Day One: The Journey Begins
The time had finally arrived. We woke up at 3:45AM dressed and were off for the 40-minute drive to Purcellville. We were all to meet at the Purcellville Community Center at 5:00AM to assemble, load gear into the bus and depart for BWI airport. Each participant arrived one by one with different levels of enthusiasm. It was obvious that everyone was ready and excited about our trip. Our bus driver is also the Director of the Community Center. He was very friendly and helpful. To support the scouts he had volunteered to take our crew to the airport. In appreciation everyone in the crew agreed that we would conduct a service project for the community center upon our return.
Each participant loaded their gear onto the bus, said their goodbyes to their families and took a seat on the bus. Once on the bus it was suggested that we take one group photo prior to departing. Everyone exited the bus and grouped together in a pose for all cameras. Once all the moms took their photos we reentered the bus and began our drive to the airport.
The bus was one of those small buses that transport senior citizens around town. The rows of seats were close together leaving very little legroom but were comfortable enough for the trip. During the ride the scouts listened to their portable cd’s, talked, joked and had a good time. The adults discussed what needed to be done and our plans for the day. We also shared past experiences form previous outings. As we got closer to the airport the highway was under just enough construction to cause us to miss our exit. Being the well oriented scouts we all were we took the next exit and began traveling in a direction we believed would get us to the airport. Several dead ends latter we found a main road that did get us there.
Once at the airport we unloaded and headed off to check in. There was a line at check in but due to being in uniform the counter agents let the scouts check in immediately at the First Class check in area. We showed our ID’s checked our luggage, were issued boarding passes and headed off to security. Ever since 9-11 BWI has become the pilot airport for the new security systems and newly created airport security force. Here we did need to stay in line and were thoroughly searched and processed through the heightened security procedures. Once we cleared security we proceeded to our departure gate for an on time departure on Northwest flight 1081 to Minneapolis. Most of the group were seated together on the Boeing 757 and continued their fun and conversations. We had a 2.5 hour layover in Minneapolis thus we all explored the airport and ate lunch. We boarded a SAAB turboprop Northwest flight 3364 and were off to Ely.
The plane did make a stop in Hibbing on the way. Hibbing is a very small town that is best known for supplying iron ore to the factories during WWII to build our military tanks and vehicles. From the air you could see many strip mines in the area. A couple people exited the plane in Hibbing and then we took flight again and finally arrived in Ely at 3:00PM Central time. We had made prior arrangements with a local outfitter (Spirit of the Wilderness) to transport us from the airport to the Northern Tier Scout Base. The vans were not there when we arrived so we made a few calls and waited approximately 40 minutes for them to arrive. We loaded our gear and on the way made a stop at the outfitter.
At the outfitter we explained to Steve, the owner, that several scouts were working on their fishing merit badge and that any instruction and guidance would be greatly appreciated. This was all it took to get Steve to put a big smile on his face and prepare for a thirty-minute overview on fishing in the Boundary Waters and at Quetico. Steve showed various rods, reels, lures, lines and baits. He showed the scouts how to put an artificial worm on a lead head jig and how to tie a couple different knots. He explained the fishing regulations of the US Boundary Waters as well as those of Quetico in Ontario Canada. Most importantly he explained how to fish for walleye, trout, pike and bass.
Steve told us the most likely locations in a lake for each type fish and the techniques to entice them to our hooks. This turned out to be a very productive time, which led to good fishing latter in our trip. Walleye and trout could be found in deep waters in the middle of the lake or at the foot of a rock wall cliff. Fishing for these fish you need to fish anywhere from 30 feet deep to 150 feet deep just off bottom. Bass are more top feeders. He indicated that we would find them at rock cliffs but near the top and that they would hit on spinners, jigs and original floater lures. Pike would best be found in shallow waters and a steel lead line is recommended. He also explained how to get the hook out of a pikes mouth without getting bit. He closed his discussion with a few words about conservation and the outdoor code. With this new information we headed into Steve’s store and made some final purchases to get just the right gear we would need to catch our fish. Once everyone was sure they had the gear they needed for catching record size fish we reloaded into the vans and made our final twenty-minute drive from Ely to Northern Tier.
As we approached Charles L Sommers scout camp we saw the familiar sign for the Northern Tier. We had made it. We were finally here. We immediately unloaded and it started to sprinkle. We began the in processing by reviewing paperwork with a scout in a small wooden structure. We identified our two crews, turned in the crew rosters, medical forms, showed proof of CPR, Safety Afloat, Safe Swim Defense and swim classification. We were then introduced to our interpreters. I was the Adult Advisor for Crew B and Paul for Crew C later referred to as Bravo and Charlie crews. Bravo crew was assigned to Maeve, a 20-year-old economics student from Rice. We were her forth crew for the year and her first for Quetico. By this time it was getting late and we were behind schedule due to our late arrival. We headed straight to the dinning hall and had dinner.
At the dinner table we were separated into the two crews for the remainder of the trip. This allowed us time to get introduced to Maeve and gave her the opportunity to get to learn a little about each of us in Bravo crew. Maeve was never in scouts as a youth and had very little previous exposure to the scouting program. A couple years back while in high school she had paddled the Boundary Waters and enjoyed it so much she though this would be an ideal summer job. She carried herself with great confidence and it was obvious that she would be able to pull her own weight on the trip.
After dinner we went to the quartermaster and reviewed the issued crew gear. We pulled our tents and set them up to make sure they were in working order and not missing any parts. We replaced one broken tent pole and a few missing tent stakes. Pete (Camp Quartermaster) showed us the various stoves, and other gear and then sent us off to the grubmaster. Do to us being so late Maeve had taken the liberty to pull our meals and stow them in the big green plastic boxes for transportation. She reviewed each meal to ensure we had no problems with her selection.
From there we went to the “First Night Orientation” with all the other crews that arrived the same day. We saw a video, were instructed on various rules, regulations, guidelines, outdoor code and expectations. We were informed on how to fend off bear, respect the wilderness and protect ourselves from the elements. Then the camp chaplain led us in a non-denominational religious service. We were dismissed once the service was completed. Outside the room was a large map mounted on a wall. Here we reviewed our route options and finalized our voyage itinerary.
From here we went to the trading post prior to closing to purchase fuel for our stoves and the maps we would need for navigation. By now it was starting to get dark and we still needed to complete our inbound shakedown and be assigned a cabin for the evening. We carried our gear to a pavilion where one by one Maeve looked over our individual gear and made her recommendations as to what we ought to leave behind. During our preparation we had taken every effort to ensure that we packed only that, which was on the Northern Tier documentation or was recommended from other crews that had voyaged before. This turned out to be a very frustrating process. First because the mosquitoes came out in force and second because many of the clothing and other items we brought were to be left behind. Maeve wanted to keep the weight to a minimum to allow us the ability to single portage. Thus no shorts or towels, we were to share lotions and repellants, and eliminate all but the essentials. We were gambling on perfect weather conditions and no emergencies or contingencies. Everyone stowed about one third of their gear to reduce space and weight.
Finally we were done and went to our cabin for the evening. It was now 11:30PM CDT. It had been a very long day. Some crewmembers went straight to sleep while others laid in bed talking about the day’s events and enthusiasm for the next day’s departure. By midnight most were asleep. At 2:00AM I awoke and decided to take a short walk out side. I was extremely careful not to step on gear or bump into the other crewmembers. The sky had cleared of clouds, the stars were bright and off in the distant North Northwest I could see the Northern Lights. I finally started to experience what I had hope to when I first heard about the trip, peace, solitude and all of natures beauty.