VIVA KNOX VEGAS
Dave talked me into it. He had bought a new canoe. However, it was inconveniently located in Minnesota. Why pay to have it shipped when you can drive halfway across the country and pick it up yourself? As if I didn't have anything better to do than drive to the far side of Minnesota. We'll, I suppose I didn't. Plus, we figured we might as well play around with it a bit while we were up there.
Dave got off work around noon on Thursday and picked me up. We needed to be in Minnesota by Saturday morning to get the canoe. This left us with a lot of miles to cover in a day and a half. We left Charlotte around 1pm, or tried to. Our planned departure occurred in the midst of an epic downpour. Creeks were out of their banks, and streets were flooded. To further complicate matters, Dave's truck had a leaky tire. I suggested that we stop and have it patched, but Dave was eager to get on the road.
The rain ended by the time we reached Hendersonville. We braved fog in the mountains, but made it through the Smokies without any trouble. Our first significant obstacle was out of the way. However, the immense traffic disaster that is Knoxville, Tennessee, loomed ahead. We approached town right at 5pm.
Lucky for us, our route took us around the north side of Knoxville towards Lexington, Kentucky. In this way, we avoided the worst Knoxville traffic on the west side. There were a few slow downs on the beltway, but we reached I-75 unscathed. We headed north with joy in our hearts. Viva Knox Vegas!
Our celebration ended quickly. North of town we hit construction and a one-lane section of highway. Since drivers in our part of the world are incapable of merging, we found ourselves stuck in traffic for awhile. Eventually we got moving, and drove up through the mountains guarding the Cumberland Plateau. This was a scenic drive, with lots of sheer sandstone walls and deep, narrow gorges.
Near the state line we passed another highlight of Tennessee. At exit 141 we saw "Adult World", which is housed in a building the size of a Home Depot. We wondered just what they had in there that required that much space. Right next door was an SUV dealership. I thought about stopping to see how much a Hummer would cost me, but alas we were pressed for time.
We pressed on into Kentucky (state motto: 4 million people, ten last names). Kentucky is a strange state. Long stretches of rural I-75 are eight lanes wide, for no apparent reason. However, I-64 into Louisville is a rough, narrow road of only two lanes. I was glad that we didn't have to drive into Louisville at morning rush hour. The highlight of Kentucky was stopping for dinner in Richmond at Steak & Shake.
In Louisville we crossed the Ohio River into Indiana. Now, there's nothing particularly great about Indiana. Quite the opposite, in fact. However, being in Indiana made it seem like we were finally making progress. Still, driving across Indiana is every bit as exciting as you would expect. If you look up Indiana in the dictionary, the definition reads "A place you must pass through to get somewhere more interesting". Even Indianapolis, a city of some size, largely exists because it is a transportation center. It is merely a place that people and goods must pass through to get elsewhere.
We didn't see much of Indianapolis. We took the beltway around the southwest side of town. We drove on to Crawfordsville and stopped at a KOA. This campground was also rather unexciting, but close enough to the road to be noisy. We pulled in at midnight, which probably wasn't popular with the other folks that were tenting - especially the ones with the barking dog. We set up camp quickly and went to sleep right away. We still had a long drive on Friday.
We got up early and left the KOA. For 20-some dollars we'd spent all of 7 hours there. We had breakfast on the road and reached Illinois quickly. Illinois picked up where Indiana left off - in every respect. If anything, it was worse than Indiana, since it featured plenty of law enforcement along the highway to prevent you from zipping through the state too quickly. By the way, if you look up Illinois in the dictionary, it simply says, "see Indiana". We didn't go through Iowa, but I imagine it's more of the same. I propose that we merge all three "I" states and give them a new "I" name. Insignificant.
The final annoyance in Illinois came in Rockford. Here we had to drive on a toll road for a few miles. I don't really mind paying for toll roads, but I do mind having to wait for the privilege. We waited 10 minutes before reaching the booth. The toll? 15 cents. Yes, a lousy 15 cents, but a 10 minute wait. This was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. I can only imagine how long the wait was later that afternoon.
We paid another 40 cents to get off the road, but this time there was no wait. Apparently it doesn't take as long when you have more than 2 toll booths. Beyond, we finally entered Wisconsin. Wisconsin seemed like heaven compared to Illinois. We stopped at the visitor's center and it wasn't even lunch time yet. Things were looking up! We'd be there in no time!
Wisconsin is a lot bigger than I thought. Especially when you drive all the way from the south end to the northwest corner. Still, it was more pleasant than Illinois or Indiana. The scenery was mostly rolling farmland, but there were some other highlights. The Dells had the look of a tourist destination, but the heavily forested river valley looked beautiful. Farther north we passed pinnacles and cliffs of sandstone that looked wildly out of place. Then, on the approach to Duluth, we crossed a series of scenic rivers that looked like they might be worth paddling. The upper St. Croix looked appealing, as did several others that I can't remember how to spell.
We reached the town of Superior and crossed a big bridge over the lake to Duluth. Duluth looks like a real neat city. It's an old city, on the shore of Lake Superior, but it still appeared to be clean and pleasant. Of course, we didn't have time to explore. It was 5:30, but we still needed to find a place to camp for the night.
We drove north out of town on state route 4. We stopped at one private campground near Boulder Lake, but it was RV central. It was still early, so we continued on. Our next stop was at a state forest, which allegedly had a campground according to the map. We never found it, so we drove further into the national forest. We reached one campground, but a sign indicated that it was full. We drove further out of our way to the east, to another forest service campground. This one was also full. I suppose reservations might've been a good idea on the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend. It was getting late by now, so we decided to improvise.
The road to the campground forked, with the other route heading deep into the forest. We decided to follow it in hopes of finding a primitive camping spot. We went for several miles, and finally passed a grassy area at the entrance to a jeep road. It was mediocre, but I was ready to stop. Dave suggested we try going a little further first though. I reluctantly agreed. We went another mile and found nothing. The road was narrow, but Dave attempted a three-point turn in a wider area.
It started well, with a nicely executed turn to the left. The trouble began with the second part of the three-point turn. Dave backed up as far as he could. It wasn't until an attempt was made at the final part of the three-point turn that we realized we had a problem. Dave attempted to drive forward, but the wheels spun. We got out to find the back wheels buried in mud. The side of the road was a trench, but the mud hadn't been visible to us.
Memories of the trip Christy and I took to the Croatan National Forest rushed back. On that trip, we had been searching for a primitive camping spot when she got the car stuck in the swamp. Here we were in the same situation. This time though, we were at least 3 or 4 miles from help.
After a lot of discouraging words and a bit of cussing Dave decided to walk back to the campground in search of help. I stayed behind with the truck, and actually began working on dinner by the side of the road. Dave had only been gone a few minutes when I heard a truck. An old Ford Ranger pulled up, and Dave hopped out of the back. He had run into some folks from the campground looking for firewood. The agreed to try pulling us out. This went badly. They hooked a chain to their trailer hitch and tried to pull Dave's truck out. This resulted in a bent trailer hitch and bumper. They were only a little upset about it, and decided to go back to the campground and return with a 4wd truck.
Sometime later we heard the sound of a large truck approaching. A Ford F-250 pulled up, but two different guys jumped out. The truck was adorned with confederate flags. Where was I? The guys definitely weren't from the south though. "We can pull you out, yah sure." They sounded like they had stepped right out of the movie Fargo. When we got stuck in the Croatan, Christy and I were rescued by some guys from Pennsylvania. Now, Dave and I were being rescued by two guys with nasal accents, driving a giant pickup with confederate flags. The whole scene was surreal.
They pulled the truck out without any trouble. About that time, our first group of friends arrived in an Isuzu Trooper. Dave gave both of them some money, and I shared a couple of beers. We wanted to ask about the rebel flags, but decided against it. It seemed like a better idea not to.
Everyone left, and we drove back to the grassy pulloff. It wasn't a great spot, but it beat being stuck in the mud. We had chili for dinner, and spent the evening staring up at a sky full of stars. It had been a long, adventurous journey, but the trip was only about to begin.
WILL IT FLOAT?
We got up early Saturday and headed for the town of Virginia. We drove a little beyond to Spring Creek Outfitters, where we picked up Dave's new boat. This went well, though the owner had some concerns about our plans to paddle it tandem. He bought a We No Nah Solo Plus, which can be paddled by two people or by a single person seated in the center. The owner was concerned about it's ability to carry two people and gear. However, we were confident that we'd be well within the specifications for the canoe. We were able to remove the center seat, which gave us much more room for gear.
We mounted the canoe on the truck using foam blocks. We secured it by running a strap through the cab windows. This made for a VERY NOISY drive to Ely, Minnesota. By the time we arrived in town, we were really looking forward to the long drive home.
In Ely we stopped at a gas station and filled Dave's truck tire for the final time. We had added air at every stop on the way up. I had some concerns about how much air would be in it after 5 days of paddling. We also stopped at the IGA grocery store, where the helpful meat manager sold us some frozen steak for the night's meal. I was concerned about taking fresh meat, given that it was 80 degrees and sunny.
Finally, we stopped at an outfitter to buy a map and then headed to the ranger's station to get our permit. We had made reservations two weeks earlier. At the time, we found that most of the entry points were already booked. Luckily we had found one vacant spot in an area we wanted to visit. We didn't have any trouble getting the permit, and were finally heading for the put-in by early afternoon.
We found a crowded parking lot at Snowbank Lake. We unloaded the boat and gear and began to get organized. I was preparing to drive the truck over to Lake One, our take out point, when a couple came off the lake. We found out that they had just finished the same trip we were planning, but in the reverse direction. They were nice enough to follow Dave over to Lake One and bring him back, which saved me from having to walk / run the 5 miles back. This was a wonderful blessing, as it got us on the water an hour earlier than expected.
We were about to put-in when a ranger pulled up. This was only a concern to us because Dave's boat isn't registered. In Minnesota, all watercraft has to be registered by the state. For a fee, you get, well, the right to float your boat on state waters. Unfortunately, the office that sells registrations isn't open on weekends or holidays. Since we bought the boat on Saturday, we wouldn't have been able to register it until the Tuesday after Memorial Day. We had to head home on Wednesday, so that would've been a short trip. We explained this to the ranger, and he let us go with a warning ticket.
We put in, and found that the canoe did indeed float. We paddled across Snowbank Lake, which is a huge body of water. We were relieved that it was a calm day. We had only just started when we saw a large bird, probably either a hawk or osprey, dive into the water and come up with a fish. Now that's the sort of thing I'd come to Minnesota to see.
It took us an hour to paddle across Snowbank Lake. Our biggest challenge was finding the portage trail on the east side. Dave and I had different ideas of where it was. We followed Dave's route, which was fortunate since he turned out to be correct.
Our first portage took us over to Disappointment Lake. This portage was one of our longest ones, at almost half a mile. There are probably dozens of ways to execute a portage. We debated a number of them, before settling on the following approach. We carried all of the heavy gear in one trip. We left small things, like paddles and PFD's, in the canoe. Then, we brought the canoe on the second trip. This took awhile. Initially we tried to carry it on our shoulders. This seemed to work well at first, but quickly became painful. Then we switched to carrying it on our hips. This was less painful, but slow, as we had to switch arms frequently. By the time we finished the portage and had a snack, we had spent an hour. We only hoped that we would get better at it as the trip went on. Luckily, it was the only portage of the day for us.
We put in on Disappointment Lake. It is also a big lake, but much more interesting than Snowbank Lake. Disappointment features numerous islands, and Disappointment "Mountain" provides a scenic backdrop. We paddled to the far end of the Lake and began searching for a campsite. The first two we tried were occupied, and I was growing concerned. Finally, we found a great site on the west side of the lake. It was situated on a high rock featuring a great view over the lake to Disappointment Mountain. Behind our rock was a dense stand of Spruce and Aspen. We arrived a 5pm, which left us with plenty of daylight to enjoy the area. In fact, it didn't get fully dark until 10. In the meantime, Dave provided a cheerful fire, and I made a decent stir fry dinner despite forgetting the rice. We wound the evening down with a couple of adult beverages and stayed up for awhile looking for the northern lights. They completely failed to appear, but we went to sleep serenaded by the calls of loons.
First light came at 4 AM, which helped us get an early start. We got on the water before 9 with a long day ahead of us. At first it was hard to leave Disappointment Lake. However, we found that the scenery would only get better.
The first part of Sunday's trip featured a series of small lakes connected by short portages. First we portaged into Ahsub Lake. This small lake was surrounded by steep rock walls and turned out to be one of our favorites. A muddy portage (and nearly a lost teva) into Jitterbug Lake followed. This lake was completely different, as it was marshy rather than rocky. As we paddled through, we spotted an otter swimming ahead of us. We tried to follow him, but we never saw him surface.
After Jitterbug we paddled through Adventure Lake, which I can't remember a thing about. Then we got into Cattyman Lake. We paddled to the west side, where I'd heard that there was a waterfall. It seemed hard to believe in such flat country. However, a short walk down the portage trail did indeed lead to the falls. The outlet from Cattyman down to Gibson Lake cascades 15 or 20 feet. It may have been a small waterfall, but it was certainly pretty. The rushing water was a nice contrast to the peaceful lakes we had been paddling.
We left the falls and went back across Cattyman Lake. We continued east into Jordan Lake. We weren't impressed with Jordan until we crossed the main body of water and entered the northeast arm. Here we found a narrow channel squeezed between high rock walls. It was still a little early, but we couldn't pass up an ideal lunch spot.
After lunch we portaged into Ima Lake. It was in leaving Jordan that our troubles began. From the beginning of the trip, my biggest concern had been simply navigating through the maze of lakes. A simple mistake could easily put you in the wrong lake, which would lead to all sorts of confusion. There aren't any signs or markers in the boundary waters, so you're totally on your own.
We paddled across Ima Lake, which is another large body of water. We were shooting for a portage trail on the far side. We veered too far south, but when we reached the shore we didn't know which way to go. Our only option was to pick a direction and work our way up the coast and search for it. We both felt it was to the north, so we headed that way. We paddled a fair distance, and Dave thought we still had further north to go. By sheer luck, I spotted a canoe back in a small cove. We headed that way, and it turned out to be two rangers. They had just come off the portage we were looking for. They checked our permit, and we headed for shore. If they hadn't been there, we would have passed the trail by. We might still be looking for it. Most of the portage trails are obvious, but this one climbs straight up a jumble of boulders. It doesn't look remotely like a trail until you get right up to it.
We had an unpleasant time carrying the boat and gear up and over all those rocks. At the far end of the trail, the descent wasn't much better. At least we'd made it through. As a reward, we got to paddle through a narrow, scenic arm of Hatchet Lake. This arm eventually turned into a winding stream, which was fun to paddle despite the frequent short portages. The final one put us into Thomas Lake. This was the largest lake we'd seen since Snowbank. By this point, we'd come to the conclusion that we liked the small lakes and narrow channels much more than the big bodies of water. However, it was getting late and we'd put in a full day. We set out in search of a campsite.
We headed for a series of islands, several of which featured campsites. The first thing we discovered about Thomas Lake is that the mosquitoes liked it more than we did. They were everywhere. However, the first island that we stopped at was breezy which seemed to discourage them. We appreciated this feature, and decided to stay.
The breeze died shortly after we set up camp. A plague of mosquitoes descended upon us, but Dave built a smoky fire, which helped. Aside from the bugs it was a pretty nice spot. We were out in the middle of a huge lake, but there were enough islands around to provide some nice scenery. We had enjoyed a beautiful day of paddling with perfect weather. We were looking forward to another great day on Monday.
The sun woke me up at 5 AM. It had already risen above the horizon in a brilliant ball of flame. A long golden reflection ran across the lake towards our island. I gaped at the sight for a few minutes before stumbling back to the tent for the camera. I took a few photos and then went back to bed. This was a mistake.
I woke a couple hours later, and the sun was gone. I looked up through the mesh of the tent to a gray cloud. The cloud was odd; in fact it seemed to be swirling. Then, I realized that it was close - much too close to be a cloud. Then, I became aware of a loud humming sound. There wasn't so much as a hint of a breeze.
That's when full realization hit me. I wasn't looking at a cloud; I was staring at a swarm of mosquitoes. We had dutifully hung the repellant from a branch along with the food. It was already hot, but I dressed fully for the mad dash to the tree. Only a couple dozen mosquitoes got in the tent to attack Dave as I exited. I stumbled through the fog of bugs and found the rope. Soon enough I was able to resort to chemical warfare. Dave however, could only hide in his sleeping bag.
Eventually he braved the conditions and emerged from the tent. Even with a healthy does of deet the bugs were a plague. Finally, we resorted to headnets. Headnets are made of fine mesh, which hang down over your face. This was helpful in keeping the mosquitoes out of our faces. I settled down to make pancakes, which was an adventure. The mosquitoes, which were thwarted by the dual combination of smelly chemicals and mesh, turned suicidal. As I mixed the batter for the pancakes, the occasional mosquito would dive into the bowl. Plop! Pretty soon the batter was mixed with the bodies of drowning bloodsuckers. It looked like we'd get some extra protein with our breakfast.
After we ate, Dave provided the entertainment for the morning. Once you've gotten used to wearing a headnet, it's easy to forget that it's there. This is the only explanation for why he attempted to brush his teeth THROUGH the mesh. I thanked him for cleaning my headnet with his toothbrush.
We packed up late but still left our island before 10 AM. We paddled the rest of the way through Thomas Lake quickly and portaged into Kiana Lake. This turned out to be my favorite lake of the trip. Kiana is a fairly small lake with steep rock walls and thick stands of evergreens. As we paddled out into it, we were filled with a true sense of wilderness. The only sound was the gentle splash of our paddles breaking the surface of the water. Then, a bald eagle soared overhead and landed in a tree on the far shore. That seemed like a fitting exclamation point to a beautiful lake.
We reached the far side too soon. Here we encountered the longest portage of our trip, at over half a mile. We decided to take it slow and pace ourselves. This seemed like a great strategy until near the end. There, as we approached the final descent to Lake Insula, we were passed by a girl. Carrying an aluminum canoe that probably weighed a hundred pounds. By herself. I think she was jogging. After that humbling experience we could only waddle the last few yards and collapse on the shore for a much needed break.
We recovered eventually and paddled into the northern end of Lake Insula in search of a lunch spot. We found a good one at a campsite where a river (that I can't remember how to spell or pronounce) entered the lake. It was another hot sunny day, and it felt great to lay on the rocks. I thought about freshening up a bit with a dip, but the idea of swimming in Minnesota in May seemed crazy. These lakes were frozen a few weeks ago. I checked the water and it didn't seem that bad. I waded in to waist deep water, but it was hard to go further. Finally I made the plunge and splashed around a bit before jumping out. Dave followed my performance, and we both agreed that it had been worth the pain.
After lunch we paddled across the vast waters of Lake Insula. This lake was huge, and it was a brutally hot day. On the upside, Insula had numerous rocky islands that made it interesting. We hopped from one island to the next, and somehow didn't get lost. We reached the far end of the lake by late afternoon. We had originally planned to camp on Lake Insula, but decided to continue on in search of a place more interesting.
This required another long portage into Hudson Lake. This one didn't seem as bad though, as we followed a path above a deep gorge. From below, the roar of the rapids enticed us. We were tempted to skip the portage and try to paddle through, but came to our senses. We had no idea what the gorge below contained.
We reached Hudson Lake and couldn't contain our curiosity any longer. We paddled to the inlet and headed upstream. We paddled upriver against the current through some minor ripples. Far ahead there was an odd shape in mid-stream that begged to be explored. As we neared it, a bald eagle flew over our heads, passing within a few feet of us. This exhilaration spurred us on, and we fought our way upstream through some small rapids. As we got closer, we realized what we were looking at. It was the remains of an aluminum canoe stranded on some rocks. The bow was completely caved in. The rest of the boat didn't look much better. Apparently, this was what was left from the last person that tried to run the rapids. I suppose the portage had been a good choice.
We headed back downstream, and found a nice campsite nearby on the east arm of Hudson Lake. This was a quiet wooded site hidden along a narrow channel. We enjoyed relaxing at this site after a long day of paddling. That evening, we saw our third bald eagle flying over the lake. It was a fine ending to a great day.
Tuesday brought our last full day of paddling in the Boundary Waters. We had been making good time, so we decided to deviate from our original route to explore a little. We left our camp on Hudson Lake and explored up the narrow northeast arm. Initially we passed between steep rocky walls before the channel opened into a marshy area of tall grasses surrounded by evergreens. As we worked our way slowly up the channel, a tremendous crash alerted us to the presence of a large animal in the woods nearby. Unfortunately, the mystery beast disappeared into the forest before we could spot it.
The map showed a small creek heading west to connect with the northern arm of Hudson Lake. We were heading that way, and I was hoping to use it as a scenic shortcut. However, the creek was overgrown with vegetation. We reached the far end of the channel and had to turn back.
We paddled back past our campsite and out into Hudson Lake. Hudson was pretty enough to make us glad that the shortcut hadnít worked out. From Hudson Lake, we had a decision to make. We could continue west on the standard route, which would take us through a narrow river gorge. Our other option was to head north to Fire Lake, and then go southwest along another narrow creek to rejoin the usual route at Lake Four. Both looked appealing, but we could only do one. Our desire to slow down and explore won out, and we headed towards Fire Lake.
Along the way, we explored a narrow marshy cove featuring an impressive beaver lodge. From there it was more great scenery to the portage into Fire Lake. This lake was another highlight, but as we turned west we found ourselves battling a suddenly strong wind. This wasnít unusual, as somehow we had been paddling into the wind all trip. It was getting fierce now though, and we feared that a change in the weather was coming. To take a break, we paddled another scenic narrow channel at the northwest end of Fire Lake. Then we headed to the southwest corner, where we followed a narrow creek through a small gorge. We stopped for lunch here, amid a couple of short portages.
The fun ended after lunch. Our narrow channel ended at Lake Four. This lake is large, and the wind was howling. We knew we had to head more or less west, into the wind, across lakes 4, 3, 2, and 1 before we took out the next morning. This was a recipe for misery at the very least. Our only hope was to jump from island to island, in hopes of avoiding the full fury of the wind.
We skipped across Lake Four, using the numerous small islands as resting places out of the wind. Our luck ran out at the end of Lake Four. We reached a narrow, rocky passage into Lake Three, where the water crashing through the boulders resembled the Pacific Coast. We were at the far eastern end of a broad, open expanse of water. Ahead of us was a raging sea of whitecaps.
We had no choice. We had to reach Lake One, and there was no other route. Going around the perimeter of the lake would have exposed us to the surf crashing against the rocky shoreline. As it was, it was quite a challenge lifting the boat over the shoals and into Lake Three. We tied everything into the boat, and put on our life jackets for the first time. Then, we pushed off into the gale.
We paddled out into the turmoil. We were sore and tired, but we had to make every stroke count if we wanted to make it across. To add to the difficulty, we had to make sure we kept the bow facing into the oncoming waves. We crested each wave, before plunging into the trough below. And I didnít think there was any whitewater in Minnesota!
As we approached the far shore, the wind lessened. Finally, we had somehow crossed Lake Three and made the turn into Lake Two. It was a huge relief to be in more sheltered waters. Lake Two is large, but is dotted with islands. Once again we hopped from one to the next. We reached a pair of portages that brought us into Lake One. These werenít our favorite lakes. It could have been their size, or the gale force winds, or possibly the boring names. Iím glad this local naming convention hadnít been the rule throughout the state. It would get tedious to plan a trip through Lakes Nine Thousand, Three Hundred and Twelve through Nine Thousand, Three Hundred and Eighty-Six.
The best of the bunch was Lake One, which features numerous islands. We headed to the southwest corner of the lake and paddled up Pagami Creek. It looked interesting on the map, and it didnít disappoint us. We headed up through lazy curves amid a vast marshland of tall grasses. Between the scenery and the warm sunny weather, I almost imagined I was in the Everglades. Thick stands of Spruce and Aspen at the far reaches of the marsh reminded me of where I was.
We paddled upstream for 30 minutes, and wished that we had the time and energy to go farther. Finally we reached a beaver dam, which was a logical place to turn around. We headed back to Lake One in search of a well-deserved rest.
We reached an island campsite, and found a big pile of moose droppings right at the takeout. This was quite a tease, as we hadnít seen a moose all trip. At this site, we had trouble deciding where to set up camp. The other sites we had visited had all been small, with room for only one or two tents. This one was huge though. It could have accommodated a troop of boy scouts. After we set up, we spent some time scouting the island and looking for the resident moose. We didnít have any luck, but did find an amusing privy. At some point, a tree had fallen and landed on the toilet. The resulting damage had been repaired with that old standby, duct tape. The tree was still resting on the back of the toilet. It made quite a sight, and I couldnít resist a photo.
That evening, we enjoyed a highlight meal of fried salmon cakes. Then we lounged about camp and tried to come up with potential captions for our privy photo. Here are 3 of my favorites:
After dinner, we enjoyed a final adult beverage and watched the clouds roll in. The rain started at dusk and drove us to bed early.
ALZHEIMERíS AT 30
We got up before 6 on Wednesday. It had rained all night, but now the storm had been reduced to some fog and drizzle. We ate breakfast bars in the tent and packed up quickly. We were both tired and sore from four days of paddling, and we were looking forward to heading out quickly. Our only remaining challenge was finding our way across Lake One in the fog.
Somehow we found our way through the maze of islands into the northern arm of the lake. The channel curving back to the southwest was obvious, and we passed an outfitterís store, which was the first sign of civilization weíd had in 5 days. Then, just before the takeout, we spotted another otter in the water ahead of us. We reached the takeout before 8AM, and were looking forward to getting an early start on the long drive home.
Our first setback was the expected flat tire on Daveís truck. We canít say this came as a surprise, but we had to take some time to change it. Then, before we departed, I couldnít find my wallet. I couldnít remember for the life of me where Iíd stashed it. We commenced a thorough search of Daveís truck, but it wasnít found. I knew that Iíd left it in the truck, as there hadnít been any reason for me to bring it in the canoe. Iíd had it at the rangerís station the day we put in. That was the last place that I could remember seeing it.
We drove back to Ely and checked at the ranger station. They didnít have it, so we tried the outfitter where weíd bought the map. Maybe Iíd left it in the store? They didnít have it either, but directed me to the local radio station. Apparently it serves as a community lost and found. They also didnít have it, but promised to call me if it was turned in. I was distraught over the credit cards and IDís I would have to replace when we got home.
We took the "back" way on our return to Ely. We went down state route 2, which is more scenic but more windy than the main road. This probably didnít save us time, but it did provide one more highlight for our trip. Just when we thought we wouldnít see one, we spotted a moose along the side of the road as we zoomed by at 70 mph. It dashed into the woods as we passed. We didnít get a great look at it, but it was good to finally see one.
We drove through Duluth and into the town of Superior for McLunch. Dave went in to grab some burgers and convinced me to search for my wallet amid the gear we had taken with us. This seemed pointless, as I knew Iíd left it in the truck. Furthermore, we had used every bit of the gear, so we would have stumbled upon it at some point. Still I had nothing better to do, so I took a few minutes dumping the contents of our dry bags in the McParking lot. I had nearly finished and was preparing to stash the gear back in the truck when I noticed that the small dry bag seemed heavier than it should. Was there something still in there? I reached down into the bottom of the bag and pulled out a ziplock bag containingÖ.my wallet. I didnít know whether to feel relieved or stupid. So, I alternated between the two. Not only had a brought the wallet on the trip, but I had obviously thought it through, since it was in a ziplock. Obviously, one can only conclude that Iíd lost my mind. Alzheimerís at 30. How sad.
I walked over to the McWindow, where Dave was busy swiping condiments. I dangled the wallet in front of the glass. He looked up and just shook his head. I went back to feeling stupid, but I didnít really care.
The drive home was uneventful but loud. The road noise from the canoe was horrible, and I think Dave was starting to loose his mind towards the end. We tried to hide the noise by playing music, but that didnít really help. In the end we just had to endure it. For 24 hours.
The highlight of the drive came in Wisconsin. As we neared Madison, the three lane expressway narrowed to only one due to construction. In North Carolina, where people are incapable of merging, it would have been a disaster of epic proportions. Here, everyone merged several miles ahead of where the lanes actually ended. As a result, there was only a delay of a few minutes before we were on our way. Isnít it nice when everyone works together?
We spent the night at the same KOA in Indiana and got an early start the next morning. For variety, we drove through Cincinnati before heading down through Knoxville. We made it back to Charlotte, with a great trip behind us, and lots of stories to tell. Iím ready to go back Ė as long as I donít have to drive with the windows cracked to get there.
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Please remember to Leave No Trace!