Day 1 of 4
Thursday, August 27, 2020[paragraph break]Second solo, after my first last August, where I struggled with the isolation. I didn't particularly want someone around me to talk to, but I did want someone around me I could ignore. Still, after the trip ended, I couldn't wait to make it back up in 2020 and give it another try. Then I caught Covid in March (one of the first 150 positive tests in Minnesota! ...yay?) and I never quite felt back to 100%, but by August I felt good enough to give it a try, as long as I kept on relatively busy lakes in case something really went wrong.[paragraph break]Up at 4:45 am, with everything packed with the exception of some frozen bratwurst for dinner that night. That went into the ursack, which went into the portage pack, which went into the car, and off I went. I realized I had no sunscreen and burned hard on my last trip, so about two hours later as I hit Cloquet just past 7 am, I gassed up and picked up some SPF whatever at a Walgreens that had just opened, then an hour later when I got through Virginia, MN, an egg mcmuffin. That McD has been a waypoint for me on trips both in and out; one last fast hot meal that's awful for me. I got to Ely and Piragis by 9, and it was surprisingly crowded; they said they had 18 groups being outfitted that day and it seemed half of them showed up at the same time. All I needed was the canoe, paddle and PFD, so once they got to me I was in and out in only about ten minutes, then surprised to see a buzz on my phone of a refund from recreation.gov. Apparently I never noticed that previously - when self-reserving a permit ahead of time, the smallest group available is 2 people, and then when the issuing station ... issues the permit for the solo traveler, the excess amount was refunded. heck yeah, that pays for that egg mcmuffin.[paragraph break]Getting to Lake One is easy from Ely, just take the road out of town east until it dead-ends at the entry point. Unloaded the car, loaded the canoe - just me, the pack, the paddle, the removable yoke for the Wenonah Prism, and a map/compass in a ziploc. I have a love/hate relationship with Lake One, because it's relatively easy to navigate, but it's indirect as hell to get through, and I have a fondness for getting off a portage, looking across a lake, and saying "I am going to THAT SPOT" or "through THAT GAP and then turn left, I'm there". You don't get that on lakes 1-4.[paragraph break]By the time I got through those two short portages to Lake Two I was already sitting down on the side of the portage to catch my breath. It was a clear day up to that point, but this was also the clearest indication that I've still got residual reduced capacity, which proceeded to piss me off. The travel days on my solo trips tend to not be contemplative; my mind is either fully occupied by the task at hand, or it's frustrated at a minor issue that I perseverate on. It's a rare occasion that I can just stop and drift when I have a specific objective. So, there I was, starting to stew, and I've been on the water maybe two hours tops.[paragraph break]It was crowded as heck. Every site going through One was full, and every site going through Two was full; I was hoping to get the furthest SE site on Two as that was where my daughter's first trip was, but it was occupied so I moved into Three. I ended up taking #2220 on the island at the north end of Three, which was a four-star site on paddleplanner and I'd have no qualms about saying five, given the ease of landing, the sheltered kitchen, the number of available tent pads ... well, except for the damage and trash at the site. It wasn't quite like the a boy scout troop was let loose with hatchets, but it pissed me off. Broken sunglasses. Tin can lid. Pop top. Shoelace. Bandaid. Fishhook. Thread. Rubber band. Several yards of wire, bent into a ball and left in the fire grate. Names carved into logs, though some of those had been there for years. Live branches piled near the fire grate -- yay you guys, you left firewood for the next group, but you cut them off live trees. And all of the campsites on the west side of Three were occupied, and all those conversations carried right across the lake to me. Later that evening at sundown when the lake was calm and I could distinctly hear them talking from half a mile away (per google maps! whee technology) I said in a normal speaking voice from my shore "you know, everyone can hear everything you're saying" and I heard them laugh in embarrassment and acknowledge to one another that they were overheard. At least they were more cognizant of how sound carries across still water.[paragraph break]Two brats wrapped in tortillas, a cubed potato, thus went dinner. This island was full of chipmunks and red squirrels who were at first curious about my arrival, and then insulted that I chose to stay. For an hour after I went to bed I could hear them come up to the tent and investigate, and then scamper off when I snapped my fingers or shuffled in my sleeping bag.
Day 2 of 4
Friday, August 28, 2020[paragraph break]In retrospect I did Friday and Saturday backwards, but hindsight, etc. It was a gorgeous day. I slept in, I woke up, made some coffee, stretched, looked at the sun, looked at the clear blue sky, and went back to bed only to get up at noon. Originally I didn't want to stay on Three because it was almost entirely encompassed by the 2011 wildfire, but the island I was on had no visible fire damage, unlike the southern/western chunks of Three, so other than the human-caused damage to the site (again -- visible fresh cuts or breaks where branches were removed up to arm's reach all the way around camp. wtf!) it was good. On the McKenzie map there's 'old logging camp' labeled on the south end of Three and I set off to see what I could see there, but that nearest site was occupied and it's not like I'd be able to find much there post-wildfire anyway, other than rings or chains mounted into a rock that are mostly overgrown. I got a collection of good photos, which were appropriately creepy as it was cloudy and overcast, with dead trees poking out of the decade's worth of regrowth beneath it.[paragraph break]Also, as I got down through the narrows at the south end of Three, I found 3 rock cairns stacked oh-so-artistically along the shorelines. I'm sure those looked amazing on Instagram. Leave no trace except if you can deface the wilderness for internet points. I then disassembled 3 rock cairns.[paragraph break]"Arbitrarily building these types of rock piles with no regard for official or cultural purposes or environmental issues is “almost like graffiti,” Pescaia says. It announces, “I was here,” just without the spray paint."[paragraph break]This would have been the perfect day to do the Three-Two-Rifle-Bridge-Four-Three daytrip I had planned. Best laid plans.[paragraph break]Fresh eggs for lunch (one of these guys has worked great for me https://www.amazon.com/Coghlans-Egg-Holder-12-Eggs/dp/B000LC84PK, except for the tradeoff of when all the eggs are gone and now I've got incompressible plastic. Fortunately by the time all the eggs are gone, more of the food is gone from the bearvault and it can easily fit inside). Backpackers pantry chicken pad thai for dinner. A solo trip is a rare occasion for me to eat foods with peanuts given my wife's allergy, and I was impressed by that freezedried meal.[paragraph break]I had about one bar of cell signal flickering in and out, enough for me to send an update to the family that I was alive and squeeze a couple photos out with multiple "Failed to send. Tap to retry." efforts. I brought that along primarily for pictures, so that was a mild bonus.
Day 3 of 4
Saturday, August 29, 2020[paragraph break]Crap, I brought nine eggs. Why'd I bring nine eggs? Three per breakfast sounded reasonable, and I didn't want to bring a half-empty egg container, but, crap. This was part of the joy of solo tripping as with two people, two packs, it's easier to handle distribution of gear but when it's just me, I need to get all my gear -- tent, sleeping bag, clothes, whisperlite, food, all the miscellany like foldable camp saw, boat tape, first aid kit, water filter, etc -- all into one bag. Add a second person, they just need their personal items. So food space was at a premium. I bring an Ursack and Bearvault when I go so I don't end up with food inside the pack in camp, and can have my pack inside the tent at night, but actual volume of food starts to become a consideration. Not an insurmountable one, but it means no bagels, that sort of thing. I put some less-than-serious thought into a trip where I'd scale that down even more and go with a jar of soy butter, that's 3200 calories right there, now that's calorie-dense. But that'd fit more for a trip where a morning routine is "break camp at dawn, eat a couple spoonfuls of soy butter, be off site less than fifteen minutes after waking up." Someday I'll do that trip, and that was supposed to be 2020, but ... someday. [paragraph break]Still. The rest of the eggs for breakfast, wrapped up in the rest of the toasted flour tortillas, and set off west to try to head up to Two, portage to Rifle, portage to Bridge, portage to Four, and paddle all the way back to Three ... but the Prism, unladen, no rocker, in the wind, meant I was buffeted to hell and back. Sixty strokes on one side just to try to stay angled where I wanted to go, then two on the other. The wind was coming from the NW which meant I was heading straight into it trying to get north into Two, and I gave up, landed at the side, and sat on some rocks for half an hour waiting for things to die down before giving up and heading back to camp.[paragraph break]Ofc seeing two more cairns on the side of my island, which were promptly returned to the wilderness.[paragraph break]Well - hell - if I can't go west, I can probably go east, right? But Three is so large that even that was too unsteady, so I made my way back ... and found three more cairns on the east side of my island, making eight in total. After the seventh I got tired of getting out of the canoe and scattering the rocks one by one, so for the eighth I decided I'd just push it over and call that good.[paragraph break]What's that they say about accidents? That carelessness is the primary cause of them? That I even tell myself before each solo to take it slow, take it easy, don't be stupid and careless, because I'm the only one in my group?[paragraph break]Yeah, I overturned myself in the wind, on the shoreline, reaching out and unbalancing myself, and dunked in chest deep water and swamped the canoe. See above about getting pissed off about stupid accidents? Multiply that when it's your own fault and you know it's your own fault. So those rocks got scattered with extra vigor, the canoe was carefully drained and set upright, and I made my way drenched back to camp.[paragraph break]The upside of that site is the landing is south-facing and gets sun all day long, so I spread out those clothes on the rocks, took a camp shower a few hundred feet back in the woods, and then realized I used my hand towel for scrubbing and had no way of drying off. Well, other than wind and sun, and I was meaning to get some reading done, and downloading an ebook on one bar of signal isn't all that impossible... so I bought a kindle copy of T.M. Scanlon's What We Owe To Each Other and read moral philosophy naked in the woods. It's not quite Thoreau but it was pretty close. The only paper I brought with me was a $1 notebook and a pen, which I used for a few hours of introspective thoughts that I have not told anyone else, nor will tell anyone else, ever.[paragraph break]I used the last bits of cell phone charge to try to look at the hourly weather forecast for Ely for Sunday, specifically the wind, because if I had to make it out on a day like Saturday ... it would not have been great. It called for a calm morning up until 8 or 9 am, so I decided my last day would necessitate an early departure. Another freezedried meal, chicken molé, which also worked out much better than expected.[paragraph break]I stayed up past sunset this evening, watching the sun go down to the west and the moon rise in the east. Jupiter appeared in the southeast sky, and Saturn was supposed to be close behind it here in late August, so I snapped photos every ten minutes of the moon and Jupiter's progress and then could faintly make out Saturn coming behind. I have photos, from an old iPhone 6, and I'd have to circle the blur that's Saturn, but it's there.
Day 4 of 4
Sunday, August 30, 2020[paragraph break]Up at 5:30 am. Everything was packed the night before, as I had decided against making a breakfast on the last day so I could make the most of whatever still waters there were. The tent came down, I did another pass for any trash, and was on the water a half hour later. I made my way up to Two, took a wrong angle between islands and had a roundabout way to One, and then chatted with some groups coming in to advise them what sites were occupied and what were vacant, as of an hour or two ago, on Two and Three. I saw someone lugging a large hard-sided cooler and thought ... well, better you than me. You do you, as long as you leave no trace. I ended up stopping at one of the lake One sites where we took a break on our way in with my kid on her first trip, and watched a red squirrel knock loose immature pinecones from a tree. Every thirty seconds, another would fall twenty or thirty feet, bouncing off branches on its way down. After about ten of those, another red squirrel came out of the underbrush to investigate, steal one, run off, and then run back for another. It took the first squirrel a while to notice someone was stealing their bounty, but once they did, they raced down the tree as aggressively as a red squirrel can to chase off the other, who retreated and then yelled their version of squirrel profanities back. It's a meh site in general, 3-stars, #1676.[paragraph break]The problem that I then ran into was because of the low water levels in late August, the map was no longer accurate about what was an island and what was now a promontory. Thanks, extra hour of wasted time. See above for the combination of complete focus on effort, and frustration with my own minor mistakes.[paragraph break]Once I was headed in the right direction again, it was just ... slow and steady effort. A sunny day, in narrow parts of the lake sheltered from wind, watching group after group heading in, presumably for a weeklong trip ending on Labor Day weekend. This is about when I started thinking about work again, which was some combination of joy and frustration; I realized I had completely left those worries and anxieties behind for a few days, but as soon as I thought about the 8am Monday meeting all of the peace and serenity vanished. I need to come up with better ways of handling that besides the all-or-nothing approach.[paragraph break]Made my way out, cartopped the canoe, went back to Ely, dropped off the canoe, went another hour back to Virginia, got a quarter pounder, another three hours back to Mpls, stopped at Fleet Farm for chicken feed, got home, unpacked, ate dinner, took a shower, then checked work email and found out about a 7:45 am meeting with my director on Monday morning. It never stops.[paragraph break]So I then started looking at an October trip. I'm going to squeeze in one more from 10/15 to 10/18.