HIGH ADVENTURE - 2002
Dan and I had been planning this trek for a couple of months. Dan had asked me if I would like to accompany him and the scouts on their 2002 High Adventure Canoe Trip into the Boundary Waters of Ontario, Canada. I readily said, "Yes." I had never had the opportunity to visit Canada (other than Vancouver for a couple of hours while we awaited our ship to set sail on our Alaskan Cruise Honeymoon).
Within moments after agreeing, I inquired as to what type of washroom facilities would be available? "None," Dan replied with a glint in his eyes! He was really going to enjoy this!
In preparation of the trip, Dan and I attended two afternoon canoe practice sessions at Roy C. Blackwell Preserve's lake in Warrenville. Dan was there to assist in the training and I was there to learn. It also provided the opportunity to meet some of the boys who would be attending the adventure. The boys ranged in age between 13 and 18 and they came in all shapes and sizes!
We were taught three basic paddle strokes - bow, sweep and j-strokes - from the side of the pier. After it appeared we had mastered them, we were allowed to enter the canoes with a buddy to demonstrate our recently acquired skills. The individual who sits in the stern (rear) of the canoe controls the direction of the vessel. The bow (front) person merely provides additional power to keep the canoe in motion.
I told Dan I would take the stern position and asked him not to paddle at all. That way it was strictly my responsibility to maneuver the canoe about the lake. The six other canoes were in the water with their crews and were now making their way out of the little cove containing the pier.
There sat Dan and I - going in circles! I couldn't get our canoe to make any headway. I was laughing so hard that it was making it even more difficult! Finally, I broke down and requested Dan's assistance before we got too far behind.
The next practice session, it was necessary to direct your canoe through a "z" shaped course marked by floating plastic milk bottles. Everyone had to go through the course once paddling the whole way on one side of the canoe and then complete it a second time paddling the whole way on the other side - no fair switching in between!
Dan demonstrated by completing the requirements swiftly and effortlessly! Piece of cake! Now it was my turn . . . this took quite a bit longer and took a great deal of effort! I passed up the milk containers on the wrong side almost every time - which meant "back-paddling" and making additional attempts. I also was not able to cut the corners very close - I would end up swerving way out from my course. But, all in all, I did finally complete it and was feeling a little more confident in my ability to control a canoe.
Besides attending a couple meetings with the other five adults who would be venturing out with us, Dan and I prepared by purchasing all sorts of equipment. I was truly amazed by some of the new items available since last I camped with my family many years ago!
There are pads for under your sleeping bag that fill up automatically when the valve is opened, sleeping bags that keep you warm and cozy up to 20 below 0 and weigh a mere 6 pounds, "stuff" sacks that can be filled to capacity and then reduced in size by forcing the air out, "compression" sacks that can be filled with a reduced-in-size "stuff" sack and then "compressed" to about one-third of the originally filled size, flashlights that you wear on your forehead, combination liquid body soap/shampoo, and felt-like towels that dry thoroughly in significantly less time than terry cloth!
Amazing! Dan also taught me a few tricks to help along the way. We purchased larger Hefty sealed bags and placed several items of clothing in each and then extracted all the air before sealing them. Dan compacted all our gear so as to be able to fit it into our one, larger Dubuque backpack - that's right, everything - clothes, sleeping bags, tent, etc. - for two people into one backpack.
We also decided to purchase a fishing pole and reel and several kinds of lures so we could try our luck at Walleye, Trout, and Northern Pikes! We even purchased our very own wooden paddles - shellacked - very pretty! Dan burned our last name on each one. We also bought two folding campstools so we wouldn't have to sit on the ground after canoeing all day!
As our departure date neared I was becoming excited, while at the same time very apprehensive! This was truly going to be a different vacation than any I had ever encountered previously. To be honest, I really didn't know what to expect - which accounts for the apprehension!
I had several fears and worries . . . let's face it - I wasn't too excited about having to use the woods for a restroom; sitting in a canoe all day and paddling could be brutal on a body that was not in good physically fit condition (one like mine!) - I had back problems in the past and I feared having them reoccur at the beginning of the trek; tipping over, landing in ice cold water, and having our gear get wet would be quite unpleasant; Dan had already warned me about the tons of mosquitoes and black flies that could be found in the boundary waters - I didn't relish spending five days scratching and itching; cold, rainy weather conditions would be enough to ruin even the best of trips; and then there were those Black Bears!
Wild animals that had no understanding of the Boy Scouting program. Hungry, mean, wild Black Bears! And we would be entering their territory! No cage bars would separate us, no specified area within which they would remain! They could come and go and wander as they please!
The morning of June 11th came quickly. Dan set our alarm for 4 a.m. so that we could make final preparations and finish packing for his pre-announced departure time from our house of 5:30 a.m. I managed to set our trip off on the wrong foot by not being ready to depart until 5:34 a.m.! My husband was not a "happy camper!" We arrived at Pat Sanford's house (the other adult who would be with our crew) by 6 a.m. and then waited as the boys slowly arrived. By the time the three vehicles were packed and ready to go, it was 7:47 a.m. - if it hadn't been for me - we could have left by 7:43!
John K, his wife - Sam, and their son - Andrew, were the adults for the second crew and brothers, John and Paul M, were the adults for the third and last crew. There were a total of 16 boys - John, Sam and Andrew's seniors (Justin P, Evan M, Eric R, Matt O, and Randy R) - John and Paul's young (and small) teens (Zak M, Zak O, Mike C, Mark M, Rob M and Nick C) - and Dan, Pat's and my crew - (Cameron M, Lee N, Justin K, Taylor S, Mike Y).
John K brought some magnetic letters to attach to the sides and backs of the three vehicles (two white vans and our Explorer). They formed the words "BSA Trp 44" - that's Boy Scouts of America Glenn Ellyn Troop 44). Now we were easily identifiable as a group. The boys split up into the two vans and "poor" Dan and I were left alone in the Explorer with only tons of gear packed tightly into the back.
The first day we drove 465 miles to a KOA in Cloquet, Wisconsin. Pat received word from the Base Camp in Atikokan, Ontario that, due to a major rain storm (9 inches in three days) the main route #11 had been washed out and the electrical power at the camp was knocked out. We would, therefore, have to head to the US camp in Ely, Minnesota and begin from there. We had been told that we would be able to take a nice warm shower at the Atikokan Base Camp before heading out for five and one-half days. Now this looked highly improbable!
The KOA, therefore, may very well be my last connection to the world, as I knew it! After eating a spaghetti dinner with delicious garlic bread, made as only John K could make it, with strawberry shortcake for dessert, it was time to get ready for bed. We had set up the tents upon arrival and placed all needed gear inside.
Dan and I headed down to the shower rooms for that final scrubbing! As I set out my personal items on the counter in the women's room, I discovered that I forgot the soap/shampoo. I needed to wash my hair this one last time - one less day of grunge counted heavily!
I headed back to the campsite, opened the side door on the Explorer and began rummaging through our pack to find this precious bottle. I was, once again, behind schedule and wanted to hurry back to the shower room, so I could enjoy this last luxury. I grabbed the bottle, pushed the pack back and slammed the door. Oooops!
The door would not close fully - something was obstructing it? I reopened it to discover the blade of my paddle was wrenched between the door and the frame! There was a crack running down the center from the tip to the top of the blade! My beautiful new paddle - never been used - ruined in a moment of haste! What will Dan say when he discovers it? Surely, he will be upset with me for my irresponsibility!
I hurried to my shower - feeling much less enthusiastic. When I returned to the site, Dan was already packing the rest of the gear into the Explorer. He had both rear, side doors wide open and the broken paddle was clearly visible, but it did not appear that he had noticed it . . . yet. I approached the paddle to wedge it in better and, lo and behold, I discovered that I had not broken my paddle! It was fine - all in one piece!
What I had done, was to break Dan's paddle! The brand new one that he had never before had the opportunity to use! Oooops!!! It wasn't much longer until he discovered it. "What did you do to my paddle?" resounded through the campground! He was fine after the initial shock - I think having the other adults and the 16 young boys around helped!
We were on the road by 7:43 a.m. after a breakfast of cold cereal, bagels and cream cheese and fruit. We were able to communicate with the vans via walkie-talkies that John K provided. I spent time sewing patches on my very own Boy Scout Uniform Shirt and Dan was on the mobile phone when he had good cells to negotiate deals. The road trip was fairly uneventful, other than the fact that Mike Yarbrough got carsick and threw up inside the van!
We arrived at the BSA Base Camp in Ely at 10:45 a.m. - a very nice camp with great facilities and good food. We had lasagna, salad, green beans, and bread sticks for lunch with peach cobbler for dessert. We also met our "interpreters" - Canadians in their early 20's who would be accompanying crews on their treks throughout the summer. Our "interpreter" was a young girl, Tera. The other two crews had guys - Tim and Leslie. For each of them, this would be their very first outing as an interpreter - ever!
Word came that there was a clear way to Atikokan. Looking at a map - Atikokan was approximately 60 miles from Ely as the crow flies. But we, of course, could not follow the path of the crow! We would have to retrace our path to Duluth and then continue north via Thunder Bay. It would take another six hours of driving time to reach our destination!
Before leaving Ely's Base Camp, I assisted Tera in packing several varieties of spices to add to the two plastic tubs (with locking tops) that contained all breakfasts, lunches and dinners to be consumed on our trek. The Base Camp had placed the dehydrated contents into separate plastic packages - one for each meal. Each of these was then placed inside a plastic liner inside the plastic tub, which was then slid into a canvas sack set up with backpacking straps. The two food tubs weighed between 70 to 90 pounds each!
A third tub contained two small camp stoves, two thick bear ropes (for tying the food packs up high into trees), various pots and pans, two fuel bottles, and a short shovel for digging "personal" holes in the woods! This tub, too, slid into it's own backpack and weighed approximately 70 pounds at capacity. As previously mentioned, Dan and I had our own Dubuque backpack. The other members of the crew had to place three individual's gear, inclusive of tents, into one large Granite backpack. The Granite pack was unbelievably huge - not to mention awkward for carrying!
Prior to packing all personal gear into the Dubuque and Granite packs, it was necessary to go through a "shake down." This meant the interpreter went through everything you wanted to bring (inclusive of clothing) and eliminate all unnecessary items. Who would have thought campstools were not a necessity?
In actuality, due to Dan's expertise from prior excursions, he and I had little to remove. We left behind one towel, one extra flashlight, an extra paddle, and one campstool. Tera had told us we could bring one "luxury" item. Mine was my campstool and Dan's was a hammock - made of thin rope in a web pattern that could be tied to the trunks of trees.
By the time we arrived at Atikokan it was past 11 p.m. The sun had set over an hour prior and it was pitch-black. It only took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust and we were able to walk down the stone road to the commissary where pizza awaited us for dinner. The power was back on and we were able to sleep in cabins. Sam and I shared one and the men and boys shared cabins by crew.
The next morning we had a quick breakfast and packed our gear in preparation of departure to our take-off points. Our crew was to set out from French Lake and the other two were leaving from Nym Lake. The pick-up points at the end of our excursions were to be just the opposite. One of the morning projects was for the adults to meet with their interpreter and map out a route. The boys would earn an extra patch if they canoed 50 or more miles, so this was the goal used in determining a route.
To make 50 miles (or 83.33 kilometers as they say in Canada), we would need to travel the following:
DAY ONE (Thursday, June 12) - 6 miles
DAY TWO (Friday, June 13) - 6 1/2 miles
DAY THREE (Saturday, June 14) - 13 miles
DAY FOUR (Sunday, June 15) - 15 miles
DAY FIVE (Monday, June 16) - 6 1/2 miles
The torrential rains had damaged the road leading to the lakes from the Base Camp and the repair crews chose this morning to work on them. We were, therefore, unable to leave until they were done! We waited in the gravel parking lot for the majority of the day - in hopes that our transport bus and trailer would arrive.
Finally, at 3:15 p.m., our crew and John and Paul's crew were able to load into the transportation vehicles. There was only room for six canoes, so the final crew had to wait. We were dropped off at French Lake and the other crew went on to Nym Lake. By the time we arrived and loaded the canoes, it was 5:10 p.m. A light rain had commenced so we put on our rain gear before boarding the canoes.
The adults had opted to take aluminum canoes rather than pay an additional $15 per day, or $75 each, for a fiberglass canoe. There would be three persons per canoe and three canoes per crew. One Dubuque or Granite pack, and one food or the gear pack had to be roped into the section between the center thwart (structural bar braced between the sides of the canoe in three locations) and the seat upon which the bow person sat. Fishing gear was attached to one side of the canoe underneath the thwarts. We donned our life vests (Dan's and mine were, of course, brand new with pockets for whistle, compass, canoeing gloves, etc.).
One person per canoe would be the sternman, one would be the bow person and the third would be the "duffer." The "duffer" sat in the bottom of the canoe (preferably on a pad) between the sternman and the center thwart - the packs were on the other side of the center thwart. The paddle, which was not in use, was placed on the bottom of the canoe along the side - Dan, by the way, used a paddle from the Atikokan Base Camp. Both he and I wore our canoeing sandals (rubber and lycra) and Dan tied our "dry" shoes for hiking under the two seats.
Mike Yarbrough was the smallest in our crew - he couldn't weigh more than 75 pounds - so he rode with Dan and I. Taylor was to ride with his dad and Justin joined them. That left Cameron and Lee to ride with Tara. There was one experienced canoeing adult per vessel. Dan and I decided to paddle that evening and let Mike be the Duffer. Cameron was elected the Patrol Chief by the four other boys and he had prepared a schedule of duties (i.e. navigating, fire making, water collecting, cooking, and clean up) for each day of our journey. We all would be taking turns at everything.
Cameron was the first scheduled for navigating as we set out to cross French Lake. The map indicated Pickerel River was located a short ways from our drop point. Cameron entered an inlet and the two other canoes followed - only to discover a dead-end! We then paddled back into French Lake to try again. Alas, a little further down was another inlet and this time it did not dead end.
Quite the contrary, the river was rather narrow, but it twisted and turned this way and that. At several of the turns there were large rocks or tree stumps, or both, creating havoc. We had to carefully maneuver our canoes through these so as not to tip over. In many instances the water was rushing rapidly through these entanglements, making it even more difficult to navigate safely through - particularly regarding the fact that we were paddling upstream - against the current!
After paddling for two hours, we had traveled approximately two and one-half miles. Suddenly Pat noticed that we were headed east. We were supposed to be heading southwest! Everyone pulled their canoes over to a relatively calm portion of the river and began to study our maps. Sure enough - we were heading down French River and Pickerel River was further south!
Now it was time to turn the canoes and paddle back to French Lake! At least it was much easier going with the current! What had taken two hours initially, took a mere 30 minutes on the return voyage!
By the time we reached the mouth of the river it was approaching 9 p.m. We had calculated that it would take two to three hours to reach the initial campsite. By then it would be pretty late and very dark. And to make matters worse, we hadn't eaten any dinner yet. Our stomachs were beginning to grumble!
Lo and behold, just up from the river where it connects with French Lake was a real campground - we could see a tent trailer set up at a campsite just up from where we sat. An empty site adjoined it - directly up from where we sat. After a brief (very brief) moment of hesitation, we all voted and decided to set up camp in the vacant space.
The tents were all set up and the dinner was cooking before the sun set around 9:30 p.m. We located men and women's outhouses a short distance from our site. It wasn't the best accommodation - but it did put off the inevitable for one more night!
Rather than search out trees for roping up the food packs, Tera suggested that we place the packs under a tipped-over canoe and then lie the other two over the one. We then set all of the pots and pans across the bottom of the canoe. Tera explained that "if a bear tries to get to the food, it will knock off the pots and pans and wake us. We can then run out of our tents and chase the bear away." "Yeah, Right!"
Before heading to bed one of the crew discovered a facility further down with flush toilets and showers! I made one last pit stop before heading to bed. We had a good chuckle about what the other crews would think if they know how we were spending our first night!
The next morning we awoke bright and early when the alarm sounded at 5 a.m. (yes, we were able to bring an alarm clock - and, trust me, it was not considered a luxury item!) We decided we needed an early start so that we could cover extra ground (water) and get back on track. When I awoke, after a somewhat fitful night, I had a slight headache and my stomach felt a bit queasy. I was able to pull my gear and myself together and headed for my last trip to the latrine before I had to face the inevitable!
Our canoes had not been tampered with throughout the night - every pot and pan was in place as left the night before. We ate a quick and simple breakfast and were on the water by shortly after 6 a.m. and found Pickerel River with no further problem. Mike paddled as bowman, Dan continued in the stern and I was able to sit as duffer and nurse my throbbing sinuses. Dan had forewarned me several times as to the danger of dehydration when one does not drink sufficient water as they are participating in more physical activity. One of the first signs is that of a headache!
No portages today. We found a nice spot to rest for awhile and eat lunch. Afterwards Mike and I traded places and he was able to duff the rest of the day. We paddled until early evening and were able to reach our originally scheduled second day campsite. This site was on the north side of a man-made dam. In order to go through, it was necessary to portage. Our first portage would wait until after a good night's rest!
We set up camp and then everyone, with the exception of myself, headed back out in the canoes. The boys completed their "swamping" tests thereby earning another patch. "Swamping" meant tipping one's canoe over, righting it while still floating in the water, entering the water-filled canoe and paddling (while waist deep) guiding the canoe to shore. Dan and I had done that once on the lake near were his parents had their home up in northern Michigan, therefore, I did not find it necessary to repeat my performance.
Besides, this offered the perfect opportunity to venture into the woods in privacy for my first encounter with the inevitable. I picked the shovel from the gearbox and made my way into the surrounding forest. From the center of the lake one sees evergreens and birch trees for miles on all shores - a mass of lush greenery! From the land, however, you realize the forest is not as dense. As I wandered into the wood, I could look out and clearly see the three canoes filled with the other crewmembers. And, if I could see them, then . . . I needed to go further!
It was necessary to push my way through hanging branches, brush past low growing foliage and stumble over fallen tree trunks to reach the other side of a small mound where I would be out of sight and out of (my) mind. I must say, I have a greater understanding of why a dog will sniff around for many minutes looking for just the perfect patch of grass. This was no easy task!
I did not want to just go anywhere. Whereas this was not going to be a very pleasant experience - I did want to make it as least objectionable as possible. I located two medium tree trunks that crossed at about a 50-degree angle and had an area at joining with no small branches thrusting out. Perfect! One thing I do have to admit - the scenery was a whole lot prettier here than in our tiny, powder room back home in Batavia!
When I returned to our site, I took out the novel I had brought along and began to read. That only lasted a short time and then, I just relaxed. The muscles in my arms and shoulders were a little sore - not being used to all this work. And now my arms were being called on to swat at the flies that swarmed about me. I did make one keen observation - they were attracted to bright colors!
I started collecting all of the bright yellow items and laid them out flat on the ground in the sunlight. Sure enough, hordes of flies congregated on these. There were still a few pesky ones that persisted in my presence; however, with a few squirts of bug spray containing the cherished chemical deet even these began to diminish.
When the rest of our crew returned to shore, the boys began playing on the rocks in the water while the adults went about setting up for dinner. Within a very short period of time the winds started gusting and large, dark, grimacing clouds started blowing in from the north. The surrounding water became choppy and white caps were noted. It did not look good! We set up a lean-to around the cook stoves with our dining fly. We did not bring poles, so we had to tie the canvas-dining fly to the nearby trees with ropes.
After removing all items required for dinner, we all pitched in and packed up the smellables (inclusive of toothpaste, foot powder, food, candy - bears have very sensitive noses!) and took out the bear ropes. The boys had a great time taking turns (I stand corrected - the great time was taking their turn - they did not relish taking turns!) attempting to throw one end of the bear rope over a branch at least 12 feet above ground. A shoe was tied to that end to provide a weight. It took several attempts - even by the adult males in our group - before Dan was able to successfully catch a good branch!
Then, of course, we had to repeat it on a second tree for the other food pack! I was amazed at how easily the boys were entertained during this event! Soon it was back to throwing rocks from the shore into the water. Tera reprimanded them several times throughout our trek to refrain from doing so - the Canadians try to abide by the rule of leaving nature as it was found - with as little disturbance as possible. This is a foreign concept to many of us raised in the good ole US of A, but we didn't do too badly!
The winds continued to whip through and we hurried with our meal preparations hoping to finish eating before the downpour began! It was not easy trying to hold back the dining fly as the wind forcefully pressed the canvas at your back. We were able to finish up - cleaning and all - when the winds subsided almost as quickly as they began!
Everyone was pretty beat and it didn't take much coaxing to get them to retire for the evening. Four of the boys slept in one tent and they had pitched it on the top of the hill. There were moments, as the wind was whipping, that it looked as if their tent would fly away. Luckily there were several larger rocks that could be used as anchors.
Taylor shared a tent with his dad, Pat. He was not too pleased to do so at first, but it seemed to work out fine. Tera brought her own tent and Dan and I brought our own, which is larger than a pup tent. We couldn't stand up, but it did give us room to move about and still have sufficient room to store all our personal gear.
When awakened by the alarm the following morning, my head was throbbing worse than the previous day and my stomach was feeling nauseous! It was difficult to convince my body to get moving! I would start to get dressed and then I just lay back down and rested for a moment or so, hoping the feeling would go away. Dan was ready quickly and already outside the tent helping get breakfast ready. He obviously told Tera that I was feeling ill, because when I was finally able to pull myself together and emerged from the tent she approached me and seemed genuinely concerned.
"How sick do you feel?" she inquired. "Because if you are really sick, we should evac (evacuate) you now. Once we start heading south through these smaller rivers and lakes it will be much more difficult to evac you from there."
Evacuate! One simple word - to me it would mean returning to civilization! All of the fears I had for weeks could be whisked away by one helicopter!
But wait . . . I had been telling everyone about my upcoming adventure; I hadn't even had the opportunity to portage yet; I had survived the woods; I hadn't been drinking water as I should - Tera had mentioned to everyone at lunch yesterday that by then everyone should have drunk at least one quart of water - I drank about one-fourth of that the entire day! I was certain my malady was caused by lack of water and nerves rather than the dreaded Beaver Fever (cause - drinking untreated water along the shores in beaver territory) of which Tera feared.
I couldn't turn back now! I would regret the decision everyday that my crew ventured forth without me! "No, that's okay. I'll be fine." I replied.
The dam did not offer enough room on the top to safely portage the canoes and all of the gear, therefore, it was necessary to load the canoes and paddle across the small inlet to the other side. Three of us grabbed some of the smaller items and hand-carried them across the dam to await the canoes where the portage trail began.
I decided to try handling Dan's and my Dubuque Pack. Some of the boys assisted in getting it on my back and clipping the straps around my waist and chest. To balance, it was necessary to lean forward at a 45-degree angle. I utilized my paddle as a walking stick to help steady me and off I marched. It was heavy, but I was managing. Until . . .
After a short distance, I came upon a steep rock incline - approximately 18" straight up. Instinctively I raised my right foot while attempting to lean my weight on my paddle, clutched in my left hand. I immediately felt all my weight shift, without hesitation, backwards! The pack pulled me down until I lay flat in the mud - my arms and legs flailing above. This, for those who are unaware, is what is known as a "turtle"!
Lee and Cameron were just slightly ahead of me and responded promptly to my cry for help. They unstrapped me from the pack and helped me to my feet. Lee said he would carry the heavy pack and I returned for lighter gear!
It was necessary for most of us to make two trips. Dan, Pat and Tera each carried a canoe on their shoulders for one pass and carried one of the heavier backpacks on the other pass. The larger boys, Lee Cameron and Justin would each carry a heavy pack (there were two heavy Granite bags, our Dubuque bag, Tera's backpack, two food packs and one gear pack). Taylor was even able to help out with the food and gear packs as the trip went on. Mike and I handled the lighter packs containing miscellaneous gear and items such as PFD's (Personal Floating Device or Life Vest), water bottles and paddles.
We completed two more small portages before we stopped for lunch. The chosen spot was on the East Side of the longest portage of our entire trip - 1,160 meters! That works out to approximately 3/4 of a mile! After resting and eating, we felt ready to commence our hike. And I do mean hike! I have come to the conclusion that it is infinitely more difficult to hike than it is to canoe!
This time I took the heavier of the lighter packs on my back and picked up my paddle and a few other smaller items to carry in my hands. Mind you, these portage trails are not carefully engineered paths prepared for individuals wishing to take a scenic stroll through the woods! No indeed! It is more as if some Canadian came through and just cut existing landscape to remove a section of growth about two to three feet in width and left the rest of nature as it were!
There were rocks of all sizes and shapes to stumble over, tree root systems lying in maze formation to make one's way through, and muddy areas left over from the nine-inch rain of several nights before! And, of course, it wouldn't be natural if it didn't follow the lay of the land - the path went up, the path went down, the path turned to the left, the path turned to the right!
As I started out, Tera was following close behind. I came upon a point in the trail where directly in front of me and to my left was thick brush and directly to my right was a pond of water. I was confused? Where do I go from here? Tera said, "Keep moving!" and pushed past me - plunging into the pond! She obviously had hiked before!
I waded through and continued on. I knew I wasn't exactly physically fit, but I was surprised how strenuous this activity was becoming. With each uphill climb I found myself wishing more and more for the trail end to be in sight. But, unfortunately, just more twists and turns! The pack was becoming heavier with each step, I was panting of thirst; I thought, "if a black bear appears now - I will just shove him out of my way with my paddle and keep on truckin! I was desperate to reach my destination!
Finally, the portage ended! I unstrapped the pack and flung it to the ground, took a long sip from my water bottle, rested a few moments and then started back for my second load! When I returned to the other side, I was relieved to find that others had finished picking up the heavier gear and the canoes were well on their way. I gathered five remaining PFD's, three remaining paddles and the two remaining water bottles plus a very light pack and began my second 1,160 meter pass.
Surely, this time would be so much easier!
Did you ever try to carry five PFD's; three paddles, two water bottles and a very light pack over 3/4 miles of a twisting, turning, up and downhill passage? It is a constant juggling act! I kept reorganizing myself along the way, to keep from dropping things! All I could think of, however, was my poor husband who had to carry a heavy pack and then a canoe through this mess! I told him after it was over, "If you ever worried that you had to prove your manhood to me - worry no more!" He was incredible!
That whole portage took almost two and one-half hours to complete! It felt sooo good to be back in the canoe paddling! Our canoe was ahead of the others and we were approaching some fast water (where the waterway narrows and rushes through a rocky area causing). Grant it, to an experienced white water rafter, this would be nothing. To me, however, it looked pretty manacing.
Dan shouted instructions, "When I say paddle, paddle as hard as you can!" Suddenly we were upon the fast water. "Paddle," Dan commanded. And paddle I did. Three quick, hard pulls of the paddle and we were through. Nothing to it!
Tera was not happy with us! She made the other members of our crew walk their canoes through this area. They are very strick about safety - which is good. Dan, Mike and I were just glad we had made it through before she gave out a warning!
We went through three more small portages the rest of that day. We had planned to camp just this side of our next portage, but the sun was beginning to set and we were no where near. We decided it would be best to set up camp at our first opportunity - even if it wasn't at a ready-made campsite - and get dinner ready before dark.
We came upon Deux River at this point - a lovely little river! The water was relatively shallow - in many locations you could view bottom, it winded back and forth amidst large beds of reeds with occasional patches of lily pads. It was very peaceful!
And long! Marshes were on either side, finding a camp did not look promising! At several locations along the way, beavers had been working heartily building dams. Once we almost had to walk the canoe through - the remaining passageway was so tight! We even sighted a couple of beavers swimming nearby. One gave the danger signal by smacking his flat tail on the water's surface, as we neared, before plunging under water.
We continued on through and we only had about one hour of sunlight remaining. When we finally reached the entrance to Dori Lake we located a campsite immediately. Dan and I arrived first, so we got out to search it out while Mike held the canoe to shore. It was small and it would be difficult to arrange four tents.
The other canoes scouted the area to see if a more suitable site were available. There was none and the sun would soon be gone, so we decided to make do. Everyone disembarked. Justin opened the gear pack, grabbed the shovel and headed into the wood.
Meanwhile, the rest of us were trying to figure out how we could set up the tents to make the best of the situation. There was a little walking path to the left and Tera, Pat and Dan headed in that direction. Within a very short distance, there was a small clearing, which Tera insisted would be sufficient for her tent. As they stood there discussing the matter, suddenly they heard a voice in the wilderness - "Could I please have a little privacy?" They turned to see, within a few yards, Justin squatting over a log. Lucky for him, he was only visible from the waist up! Embarrassing nonetheless!
That night it rained, as we lay snug within our tents. The next morning I awoke feeling refreshed - no headache - no aching tummy! I learned my lesson and had begun drinking plenty of water. I wasn't as tense either. Whereas I still feared the bears, we had not encountered any so I realized they were not just out there - lying in wait for their next victim. Before departing the camp, Pat, Dan, myself and the boys decided to try our luck at fishing. After a few hours we returned to camp to prepare brunch (pancakes). Pat did catch a large Walleye, which made a tasty addition to our meal.
The winds were still strong from the storm during the night, so we decided that I would be the one to assist in the paddling this morning. I told Dan, "Someday, when Mike is an adult and has a young son of his own, he will take his son on a canoe outing and he will then be eternally grateful to Mr. Z." It will be at that point that he will realize just how weak, yet energetic, a young small boy can be! I would usually let Mike paddle in the mornings while Dan was at his strongest and then I would paddle in the afternoon and early evening, so it wouldn't be quite as strenuous for Dan.
As we began paddling across the rather large lake, we were battling the wind. It was our toughest crossing. And the wind was picking up! White caps were forming at the center of the lake and were rolling our way! Tera was the duffer in their canoe and she feared that Lee and Cameron were not experienced enough to keep the canoe afloat in the waves, therefore, she ordered us to paddle close to shore (with the waves slapping the sides of the canoes) and head towards the campsite which was on the other side of the lake. We had only to enter the next cove - which we anticipated would be blocked from the wind, paddle across and then enter our next longest portage - 500 meters.
Both Dan and I wanted to continue, but Tera insisted so we went ashore to sit out the weather. We ate lunch while we were there and Pat took out his fishing gear. He allowed the boys to try also. Dan and I watched for awhile and then Dan decided to try his luck. After several attempts, Pat pulled in a decent size Large Mouth Bass, which, after showing the boys, he promptly released! Dan and the boys were not as fortunate, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Tera and I just sat on the rocks relaxing.
Finally, the coast was clear (no whitecaps) and Tera gave her approval to be on our way. While the next portage was not as long as the 3/4 miler, it was strenuous activity nonetheless. I did learn from my past experience and ever since that long passage, I began loading myself up in a more prudent manner. I clipped each PFD together - one after the other - allowing me to place my arm through one or two armholes and still carry five or more vests. The water bottles and other small paraphernalia were collected and placed inside the small, almost empty, backpack; which was then placed upon my back and I carried no more than two paddles.
Much easier than struggling with things falling this way and that! But strenuous, nonetheless. It was a relief to reach the other side, so much so that the boys all began playing in the cool, refreshing water after their first pass. Lee was the only one that returned to carry a second pack. The adults were definitely doing more than their share!
When everything was over, Pat gathered the boys around and gave them a little "talking to" "Listen, guys, this is your trip. It is not the responsibility of the adults to do all of the work. Each of you is expected to lend a hand whenever possible. After unloading from the first pass, each of you should return to the beginning point to see if anything else needs to come over. If there is nothing there, they can spot one of the canoes (walk behind and guide the person with the canoe past through low hanging branches, etc. that cannot be seen). Even Mike should be returning with water bottles and offer drinks to the others as they make their way."
We only had two remaining portages that day. Apparently the talk did some good because throughout the rest of the trip there was no slacking! Everyone was pitching in! They were really a great bunch of boys - just need a little direction at times!
We decided to stop a little earlier this evening to allow plenty of time for cooking, relaxing and maybe some fishing. Shortly after we re-entered Pickerel Lake we were approaching a couple of campsites. The first appeared to be occupied and, as we neared, we realized it was the K and their seniors. Everyone was calling to one another. We pulled close to shore and the boys were rapidly trading stories.
We only stayed about ten minutes and then scurried to the next campsite before it was taken. When we had set up the tents and dinner was underway, Pat said that he talked briefly to Sam and she had expounded upon the fact that they were not able to set off until the next morning after the other two crews left, the first day out they got lost and Sam had been the navigator, they encountered their first portage on their first day out and it was extremely tough and very muddy, a bear came in their camp the very first night and Andrew had to scare it away, and, finally, she cried herself to sleep that night!
It appeared things had gone better along the way because Sam was now laughing and joking and appeared to be having a genuinely good time.
Andrew and Matt paddled over to our site to borrow some bleach for their dishware sanitizing water. In turn they gave us some extra fuel (someone - whom shall remain nameless - did not tighten the cap on the fuel bottle when it was her turn at making the fire for cooking and the rest of the fuel in the container had leaked out into the gear box on the second day out).
The two of them went on and on about how difficult their first portage was (one we had yet to encounter). They in fact only ended up doing four portages throughout their entire trip. They would camp in one place for two nights and do day canoe trips from the camp to make up their fifty miles.
Pat and Dan started studying the map, "You know, maybe we should just head back to French Lake from here? It is a clear course through Pickerel Lake all the way. No more portages! The boys will have no trouble making the fifty miles and they have portaged a total of 11 portages - 8 in one day, so it is not necessary for them to do anymore." They were both in agreement and not too thrilled about carrying those canoes over the two remaining portages, which separated us from Nym Lake. It would only take a phone call from Tera on the emergency phone she carried to tell those at the base camp to have us picked up at French Lake instead.
Once again, Pat gathered the boys around him. He decided to take a vote, of which he felt certain of the end result. The adults were all included. He laid out the plan, stressing "no more portages" and then asked for a show of hands. "All those in favor of continuing on the original trek, raise your hand."
I, too, had studied the map and had seen that long, clear path through Pickerel Lake to French Lake. I noted the original path took us right through Bear Country. I knew how great it felt to reach the end of each portage! And, now, I was given a choice.
And I thought about that long, clear path - two full days of almost straight paddling across one huge lake - a large portion paddling past the same areas we had encountered on our way out. And I thought about "no more portages" and somehow, no matter how gruesome, they broke up the trip. And I thought about the fact that the seniors had actually encountered a bear in Bear Country - and yet they survived.
As I heard Pat say "Raise you hand," I looked about. Knowing I was not one that had to carry a canoe or a very heavy pack over those last two portages made me hesitate. And as I looked about, I saw Justin raise his hand. Justin reminds me a lot of our son, Tonas. Neither is your typical Boy Scout. Both are more likely to be getting into trouble than being the "good" little scout. But both are adventurous and tough.
And immediately thereafter, little Mike raised his hand. Surely, he was more like me and was not one to have to carry the heavy items, but this was his adventure and he was obviously enjoying it. What else could I do - I raised my hand. The vote was six to three in favor of returning to French Lake.
Pat saw the three raised hands and was confused. This was not what he expected. He figured the vote would be unanimous. "Maybe you misunderstood?" He repeated what it would mean to continue and again asked for a show of hands. This time, not only did Justin, Mike and I raise our hands, but Dan rose his also. Dan later confessed that he had no choice - if his wimpy wife wanted to press on - how could he not!
Now Pat was even more perplexed? Dan was the other one who had been eager to drop the last two portages! It was time to discuss the matter and get all viewpoints.
We spent the next several minutes arguing back and forth, stating our cases, debating the issues. Those who wanted to continue argued that we had already done a horrendous portage and, what seemed a terrible trek to the seniors on their first day out, could very likely be a piece of cake for us. After all, five days of relatively dry weather had passed, so the mud the seniors encountered would have resided somewhat by now.
Slowly, one by one, everyone was persuaded to the same conclusion - we should press onward. Cameron was the last one to hold the viewpoint to return to French Lake. He argued adamantly, "Who cares about the seniors! I'm not here to outdo the seniors!" Finally he admitted that his ankle had been hurting him during the last few portages and the thought of struggling through two more was more than he was willing to do.
I then told him, "Look Cameron, what if we don't make you carry anything over the last two portages? Everyone can pitch in and get all the gear across without your help. All you will have to do is get yourself across - at your own pace." Now Pat put it to a vote again and, this time, it was unanimous - nine out of nine!
We set out early the next morning and planned to paddle further than initially intended. This way we would be past the heart of Bear Country, be able to set up in camp early, do some fishing and be able to sleep in a little later in the morning. The last day we would canoe a short distance across the final portion of Batchewaung Lake, cross over two smaller portages and then make our way across Nym Lake to our pick-up spot.
We reached our last campsite around 3 p.m. It was truly the best campsite of our trip! There was a wide expansive area in which to set up tents; a nice campfire setup surrounded by logs for sitting; the woods were not too thick right around us, but thick enough further out to offer needed privacy; we were surrounded by clear, fresh water on three sides, and there was a perfect spot for Dan to set up his hammock - it was heavenly!
The boys went swimming - the water, as always, warmer than anticipated. Dan and I accumulated our fishing gear and headed out in our canoe to try to catch dinner. We paddled around to the other side where there was a nice, little cove. At the inside of the cove was a marshy area to which Dan directed us to head. It was very shallow in that area - about two feet in depth. Dan had cast the lure a couple of times as I was lightly paddling to keep the current from pushing us to shore, when suddenly I saw what appeared to be a lake trout passing a few yards in front of our vessel!
I pointed this out to Dan and he quickly reeled in the lure and attempted to cast it in the direction of the fish. I was thinking about the sport of fishing, about how it doesn't seem too sporting to be able to see a fish underwater and drop a lure in front of it's face and then reel it in! Not true! It is a sport! Dan and I located several fish in the same manner and couldn't catch a one of them!
Pat and some of the boys tried casting from shore and also came up with nothing! No fried fish this evening! That's okay, after several dinners of rice or noodles - each swarming in freeze-dried vegetables and canned meat - this evening Dan cooked up a tuna noodle casserole that was very tasty, Tera, whipped up a cheese cake, and Mike made a batch of Suicide Punch (a conglomeration of every packet of remaining Kool-Aid mixed into about two quarts of water - oh, yummy!)
It was a very pleasant final evening. Everyone was eager to head for home. Three days would have been too short to really get into the trip and ten days would have been too long for my taste, but five and one-half was just right - long enough to really experience this different adventure, but not too long where one felt terribly grundgy.
The next morning we loaded the canoes and paddled over to one of the two last portages. Dan had noticed it the night before during our fishing expedition. As we neared, I saw a sign posted at the beginning of the trail. How odd? Ever since the campground of our first night, the only civilization had been the occasional other canoe.
We landed our canoe on shore and Dan told me to go read the sign as the other two canoes approached. I scurried up the incline and read:
Dan called out to me, "What does it say?" I just turned to look at him with my mouth gaping open! He repeated, "What does it say?" I just rolled my eyes with my mouth gaping open! Dan jumped out of the canoe and went up to read the sign for himself. He laughed! And I just stood there - with my mouth gaping open!
There was no going back now. Too late to return via French Lake. Not enough time. Only 2 1/2 hours until pick-up time on Nym Lake. We only had this portage, canoeing across one tiny little lake, a final portage, and then paddle across Nym Lake.
There was no choice to be made. We started to unload the canoes. Pat and Tera were going to stay behind and watch over the remaining gear as the rest of us trekked through to the other side. The boys started strapping the packs on their backs. I called out some instruction, "Wait until everyone is ready. We should all keep together as a group. Wait for Mr. Z and me."
The boys waited as Dan adjusted the canoe on his shoulders and I strapped a pack on my back. Then off we went. Lee, Justin, Cameron, Taylor, Mike, Dan and I. The trail began in an awkward upward incline. Then it proceeded onward over rocks and stumps - up and down. We approached an area of mud. Deep, thick, mucky mud!
The boys plodded through, Dan plodded through, I plunged my right foot in and it sunk down. I plunged my left foot in and it sunk down. I pulled my right foot out and there was a sucking sound from the suction created by the mud. I tried to place it down with a bit more care on my next step - trying to judge where a less mucky spot was. The sides of this mud hole seemed a better bet and there were tree roots winding through. I tried to step on the roots as much as possible. Each step taken with great care so as not to loose my footing and end up butt first in this mess!
Attempting to cross so cautiously had its disadvantages. The boys and Dan were now well ahead of me. They did not pause in their quest to wait for me to wade through. I tried to quicken my pace, but the path was tough and I was already sweating and my mouth was dry of thirst. I stumbled forth, my eyes darting from side to side.
It was then that I began to recall all those "Wild Kingdom" episodes in which they would show wild, hungry animals stalking their prey. It was never the healthy, strong members of the group they would attack. No, they would wait patiently for the weakest to falter behind the rest and they would go for the easy pickins!
I pushed myself harder and finally, turning a bend, my husband was in sight! I then plodded close behind. It seemed an eternity. This portage was perhaps shorter than our longest, but it was as tough! At last we reached the end! As I collapsed, I asked Dan, "Is this the longer of the two?"
"No" came the reply, "This is the short one!"
"You mean the other one is going to be longer than this?" I complained.
"That's what I said" was his response.
I removed my pack. Lee and Cameron were already on their return trip to the other side - that's right - even Cameron was carrying packs - of his own accord - no one persuaded him! Justin, too, was now headed back down the path. I hurried to join him. The return trek was always so much easier! The weight of a pack makes a world of difference. And I had now mastered how to trudge through the difficult areas. I even passed up Justin and took over the lead when he lost some momentum.
And, as for that nuisance black bear? He was no where in sight on our first crossing, so I felt a bit more confident. As we neared the other end, we passed Pat and Tera carrying their canoes. Lee and Cameron had already picked up the remaining large packs. Justin and I grabbed all remaining gear and began the long trek back. Mike showed up along the way to offer some refreshing water to rejuvenate all the load lifters.
"One more longer one to go!" I groaned to myself as I pressed on.
As we reached the end of the trail someone called, "This was the last portage!"
"What do you mean?" I queried.
Dan responded, "There's a map on the tree and it appears this is a third portage. We never found the other two. This was a longer one that bypassed the little lake!"
What a relief! No more portages! This one had been brutal, but we were done! I rushed over to see for myself and, sure enough, there was a map right under the sign that was similar to the sign at the other end of the trail. I say "similar" because the sign on this end was slightly different. Instead of saying "Nuisance Black Bear", someone had crossed off the "Nuisance" portion and inserted the words "Very Aggressive"!
I can't honestly say what my reaction would have been had this sign greeted me on the other end? For all I know, I would still be standing there - my mouth gaping open!
But, we made it! We never saw any very aggressive, nuisance or calm bear throughout our entire trip. Now only Nym Lake lay ahead. We loaded the canoes and began our final journey.
I offered Mike his choice of positions and he opted for duffer. This worked out well for Dan because it was a bit breezy and the water was choppy. No white caps, but it was difficult paddling nonetheless. Mike always made an effort, but as Tera put it, "Mike, quit lily-paddling!" He would constantly brush the paddle through the water; however, he had no real power behind his stroke. Dan needed someone who could supply at least a little more force to help guide us to our destination.
And, just what was our destination? Dan studied the map and determined it should be by the noted pier. Tera, however, insisted it was around the bend. She was our interpreter, so we headed where she pointed.
There was a partially submerged concrete landing at this spot. We brought our canoes and gear on shore and looked about. A gravel road lead uphill about 1/4 mile to a gate. Tera strolled up to check it out.
It was locked! She came back and informed us we had indeed come to the wrong location, but that we could carry everything up to the main road, and they would pick us up there on their way to the dock. We were not thrilled to hike uphill with all the heavy gear yet one more time after we had allowed ourselves to believe that we were done!
But hike we did! When finished, we sat in the hot sun and waited. The amount of traffic going through this small country road in the middle of nowhere was amazing! We had to wave several people past because, as we learned, a high school group was returning from a two-week trek and some people thought we were part of that group.
Pick-up time was scheduled at 11 a.m. It was now nearing noon. Tera and I decided to hike down the main road to the actual pick-up location to make certain they were not waiting for us there. Every vehicle that had passed was now parked bumper to bumper in the parking lot by the pier.
By the time our van and trailer arrived, it was a good thing we were waiting at the top of the hill. I do not think this new driver would have been able to maneuver the trailer down the road leading to the pier because it was now lined with vehicles. We loaded up our gear and returned to Base Camp - tired, hungry and ready for a shower!
That night we were to sleep in cabins once again. When Sam and I brought our gear to our cabin, I rummaged through my suitcase until I found what I was looking for - "Makeup," I shouted out with glee! I showered, shampooed my hair, put on fresh clothing, and prettied myself up - I felt great!
It took us two more days to return home. The last night we stayed at the KOA in Hixton, Wisconsin. It was pure luxury. I would recommend it to anyone passing through that area. They had a lovely area for the tents to set up in; the caretakers planted shrubs, trees and beautiful flowers all throughout the sight; the washrooms were immaculately kept (inclusive of vases of fresh cut flowers); and they have the cutest, comfiest little log cabins - ask me how I know!
Would I do it all again? Well, that remains to be seen? If we planned a trip with our kids - without a doubt! To go on another High Adventure, well, that would depend on how insistent my husband would be. Was I glad I went this time? I guess I would have to answer that question with the same response Dan and Pat gave to the question, "If you had to do it over again, would you pay the extra $15 for the lighter canoes?"