Dixie's first BWCAW trip
Group : 6 women (ages 37, 43, 46, 52, 56, 59) from St. Paul, Chicago, Kalamazoo, MI and Madison and one service dog. (2 year old black lab cross named Dixie)
We woke up early and antsy on this first morning at the Adventure Inn in Ely. We took a last shower, stopped at Northern Grounds for a to-go breakfast and coffee to enjoy in the car during our drive to Lake One. We were very ready to get on the water after spending the night before butting heads with the outfitter.
I should tell you that this was my first trip bringing a dog. Last summer I got a medical response service dog. ( I have had type 1 diabetes for 31 years. The dog is trained to alert me when my blood sugar is low or dropping) I spent three weeks in Jud, ND training with her. She is a lab cross with a black tongue. She has been a blessing. Her skills are so awesome. She has saved me many times in the last year. The training facility that I got her from, said that being apart for a week this early in her training would be ill advised. I talked to many people about how to travel with a dog, and was feeling ready to do it. We had done a weekend practice trip on the Namakagon and St. Croix Rivers, and she was a star – both in the canoe and at the campsites. I packed her a small thermarest, 1 toy, 1 bone, and a small fleece scrap that I got for .50 cents at the fabric store. That all fit in a small stuff sack that I put in one of our personal packs. She had her own pack with a week’s worth of dry food, and a zip lock of dehydrated chicken for snacks. (about 8 pounds total) Our plan was to have Dixie on leash for the first couple portages until she got the hang of it, then to let her off. (I know, I know, the rules say that dogs have to be on a leash…but she is a service dog) As one of only two women that can carry a canoe on this trip, it wouldn’t work for me to have her leash. I would have to have a friend take her leash and stay relatively close to me.
We were loaded and on the water by 8:00am. We paddled through Lake One, expecting to arrive at the Lake One / Lake Two portage and wait in line. To our delight… it was empty on both sides. We quickly did the two portages, (Dixie loved it! She did great on the leash) and then took off on Lake Two. There was a bit of a headwind, but we were able to get to a campsite on Lake Four before lunch. We did our camp set up…got the two tents set up, put up 2 hammocks, and filled water jugs. Then we spent a relaxing afternoon swimming, fishing, and reading.
We made a small fire at dinner to cook brats and polish sausage. Everyone appreciated the condiment packets that I had gotten from minimus.biz to create their own individual dogs. (I saw that website posted on this site—thanks to whoever led me to that site)
We were tired after a restless previous night of sleep at the hotel, so we turned in early so that we could get an early start to Insula the next day. I slept in my new sleeping bag—a Big Agnes. I used my old ¾ length luxury edition thermarest in the sleeve. It was great! No rolling off the pad. What a super find!
Day 2 (Lake 4, Hudson, Insula)
We got up at 6am and packed our camp up. We enjoyed hot chocolate and coffee from my newly acquired French press. (mmmm!) We never cook breakfast in the morning. Each gal is responsible to bring her own breakfast. (Lots of special dietary needs)
We hit some traffic on the portage from Hudson to Insula. It was on this portage that we realized that one of the canoes that we had rented was holding water in the air bladder in the stern. As I carried it across the portage I could hear the water sloshing around. It drained some as I walked, but it weighed so much more than the other canoes. It took a lot of triceps work to pull the bow end down. Dixie was off leash on the portages so that she could get to me if I needed her. She was great. She stayed right with me.
Did I mention yet about how much we loved using our Bungee Dealey Bobs!! It was great to fasten our Nalgene bottles while canoeing so they weren’t sloshing around the bottom of the canoe.
We paddled the length of Insula today, trying to get as close to the Kawishiwi as we could. We found a campsite on the Northeast shore. It was a great big beach with adequate tent pods. The tents were set up, water jugs filled, and then another lazy afternoon swimming and fishing. One gal caught a couple crappies and we enjoyed them for a dinner appetizer to go with our Boboli pepperoni pizza. (with minimus.biz Parmesan cheese packets) We stayed up later tonight, enjoying the night on the beach.
Day 3 (Insula, Kawishiwi River, Alice, Kawishiwi River)
We awoke to another hot, sunny day. Did our pack up, and hit the water by 9:30am. We were falling into a nice rhythm.
Nothing exciting about this day of paddling. We enjoyed the variety of scenery. We didn’t locate a campsite until later in the day today. (closer to 3pm) When we pulled around a corner hoping to find an empty campsite, we saw a group of men having a diving contest at the site we were hoping to stay at. As we paddled by, the men told us that they were day tripping from Lake Polly and that this was a great site that we should stay at. It was a beautiful site. Lots of great “rock couches” to sit over the river. We set up camp and then cooled off with a swim. We filled our sun shower for a couple of the gals to wash up. Four gals took turns using then refilling the shower. We hung it up back in the woods. After showers, we made red beans and rice for dinner. I realized that I forgot to pack the tortillas that were in the freezer. We used pita pockets instead. All worked out.
Day 4 (Kawishiwi River, Trapline, Beaver, Adams, Boulder)
We got another early start today, knowing that we had some ground to cover today. Little did we know what extra work we would have to get into Boulder. We were really enjoying the French press in the morning.
There was a hornet’s nest halfway through the portage from Trapline to Beaver. We put Dixie on a leash to keep her away from the nest, accidentally clipping the leash to her tag ring. The ring came apart and both tags went flying. We looked, but couldn’t find them. We got to the end of the portage and one gal, a talented golfer, said that if she can find golf balls in the weeds, she could find the tags. She went back, and within 10 minutes was back with both the nametag, and rabies tag. The portage from Beaver to Adams was beautiful! From afar, it looks like the portage is straight up a rock. Pulling closer, you see that the path is right next to steep rocks. Although quite buggy… the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. On the Fischer map, there are two portages shown to get into Boulder from Adams. (a ten-rod and 20 rod) Guess that’s only true when the water levels are high. We ended up getting out at a beaver dam at the end of Adams, and walking on spongy, tall weed ground to the 10-rod portage. After doing the 10-rod, we faced more fun. The creek to the next portage was too low to paddle, but there wasn’t a clear path (or any path) to get through the creek. We put packs back on and bush whacked through to the end of the creek. Not wanting to attempt that walk with canoes on our shoulders, we tied rope to both ends and lined them to the deeper water. About a half hour and many scratches later, we were ready to head to a campsite on Boulder. We turned a small corner and saw that there was another lift over spot. We unloaded the canoe, lifted the canoes, and reloaded on the other side. It’s about 3:00 and we head to the island campsite hoping to find it empty. Our hard work was rewarded, as the lake was empty and the site was open. Though exhausted, we set up the tents and went for a swim. One gal went fishing for a couple hours, but no bites.
We had a great soup dinner. Two varieties: lentil and roasted corn chowder. We put dehydrated ground beef in the lentil to add bulk, and foil pouch chicken in the corn chowder. A little Tabasco sauce made it delicious!
Day 5 (Boulder, Cap, Roe, Sagus, Fraser)
Again, we knew that this would be a challenging day. We got another early start. (we were really enjoying early morning paddles on the still, quiet waters). This morning was quite overcast when we got started.
We got to the portage at the end of Boulder. We had photocopied some text about this portage that was called “exhausting.” We started off with optimism. The path was overgrown, but nothing horrible. Then we got to the stream. It was too deep to walk through, and only about 6 feet wide. We removed all packs and one canoe, and ferried everything from the first load to the other side. (the path on one side was not directly across from the path on the other side. We had to go at an angle across the stream) Then we took turns riding across the stream in the canoe. The last 2 of us got to the other side, and we realized that we would have to leave a canoe there for our trip back across to get the remainder of our gear. The directions from our text said to veer left and walk through the bog as a shortcut. We tried. It didn’t work. The bog was so weedy and overgrown. We couldn’t see our feet. The ground was soft, and our oldest member sunk in muskeg and had to be helped out. We revamped our plan and ended up taking the “steep hill up” to connect to the portage from Ledge Lake to Cap Lake. Although not a rugged path besides the uphill part… it was long and confusing. Three of us took a short rest and had a drink, then took off to return to the other side. We had already walked for about an hour, and the walk back (including the ferry) took a good ½ hour. At least now we knew where to go. The second trip included the damn canoe that held water. It was weighing more and more every day. We had tried duct tape, draining, holding it upside down—and all with little success. The three of us finally made it to Cap. It started pouring rain and thundering / lightning. We put up a tarp at the end of the portage, and sat under it waiting for the lightning to stop. It just kept coming down. Two hours later, we thought we could make it across the small lake to the next portage to Roe. We loaded up the canoes and started to paddle. The lightning started again. We pulled off at the only campsite on Cap, and set the tarp up again. We decided that this would be a good time for lunch. We were starting to get cold and crabby. We ate lunch, taking our time. The rain and lightning finally stopped. We made a break for it and hustled to the portage. The portage was swampy and when we carefully loaded the canoes, we had quite a paddle through muskeg and giant lily pads. What else could happen today?!?! We had an uneventful paddle through Sagus, with just some lingering rain. We did the last portage of the day, and finally made it to Fraser. The wind had picked up, so we were thankful to get the first campsite we came to after the portage. The tent pods weren’t ideal, but we were tired and ready to stop. No one was interested in looking for a better site.
We set up the tents, the tarp, and put up lines to dry our wet clothes. No fishing this afternoon, but we sat on our small rocky beach and ate pistachios between swims. Dinner tonight was a dehydrated packaged meal—beef stroganoff with rice crispy bars. A welcome easy dinner for a tired crew of women.
Day 6 (Fraser, Thomas, Kiana, Insula)
Another early morning to paddle across these bigger lakes. Of course, we had a headwind. We were feeling pretty hopeful today about getting to a campsite earlier today, and only having 2 portages.
We paddled through Fraser and Thomas, stopping for photos at the big rock. We did the uphill portage from Thomas to Kiana. Before heading to the Insula portage, we had a quick lunch. The first pass over the portage was uneventful. We dropped our stuff, and four women went back for the rest of the gear. I stayed with Dixie and one other woman. About 10 minutes after the group left, we decided to go halfway back so that I could take the “stupid heavy canoe.” We got halfway, and stopped to wait. A group of guys stopped for a rest and a chat. Our friends were coming, so we started walking to meet them. We realized that Dixie was gone. We assumed that she ran to the end of the portage to meet the group. She didn’t. We split up on the portage and called for her. We went through the brush looking for her. She didn’t come. Two women went to find a campsite around 6. We kept the tarp and the lunch pack with us at the portage. It started pouring rain. We huddled under the tarp. It was starting to get dark, so we left the portage and went to the campsite. I was a mess. I took off my wet clothes and boots and went into the tent. Our plan was to take 4 of us back to the portage by 6am, and continue to look for her. The other 2 would take notes in zip lock bags to campsites. They would try to find someone leaving today to let outfitters, etc. know so they could pass on the info. We really weren’t sure what else to do. It was a horrible feeling. Spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with Dixie had created such a strong bond. I felt lost without her. I had a fitful night of sleep. Waking to pray and hope that my dog wouldn’t die alone in the woods. Knowing that I might have to leave the BWCA without her.
Day 7 (Insula)
The next morning came, and I got dressed and tried to put one of my boots on. My foot hit something. There was a bat in my boot. It took quite an effort to get it out. We tried to eat something. I ended up throwing up my pop tart after forcing myself to eat it.
We got to the portage at 6am, and split up along the trail to call for Dixie. 3-4 hours went by and the two women who were delivering notes paddled up to the portage where we stood. They had Dixie!! Lost for 20 hours, but we got her back! They told us the story. They had connected with a couple groups. A nice group of guys from Rockford, IL had agreed to make emergency phone calls for us, and pass on the word. The last site they pulled up to had a dog at it. A leader from Voyageur Outward Bound had been cooking breakfast and saw Dixie swim across the lake to her site. (If you want to see her journey… look at Fisher map F-11. She was recovered at the site just southeast of Cache Lake. Look at the elevation lines between the portage and Cache Lake!!!) She tied her up, and was waiting for someone to come looking for her. It was an emotional reunion. Many tears. Fortunately, Dixie was relatively healthy, except for extreme exhaustion. She had some deep cuts on her back right foot, scratches on her belly, and swollen paws. We lifted her in the canoe and took her back to our campsite. I fed her and wrapped her cuts. We decided to pack up our stuff and paddle to the end of Insula, so that we could get up early tomorrow and portage to Hudson, then out as planned. We started paddling around noon. Fortunately, it wasn’t windy on big Insula and we made it to a site. Being so worn out we just didn’t have a lot in our reserves for a big paddle.
We were so completely exhausted. We made tuna sandwiches and ate a big lunch. We tended to our ailing feet, sore from wearing wet socks and boots for long hours. We had blisters and major athlete’s foot. Dixie slept, and slept, and slept. We relaxed in the shade for the afternoon. Fish were caught, and we had fish and black beans and rice for dinner. We tried making chocolate chip cookies from a mix, but they burned horribly to the pan and ended up in the trash.
It was an early night. We were grateful for a clear night and everyone’s safety. We crashed in the tent, content to have Dixie back in her spot.
Day 8 (Insula, Hudson, Lake Four, Lake Three, Lake Two, Lake One)
This day was long because we had lost time when we were looking for Dixie. We had planned to stay on Lake Two or Three, but didn’t want to portage with her yesterday, as her paws were so swollen and it was painful for her to even stand.
Dixie was much better today. She assumed her riding position in the canoe. (on top of the food pack, looking forward) We had an easy paddle to the portage. Unfortunately, there was a large family that arrived right before we did. They had two canoes, and were carrying them across one at a time, with four people holding the gunnels on each side. We knew that we were in for a wait. After a wait, we quickly moved across the portage. AND YES, Dixie was on a leash the rest of the trip. We paddled the length of Hudson, and then did the portages into Lake Four. Again, we were in congestion and had to wait at each portage. It’s hard when we’ve been so secluded for the last several days. We paddle Lake Four and Three, and pulled over for a quick snack before moving into Lake Two. The weather was hot and sunny, and although we were hot, we appreciated traveling with no wind and our gear staying dry. Of course, the portages out of Lake Two were packed with people. We had a good chuckle as we passed a woman, dressed in fashion with several glitzy necklaces and a garbage bag of stuff in her arms, who said “Wow, I don’t remember this portage being so long!!” We wanted to say “LONG. You can’t even imagine the long that we’ve had.” We hurried through the portages and made our way onto Lake One. The reality was starting to set in. We would be done soon. My bow woman put both feet in the water over the sides of the canoe and refused to paddle. We paddled with our paddles upside down. We tried to stay. But eventually we got to the entry point. We loaded all our gear in the cars and drove to Ely. After a frustrating discussion with the outfitter about our leaky canoe, we went to the Chocolate Moose for a pitcher of beer and dinner. Bellies full we got in the cars and drove back to St. Paul.
A big thank you to any reader that was involved in Dixie’s safe return! It was a miracle.
We'll be back next summer.