JB was right on time as usual. One am. We high-fived and threw his gear in my car and went to pick up his buddy, Big J, whose aluminum canoe we were going to use. We pulled into J's driveway and there it was. The square stern. Not what I expected, or wanted to carry over the mile plus portage into Tuscarora. Oh, well. We'll make it work. It takes two of us to heft the monster onto my Accord. While we strap it down, I envision the straps blowing apart at the first hard stop and throwing the barge into the intersection. The straps hold.
We meet my brother in law and AB in Duluth and wait for AB's buddy Brian. It's three am and we are ready to make the drive up 61. We make a quick stop in Grand Marais for some gas and a couple of trout stamps. On the way up the Gunflint trail Big J looks at the map and notices the big portage and says, "We're not planning on tackling that TODAY at we?!?? I better get some sleep!!!!". He had been up for a while. AB was ahead of us and missed the turn, driving to the end of the trail before turning around. He found us wait for him at the turn off to Round Lake. We unload the boats, the square stern, my Grumman and AB's royalex Wenonah. Six guys and nine packs. I had organized the trip but as we were doing the final pack I realized I had no control of these savages and any advice I had given in the months before fell on deaf ears. Loose crap everywhere, one guy had a tool bag for a tackle bag with enough dipsey divers and planner boards for a charter on lake Superior. We managed to jam the boats full of gear and shove off, paddling south on Round towards the portage.
We made quick work of the first carry across the rocky portage into Missing Link. Second carry went well until I saw AB struggling with the royalex. Turns out he didn't have a yoke for it. It had officially became a circus. I knew I was going to avoid that boat on the next portage. Half way through the portage and we were in the wilderness. As i was loading up our canoe on Missing Link, a group can up behind me two guys, a kevlar and three packs. I looked at AB and said "that's us from now on" We chatted and it turns out we knew a few of the same people around Duluth.
A short paddle across Missing Link brought us to the "Main Event" as some one on BWCA.com labeled it. It wasn't as bad as advertised and with light weight boats it would be enjoyable. Nobody wanted to grab the square stern or the yokeless tub. You know its bad when the first boat to be picked up is forty year old grumman with five extra pounds of duck blind paint on it. We met the 7th member of our group, Luke, on the portage. He had entered a few days before. We rested at the Tuscarora side and pushed off for the island site. A storm unleashed a hard rain and a strong wind we had to paddle into as we crossed the lake heading towards the island site Luke had procured a few days earlier. Everyone made it safe, except Luke who was in a tandem boat solo. He managed to ride the storm out on shore in a vacant camp sight.
The day was looking to be full of gloom and doom, but the clouds eventually broke and the winds let up for the night.
We got busy setting up tents and hammocks. Ab and I were sleeping between trees this year and really had to get back in the bush to find some that would hold us. I didn't mind being away from the masses.
Luke made it back to camp shortly after we noticed he was absent. Since it was the day before opener we didn't have much to do. A few guys napped and a few others went on a fire wood search. Note to self, next year either leave earlier in the day, travel father or enter on or after opener. I cooked brats and rice &beans over the fire, which got the jackals out of their tents and circling the fire pit. A few cocktails and I was in the hammock, trying to sleep over the noise the liquor pigs around the fire were making. Some people weren't cut out for the quiet northwoods. Apologies to anyone camped on Tuscarora trying to sleep.