Late May 2010 10-day Solo
Every year I complete a solo trip somewhere. Whether it is time at my remote cabin in Northern Wisconsin or an expedition, it must be done. This is my time to decompress. Without it, I am longing for time away from life and routine. My solo trip also has to have a level of remoteness to it. I grew up loving the north woods and much of my childhood memories revolve around woods and waters; in fact, my earliest memory is of being in a canoe with family on the Paint River in Upper Michigan. What is the effect on one's soul if your getaway or holiday is nothing more than an experience of that from which you just came? Is a trip to another bustling city with noise, smells and experience similar to your daily routine truly satisfying and rejuvenating? Perhaps to some, but not to this woodsman.
Many ask me, “Why do you go alone?” My response? “Why NOT!?!” I sleep well alone in the woods, no matter how close or far from a road or another person. I'm not bothered by bears and cougar's aren't known to attack tents. The worst part of being in the woods alone are the chipmunks, squirrels and mice. And those you don't get away from with others about. If anything, they are pests only because others feed them.
My desires for a solo canoe trip in the BWCA began a year ago July after a solo trip to Sylvania Wilderness in Upper Michigan. This would also be my first trip into the BWCA or Superior National Forest for that matter.
With thoughtful insight from this message board and some serious contemplation I decided upon something more than just four or five days. After pouring over maps and trip reports I concluded that I wanted to see some big water and get a taste of smaller lakes in between. I also desired to canoe along the U.S.- Canadian border. I craved solitude as well, but wanting to see the border country and some larger lakes meant I knew I would likely see other people daily. I settled for a trip in late-May, hoping for lower volume of people and fair weather. In the end, I see this trip as a prelude to a longer solo into Quetico for more isolation than BWCA can offer, come what may.
I knew early on that my backpack would not be large enough to be comfortable or store my gear for nine or ten days during a spring trip. I found a good deal on a Granite Gear Nimbus Great Northern. While it weighs in at nearly 5 pounds, I needed the suspension system due to a bad lower back. I also despise having to hang food and went with a 30L blue barrel with a harness. Not so much because of the task of hanging food, but in finding a tree, and then worrying about a bear smelling the pack anyways and subsequently breaking the limb or chewing the rope. Additionally, squirrels and mice can shimmy down ropes also. I added a lightweight steel cable lock so a bear can't chew through and walk off with my food pack.
I'm also an avid photographer and decided I had to bring my 35mm along. In the past I had used a compression dry bag for this task, but they don't hold up well to abuse and gear isn't easily accessible. I decided on a top-loading Pelican case.
I also have a self-inflating Thermarest, but after more than 3 or perhaps 4 nights it gets uncomfortable. I ponied up some serious money and bought an Exped 9 Down Deluxe. Without good rest I'm not worth much.
For a tent, I used my trusty REI Quarter-Dome two-man. It weighs in a around 5 pounds, but is roomy and has two vestibules to store gear or cook in.
Total gear weight was 135 pounds. That included a 65 pound pack, 16 pounds of camera gear, 40 pounds of food, 5 pounds of fishing gear, and my 8 pound ditch kit/day pack. 8 pounds you ask? Well I had some hardware stashed within.
I finalized an entry date of May 18th, 2010 and an estimated exit of May 26th at EP-25 Moose Lake. I planned on getting a tow to Birch Lake, but hopes were dashed when I was advised of a 2-person minimum payment, which meant over fifty dollars one-way. I decided that if the wind forecast were unfavorable I would pony up.
A few days before leaving I paid a visit to a friend of mine with Indian heritage. We spoke of fire and the wonders of the north woods. He imparted the gift of an eagle feather to keep me safe, some tobacco for offerings to the lakes and forests I was visiting, and finally some natural fire making materials. I had also planned on visiting some rock paintings along the Kawishiwi River during my travel, paintings of which I've had many conversations with him about.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I left Southeast Wisconsin about 8:15am and had an uneventful trip to Ely, MN. I first stopped at Piragi's, my outfitter of choice to pick up my canoe. Drew had called me prior to the trip to ensure I had necessary gear and equipment and chat briefly about my route and plans. That is a much appreciated call and I'm sure he's saved many a canoeist heartache and pain in doing so.
I decided on renting a Bell Magic canoe. It truly is a work of art and I can only describe it as “sexy.” The canoe is made of kevlar and weighs in at 34 pounds. Drew gave me a brand new one. Barely a scratch. I felt bad knowing I would be the first to scratch it. Drew also outfitted me with a Bending Branches Glide adjustable kayak paddle and a bent shaft Wenonah carbon fiber paddle. Drew's parting words were that he didn't want to see me back early. Fat chance! But I'm sure he's seen a few soloists call it quits long before their estimated exit date.
Next stop was Fall Lake campground. The waterside campsite was $20, but the campground quiet with great amenities. I set up my tent and went back to Ely for some phone calls and dinner, deciding on Boathouse Brewpub. It was almost empty of customers, but had a family feel with the bar area not looking like a “bar,” with bottles neatly stowed. Initially I thought they only served beer, it was that well set up. I had a try of several of their namesakes and decided on a walleye fish fry. I was treated with a huge walleye fillet and it was a good meal.
Then it was back to my campsite for a quick campfire, some final mental preparation for the trip to come, and some rest. Happily, someone had left enough wood for a fire. I used a few chunks and left the rest for the next traveler. I decided upon an early wake-up of 5am to get on the water by 630am. Luckily sleep came easy and morning came fast.