Second solo, after my first last August, where I struggled with the isolation. I didn't particularly want someone around me to talk to, but I did want someone around me I could ignore. Still, after the trip ended, I couldn't wait to make it back up in 2020 and give it another try. Then I caught Covid in March (one of the first 150 positive tests in Minnesota! ...yay?) and I never quite felt back to 100%, but by August I felt good enough to give it a try, as long as I kept on relatively busy lakes in case something really went wrong.
Up at 4:45 am, with everything packed with the exception of some frozen bratwurst for dinner that night. That went into the ursack, which went into the portage pack, which went into the car, and off I went. I realized I had no sunscreen and burned hard on my last trip, so about two hours later as I hit Cloquet just past 7 am, I gassed up and picked up some SPF whatever at a Walgreens that had just opened, then an hour later when I got through Virginia, MN, an egg mcmuffin. That McD has been a waypoint for me on trips both in and out; one last fast hot meal that's awful for me. I got to Ely and Piragis by 9, and it was surprisingly crowded; they said they had 18 groups being outfitted that day and it seemed half of them showed up at the same time. All I needed was the canoe, paddle and PFD, so once they got to me I was in and out in only about ten minutes, then surprised to see a buzz on my phone of a refund from recreation.gov. Apparently I never noticed that previously - when self-reserving a permit ahead of time, the smallest group available is 2 people, and then when the issuing station ... issues the permit for the solo traveler, the excess amount was refunded. heck yeah, that pays for that egg mcmuffin.
Getting to Lake One is easy from Ely, just take the road out of town east until it dead-ends at the entry point. Unloaded the car, loaded the canoe - just me, the pack, the paddle, the removable yoke for the Wenonah Prism, and a map/compass in a ziploc. I have a love/hate relationship with Lake One, because it's relatively easy to navigate, but it's indirect as hell to get through, and I have a fondness for getting off a portage, looking across a lake, and saying "I am going to THAT SPOT" or "through THAT GAP and then turn left, I'm there". You don't get that on lakes 1-4.
By the time I got through those two short portages to Lake Two I was already sitting down on the side of the portage to catch my breath. It was a clear day up to that point, but this was also the clearest indication that I've still got residual reduced capacity, which proceeded to piss me off. The travel days on my solo trips tend to not be contemplative; my mind is either fully occupied by the task at hand, or it's frustrated at a minor issue that I perseverate on. It's a rare occasion that I can just stop and drift when I have a specific objective. So, there I was, starting to stew, and I've been on the water maybe two hours tops.
It was crowded as heck. Every site going through One was full, and every site going through Two was full; I was hoping to get the furthest SE site on Two as that was where my daughter's first trip was, but it was occupied so I moved into Three. I ended up taking #2220 on the island at the north end of Three, which was a four-star site on paddleplanner and I'd have no qualms about saying five, given the ease of landing, the sheltered kitchen, the number of available tent pads ... well, except for the damage and trash at the site. It wasn't quite like the a boy scout troop was let loose with hatchets, but it pissed me off. Broken sunglasses. Tin can lid. Pop top. Shoelace. Bandaid. Fishhook. Thread. Rubber band. Several yards of wire, bent into a ball and left in the fire grate. Names carved into logs, though some of those had been there for years. Live branches piled near the fire grate -- yay you guys, you left firewood for the next group, but you cut them off live trees. And all of the campsites on the west side of Three were occupied, and all those conversations carried right across the lake to me. Later that evening at sundown when the lake was calm and I could distinctly hear them talking from half a mile away (per google maps! whee technology) I said in a normal speaking voice from my shore "you know, everyone can hear everything you're saying" and I heard them laugh in embarrassment and acknowledge to one another that they were overheard. At least they were more cognizant of how sound carries across still water.
Two brats wrapped in tortillas, a cubed potato, thus went dinner. This island was full of chipmunks and red squirrels who were at first curious about my arrival, and then insulted that I chose to stay. For an hour after I went to bed I could hear them come up to the tent and investigate, and then scamper off when I snapped my fingers or shuffled in my sleeping bag.