Long way to Wednesday Bay
Alarms were set the night before. Why? I'll never know. The anticipation had been building for months and I just knew that sleep would be tough to come by. It eventually came but only for a few hours. I was wide awake and staring at 2:30 AM on my phone. It would be of no value to get up. Our entry point was a convenient 30 minutes away from VNO and I had zero interest in paddling in the dark. I stayed put and eventually around the 4:30 AM mark I arose from the bed, grabbed the last hot shower for a week and then roused my paddling partner.
This was my 6th consecutive year visiting the BWCA and I was getting pretty good at these wonderful adventures. Over the course of 6 years I went from using Goodwill backpacks and old pots and pans from the house and a quite old K-Mart tent to much more modern lightweight gear. I had everything precisely packed, weighed and measured. I had route plans and back up route plans and the weather forecast looked to be perfect. My paddling partner not so. This was his first trip and he was anxious to say the least. I'm not sure what was stuck in his head but I did my best to relieve his nervousness.
We roused quickly and waited nearby for a gas station to open for a cup of coffee and then we were off down the Echo Trail. Arriving at #23 Mudro in a scant 30 minutes we began to unload. Not another soul was present at this early hour and we enjoyed the solitude and one on one of our first portage of the trip and my bowman (Chris) first ever portage.
Pickett Creek has been pretty low the past few years and this year was none the different. A quick stroll through the grass had us in knee deep water shortly. A quick tutorial on how and why we load the canoe the way we do and how to trim and balance once we are seated was spelled out for Chris and we were off.
Pickett Creek was a quick paddle with a couple walk through/pull overs. I was sad to see the big pine that stretched over the creek had been chain-sawed. I'm sure it was necessary but it was always a fun gauge to see the water level change from entry to exit. For the record this was my 4th time out of Mudro so I was pretty familiar with the landscape and portages etc.
We reached the end of Mudro Lake and started the portage into Sandpit. This would be Chris's first real test as the Sandpit side of the portage is pretty steep. We were double portaging and the three trips across were pretty uneventful even though our packs were stuffed and heavy!
It had been almost a year since I had undergone a total hip replacement and I was feeling the effects of it. Fortunately for me it was not ball and socket pain but more ligaments and tendons being stretched and worked hard for the first time in a year. I worried that it may get worse and I still had the Horse Portage to double portage from Basswood Lake into Basswood River.
We moved on into Sandpit, still alone in our adventure, and turned into the bay where a tiny portage led us into the wonderful Range River. For some reason I really like this little river. At first it winds through some tall marsh grasses with dark waters and opens into a boulder choked landscape with more boulders just under the surface than visible. It was here we encountered our first voyageurs. A group of young boys who seemed to hit every hidden rock and gleefully laughed and cheered each other on with calls of, "Rock up here on the left, make sure you go right" and "Dude, I told you there was a rock right in front of us!" I smiled at them and their sense of adventure and happiness made me happy. I didn't care that they were loud, they were having fun and out in the wild instead of parked in front of a video game.
We portaged across the the big rock peninsula and dropped back into the river. It was quite scenic in this area and I snapped a few pics.
We paddled the Range River until it opened up into Jackfish Bay of Basswood Lake. The first order of business was to rig up our fishing rods with some crankbaits so we could troll across the bay. With that business out of the way we began the long 8 mile paddle towards Upper Basswood Falls. According to the weather forecast we were expecting SSW winds which would have given us a perfect tail wind however as we soon found out they were more SSE which once we got out in the open developed some waves. Nothing huge but we were right in the trough and fully loaded. We were not in any immediate danger but I was worried about two things. #1. Wind usually gets stronger as the day progresses #2. I had a rookie paddler in the bow.
We made our way to site # 1571 and were going to have lunch and take a break form the non-stop paddling in the wind. After exploring the site we liked it so much we decided to stay. Our day one objective was something closer to the Basswood River but we had only one hard timeline and that was exiting on day 7. The BWCA truly was our oyster for a week and no plans were solid. Everything was 'to be determined'.
We set up camp and filtered almost 2 gallons of water, had a lunch of sausage sticks, cheese and Ritz crackers. Then we swam. It was warm and this site had a sand beach and the sand continued out into the water to shoulder deep. It was luxurious as we had worked up quite a sweat. We then relaxed and discussed our next steps, what our short term goals were for the next day and of course we discussed the long portage around Upper Basswood Falls. Chris was still pretty worried about it but I reassured him it was easy but long.
As the day progressed into evening we enjoyed our Happy Hour which consisted of a shot of Pickle Vodka each ( it is truly delicious) and for me a fruity cup of Sangria and for Chris a Crown Royal with orange gatorade. We repeated this happy hour every night of the trip. Yes it is extra weight to portage but I think it's worth it. A nice celebration to end the adventures of the day.
Dinner was bow tie pasta with diced tomatoes, Italian Sausages and parmesan cheese. It was quite good I can assure you. We eat pretty good in the BWCA. It all boils down to how much you want to carry.
We headed off to bed before dark had taken the night and were sound asleep...until the storm hit. We had left the fly off the tent being presumptuous that we would awaken if it started to rain and we could just throw the fly on real quick like. Well it wasn't the rain but the thunder that awoke me. I have no idea what time it was but I woke Chris and told him we better put the fly on as I had heard thunder. 2 minutes later we were back on our cots listening to the thunder increase in cadence and soon the rain began. It picked up in earnest and soon I was holding my hands against the tent sides for fear it would cave in due to the constant winds which I would guesstimate at 30-35 mph. The storm passed eventually and the tent did not collapse. We were using cots so we were dry and soon drifted back to sleep. ~Mudro Lake, Sandpit Lake, Basswood Lake