Friday, September 16, 2011

Lakes traveled: Gun, Fairy, Boot, Fourtown, Mudro, Picket Creek

8.6 miles traveled, 49.1 miles total. 2mph average speed.

We’re up a little after 7 although both of us would have gladly slept later. There’s a mixture of excitement and sadness about us as we know this is the last little bit of the wilderness we’ll be seeing for many months. One thing we finally get a chance to see is some really good fog on the lake –

I have the last pack of Ramen for breakfast and Joe has the last of the oatmeal. At one point we had talked about having the pasta for breakfast only because this will be the second trip where we’ve carried in and out some pasta. In the end, however, common sense prevails and we opt for the faster and far less messy breakfast options.

We pack up camp, do a last walk around and collect up all the garbage we’ve found here – 3 jiffy pops, one huge nail, a larger than regular size nail from the fire grate and two Shakespeare rods missing their reels discovered near another tent pad. Our bags packed, we secure the rods along the gunwales, float the boat, and load her up. Joe gets into the bow and I try to keep my feet dry even though I’m wearing my wet shoes. We shove off at 8:55AM. Before the portage Joe gets a couple shots of Gun in the morning quiet.

The paddle South through Gun and Fairy is pretty uneventful, especially since we had seen these lakes and portages yesterday, and in no time we’re on Boot. We didn’t notice the wind until now and it’s stiff in our faces. We see people in most of the campsites we spot on Boot. Once we get to the toe area we have a little difficulty locating the portage until we go around a peninsula and it’s obvious right in front of us.

We portage across to Fourtown and I’m taken with how beautiful the view from the portage area looking towards the East is. I don’t know, guess I have a thing for islands… We take the opportunity to have lunch and we have some gorp, jerky, the rest of the string cheese, and wash it all down with a little scotch. Who cares if it’s 10:30? We don’t!

I can see out past the islands that the lake has some chop. Nothing terrible but its obvious that the wind is still strong from the South. We paddle out and turn South towards the portage back to Mudro. We encounter a couple canoes, it looks like they’re moving sites or exiting today as they’re laden with gear but we never see them again. As we’re paddling we briefly get hung up on a flat submerged rock. Visions of Friday Bay flash into my head but after some weight shifting and pushing off with paddles we’re free. As we near the portage the wind intensifies in our face, almost as if the lake doesn’t want us to leave or it’s not done with us yet.

We see a few groups at the portage and we hang offshore a bit waiting for a landing to open up. This is the much talked about portage with the steep rock face and it doesn’t disappoint even if we do end up taking the rocky stream bed instead. We encounter several solos who are headed back to the parking lot as well as a husband and wife tandem who tell us they’ve been coming to the BWCA for the last 43 years.

The middle portage is absolutely breathtaking with how close the portage trail gets to the cliff sides and how far up we are. I’m in awe at several points and wish Joe were a little closer so I could ask him to get a picture. Oh well, he’s out of earshot and I don’t feel like standing around with the canoe on my shoulders so I finish out the portage and then go back for the second load.

We put in and are at another portage after just a minute on the water, and after one last portage we’re shoving off and paddling on to Mudro where it all began just 6 short days earlier.

Soon we’re at the lift over at the mouth of Picket Creek and we’re paddling upstream to the parking lot. It seems like the water’s become even more shallow in the week since we put in and we end up bottoming out about 75 yards downstream from the put in. We try lining to get past it, only to discover that in the end our best bet is to just bushwhack our way through the tall grass back to the trail. Other groups coming in are contemplating the reverse – bushwhacking their way to a deeper draft to start their trip. I end up stepping through the boggy ground midway up my calf while portaging out the canoe, so much for trying to keep my feet, or more importantly my sandals, dry. We finish carrying our stuff back to the car and while Joe was taking a load he was chatting with one of the groups coming in and learned a couple pieces of information –
1) There’s a fire ban in effect starting today. This makes us happy that we were able to have our trip and be able to use fire for light, warmth, and cooking. I wonder had we not been able if we would have had enough fuel for the stove. We carried in 3 large Jetboil cans and a partially used little MSR can as a backup, and by the end of the trip we had drained two of the large cans and had cracked the 3rd during breakfast the other day. A trip without campfires would have likely meant lots of early nights going to bed in the tent.
2) Joe hears something about 100,000 acres but doesn’t know what to make of it. The Pagami fire was 700 acres when we left, it’s incredible to think that this huge number could somehow be associated with it.

We dig out our drive home clothes and I walk down to the creek to wash the mud and muck off of my sandals and socks. My feet clean, I change into my street clothes for the drive home and we then load up the car. I turn on my phone and immediately get a notification that I have 3 new texts and a voice mail. All are from people that know where we were and are concerned for our safety, at this point I have no idea that the smoke from the fire caused such a ruckus back home around Chicago. I write back to everyone to let them know we’re out and fine. We’re officially back to the car at 2:12PM, just a little over 5 hours after we left Gun.

With the canoe secure on top we wave farewell to the older couple we met earlier on the Fourtown to Mudro portage and start the drive back to Echo Trail Outfitters. I call my wife, who presently gives me an earful for not telling her there was a forest fire in the BWCA. I guess Joe’s wife was worried about us in regards to the fire and ended up calling our outfitter a couple times to try to figure out where we were in relation to Pagami. In the end everybody’s happy and we get to the outfitter, return the canoe and gear, settle up for the rental, and get a couple souvenirs.

We drive into town to get a hot meal that doesn’t arrive one piece at a time at the Ely Steakhouse. Oh boy, the Bucky is one hell of a burger! When we get there the bar’s fairly quiet and empty and we get the bartender as our server. Joe, being in the same industry, remarks that he appears to have been doing this job for a while and the bartender is very attentive to our needs. We devour our burgers in near silence, Joe has the bar view and gets continually creeped out by the life size cutout in the corner of his eyesight. The couple times I catch a glimpse of it I get creeped out as well. I got the TV side of the table and as much as I try I end up getting sucked in by the big screen in front of my face. Its on the Weather Channel and it’s an hour long block of Storm Stories. Anybody remember when the Weather Channel was 24 hours a day weather without any of the extra junk?

We hit the road for home around 5 after stopping at the gas station to get a large coffee for me… We have a long drive ahead of us. The GPS says we’ll be back at Joe’s around 2. I figure 2:30 given time for bathroom and gas stops. We make our first pit stop at the same rest stop where we spend the night a week ago. When Joe had talked to Trisha earlier in the evening she told him that there was a pizza in the freezer for us if we wanted when we got back. We decide that the big meal we had in town should tide us over until we get back to Kenosha. Plus, we have snacks in the car.

Once in Duluth we’re soon crossing the bridge back into Wisconsin and I get turned around and we end up going back to Minnesota for a few minutes before crossing the bridge again. We stop for gas and more coffee around Eau Claire and Joe eventually falls asleep after 11. I call home again and talk with my wife for an hour or so… We’re having a garage sale the week after I get home and she’s telling me about the preparations as well as other news from the week we’ve been gone.
We stop again for restrooms and coffee in Delafield, again where we had stopped a week earlier. The coffee has certainly been helping to keep me going. I know how much Joe wants to be home and see Trisha again, and I want to be sure to be home when the kids get up because Saturday is the start of Cub Scout Popcorn for my son and he’s going to want to get out selling.

Milwaukee and Racine counties fly by and pretty soon we’re exiting I94 at Hwy 50 in Kenosha. We pull in to Joe’s driveway right at 2:30. We head for the kitchen with all our stuff thinking that the linoleum will be easier to clean up than the carpet. Joe turns on the oven and gets the pizza ready while we start unpacking and dividing up our gear. We hear some noise upstairs and Trisha appears in the doorway, sleepy but happy to see us. The pizza finishes in the oven and we take it in the next room to unload Joe’s camera, look at the pictures, and I get a copy of them on a flash drive.

Our gear and leftover food divided I pack up the bags again and load up the car. It’s now 4AM and the tiredness is starting to take hold. I make it home about 45 minutes later after filling up the car again. I unload the car, spray it up with febreze, head inside the house and take a shower before collapsing into bed at 5:30. A few hours later I’ll be back out there, pounding the pavement with my son as he works towards the sales goal of $2700 he set for this year.

Post trip thoughts –
– Need more coffee! It was a near disaster when we discovered we had used up the grounds. Maybe next time instead of little coffee service packs we’ll just get a half or full pound bag of something. We seemed to have coffee a few times per day, especially when we were windbound.
– Maybe skip the pasta next time. It was a pain finding the dried cheese tortellini on the shelf and the fact we couldn’t find Ragu in a pouch was a bummer.
– We didn’t use nearly as much squeeze butter, pepperoni sticks, or gorp as we thought. The tropical mix we made was really awesome and maybe we just roll with that.
– Make more bannock! We had brought several mixes that just never got used. The apple bannocks we did end up making were awesome, even for breakfast the next day. I wish we had made at least one of the chocolate bannocks. The little I had tasted of them pre-trip were really good.
– September is a great time to go on a trip. I saw a total of 3 mosquitos the entire trip, and the biting flies weren’t around much once it got cooler out. The water was still warm enough to wash up in.
– Don’t let Joe have immediate veto power on any campsite, especially if its late in the day. He may not be thinking straight. =)
– Try to keep travel days to 10 miles or less unless otherwise unavoidable. I know we can do more, but is being so exhausted when you get to camp worth the extra distance?

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