Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

ontario-northern canadien shield 2012-Kenora
by cjrn

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/01/2012
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
The gentlemen sitting next to me is talking nonstop about the economy and tapping his pen incessantly on his laptop. Not really paying attention, I occasionally smile politely and nod my head in understanding. The family to the right is arguing with their 3 year old about sitting still and I check my watch to see just how much longer I will have to be seated here. Twice I have excused myself to escape to the restroom and at this point, it briefly crosses my mind to head there again. The thought that 'economy-man' may think that I am doing something illegal, have a bladder/bowel problem, or even worse, figures out that I just don’t want to listen to him, prevents me from making the trip to my all-to-brief refuge. And these are the very reasons I am on this plane to begin with. My once a year trip to nothing and everything all in one.

The plane lands in International Falls and I am grateful to the God of winds and jet streams and airline-pilots- with-someplace-to-be that we are 20 minutes early. I hadn't taken any carryon bags so my exit is swift and painless. For those who haven't been to the airport, it is small by comparison but efficient and friendly. I squat on the floor and wait for my red North Face bag to appear. There are perhaps 20 people standing in front of the carousel and my sight is drawn to the tall grey haired woman who is weaving through the people looking for me. Katie is an amazing person. She is smart, witty, and is the type of person you would love to keep in your back pocket. After a quick airport reunion , we are both anxious to get on the road. I have crossed the border many times before but this is my first time at International Falls. Oddly, it seems that the border crossing station is situated in the middle of a paper mill. The road snakes back onto itself between the buildings and crosses tracks to robotic trains from the mill. It doesn't take long before we are outside of the "city" , driving passed small homes sporting various 'for sale' signs and closed businesses. Our destination is a square non-descript brick building that hosts an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources office. I had applied for my permits months before but was not able to print them out from my computer. As it turns out, they could not locate my application and I had to apply for a replacement. Months later I will get two cards in the mail curiously arriving at my house on the same day. With our Queens land permits in hand, we head to grab a bite to eat. When travelling, Katie is the best person to go with. As she pointed out, she is not likely to be detained at any border crossing, she is a fantastic map reader, and most importantly, knows the very best places to get a great meal. We travel the two lane TCH passing roadside bait shops, homes and sheds that appear to have been thrown together in hast. Lichen covered granite boulders dominate the landscape, scraped and rounded by the receded glaciers which sculpted the Canadian Shield. If you happen to Google Earth the area, it is easy to imagine the scrapings and debris left as the glaciers retired farther to the north. Conifers of jack pine, black spruce and firs grow out of the crevices. I lose track of time as we travel, my mind wandering the roadside lakes and waterfalls, imagining the perfectly placed lure along the rocky shore, the swirl of surface water before the strike, and sharp draw on the now wildly dancing line. The rumbling of my stomach reminds me that we haven't eaten in hours and as if she reads my mind, Katie pulls off the road, the tires losing traction on the loose gravel, we pull up to a small family roadside restaurant.  The employees smile and greet us warmly as we enter and it is obvious that they know Katie. Our waitress shares with us that her trip from home to high school was a 4 hour trip in which she had to change buses about halfway. The owners' husband is a bush pilot and the walls are decorated with local artists paintings of planes and wildlife from the area. The food is good as promised and I make a mental note to return here in the future. As we head back to the car, I realize that I don’t know exactly where we are or where we are going (aside from a satellite view on Google). The path Katie has chosen takes us along abandoned highways, dirt paths and cutaways. An hour or so later and we are bouncing down what I will loosely call a road (When I say "loose" I really mean "not a road at all but more of an area without trees") crossing a few streams and weaving around jutting rocks and washouts. I can see lakes to the left of the road and to the right of the road but our destination still lies ahead. More than twice we have to exit the vehicle to walk through streams to see if it is passable. I had my doubts a few times.... It is getting late in the day and I am concerned that we will not make camp by dark, finding comfort in the fact the it doesn’t really get dark until 1000p. The road opens up a bit and I can see what looks like a small lake to the left. We untie the canoe and load up our gear and lock up the vehicle. It doesn't take but a few strokes for us to have a well synchronized rhythm as if we had been paddling together for years. Truth is, I believe we were both a little nervous about this particular aspect. Anyone who has had to struggle the awkward, inefficient workings of incompatible partners knows exactly what I am talking about. The lake is narrow, rock faces tower on either side and switchbacks on itself like a mountain trail. A few short portages, traversing a few beaver dams, and we are at our destination lake. This lake is much larger by comparison with gently sloping borders and occasional island. Our campsite is the largest island on the lake with steep cliffs at its center. We set up on the east side shielded by wind and weather. The ground is covered with pine needles making a soft pallet. I fall to sleep in the sharp air, lullaby the sound of water lapping at the shore, owls, loons, and wolves. Its comforting in a way difficult to describe. I grew up in a small town along the Mississippi River. Listening at night to the low rumbling of the barge engines heading north with their loads, the vibrations of the distant train on its tracks, and possum and raccoons making their nightly rounds. Sounds you take for granted until you are away. Katie wakes me at first light (actually a bit before). We throw down a quick breakfast, eager to explore the inlets, islands, and waterfalls. This is my first time base camping and I admit, perhaps I'm at the age where it should be my usual. We spend the day on the lake, fishing and laughing at each others missed opportunities and 'I cant believe it" casts. We break only for lunch before exploring another area of the lake, agreeing that this one is definitely the best. Supper is our catch, we choose walleye (except for the Pike that took a lure cementing his fate as dinner). Our day ends after dark, setting the tempo for the week ahead, the only variable, a portage here, a new lake here, a waterfall over there.... We exit at the end of the week, without a trace, feeling regretful, hopeful, balanced, and satisfied.