Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Solo Canoe Training Mission
by Starshine

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/20/2012
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 2
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
As a newbie, I wanted to see how much I remembered about canoeing and test my mettle on a bigger lake. I haven't paddled for about 25 plus years and it was on a small lake or a river. I had always paddled in a two seater with a partner.
In addition to checking out my canoeing abilities, I was also checking out the new zip line at Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters, and more….first the zip line, then the paddling, and then the rest.

As I said in the summary, I haven’t paddled in a very long time. I arrived at Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters late Thursday July 19. I was originally planning to paddle that day, but various stops for supplies and a stop at the Adventure Gaming Disc Golf course in Lutsen slowed me way down. I set a new personal record of 29 days of at least 18 holes of disc golf as of July, 19. I’m very satisfied with that. I had thought that I might set up a temporary course while at Gunflint, but after doing all my other things; I decided that 29 days was enough for this run.

I arrived about 8:15 PM and went to the outfitters to find my lodging assignment. I stayed in a bunk cabin. Each bunk cabin contains a refrigerator and several bunks. Mine had a double and a single bed at floor level and two singles, one over each lower bunk. The mattresses are firm, so if you need a soft bed, bring your pad.

Because I had arrived significantly after 5PM, when the outfitters office closes, Bonnie made a map and put my name on it, showing the location of my cabin. There were like 5 maps on the entry door window. I wasn't alone in arriving late. I found my cabin and I unloaded and headed down to the Bistro. I took a few quick photos of the beautiful sunset, and the Bistro patio and dock area and a quick video and then I had the walleye quesadilla. Delicious, affordable, and light. Perfect for a late day snack. When I sat down on the patio, I started a conversation with a friendly older couple...well, I think they are a couple of years older than myself. Jim and Margit. They live just a bit up the road from the Gunflint Outfitters, and had stopped by the Bistro for dinner. They made several helpful recommendations. Over the the few days I was there I tried most of them.

Then I headed to the cabin for a good night’s rest. This night cooled off nicely and the room cooled acceptably so I got a good sleep.

I had heard about the new canopy tour/zip line and made a reservation to do the second run of the day at 10 A.M. I got up, had a fruit and nut bar and a glass of water. I was pushing close to the max weight limit of 240lbs, and had been eating carefully and exercising regularly for the last week. It is part of my total summer plan of getting more exercise and losing 26 or more pounds by mid-September. I’m slightly ahead of schedule. I wanted to do this before exerting myself paddling so that I would not be stiff or sore for this activity. When I got back to work on Monday, I weighed myself on my official scale and I was 233lbs. Nice!

I filled out the waiver, signed it and headed to the embarkation point. There a couple of young gentlemen, Steve and Vinnie, gave us a quick rundown of how to put on our harnesses. The harness fits around each leg and the waist and is cinched to fit snugly. After making sure we were properly harnessed, Steve and Vinnie led us to a small training area where they explained the simple maneuvers that we would be required to do, demonstrate them and then tested us. We all passed easily.

Next we were driven to the first platform. There are eight in all. We climbed up about six flights of stairs to the platform. Each platform stage was done similarly so I will only explain the procedure once and then share a little about some of the stages.

First Vinnie, would clip on his yellow straps (safety feature), then mount his trolley, and then zip to the next platform, open the gate, if there was one, and then prepare to receive us. Then one at a time Steve clipped our safety straps on, and told us to mount our trolley, then after hand signaling that both of them were ready, they gave the OK to take off. It was awesome! As the heaviest person, I went the fastest. We used a piece of leather strapped around our primary hand glove to use friction to slow us down if we were approaching the platform too fast.

The best leg is the longest at 800 feet in length. We take off from a cliff with a spectacular view of Gunflint Lake and the surrounding area on the Canadian side. Walking off a cliff…nice!

WCCO channel 4 from the twin cities was there filming starting at the 9 A.M. tour. The filmed us a little too, I think. It should be broadcast on Sunday July 29 on the 6 O’clock news.

I heard later that night in the bistro, while having a great Stout beer on tap, which the 400th zip line customer went through in the last run of the day. Do I have any pictures you may well ask? Well, I was reading the info online and it said no cameras. I should have asked. People brought cameras and took pictures and videos. They just didn’t do it while zipping. They took them of friends zipping toward or away from them at various stages, and some pictures were taken from the cliff edge. Wonderful backdrop on those shots. I will definitely do this again, with friend(s) and there will be pics or video!

After the zip line, I went to the bistro to have a great lunch. The Don sandwich is a corned beef sandwich and it is big, juicy, and very tasty. I had it with the Cesar Salad, which was tasty, but as often happens, a little wet, as they used a little more dressing than necessary. Yes, I am a food critic…aren’t we all a little?

Then off to the cabin for a quick nap before paddling…did I say quick nap? I overslept and a quick nap turned into a two hour nap. I was not very pleased with myself there because the later it gets in the day, the greater chance the wind will cause problems. I had been warned by the Diva herself! When I mentioned to Sheryl, aka, Mocha, that I was ready to take the solo out, she had a slightly worried and questioning look in her eye and warned me to stay near the shore, bless her heart, a warning to be heeded, as I discovered. Previous discussions with The Diva had already covered this, unbeknownst to Mocha.

She had Bonnie help me pick out a canoe as she was on an errand to another part of the grounds.

Bonnie gave me the choice between two styles of canoe. I don’t remember both names, but one narrower at the ends and one was flatter…I told you I was a novice…I chose the first because I was thinking that it would be easier to steer, with that nice pointed front. Bonnie got the proper yoke and set me up. I picked it up with the paddle she had helped me pick out, and oh, yes, l already had the life vest on, for those who pick up on details like that. So I picked it and the paddle up and off I went to the lake shore. I carefully set the canoe down right side up and a nice young man, whose name I neglected to learn, that one is on me, helped hold the canoe so I could get in…

First thing I noticed is that I picked the wrong canoe…this one is tippy! Novice! I made the best of it and started paddling out toward the end of the dock where I made a right turn, heading east. By the time I reached the end of the dock, I could feel my shoulders and neck muscles complaining. "What the heck? You never use us this much. Stop that!" Anyway, I figured I would spend a leisurely hour heading east, or maybe an hour and a half. No, accounting for fatigue and wind, I figured and extra 50% of time to return without having to strain myself and an extra 50% more as a safety margin. I’m an engineer by trade and everything needs a safety margin. So....I figured about an hour out and 2 hours back. I stayed fairly close to shore, maybe 100 to 150 feet, travelling east from point to point. At about 35 minutes out, I came to a point that had a much larger bay and the next point was about a 30 minute paddle away. I decided that the far point would be my turn around place. I took my time and eased over there. I saw a couple of people sunning on the beach on the west side of the point. I hadn’t paid much attention, but later I remembered noticing that just as I was approaching the point, I started to feel a little tail wind. I made the point and proceeded just past it to take a couple of provenance pictures to prove how far I had come. taking the pictures, I went just a little further and in toward the shore to turn around.

I came out about 100 feet from shore and…where the heck did that wind come from?

When did the waves start to get so big? Yup, I wasn’t paying enough attention! I tried to turn into the wind a little more so I was directly facing it and the waves…crap…the bow is too light and I can’t turn it over! Now what? I backed off by back paddling backward on the other side of the canoe…still didn’t get turned…the wind was just too strong for my prominent bow. Thinking quickly, I backed into the bay to get out of the wind and completely turn around. Then I kept closer to shore. About 25 feet from the boulders. I kept an eye on the water level, the boulders underneath, and the bow and steered into the wind. I only bottomed my paddle once on the starboard side. I managed to keep it turned directly into the wind and after a bit, tacked slightly toward shore. Then I tacked back outward to keep it relatively stable into the waves, which by now were about a foot deep, and I was seeing some small white caps.

Not having so much fun now…kind of…I was alarmed, but in control…kind of. I kept tacking slightly in the general direction of the shoreline to get a little more out of the wind. Motor…speeding…nearby…dang fishing boats and pontoons speeding around, making waves, and I’m just trying to stay upright in the water. I managed.

Why is the Sun getting dimmer? Ruh roh. Clouds heading in, are we in for a blow? I see rain on the western horizon. Pick up the pace! Glad I have some energy reserves, looks like I’ll need them. It took me about 10-12 minutes to get turned around at the point from just before the failed first attempt to the successful second one. It took me about 35-40 minutes to tack back and forth and reach the point at the other side of the big bay.

Now, how many points to the dock? 4 or 5 I’m thinking. Each point going east had pushed further and further out into the lake, so each time I cleared a point, I had to head back toward port to get closer to shore. Now as I cleared a couple of more points, I could see a split in the rain. Most of it was going toward the Canadian side…Whew! I paused to take a couple of pictures of the western sky.

Then I continued on. Just as I finally pushed past the last point, I saw a smaller, but wet looking cloud almost over the dock area. Maybe if I push on fast enough, I could beat the rain. The wind had died down and I was making good time. I powered on.

I am pretty sure I was NOT using good paddling technique as I was taking 3 or four strokes on each side and then switching sides with the paddle. It felt more efficient because I’m a little clumsy at switching the paddle from side to side yet. I was stoking! Coming in hot. I saw a couple of big soft drops as I started approaching the docks. I was going to get a little wet…0h, well. I had my beach shorts on so as long as the pedometer didn’t get too wet, I’d be alright. What? I carried my pedometer paddling? I never said I was a genius. Give me a break.

I was coming in pretty fast, and had to double pump the breaks on the other side of the canoe to slow down and turn into the slot to hit the beach. Well, Steve! Nice to see you! He pulled me up on shore so I could climb out easily. We chatted for a couple of minutes in the light, large droplet, rain.

Then I headed into the Bistro. The Channel 4 guys had just been out on the patio, but when the rain started they disappeared inside. As I was chatting with Steve, he dropped a hint. He had been involved in a canoe race the day before, across the lake and back. He said, stroke, wait about three heartbeats, and then stroke the other side. It took me a while to actually absorb that little gem. Now I headed inside for a different tap beer, Alaska Summer Ale and a roast beef sandwich, with mushrooms, gravy on a hoagie bun. YUM! Too big though, had to take some back to the cabin for tomorrows breakfast. Headed back to the cabin, it was hot inside…it took most of the night to get cool enough to sleep. Note to self, bring a fan next time!

Saturday. On Friday, we had to wait on the zip line for some trail riders to cross the area before proceeding to the ninth and final platform. Hmm. Horses…I’ve never ridden before…Hmmm. I asked at the desk at the lodge on Friday night, before retiring, and scheduled a leisure trail ride. 1 hour, $49. Seemed reasonable. I scheduled it for 11:30 so I had some time to get up and do a few things. One of those things was water proof my boots. I got out my Cabelas waxy treatment, took my laces out and started rubbing it on. I was going to finish it in time to wear them on the ride so that the flies wouldn’t get my feet. Nice. Just as I’m finishing lacing up my first boot, I hear a lovely familiar voice.

Diva! Wahoo! I greeted her and Tat and Kat. They had been on a weeklong paddle. Video to come later, right Diva? It was only 11A.M. and we headed down to the Bistro for milk shakes! Sat outside on the patio and looked around for a server…no server. I went inside to see why, and found that they didn’t open until noon! What a disappointment. So we chatted for a bit and then I got my waiver from my cabin and we headed over to the stable. I met Betsy and told her that I was the only one of us riding.

Mandy came over and it was apparent that I was the only rider that morning. Works for me. Always happy to be guided by two lovely young women. The women wranglers went through the brief training spiel, I listened attentively and we mounted up and headed out for a nice leisurely trail ride. We talked about the horses, the trail, and the views. Then at one point we had the zip line wait for us to cross the parking lot. Diva and Tat and Kat came and took some video and petted my horse Jasper and then we moved on for the rest of the tour. Mandy and Betsy shared some trail stories, mentioned where they usually put in a plug for the zip line, but they skipped the plug since I had been on it the day before.

Several times, I had to pull Jasper up from snacking. Man he likes to snack. But it is frowned upon for very good reasons. You never know when he might grab something that doesn’t agree with him, and they don’t want to encourage bad habits. He still got in a few nibbles, though. Near the end we started talking about rose hips. They grow wild up there. I found out that the best time to harvest them is right after the first frost and they should be bright red. I had seen them in fields near where I grew up, but never knew what they were. Each rose hip has more vitamin C than an average sized orange. They are not very large, about the size of a double nut peanut. I learned that they are ready for harvest after the first frost and that they should appear bright red.

After the ride, I moseyed over to my cabin to change out of the boots and long jeans. It had become very warm…again. Then I spotted Diva and Kat and Tat coming back from having their milk shakes. They couldn’t wait for me? Mannnnn. So I headed down to the Bistro for a milk shake and Diva accompanied me and shared some of her trip story. I can hardly wait for the video. Diva makes good videos.

Later that day I showed them a picture one of the clouds that most likely had hit them the previous night. It was one of the thunderheads I saw on the northwestern side of the lake as I was coming off of it the previous night. Diva, Tat and Kat and I chatted for a while after that and then they heated up some trail soup. It needed salt, but I thought it was OK for trail soup. Diva admitted later that she really didn’t like it and that she would not get it again.

Now it was time for the other thing I had come to the lake for. We all headed over to the Tuscarora Lodge to see Jerry Vandiver. He was to perform at the lodge that evening and the Divas( Diana and Tat ) were to accompany him on some of his songs. Jerry was AWESOME. I bought both CDs he had with him for sale and got him to sign both for me. I listened to them all the way home on Sunday.

Jerry was also on a mission. He was taking some relatives of AMOK on a portage that would match the last one AMOK ever took. A sad and happy trip. I never met AMOK but I have heard of his courage and strength and how he inspired people, including the Diva. I was privileged to meet Jerry and AMOK’s brother and sister-in-law and niece. It was a humbling experience hearing the stories about AMOK’s last days. May he rest in peace.

On Sunday headed to Trail Center to meet the Diva and Tat and Kat for breakfast before heading home. Heads up: Trail Center bacon is the BEST, as is their milk which is served in a frosty ball jar!

I have a few more things to acquire and to learn before my first portage in September. I can hardly wait.

One more note: Shameless plug for Gunflint Outfitters! Everyone at Gunflint Lodge and Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters is friendly, pleasant, polite, and helpful. From Cody, sorting out the life vests to Mandy waiting tables in the Bistro, Trent the great bartender. I apologize to the Blonde waitress, name starts with A. Can’t remember her name.

Steve and Vinnie, Betsy and Mandy the wranglers, and a big thank you to Bonnie and Sheryl for taking great care of me and the Diva and Tat and Kat. I give GNO a big four stars and recommend them to anyone looking for a great experience in the Boundary Waters area.


I have a couple more pictures in my photo journal, titled testing 1 2 3. Have a look.

regards, Starshine