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BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

May 26 2024

Entry Point 38 - Sawbill Lake

Sawbill Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Tofte, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 25 miles. Access is a boat landing at Sawbill Lake. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Latitude: 47.8699
Longitude: -90.8858
Sawbill Lake - 38

Solo Rejuvenation

by bumabu
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 03, 2008
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
A seven day solo turned out to be the “plan”. That is to say that all of my optimal tripping partners (especially my dad) were unavailable but I am not the type to let an opportunity to visit BWCA fly by. I had visited the Malberg lake area before, but never solo. I wanted to spend a couple of days exploring the country north of Malberg because I had heard that there was good fishing, pretty country, and much less traffic just a couple of portages to the north. I also wanted to see new country which is what promted me to head there from Sawbill via the Louse river. I didn't even plan the return trip as I knew the planning would be a waste of time, I prefer to take her as she goes. A spectacluar trip ensued...............

Day 1 of 8

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A seven day solo was the plan, but we all know that the word “plan” has absolutely no value when it comes to wilderness tripping; too many variables to deal with and flex to. I have been on a couple of solo trips before, but have always found myself exiting early, feeling lonely, exposed and vulnerable. This time would be different, I would not be deterred. I did trim it down to six days as I was scheduled to fly to Guatemala the day I was going to exit. That would have been schedule suicide. I decided to amend the “plan” and come out the morning before my flight to Guatemala so as to have plenty of time to tie up loose ends and get packed without pulling out all of my hair. The adventure and excitement that ensued was neither planned, expected, or rejected; it was GREAT. I had invited a few people, but it seemed that I was meant to travel this one solo for a reason. I knew that reason deep within me. I had become uncentered and jaded with life. I needed to realign myself, with myself, and get back on top of life before I spun wildly out of control. I needed to escape the spiritual ambiguity I had existed in for quite some time. As weird as it may seem, I had to take a psychological and polygraph test the morning I left. It had been part of a very long job application process. I had thought of it as a hindrance, but as I answered the 300 questions and sat through the one hour interview, I began to see that this too was happening for a reason. I emerged from that test with a very clear picture of who I thought I was. It shot right to my core and exposed the true me that I had lost touch with. After packing the gear up off of the floor, I leave at 19:00 hours for my brothers house in Minocqua, Wi where I will spend the night before driving to Sawbill tommorrow. Arriving at 01:00 I hit the sack and set the alarm for 06:00. Good to be half way there.........


Day 2 of 8

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I wake at 06:00 on the dot and am off to get coffee at Motomart, as well as some doughnuts for breakfast. I return to Imagination Station daycare and chill with my brother until about 09:00, at which time I am bouncing around like a little kid on Christmas Eve and can wait no longer. I say farewell, stop in town for last minutes, and am on the road to Sawbill at 10:00 I arrive at Sawbill Outfitters at about 16:00 where I grabbed a “night before” campsite. That evening, after trying to access from their SLOW wireless, I performed the “Final Cut” ritual; leaving some things behind I thought I would take, and tossing in some creature comforts and items that provided maximum insurance for minimal space/weight. Sitting around the fire that night, I found myself very apprehensive and fidgety, nervous about the trip but anxious to get going at the same time.



Day 3 of 8

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Sawbill Lake, 13 rods, Kelso River and Lake, Lujenda Lake, 460 rods, Zenith Lake, 90 Rods, Duck Lake, 3Rods, Hug Lake, 80 Rods, Mesaba Lake, 20 Rods, Chaser Lake, 7 Rods, Pond, 130 Rods, Dent Lake.

I awake on the fifth day of June, 2008 at 07:00 on the dot. I need to pee, my bald head is cold, and many miles of wilderness are waiting to be explored. I hastily break my wet camp and get over to the office to check my gear out and pick up last minute items. The forecast is rain everyday so I pick up 250 feet of light rope in hopes of fashioning a makeshift cot on Malberg to sleep on for a few days as I have chosen not to bring a tent. I always try to leave an item behind just to test my ability to do without. This trip it is the tent. I am traveling with two tarps, a tent footprint from my 3 man tent, and a bug net. I also pick up a compass, as I forgot mine at home, and a light stocking cap and light pair of gloves to make sure my head and hands stay warm in the cool and wet days to come. By 09:00 I am coasting north on Sawbill lake enjoying my first experience in a true solo canoe. It feels weird only having one seat. I guess when you solo in a tandem canoe you can at least pretend someone else is with you and talk to the other seat! The Wenonah Prism I rented from Sawbill Outfitters has a modified setup. They move the seat back twenty two inches and permanently mount the portage yoke in the center of the canoe so as to make portage transitions easier. I had heard about this before and was a little worried about achieving optimal trim in the canoe while traveling open water. I spoke with Bill Hansen and he assured me that it would be fine and that they have very few complaints. My pack is smaller than the usual so I manage to cram it all the way to the front of the boat while in the water and it seems to be trimmed pretty well from what I can tell so far. The main difference I notice is that it seems as if it has more drag than with two people loaded down in a tandem. Note to self: eat less cheeseburgers this year!

Kelso river and Lujenda lake are beautiful and I am sensing that I am in for one incredible voyage. By 11:20 I am coasting into the landing at the south end of the Zenith portage; 460 rods of canoe country bliss. I entered in Angleworm last year so this portage doesn’t worry me; nothing could be as bad as Angleworm was, I am lucky to be alive to tell you about Angleworm. I manage to single portage the first quarter of this 460 rod monster and then I revert to the leap frog method the rest of the way. The southern half of this portage is not too bad: it’s no picnic but it is very manageable. The northern half on the other hand is one heck of a stair machine! Up, down, up, down, uuuuuuuuuuup, dooooooown to Zenith. Two hours flat and I have made it to Zenith lake unscathed and ready for more after a snack break. I take the route up to Mesaba lake and then west to Dent lake and grab the east shore campsite at about 17:30 because I’m beat, rain is coming, and I’m hungry again.

This campsite is nothing special but it is home for now. I am amazed at the incredible amount of moose sign right in camp; a good indicator that it is early in the season and that this is not an extremely popular route. I setup my tarp on a piece of high ground where there will be no water flowing over me but I notice that the ground here is really just thick moss and loam on top of bedrock and is soaked like a huge sponge. Good thing I threw in the footprint at the last minute last night as it will serve as a moisture barrier between my sleeping pad and the sponge tonight. I get a good fire going and enjoy grilled brats by the fire. I would have had steak as usual, but I built my solo menu around a kitchen with no plate; it is all finger food or out of the pot on this trip. The brats are great and I find myself enjoying the comfort of the warm and dry fire under my Mountain Hardwear Stingray14 kitchen tarp which is no longer in production. At 23:00 I finally turn in after waking up next to a dying fire.

****photo of shelter this night would not load, but is in portfolio****


Day 4 of 8

Friday, June 06, 2008

Dent Lake, 45 Rods, Bug Lake, 120 Rods, Louse River, 50 Rods, Louse River, 125 Rods, Trail Lake, 21 Rods, Louse River, 56 Rods, Louse River, 41 Rods, Louse River, 20 Rods, Louse River, 131 Rods, Boze Lake, 11 Rods, Pond, 14 Rods, Frond Lake, 22 Rods, Malberg Lake

I wake up at 10:30 still exhausted. It stormed all night and I kept waking up to make sure I was not flooding or rolling off of my pad onto the sponge. I stayed dry however and feel satisfied that I met the challenge head on, even though it was a pain in the butt! I get a fire going and have a breakfast/lunch of bacon and cheese muffins to start the day. This is by far my favorite breakfast on the trail and requires no cleanup or hassle to cook. I get all the gear packed and douse the fire, achieving a lazy 13:00 launch time. Malberg is the goal for today and it looks like a pretty easy day on the map. I head west and hope to make good time in this area that I have never traveled before. On the west portage out of Bug lake I switch into my Teva sandals because the portage is FLOODED. Not just a little bit of water, but about at least fifty yards of calf deep freezing spring melt water. I have portaged in these sandals many times before and feel comfortable walking in them but man are my feet cold! I decide to stay in Tevas for the day because the portages are all flooded and I am not a fan of hiking boots to begin with (this would be the first of many stubborn acts of foolishness for this trip). On the 125 rod portage into Trail lake from the east I encounter a strange portage obstacle I have never seen before. As I am trudging along the portage trail abruptly terminates at a narrow chute of rapids. I am thinking to myself at this point “How in the world am I supposed to launch into that?” I put the canoe down to scout out the situation and see on the other side of the rapids is a steep granite slope, no trail there. I look around for a trail down to the calm water and then it dawns on me that the trail resumes atop the steep granite slope: this is not good. I have not seen another canoe since leaving Sawbill lake yesterday and this looks a wee bit dangerous to be trying alone, but I am here for adventure so I start up the slope with my pack on my back. Climbing with a pack on your back is tricky business; lean back too far and you are done for, lean too far forward and the tread on your footwear will slide out from under you. I experienced the latter and found myself sliding backwards down the slope on my face, plunging into the swift current. The current grabs my feet and legs and twists them into the rocks and my downward momentum keeps my body going until the current is also able to grab my pack and start pulling it down stream as well. I am not sure how, but I lunge with my legs and get my pack onto dry land and then manage to squirm out of it and then get myself completely out of the frigid water. I take a moment to thank the good Lord for saving me and then I start up the slope again, this time dragging the pack and using my other hand to find whatever foliage I can find to hold onto for minimal support. I make it up with the pack and then complete the rest of the portage with just the pack, taking the camera out to take pictures of the madness I just crossed. I also drag the canoe up the slope without further incident and launch into Trail lake a bit unnerved by the whole experience.

The Louse river is really beautiful and I am enjoying the calm paddling while coasting downstream. I am especially enjoying the opportunity to soak in nature without the pressure to hold a conversation with a tripping partner. Don’t’ get me wrong here, those conversations are great, some of the best I have ever had in my life, but the peacefulness here is awesome in its own right. As I approach the 20 rod portage that is 4 portages west of Trail lake, I am a bit troubled by the fact that the portage is not visible from the water. Once on shore I search both sides of the rapids and cannot come up with a trail. I quickly dismiss heading back the way I just came and decide that I will bushwhack on the west side of the rapids, it is only twenty rods right? I start into the woods, like a moron, still in sandals. I drag the canoe thirty yards or so and follow my broken trail back to my pack. I take up the pack and pass the canoe by thirty yards or so and then head back for it. I continue on in this short leap frog fashion so as not to get separated from any of my gear in this thick forest. I know that it will be easy to lose anything in all this brush and dense pine. As I near the end with my pack, I set it down and head back for the canoe. I head back for the canoe a different way than I had come, spotting a more clear route to drag the canoe through. It happens just that fast: the forest swallows a sixteen and a half foot boat made of bright yellow kevlar. Sure that it is just around the next tree; I keep wandering in circles trying to find it, all the time my pulse getting faster and my stomach growing queasier. Finally I realize that now I have no idea where my pack or my boat are and stop walking, trying with all my willpower not to panic. I decide to make my way back to the top of the rapids and follow my broken trail down to, hopefully, my boat and then my pack. While heading back to the top of the rapids I stumble across a familiar blowdown that was definitely in my broken trail and follow it down to find my bright yellow craft lying in the forest exactly where I left her. I link up with my pack shortly after that and drag them both together the last 20 yards to the river’s edge. For the second time today, I stop and thank the Lord for watching over me. Standing in the middle of the forest in a t shirt, nylon pants, and a lifejacket while you are chilled, wet, and separated from your gear is not the most comforting position to be in, you’ll just have to trust me on this one, I wouldn’t recommend trying it for yourself. (That was the second act of foolish stubbornness of the trip and I was happy to be out of it safely.) While paddling down the Louse, I notice an orange/brown spot growing in the pocket of my pants. I open the pocket to realize that all of my water purification tablets have just purified my pocket. Now I am extremely happy that I decided to bring the 1 quart coffee pot at the last minute during the “final cut”. I push onto Boze lake and think about camping here, happy to be alive and wanting to enjoy the feeling, but the camp on Boze looks uncomfortable from the water and Malberg is the goal. As I launch into Malberg at 18:00 I am looking for the first site on the right, which is directly in front of the portage exit. The site is open and I race to it, jump out of the canoe, and do the “happy to be home” jig.

I have stayed at this site before and am absolutely in love with it; it is a very flat site only about one foot above water level with the firegrate only about 2 feet from the water. The toilet trail is good and there is a decent food pack tree about 60 yards down the south shoreline (a little close, but a good hang). The landing here is also a solid dry foot landing with a nice flat place to toss your gear onto and spread out. The abundant cedar trees surrounding the site give off a pleasant fragrance that reminds you of where you are and how great it is to be here while at the same time providing great tarp setup options. Since the last time I was here the bench has been rebuilt and they did a pretty good job of doing so. This will be home for the next three nights. I find perfect trees for hanging my makeshift hammock about four or five feet away from the firegrate. I make this hammock by folding my 10X10 tarp in two and bunching up the 5’ ends. Using stout rope I tie a hitch knot around the bunched up material and run it out to the trees. I finally get it hung super tight about four feet off of the ground, just enough to hold my two hundred and thirty pound frame about three inches off of the dirt. I string my Stingray14 over the hammock using the same trees and set the bug net up in between the both of them so that it will hang down over the hammock and eventually be tucked in around my sleeping bag. While changing into boots and socks I notice a huge bruise developing on my right shin and a sizeable scrape on my left foot which is also attached to a sore left ankle. Quit laughing at me, lesson learned, I’m a believer in boots. BUT, it is nice to have dry boots to relax in tonight………I will salvage at least that much of my dignity. Now in dry boots and warm socks with a shelter erected, I know that I am cold and need to get a fire burning. I walk down the south shoreline with my bear pack rope and while in the area hanging it look for beaver wood to burn. I find a bundle of beaver wood and head back to camp. I am very tired and do not want a huge blaze, just enough to warm up and boil drinking water for the morning and coffee water for tonight. I setup my homemade aluminum twig burner, which has four sides and is just big enough to set my one quart coffee pot on top of. It stands about seven inches tall, is seven inches wide at the base, and is about 5.5 inches wide at the peak with a feeder door cut into one side. With a minimal amount of wood and effort I boil my water and warm up while eating lunch for dinner at 21:00. I am really too tired to eat but know that I need the calories after the day I’ve had. Lunch/dinner is 3 beef sticks, 4 oz of cheese and one tube of Club crackers. I enjoy a cup of coffee at lakeside and fireside all at the same time before heading to bed. Chilled from the day, I will sleep in long underwear and Wigwam socks with my stocking cap on to keep my noodle warm. I feels so good to be dry and warm lying in bed. So sleepy……


Day 5 of 8

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Malberg all day baby!

Day three finds me up and about at 10:00, well rested and refreshed after my first full night in my improvised hammock. I had slept in this at home to test it out, but not for a full night yet, and was not disappointed at all. It was kind of weird being confined like that, but I definitely slept well. The wind is blowing pretty hard from the west, so I take a lazy pace right from the start, not having any planned traveling for the day anyhow. While getting the food pack down I notice that the water level in the lake is rising significantly; at least a few inches overnight. I eat a cold breakfast of trail mix and fruit and nut bars because I can on this trip. That is to say that I am enjoying the luxury of not having any pressure to feed the masses this trip; usually I am the camp cook and meals rest firmly on my shoulders.

I decide to test the Prism in the wind while close to home and with a camp setup. I throw the food pack in the bow and take off into the wind. It didn’t trim very well with the light pack, but it was doable. I paddle the entirety of Malberg and explore every bay and channel while doing minimal fishing. I enjoy the freedom of the basecamp routine for today and make my way back to camp by about 16:00. As I am preparing for dinner I realize, painfully, that I neglected to put on sunscreen today and that my knees are painfully sun burnt to a crisp. (Third act of foolishness this trip.)

I heat up 4 oz precooked chicken breast that came in a foil pouch made by Bumble Bee, southwest flavor. It and 4oz of pepper jack cheese get crammed between two tortillas to make a gourmet melted dinner: good eats. After one cup of coffee I find myself lying in bed enjoying the breeze by 19:00. Tomorrow I plan to explore part of the Kawishiwi river, Trapline lake, Beaver lake, Smite lake, and Adams lake before returning home for dinner here again. I think I will definitely where pants to protect my sun burnt legs and my boots to protect my battered shins and feet from yesterday.

I am lying in bed pondering that the main reason for this solo trip is for me to reconnect spiritually and get my head straight. I notice a recurring theme popping up in my day to day routine: of all the things that went wrong so far, I knew better, but for lack of discipline, didn’t do better. Maybe part of the reason that things are coming unglued back home has to do with knowing better but not doing better. Sometimes we learn in odd ways. After playing around with my camera while the sun is setting I drift off to sleep just as it is getting dark.


Day 6 of 8

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Malberg Lake, 64 Rods, Kawishiwi River, 60 Rods, Trapline Lake, 35 Rods, Beaver Lake, 74 Rods, Adams Lake, 74 Rods, Beaver Lake, 35 Rods, Trapline Lake, (high water, skipped portage) Kawishiwi River, 64 Rods, Malberg Lake.

I roll out of the sack at 06:30 and get suited up, knowing I have a long day of paddling ahead of me. I push off with the food bag in the bow planning to eat later and with one quart of water for the day; I have two quarts boiled and cooled but want to save one for when I return home. I also bring my medium action trolling rod because other than an hour or so yesterday, I have done no fishing this trip. As I leave camp I come across a group of 3 adults and 4 teens headed for the Louse river portage. I warn them of the conditions and caution them that maybe they should reconsider, or at least camp on Trail lake and cut it into two days for the sake of their kids. I hope they fared well. I troll across the western arm of Malberg with no luck and the portage over to the river is a piece of cake. After exploring the four campsites on this stretch of the river I troll up to Trapline lake. Just before the portage, I hook a nice fat northern, somewhere in the realm of 26-28 inches I would guess. I decide to shore land him because my good sense tells me that I am not stable enough in this unfamiliar boat to land a good size northern without tipping. He is feisty and tipping over with my hand attached to one end of a Rapala Taildancer and his mouth attached to the other end does not sound like fun to me, especially after my discipline revelation last night.

I complete the sixty rods into Trapline and see that I could have paddled it due to high water with absolutely no problems. The Trapline to Beaver portage has two blowdowns, one very large, but other than that is fairly easy. Beaver is a very nice lake and I run into a father and son headed up to Knife lake via Boulder lake. This sure is a great calm day for traveling. I scope the two sites on this beautiful lake and then head up to the portage into Smite lake. As I approach the in-flowing stream I smell that sweet smell that sometimes you get from freshwater lakes and streams and just sit and soak it up for about five minutes. I do not locate the portage to Smite and do not feel like bushwhacking anymore this trip so I paddle down to the portage that goes directly into Adams. This portage is beautifully muddy, what a paradox of nature. I start checking out sites on Adams and a little while later run into another father and son team who come up this way every year. They tell me they have never caught walleye in this lake so I leave them my contoured lake map and wish them well.

I finally finish exploring Adams at 14:00 and finish breakfast/lunch at the same time; I have been gradually nibbling and munching my way around the lake. By this time I am completely out of water and I am hot and thirsty; I should have brought that other quart of water. I knew better this morning, but didn’t do better. I paddle into the middle of Adams and fill my water bottle and gulp it down. I only drink enough to quench my thirst, reasoning that bacteria like to hang out in the bottom of water bottles. Adams to Malberg camp takes three hours flat and I am cooking dinner by 18:00. Long day. (Not bringing two quarts of water was the fourth act of foolishness of the trip and drinking raw lake water was the fifth act of foolishness of the trip, I should have waited until I got back to my clean water at camp.) **I found this tree tipped over and still alive, for now. A good reminder that a lot of trees growing around the campsites do not have optimal root systems anchoring them in because they are growing only inches above solid bedrock.**

While eating dinner I ponder my journey to the outside world tomorrow. It saddens me and excites me at the same time. The first two days in, I felt very uneasy like usual, but yesterday and today I feel very at peace and content to be here alone enjoying nature around me and at natures pace. For that I am sad to exit, but to talk to my family that is far away in Guatemala visiting my wife’s family, I am tremendously excited. It is strange how you miss the things that you thought you needed a break from, when you finally do get that break. I think I will leave no later than 10:00 tomorrow morning and head down to Polly lake and then back to Sawbill via the Phoebe river and the Lady Chain. If I can make Sawbill by 18:00 I will exit. If not, I will camp at 18:00 and exit early Tuesday morning. Either way, I will be home in time, but it would be nice to hear the voices of my wife and 2 year old little boy tomorrow. I lounge around a four hour fire getting water boiled for tomorrow and drinking a six pack of Folgers straight up out of my trusty tin cup after dinner. I relish my last evening at my Malberg site and feel very thankful of the opportunity to be here before heading to bed well after dark.


Day 7 of 8

Monday, June 09, 2008

Malberg Lake, 27 Rods, Koma Lake, 127 Rods, Pond, 48 Rods, Pond, 19 Rods, Polly Lake, 97 Rods, Phoebe River, 16 Rods, Phoebe River, 92 Rods, Phoebe River, 25 Rods, Phoebe River, 59 Rods, Hazel Lake, 140 Rods, Phoebe River, Line Rapids, Knight Lake, Phoebe Lake, 85 Rods, Phoebe River, 5 Rods, Phoebe River, 15 Rods, Phoebe River, 15 Rods, Grace Lake, 285 Rods, Beth Lake, 140 Rods, Alton Lake, 30 Rods, Sawbill Lake

As predicted, the six pack of Folgers has me out of bed bright and early. I light a fire to make coffee and a breakfast of oatmeal. It rained hard all night, but for now has stopped. My coffee cup rain gauge shows about a half inch of rain fell last night. The rain has been good to me this trip with the majority of it falling at night. I hate living in a rain suit. I am packed and coasting southbound at 09:00. I fish around the rapids coming in from Koma lake while waiting for a double father/son team to clear the portage landing. No luck fishing this morning. I pass the team on Koma and notice that the lake is empty as far as I can tell, surprising that a good fishing lake like this is empty this time of year. The two kids catch up to me on the far side of the first portage leaving Koma as I am loading and getting ready to launch. They are being absolutely victimized by mosquitoes so I offer up a good dose of one hundred percent DEET and they graciously accept the offer. I chat with them for a minute and offer some encouragement before pushing off. I launch on Polly lake at 10:00 on the button and make my way to the west portage connecting to the Phoebe river system. There are quite a few people up and about on Polly; it seems like they come to Polly or push to Malberg. I start making my way upstream on the Phoebe river and the portages are not too bad. Today I am resolved to leave my boots on for the duration of the day, dry or not, but will try to keep them dry as long as possible. I make it to Hazel lake at 11:55 and Sawbill by 18:00 is looking like a piece of cake if I don’t slack off too much. By now my boots are pretty wet but I am happy to have them on; I am officially a boots man. In the channel leading into Knight lake on the west side, there is a narrow chute with some pretty strong current. I try to paddle up it but the water is too fast and I find myself just wasting energy. I get out and line the canoe through the chute without having to empty it out and carry anything. I do, however, slip on a rock and land right on my butt in knee deep water just after clearing the chute: mission accomplished boots soaked! The rest of the portages on the lady chain prove challenging at the ends due to high water and obstacles, but the moving water scenery on this whole route today has been great. As I am completing the last fifteen rod portage into Grace lake I slip on some slick granite and go down to one knee very hard. No major damage done by this fall, but again, I am thankful to have boots on and not sandals because I think in sandals it would have been a complete shipwreck on that one. I launch on Grace lake at 14:35 and quickly cross it to meet my monster portage of the day: a 285 rod mostly uphill carry. I see another canoe headed my way from across the lake and decide to take a snack break while waiting for them with my hidden agenda. I get all of my snacks that I have left out of my pack and start eating. I need the calories for the carry and am trying to widdle away weight from my pack. As the two men approach I spring the trap on them. I offer them full access to my snack bag because they honestly did look hungry and I was hoping to transfer some weight to their bellies and packs from my pack. They start to refuse but then I plead with them to reduce the weight of my pack. They help me out and eat some snacks before I start the carry.

. Thank you to those kind men: it is that pound of food consumed at that portage stop that allows me to single portage this monster without stopping. The downfall is that by the time I reach the end, I know that my single portaging for the day is over, my shoulders are trashed. I paddle across Beth lake and notice the wind is picking up considerably; luckily it is at my back. I slowly paddle across Beth with shoulder cramps and notice the magnificent clarity of this lake. I double portage over to Alton lake and am staring at a pretty windy situation at 17:00. I have done some crazy things in this lifetime, but big water has always frightened me a little, even though I am a good swimmer. I have three choices: camp on Alton, go for it, or wait until the wind hopefully calms down before dark. Had it been any type of headwind I would have sat down right there and took a nap. I trim the Prism a little tail heavy for insurance in the tail wind and decide to make a break for the first long island to the northeast of the portage. As I pull into the lee of the island I am growing more confident as the one footers were not too bad, I was at least able to paddle faster than the tail waves. The big lake beyond looks a little rougher though…… There are three points on the east side of the lake between myself and the portage. I started to break for the first and quickly realized that there are cross waves coming in and that I will not be able to take that angle. I try for the second point and that angle is also not an option. It is now a do or die situation and I paddle for all I am worth towards the point I need to round to get to the portage. The waves are almost two footers and are slowly passing me by, even though I am paddling as hard as I can with my bent shaft. The trick is watching my right flank for southeast wind cross waves so as not to get caught crossways in a trough of one of them. I make it to the point and stay about twenty yards out from it when I start to make the turn. Just as I start to turn the corner, I find myself teetering on top of a large rock, broadside to wind and waves. In the next five seconds or so I do a frantic jig/shuffle/scoot (not necessarily in that order) and dislodge myself, pulling into the lee of the point and coasting to the portage. I enjoy the last thirty rods of this adventure while double portaging into Sawbill at 17:40. I glide into the Sawbill landing at exactly 17:55, what are the odds? I take a timed exit photo at the landing and then head up to turn in the canoe and grab a shower before heading home.

I see a black bear along the side of the dirt road about two miles south of Sawbill Outfitters; the first bear I have ever seen up here in ten years of tripping. After that I turn on Nation Public Radio for about five minutes and feel violated by the noise. I turn off the radio, lower the windows in the rain, and enjoy the last bit of silence as the tires hum down the washboard gravel road all the way back to the black top. As I am driving home I feel refreshed and more at peace with life in general. I needed this trip and feel as if in the last five days a thousand blessings have been heaped upon me from above. I came to seek guidance and received it in abundance. Now the hard part starts; putting the guidance into practice during life.


Day 8 of 8

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I wake up in the car at about 0600 and start driving home from somewhere around Eau Claire where I slept in a rest area for about 5 hours. I stop at Paul Bunyan's in Wis Dells for a hearty breakfast and then start the 3 hour drive home. When I get home I walk into the house and feel as if I am in a foreign place. It takes me a while to figure it out but the house feels flimsy with the floor flexing under my feet; I guess that is normal after living on bedrock for a week. The other thing that is bothering me is much more elusive. As I start to upload my photos I begin to notice that large and empty patches of walls really bother me. I suppose in the woods you get used to every pixel of your vision being independently complex, yet harmonious with its surroundings. That is just a small part of what keeps pulling us back I imagine; lack of human creation, yet completely and perfectly created for us to enjoy time and time again.


5 Days of paddling: 26 Lakes, 4 Ponds, 16 Stretches of Rivers (Kelso,Louse,Kawishiwi,Phoebe), 1 lined Rapids, 1 Short (but scary) Bushwhack, and 43 portages totaling 2943 Rods (8.9 Miles).


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