I didn’t get up to the BW the previous year. So I’d been itching to get back up for a long time. Various stuff was on the schedule . June came and went, no trip. July. August. My three favorite months. But I’ll be damned if I don’t get back up there this year – even if there’s nobody else to go and the weather is cold! Through some online chats and posts indicating when I intended to go, some company surfaced: GSP, a longtime CCBB/BWCA.com person. Good guy, we actually met in person once during a Twin Cities CCBB platyfest. Cool! So the planning began. We’d go in at EP 23 Mudro Lake. Just head in to Boot Lake, maybe do some day trips to neighboring lakes if we felt like it. But Brian had had some success fishing on Boot – we both intended to fish – and had stayed on a favorite campsite there. He’d also be bringing along someone else – that would be Marco, his seven year old German Shorthaired Pointer (a GSP, of course!). And in what would be an incredible time saver for me, Brian would take care of procuring the food (I’d bring coffee). I didn’t have the time I normally do to pack and plan, and was kind of just throwing my stuff together and hoping I didn’t forget anything important. Didn’t even have time to replace the 3 year old line in my spinning reels (fortunately, I was able to make my first ever stop at Scheel’s in Eau Claire on my drive up. Nice store. 15 minutes in and out with newly spooled reels…and that included a bathroom break! When I got to Ely (that’s a town in northern Minnesota, by the way), Brian had picked up the permit. I chatted with Lynn at VNO for a bit, then headed to the bunkhouse, where I met Brian and Marco. I think Marco recognized me as a “dog guy” right away. We’d get along great. After a beer and a decent night’s sleep in the lower loft, we headed to Britton’s for breakfast. Great as always. Then it was off, in drizzly weather, to the EP. GSP’s canoe was a Northstar Northwind 17. Great boat, I hadn’t paddled one before. We piled our gear in, and Marco climbed on top, and we shoved off. I would grow accustomed to Marco’s muzzle in my peripheral vision. My first ever Boundary Waters camping trip was over 20 years ago , at this same entry point. I’d planned on heading through Fourtown, up through Boot – Fairy – Gun – Gull etc., but the other people were unable to make the trip and I’d gone by myself…it had been raining, was my first time, I’d had a long day,.. so I just decided to portage to and camp on Sandpit a couple nights. Fishing was good and I saw a moose. This time we headed north. I’d heard about the Mudro-Fourtown portages being a bit of a pain. The first one was very rocky and tricky, I thought “I can see why they call it the Goat Portage”, I said to Brian. “Nope, THAT’S not the Goat Portage. That’d be the next one”. Oh. Portages are tougher when you haven’t done one in a while, and when the food pack is at its heaviest. The elevation changes on the middle 130-rod portage certainly make for a nice cardiovascular workout. But at least that one – unlike the first and third portages – has flat spots to place your foot. I thought the final one – ten rods on the map – was more of a pain in the but than the other two. And the landing at the Fourtown end, ..well, that’s a “no thank you” landing for me as it’s a steep slope down. Trekking another 20 yards or so led to a flatter, more reasonable approach. “If I should croak on this trip, don’t worry about reviving me – I’m good!” Brian joked. He clearly loves the area as I do. Nice paddle through the drizzle on Fourtown, my first paddle on this nice lake. Not as crowded as in summer – one advantage to tripping this time of year. Saw a couple of canoes, including one at the Fourtown to Boot portage. GSP noted a lot more water rushing out of Boot than he’d seen before, and the portage was muddy but easy. Nice easy landing on the Boot side, easier than the other end. Marco loved running across the portages, barking his “come on, let’s go!” encouragement. Boot is a very pretty lake, with lots of green pines surrounding it. The deciduous trees were just starting to change color, and over the next couple days we’d see more intense reds and yellows develop, in beautiful contrast to the greens. One site was occupied, and we grabbed the northernmost sire across from some rocky cliffs. Wednesday morning, we headed out to fish in calm, sunny conditions . Brian was familiar with a couple spots – as evidenced by the fact that the first 10-15 minutes I had two good walleye. The second one put up a great fight, and though it was maybe 22”, it had a big belly and a brilliant golden color. Lots of fun to pull in, though Marco might have been more excited…while fighting the fish, I think I once said, “You’re making me nervous, Marco!”. I guess so, as I released the fish without unhooking it. I should have just pretended I had another one and pulled it in again, so as not to look like an idiot….but I wasn’t that quick on my feet and I don’t think Marco will tell anyone. After that, I caught a nice bluegill but then it all shut down and the weather started to change. IN the upcoming couple days, we would see wind, rain, sleet, more driving rain, hail, and even snow. Fortunately, there was a pretty sizeable downed pine at the far end of our campsite which would provide plenty of firewood. Thursday – good food, no fish though we gave it a good try in various locations/structures/spots & methods, and a nice time in camp. Marco is a dog very interested and attentive when it comes to fishing. We could not go to shore and cast without his enthusiastic accompaniment. One funny moment came when I casted a larger jig/twister/leech out. There had been a few rocky snags earlier, and apparently my line had been nicked. So when I cast, the line broke and the lure flew away for good. Marco watched me, waiting for the retrieve. Looked into the water, no lure. Looked back at me. Where is it? I walked back toward the fire grate, having to re-tie. Marco remained by the shore. As I sat down, he turned back at me, and gave me a look that really cracked us up, as if to say, “Well? Are you going to reel that thing back in? What’s the deal, did you forget?? What the hell?” Friday was cold and windy. No point in even going out to paddle. Wind. Hail. Sleet. Snow. Glad we had lots of firewood, food and coffee! In the few days we were there, we could see the tree colors changing. Tons of green with streaks of bright red and yellow. I’m a summer guy, but this was beautiful – even with the challenging weather. In the mornings, if I had any part of my tent door open, an exuberant German Shorthaired Pointer would squeeze his way under the vestibule (if that was closed) and into my tent for an energetic morning greeting. Sometimes he’d grab a sock as well. Pretty funny. The campsite had special meaning for Brian. After his father passed away, he had come to this site and camped and fished. While sitting there thinking about life – or whatever, he caught a couple of walleye over 30” long. Like his dad was helping him out or something. I purchased the tent I was using back in the 90’s, from LL Bean. It was a great tent – technically a 3-man, which means decent for two. I brought it just for extra space and comfort to use solo. I’d never done anything as far as maintenance – other than making sure it was completely aired out and dry before storing after trips. As the weather got wetter, I noticed the water not rolling off the rainfly as it normally would. I have never had a tent leak, and wasn’t about to have it happen now. So I hung my 10x14 CCS tarp over it. The results were effective and comfortable – extra shelter outside of the tent. Glad we each brought a tarp, as we had Brian’s set up near the firegrate/kitchen area. Slow fishing aside, we had an excellent time doing a little paddling, discussing life’s high and low points (he’d had some really low ones, I was glad he had that all behind him and was now helping others in trouble, working at a crisis center. Very important work and some heartbreaking stories.) and music and dogs and people we like and people who are assholes, keeping the fire going constantly, making coffee, and much of the time just quietly hanging out or fishing from shore. The weather on our takeout day was calm and cooperative and we were in good humor. Encountered a few other parties on their way in/out and met a couple of people from some of the Boundary Waters message boards we frequent. Got back in to Ely (love that town), checked in with Voyageur North, and had a couple of great burgers at The Boathouse (formerly Cranberry’s). The beer selection was so-so, as the stout almost tasted like a lite beer, but it was an enjoyable post-trip meal nonetheless. Great company, great trip. More to come in the future, for sure! I left one of my paddles in his vehicle – no problem, just bring it next time we meet!) Brian and Marco headed home that day, and I had another day in Ely. Britton;s was closed Sunday morning for some reason, but I had a fantastic breakfast at Insula. Visited the National Bear Center for the first time. Very interesting place. Didn’t do the Wolf Center on this trip. Did some laundry at the Ely Laundromat and went across the street for some coffee. As I was waiting to cross the street I heard my name. Looked over at the car near me and Marshall and Heather, a couple of longtime friends, were there. I also visited with friends Nick & Liddy on this trip. Seems every year I know more Ely residents. Didn’t get to see them all this time. Spent one night in the Voyageur North bunkhouse and another night at the Adventure Inn, with which I was extremely satisfied. Headed home on a drizzly October day, feeling great about this trip after a long time away. Thought about detouring near Hayward to hunt down an old high school friend, but the weather told me I’d better keep moving. It would be nice to get home. I think I always return from these trips a much more relaxed, focused and better person. How long that lasts, that kid of varies . ? January 21, 2020 – I woke up, still groggy, and picked up my phone and was confused as I looked at my Facebook feed: “Lost my little brother Brian today,…”, his sister posted . Brian was gone. And apparently it was by his own doing. Thought the demons were gone, apparently not. A good friend and good person gone. Rest in Peace, GSP. You did a lot of good while you were here.