Monday, December 20, 2010

Diary of a Fall Trip with Karen and Hazel

I had been asking my daughter for weeks if she would do a trip over MEA weekend. I had a hunch the weather would be good. She hesitated to commit, but finally did. She didn't regret her decision.

Thurs, Oct 21: We arrived in Ely around 2pm and went straight to Piragis. I had been emailing back and forth with Drew -- and he had some canoe options for us, and some ideas for a route. Drew is a gem -- enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and fun to work with. We decided on a graphite Escape -- a fitting name -- with "innie" wood gunnels, a foot rest for me in the stern, and sliding seat options for Hazel in the bow.

Then we looked at the BIG map. Mudro was one option, but when we traced a loop from South Kiwishiwi through Eskwanaga, to Clear (night one) and back to South Kiwishiwi (night two) I knew that would be the best route. Smaller water, and wind at our backs if the weather predictors were right. They were.

Spent the night at the Super 8, right across from Pamida where Hazel did last minute shopping (duct tape, peanut butter) We had already hit the Coop in Mpls on the drive up, where we bought fresh food to complement the freeze dried meals I'd purchased the night before. We didn't even try to plan meals, but relied on a good combination of ingredients, including chocolate, coffee, and cocoa.

After packing and repacking while watching Project Runway in the motel room, we went out for dinner.

Friday, Oct 22: We both slept well, had mini donuts and OJ from the motel, and left Ely around 8am, which was my target time. The raven -- first hovering and then flying over my car -- I felt was a good sign.

The portage into South Kawishiwi is 147 rods. I flushed two grouse whose vertical panic made my own belly flutter, as startled by them as they were by me. We double portaged -- as we did all subsequent portages. First the packs, then the canoe, taking turns, though I have to admit, Hazel carried the canoe more rods than I did in total.

We were paddling by 9:45, the sun already bright. The wind picked up too. We passed a couple of guys when they stopped at the second site on the west side of the river. The wind was pretty strong now, but at our backs. We were getting used to the canoe which tracked really nicely, and went really fast. It made the Spirit II we were used to seem like a bathtub; the Escape feels more like a bullet.

Drew helped us pick a route that required virtually no navigational skills, but I was still concerned we had inadvertently passed the bottleneck just before SK turned east. Turns out my daughter has good map skills. She says, "Mom, we are going the right way; yelling over the rush of the wind, she convinced me she was right. We made it to the first portage, a tiny walk around some tiny rapids and then it was a short paddle to the pretty, grassy 85 rods into Eskwagama. It was around noon, I think. We had lunch of peanut butter, jelly, apples, and crackers before resuming.

After refueling, we paddled the length of Eskwagama lake to the portage into Clear lake. The map said 100 rods, but it seemed a lot less than that. Once on Clear, it was a fast paddle to the island site we had previously staked as our destination.

Hazel set up the Northface, and I gathered wood. But first, I made a nice cup of java with my Pocket Rocket and a cup of cocoa for Hazel. We sipped and snacked on smoked oysters and crackers, while we worked. I got hot enough foraging for wood to consider taking a dip, which I did attempt, but the water was ice cold. So I poured it over my head and splashed about in it a bit, while Hazel called me crazy.

Birds and Bugs: I was gathering wood when a flock of Chicadees flew at once through the low canopy; their collective fluttering of wings was as loud as a low flying plane. I was surprised at the roar they made. Such little birds.

I saw flocks of birds with white underbellies. I don't know what they are, but they fly fast, land all at once on rocks and then collectively take off again. They seem a nervous breed. I saw them at our second site too, though not so many.

I also saw a lot of ducks, but they never came too close to shore. Perhaps they are wisely human-wary.
A lady bug landed on me too. And a fly buzzed briefly about my head.

Dinner was tortillas with onion, avocado, and cheese, apples, carrots, and chocolate for dessert. The moon provided the ambiance, pink and full, beyond beautiful. We ate and read, talked, and took it in, as much as it we could, but at times it was so lovely, it almost hurt.

I was awakened sometime in the middle of the night by wolves howling. It was perhaps the most beautiful sound I have ever heard -- a sparse chorus -- then a silence -- rest notes -- full measures of pause, and then more howls. The round of howls went on ten or twelve times and then stopped or I fell asleep, only to wake an hour or so later by gusts of wind.

I lay in the tent listening the wind rush through trees, lap up the waves, send twigs, and leaves swirling, and worried about the next day's paddle. I convinced myself there would be whitecaps, we would be wind bound, I would miss work, risk my new job, we would have to wait out the wind on this Clear lake island.

Sat, Oct 23: I fell asleep worrying, but woke up to an overcast, but not terribly windy day. The wind, just as had been predicted was from the north east, and would once again be at our backs. I felt dumb for being such a worry wart.

We had breakfast of coffee for me, hot chocolate for hazel and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for both of us. After striking the site, getting gear packed, we paddled the short way to the portage across the lake, a 70 rod stroll into the arm of SK that goes west to east.

On that portage we met a couple. They took our pic and we took theirs. He looked a lot older than she did and we wondered about their relationship. Older husband, younger wife? father daughter? Secret BW romance rendezvous?

We paddled to the tiny portage that circumvents the tiny rapids, and ran across two women and two dogs day tripping with two guys fishing in another canoe.

We didn't have a particular site in mind, which is a good thing because the first three sites south of the rapids were taken. But we were happy with the site just past the portage into Bruin Lake on the east side of Kawishiwi. It was my turn to set up the tent and Hazel's turn to gather wood, but wouldn't ya know it, someone had done all the wood gathering for her.

One of the best features of the site was the lone loon that came with it. I was very surprised to see a loon. I think it was a juvenile as it didn't have the bright loon coloring of a mature loon. It hung out in our "front yard" the entire length of our stay, diving and from time to time yodeling. I wonder if it will be okay, why it stayed, and what will happen to it?

Dinner was freeze dried Beef Stroganoff, raw herb salad, and cooked carrots. Surprisingly good.

We had chocolate for dessert of course. The day and evening were overcast, but not too terribly cold; the fire felt fine, and we sat and read for a long time, not wanting the day to end, wishing we could stretch out the evening, but in the end, the paddling and portaging took its toll. Before retiring to the tent, Hazel wrote a note for future campers:

Sunday, Oct 24: We woke up around 8:30. It was grayer and cloudier than the day before. When I took down the tent, a spider creeped out -- a big one.

Rain seemed likely, but we completed the portage back to the car before it came.

Before driving away, I made one last nature call, and what do you know-- a pile of girlie magazines, not hidden under leaves at all, but lying fully exposed on the ground. Clearly no one took these vixens on a wilderness canoe trip, I thought, looking at the cover girls. Had they been, they would know that their real power and beauty comes not from exposed skin, but from confidence within. Sigh.

Reflections: Three days wasn't enough, but it was better than no time, and one of the best times I have had for a while; for this, I am thankful.

I am thankful too, for South Kawishiwi, Clear Lake, the full moon, the offering of wood from the forest floor, the Chicadees, the white-bellied birds, that singular loon, the grouse, the ducks, the wolves, the fly, the lady bug, and even the spider. I am grateful to the raven who safe-guarded the start of our trip, and the wind at our backs that brought us home.

And, most of all, I am grateful to my amazing daughter and her beautiful spirit.

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