BWCA 2023 Day 1

July 20, 2023

The day dawns cool and foggy, as more weather had pushed through overnight. By the time everyone is up and rolled out of bed the sun has burned off the fog and we’re left with a warm, bright sunny day. Everyone wants to check out Britton’s, based on my recommendation, and so we head over to Chapman Street. There’s about a 30 minute wait or so, for them to get a table or two large enough for us, and we hang out on the street. I tell the group about other shops they should check out after breakfast, and before too long we’re called inside and seated at a booth and a table.

The service at Britton’s is reliable and the coffee continues to improve every time I visit. Some take on the stuffed hash browns, others attempt the #9 breakfast platter which has a bit of everything including biscuits and gravy. Me and Jay instead opt for one of the specials – Jay gets blueberry french toast and I get the apple french toast. Mmmm – so good! Portion sizes at Britton’s are huge, and not many of the plates get picked up by the staff clean.

After breakfast, everyone has a few hours of free time to wander around Ely. I hit up the majority of the spots I like to visit, Piragis and Portage North among them, and I run into the Scouts and the dads at various times. Nobody needs lunch because of the size of breakfast, and so we reassemble at 12:15 to head out to Northern Tier on Moose Lake. It’s about a 30 minute drive.

We arrive a few minutes before the 1PM arrival time, but that’s OK as there are welcome staff at the tent near the stockade waiting for us. After some initial confusion regarding our expedition number (ET072023-C) and a photo with the wrong interpreter (basically a staff guide who is with us the whole time) things get straightened out and we get a historical talk about the Voyageurs, the fur trade, and the North West Company after which we are invited to sign the “employee roster” for our honorary contracts as voyageurs. We also receive hand stamps which prove we’re allowed on base (and easily wash off) and are directed to gather our belongings for the first portage – from the parking lot to our cabin.

The advisor’s guide doesn’t lie about this portage. It’s not a smooth trail, I think it’s intentional in some ways to show what a typical portage could be like. I didn’t have time or the wherewithal to transfer things into the duffel bag I brought, and so I drag my luggage across the hard rocks on the port. Pretty soon we’re at our cabin for the night and given a few minutes to unpack before we need to head over to the Bay Post to get our outfitting taken care of. Its an interesting process, and as lead advisor I end up having to sign some sheets stating we’re responsible for our gear and any losses will be charged to our crew. We’re issued portage packs, tents, radios, and other hard gear. “Buckle your buckles so they don’t get busted!” is a phrase that gets repeated many times until it becomes a mantra. We also are issued a kettle box, which is a green hard plastic case which will be the home for our cook kit, mess kits, stoves, and stove fuel for the next 10 days.

Pretty soon we’re released to go back to our cabin to do our first pack, the first of many, and our guide comes and picks us up for dinner about 5:25. Dinner is lasagna, salad, and ice cream bars for dessert! They’re trying to carb load us ahead of our journey, and replenish those who came off the trail earlier in the day. All around base at the crew cabins, I see these groups who must have got off the water that day – there are garments everywhere, shoes out to dry, towels, etc. It looks messy compared to our relatively neat looking cabin with nothing but some portage packs outside.

I end up making several trading post purchases that evening before they close – a nalgene for the trail, a towel so I can take a shower and not have to use my trail towel once I get back, and a fillet knife in the hopes we catch some fish big enough to eat. Between myself and the other adults we also make a bunch of trips back to the cars, dropping off suitcases, getting things we’ve forgotten, going back to get other things we’ve forgotten…. I nearly left my map case with all my maps in it in the car, oops!

After a shower, I purposely go to bed with tomorrow’s clothes on – my sleeping bag doesn’t have a back, so I would be skin on vinyl mattress top and it’s so hot in the cabin that my 20 degree bag would turn me into a ball of sweat. Also, we’re supposed to start tomorrow in our “wet clothes” so I’m really just getting a head start. It’s lights out at 10PM, and the kids on the other side of the wall from us adults are up a little later chatting and laughing.

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