finding new limits and everyone dealing with the exhaustion and pain in different ways. I myself felt responsible for our condition and that feeling likely helped me push myself a little harder trying to help where I could.
The whole group now moved forward slowly slogging thru the mud that was the trail, balancing precariously on the wet slippery boardwalks. I feel relieved that everything is calming down and I lose my nervousness. Without the need to help the others now, my adrenaline is spent and I grow really tired. We still have a couple miles to go to reach Highway 61. Staying in the rear, I catch up with someone and then drop my canoe to let them get ahead. When I stop, it is getting hard for me not to allow my eyes to close and sleep. On one such occasion, I feared I had closed my eyes and fell asleep sitting. For a long while, I couldn’t catch up with any moving headlamps and worried I really had fallen asleep and left my teammates waiting below wondering what happened to me. My headlamp is becoming increasingly dim as the batteries are nearly spent and my spare batteries given away to someone else earlier. But eventually I did catch up and I think all were relieved when we were finally reunited at Hwy 61. Together we pushed toward the end; encouraged by the fact we were almost done. For me, this last ½ mile of the trail is easier since the end is so near and the trail is firm.
At 6:39 am, we reach the now closed Grand Portage Fort and touch the gate together- the pain is quickly forgotten replaced with the feeling of accomplishment. Eight hours it took from the time we landed at Fort Charlotte to complete the Grand Portage. But we were done, beating our pre-event goal of 102 hours by finishing in 94 hours 33 minutes. I now know the answer to my question of “how fast can a group of 8 go?” We didn’t make my hoped for last minute adjusted 92-hour goal but with the seriousness of our exhausted condition, I was very proud of our accomplishment. Each member of Team BeaVer Fever is, I’m certain, also feeling this way. No one gave up even when maybe the urge to stop crept in. “94-33” by Jeff, Todd, Jim, Deke, Kendra, Chad, Troy, and BeaV.
Post Script- It is odd now looking back…this is the 7th time down the Grand Portage for me and this was the largest group I ever did it with. But this was the most time that I spent walking it by myself in my own tunnel of darkness, other than when I’ve been solo. If I wasn’t by myself bringing up the rear, I was by myself much of the time back and forth up and down the trail. Wow, what a night filled with challenges for us all! Not something I will forget. We struggled together and we overcame. It is these tough times together that will make our friendships stronger. Where I may have pushed too hard with someone, I have apologized.