Trout in the Time of Covid
by PatrickE

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/07/2020
Entry & Exit Point: Moose Lake (EP 25)
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 3
Trip Introduction:
Video of some of the trip highlights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZYqAjsytfw . Getting to Ely, MN this year was no small feat. With a viral pandemic still yet to hit its height, even the prospect of air travel brought some skeptical stares from coworkers and concerned glances from friends. There was also the question of whether I'd be required to quarantine for two weeks upon my return. That would have translated into two weeks of personal vacation time and with a wife expecting our third child in the next several months, that would have been a trip killer. After some deliberation, the answer was thankfully "no quarantine required" from work as long as I remained asymptomatic. I assured everyone that I was safer in the middle of the wilderness than at work or even at home...well safer from the virus at least. My wife being thirty weeks pregnant, even with a two-year-old and four-year-old at home, knew how much this trip meant to me. As she continued to encourage me to make it happen, I knew the price of single parenting for a week was enormous. Without her sacrifice, none of it would have been possible. For the past three years, I've made the annual pilgrimage to Ely. The area has a cult like following and as a member of that group, BWCA.com has become a daily ritual. My nightly addiction is to scour the gear sales and talk myself into buying more equipment I definitely don’t need. The ironic thing is I've never actually bought anything from the threads, but what begins as research into a canoe, or pack, or tent and sooner or later, translates into me being the proud owner of something new. The gear pile grows, and I meticulously begin to plan every pound for a trip that is sometimes months away. My first trip to the BWCA was several decades ago as a Boy Scout. I have always had fond memories of that trip, but more than that, for years I longed to go back and paddle the waters for reasons I can’t quite explain. The connection is something that is hard to describe. I remind myself at the end of a trip of how sore I am from days of paddling or how much my neck and back ache from sleeping in the wilderness. Yet as soon as it's over, my mind catapults ahead a year in advance and I contemplate how I can make next year's trip that much more epic and enjoyable. I know I'm not the only one who feels the pull as I read about it described countless times on the forums. The big debate I had with myself this year centered around outfitting. As my gear cache grows, I find a much smaller need to rent equipment. Traveling by air from Florida answers certain questions. My newly acquired Souris River Quetico 17 would have to stick to the Orlando waterways for now. Food is another matter. My anxiety level was higher this year leading a group and being in charge of everyone's menu. Will there be too little food? Too much? Not enough variety? Too many choices (i.e. too much weight)? The questions raged in my mind but a quick search of the forums indicating countless others who had shared the same experience with more seasoned minds guiding us through the process. After much deliberation and more than a few questions asked on the forums, I took the plunge and purchased Dan Cooke's barrel bag. The separate zippered pouches were also purchased and they were a huge help in organization and dividing the meals. Shipments from Camp Chow and PackItGourmet soon followed. Days at work grew longer as I would get an email notification that a package had arrived at the house. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I would rip open the packages as soon as I got home and navigate how they fit into my trip plan. My dining room became the war room with gear constantly shifting from one pile to another. As my annual outing has grown more regular, so have the participants. It seems every year there are multiple people interested, but as life gets in the way, family, work, or some combination typically dwindles the crowd as the deadline approaches. My two brothers-in-law, Grant and Davis, have been all in for about a year now. I tripped with Grant in 2019 through Quetico and Davis in 2018 on the south arm of Knife Lake. Each of us married one of three sisters. While our wives are very different, their general disdain of fishing, bugs, and tents (I didn’t say outdoors) has fostered a brotherhood out of necessity between the three husbands. It didn't surprise me very much how well we all get along given our love of these types of trips. While my wife still insists she will go camping if we can find a place that doesn’t have bugs, I haven't been able to quite work that one out yet. What was potentially a group of six paddlers slowly dropped one by one as other commitments forced friends and family members to stay home this year, until there were only three paddlers left, myself, Davis, and Grant. Once the three of us were committed, we narrowed down our entry point. I've been a fan of LaTourells in the past as well as Voyageur North. The experiences have been great. While it may be atypical, I like to try out a different outfitter each year and meet new people. This year it was Williams and Hall. The immediate perk is a lodge right on the waters of Moose Lake. I find myself so amped up the morning we depart for a trip. Getting on a bus/van for any period of time the morning we get on the water has always been hard for me to stomach. The anticipation is kind of like a kid waking up on Christmas morning and being told you need to stay in your room another hour. Getting on the water right away has an allure to me that is hard to beat. Another selfish reason is memories of that Boy Scout trip. While I can't remember exactly where we stayed, I have vivid memories of swimming off a dock with a large lodge right on the water. The last reason is QueticoMike. I figured if I wanted to catch fish, I've got to sleep where the pros sleep. Williams and Hall seem to fit the bill.
Day 1 of 8
Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Departure day. I envy paddlers who start their story with “I made the two to three hour drive up to Ely”. Orlando, FL would make for quite the drive (approximately 26 hours straight). We each decided to fly into Duluth this year to shorten the post flight car ride. A two hour car ride from Duluth didn’t sound too bad. I woke up at 4 am with the typical pretrip jitters. What could I forget? It’s always the simple stuff you assumed you couldn’t possibly forget. I stared at my bags and went through the Excel pack list again and again. I was as ready as I could be. At fifty pounds apiece, the two checked bags were at their limit (for the airline anyway).

It was tough making some final cuts, but with a fire ban in place and record heat wave, I decided the axe and saw weren’t going to see a lot of use. A heavy fleece went back into the closet. Many of the food items got pushed aside with the plan to purchase them again once we landed in Duluth.

Grant, Davis, and I were converging from Austin, Atlanta, and Orlando respectively. The Orlando airport was an eerie sight. There were virtually no security lines and absolutely no wait anywhere I went. Gate after gate sat empty. What few people I did see all had masks on. It did make me feel better about flying.

After meeting up with the rest of the crew in Chicago, we pulled up a map over beers and debated certain routes and tried to get a feel for what type of trip we wanted. After a few beers and a quick burger, we masked up and boarded a small regional jet bound for the 90-minute flight to Duluth.

A quick stop at the rental car counter and we were on our way. I may have overdone it with the Yukon XL car rental. The thing looked like a tank and had more than enough room for all of the bags and then some. The Duluth Walmart provided the necessary last-minute additions like summer sausage, Wesson oil, and what we thought would be enough peanut butter and jelly to feed us for the week.

The short drive up the Ely flew by and we soon found ourselves at the Boathouse sipping on IPAs and downing gunboats (cream cheese stuffed jalapenos topped with sausage). It would’ve been their blueberry beer but the waitress had a wicked Minnasota accent and we couldn’t understand most of her beer recommendations. At the end of the meal, she told us it was the blueberries that weren't in season, but they had more than enough beer in stock. I couldn’t resist a walleye sandwich for dinner with the ever-present possibility of getting skunked if we didn’t catch any fish. A quick stop by Piragis to pick up a Garmin InReach rental and we headed towards the Williams and Hall lodge on Moose Lake.

We reached the lodge about sunset. Everyone had already left for the night and we had called ahead to get instructions on finding the room. We couldn’t resist heading straight down to the docks and taking a look around. We quietly eyed the canoes wondering which ones were destined to be our trip partners for the week. I don't know if I'm the only one that does this, but I eyed each solo wondering which would take me on my way. I had read multiple forums on whether three travelers were better in one canoe or a tandem with a solo. I had never paddled a solo before but had the itch to try it. There was no way in my mind the three of us were going to all try to fish out of one canoe.

Each of us made those last-minute phone calls to the wives knowing cell service would be nonexistent the following day. I vaguely remember these same docks more than twenty years prior with the Boy Scouts. Standing on the docks made me confident this was the same place. It made me want to jump in the water and relive that childhood memory.

We found our way up to the room and spent the next hour unpacking and repacking, eliminating redundant items, and trying to minimize the painful portage weight we knew was to come. Sleep did not come easy as the nervous anticipation of another year’s trip on the horizon. The heat wave Ely was facing didn’t help sleep either.

~Moose Lake