8 Months to Johnson Falls
Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/18/2013
Entry & Exit Point: East Bearskin Lake (EP 64)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Communicating with George Gradek during the last 8 months has been both rewarding and lots of fun for me. We have been back and forth by e-mail and using BWCA.com's forums. We discovered we had very common interests as well as both of us having some physical challenges, and everything just fell into place. Many months ago we decided to trip together and meet for the first time at his home in Grand Marais. I began my drive from St Louis, MO on June 16 at 10:00 am. I drove for about 11 hours that day and found a room at the Voyageur Motel in Two Harbors - nice basic room, fairly inexpensive, and easy in and out. The next morning I woke and planned on trying the long heard about Judy's Cafe for breakfast. I thoroughly enjoyed the breakfast, the 8 local men around their regular table, the 4 local women around theirs (a very jovial bunch), and a trucker from Alaska. After that breakfast hit the spot, I drove on up Hwy 61, stopping at Gooseberry Falls. A short hike to the falls due to some construction around some trails, and I then took some nice pictures. I stopped in the visitor's center just long enough to forget my camera, so I can't include them here. The falls are very nice and there are numerous pictures in a number of reports on this forum. I continued the very enjoyable drive up the north shore and reached Grand Marais, making a quick stop to top off my gas tank. I concluded my drive by driving 5 miles west on te Gunflint Trail to the absolutely beautiful home of George and Lesley Gradek (georgelesley and kiwibird). A driveway taking me far off the road led me to their well-hidden home in the woods. Not only a beautiful home, but some acres of wooded beauty and wild river frontage on the Devil's Track River. We sat around and talked, went through our gear and sorted out what we needed and didn't need (we both had plenty of duplicates and I threw plenty of my gear back in my car, and went into town to get my fishing license at Huck's. I also purchased another disposable camera to replace my brain fart earlier in the day. Being a high school basketball coach, I was curious about the 2 young guys waiting on us, who looked every bit of 6'10" and 6' 7". I, however, fought off the urge to ask them the question they were probably tired of hearing. George and I then drove back to his house and loaded up the rest of the gear, the canoe, and the 3 of us took off for town again. I took them out for a dinner overlooking the Lake and harbor. The food was great, the day was beautiful, and what a view! George and I were now ready for our long- awaited trip into the BWCA using entry point 64, and the morning would be here before we knew it!
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Part 1 of 6
George and I woke up on Tuesday and got ready for our trip. I was initiated into the Lesley world of cooking. She fixed some eggs and waffles with maple syrup, and we heartily stored a few calories for our first day. George cranked up the pick-up truck, and we shoved off on the Gunflint Trail, heading for Bearskin Lodge. George had made arrangements to leave his car there, so we used their beach as our put-in for our canoe. A 20 minute drive and a quick carry to the beach had us loading the canoe. We had 3 large packs (2 personal and 1 gear), a couple chairs, our fishing gear (4 rods, 2 tacle boxes, a large landing net, and a stringer), a 30 liter blue barrel for a food pack, and a day pack for day trips. As we shoved off and started paddling, the water was calm and the weather was nearly perfect. There was a slight west wind in our favor, bright sun, and cool temps. It took us ~ an hour to paddle the length of East Bearskin. We found the portage to Alder without any difficulty, and began our first portage of 52 rods. The portage was very simple with a gradual rise up and drop down at the beginning and end. There were some beautiful pines in the middle of this portage. George and I were hoping to double portage without pushing it too hard, and that's the way it worked out. We snacked on a bunch of trail mix that I'd brought along for the trip and some bacon jerky. The bacon jerky is a fairly new treat that I got at Wal-Mart and Sam's. It's very tasty - I like it much better than beef jerky. We geared up again and paddled the length of Alder. About another hour of paddling and we arrived at the portage to Canoe Lake. A very simple 25 rod portage got us there quickly. As we geared up the canoe again, we looked across Canoe Lake and saw that our target campsite was open, and we paddled over to it. Our plan was to use this camp site for a base camp while we fished in lakes nearby. We got out and took a little walk around and planned our camp set up. There was a small pile of firewood near the camp fire area. We had lots of tent pads to choose from. George chose the west end of the pine area for his tent and I took a spot with the path to the throne nearby. We set up our tents and held off on doing a tarp. Weather looked good to us for a couple days. We sat down and relaxed for awhile, had some lunch that Lesley made for us - some really good sandwiches with ham cheese and her sweet spread that she makes from scratch. I filtered some water for our cooking and for our drinking bottles. There was a hanging tree out over the water that I called the "multi-purpose tree," and I could stand on it over ~12" of water to filter. After a short rest, I decided to work on our supply of firewood. George brought a nice camp saw and axe, and they were fun to play with. I found some wood around and there were some to work on. It was a very cool day, so a campfire was in order. We made a nice campfire, and we sat awhile to enjoy it. A couple minutes later 2 eagles flew by right over us. They were gliding and hunting their meal. Pretty soon it was time to cook our first dinner. George has a tradition of brats on the first night, and we both cooked a couple on the open fire. The evening was cooling quickly so we both added a layer while we were sitting. We enjoyed eating and talking for a couple hours, then decided some shore fishing off the camp site was in order. George quickly went for his favorite lure and stared casting. A little while later I joined him. As we finally began to think of ending without catching one, I threw in my last cast and "bang!" It was fun seeing that fish strike on top water, and George netted it for me. We had a 2.5 lb smallmouth to admire and release right before it was getting dark. We sat up for a few more minutes and planned our next day. We were planning on going into Paddle Lake to fish awhile. We both headed for our tents with a confidence that we both enjoyed again. George's stroke a few years ago and knee surgery a couple months ago had given him some doubts. He had just got out of his wheel chair 2 weeks ago. My 3 surgeries on my wrist, shoulder, and knee a year and a half ago as well as recently diagnosed fibromyalgia and spinal stenosis had given me some doubts. We were now ready for a great week!