Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

2021 BWCA Wildfires Force a Sylvania Trip
by Ausable

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/22/2021
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 9
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
The lead-up to this canoe trip qualifies as one of the most unusual I've ever taken because of “stuff” that happened at the last minute. Tom, Jim, and I planned a BWCAW trip starting at Bower Trout Lake off the Gunflint Trail. Two weeks before the trip Tom had an unfortunate bicycle accident. Healing was slow and pain persisted. He finally, reluctantly decided that he should sit out this year's canoe trip to allow his body to heal. So, after trimming the amount of food we were to take, Jim and I left for the BWCAW around 6 AM on Saturday, August 21. As we approached Eau Claire, WI, I checked my cell phone and found a voice mail from Carl at Rockwood Outfitters. The voice mail said that the Forest Service had closed the entire BWCAW because of fires and that there were 3 fires burning near the Gunflint Trail. I later learned that the BWCAW had been closed only once before, in 1976, according to a 9/2/21 Quetico Superior Foundation news article. We pulled off the road at a Starbucks in Eau Claire to assess our situation. We finally decided to investigate the Sylvania Wilderness in Michigan's UP. We managed to piece together a trip on via the sslloooww Starbucks wifi. We'd have to start a day later and end a day earlier than our original plan, but at least we had something in place. We decided to return home, refining our plan on the way. I offered to take my Wenonah Spirit 2 canoe. Once we reached my house, we transferred all of our gear into my station wagon. Jim printed out all of the campsite reservations and some maps for the Sylvania Wilderness. I reserved a motel room in Ironwood, MI, for Sunday night, bought a 6-day MI fishing license, and printed the unusual fishing regulations for Sylvania.
Day 1 of 9
Sunday, August 22, 2021

We left for Sylvania on Sunday around 9:30 AM after loading my canoe on the car. The more leisurely start was possible because of the shorter trip to Ironwood, MI. We arrived at The Indianhead Motel in Ironwood around 4 PM. It is an older, independent motel on route 2 that had recently been purchased by a Florida transplant from its long-time owners. Our double queen suite was on the end of the U-shaped motel close to the street. The living room was nice for the extra room we wanted. We'd planned to compare pack contents and leave behind duplicate items, but we were too tired to do this and we eventually realized that it was unnecessary. We simply talked about what we had and consolidated the little we needed to do the next day. We drove to several places looking for dinner, but found that most were closed except for the Iron Nugget in nearby Hurley. They said that they were short-staffed, but we did not have to wait too long to be seated nor was the service or food lacking in any way. We both talked with our wives later before bed. Our particular location proved to be a bit unfortunate at 3 AM when a trash truck backed in to empty the nearby dumpster.