Who Brought a Pillow?!?!
I offer him a down sleeping bag and tell him to leave the summer weight bag at home. Lights are on at my neighbor Pete’s house. He stumbles out, throws his bag in my trunk and we are on the road, after I kiss my wife and baby goodbye of course. We encountered no traffic on our way to A.B’s house, arriving there at two. We had decided to be on the road by three am so we could get on Seagull before the wind. Three turned to four as we struggled to load my Grumman and AB’s square stearn onto his pickup. They were just a bit too wide to fit together nicely. Once we got on the road we made good time up the shore. We stopped in Grand Maris just as the sun was fully above the horizion of the Great Lake for last minute items. It had been over fifteen years since I had been on the Gunflint and it felt good to be back.
I had trouble finding friends that were interested in any kind of boundary waters trip other than my wife and family. Don’t get me wrong, I love Di but I guy needs to get away from time to time. I had two friends back out on two separate trips over the last two years and up until we all got in the truck I had the feeling that someone was going to back out again. Not the case this time. AB had been to The BW many times with his dad growing but Bizzle and Pete were green. I would have gone with anybody at this point; I just wanted to get up there. They all proved to be great company.
We arrived at the Blankenburg landing around eight am. There was a light breeze from the Southwest/ West but very manageable. It took us no time to unload the boats and gear off the truck and haul it to the dock. It did, however, take some time to organize this mess of bags, rods, chairs and a five gallon collapsible water jug….full! AB wanted to have drinking water when we got to camp and since we were base camping on Seagull I said whatever. It rode in his barge. I also made the executive decision that since there were only four of us we only needed four chairs, and culled one from the group of five. While combining gear Justin yells,” Who brought a pillow?!!?!” and produced a nice cushy looking down pillow from Pete’s bag. Looking like we planned to stay all summer we shoved off and started paddling along the south side of Three Mile Island. Everything was going fine until I told Pete to switch sides. The canoe wasn’t trimmed properly and with me paddling on the left in the stern I had a hard time keeping the boat on course. It wanted to pull to the left, HARD. Every stroke was a correction. Time for a new boat. We rounded Three Mile and stopped to decide where to camp. AB said he knew a few spots over by the portage to Alpine so I said we would follow. The first couple sites were taken and we ended up taking a site on a point closer to Rog. The paddle across was uneventful but the wind was picking up as we landed the canoes. I was glad to be off the lake. Ten thirty am or so, no one brought a watch.
AB wasn’t on land for three minutes before he slipped and went in up to his waist. Two minutes after that he pulled in a 26’ pike of shore on a slipped leech. He works fast. We set up camp and messed around with our fishing gear before slipping into the water to find some fish. Pete had bought a new Shimano spinning combo the night before. It was resting safely in his garage at home. At least he had a comfy pillow! Luckily we had plenty of rods to spare. Pete and I trolled around a few islands out of the wind for a bit. It was really blowing so fishing was hard. The Grumman felt extremely tippy and taking a swim would not have been pleasant so we stuck to the sheltered areas. I did manage to pick up a twenty two inch laker (my first ever) in about ten feet between two points on the way to the Alpine portage. It took a purple and silver half oz. Little Cleo. I thought it was another snag but as I paddled back over it and drifted it just stayed under the boat. It took a few minutes to realize it was a fish and I felt stupid. I felt even more stupid for not bringing a stringer. We bucked waves back to camp and filleted it up. I had brought with a soft sided cooler with some frozen Gatorade bottles which kept the fillets cold.
The wind was howling from the South East now so Pete and I decided to have a camp day and fish from shore. We managed to pull in a few small pike and a small walleye. No one had a watch so it was hard to tell what time it was when AB and Bizzle got back to camp. Pete relaxed in camp while the rest had a siesta in our tents. Hours later we had a late happy hour and cooked some ribeyes over the fire with instant mashed potatoes and asparagus. I had some points deducted from my man card as I couldn’t finish my steak. AB cleaned it up for me. I never have much of an appetite in canoe country. We had many laughs around the fire and retired to our tents an hour after dark. Clouds covered the stars tonight.
I tossed and turned all night like I always do in a tent. I told myself I’m buying a hammock and giving that a try next time. Up around seven (we guessed) and had eggs bacon and cakes along with three pots of coffee. It was a beautiful morning around sixty degrees and plenty of sun. We loaded up of fishing gear and paddled to Rog, fishing along the way. Biz picked up a few small mouth and AB a few pike. Pete and I got skunked. We took the twenty rod portage to Rog where I found out I forgot my portage pads at camp. The portage is a quick climb with a few rocks. I wouldn’t want to carry that canoe one rod farther without pads. I need a new boat. Rog is supposed to have Brooke Trout in it so we trolled dragging Little Cleos and Mepps inline spinners along the breaks looking for them. It is a very clear lake with one camp site on the north east side. Didn’t get out to check the site but it looked marginal from the water. We fished for an hour or so with no bites.. Bizzle managed hooked into a 21’ brookie. It was huge! Had I caught it I would have returned it to the lake but I was out voted. He would keep the fish. It was a buck so that is a small concession. Aren’t the females more important to reproduction? I hope so. I guess I don’t know. No more fish on Rog so we left around noon.
Looking back at the Rog portage we saw some weather approaching, fast. We heard thunder not too far away so we booked it back to camp. AB ask, “Do you think it will be bad?” about the encroaching storm. “Yep” was all I could say. We got to camp just as it started to rain. AB and I strung up a tarp in the trees. It turned out to be the wrong spot. As we were having lunch under it, the wind picked up. AB went to check his tent and a minute later a gale force wind ripped through camp. It snapped the ridge line of the tarp pushing it directly into us. Biz and Pete held onto the tarp and I went to check on AB. His tent had flipped over and his rain fly had been shredded. I grabbed the second poly tarp we had and we flipped his tent back over, covering it with the tarp, laying rocks to hold it down. Looking at the lake there had to be three foots rollers crashing into shore. “If anyone was caught in this they would be in trouble”, I thought to myself. I can’t imagine the helpless feeling people must have had during the blow down. Scary. I was happy to be on dry land.
The wind and rain continued for twenty minutes then stopped. Only AB’s tent had taken any damage. We threw their gear in our tent, before rain started again. Off and on for two hours it rain until it finally stopped. Now it was a matter of patching up the tent. It was a Eureka from the eighties with a strange pole design. Two of the poles were bent but we managed to straighten them enough to use. The fly was done for. We hung the sil tarp over the tent and cooked the laker for dinner with a Nice walleye Pete caught from shore in between showers. We breaded and fried the Walleye. For the trout we baked it over coal with chopped onions and ginger paste on top. By far the best fish I have ever had. The appetite seemed fine tonight! After looking at everyone’s booze durning happy hour I made a new rule. Eighty proof minimum from now on. We each had two 750ml bottles of booze but a couple guys bought mouth wash proof by mistake. The clouds left and we had a beautiful fire under a beautiful sky full of stars.
We decided to move camp closer to the landing for the paddle out. We broke camp after breakfast and paddled the north side of Three Mile. We found a decent island site east of the palisades. We set up camp then cleaned up the last groups mess. Lots of fresh cedar boughs and a nice ten inch diameter log six feet long burned on one end. We split the ten incher, gathered enough wood for three nights worth of fires then went fishing. AB was gracious enough to offer to paddle me around and I accepted. We fish a lot back home around Duluth so we have a good report. Trolling around the island landed us some little smallies and a couple of pike. We paddled around a few more islands and close to two middle aged men and a young boy in a kayak. They were defiantly using their “outside voices”. AB picked up a twenty inch laker on a Little Cleo 3/8 oz., gold and chartreuse in about eighty feet right after saying,” I’ve never really trolled right down the middle of the lake before.” We made three more passes with no hit. Bizzle had caught a few bass from shore while Pete sweated it out in the tent. We had chicken tacos for diner and went out for one more round of fishing. AB and I threw top waters and managed to connect with a few eager small mouth and pike but nothing great. Night came and we settled in at camp to finish our mouth wash and lake trout. Plenty of stars for an hour, then clouds rolled in. I tried to capture pictures but had a dead battery in my cheapo remote shutter release. I forgot to mention that I had left Pete and my headlamps at home too. Lots of lessons learned on this trip! We doused the fire and retired to tents, planning on fishing the am before heading out.
AB shook the tent at daybreak which caused Pete to sit straight up and yell, ”WHAT HAPPENED??!!??”. He later told me he thought it was an earth quake. We got up, took one look at the weather and decided to pack it up. Rain was coming. It started raining as we got our last packs into the canoes and didn’t stop until we got to the truck. As we were checking the site one last time a man and woman paddled up to us. They wanted to make sure they knew where they were. After chatting for a minute I asked if they were paddling in the wind two days ago. They said they were and barley made it around an island before the rollers came. The woman looked like she was having more fun than the man. She had a huge smile stretched across her face. We boarded our vessels and departed camp for the last time. As we came around Fishhook Island the wind was whipping the last bit of lake between us and the landing into froth. We had to paddle right into it. Halfway across the lake I commented to Pete about the direction AB and Bizzle were heading. Pete stopped paddling and turned around to ask what I said. I told him “If you don’t paddle we are gonna die!” I wish I would have said this at the beginning of the trip because we cruised after that.
We got to the landing, had an ice cold Pacifico I stashed in a cooler in the truck, loaded up and headed down the trail. I had planned ahead and left a change of clothes in the cab. The others had to air dry. I guess I did something right on this trip. We stopped at the Trail Center which looked like Grand Central Station. We had a beer and got out of there as the bartender said they were way behind and we were starving. We demolished two pizzas at Sven and Olie’s and rolled back home, wishing the whole time I was soaking wet under a tarp, in a wind storm, slipping ‘um from shore, drinking low-proof booze, smoking shitty cigars, laughing with my friends. It was a great trip.
Things I learned.
Lists-Lists are your friend. Don’t lose the list. Only use one list. Double check your list. Don’t lose the list. Have a spare list if you lose the list
Food-Pretty spot on but could try some dehydrated meals next time to save weight.
Gear-Night is tough without a headlamp. Tents are for suckers. Buy a hammock (Done). Need a better tarp(Donation Dan Cooke?).
Canoe- I need a new boat.
Route- What route? Next trip will be a loop. I am tired of base camping.
Company- Same group, schedules permitting. No pillows.