Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

The Elephant Trip
by Spartan2

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/06/2006
Entry & Exit Point: Lake One (EP 30)
Number of Days: 9
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Author's Note One of my all-time favorite novels for pleasure reading is CENTENNIAL by James Michener. In this book, in a section titled "The Wagon and the Elephant", Michener describes the pioneers' struggles to reach the unsettled west on the Oregon Trail. The mythical elephant was the nightmare vision of those who encountered challenges that made them wonder about the wisdom of traveling on, staying put, or turning around to head back. A fearful setback was "the elephant shaking his tail", and if a pioneer actually "saw the elephant", it meant that he was making a decision to travel no further. Levi Zendt saw the elephant and turned back along the Oregon Trail, choosing to settle in Colorado, where he became one of the central characters in Michener's chronicle. His story is tragic and heroic. The story here isn't tragic, nor is it heroic. But I did have many occasions on this canoe trip to think about the elephant, as it did seem that he was shaking his tail all along the way; beginning with some extraordinary trials even before the trip began. And, in the end, we did "see the elephant". We did choose to turn back rather than follow our original itinerary. We still had a great trip, and there were many pleasant moments. But it wasn't the trip we had envisioned, nor was it as easy as it should have been. So, join us as we begin: From the first task of packing everything we need for ten days into three packs (why is there more every year that we simply cannot live without?), to loading everything into a rented vehicle. From the forgotten hat to the lost insulin. From pain in the night to a hundred finger-sticks. From the frozen water bucket to the hot sun on a rocky portage. . . . . . And soon you will see why this is called: "The Elephant Trip". LLC
Part 1 of 11
Background and Prologue:

It is September of 2006. We are 61 years old, married 38 years, and have been canoe-tripping together for 35 years. Spartan1 is a Type1 diabetic with diabetic kidney disease (approximately 50% kidney function, requiring a low-sodium, low- protein, low-potassium diet, as well as 3-5 insulin injections per day. He is also quite anemic and takes injections for that condition.) I am about 35 pounds above optimum weight, and have arthritic knees, shoulders and hands.

During the week before this trip Spartan1's diabetic specialist put him on a new blood-pressure medication (he takes four) and changed his insulin regimen drastically. The doctor knew we were going into the wilderness, but he said it would be OK.

Our car was in the transmission shop and didn't get done in time for us to leave for Minnesota. We rented a car. It seemed like packing took forever, and we were at times wondering if this trip was wise at all. We planned a trip from Lake One, the first time we have left from the Ely area in 18 years, so most of our before-trip and after-trip "traditions" were not in place. Things just felt sort of "wrong" as we began.

We left Michigan and traveled to East Lansing for the Spartan game, with green magnets on the rented car and a green canoe tied to the top. We had to stop and buy new rope because the canoe liked to slide around on the rack atop the little Subaru Forester. From East Lansing we traveled to Caro for Labor Day with family, then we drove to Muskegon and took the Lake Express Ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. After grabbing a few hours sleep, we drove to Ely and spent the night before our trip at Voyageur North's bunkhouse. We don't use an outfitter, but it was a good place to stay. We couldn't eat at the Moose because they are closed on Tuesday. Zup's was closed when we went to buy our margarine and eggs. It was a restless night before the trip.

This was supposed to be a trip to Adams Lake from Lake One Landing. We don't travel every day anymore and we don't do long days or really long portages, so we figured being on the "highway" we would make it up to Adams and back with no problem in the allotted ten days. Heck, most of you guys could do it in four!

It was in our minds to paddle by where we knew a Quiet Journey solo group was meeting and say "Hi!" Didn't happen. Oh, well. . . .