The Best Trip Yet (Well, Mostly)
We're using several pieces of new gear this year. For a lot of years we've each been using a combination of full-length RidgeRest foam pads and ¾ length ThermaRest pads under our sleeping bags. The combination is comfortable, reasonably lightweight, and great insulation, but pretty bulky. Earlier this year we bought two REI Helix insulated air mattresses. While their weight is about the same as the old setup, the difference in bulk is amazing. We're now carrying our sleeping gear in a 50L Sea to Summit Big River dry bag pack instead of our 115L SealLine Boundary pack; the new pack weighs 2.25 pounds less! We had tested the Helix pads on our porch and were pleased with their comfort. We slept well last night, too, but the pads on the tent floor are a bit noisier than we expected.
We're typically up around 6:00 and on the water in a couple hours. We started the day with coffee and a breakfast of hash browns and bacon. We've converted to instant coffee this year and as a result have changed the way we pack breakfasts. We alternate between two breakfasts: hash browns with bacon or oatmeal with protein powder, dried fruit, nuts, etc. The instant coffee sticks, two each, are now packed with each breakfast. The conversion to instant coffee simplified breakfast prep and, like the new drybag pack, resulted in some weight reduction.
We have cloud cover today, and the forecast we saw at Prairie Portage suggested showers today. North Bay looks like glass this morning! North Bay to Sarah is always a pretty paddle and sometimes gives us a wildlife sighting or two. The meandering route through reeds, grasses, and water lilies toward the first portage usually has a beaver dam or two as an entry challenge, and today is no exception. We elected to paddle the creek between the no name and Isabella, which added several beaver dams to our obstacle course. BWCA forum friends had told us about a couple Isabella campsites to check out (we've never camped on Isabella), so we paid more attention to the shoreline and stopped at those sites to improve our campsite map.
As we finished our portage from Side to Sarah, we met a group of four paddlers coming out of Sarah in a 23' Wenonah. The canoe looked fast (length to width ratio) but I'm not sure I could manage it on most portages—our Northwind 17 sometimes requires some tricky weaving between/around trees. We knew that Sarah was on the edge of the 2021 wildfires, and at Prairie Portage we were advised to camp on the southern half of the lake, even though our original route plan was to camp on the north end of the lake. We found a nice site on the bulge of the east shore below Sarah's 'waist', from which we could see our first evidence of the 2021 fires. Views to the south and east of our campsite were green, while views to the northwest were the skeletal remains of once beautiful trees. Sarah looks rather sad now, but we know that in a few years the shoreline will be green again.
We still had cloud cover, so decided to do a quick campsite setup in case we got one of the promised showers. Again we had filled the gravity filter mid-lake once in Sarah and started it as we began camp setup. We erected the tent, then Tia filled air mattresses, fluffed sleeping bags, etc, while I completed the bear bag hang. Then we set up the dining fly, which was a smart move because we later stood under it as a brief shower passed. Before the shower we were able to set up our trash-bag bathtub and rinse off a bit. Dinner was a beef & noodle dish followed by cheesecake dessert.