BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 22 2022
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1249 feet
North Kawishiwi River - 29
The Elephant Trip
September 06, 2006
Number of Days:
It is September of 2006. We are 61 years old, married 38 years, and have been canoe-tripping together for 35 years. Spartan1 is a Type1 diabetic with diabetic kidney disease (approximately 50% kidney function, requiring a low-sodium, low- protein, low-potassium diet, as well as 3-5 insulin injections per day. He is also quite anemic and takes injections for that condition.) I am about 35 pounds above optimum weight, and have arthritic knees, shoulders and hands.
During the week before this trip Spartan1's diabetic specialist put him on a new blood-pressure medication (he takes four) and changed his insulin regimen drastically. The doctor knew we were going into the wilderness, but he said it would be OK.
Our car was in the transmission shop and didn't get done in time for us to leave for Minnesota. We rented a car. It seemed like packing took forever, and we were at times wondering if this trip was wise at all. We planned a trip from Lake One, the first time we have left from the Ely area in 18 years, so most of our before-trip and after-trip "traditions" were not in place. Things just felt sort of "wrong" as we began.
We left Michigan and traveled to East Lansing for the Spartan game, with green magnets on the rented car and a green canoe tied to the top. We had to stop and buy new rope because the canoe liked to slide around on the rack atop the little Subaru Forester. From East Lansing we traveled to Caro for Labor Day with family, then we drove to Muskegon and took the Lake Express Ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. After grabbing a few hours sleep, we drove to Ely and spent the night before our trip at Voyageur North's bunkhouse. We don't use an outfitter, but it was a good place to stay. We couldn't eat at the Moose because they are closed on Tuesday. Zup's was closed when we went to buy our margarine and eggs. It was a restless night before the trip.
This was supposed to be a trip to Adams Lake from Lake One Landing. We don't travel every day anymore and we don't do long days or really long portages, so we figured being on the "highway" we would make it up to Adams and back with no problem in the allotted ten days. Heck, most of you guys could do it in four!
It was in our minds to paddle by where we knew a Quiet Journey solo group was meeting and say "Hi!" Didn't happen. Oh, well. . . .
We were up at 6 AM and had a good breakfast at Journey's End Café in Ely. A quick trip to the grocery, a checkout at the bunkhouse, a stop at the Ranger Station for the obligatory video and our permit; and we were off down the Fernberg Trail toward Lake One! We planned a ten-day trip from Lake One to Adams Lake and back. The weather was beautiful, and that seemed to bode well for the first day.
When we were about halfway, Spartan1 suddenly said "Uh-oh!" "What?" "I left my hat at the restaurant!" So we turned around. This isn't just any hat. It is a 1969 U. S. Army jungle hat with the Vietnamese equivalent of First Lieutenant rank pinned on the front. It has been on every canoe trip since our first one in 1971. There was nothing to do but return for it. And, fortunately, it was easily retrieved from the restaurant.
Back on the Fernberg Trail, this time without incident, and we were soon ready to launch another trip at Lake One Landing. This was the first time in many years that we had planned a trip in the Ely area.
[paragraph break] When unloading the car we realized that we had forgotten to fill our water bottles at the bunkhouse, so we emptied out the water bottle we had along with us in the car and hoped we wouldn't get too thirsty or have to travel too far on the first day. We were on the water at 9:50. We took a little "side trip" due to some map-reading confusion, but it was a warm, sunny, beautiful day and we didn't really mind a little extra paddling. Then "Oops, there goes my hat!" So we turned around and paddled back to retrieve the recalcitrant hat yet again, with more regard for the breeze and a chuckle of remembrance: when we took our only family canoe trip with the kids in 1988, it too had started with a trip back to Ely to pick up that hat, left at the outfitter's when we rented the second canoe. As I said: this isn't just any hat!
At noon we portaged into Lake Two, after eating a bite of lunch first. We paddled on in bright sun, with puffy white clouds and a brisk breeze in our faces. We were not expecting to make a long first day of it, what with very little water along, so we took a campsite on Lake Three about 2:15. It isn't a site that is particularly wonderful, but the area was looking pretty busy and when you are on the "highway" you need to consider all of the options. This site had very little shelter on a sunny day, and the hillside was littered with what appeared to be well-weathered (and broken) moose bones. The water was still looking fairly calm, the sky was gorgeous, and we were hearing thunder 'way off in the distance. It certainly didn't look like a storm was imminent, but Neil set up camp quickly just in case. By 2:50 the storm was heading in swiftly, and we were thankful that the tent was nearly ready for occupancy.
[paragraph break] There was a light rain at 3:00, lasting just a few minutes and leaving everything very humid and still afterwards. A loon was calling in the distance and that made us feel like we had "arrived".
The sun came and went for the rest of the afternoon, and the thunder continued to rumble. He rested in the tent and I walked to the point, enjoying the huge rocks, a rather shy red squirrel, and the much-needed silence, which is one of my reasons for coming to the BWCA.
[paragraph break] At 5:00 the weather was noticeably cooler and it did sound like a storm was coming in earnest. I began to prepare BPP* chicken and rice, with MH* green peas and extra rice cooked in a little water first. We hurried through supper with dark clouds gathering, and just as I began doing the dishes it started to rain, with enough thunder and lightning to make me think perhaps I didn't want to be out on a rock with my hands in dishwater. I took refuge in the tent for a while. It was 66 degrees there, and probably a bit cooler outside. Eventually I did go out and finish the dishes, a big gray jay visited briefly while we were packing things up for the evening, and we got the packs hung in a tree. We were in the tent at about 8:30, and settled down in our sleeping bags, tired from the day's activities; content to wait for more rainfall and hope that those lightning bolts wouldn't hit too close to home.
* Brand names for freeze-dried foods: BPP=Backpacker's Pantry AA=AlpineAire MH=Mountain House NH=Natural High
As it turned out, it was a very quiet night with no further rain. Neil was warm in his new sleeping bag, me, not so much! I had made a fleece liner for my old, thin bag and it wasn't adequate. I resolved to dig out my "Harriet" wool socks (Harriet is our black ewe) and hat for future chilly nights!
I was up at 6:10 (seemed so late; we are accustomed to the long days and early sunrises in the spring). The sky was clear, there was a brisk wind, and a squirrel chattered at us from a nearby tree. Neil was slower to rise, but a blood sugar of 77 didn't seem cause for concern. It was 59 degrees in the tent and 55 outside. We cooked breakfast on the new little stove: cornmeal pancakes, scrambled fresh eggs, hot chocolate, accompanied by the traditional Tang. And, of course, instant coffee. A canoe trip is the only place that I will put up with instant coffee!
The clear sky looked promising, but I did move the rain gear to the top of the food pack, where it would be easily accessible. Our new Gore-tex PacLite rain gear is a big improvement. It packs up very small and I found that the four pieces took up almost no space in the pack. As it turned out we didn't need them hardly at all on this trip; still, it was good to have them handy.
We were packing up and getting ready to move by 8:30. I tried putting the knee braces on the correct legs (kept wondering why they weren't comfortable yesterday :-) ), and we took stock of how we were doing so far. The tent outside flap zipper is non-working. We checked the inside zipper before the trip because we seemed to remember that the reason we replaced the old Winnebago tent with a new one (which we didn't like and didn't bring again) was because of a zipper. But we failed to check the outside flap--the one you really need to close if you want to stay WARM! We have eating utensils "missing". Where would a fork and two teaspoons go, and why didn't I check the cook kit before we left home?
We were on the water by 9:15 and at our first portage at 10:30. It is a very short carry into a pretty little pond. Then there are two short portages to Hudson Lake around some "rapids" which were almost non-existent due to very low water. We shared the portage with other canoes and people; this is a fact to be dealt with when you travel on the "highway" instead of more remote areas. There was a little confusion after the second portage and we took the scenic route, but we ended up back where we belonged and decided to have our lunch at 11:30 before continuing.
This lunchtime included discovery of the most difficult challenge so far! The glass vial of the new insulin (a sample in a pen refill that the doctor insisted would be just fine for travel) had a little rubber stopper that became dislodged in my waist pack, and all of the insulin drained away! Fortunately, Neil had duct-taped an almost-full bottle of Humalog to the canoe, so he decided to try going back to his old regimen with the Humalog. If that weren't successful, our trip would be cut short. Did that scare me? You bet! Realistically, it meant more finger-sticking (testing blood sugar) and not having any back-up insulin if this were lost, broken, or compromised in some way.
We camped at 1:45 on Hudson Lake. This is a campsite that we have visited before. There are big rocks offshore and on the site. The low water is particularly evident at this site, where I remember the lake coming up very near to one particularly large boulder, and I remember one foggy morning when it was a beautiful place to watch the lake. [It wouldn't be prudent to go into more detail, but it was a good memory.] The weather was very pleasant, hot (80 degrees) and breezy, with a bright blue sky and puffy white cumulus clouds blowing by. Neil put up our new tarp for the first time. There were red squirrels running around and scolding, but none visited our campsite as they often do. This was a pattern of behavior for the rest of the trip until our last campsite. My theory is that they were very busy gathering, burying, and eating the foods they will need for the long winter.
We were both tired and rather lethargic, probably because of the hot sun. We had NH Chicken Teriyaki for supper, with added rice. For dessert we tried the NH Cherry Blast and both decided it wasn't one we would buy again. Just too sweet. We finished our meal off with Instant Cappuccinos and coffee. There were rumblings of thunder at 6:10. We hurriedly hung the packs and Neil gathered some firewood.
We were dismayed to learn that our new little Primus stove was going to require more fuel than we had anticipated in order to cook meals. We decided at this point to try a cooking fire whenever possible, and we anticipated a nice campfire for our breakfast the next morning. It was too windy for a fire on this evening. I photographed the sky as the storm was coming in, then took the tripod down on the rocky shore and played with photographing lightning for a little while. At 7:45 the storm hit in earnest--loud and scary--and I returned to the tent to wait it out. We went to sleep to the sound of the rain on the tent and the frequent rumblings after the storm had passed over our location.
Thunder rumbles much longer in the BWCA, because of the echo of rocky shores on many lakes. Once it is past our immediate area, I love to lie and listen to the whole world growling and roaring, while the raindrops patter steadily on the rain fly above my head.
At this point I was beginning to have a problem that I hadn't yet shared with Spartan1. I was having severe head pain in the night, upon getting up to urinate. While I was worried, the pain was very specific and it subsided after relieving myself, so I didn't feel it was cause to cut our trip short. This particular night I didn't have much time to think about it, as we made a BIG mistake with the insulin and that caused immediate concern. When taking the Lantus (long-acting insulin) dose, I inadvertently handed Neil the Humalog bottle. He took 15 units, the normal Lantus dosage, which was triple the normal Humalog dosage! Because Humalog is very fast-acting, we remained awake for several hours; he tested often and kept eating granola bars. And because it was MY mistake, I had trouble sleeping even after things seemed to settle down. I felt pretty stupid, and more than a little bit guilty for adding to the concerns about insulin, which already had seemed pretty serious!
Day Three: Travel Day
After not enough sleep, and not being warm enough in the night, I awoke about 7:00 to 45 degrees in the tent and 41 outside. It was cloudy and breezy, so it seemed even colder. A small fire felt really good, and we enjoyed a hot breakfast of oatmeal, fresh eggs and bacon, and hot chocolate. The sun was peeking through in the east by 8:15. We were slow to get going this morning and didn't get on the water until after ten o'clock. The temperature was 52 at that point, and there were patches of blue sky, but mainly a cloudy sky overhead.
I hated to leave this special campsite. It seemed a welcoming and comfortable place, and my memories of it on a past trip long ago always triggered a smile.
The portage to Insula was very busy! There was one party paddling away as I went over on the first trip, and we shared the portage with a total of seven canoes. It is the busiest spot I ever remember on a BWCA portage, but we all managed. And, amazingly, once we were on our way, we didn't see those folks again or have a lot of traffic in our immediate view. By this time we had a bright sky again, and Lake Insula looked very beautiful. We stopped on a sandy beach for a leisurely lunch. Saw the only "moose berries" of the trip--this trip wasn't destined to give us views of any large wildlife at all! I photographed a gull on a rock, and later on, a solo canoeist paddling by. He waved at me.
Back on the water we saw one loon, and I missed the photo. This was a disappointment, as the loons aren't that plentiful at this time of year. We noticed a mink running along the shoreline, took note of "The Rock" (why would one rocky island merit a mention on all of the maps??) and chased a large gathering of common merganser ducks. We stopped for a break at a very pretty campsite about 2:30. I really wished we could just make camp, but I didn't say anything and we moved on.
The portage to this small section of the Kawishiwi River is a beautiful spot. I was getting too tired to really enjoy it, and still we paddled on. We arrived at our campsite on Alice Lake at 5 PM. I had "hit the wall" about 4 o'clock, so any site would have looked good. It was very hard to get in on the shoreline because of tricky winds and lots of wave action on a rocky beach. This campsite has a northern view, but we realized that we would probably be too tired to stay up for the chance of Northern Lights anyway.
It was cool, 56 degrees, and windy. We made camp quickly and cooked our supper on the stove: NH Honey Lime Chicken, MH corn, and BPP Apple Delite. Cappuccino and coffee warmed us up, too! Neil found the fork and spoons in the cook kit bag, so we each had a fork! Funny how the simple things can be a comfort!
The site is interesting, with two "bedrooms" on a lower level in the cedar groves, and two up above. We had opted for the high ground; with the tent near the fire grate area. I set up the tripod for some night shots--still hoping to see Aurora borealis once before I die--but it wasn't to happen on this trip.
The full moon rose as we were getting ready to retire. Actually, the full moon had been on September 7th, but this was the closest we came to seeing it, and it was a dramatic sight over the water. I got impatient trying to get a good photo and gave up easily, deciding to just enjoy the sight instead.
I was up several times in the night, and finally had to tell Spartan1 of my problem, because my pain was becoming much more intense. It was a very cold and uncomfortable night for me, and having to get up, go outdoors, and face bladder spasms and head pain made it worse. I had the sleeping bag liner on top of me, my wool shirt over my midsection, and in the night I awoke and put on two wool sweaters. Keeping warm was almost impossible. Another cool-weather trip? A new sleeping bag for me!
The cold night was followed by a beautiful misty morning, also VERY cold! It was 27 degrees outside at 5:45, and there was slush in my tooth brushing water cup! Our water filter and bucket were frozen to the upside-down canoe (table) and we had to break them free. I took lots of mist shots, and discovered (no real surprise here) that this type of photography on a very cold morning takes lots of battery power! On misty mornings for the rest of the trip I usually had at least one camera battery tucked away in my bra.
After a gorgeous dawn, the mist was nearly gone at 8 AM. We had a late breakfast because of the photography, and were packing up about 9:30. The breeze was picking up, there was a clear sky and bright sun.
We paddled about a half-hour to the first portage and Neil's blood sugar was 71, so we stopped for a snack break. The twenty-rod portage has two entrances, and we had landed at the first. We wondered why there were two? Perhaps one for high water and one for lower? The next portage is longer and the put-in is very rocky. This is where I saw the elephant!
[paragraph break] (Now perhaps I should insert here that these portages aren't difficult trails at all. The only real challenge is loading/unloading on the rocky put-ins and take-outs. Because I have a touchy back and bad joints, this is all labor left to Neil. With the low water levels, the loading and unloading spots were more difficult than they should have been, and even the short portages became a big task.)
We discussed our fatigue level, the number of portages (because we had to return over this same route), our real need for a layover day, the unlikely prospect that we could make it to Adams Lake as we had planned and still have time to return by the 15th without traveling every single day, the insulin concerns, and my pain. I suggested portaging over to the Kawishiwi River because I love the quiet river paddling; Neil reminded me that it made no sense to take this portage just to paddle a section of river if we weren't going to go on. So. . .we decided to turn back.
[paragraph break] We drank Kool-aid at the end of the small portage, and ate our lunch at the first campsite. We noticed a Forest Service plane flying overhead and wondered what/who they were looking for. (More about that later.)
We paddled back through the lovely section of the river, hoping that a nice campsite we had seen earlier might be available. We met one couple in a red canoe, with a dog in a neon yellow life jacket. When we portaged over and saw that the campsite was indeed open, we hurried off to claim it. A turtle on a rock beckoned for photograph, but we saw a canoe approaching in the distance, so we dropped off our gear at the campsite and then went back for the photograph, which turned out to be quite unremarkable and not worth the effort.
We camped at 2:30 in bright sun and a healthy breeze. Spartan1 suggested that I might build an INUKSHUK and I did. It is a welcoming cairn, and we hoped it might signal to some of the Quiet Journey paddlers who might be going by. I photographed some asters, he rested, and I did a refreshing sponge bath with a pan of water.
At 5:00 it was 60 degrees and feeling cooler as usual. (That constant breeze!) We discovered that someone had left three tubs of earthworms in a DQ bag under the tree. We wondered what to do with them, and decided we would have to find someone who used live bait or else we should pack them out. We called to the people in the red canoe, but they weren't interested.
The decision to have a layover day relieved my concerns a bit, especially since Spartan1's blood sugar had been running on the low side all day. At 5:30 he was making the fire for supper. We dined on BPP Vegetarian Lasagna with extra noodles, Charlotte's Raspberry Blast, MH green peas, and coffee. The lasagna made a LOT! It didn't taste much like lasagna, it was rotini pasta in a brown sauce (no red sauce and not much cheesiness) but it did taste pretty good.
At 7:30 it was down to 50 degrees and Spartan1 still said he intended to wash up. I was glad I had done it in the warm part of the day. There was a very unspectacular sunset, even for a photogenic spot, and we watched the little fire die, retiring to the tent at 8:30. We were tired and disappointed, and ready for a day with no travel.
Our early canoe trips didn't include layover days. Of course, our early trips didn't include folding camp stools, little tiny stoves, tripods for the camera, or a host of other things. This layover day felt very welcome; we slept in until 7 AM, and then arose to a beautiful misty morning. It was 44 degrees in the tent and 39 outside, perfectly calm, with mist on the lake and fish jumping. The fire felt good and the coffee tasted wonderful! I hadn't had any pain in the night, and that gave what turned out to be a false sense of security. I photographed, alternately warming the batteries next to my body, and we had a hearty breakfast of corn fritters (freeze-dried corn in a biscuit batter) with Minnesota maple syrup, scrambled fresh eggs, hot chocolate, coffee, and Tang.
At 8:30 Neil remarked, "A picture-postcard morning!" By 9:00 the mist was nearly gone. At 9:20 the wind began to blow out of the east. We were "baking" a spice/cinnamon streusel cake in a frying pan on a slow fire, and drinking the second (third?) cup of coffee. The sky overhead was clear and blue, but the wind was blowing in some white cumulus clouds.
It was very quiet; just the distant drone of an airplane (more about this later) and the rush of the gusty wind. Nobody seemed to be traveling on the "highway" this morning. The cake turned out perfect--only those who have eaten my campfire cakes, usually burned on the bottom, can really appreciate this. I puttered around doing dishes, getting and filtering water, washing out Spartan1's tan shirt and some socks and bandanas. He was reading in the tent. At 11:30 we heard the first thump of a canoe on the portage, one solo canoeist in a Kevlar canoe headed off in the direction we had originally intended to go. We wondered if he were one of the Quiet Journey solos, but we didn't actually see him to ask.
It is a pretty campsite. There is a quiet little bay off to the side, a view to the west of some small islands and an area that is probably swampy in high water. The fire site is convenient, the biffy trail very easy, with a place that turned out to be perfect for shampooing and washing items with water from a bucket. We were able to find birch bark and appropriate wood for the fire.
I wrote my post cards and even considered starting a paperback book, but never really got into that. And of course, always photographing! The harsh light of sunny days isn't good for nature photography, but I kept trying anyway. Neil was out of the tent at noon suggesting a "toast" to the nice day, which I prepared. Then I looked into his eyes and I suggested a blood sugar test: 47!! So we sat down and ate the excellent cinnamon streusel cake while he finished the breakfast Tang.
Lunch was AlpineAire tuna salad. This is something I bought on a whim a few years ago. It ended up being quite tasty on crackers, and accompanied with some dried fruit it made a good layover day meal, along with some hot coffee.
I played with photographing a gull off on a fishing expedition, and found myself wondering how long those worms would live if we didn't find a "taker" for them. Spartan1 was sleeping in the tent, snorting and gasping (how I wish we could take the C-PAP machine on canoe trips!) and I sat outside in the cool shade working on post cards and just relaxing.
He started the fire up again about 5:15 and we had our supper shortly after 6 PM. MH Pasta Primavera with extra macaroni tasted pretty good. For our dessert we had a rehydrated package of Trader Joe's freeze-dried strawberries topped with the drippings of maple syrup from the Ziplock bag that held the syrup and margarine bottles. (Evidently the syrup was put away when the lid wasn't on tight. A sticky mess! Glad for the Ziplock bag or the food box would have required a total cleanup!)
The plane kept coming over, almost like some sort of patrol. We were getting curious. (More about that later.)
[paragraph break] After supper it was still 60 degrees and the wind was dying down. We were hoping for a great sunset in this photogenic place (I think I said that last night) but again it was quite ordinary. There were just a few reflections off to the south,and soon the stars started showing in the clear sky. We watched the fire and roasted a few marshmallows, before retiring to the tent about 8:30.
I was up again in the night with bladder spasms and head pain. That was a disappointment. Well, maybe more than a disappointment. It was getting scary.
I was up later in the night with pain. It was very calm on the lake and the moonlight was wonderful, but I was cold and uncomfortable in spite of all of the beauty, so I didn't stay out long. Awake again at 6 AM I noticed that the temperature in the tent was 48 degrees. That made the outside temperature of 37 somewhat of a surprise, I guess our tent does keep us warm, even when the flap is secured (?) with plastic clothespins!
We enjoyed a hearty breakfast of scrambled fresh eggs and bacon, coffee cake (yes, we baked another one last evening while waiting for the fire to burn down for marshmallows), oatmeal, and hot chocolate. After all these years, I think we are getting a little tired of Tang; we drank about half and saved the rest to have with lunch.
We broke camp and were on the water about 9 AM. Headed back now. We met Red Solo in his red canoe as we paddled on the pretty stretch of river. Introduced ourselves when we found out who he was, and asked him to take our greetings to the other Quiet Journey soloists who were meeting on the 12th on Adams Lake. We were disappointed that we didn't get there to tell them "Hi!" but it just wasn't to be. I had so hoped to walk the beautiful Beaver to Adams portage again, just because it is one of my favorites, but sometimes you make plans and they have to change.
[paragraph break] On Lake Insula (why is it Lake Insula instead of Insula Lake?) we saw another group of mergansers, and also had the treat of seeing two loons, one adult and one immature, which allowed us to get close enough for photos. We took a stretch break at a campsite and were entertained by the antics of a busy, hungry red squirrel. I also noticed some initials someone had inlaid carefully into the log by the fire grate. Why do people want to deface the wilderness?
As we paddled on Insula we asked another couple nearby if they wanted the live bait. They don't fish! You mean there are more of us? The next canoe we came close to carried two men who said "Yes" they used live bait, and "Sure!" they would take ours off our hands. Whew!
We stopped at a campsite for lunch. We thought we were near the portage to Hudson, but later it turned out that we weren't where we thought we were! So we went off in search of the route to the portage (after a little argument over the map!) and while paddling around looking for where we should have gone: bump! scraaape! We paddled ourselves right up on a submerged (not submerged enough, obviously) flat rock! No little rock this one--it was huge! We maneuvered off that monster, said a prayer of thanks for the skid plate, and paddled a bit more carefully around to the portage. I still am not altogether sure where we were, or where we should have been heading, but perhaps when I look at Spartan1's marked map it will be clearer to me.
There were three canoes on the portage, and then more people coming back for gear. Another busy place! I enjoyed clumps of purple asters swaying in the breeze on the portage trail, and thought again that I really miss the flowers when we come in the fall. I tried to photograph a mourning cloak butterfly at the end of the portage, but was unsuccessful. Butterflies are something else that I miss from the late spring/early summer tripping time. But we do NOT miss the BUGS!! And yes, I do realize that butterflies are insects, too!
We camped near the portage, at about 2 PM. It is a nice site, with a clearing out back. As we were pulling in, a small turtle peeked at us and swam away. There were a few purple asters, and places to find birch bark and good firewood. With the weather beautiful, we rested awhile after camp was made, then Neil started the fire. Supper was BPP Chicken Cashew Curry (skip this one another time ), BPP Rice Pudding with Raisins (good), and ½ package MH corn (leftover from the fritters.)
A red squirrel was busy collecting his winter's supply of pine nuts and chattered at us from the tree above our heads.
Neil hung the packs down by the shore, and he told me about a beaver who was upset with his presence, so I went down to try to see it. There was a beaver lodge across the short inlet, and you could hear the kits murmuring, especially when the two adults came swimming back to the lodge.
We sat by the fire awhile, just a little pine fire Neil made after our good cedar fire (for the cooking water) had burned down. It was very calm at 7:40 with wonderful reflections.
After a very bad night, up three times with excruciating head pain, I arose at 7:10 to an almost white mist/fog. I had noticed once in the night that the calm, misty lake looked like a scene from the "Lord Of the Rings" movie, and the atmosphere still had a surreal feel in the morning. It was 37 degrees outside and I went right to work photographing the ever-changing misty lake while Neil made a lovely breakfast fire and handed me a cup of steaming coffee.
A trip to the biffy revealed many beautiful small spider webs in the trees, and I spent a good deal of time on that photo project also.
[paragraph break] We had another big breakfast: BPP Denver Omelet, perfect hot biscuits with jelly, oatmeal, and hot chocolate or cappuccino. A little red squirrel came by, looked very surprised to see us, and left immediately.
It was time to do the camp chores: washing up the dishes and packing up to go. We had not covered much ground on this trip, nor had we set any kind of a brisk traveling pace. At this point my nights were filled with pain, prayer, and what little Darvocet I had left, and we were still enjoying our time in the BWCA, but it was becoming more obvious to me that we needed to head back to Ely and find medical care.
[paragraph break] Packed up and on the water at 10:20, with the sun burning off the fog and warming things up nicely, we had a peaceful paddle around our campsite. We went up the little inlet and were amazed to see how very little water was coming through the rocks and into our lake. We saw the beaver returning to the lodge, and a small snake swimming in the water. There were two turtles basking on a rock, a loon, and a group of mergansers as we continued on our way.
We had decided to take a side trip up to Fire Lake, and the paddle to get there was very pleasant. After awhile it was obvious that we were following two canoes going to the same place, so I photographed them. When we reached the portage I told them if they would give us an address we would send them a photo. They were two older couples (maybe older than us??), retired folks from Arizona and Texas. One of the ladies took a photo of us as we paddled away, and she said she would send us one.
[paragraph break] Fire Lake was very calm, with mirror reflections and a warm sun shining down. We had a particular campsite in mind, but it was taken, so we took one a little bit down the way. It is a really nice campsite, and we were glad to stop there at 12:45. There was a resident turtle sunning himself on a rock offshore, a few dragonflies, and one mourning cloak butterfly. Not having the constant breeze was somewhat of a relief and we enjoyed our afternoon. There was a fiddlehead fern growing out of a big rock just behind the fire area. There is a nice shady grotto down by the lake; one which would be perfect for sitting in the shade with a book and a cup of coffee. I thought I would go there, but I never did.
Our supper consisted of BPP Chicken and Rice with added rice and MH green peas. I didn't cook it long enough and the peas were crunchy; since I wasn't hungry anyway, it didn't improve my mood. Some anxiety about sleeping and worry about the head pain was bothering more than I cared to admit. We had decided that if I had another bad night we would probably just try to get out as soon as we could.
It was 62 degrees at 6 PM, and down to 48 by 8:30. We had a few marshmallows and retired early.
I was only up once in the night, but the pain was severe.
We were up at 6 AM, to another misty morning, with a chilly temperature of 38 degrees. It was very calm and I took just a few photos before breakfast. We ate oatmeal, MH sausage patties, and hot chocolate, and tried using pods for our coffee. (Tastes better, but a disposal issue.) We tried to get an early start, but 8:50 seemed to be the earliest we could make it. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and the water was calm on the paddle to the portage.
[paragraph break] We were overtaken on the water by two young men in an aluminum canoe. They seemed motivated and very strong, and they greeted us in a friendly manner. I noticed the big red pack but didn't really put two and two together until we arrived at the portage just shortly after they did, and we saw the firemen's hats, the fire gear pack, and the motorized pump! They were firemen! At the end of the short portage I spoke with them, took their picture, and asked about the fire. They told me that they had put out a fire on Fire Lake (seems appropriate) and when I asked "Where?" they said, "Right nearby to where you were camped." Evidently they had been dropped in by plane the day before we got to Fire Lake, had extinguished a small fire, waited a day, and were paddling out. The planes we had seen were forest rangers looking for fires started during the lightning storm we experienced on Day Two!
The portages out of Fire Lake are made more difficult in low water. You carry for 20 rods, put into a small stream-like pond through a rocky canyon, then carry again for 30 rods. The put-in and take-out in the small pond are very rocky and interesting. At the take-out I didn't hold the canoe carefully and Neil ended up maneuvering alone for a little while, but he managed to get it back where it belonged, and after the second carry he loaded us up to continue our journey into Lakes Four and Three.
[paragraph break] Back on Lake Three, we saw lots of canoes, enjoyed a bald eagle circling overhead, and noticed that it was getting quite warm in the sun. We stopped for lunch at the campsite we had occupied on Day One. The moose bones were gone: burned? carried away?
The sun felt downright hot by the time we reached the two portages back into Lake One. We paddled a good deal on the lake, looking for an open campsite, and finally stopped at a great island site at 3:30. An eagle flew over just as we were arriving, and later on we saw another eagle in one of the trees overhead. After a few minutes, they were both sitting in the tops of tall trees on another island close by, watching us as we made camp. They were quite visible and gave you a feeling of being watched.
This campsite is somewhat odd. The best tent site is 'way back, and the rather large island is honeycombed with trails. We opted to make an easy camp near the fire grate, and to cook with the stove on this evening. We were tired, and Neil's blood sugar was low. We ate the traditional Symphony Bar (saved for when we felt we deserved a reward), and did some other snacking, also. The eagles watched us from afar for a couple hours.
This site had squirrels! Very aggressive and active squirrels! More than two, for sure! They were trying to get into our packs, stealing our trash, coming right up to us expecting to be fed. Such a big change from the previous campsites! I enjoyed the task of trying to photograph them, and it distracted me from the sadness of cutting our trip a day short, and the anxiety of worries about our health.
Our supper was BPP Southwestern Smoked Salmon Pasta, followed by BPP Apple Cobbler. Both very good. I went over to photograph the sunset on the other side of the island, and ended up staying a long time, as the sunset was pretty and there was a big beaver swimming around nearby.[paragraph break]
I got back to start dishes when it was almost dark, and Neil was preparing a pine fire to roast our remaining six marshmallows. I don't recall if I have ever done the dishes in the dark, but guess there is a first time for everything! Neil doesn't enjoy hanging the packs in the dark. He wasn't particularly happy with me.
[paragraph break] I had another episode of the head pain in the evening, and was up again at 11:30 with a very severe attack. I was aware that there were probably other campers on the lake and I was trying so very hard not to scream or cry out loudly, but it was becoming almost impossible. Neil would hold me while I tried to pee, and sometimes I would just bang my head against a tree. It felt, literally, like the top of my head was coming off. Once I finished and got back into the tent, I would shiver and shake, and eventually the spasms in my head would subside, but each time it seemed that it was taking longer. It appeared wise that we were heading out a day early. I was becoming afraid.
We were up for the dawn on this last day, with a temperature of 51 degrees at 6 AM. The squirrels chattering and a loon calling on the lake; these are the sounds I will remember from this morning.
We had a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal with blueberries, MH scrambled egg with bacon mix (good, but not as good as the Denver Omelet.) We lingered over hot chocolate and coffee, and then packed up for our return to what most people call "civilization".
As we started out on the water at 9:15, the little squirrel came to say good- bye. The sun was warming up the air, and there was a stiff breeze. It seems to have been the morning pattern. The weather conditions for this trip, our first in September, were just about perfect, and we were thankful for that.
[paragraph break] We were back at Lake One Landing at 10:15.
I wandered around on the landing and photographed a group of ducks while Neil loaded up the car and tied on the canoe. I talked with several people from the other parties who were at the landing, and all coming in agreed that the weather had been wonderful. One lady said it was her first trip, so I asked, "Did you enjoy it?" She responded, "Yes, but I wouldn't have if it had rained and been cold." Fine sentiments for ending your first trip, but as I think back to cold and rainy days on many trips, I must say that going to the Boundary Waters is worth the discomfort, and at that moment I was just hoping and praying that we would return, no matter what the weather!
We were back on the Fernberg Trail at 11:00. We had noticed as we came back out at the end of the trip that the trees were showing more color than at the beginning. This was dramatically evident on the road, where small maples were showing their splashes of bright red.
We checked into a room at the Super 8, had lunch at The Moose, and headed to the clinic at the hospital in Ely. I saw a doctor, had blood tests and a CAT scan (with contrast), and we went to the motel for a nap. At suppertime we went to Journey's End Café, then back to the motel where I downloaded images before we got some sleep.
I was up early the next morning and finished downloading the photos. We had continental breakfast at the motel, and drove to the ranger station at the Ely Wolf Center, where we unloaded our trash and I spoke with the Ranger about the Fire Lake fire. He told me that the fire was one acre or less, and that they always have to monitor from the air for fires after a lightning storm. He said the storm on Day 2 had over 3500 ground strikes, and they can figure that about 10% of them will start fires smoldering in the duff. They either self- extinguish, or they can smolder as long as two weeks before starting a fire above ground. Interesting.
I also asked about the snake and he told me that the only snake in the BWCA is the garter snake. We had seen three on this trip, one on a portage and two swimming in the lakes.
What about the head pain?
The trip home included another severe episode of head pain, this time at the Holiday Inn. I have followed up with my doctor in Michigan and have had an MRI. The head pain has been puzzling and has subsided somewhat with a change in blood pressure medication, but not completely. I have a neurological consult in a couple weeks and hope to know more then.
We have always said that we will continue canoe-tripping as long as we are able, and we realize that we will have more challenges each year, given our age and our general health. We still hope to be canoeing into our 70's. It certainly was easier when we were young and strong, but the satisfaction of the memories and the photos we bring back remind us every day that it is worth the effort!
After returning home, I had a CAT scan, an MRI, an MRA, and saw two family practitioners and a neurologist. I was a puzzle. The current thinking became that it was some sort of migraine-related pain, and I was put on an anti-seizure medication which seems to be suppressing the headaches. I am still on that medication to this day.
I would be more relaxed if someone had given me a confident diagnosis, and I am still puzzled as to what would suddenly trigger migraines out in the woods at night at age 61 when I had never had a migraine in my life, but guess I have to trust that this is the best plan since it seems to be working. In the years since I have experienced headaches with light sensitivity, the occasional migraine "aura", but never again the same sort of bladder-related pain that I had in 2006. And no full-blown severe migraines, thank God. I still check in with the neurologist every year.
I received a Big Agnes sleeping bag for Christmas that year--zero degree! It has been wonderful for shoulder-season camping trips!
Spartan1 continued to do well on his kidney diet for another year and a half, and finally he went into End Stage renal failure. He began peritoneal dialysis in 2007, right after our next canoe trip. In January of 2009 he received a kidney transplant, and we have enjoyed several canoe trips since then. He is on an insulin pump now and uses a continuous blood glucose monitor, so that makes controlling his blood sugars much easier than it was in 2006 and the years before then.
Because of my arthritis issues, we have been doing cabin weeks with our granddaughter the past three years instead of wilderness canoe trips. In that way, we still visit the canoe country every summer. I have had two knee replacements, but my spinal and foot arthritis make the rocky landings just too dangerous for me to continue wilderness canoe-tripping.