Day 1 of 5
[paragraph break]Saturday, June 18, 2016 - The longest day. Our journey to Minnesota began after work Friday night. We had a four hour drive from our home in Minocqua, Wisconsin and head to the Temperance River Campground in the Superior National Forest. The truck was loaded to the gills with gear, my wife, Krystal, me and our two dogs at the time, Gichi and McKeifer. [paragraph break] The journey to the campground went quickly with music blaring and windows down. When we arrived at the campground, it was nearing sunset. We quickly threw up the two Hennessey hammocks we had brought specifically for this one evening of car camping, grabbed a cold beer, and headed down to the river to watch the sunset. The Temperance did not disappoint under the purple glow of the dying light.
[paragraph break]We woke early on Saturday to begin our drive up to Grand Marais, over and up the Gunflint to Round Lake. We woke early enough to grab a gorgeous breakfast at the South of the Border Café, and with full bellies, began the rest of the winding journey up the Gunflint. And for our virgin eyes as we had never drive up the Gunflint before, that view as you drive over the high point in the road by Gunflint Lake took our breath away. [paragraph break] When we arrived at the put in, like busy bees we scurried about, unloading and loading, and double checking everything. The heavy Wenonah Spirt was loaded with our two Astrel backpacks loaded with drybags full of gear, food for two humans and two dogs. One of the dogs was to wear a doggy backpack full of food. More on this later. We had no yoke on the boat, so the idea was to have both of us carry the boat while wearing the backpacks as we made our way over the portages. Yeah, never again!
[paragraph break] We carefully got in the canoe and slipped across the glassy waters of Round Lake arriving quickly to the portage into West Round Lake. Right out of the gate, we had problems on the first portage. Two people carrying one canoe with two fully loaded packs are entirely subject to any motion from the other person. When my lovely wife dropped her water bottle, she bent over to pick it up with the canoe up on our shoulders with no forewarning to me. The canoe slammed into my forehead. After a mildly heated discussion, we both agreed that any movement other than just generally walking across the portage had to be announced loudly and clearly ahead of time. [paragraph break] We stumbled on until we got to the boardwalk section of the portage, and with my head already pounding, we made it West Round Lake. We quickly loaded the canoe, and set across the small section we had to paddle to the Edith Lake portage. We were about halfway across the boardwalk section of the Edith Lake portage and the backend of the canoe, which Krystal was holding, swung quickly to the right as she slipped, then I slipped, crashing down on the boardwalk, scrapping my leg and side up as the canoe crashed on top of us, more specifically, onto my leg. I was ready to give up and threw a mild temper tantrum, but resolutely agreed to continue on with best foot forward and we made it to Edith Lake with a deep bruise creeping to the surface of my leg. [paragraph break] We cruised across Edith Lake and managed the portage to Brandt with no major issues. We saw our first canoeist as we drifted across Brandt Lake. We were already minorly tired, but that would change quickly as we gathered up our gear and traversed the portage to Gotter Lake. From what I remember, the portage was steep, and rocky, and the canoe and packs felt like lead weights. We neared the zenith of the portage and paused for a few moments rest and then carried on down the descent to Gotter Lake. On the first steep downhill, we stumbled on the dog backpack Gichi had been wearing in the middle of the trail. Hands full, and gasping for breath, we got to the bottom of that hill and basically tossed the canoe into the brush. I stumbled back up the hill, grabbed the pack, and completed the portage. We would be carrying our good boy's doggy backpack the rest of the trip. [paragraph break]Red faced, sweating buckets, and in dire need of fuel, we left the canoe on the side of the portage, well out of the way of any travelers, and sat on the edge of Gotter Lake, shoes off, and feet being soothed by the cool lake water. We ate a bit of lunch and saw our second group of travelers for the day. I can only imagine what they thought of us but at least the dogs behaved themselves. [paragraph break] Following our brief lunch rest, we went back for the canoe and could not believe how heavy it felt without the packs. A sure sign we where exhausted already. But we managed to get the canoe in the water, loaded and we drifted across Gotter to Flying Lake. Now looking back, with the ultra lightweight canoes and gear we have now, that portage to Flying Lake should have been a breeze. But on that day, with that gear, and our already exhausted state, poor Krystal was red as a beet from exhaustion, and that stairway was daunting. We took our time but managed to get down, but Krystal wasn't looking so hot. We knew we had to carry on as our goal was Gillis Lake, and there were three more portages to go. With our always persevering mindset, we carried on across the small section of Flying over to the portage to Green Lake, our last big portage of the day. And boy did that portage reveal just how exhausted Krystal was that day. [paragraph break] We threw our stuff out of the canoe and I walked up the portage a bit to see what we were getting ourselves into. I came back to Krystal and shook my head. It's straight up hill, basically. We both shrugged and knew we had to conquer this last big challenge, so we threw the packs on our backs, struggled to get the boat up on our shoulders, and began to trudge up, up, up the portage. We were about three quarters of the way up that first big ascent, when suddenly the motion forward stopped as Krystal mumbled, "I think I'm going to puke." And puke she did, with the canoe and pack still on her shoulders. Mind you, we managed to back up in the woods to avoid any unsavory vomit on the portage trail, but that woman emptied every last morsel of energy lining her stomach. She caught her breath, drank a little water all with the canoe and packs on, and then we maneuvered back on the trail, and kept going! See, perseverance! I had never been more proud of us that day then when we finished that godforsaken portage. [paragraph break] With the worst behind us, this first day was starting to wind down. It was late in the afternoon and we had two more lakes and two tiny portages until Gillis. To say these last two were a breeze after the day's adventures would be a lie because we were stupid tired. But we made it to Gillis! [paragraph break] We paddled along the eastern shore and to our delight, found an absolutely spectacular campsite. Absolutely gorgeous! We threw our gear down, grabbed our camp chairs and set them up, and plunked our weary butts down in them, and poured ourselves a still ice cold beer out of our growler. I bent over to take off my sandals and noticed a big black leach on my foot and blood pooling everywhere in my shoes. Wondering how long that had been there, I pulled it off and the blood oozed all over the place. I'm not squeamish so it was not a big deal, but that thing bled like a geyser erupting! With nothing more to do than let it run it's course, we tilted those lovely cups full of dark cold beer to our mouths and reveled in those first frosty sips. And in that moment, carrying the weight of that beer was worth the effort it added to our journey. Every moment of that day was worth it as we gazed upon this heavenly view.
[paragraph break] We eventually got camp set up, cooked some food, and hunkered down to watch the most gorgeous sunset. Our tent had been perched up on the cliff overlooking the lake, but upon hearing the future forecast for some dangerous weather the next night, we opted to move it in a clearing surrounded by saplings to avoid the windy, stormy weather headed our way. Weary as hell, we retired as the mosquitos descended from the tree tops. And despite our exhaustion, we both fell asleep with big smiles adorning our faces. What a day!
Day 2 of 5
Sunday, June 19, 2016 Duff day! [paragraph break]We planned our four night trip with two nights on Gillis, and then two nights on Tuscarora Lake, so today was all about relaxing and breathing in the wilderness. Hammocks were strung, and it was still warm enough to go for a dip in the lake, so we had big plans to do a whole lot of nothing!
[paragraph break] We hammocked, swam while the warm temps were still upon us, and took a leisurely paddle around the majority of Gillis. During our paddle we noticed we still hadn't seen any other humans since that portage to Gotter. We figured we were the only campers on the lake. The day flew by and before we knew it, it was supper time. As the storm clouds grew to the southwest, the sound of taps played on a trumpet quickly divulged that we were not the only souls enjoying the lake. And what a treat that was to hear those sweet sounds under the pink and orange glow of the impending storm.
[paragraph break] About a half hour after this photo was taken, we were safely hunkered down in our carefully placed tent. The storm raged pretty good around us, but nothing we hadn't been through before. Little did we know, that to the northeast of us, a man would die that night in the Boundary Waters. That was sobering news when we emerged from the wilderness a few days later. I think about that a lot when we are out there now, how fragile we are in the presence of mother nature.
Day 3 of 5
Monday, June 20, 2016 Travel day! Having had plenty of time to recover our weary bodies, we were eager to move on and see more of the wilderness. With only three portages ahead of us, we felt like old pros after that first day. We left our site pretty early in the morning, I'm guessing it was around 7:30 or so. We knew the wind was going to really pick up so we wanted to get off this first body of bigger water before that happened. Smooth sailing to the Crooked portage.[paragraph break] I have to say, the way we were hauling our gear, with both of our noggins stuck up inside a canoe, we certainly missed out on so much on those portages. There is something to be said for double portaging. We could hear the stream on the portage, but couldn't see it. We never knew there were remnants of an old cabin on the portage either. All lessons we were learning along the way to Crooked Lake, the prettiest little lake I have ever seen. I fell in love with those narrow intimate channels as we cruised across the lake.
[paragraph break] The journey through Crooked and Owl were mesmerizing. There was such a peace through those lakes but we knew that peacefulness was slowly eroding as the tree tops began to whisper, then roar like a freeway through the forest. The ripples on the water grew by the moment and we had the big open expanse of Tuscarora yet to do. It was still late morning by the time we got on Tusc and the wind was roaring. Predictions were 20-40 mile an hour winds and that promise was being met. We quickly got in the canoe and basically set sail. I remember paddling along, not really working all that hard, and yelling back at Krystal, "I feel like we are going really fast!"[paragraph break] We were riding with the wind and the canoe bobbed and raced across that lake riding on the crest of waves. I have never gone that fast in a canoe or kayak before and though a bit nervous, it felt like flying. We rode those waves all the way to a lovely beach site on Tuscarora.
[paragraph break] We arrived early enough to the campsite to avoid the brunt of the biggest winds. We rode out the last warmth of the day taking a quick dip on that lovely beach with the dogs and having a lovely dinner of Shepherd's Pie.
Day 4 of 5
Tuesday, June 21, 2016 Exploring Tuscarora On our last full day of this journey, we were determined to explore as much as Tuscarora Lake as we could. After a lazy morning at camp, we drifted out on day trip around the lake. We encountered a very angry beaver in a back bay on the southern part of the lake. Later in the day, we encountered a once in a lifetime show! On a rock island, there lived a Tern family. That family had a wee baby Tern wading around their rocky home. We heard a kerfuffle above us and breathlessly watched as a tern and an eagle battled above rock island. Mama tern was not pleased with the prospect of losing her teeny fella.
The wee baby tern ducked low in the water, hiding from the eagle until it got closer to its home on Rock Island where it quickly hid on his home with absolutely no hiding spots!
The eagle finally flew off after a good battle with mom, and the ending was happy for at least one party in the Sky Battle of Tuscarora! [paragraph break] We dipped our paddles back in the inky waters and propelled ourselves back toward our campsite. A loon became a willing guide, at least for part of the trip back to camp.
The evening the lake was a glassy reflection on which we reminisced a lot about the last couple of days, laughing at ourselves and our choices as we made our way to this moment in time.
Day 5 of 5
Wednesday, June 22, 2016 Parting is such sweet sorrow. The warming sun and cheery call of the birds woke us early on exit day. We soaked in the last of the beauty of Tuscarora and packed up swiftly, knowing the work we had in front of us to get back to the car, the long mile to mile and a half long portage to Missing Link. With the lake still shimmering like glass, we set off to conquer our last true test of the trip. And you know what, we did it! We trudged along that portage at a slow but steady snail's pace, and even got some encouragement from a couple of lovely ladies headed the opposite way as us. Their, "You're almost there, ladies!" gave us even more motivation to do the job. Through the muck, the mire, and they mild misery, seeing that expanse of open sky when we got to Missing Link, well, we were smiling like fools!
[paragraph break] The rest of the journey was easy. The learning was hard but worth it. Today, as I write this, looking back on this trip I have nothing but fond memories and respect for the work we did and how we did it. We've come a long way since that short foray in the BWCA. Krystal and I, (I'm Tina, by the way) each paddle solo ultralight Northstar kevlar boats and double portage every portage. There's so much to see when you double portage! We take long two week trips and have not stopped returning each year for a trip or two or three since this first challenge. Though it may have been one of the more difficult adventures in our lives, that difficulty etched a deep love and respect for this heart wrenchingly beautiful wilderness. [paragraph break] I hope you enjoyed reminiscing with me on my first ever trip report. I had fun traveling back in time and I hope to share more of our trips with you all. Paddle on!