What I Did On My Summer Vacation - 2010
Me & Kate
DAY ONE - June 24th, 2010
Getting to Ely was the easy part. Even getting the canoe into the water was fairly easy (180 r.) compared to what was to come.
Wood Lake has five campsites, all of which were occupied. In an attempt to get us to the portage to Hula Lake I got us turned around and we wound up in the most northeasterly point of the lake, rather than the most northwesterly point. That wasted a good hour or two.
The seemingly simple 40 r. portage into Hula Lake was complicated by a sudden and rather intense cloudburst that soaked us to the bone.
There are no campsites on Hula, so we headed north to Good Lake in hopes of finding one of the two sites there. We were running out of daylight, we’d run out of fresh water and the second half of the portage (150 r.) turned out to consist mostly of ankle to shin deep mud puddles. It was the worst portage I’ve ever done to date and Kate and I were literally in tears at points.
We were very fortunate to find one of the campsites open or we would have been screwed. The next lake, Indiana, is another 100 r. portage, has only two campsites and there was no guarantee they’d be open.
There was an osprey waiting on the shore at the campsite, I’d like to take that as a good omen.
We set up camp and proceeded, the two of us, to experience a kind of catharsis. I cried again and had to pull a small leech off my toe. We were so exhausted we couldn’t even eat, which was fine because the fucking camp stove wouldn’t pressurize and was unusable. We’re going to have to cook over open flame now, and fires will be tough to build due to the rain.
DAY TWO - June 25th
I got up early enough to wander around the area, gather some wood and build a small fire to boil some water to brew coffee -- there are some things I refuse to do without. Kate got up and by the time we ate a little dried fruit and an oatmeal bar to make up for last night’s lack of food, it started to rain; a light, steady rain, the type that would end a picnic.
The idea of breaking down camp, repacking everything and, worst of all, portaging in the rain seemed a little overwhelming considering yesterday’s slog through Hell. It was on both our minds, but I suggested it first, “Let’s stay here today.”
The original plan was to portage over to Indiana Lake and see if we could nab one of the two campsites there. One of them is a five-star campsite, we heard tell, and we were anxious to see it. But I’m fine with staying here today, hanging out in the tent and relaxing. A few games of cribbage and a glass or two of wine sounds much better than slogging through the rain and mud.
And a good day it’s been, all things considered. We laid around in the tent, Kate read, I wrote, we played a game of cribbage (I beat her by a mere 11 points), eventually the rain let up and we were able to venture around the area.
There wasn’t a lot of wood available to build a fire, but we managed to find enough, supplemented by an ample supply of birch bark.
It seemed to take forever to cook some red beans and rice (with some sliced up leftover brats that we’d grilled last week added), mostly due to the fact that we couldn’t keep a consistent flame under it.
A light rain came and went, and came and went but it wasn’t as heavy as it was in the morning.
After we ate we took the canoe out and explored the lake a little and the hiked the portage to Indiana to see what we’re in for tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain too much.
If all goes according to plan we’ll get the five-star site, stay the night and take a creek back to Hula Lake, thus avoiding the Hell Slog. Then it’s just a simple 40 r. portage back to Wood Lake. Hopefully we’ll be able to find a campsite there and then we’ll come out Monday, a day earlier than we’d originally planned. Frankly, the sound of Chinese delivery and lounging on the couch sounds pretty good right now.
THE SUN! BLUE SKY!!
I didn’t think we’d see ‘em! And what a beautiful sight to behold! It’s like an instant battery recharge! Despite the fact that on this dull, dreary, grey, cloudy day, and me thinking that it would probably get dark at any moment, we estimate that it’s actually only about 4:00.
I’d like to think that maybe Fate drove us forward yesterday (seems like it was days ago) to this site. It’s not the greatest campsite, it’s well used, there are nails driven into many of the trees and we even found a trio of fishing lures stuck into the trunk of one of the birches near the water (they didn’t look like casting errors, they looked like they were placed there on purpose), and some fuckhead named “Waldo” decided it would be cool to carve his name into one of the bench/logs that all the campsites seem to have.
The landing is wide and shallow and is covered mostly by pea-sized gravel. On a hot summer day it would be a great place to swim! The campsite itself is surround by very dense birch and pine.
I’ve had a great time today watching some crayfish crawl around the rocks next to the landing and as I write this a pair of loons are fishing not 50 yards away from me. This is why we come to the BWCA. It’s quiet here. There are no traffic sounds, no “boom cars,” no jets overhead. Kate let out a “Whoop!” when the sun came out before that echoed across the lake and into the surrounding woods and hills! The time right now is why I like to come here. It’s worth the Hell Slog.
DAY THREE - June 26th
The full moon put be to bed last night and a calm, blue day greeted me when I crawled out of the tent this morning. Today’s plan: portage to Indiana Lake (100 r.) and get the five-star campsite.
The portage was a little tricky, but not really bad. We split the canoe duty because we’re both pretty sore. We realized on the far end that we’d left one of our paddles behind, Kate must have sprinted the distance because it felt like I’d been sitting there for only a few minutes when she got back.
As I sat there I scanned the far shore to see if I could spot the five-star and my eyes kept falling on this single pine standing there, dead but perfectly intact, its bright red needles standing out in stark contrast to all the lush green around it. Kate arrived with the truant paddle and we made our way around the lake to where we figure the five-star was.
Wouldn’t you know it? A family was already set up there! CRAP! The next site was just a little farther on and that is where we are now. I have to say, if that other site is a five-star this one is certainly a four!
A large, solid rock face juts out of the water to a terraced, pine studded site. It’s very open and the southerly breeze we are getting today is blowing through the campsite giving us an opportunity to air out all of our damp gear.
We made some coffee -- the previous tenants left a generous supply of kindling and small firewood -- and we came down to the water to survey the “beach.” I waded in a short way, when I turned around I was surprised to see that lone red pine I’d been admiring from across the lake earlier!
I hereby dub this campsite “The Red Pine Inn.”
This is the kind of weather you dream about when you’re planning your trip to the BWCA! It’s been warm, breezy, sunny ... perfect.
We went exploring around earlier and found the portage to Basswood Lake. Talk about a toughie!! We were really glad we were only hiking it and not carrying all our gear. It’s only 90 r. but it goes up, up, up, up, up and then down, down, down, down, down. The view on the far end, though, is spectacular!
Basswood is one of the biggest, if not the biggest lake in the BWCA. On a calm day like today paddling across it would take quite a bit of time. Crossing it on a rough day would be terrifying!
So today is Full Relaxation Day. The hammock is up, we mixed a cocktail (yes, we brought both wine (boxed wine sans the box) and vodka (in a Nalgene bottle) -- and more than each of us could possibly drink in the time we’re spending up here, but I figure alcohol is like T.P., you’d rather pack some out with you than run out while you’re here), and we’re lounging.
We took a nice swim before our hike and I must've spent a half an hour lounging around the campsite naked. As mentioned before, this is why we come to the BWCA.
But all is not total relaxation, one must always keep an eye skyward watching the weather. We could get rained on tonight, some clouds are moving in, but I'm determined to have a nice fire before it does. And I really would love it if we could see the moon again tonight.
I took a nap in the afternoon and had a kind of revelation about the camp stove, so I decided to give it another try. I don't think my revelation is what did it, but suddenly the tank started to pressurize! It's amazing what a small victory like that can do for morale! I did a victory lap around the campsite.
We cooked dinner, which took far less time with a functioning camp stove, ate it on the shore and then settled around the campfire until we were just too tired to stay awake.
Day three is by far the best day I've had on this trip, in fact I'd say it was one of the best days I've ever had up here.
DAY FOUR – JUNE 27th
It's another dull, grey day, but at least it's not raining … yet.
Kate is very optimistic about our plan of taking the small stream between Indiana and Hula Lakes, but although I haven't mentioned it to her, I don't share her optimism. Yes, I would very much like that idea to work out, it would eliminate two portages, one of them the Hell Slog, but there are only about a million things that could go wrong: the flow could be too strong and we're going against it, it could be too shallow, it could be blocked by downed trees, etc., etc., and that would mean turning back and going the way we came. But the plan as it stands now is to traverse the stream to Hula, take the 40 r. portage to Wood Lake and hopefully find a campsite there. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Kate's still asleep and now it's starting to rain. It's a light rain, but it's rain nonetheless. I'm really feeling some pre-moving dread.
THE REST OF DAY FOUR AND THE END OF THE TRIP
If you asked me to pick a worse travel day, I think I'd still pick day one, but this one was very nasty. At least the weather was nice.
There was a short, supposedly 15 r. portage to the stream, but I'm pretty sure it was longer than that and it went through swamp. Kate dropped the canoe twice because she sank up to her knee in what looked like mostly solid ground. I had the same thing happen to me while carrying the personal pack, I was helpless and pinned under its weight until she came and rescued me.
The open part of the “stream” was hardly a canoe width across and was surrounded by swamp. Kate went up to her waist in muck and I went balls deep as we tried to push, pull and prod our way to where we hoped the water would open up enough for us to paddle again. But we wound up in an impassable area and, exhausted both physically and emotionally, we had to make our way back to Indiana Lake. Kate pulled several leeches off of her legs. We both hope we never have to spend another second in a swamp again.
I don't know which was worse, finding that our ingenious plan was a waste of time, or knowing how much time it wasted, but we were faced with but one option: go back out the way we came in. So off we went across Indiana, 100 r. to Good Lake, the 150 r. Hell Slog (only slightly less hellish due to a couple of days with little rain), across Hula Lake, a 40 r. portage to Wood Lake and then a hunt for one of the five campsites there.
Going that distance was particularly tough on me, I think. Kate is so strong. At the end of the 40 r. portage I collapsed in a pile, emotionally wrecked, but knowing that we had to keep moving.
Of course, there were no sites available on Wood Lake. We could travel backwards again, back to Good Lake, but that would be ridiculous considering how hard we'd worked to get where we were and the emotional toll it had already taken, so we worked our way to the exit. On the way I got us turned around again and we took an un-wanted detour down Madden Creek. That was the last straw for me and now I just wanted to get the fuck out of the BWCA.
Kate had suggested earlier that we stop and eat and I had ignored her thinking that we wanted to get to a campsite on Wood Lake first. Our only fight on the trip was as we neared the exit. We pulled a couple of Snack Packs out of the food pack and sucked them down like frat boys doing shots and portaged our way back to the car.
We drove to Ely, found a brew pub and ate bacon mother-fucking cheese burgers and had a couple of beers. Our final night was spent at a $90 campsite with a king sized bed called the Paddle Inn. The lady at the desk said that a lot of her business lately has been from people who haven't been able to find a campsite in the BWCA. It's getting crowded up there these days due to the economy, so anyone reading this and planning a trip up there, consider yourself forewarned.
The BWCA is a place to experience a whole pallet of emotions, from the glee you feel when you first get there to the relief that you've made it back out. In between there's fear, joy, anger, elation, giddiness, determination, self-motivation and relaxation. You thank Mother Nature for making clear water, warm sun and beautiful trees and you curse her for making mud, leaches, mosquitoes and deer flies (and those little mother-fucking biting black flies!!). You test your limits and you know that no one can get you out of any situation you might have gotten yourself into but you, and when you get home you look at your tired, sore, sunburned, bug-bitten, scratched and bruised body and you feel good.
I'm glad we went, I discovered that I love Ms. Kate Scamp even more than ever and that we can work through difficult situations together, but next year I want a vacation where all we have to carry around is a towel.