Day 1 of 3
Thursday, October 15, 2020 [paragraph break] Back up for one last trip. In late August I did four days on the numbered lakes and as September went by, I thought I'd squeeze in one last one before it got too cold. I checked my work schedule and the best time would have been a long weekend starting on Thurs Oct 15, and when I first looked at the extended forecast it was highs around 60 and lows around 40. Not too bad. [paragraph break] But then every day the forecast started to get colder and colder, to the point where just before I left it was calling for highs in the mid-high 30s and lows in the high teens or low 20s, and several inches of snow on Saturday. Well, !@%*$. It'll be memorable, right? And as long as I remembered my rules of a solo (take it slow, don't be stupid, if you !*%@ up there's no one there to help you) I'll be fine. I told my friends and family to watch for headlines of "local idiot capsizes, freezes to death." I picked up some more wool socks, smartwool long underwear, a thermolite liner for the sleeping bag, etc. [paragraph break] 4:45 am, up and out the door, 4 hours north to Ely. I had my usual McDonalds breakfast on the way up, in Cloquet instead of Virginia, and got to Ely by 9. This time I tried a Northwind Solo canoe as the past two trips I used a Wenonah Prism. I think I prefer the Northwind, but I'll alternate between the two a few times to be sure. [paragraph break] It was a gorgeous day. Sunny, so even though it was about 37 degrees I was paddling with no hat, no jacket, no gloves. I tucked a reflective space blanket package in the life jacket just in case I was going to make headlines of local idiot capsizes, and I eased my way through lakes one, two, and three back to the island on the north side of Three I stayed at in August.
[paragraph break] At the entry point there was one guy on a kayak, and 6 people (one group? two?) who were taking their time. I saw no one else through One and Two, other than a duo in a tandem who I caught up with at the portage into Two, and passed them on my way down to the island. Compared to August, where every single site through Three was occupied, this was a pleasant change of pace. [paragraph break] I got ashore, I opened the bear barrel for a granola bar and left it open for a minute while I set up the tent, and then caught a squirrel with his paws up on the side trying to get in. I screwed the lid back on, but by then he decided it was worth some effort, and when my back was turned I caught him trying to gnaw through the lid. I don't have claw marks from a black bear on the bearvault, but I do have teeth marks from a determined squirrel.
[paragraph break] Since it was going to be so cold, I decided it was also the perfect time to pack a lot more fresh meat than usual. First night? CHEESESTEAKS. But as I was frying up the beef, and mixing in the onions and green peppers, the mice, chipmunks, and red and grey squirrels all came out in force. I saw my loaf of bread wobbling from side to side - because there was a mouse gnawing on the other end of it a foot away from me. Little !%@*. [paragraph break] 6:15 pm sunset. Wind blowing, cold as hell. I burrowed into the thermolite liner, into the sleeping bag, and realized I couldn't feel my toes, and the liner was so tight that I couldn't grab them with my hands to warm up. The things you learn how to handle when solo camping below freezing for the first time. Also, helpful things like "zip up the windows on your tent, because you're losing heat through that, idiot" and "maybe pull your sleeping bag up to your neck both above you and below you, because that'll keep you warmer."
Day 2 of 3
Friday, October 16, 2020 [paragraph break] Thursday was a little windy of a day, and Saturday was promising a lot of snow, and who knows what Sunday would hold ... so I decided Friday would be a travel day, back nearer the entry point. I'd hate to spend Saturday marveling at the snow and then Sunday having to fight wind and waves for a few hours with the water temperatures the way they were. Again, first cold-weather solo, and the past two solos I dunked myself through carelessness and doing it with air temps around freezing, well, I didn't want to tempt fate. So after a quick breakfast I packed up. Another lesson I learned? An extra pair of hands is really, really nice in cold weather. But it was still a sunny day.
[paragraph break] I peacefully made my way back north into Two, pausing to marvel at one of the trees burned in the 2011 wildfire that somehow, almost a decade later, is still upright. It feels like it should have snapped in a wind sometime since then when I saw how burned it was inside, and I suspect someday someone will be tempted to push it over just to watch it crack, but for now it's still standing, somehow, with only the barest support.
[paragraph break] Back up to the portage leaving Two, peaceful as can be.
[paragraph break] As I made my way through One, the snow started falling. I grabbed a site, set up my tent in the snow, and started making some lunch -- again wishing for an extra pair of hands. Crouching in the wind over a whisperlite stove to boil water for Lipton's extra noodle chicken soup ... well, it was memorable. [paragraph break] Since night comes early, and it's too cold to be outside of a sleeping bag if I'm not actively moving around to stay warm, I thought it'd be the perfect time to read some of the books I had on the Kindle app. Except ... since my last trip, I had replaced my phone, and I hadn't redownloaded any books on it yet, and at that site on One I had virtually no cell signal. That somewhat surprised me given how stable any connection was on Three, but, well, it's the perfect example of "don't assume you have cell coverage in the BWCA". I made my way uphill in the last light until I got enough reception to download two ebooks, and then back to the tent to read as the sun was on its way down. [paragraph break] This was a more unpleasant night. Not because of the cold per se, but because I tend to be a side sleeper, and my hips began hurting. Maybe I need a better pad, maybe I need a cot, maybe I could stand to lose some weight (guilty) but I woke up every two or three hours, and then around 1am with a pounding headache. Which ... another lesson, "don't forget to pack coffee" which I forgot to do. Apparently caffeine withdrawal can kick in after just two days. I spent some painful hours in the middle of the night trying to decide if I should wean myself off caffeine, but I like my coffee and Coke Zero too much to do that, and it'll be easier to just remember to pack coffee on my trips.
Day 3 of 3
Saturday, October 17, 2020 [paragraph break] Up early. I had planned a lot of meals on this trip, figuring I'd want to keep myself packed with calories, but I found that it was too cold to sit by the grate preparing a meal, and I wasn't really feeling hungry, either. I made sure to keep eating _something_, but again, I either wanted to be in the sleeping bag or actively moving around, paddling and portaging. Lessons for next time. [paragraph break] As a way to keep myself moving, I decided to break camp again and move to another spot on One. The water was glassy still, so I just drifted along and listened. I floated past another campsite and saw a tarp up, but no canoes at the landing, so I wondered if someone had forgotten it (unlikely) or if they were off on a morning trip (maybe). A few seconds later, two black labs came bounding out barking at me, with their owner calling them back. If you're that person happening to read this, Huckleberry was a darn fine looking dog, and sorry they got worked up about my canoe. [paragraph break] I then went up to site #2208 on paddleplanner, rated as having 3 good tent pads and 5 max tent pads. I have no idea what those people were smoking, or if I was completely blind, but there was only one feasible spot for a tent. I did stop to marvel at what apparently was an otter's shellfish buffet, and then cooked my last chicken breast (those individually wrapped ones? pretty darn nice for a trip like this. I had a ziploc bag with a couple of those in there, and they stayed right around freezing the whole trip) and finally, after 3 solos, the Mountain House biscuits and gravy. THAT was a surprisingly good meal; the biscuit chunks retained enough density that it wasn't just a soggy glop. Definitely one of those backpacking meals where you don't feel like you're eating some generic flavored crap rehydrated with boiling water.
[paragraph break] And there I was, around 11:30 am, back in the sleeping bag to get feeling back in my toes, and the snow started falling. It was supposed to be 1-3" over the next few hours, and I sat and watched for a while and thought. I like solo trips. I liked the cold-weather trip. But I didn't particularly like a solo cold-weather trip. My fingers were usually too numb to open the bearvault, so I had to use a twig to poke in the catch to turn the lid, and by the time I finished cooking and eating, I wasn't exactly looking forward to doing camp chores. [paragraph break] But the snow was falling, and the lakes were still as flat and glassy as could be, and I didn't know what tomorrow was going to bring... and so I decided to exit early. Paddling through the snow was a !%!@%* winter wonderland -- because there was no wind, let's be honest. Doing that with whitecapped waves would have been far less enjoyable. But I took my time, slow as could be, heading back out towards the EP.
[paragraph break] I hit the EP, and turned the camera around on myself. I regretted the precautionary day 2 where I moved closer to the EP just in case, because a longer day of paddling through that winter wonderland would have been a treasure, but again, caution and conservative paddling was paramount when I was out there alone. That being said, I did feel like someone from Winterfell in Game of Thrones...
[paragraph break] Pizza and beer at the Boathouse Brewpub in Ely, and a growler of their Oktoberfest to bring home with me (which I'm finishing off now). I'm looking forward to next year's trips: a family trip, maybe two; another solo in August, probably bushwhacking to Bedford Lake in the Spider Lake PMA; and at least one, maybe two trips with friends who have started to ask "So ... uh, can I come along on a trip sometime?" [paragraph break] Stay safe, enjoy your trips, take good photos and make good memories.