We'll learn as we go...
Saturday, June 18, 2016 - The longest day. Our journey to Minnesota began after work Friday night. We had a four hour drive from our home in Minocqua, Wisconsin and head to the Temperance River Campground in the Superior National Forest. The truck was loaded to the gills with gear, my wife, Krystal, me and our two dogs at the time, Gichi and McKeifer.
The journey to the campground went quickly with music blaring and windows down. When we arrived at the campground, it was nearing sunset. We quickly threw up the two Hennessey hammocks we had brought specifically for this one evening of car camping, grabbed a cold beer, and headed down to the river to watch the sunset. The Temperance did not disappoint under the purple glow of the dying light.
We woke early on Saturday to begin our drive up to Grand Marais, over and up the Gunflint to Round Lake. We woke early enough to grab a gorgeous breakfast at the South of the Border Café, and with full bellies, began the rest of the winding journey up the Gunflint. And for our virgin eyes as we had never drive up the Gunflint before, that view as you drive over the high point in the road by Gunflint Lake took our breath away.
When we arrived at the put in, like busy bees we scurried about, unloading and loading, and double checking everything. The heavy Wenonah Spirt was loaded with our two Astrel backpacks loaded with drybags full of gear, food for two humans and two dogs. One of the dogs was to wear a doggy backpack full of food. More on this later. We had no yoke on the boat, so the idea was to have both of us carry the boat while wearing the backpacks as we made our way over the portages. Yeah, never again!
We carefully got in the canoe and slipped across the glassy waters of Round Lake arriving quickly to the portage into West Round Lake. Right out of the gate, we had problems on the first portage. Two people carrying one canoe with two fully loaded packs are entirely subject to any motion from the other person. When my lovely wife dropped her water bottle, she bent over to pick it up with the canoe up on our shoulders with no forewarning to me. The canoe slammed into my forehead. After a mildly heated discussion, we both agreed that any movement other than just generally walking across the portage had to be announced loudly and clearly ahead of time.
We stumbled on until we got to the boardwalk section of the portage, and with my head already pounding, we made it West Round Lake. We quickly loaded the canoe, and set across the small section we had to paddle to the Edith Lake portage. We were about halfway across the boardwalk section of the Edith Lake portage and the backend of the canoe, which Krystal was holding, swung quickly to the right as she slipped, then I slipped, crashing down on the boardwalk, scrapping my leg and side up as the canoe crashed on top of us, more specifically, onto my leg. I was ready to give up and threw a mild temper tantrum, but resolutely agreed to continue on with best foot forward and we made it to Edith Lake with a deep bruise creeping to the surface of my leg.
We cruised across Edith Lake and managed the portage to Brandt with no major issues. We saw our first canoeist as we drifted across Brandt Lake. We were already minorly tired, but that would change quickly as we gathered up our gear and traversed the portage to Gotter Lake. From what I remember, the portage was steep, and rocky, and the canoe and packs felt like lead weights. We neared the zenith of the portage and paused for a few moments rest and then carried on down the descent to Gotter Lake. On the first steep downhill, we stumbled on the dog backpack Gichi had been wearing in the middle of the trail. Hands full, and gasping for breath, we got to the bottom of that hill and basically tossed the canoe into the brush. I stumbled back up the hill, grabbed the pack, and completed the portage. We would be carrying our good boy's doggy backpack the rest of the trip.
Red faced, sweating buckets, and in dire need of fuel, we left the canoe on the side of the portage, well out of the way of any travelers, and sat on the edge of Gotter Lake, shoes off, and feet being soothed by the cool lake water. We ate a bit of lunch and saw our second group of travelers for the day. I can only imagine what they thought of us but at least the dogs behaved themselves.
Following our brief lunch rest, we went back for the canoe and could not believe how heavy it felt without the packs. A sure sign we where exhausted already. But we managed to get the canoe in the water, loaded and we drifted across Gotter to Flying Lake. Now looking back, with the ultra lightweight canoes and gear we have now, that portage to Flying Lake should have been a breeze. But on that day, with that gear, and our already exhausted state, poor Krystal was red as a beet from exhaustion, and that stairway was daunting. We took our time but managed to get down, but Krystal wasn't looking so hot. We knew we had to carry on as our goal was Gillis Lake, and there were three more portages to go. With our always persevering mindset, we carried on across the small section of Flying over to the portage to Green Lake, our last big portage of the day. And boy did that portage reveal just how exhausted Krystal was that day.
We threw our stuff out of the canoe and I walked up the portage a bit to see what we were getting ourselves into. I came back to Krystal and shook my head. It's straight up hill, basically. We both shrugged and knew we had to conquer this last big challenge, so we threw the packs on our backs, struggled to get the boat up on our shoulders, and began to trudge up, up, up the portage. We were about three quarters of the way up that first big ascent, when suddenly the motion forward stopped as Krystal mumbled, "I think I'm going to puke." And puke she did, with the canoe and pack still on her shoulders. Mind you, we managed to back up in the woods to avoid any unsavory vomit on the portage trail, but that woman emptied every last morsel of energy lining her stomach. She caught her breath, drank a little water all with the canoe and packs on, and then we maneuvered back on the trail, and kept going! See, perseverance! I had never been more proud of us that day then when we finished that godforsaken portage.
With the worst behind us, this first day was starting to wind down. It was late in the afternoon and we had two more lakes and two tiny portages until Gillis. To say these last two were a breeze after the day's adventures would be a lie because we were stupid tired. But we made it to Gillis!
We paddled along the eastern shore and to our delight, found an absolutely spectacular campsite. Absolutely gorgeous! We threw our gear down, grabbed our camp chairs and set them up, and plunked our weary butts down in them, and poured ourselves a still ice cold beer out of our growler. I bent over to take off my sandals and noticed a big black leach on my foot and blood pooling everywhere in my shoes. Wondering how long that had been there, I pulled it off and the blood oozed all over the place. I'm not squeamish so it was not a big deal, but that thing bled like a geyser erupting! With nothing more to do than let it run it's course, we tilted those lovely cups full of dark cold beer to our mouths and reveled in those first frosty sips. And in that moment, carrying the weight of that beer was worth the effort it added to our journey. Every moment of that day was worth it as we gazed upon this heavenly view.
We eventually got camp set up, cooked some food, and hunkered down to watch the most gorgeous sunset. Our tent had been perched up on the cliff overlooking the lake, but upon hearing the future forecast for some dangerous weather the next night, we opted to move it in a clearing surrounded by saplings to avoid the windy, stormy weather headed our way. Weary as hell, we retired as the mosquitos descended from the tree tops. And despite our exhaustion, we both fell asleep with big smiles adorning our faces. What a day!