BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 29 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1392 feet
Farm Lake - 31
Sort of Alone on the Kawishiwi Rivers
August 18, 2106
Number of Days:
My time alone is very scarce. After 25 years of being a part of a happy couple, I became a widower almost two years ago at the age of 49. My life wasn’t set up to be single. My two boys are in elementary and middle school. I own a busy and demanding business and maintain three pieces of real estate. Other opportunities for this trip have not come along.
At the same time, I was privately apprehensive about the trip. The thought of spending time alone had become daunting since my late wife’s passing. I simply did not so it. After her illness and when Mara died, I had to instantly go-go-go. My kids had missed school. I had missed work. My clients needed and deserved attention. One week after her death, we had to be off the detour and back in the fast lanes of life. I also spent a lot of time Nordic skiing and got a puppy for my boys. I am now lucky to have a kind girlfriend, who isn’t unduly demanding, but to whom I gladly give any time stolen from someplace else.
In knew in the back of my mind that a problem had developed. I had changed; no longer was I truly comfortable being alone. Intellectually I knew that moving on made perfect sense. Inside my heart I privately knew that I had grieving and acceptance still to be done. Emotionally I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty for living, for moving forward with life and for finding another person to love. I had with straight-forward logic answered all questions posed by others, but now in four days alone I had to be prepared to perhaps emotionally answer questions to and from myself. It was time to be alone.
Trip planning: At the time that my scheduled opened up, not very many permits were available. A Farm Lake permit opened up, which permitted me to go from my dock at the cabin on Garden Lake. I took it.
Planned Route: From Garden, east on North Kawishiwi River, south through Clear Lake, south to South Kawishiwi River, maybe to Gabbro/Bald Eagle, eventually northeast on South Kawishiwi, at triangle west on North Kawishiwi and home. As planned 30 miles, 22.6 paddling, 7+ portaging.
Gear: Bell Magic, double blade paddle, CCS Pioneer, REI daypack, UL Big Agnes Tent, borrowed tarp.
Thursday, August 18, 2106
We’re off on day 1 at about 9:00 or so with our stomachs full. Loaded heavy.
The CCS included regulars plus dog food, dslr photo stuff in heavy pelican case, tripod, fishing stuff, and too much food. At this time not much was left behind.
The canoe was tracking and paddling like a dream. At first I was experimenting with angles and strokes, trying to again become more efficient with the paddle, trying not to get wet from drops of water coming down the paddle. I reminded myself how much I love that canoe.
The first portage was from the North Kawishiwi into Clear. The landing was a bit deeper into the creek than anticipated but I found it at the same time as others. It was busy before and after I came. A bit of a circus but everyone was well intentioned.
As mentioned, my dog Aurora is young and this was our first trip. I was a bit nervous working with the needs of the dog and making sure that she did not scare or inconvenience someone else. My plan was to use a retractable leash fastened to me via the sternum strap on the packs. I tied her just a bit up the portage trail, loaded myself, and then got her attached on the way. We got through it. The CCS felt heavy.
Clear lake was pretty, and pretty soon we were across to the second portage. Same procedure with the dog. She seemed to be learning and was really quite good unless another person was coming that she just had to greet. It was muddy at the end, but all good.
Once on to the South Kawishiwi I decided to find a site fairly early and just have modest goals for the first day with the dog. The first campsite I wanted was taken. I decided to head west and look at campsite #1702. It was slightly difficult to find the opening from the bay into the river, but it is there on the far north end. I think this is a nice site. Great landing area. 2 pads for smaller tents. Nice flat fire and bench area. Good trees for hanging. A very nice low slab rock area to use on the water. It was supposed to rain the next day so I spent a lot of time rigging a tarp so that I could have a fire, sit under part of the tarp to watch the fire and eat, read etc., yet have the other part low to keep things dry. I tinkered for quite a while with the tarp and camp setup. I decided that in the future I needed to make quicker decisions so that I wasn’t wasting as much time.
We fished briefly. One of my concerns was having Aurora get too excited when I brought in a fish. I thought we might even capsize. I was, therefore, traveling light and staying close to camp. I hooked a smallmouth of about 17” that jumped out of the water right in front by her. She was very startled but I was able to keep her calmed. She looked for a long time down in the water when the fish was released. It was funny to watch her and I found myself laughing out loud.
I cleaned a fish and left the remains on a rock. That night I had New York strip, baked potato (with sour cream from Wendy’s) and fresh fish. It tasted good but I was just not hungry. Aurora got her first taste of human food and ate most of the steak and potato.
I ended up doing everything too late in the day. After eating, I cleaned up late and did dishes late. It was a fun first day and having Aurora along was a blessing. I cleaned her up as well as I could before she got into the tent with me. It was a warm and still evening and her panting was quite loud. We got through it.
As I was waiting for it to cool down so that I could drift off to sleep, I thought for the first time about being alone. The day was so busy that it hadn’t really crossed my mind. If that was the way that it was going to go, maybe that would tell me where I was emotionally.
The rain that was supposed to come had not come. I listened to the weather radio (a Motorola GPX two way). They said that the rain was now expected the next day. All if the extra time I had spent preparing for a day in camp with rain turned out to be wasted time.
I decided to not move camp that day. I would just explore the area and do some fishing. We paddled around and did some fishing closer back to the campsite. I found a good stick and had Aurora fetch from the water.
Via coffee isn’t my favorite but was just drinkable. I ate some oatmeal that my girlfriend was kind enough to put together with fruit I like and powdered milk. I reminded myself that I have to eat some of the burger and hash browns she dehydrated.
I had made an anchor system. I had a carabiner on the loop in front for the painter line. I ran a rope through it to a bag filled with 3 rocks. The line came back to the center of the canoe fastened to a figure 9 biner hanging from a loop on the seat drop. It worked well – the anchor point was in the bow but the fastening was done to the seat without leaving the seat. I had it set to use from the stern too, but never actually tried that.
I only saw a couple people that day. It was quieter than I expected. Aurora did bark a few times, and barked again at her echo, but I am hopeful that it didn’t bother anyone. I tried to keep her quiet. She did love chasing red squirrels at this campsite.
The fishing turned out to be pretty productive. A small fat crankbait near rice and moving water was working well. Leeches and tubes had failed to produce. I probably landed 25-30 fish the great majority of which were smallies. That’s fine by me.
It was a beautiful day. I found myself laughing at the dog again, more than once. She was staying very close and being very good for her age.
I ate some trail mix. Just like the day before, what I ate tasted good, but I had no appetite. Trader Joe’s peanut butter cup trail mix is good. It was at that time that I again reflected on being alone. It had not yet bothered me or become an obsession. Times when I sat still quietly were going just fine. I was keeping myself occupied but I thought that was just fine. So far, so good. I thought, I won’t lie to myself, but if I make it through the trip without great distraction I won’t force it and will feel more secure about being alone in the future.
I knew I would move in the morning. I rerigged the tarp over the tent. I packed up as much stuff as I could for the morning. The weather radio still said rain in the morning. The night was slightly cooler. Sleeping came sooner.
The morning was pretty, but the heavy rain clouds were not too far off. I ate oatmeal and had some coffee. I like the boil water only approach to cooking.
I tore down camp and was loaded by about 7:30.
The stretch on the South Kawishiwi that runs east/west in this area is quite pretty. Coming from the north you near an elevated campsite on your left. I had noted that there were rapids in the area. I remembered that a review of the elevated campsite said that it was fun to watch people try to paddle the rapids. The opening that you see from the north, though, is not the actual opening you paddle through. The north south route is blocked by boulders. You must turn west, that is where the rapids appears. Aurora and I made it through the rapids just fine. It was fun and a pretty area to go through.
There are some short portages on this stretch before you can again head northeast on the South Kawishiwi. The rapids looked like can’t miss fishing areas, so I retied the pole and casted some. I was very surprised not to get anything. I am sure that this was just the low pressure day and not the norm for these spots. I concluded that fishing today wasn’t going to be any good if I couldn’t hook up in those areas.
The river becomes wider as you head north. The wind was picking up to maybe 7 mph and the rain started. I had some expensive new rain pants that I took valuable time to get just before the trip. Since I was already wet before finally putting them on, I learned only that they can really keep the water in.
The rain was getting pretty heavy. I was in the area of the tip of the Kawishiwi triangle were I was to turn back west. I thought I might be at the turn but wasn’t sure. I pulled onto the rock tip of an island to wait out the rain, use the GPS to confirm my position, and eat some trail mix. I was correct on the location.
When the rain let up and we got reloaded, I slipped on a slimy rock when reentering the canoe. The canoe tipped. The packs were lined with garbage bags, and I was already fully wet, so really there was no consequence. It scared Aurora though and she was hesitant to get back in. It was also embarrassing even though no one saw it. The rain pants again did a fine job of keeping me wet.
I planned to stay in this area. As I headed west the first campsite was taken. The second was subpar. The third one was taken. I ended up paddling to the campsite by the portage into Conchu. The fire area and open rock area was huge. The entry area was good. The tent pads were not good. It looks to the south, which is never my first choice. I set tarp to keep stuff dry and set up a chair. I waited to set the tent until the rain later fully stopped. I read under the tarp so that I could still see the river .
Given the poor fishing earlier, I only took a couple more casts. One hammerhandle took my tube and I decided not to retie.
I then had a lot of time to spend thinking. This time I was glad to have the opportunity. I thought about the life I had with Mara, her urgings to move on with life, and my promises to her regarding the boys. I thought about the fact that I am really lucky to have found someone else. What was bothering me and keeping me from being alone? I guess I just missed her and am sad that she can’t enjoy the sunrise, make birthday cakes, see her boys graduate or get married, or help someday with grandkids. None of us deserved what happened. Being a single parent is a tough deal but I can honestly say I have done my best. I also know that I could not do anything to alter our mortality and can’t slow down life trying to accomplish the impossible. I therefore decided again that shouldn’t feel any guilt about living fully. Becoming emotionally disabled would have served no purpose and wouldn’t be healthy for the boys. I’d rather keep moving and keep doing, keep living, since I am able to do so. I concluded that my emotional decision was fully in tune with my prior intellectual decision to move forward.
Being alone has gone well and I probably just need to make sure that I do it again before it becomes a separate issue in the future.
Aurora had really given the squirrels a hard time. They got the better of her in the end. They would climb the trees and drop pinecones on her. She layed down in resignation and I laughed.
I ate some of the dehydrated burger with Mexican rice. It was good and I was grateful to have it. I brought way too much food.
The trip has done what I hoped. It has given me peace and perspective I was unable to find without the solitude. I slept soundly.
I woke to learn that it had rained again. Since it wasn’t raining in the morning, I wanted to dry things as best I could in a reasonable amount of time. I still had about 5 hours before reaching the cabin and about 4 hours of driving.
After breakfast and about 10 minutes of paddling, the day started with a 209 rod portage. The dog had it down well. There was another party of 6 people and 2 canoes. They were nice folks and we chatted briefly. I dropped first load at west end, made the second trip, and the other folks had moved on.
The west end was empty. I was surprised to be alone at that spot. This exact portage was the last spot to which Mara and I had canoed before we had to turn around because of her pain. Her ashes were spread in this river at her request.
I sat for a while in the sun. I took a picture of the solo exactly in the spot where she and I last took a photo together by the tandem. I wasn’t afraid to remember her fondly.
I was OK. I have done my imperfect best for her and our boys, and continue to do so. No apologies to anyone were in order for my approach. I also unconditionally gave myself permission to live life free of any guilt.
After this time of deep thought I saw the pup ready to canoe again, I knew I had some paddling and portaging left today and a long drive after that. It was time to go.
A 10-12 mph wind made the paddle in a challenge. I was tired when I got in, but very satisfied with the trip.