19 August 2012

Baptism in the Quetico: Part 3

I do not think the 450 rod portage was
used any more 
The following series is a narrative from my first canoeing trip back over a decade ago into the wilderness of the Quetico. In this episode we camp at the end of the portage and then make it to the island campsite on Baptism Lake.
Dusk descended and two more portages loomed ahead. However, once all the gear and canoes were at the end of the portage there was no way we were going to do another one. The next portage was just across a small pond.

Exhausted, I felt dismayed that my favorite shoes were soaked and my best pants were covered with mud up to my knees. I had enough for one day. We pitched tents on the rocky soil at the end of the portage and prayed no one would come through the portage early the next day.

3 Names and I shared a tent. I placed my shoes outside with my socks hoping they would dry. They didn’t. The roar of the falls ahead kept me awake. It also drove me crazy.  I should have brought earplugs.  In addition I realized my sleeping pad was not very good. I tossed and turned all night. [This happens on every camping trip- it usually takes me a day to acclimate to the wilderness.]

There is another anecdote about this portage I recall before 3 Names and I went to sleep. It has to do with a MRE – a meal ready to eat in military parlance. A MRE includes a main entree and a few extra food stuffs- including crackers, cheese wiz, gum, fruit drink and a piece of cake plus a water activated heater. The food is supposed to last for years. Well, I had one of these light brown plastic packages strapped to my backpack. But at the end of the portage it was AWOL and we were hungry.  3 Names and I went back down the portage looking for it.

After a 10 minute search we find it beside the trail and bring it back to the tent. I think the main entrée was ham. It was not very satisfying. But the heater was pretty cool.

The next morning was brisk and crisp-- no 80-degree weather up here. I put on new socks and a second part of shoes. We broke camp and loaded the gear into the canoes for a short jaunt to the next portage. This portage required a climb of about 20 feet straight up. It was a tricky ascent. How did the voyageurs do this with 90lb packs?! It got easier after that part and the portage past near the majestic waterfall I heard last night.

After the falls the scenery of the Quetico changed from prairie forests to rocky islands and coniferous forests. It reminded me of the north shore of Lake Superior.

Nearing noon we entered Baptism Lake.  Less than a mile from the entrance to the lake we found a campsite on a small island. Neil had camped there many times before. The island we were on had a rocky shoreline, pines, and plenty of moss and fallen trees [like nearly every island in these parts.] We made camp and awaited a scrumptious meal made by Neil. Although we were in the wilderness, Neil brought a two-burner gas stove. 3 Names and Neil fished in the afternoon and caught two Northerns, which we ate for dinner. At nearly every meal we had fish. According to Neil, There are no other species of fish in the lake.

A popular trout lake, Cache Lake, is nearby but the portage to it is nearly two and a half miles. Quite a jaunt. That portage has a bad reputation and one writer describes the portage as having only 3 bad parts – the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Baptism in the Quetico: Part 2

The following is part 2 in a series on my first canoe trip into the wilderness of the Quetico which occurred over a decade ago. I will provide some annotations to the tale. In this episode we fight off one of the toughest portages.

into the Quetico
Our route consisted of more twists and turns. Ruth and I disembarked once again as the canoes were pulled over a beaver dam that blocked the width of the stream. Getting into the canoes we put on our bug netting, since the gnats were getting bad. So far, I was clean and pretty dry. I really did not want to soil my fine hiking shoes and expedition pants and I didn’t think I would have to.
Nearing seven, we reached the first portage. Efficiency in portaging is a must, otherwise you’ll be going back and forth quite a bit. So carrying as much as possible helps tremendously. Our first portage was measured around 80 rods I think-- not long but not really short either. With the canoes on shore we removed all the packs and placed them in a pile. I then helped 3 Names get the canoe on his shoulders. [These were Alumnacraft canoes that weighed ~70 to 80 lbs. Hearty but heavy canoes.] Neil had already started ahead of us with the other canoe. I grabbed my pack and a few smaller bags and started up the trail. The path looked worn and neat until I got to the standing water and mud holes. I navigated around it the best I could, but there was more standing water and mud plus two large fallen trees blocking the way. With my best effort I forded the trees only getting my shoes full of mud. I assumed that’s the only mess I’d have to deal with.
Wrong! Most of the portage went through a bog—those notorious water saturated areas. 3 Names ahead of me was not faring any better. With a canoe over his head he could not tip toe around the bog.  Next the trail turned and there were more fallen trees and an unavoidable bog. With a canoe paddle in hand I was able to keep balance as I climbed over a fallen tree. The next straight portion was all bog. I tried to avoid it but it pulled me in. I then gave in and walked right through the bog, getting both dirty and wet. My countenance changed from grin to frown. The bog grabbed at my loose right shoe as I trotted through it. 
Next a small stream cut through the portage. It was almost too wide to jump. I set one foot as far forward as I could and crossed getting only one shoe wet. More boggy ground was ahead and  I was getting exhausted. Then there was a hill. About half way up a fir tree blocked the path. Finally at the top, a whole bunch of fallen trees made the path almost impassable. Since I could not climb over these trees, I was nearing my breaking point. Hovever, I somehow straddled myself over a trunk on one side and turned my face like flint towards the end of the trail. I dropped my packs and dreaded the return trip to get the rest of the gear. Already most of the party had fallen prey to this portage. The canoes did not even make it to the end on the first try.
I was demoralized and were not even halfway to the campsite yet. 

18 August 2012

Journey to the center of North America: part 8

Way back in July 2010 the Man of 3 Names and I set out from Grand Forks, ND on bicycles to sojourn to the Center of North America (Rugby.) I do not recall much from this part of the trip except my rear tire was causing me problems endlessly. However, now the conclusion of our journey.

Barn in ND countryside
Waking in a hotel was not my intention but it felt good. Moreover they did have breakfast- and what the construction workers did not devour earlier in the morn, I ate. I think 3 Names had some too but I am not sure.
Before heading out we stopped at K-Mart a picked up a patch kit for my tire. They did not have a replacement tube for a 700x35 presta.
Back on US-2 we made good time until I had another flat. I repaired the flat next to a round bale and we were on our way again. The shoulders were wider this side of Devil's Lake but the traffic was much heavier.
We lunched in Michigan City and I noted that they grocery store was part of a complex that included a cafe, post office, and the high school. We made use of the city hall's bathroom and water spout.
Somewhere further alone US 2 we decided to take the back roads. I am not sure why but I think it was because the shoulder disappeared again. I rode on some low volume paved roads and a few newly graveled roads. At that point the rear tire was causing me trouble again. I just could not keep it a optimum inflation. It seemed like every 20 minutes I needed to attend to pumping up the tire.
Our route took north of the Air Force Base and airport and through some wildlife production areas until we reached the outskirts of Grand Forks. At this point the tire valve broke and I could not keep air in it any longer. So I parted company with 3 Names in North Grand Forks along the railroad tracks at near dusk. The plan was that he would return with his truck once he got home.
It took about an hour but 3 names returned and I loaded the bike into the back of the pick-up and we drove to his home. No truimphant entry this time. After some chat and  recollection of our journey, I loaded the bike and gear into my car and departed for home.

Journey to the center of North America: Part 8

Way back in July 2010 the Man of 3 Names and I set out from Grand Forks, ND on bicycles to sojourn to the Center of North America (Rugby.) I continue this story as we head east on US 2 from the cairn in Rugby, ND.
changing size shoulders on US 2
From the Center of North America 3 Names and I got on US Highway 2 and headed east towards Devil's Lake. Little did I know that this would be the longest part of any journey I have ever taken on 2 wheels.
As we leave Rugby we meet a lady and her family that are doing a cross country bike tour. She had a support van so we knew we were really the hardcore ones out on the wide shoulder. We were doing good time since we had a strong tail wind pushing us.
Not long after I experienced a rear flat. Luckily we were close to a wayside rest where I was able to repair it in about a half hour.
Back on the road we began to notice our large shoulders diminish to less the a foot of usable space. Pretty scary since cars and large trucks generally sped by at high speeds but fortunately many pulled into the far left lane to pass us. We pressed on through Knox then York adn eventually Leeds and Niles.
Soon we were approaching the Devil's Lake region. Devil's Lake has been a problem for a quite a few years since it has been extending its reach beyond its normal boundaries because the lake has no natural outlet. Water flows into it but little flows out. It is a huge international issue because Canada does not want that water from Devil's Lake to flow north via the Sheyenne River to the Red River.
As we neared Church's Ferry we began to see road construction on US 2 which makes for real troublesome riding. But fortunately for us, sometimes a whole new lane would be coned off offering us the rule of that side of the highway. I also need to note that at this time it was getting dark. Traversing through this construction was hard enough but without good lighting we were finding it a bit more difficult. The construction slowed us down considerably.
the road is no more
We encountered portions of road became all dirt and gravel. It was surreal at times-  it looked like we were in a war zone of destruction. However, I never recall actually seeing the lake itself.

Darkness falls and we resort to riding in the dusky twilight with only my headlight as illumination through the maelstrom of construction. At nearly 11 PM we arrive in the city of Devil's Lake and nothing is open- no grocery stores or Wal-Mart. The only things opens were bars and gas stations. We watch the Empire Builder arrive and depart from the rail station then pick up a bit to eat at a gas station.
At this point, we have ridden at least 100 miles in the day and potential camping is 10 to 15 miles away. We concede and head to a motel and get the last room they have for $80. The construction on US 2 had bloated the town with construction workers, so we were fortunate to get a room.

17 August 2012

Journey to the center of North America: Part 7

Way back in July 2010 the Man of 3 Names and I set out from Grand Forks, ND on bicycles to sojourn to the Center of North America (Rugby.) It has been while since I have written about it so the details will be sketchy, but I felt I needed to complete this one before I move onto the latest bike trip.
Near Rolette, but not quite

Here are the previous posts for you to catch up on
Part 1: Leaving Grand Forks
Part 2: Towards the border
Part 3: From Hoople to Walhalla
Part 4: Out of the Gorge and a change of plans
Part 5: Independence in Munich
Part 6: Night at the Hawk Museum

I continue this story as we leave the Hawk Museum and head towards the center of North America in Rugby.

Old farm machinery
 I cannot say enough about the Hawk Museum camp we made. It was cool. We were surrounded by tons of old iron. There was a shower. And it was cheap. I think we may have paid just $5 for both of us. What a deal!
With still a chill in the air we left behind the surroundings of the Hawk Museum and got back on State Route 17 enroute to what I call the Rugby cutoff. On our way we went through Wolford which was kind of uneventful. The route was a bit hilly in sections so it took a while before we reach the intersection. In the distance at Wolford we could see the wind towers but as we kept pedaling they did not get any closer.
Giants in the earth

We did reach them and they spralled out for several miles like sentinals watching over this vast unkept prairie.

I was glad when 17 finally intersected Route-3. We headed south with a bit of tailwind in hopes of making it to Rugby in an hour.

When 3 Names and I arrived in Rugby we made our way to the downtown and loaded up on food and supplies. We found a local park and rested for a while before getting back on the road. However we had yet to reach the center of North America. We took route 3 through town until it met US 2. There, just a bit off the intersection of these roads is the monument we were seeking all this time. The stone cairn marks the center of  North America. Or at least it claims to be- the real center I have been told is in a lake south of town.

Behold, the center of North America!
I think we basked in the glory of being in the center for a really short time. Looking back I think we should have just had our lunch there and explored the nearby museum which featured an exhibit of the world's tallest saleman.