jamesonolson 18/08/2018 | Posted in Fishing, Internationalisation, Kilroy, rivers, Trip Reports, Trips, United States
In June of 2018 I loaded up my Jackson Kilroy and headed to northern Minnesota for a solo adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). The Kilroy, although slightly heavier than the Kevlar canoes most people use, was right at home both on the water and on my shoulders during portages. What follows are the notes from my journal of that trip, written here exactly as I did in my journal. It’s a bit lengthy and very personal, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. This trip is something I had dreamed of doing for the past 20 years. If you have any desire to visit the BWCA, I suggest you go as soon as you can. You’ll need to leave plenty time in your life as you’ll want to go again and again once you’ve been there. Enjoy…
DAY ONE (SUNDAY JUNE 10)…Up at 4:45am. I shower, pack up and launch the kayak by 6 o’clock. The paddle across Poplar Lake is uneventful and I find the portage landing going into Lizz Lake easily. The first portage is a learning experience. Bringing my fishing kayak instead of renting a lightweight Kevlar canoe may not have been the brightest of ideas. However, none of the portages on my planned route are long so carrying 65 pounds on my shoulders should be okay. The portage turns out to be exactly that, except where the kayak rests on my shoulders. Little bit of pain there, but not horrible. Half way through Lizz Lake is the BWCA sign announcing that I’ve officially entered the Boundary Waters. Immediately after the BWCA sign a mallard flies overhead. A little more paddling and I encounter my first loon of the trip. Once I get out of the kayak at the portage landing, a flock geese fly over so low that I can hear the beat of their wings easily and I believe I could almost reach up and touch them. I make my way to and through Caribou Lake easily and finally portage into Horseshoe Lake. At this point I have to start looking for a campsite. My friend Ed has been to this area three times in the past and has given good suggestions on which campsites he liked best. However, his favorite site is too close to a campsite that’s occupied by guys making way too much noise for my tolerance, so I paddle on. The next campsite I plan on checking out is right where Horseshoe Lake meets the Brule River. It’s quite a bit more secluded and has plenty of trees for good hammock hanging options. Plus it’s known for lots of moose sightings, so I’m hoping it’s open. I’m excited when I see the campsite’s canoe landing from several hundred yards away and look forward to pitching camp. Then a man walks to water’s edge and all hopes of using that campsite are gone since it’s occupied. I turn around and am forced to make decision. Do I take one of the less desirable campsites on Horseshoe or make another short portage into Vista Lake? Vista only has three campsites on it…one that is very popular and most likely occupied, another that is nice but requires quite a climb from the water’s edge to the campsite on a hill, and one that is in rough shape and less desirable. It’s an adventure I guess, so on to Vista. Vista Lake portage is short but yet tough with tons of small boulders on both ends of the portage. It’s an ankle twister for sure. On Vista the wind picks up, blowing into my face of course, and totally kicks my butt. I assume the best site is taken so I go straight to the site up on a hill. No one is there, but tents are set up and gear laid out, so on to plan B (or C or whatever it is at this point). I go to best site on the lake with low hopes but am blessed, and surprised, to see it’s open. It’s about ten thirty. God loves me. I set up camp and take a two hour nap. Carpenter ants are all over near shore, running across a large tree root and the face of the rock embankment. I cook mac and cheese for dinner with Nutter Butter bites and a cup of hot apple cider for dessert. I’ve had no coffee at all this day, which is a totally insane mistake on my behalf. I fish a little bit from shore and read a book called “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” that I previously downloaded to my phone for this trip. I get to to sleep about nine thirty. I sleep like a baby, as always in the hammock.
DAY TWO (MONDAY JUNE 11)…Wake up about four in morning and as I lay in the darkness, a wolf howls across the bay from my camp. Even the sounds up here are beautiful in a majestic way. I go back to sleep and get out of bed around 6 o’clock. I lay there listening to a loon and then I hear paddles dipping in the water. I climb out of my hammock and get dressed. I’m up before the carpenter ants. Anxious for coffee. I see a pair in a canoe heading north across water that’s like glass. It’s a beautiful sight and I admire the canoe’s grace and history in this place. I make coffee. Good gawd that’s good. I make a second cup and sit on the rock shore of camp, admiring the lake. I load up my fishing gear and troll crankbaits around the lake for a few hours with no luck whatsoever. I come back to camp when the wind picks up and go looking for firewood in the thick forest behind camp. Again, no luck. What wood is already down is wet and rotten. Good firewood is scarce since this site is popular with visitors and the good wood is picked up quickly. I manage to find one dry stick about as round as my thumb and about four feet long. It’s enough to get a decent small fire going but I have to add some slightly damp wood to keep it burning long enough to cook hash browns over it in my skillet. Just as the hash browns finish up, the fire dies down to a smoldering, smoky heap of ash. The hash browns taste good and I eat them right out of the skillet while sitting on the bank overlooking the lake. As I eat I ponder my options for dry firewood. Downed trees along the shore of the lake, away from the campsites, seems the only choice. About noon I decide to go for a paddle. Getting more water for my gravity filter is the extent of my midday chores. Exploring the island just east of camp sounds like a good idea too. I go out to the island about noon. Wow, what a beautiful view of the lake from on top of the island’s rock face. Simply breathtaking. After the island, I fill the water reservoir for my filter and head back to camp. The guys in the campsite just north of me left this morning. For a few hours I am the only one on the lake. Then right before I went to the island, a couple with young children paddled by heading south. Now as I sip cool, filtered lake water while sitting on the rock in front of camp, three more canoes are seen to the north. One of them paddles towards my campsite but turns back when they see me. Looks like they’re heading to the campsite just north of me instead. For a cold beer and a cheeseburger I’d let them have my site, but I doubt they have either. I watch two ants fight over who knows what. I dump water on them just out of spite for invading my rock. If it’s two things I have plenty of on this trip, its water and ants. I look up in time to see the three canoes head back north. They must not have liked the looks of that campsite or maybe they’re just day tripping. A small bird lands three feet from me and eats an ant. Good bird. Time to lay in the hammock and read. While doing so, another canoe paddles by heading south. A squirrel scampers up to my backpack, which is laying on the ground under my hammock. As he gets close, I say “hello” and practically scare him out of his fur. He runs off through the woods looking for a quieter place to invade. I get up and decide to go fishing again. This time I try tossing a Ned Rig (soft plastic on a jig head) instead of trolling crankbaits. While in the cove northwest of camp, a fish hits the top of the water just in front of me and I cast just past the ripples. Wham! Fish on. A nice sized smallmouth bass leaps out of the water, twisting and turning, and tosses my lure like it was yesterday’s oatmeal. He looked and fought like a nice fish. I’m bummed about not landing the fish, yet excited at getting a bite nonetheless. Two small northern pike bite and I lose them much like the bass. Then finally, a smaller but still feisty smallmouth hits and I’m able to get him in the net. I admire the fish and release him. Fish fried over a fire in camp sounds delicious, but I’ll holdout for some walleye. Back to camp after no more bites. By now it’s 4 pm and I decide to eat an early dinner. Actually I more or less snack my way through dinner. Some beef jerky, a ranch flavored tuna packet, some peanut butter Pop Tarts and two packs of Nutter Butter bites go down quickly. They are followed by my evening cup of instant hot apple cider. I straighten up camp and take a “bath” (wipe down with some wet wipes). It’s only my second day in the Boundary Waters but I’m missing a hot shower at the moment.
DAY THREE (TUESDAY JUNE 12)…I’m awake to the sound of mosquitoes buzzing outside my hammock at 6am. Little blood thirsty buggers just sit on the outside of my bug net waiting for me. I slept through the entire night without waking up once. I get up and fix a cup of coffee while looking out over the lake. No breeze so the mosquitoes are out and hungry this morning. They haven’t been bad so far on this trip, but this morning they are annoying enough to where I can’t take it. A simple shower of Off keeps them at bay for the moment. A woodpecker lands on the big pine at the front of camp and chirps a good morning. I down a quick peanut butter flavored Pop Tart breakfast and go fishing. It looks like it might rain, so I head to the cove north of the island again. As soon as I make my first cast, the rain starts. On my third cast, a small pike takes the bait but comes off before I can net him. A couple of more casts produce nothing but then I notice a downed tree jutting out from shore, just below the water’s surface. I cast the Ned rig beside it and a bigger pike slams it hard. He attacked the bait with ferocity, but doesn’t give much of a fight until I get him close enough to net. Then he jumps, shakes and does everything he can to toss the lure. Unfortunately for him, the hook is set deep and he’s not getting rid of me that easily. I get him netted and he rolls, just like an alligator would when trying to kill its prey. The pike accomplishes nothing except tangling himself in my fishing line. I struggle to get the tangled mess of slime, teeth and line unraveled but eventually manage to get the fish back in the water healthy enough for him to splash me as he dives. “Jerk” I mutter to myself. I’m sure the pike felt the same about me. I continue fishing “My Cove” (everything here is mine in my mind this week) and catch a small pike. I’ve reeled in sticks and branches that fought more than this fish. I release this one easily and fish on, hoping to catch a smallmouth that will put up a better fight than these pike are this morning. I miss another small pike, but he follows the bait to the edge of my kayak. I dangle the lure in front of him and as he goes to grab it I jerk it away and out of the water. I do this four more times, gently teasing the little fella, before he finally has enough and moves on. Finally I decide to explore another, larger cove to the north of this one. I get one more hammer handle sized pike to bite and released without incident. Then I feel the wind pick up, blowing on the back of my neck. I turn to see rain clouds moving in and know that I need to head back to camp. Unlike this morning’s short lasting drizzle, these clouds look like they might produce a bit more rain and stick around a bit. I no more than get back to camp and pull the kayak up on shore when the rain begins. A nice, peaceful, steady rain it is. I decide to make a second cup of coffee. I boil the water under an evergreen along the edge of camp and manage to stay fairly dry in doing so. The coffee tastes delicious and I sip it slowly as I watch the rain hit the lake. Once my coffee is gone, I put my cook kit away and head towards my hammock. I climb in and relax while listening to the rain hit my tarp overhead. Mosquitoes once again wait outside the hammock’s attached bug net, just waiting to get at the fat guy inside. They can continue to wait as I have no plans to get out until the rain lets up. I am due to leave the BWCA on Saturday (June 16th) and get home the evening of Father’s day. My family is having breakfast together in honor of Father’s day and my grandfather’s 88th birthday the morning I drive home. My current schedule doesn’t allow me to get home on time for it and a little bit of guilt sets in, despite having had dreamed of this trip for 25+ years. With doctors having found another mass in my grandpa’s lung, and this one close to his heart and spine, I feel like I should head home a day early and surprise him at breakfast. However, the last time doctors diagnosed my grandpa with cancer it too was shortly before his birthday and Father’s day. I remember that family gathering as, although a great time and I’m just as guilty as anyone, everyone seemingly went out of their way to get their picture taken with gramps as if it would be the last time they’d see him alive. The whole thing struck me afterwards as having been too much of a goodbye and a bit morbid. I’m not saying this to be shaming myself and my wonderful, loving family in any way whatsoever. It is simply how we all reacted to the news of Grandpa’s cancer at that time and it is what it is. That was a few years ago. The old man that I love and admire so much kicked cancer’s butt that time with the help of a great attitude, chemo and radiation. This time he’ll fight just as hard but, as I mentioned, the cancer is in a bad spot this time. I’m not ready for this generational shift that is life. Not going home early feels as if I am hiding from the inevitable, even if only for another day. That being said, the old man has been there for me time and time again, so I lay in the hammock and make plans to leave a day early. I’m sure my wife is at home knowing full well I’ll be home Saturday night, despite my being insistent on staying the entire time prior to heading north last Friday. If the weather is clear when I wake up Thursday morning, I’ll pack up camp and head from here on Vista Lake to Caribou Lake. That’ll knock out the two shorter portages. Once on Caribou I’ll grab the first open campsite I come to and spend the night. Then if Friday morning is without rain, I’ll make the two longer portages and find my way back to the outfitters’. Hopefully a room in the bunkhouse will be available and I’ll get a much needed shower. I’ll grab a cheeseburger and cold beer at the Trail Center Lodge, then back to the bunkhouse for an early night sleep. Wake up early the next morning and drive 13 hours home. Yep, that’s a plan right there. I jot all this down now because I’ll be curious to see how well my plans go accordingly. Suddenly, as I write, it dawns on me that I brought three fine cigars and haven’t smoked a single one yet. I’ll fix that right after this rain. The rain stops after about an hour and I’m ready for some lunch. I climb out of the hammock and fix some mac and cheese. Then it’s back on the water to finish fishing the cove that I stopped fishing earlier. I no more than typed that and the rain began again. But it is a light drizzle with no wind or signs of a storm, so I don my rain jacket and head to the kayak. As soon as I put on the jacket, the rain stops. I take it along but end up not needing it. I head to the cove that I want to fish and at its mouth, along a group of boulders in the shallow water, a fish snatches some tasty morsel from the water’s surface. I quickly cast just past the ripples and a fish hits the lure. I set the hook but miss the fish. Instead of reeling in, I let the Ned rig instantly drop to the bottom. I give it a couple of twitches and the fish can’t resist it. This time my hook set strikes home and I reel in my best smallmouth of the trip thus far. A beautiful fish that put up the fight that smallies are known for, I let him go for a future angler to enjoy. As I paddle further into the cove, a mallard flushes from a small marshy area. I admire the sight and then continue casting. For the next few hours I fish that cove and then the original one just north of camp. I catch another smallmouth, this one not as big as the last, and close to a dozen little pike. After the first couple, the pike become an annoyance. They’re fun to catch I guess and beat getting skunked any day, but I still hope for a beast of a smallmouth. Eventually I call it quits and head back to camp, primarily because my stomach is growling. On the way back to camp I notice the trunk of a dead, fallen, arm sized pine along the shoreline. Its light gray, almost white, trunk assures me it’s dry and would make better firewood than anything near my campsite. I paddle back to camp, unload my fishing gear, grab my saw and head back to the downed pine. As dry as it is, it cuts easily and I load it into my kayak. The tree is approximately 10′ long and I cut it in half for transportation. On the way to camp I see another pine similar to the one I now have in my kayak, and paddle over to it. Once again my saw makes short work of it and two more 5′ pieces are going back to camp with me. Back at camp I cut the wood to size for burning, start a small fire and eat a light dinner. For some reason, when I’m on these trips, I never eat as much as I think I would (or probably should). After dinner I enjoy a good cigar and the campfire. I walk down to the water’s edge in perfect time to see an otter swim right by in front of camp. He sees me but isn’t startled. He just stares and swims gracefully by without a care in the world. I puff on my cigar some more, then start picking things up around camp for the evening. Anything that can’t get wet goes under my tarp and everything else gets neatly hung on a tree limb or set on a rock near the now dying campfire. I take another quick wet wipe “bath”, toss the butt of my cigar in the fire and climb into the hammock to read. By now it’s just a little after 7pm. I reflect back on a great day of fishing, the sight of the mallard flushing and the comical stare of the otter. Today was a good day. Tomorrow, depending on the weather, I might move to Caribou Lake. If so, I’ll stay two nights there before heading out on Friday. I don’t plan on packing up and portaging in the rain, so it is up to Mother Nature actually. I just read the guidelines (I don’t think they’re actually laws) about where to get your firewood on the back of my entry permit. It states to paddle away from camp and walk far from the shoreline. Oops. I must have missed that part in the introductory, and mandatory before you enter, video. Had I not seen where others had done it numerous times, I would have second guessed my firewood gathering techniques. But hey, it burned great and I’m leaving some for the next campers at this site. That might make up for my carelessness a little bit. It seems awfully early to go to bed, yet I’m tired and leaning that way. Early rise, coffee and a Pop Tart, then pack up and head to Caribou Lake. Sounds like a plan to me. I climb back out of the hammock with intentions of a campfire and cigar while watching the sun go down. However, after lighting the campfire and before I can light a cigar, the mosquitoes attack. No breeze really makes a difference. I head to the hammock for a while and watch the campfire from there. I’ll douse the fire with water before finally going to sleep. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. As I get ready to call it a night, I can hear thunder to the west. Might be an interesting night.
DAY FOUR (WEDNESDAY JUNE 13)…I wake up at 4:45am, look at the time and go back to sleep. The next time I wake up its 8 o’clock. The combination of the hammock and the fresh air have me sleeping almost twice as much as I do at home each night. I climb out of the hammock and am greeted by blue skies, a strong breeze and the site of two canoes heading north to the portage into Horseshoe. My guess is they are the group who camped at the site north of me last night. I immediately start tearing down camp. I plan on taking advantage of the breeze and nice weather, and head to Caribou Lake for the next two nights. I down a cup of coffee and…you guessed it…Pop Tarts for a fast breakfast. I plan on forcing myself to eat a big dinner tonight but we’ll see. I finish packing up and leave camp shortly after 10:30, not looking forward to the boulder strewn first portage. As I shove off, the wind is in my face. The breeze feels great but makes a long paddle north to the portage. I make it to Horseshoe at exactly 11:03am. The paddle through Horseshoe is directly into the wind and I don’t make it to the shore of Caribou until a quarter after 12. Caribou is, of course, choppy as the wind beats down upon it. No wonder I’m the only idiot on the water at this time. Everyone else I seen was safely, and wisely, sitting in camp. Now the chore of finding an open campsite on Caribou begins. If sites close to the Caribou/Horseshoe portage are full, it’ll make a long paddle around the lake looking for an open one. After a short rest, sitting on a rock looking at the whitecaps race across Caribou, I load up and prepare to launch into the wind. As I put my life jacket on and look down at my kayak, a voice that says “How are ya?” scares the bajeezus out of me. A man about my age, carrying a large pack and other gear, had just completed portaging in from Horseshoe. Behind him comes a boy of about twelve or thirteen carrying another pack. Yet another boy, this one in his later teens, comes up the path with a canoe on his shoulders. That was just the start as the group continues coming, carrying more gear and two more canoes. In total there are two adult men my age and seven young men who all appear to be in their teens. I pull my kayak further up on shore and out of their way so they can launch. It takes them a bit to load up the canoes but soon they are off across the lake heading northwest to find a campsite. I get on the water and paddle due north from the portage to see if the campsite there is open. Luckily it’s open because I’m worn out already this morning. Paddling into the wind really sapped my energy. I make camp, paddle out to get water and am relaxing in my hammock by 2pm. The mosquitoes are nowhere to be seen at the moment and I enjoy lounging without the need for the bug net. I watch as a group of two canoes/four people paddle to the portage going into Horseshoe. With the wind at their back I bet they make good time. I decide to fix a lunch of mac and cheese right from the hammock. It’s delicious and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a cheeseburger in two days. At 3:45pm I have a bowel movement for the first time since entering the BWCA. Of all the things I’ve endured on this trip so far, being constipated on a mosquito infested crapper in the middle of the woods has been the worse by far. Suddenly I miss my bathroom at home again. The mosquitoes are practically non-existent in my campsite and earlier I wondered where they all were. Now I know they hang out next to the weed encroached pit toilet. I’m worn out for the day and decide to take a nap. I wake up about 6pm and go to the kayak to get my long sleeve shirt. I find a turtle in the grass on his way into my camp. I video him a bit and release him at the edge of the lake. He makes a mad dash for the safety of the water and swims off to tell his friends how he barely escaped with his life. I’m sure even turtles embellish a good story now and then. I like turtles. I do a little fishing from shore but with no luck. About 8pm I decide to retire to the hammock for the night and watch the lake as the sun gets lower. The lake’s waves slapping the rock shore will no doubt lull me to sleep shortly.
DAY 5 (THURSDAY JUNE 14)…I’m awake shortly after sunrise, probably about six or a little before. I put in my contact lenses, get dressed and paddle out to do some early morning fishing while the lake is still smooth as glass. I skip coffee and breakfast even. It’s a beautiful morning. I fish my way to the island just southeast of camp. About 200 yards due west of the island, I hook into my first walleye of the trip. Again, I’m using the Ned rig set up with a crawfish colored Z-Man Big TRD (no seriously, it’s named the Big TRD) on a mushroom head jig. This combo has been the only thing in my tackle bag that’s catching fish for me this week. I release the walleye unharmed, despite that he’d make a fine shore lunch. I cast back into the same spot and am instantly rewarded with another decent walleye. They’re healthy and put up a great fight, just like the smallies up here. This fish too goes back into the water unharmed. My grandpa will crap when he finds out I let perfectly good eating walleye go. However I’ve still got plenty of food left back in camp and would rather not have to carry it out in the morning. I continue fishing, watching a bald eagle glide on the wind high above me. I fish my way around the island without any luck, keeping an eye along the shoreline in hopes of seeing a moose or possibly even a thirsty bear. Other than a loon that lands onto the lake nearby and the local songbird population, no living creatures are in sight. I fish the edge of the island and as the breeze gently pushes me along, I look down into the clear water and see a smallmouth directly below me. He’s hanging behind a boulder in water that’s about five feet deep. The retrieve of my last cast is bringing my lure right to him, as I watch from above. Sure enough, as soon as he sees the bait, he makes a mad lunge and engulfs it. I set the hook and quickly reel in the whole kayak length of line. He’s not long, about sixteen or seventeen inches, but he’s a fat one. Smallmouth bass are probably my favorite freshwater fish to catch and these northern fish remind me why. I thank the fish and lower him gently back into the water. I watch him swim off and start casting again. I miss two fish in deeper water before heading back into camp. Back in camp I get a late oatmeal breakfast and a strong cup of coffee. After eating I relax yet again in my hammock. I watch canoes go in and out of the portage across the lake, then decide to make a few casts from shore. I’ve yet to catch a fish from shore at either campsite on this trip. I’m finally rewarded when I hook smallmouth and bring him to the water’s edge. Yep, he goes back into the water unharmed too. As I put my fishing gear away, a pair of canoes pull up close to camp. They’re looking for a campsite and I let them know the one just east of here was open this morning, so they thank me and go to check it out. The wind has picked up and I recall how happy I was to find an open campsite yesterday. As they paddle off, I head back to my hammock to update my trip journal and read. Shortly thereafter, one of the two canoes goes by, heading back west. They’re looking for a campsite with two tent pads so maybe they went to find a better one than the one I suggested, while the other canoe stays put and waits. I’m not sure and at the moment, am to relaxed to have a care in the world. I go out fishing one last time before dark and catch yet another smallmouth plus a little walleye as a bonus. Both are let go and I head back to settle in for the evening. Back at camp I put things away that I won’t need before paddling out in the morning. Everything else is safely tucked within easy reach, as I plan on packing up fast and heading out as soon as I wake up. Just as I climb into my hammock for the night the wind starts to pick up. Before long my tarp is barely holding on and a storm rolls in. I drift in and out of sleep all night as thunder, lightning and wind keep pounding the area.
DAY 6 (FRIDAY JUNE 15)…I wake up shortly after sunrise anxious to get going, but the wind and rain continue. I pull my sleeping bag over my head and drift off again. The next time my eyes open the rain has stopped but the wind continues. I guess it to be about 7am. Heck with it, I’m making a run while there’s a break in the rain. I pack up camp, half of my things soaking wet and the rest damp. I dump quite a bit of water out of my kayak, load my things and shove off. I’m no more than fifty yards from camp when I look up to see a bank of thick fog rolling across the lake towards me. I paddle closer to shore knowing that if I keep the shoreline in sight, I’ll find the portage easy enough. The wind fights me the whole way but before long I find the portage from Caribou to Lizz. I unload and carry my backpack, paddle and fishing gear first. Then I walk the portage back to get the kayak. Carrying a 65lb kayak on your shoulders first thing in the morning, through a dripping wet forest, isn’t at the top of my list of favorite things I like to do. Of course, it’s far from the bottom of the list as well. I manage to make it to the landing at Lizz Lake without twisting an ankle, which for me is a feat within itself. No one is in sight as I launch. I paddle slowly across Lizz, enjoying the break from the wind thanks to the surrounding forest. Two loons watch me approach and as I paddle by, they swim alongside for a little bit. Swimming on my right and only about 15 yards away, it’s as if they’re escorting me out of the Boundary Waters. They stop and go back to their own business just as I cross the invisible line that marks the Boundary Waters’ border. I approach the landing for the portage to Horseshoe and wait patiently for a group of six to launch and clear the way. We exchange pleasantries and they go on their way while I reach the shoreline. I notice another group of six heading my way from the end of Lizz that I just came from. I hurry and carry my kayak to the other end of the portage trail in an effort to get out of their way before they land. Upon my return for my gear, the other party has arrived and is unloading their stuff. A group of polite college age kids, we too exchange pleasantries and chit chat as we make our way back to the Poplar Lake side of this portage trail. It turns out they are the group that were camped just east of me on Caribou the night prior. We discuss the storm, where we’re all from, etc. I let them launch first as a young couple with two little boys wait to land. I decide to let them land before I launch, seeing they might need help unloading their gear. They’re coming from Poplar and heading into Lizz. Turns out I had passed their campsite on Horseshoe Wednesday morning when I was on my way to Caribou. They had to leave the night before and head to the emergency room, but were now going back in to finish out their week in the BWCA. They’re youngest boy, who looked about four years old, had cut his head climbing on rocks near camp. He was okay and as soon as he got out of their canoe he was climbing on the nearest boulder. His dad stopped him and reminded him what happened last time. Boys will be boys, huh. I told the couple that I appreciated seeing parents take their young children into the outdoors like that. They say it is a lot of work but believed it would be worth it in the long run. I can’t argue with that. As we talk and unload their gear, another group of college age kids come up behind us from Lizz Lake. They are a bit more reserved than the last group. They are also too impatient to wait for the young parents and their boys to finish unloading. So the college kids launch their canoes off to the side where boulders add quite a bit of difficulty to the launch. They manage though and are gone as the parents finish up and begin the walk to Lizz. I launch and paddle with the wind at my back for what seems like the first time on this trip. I make it across Poplar and back to Rockwood Lodge & Outfitters a little after noon. Fortunately they are understanding and switch my bunkhouse reservation from Saturday night to today (Friday). I load up my kayak into the back of my truck and toss my wet gear into the backseat. I get to the bunkhouse, take a nice hot shower, get dressed and head to the Trail Center Lodge down the road for lunch. Cheeseburger and fries downed by a large Pepsi never taste so good. As I eat I can’t help but watch my waitress. She appears to be in her 70’s and I wonder to myself why she’s still working, especially as a waitress. Something about her appearance reminds me of my grandmother. As she brings me another refill of Pepsi, she lays my bill on the table and tells me “Have a good day” with a warm but stressed smile. Then she is off to clear the table of the group of college kids that weren’t as talkative at the last portage landing. They had stopped by for coffee before heading home it appears. I watch my waitress clean the table as I finish the last of my lunch. I look at the check and mentally calculate the tip as I reach into my wallet. As I pull my cash out, I feel God give me that familiar nudge that He’s given me a thousand times before, whether I pay attention or not. This time I’m paying close attention and don’t miss my cue. I fold a twenty dollar bill for a tip and leave it half tucked under my water glass and walk out to the restaurant’s store front to shop a bit before paying for my meal. Five minutes later my waitress walks out and finds me. She has tears in her eyes and thanks me, telling me I made her entire day. I tell her she is certainly welcome and I appreciated the fantastic service. She smiles and walks back to continue waiting tables. I walk up to the register to pay for my meal and a coloring book for my granddaughter back home. As I hand her my check and cash, the cashier says “So you made Judy cry?” Not sure by her tone if she thinks it’s a good thing or not, I start to explain it wasn’t my intention but she stops me short. She tells me more people should be like that. She said Judy hasn’t been able to work the amount of hours that she used to due to a mild stroke not long ago, and money was a little tight for her. I smile, knowing that God was able to use me to make someone’s day today. I walk out to my truck with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. God is good. Back at my bunkhouse room I organize my belongings and then take a quick nap. Afterwards I walk down to the lodge office and purchase a few souvenirs to take home. I walk my new purchases up to my room and look at my watch. It’s been three hours since lunch but I feel a need for dessert. Back to the Trail Center Lodge I go. Their list of homemade pies is drawing me back. Judy’s shift had ended and she has gone home, but that wasn’t going to keep me from a piece of pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I savor every bite as the pie is spectacular. A hot cup of strong coffee completes the meal. Here I am sitting in a restaurant, by myself, having pie and a cup of coffee. I suddenly feel old. Life is good. I finish eating, down the last bit of java, leave a suitable tip and head back to my room. There I use the free Wi-Fi to message my wife and catch up on a few emails. Then I set my alarm for 4am and climb into bed. It’s going to be a long drive home and I plan on an early start.
DAY 7 (SATURDAY JUNE 16)…The alarm goes off at 4 o’clock but it seems as if I had slept for only an hour. I shower, pack up and carry my things out to the truck. I’m on the road right before sunrise and traffic is pretty good until I get close to Chicago. Afterwards, traffic returns to normal and I make it home in decent time. It’s good to be home, but I’m already planning my next trip to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota.
EPILOGUE…DAY 8 (SUNDAY JUNE 17)…Grandpa is happy to see me at breakfast. Turns out he was worried about me being alone in the wilderness for an entire week. He asks about my trip and looks through the pictures on my phone, all while I admire the man who instilled in me a love for the outdoors at an early age. Yep, it’s good to be home.