Sept 30; day one After finishing some accounting work and packing early Sunday morning, I catch some sleep and hit the road for Ely on my way to Piragis Outfitters. I get there and pick up the canoe and InReach Garmin for safety (Satellite texting & SOS button). I drive up the Echo trail to Fenske Lake Campground, set up camp and get a good night sleep.
Oct 1; day two When I get up, it is overcast but a beautiful morning. I was expecting morning rain, but was able to stay dry. Went through all my bags and thought I got rid of all the non essential items. I ended up with three bags, some loose items and a canoe. I took too much time, actually walking around the campground to take some pictures. I finally got to the Stuart River Entry point 19 and hit the portage trail at 1:30. I estimated my trip to be six and 1/2 hours based on Paddle Planner. I finished the first portage of about 1 1/3 miles in 4 hours, carrying a 57 lb superior portage pack and 17 pound tackle and camera bag. The food bag was about 35 lbs and the canoe about the same. So I had to walk the trail 3 times, first with the canoe and food pack, walk back without a load, and then carry the superior and fishing bag.
It was 5:30 and I realized I would be traveling in the dark in about 2 hours. After pulling the gear over a three foot beaver dam, I finished the first 3 mile paddle on the river just as it was getting really dark. After crossing the portage, it was pitch black and I texted my cousin that I was on Stuart Lake setting up camp, figuring I was worried enough for both of us, might as well let him sleep peacefully. I had six more hours of travel, reaching camp on Stuart Lake at 1:57 am, completely exhausted - mostly physical, but also mentally overwhelmed. I had camp set up and was sleeping by 3am. It is funny how I never really panicked, even though I was very concerned about my safety. It was almost surreal paddling in complete darkness and silence with only my headlamp helping me navigate. It was complete silence, no sound at all. I should have been scared, but I was completely relaxed. I was not going to fail again on my solo... Oct 2; day three I wake up after 1pm, still sore from the previous day travels. I turned the Garmin on and saw I had a message from my cousin starting “good morning”, since it showed I received it at 12:53, I assumed this was just a poor joke making fun of the fact that I do not like mornings. Later, I realized that the message was actually sent at 9 am. I set up the CCS tarp, expecting rain, and just walked around camp and explored the area without leaving camp. About 6 pm, after hanging the food bag and stretching my sore legs and feet, I start to feel better and made some creamy noodles Alfredo for dinner. I am exhausted and just want to leave. The trip in took four hours longer than planned, and was half in complete darkness and silence. The weather radio confirmed the forecast was still calling for thunderstorms on Wednesday, with a potential good travel day on Thursday, with a high in the upper 40’s and lots of sunshine. The sun would be welcome after two overcast days. All I could do was rest and eat to regain my strength and let my muscles recover from the twelve hours of intense travel from Monday. After eating my Alfredo noodles and washing the dishes, I hung the food sack and went to bed. I slept well again, and my feet were warm, in contrast to my May solo.
Oct 3: day four Received text from my cousin wondering if I was OK. My last text to him, I mentioned how tedios (SP) it was to type a message on the garmin using the left/right/up/down buttons to navigate to the correct letters. Apparently, since I had spelled tedious incorrectly, he was wondering if I was OK! I confirmed I was fine and since there was no wind and it was just sprinkling lightly, I decided to paddle to the Dahlgren river portage to check out Falls at the other end. This was a beautiful walk and there was a great stand of Red Pines on the Dahlgren end.
After this nice walk, I decided I would check out the other four campsites on Stuart, not realizing there was a sixth site on Paddle Planner. I worked my way around to all the sites, they each had their own strengths, especially for a solo traveler. I finished the route by making my way to the falls, first time I saw them in the light.
Decided to throw a few lures to the famished fish below the falls. Either they weren’t famished, or my twister tail and jighead did not look like food. After about twelve casts, the wind picked up from the northwest and the rain picked up intensity. I made my way back to camp and got the food sack out of the tree. The rain grew even stronger and I sat under the tarp contemplating cooking my pancakes and eggs for a late breakfast. After a couple hours, the rain let up and I was able to cook my food. Even burnt pancakes taste great in the boundary waters. If you want to eat the best food you have ever had, move 150 lbs of gear seven plus miles to the point of total physical collapse and then eat. It doesn’t matter what it is, you will never have eaten anything close to the grandeur of this meal. I figured out the stove by the time I got to the eggs and they were not burnt, but with a little syrup, they tasted great. It was close to five and the weather radio was talking about a front moving through with the potential for 50 mph wind gusts (that is faster than my fastball!). I was in the sleeping bag by 6:30 doing some light reading when my eyelids got heavy. Shortly after I fell asleep, I was awoken by the wind gusts, thinking I may not live to make my exit in the morning. I heard the tarp flapping (wonder if it was the fly from my Timberline). I eventually fell asleep again and woke at 4am with the winds still whipping quite strongly. All I could do was go back to sleep and hope the weather would settle down and the nice forecast would be true. October 4, day 4 When I finally decided to leave the warmth of my mummy sleeping bag, I found the ground, tent, and tarp were covered with an inch of snow. I knocked the snow off the tarp and tent, hoping they would dry before I had to pack them away. My next trip was to the thunder box, which was covered with snow. No need for reading material in these conditions.
I got everything packed away and was pushing the canoe away from shore by 9:15 for the short paddle to the first portage, wondering how much time I could cut off the 12 ½ hour trip in. On the first portage, I fell twice without injury. But I learned my lesson and did not fall again the rest of the day. In the daylight, I missed my first turn, but it only cost about 5 minutes, as I quickly corrected course and backtracked. All I can say is the closer you get to the end of the trip, the more annoying navigation errors get. Fortunately, there were no more major setbacks, and I covered the distance that took six hours in the dark, I got it done in three and ½ hours. Hopping I could get to Piragis by 5, I only ate 3 energy bars all day, usually on the return trip of portages to save time. Can’t just sit still and rest! Another observation, after a 450 rod portage, the 80 rod ones seem really short! Now I was doing the short ones first, saving the bad boy for last. I learned that if there is a flow through a beaver dam, a good canoe will cut through and you can paddle over the moving water, if the dam isn’t 3 feet high.
As I was paddling, I did start to slow down and just enjoy the view, the Stuart river is beautiful and the surrounding area’s look like there should be moose, but the only one I saw was stuffed at the International Wolf Center in Ely.
Towards the end of the paddle, there were a couple dead calm moments with sunshine that just seemed unreal, and I lost myself in those moments, thinking this could almost be fun if I wasn’t so dang cold. I definitely need better gloves if I try this October paddling again. I finally reached the final portage at 4:10, and realized I would not make it to Piragis by closing at 5pm.
However, I still wanted to get off the trail before dark. I figured if I took the heavy pack at least 20 minutes, then I could leapfrog it with the canoe. This would give me a 10 minute rest on the way back and I could just keep repeating to get short rests while keeping this to a double portgage. There was no better feeling than reaching the parking lot at 6:17 with the canoe, realizing I only had 26 minutes left, as I passed the big pack at 6:04. Made the car with the final pack at 6:45 and everything put inside and the canoe attached to the roof by 7:15. 12 ½ hours in and 10 hours out! Two things, you can move fast when it is not pitch black, and the portages are a lot drier at night? I made the drive to Ely and got DQ and a room at the Motel 6. Sleep came fast, but my feet hurt bad. Oct 5; day 5 Woke up for breakfast and saw the snow on the ground.
Went down for breakfast and had sausage, waffles and OJ for breakfast. This meal was almost as good as the burnt pancakes. Rested for another hour and then headed to Piragis to drop off the canoe. To my surprise, the staff was not surprised to see me alive. I thought they would all be sitting around with nothing to do, but the place was hopping with several outfitting clients heading out on the day I did not want to be traveling. After a brief visit, decided to visit the International wolf center and stayed there until about 12:30 going through the exhibit and seeing the wolves. Stopped at Zups supermarket for some Dorothy Molter RB. Finally hit the road about 1:30 and got home right at 8pm. A full six day trip. Proud of my accomplishment and the fact that I did not hit the SOS button or lose my composure. Sad that my body hurts so bad and that I need to plan more realistic adventures in the future. I am having trouble enjoying my time by myself, which is contrary to being an introvert, but enjoy the trips with my cousin or family? Do I try another solo, or just do the trips that are always fun?
PS - after a few days of reflection, I think it is a challenge to keep trying to just enjoy the moment by myself and not need someone else there to validate or share what I am enjoying! But I am looking at a trip with my cousin next summer to the BWCA and a long trip with my wife to Grand Teton or Glacier National Park, so the next solo may be in 2020! Maybe I can be ready for it! But two solo's and 4 trips total to the BWCA in 2018 will always be cherished!