A distant memory of a memorable trip
Our group of canoeists were going out of a camp on Vermilion. Our group had canoed together before. We were a teenage church group. We set out with our pastor acting as guide. He once was a "real" guide. Everyone had multiple BWCA trips together, and we had some great stories, but this was the trip that was an adventure for all of us.
Previously, we had all done Lake One to Alice and out Moose. So, while I cannot recall yet where we put in, I do remember it was supposed to be a river. It wasn't long before we found ourselves tugging our canoes through the mud. I remember leeches. I remember a long portage with TWO canoe rests along the trail. And I remember our campsite, but not what lake it was on. It was so bad that more than once we thought we missed a portage... But we didn't.
Our campsite was open enough for all the tents to group together and some open space. With backs to the lake, the bear pole was on the left back corner of camp. As we were cooking dinner, we heard a lot of shouting and banging of pots at the neighboring campsite. Didn't think much of it until about a half hour later, Yogi decided to visit our camp.
After a brief introduction, Yogi scampered back towards the other campsite. We decided to get our dishes done and get our pack hung. In the process of hanging the pack, we could hear from the banging pots, Yogi was visiting our neighbors again, and a short while after that, banging pots even further down the lake. On into the night until either everyone decided Yogi wasn't getting their food, or until Yogi gave up, we followed his progress from site to site waiting for our turn. At some point I remember we decided to not scare him away his next visit unless he was going to get the pack. We all watched out from our tents as Yogi did a dance under our food pack. Eventually Yogi left us, and we all drifted to sleep.
Day 2. I remember nothing of day 2 until we came to a campsite. I remember it being sunny as we pulled into a campsite perfect for our group. It was large, and it was on a bluff. I remember being excited about all the blueberries just outside camp. (The prior year i picked enough blue berries for Pastor J to make 2 [t w o] blueberry pies.) as we pulled our gear from the canoes and began to make camp, someone commented on the trash in the fire pit. I even remember it was the foil and food remains of hobo dinners on top. And then...
A deer fly bit me.
And then they descended. A hoard of houseflies! Not deer flies, not horse flies, not bitty black flies, nor mosquitos. Just ordinary flies. But Lord! There were so many, and _biting_. Not something I even knew they did.
As this plague of flies descended upon us, we quickly grabbed our gear, threw it into the boats and left that site as fast as we could. One member of the crew I only remember one thing of her. I remember as we paddled furiously across the lake, she sat duffer and spent the entire trip across swatting at flies that had hitched a ride.
Just as well because our new site was great. Well, we thought it was at the time...
We set up camp and got all settled when Auggie comes running from the latrine, pants unzipped and held up by one hand as Auggie runs awkwardly (but surprisingly fast) into the campsite. The word "bear!" Coming from his mouth in a hoarse and desperate gasp.
We did not see nor hear BooBoo other than the one time. There being no bear pole here, we did an extra good job hanging the pack, and retired as the rain set in. A restful night it was not to be.
To this day I am a tent fanatic. All because of this very night, this very rain. While I do not remember the lake or the exact date, I remember all too clearly the river of ice cold rainwater running through my tent all night long. I remember my old cotton sleeping bag being soaking wet. I remember not sleeping much that night.
I still blame the tent. To this day I will not sleep in a Eureka A frame tent. I am certain it was not operator error. Now somehow, at some time, I have become a 'responsible adult'. I have stood by and watched as dozens of teenagers ignored my tent setup instructions, Ignored the minor issues I might point out, and ultimately spent a night of misery as the rain soaked their tent. But hey. When I was a teenager, we were different. *ahem*
The next day, we were headed for our layover camp. We had a site facing north. Tents on the east side. Firepit on a nice open boulder. I was exhausted. I went to my tent and went to sleep.
Now J was a musician and a chef as well as pastor and guide. While I slept in my tent, dinner was consumed. A fire lit, and J made up some gingerbread, and while it baked, J played his guitar and the group sang campfire songs.
We were a close knit group. We had a reunion recently, and it made me see that we were so close, yet all so different. But I digress...
We were a close knit group. While the others had devoured dinner forgetting about me, when they realized that they all felt guilty. When the gingerbread was done, they cut out the first piece for me. They put it on a plate and set it in my tent so it would be the first thing I would see when I awoke.
I never saw it. Well, I saw the plate, but that was secondary.
What my eyes beheld when I awoke was not the sight of fresh gingerbread. No. The sight that greeted me upon returning from the land of Morpheus were the teeth, tongue, and claws of a bear. In my tent. A BEAR in MY TENT!
While I know what woke me were the panicked screams of my friends when they saw the bear. I do not remember anything else of that night after the teeth tongue and claw. I don't remember the bear leaving, don't remember my reaction. Nothing.
We moved on the next day. My survival led us to call this bear Ben. As in Gentle Ben. Having Ben visit our camp again (Gentle or not) was not a restful thought. So we moved on a bit.
I would like to interject that I did not see another bear in the wild for 25 years after this. And that bear was in New Mexico.
I remember a site on a big lake, but not how big. I remember the site faced the north and I think our portage for the next morning was to the east, and I know we were close to the portage. I remember that night hearing thunder but having no rain, I decided to sneak out of my tent and look things over. There was J sitting under the tarp watching the storms. Looking north and seeing the most violent storm, and we were right on the edge, and for a long time didn't get a drop of rain.
My mother is one who always rushed everyone to the basement for every storm. My storm memories up to that point were in the basement listening to storm updates on WCCO AM. Listening to static from the lightning is more accurate. Well, mom was smart and we were safe. So this was my first experience watching a storm.
We rode out the storm under that tarp when it finally hit us. We had some wind we had a downpour and it was over. We went to bed.
We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning. We hit the lake and were quickly to our first portage where we discovered just how close the storm had come. There were 3 downed trees across the portage. We must have just lucked out and been in a sweet spot to avoid the worst of the storm. After struggling to pass our canoes over each downed tree, we finally completed the portage.
We came across another group, and they shared the news that a camper (or campers) on a neighboring lake were killed by a lightning strike the night before. I clearly remember them telling us the zipper was fused shut by the lightning. Suddenly the struggle over the portage didn't seem like such a big deal anymore.
The one lake I remember without question was the last on our trip. Nina-Moose lake. I believe it was the first site off to the left entering from the Nina-Moose River. It was a beautiful site. It had a nice easy landing with a shelf of rock to put our canoes on and quite a long gentle slope.
When we woke the next morning, our canoes were gone. All of them. We spotted a canoe drifting in the lake. In the middle of the lake. Pastor J grabbed a life jacket (it had doubled as someone's pillow I think) and a paddle we had used as a pole for our tarp, and swam out to retrieve the canoe. We took that canoe and were able to locate and retrieve all our boats and we were short only one paddle. It seems that we were a little quicker than the rainwater that had doused the area in the past week. It had baffled us how our canoes got in the water until we realized the long landing we put our canoes on was significantly shorter. The water had risen a few inches overnight.
Back in our normal routine, Pastor J continued his tradition. He worked like a dog all week paddling and portaging. On the last day he sat duffer, he only portaged his guitar. He would sit there in the middle of the canoe playing his guitar and singing. I remember clearly "Fire and Rain" to the point that when I listen to JT sing it I still hear pastor J instead. Rocky Raccoon is another that sticks in my mind. It was a period of pure joy. PJ was in heaven playing and singing, relaxing and gliding through some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. The rest of us grouped together, paddling easy, making jokes and reliving the past week in between songs.
The camp told us about storms that hit the cities, but we were not prepared for the sight that greeted us upon our return home. Freeways were closed, and it seemed that every way we knew to get home was blocked by flooding or downed trees. The area we lived in was all but cut off from the rest of the world. Remember, 1987, cell phones were not an option to have someone guide us through. We eventually made it home and swapped stories of our storm outside for their stories of the storm of the century at home as the flood slowly receded over the following weeks.
As often happens with even the best of friends in high school, we all drifted apart. College, work, marriage, kids... Life.
It was a couple years ago that Pastor J passed on. It brought many of us back together again. It was bizarre how different each of us had become, and yet we still had that bond of love and trust we shared 25 years earlier. I am so grateful for all he shared with me. Every time I venture into the wilderness, it is Pastor J who is on my mind. Whenever I touch a guitar, it is his playing that enters my mind before touching a single string. When I cook outdoors, it is his memory I am trying to impress. (Consequently, when you camp with me you eat well!)
The BWCA is a magical place. One may not remember every little detail of every trip, but the bonds that are forged there last forever. Even in my own family it is the love of wilderness trips that binds some of us together. I am so grateful for what Pastor J shared with me. I have guided so many others in the BW trying to pay it forward. The problem is, I keep getting so much more from the experience that I fear I will never be even. I just feel more in his debt.