The wind is quiet, the stars twinkle in the heavens, and the night is calm. I sleep like a rock and do not wake up until 5:30 a.m. The sky is cloudy but the air feels invigorating. I am feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the tent packing task. This morning, I have twelve rocks to throw out of my sleeping abode before we even begin. The thought was that they would keep us from blowing away if necessary. It seems like a whole day’s work before breakfast.
Bananas with blueberries, French toast, and sausage is being served. Along with my hot chocolate, it hits the spot. By 9 a.m. and launching time, the sky has begun to clear. Everyone is in the big rafts today as there, apparently, are larger and more numerous rapids on this stretch of the river. It also seems warmer temperature wise with a cloudless sky allowing for sustained hot sunshine.
The guides start out rowing and every so many minutes, we navigate a new rapid. Dodging rocks is the main activity necessary in maneuvering through these low water rapids. Several times throughout the morning, we get hung up on a rock in the churning rolling water. This leaves Marla with the necessity of coming up with a strategy for getting off the hindrance. Marla is a 46-year-old high school English teacher during the school year. She is thin and of a slight build – not at all your body builder type. Soon instructions are issued to haul heavy objects to the opposite side of the boat and then more instructions for jumping up and down. Colin has been recruited for our raft as he is a big helper in getting us unstuck.
It is right before lunch when we beach our rafts along the shore just above the class III rapids known as Joe Hutch Canyon Rapids. The purpose of the stop is to allow Haden and Marla to scope out the rapids and develop a plan of approach. They confer for a few minutes and then we push off again. The dips and rolls are a thrill for me, and our raft makes it through the rapids with no issues. Marla is delighted when she looks back and realizes that Haden is stuck on a rock and not her. Haden is much more experienced and almost never gets hung up, so she feels accomplished.
Once we are through these rapids, it is time for lunch on another sandy beach. Some of the group jumps into the river to cool off. I opt to dump water on myself instead. The water is muddy, I can’t swim, and hearing aids don’t do well in water. I tell myself all these reasons but mostly, I just don’t want to be soaked all the way to my underwear. While everyone cools off in the water, Marla and Haden pull out a makeshift table and throw together a taco salad wrap. It is scrumptious. They are wonderful cooks.
Once our stomachs are full, our guides make a decision to lash our rafts together again and put the outboard motor back on. We stop at a very muddy beach for this task. Jumping off the boat lands one in a thick black mud that sucks off my sandals. Getting the motor back on seems to be a struggle and then it doesn’t want to start. Haden and then Alex pulls the start cord over and over before it finally sputters to life. Through calmer water, we motor along at a faster pace than rowing allows. A quick decoupling occurs at the head of a rapid before we tumble through it. From there on out, each guide rows his own raft until close to supper time. Marla is tired and slowing down from exhaustion. Two other groups are closing in leading to concern for getting a campsite. Therefore, a decision is made to have Haden motor on ahead and claim the next site. We will catch up later.
We roll into the campsite around 6:30 p.m. This evening the sun is shining, at least, but the wind has picked up. The site is located on a sandy hill and our choice for tent placements appears limited. I sigh as I consider the work ahead to erect our tents. Dawn and I drag our fifty-pound waterproof bags up a steep sandy hill. My breath comes in huge gasps and my feet slip back in the sand each time I take a step forward. There are little thistles growing sporadically and I manage to kick a couple during my trek. Ugh! Each time requires sitting down and pulling out the thorns. As we pull out my tent, the wind howls and it threatens to blow away into the great beyond. While Dawn hangs on for dear life, I collect ten rocks to weigh it down. Even that is not enough. Beads of sweat roll down my face and into my eyes. This is exhausting and frustrating. I am already dehydrated and becoming more so by the minute. Inside the tent, the temperature is like an oven. The sand which has collected the heat all day radiates it back to me like a floor with radiant heat. Finally, everything is situated, and I flop into a lawn chair to wait for supper. I am so glad this is the last night as I have had enough fun erecting tents.
With a little hydration, I recover enough to enjoy the tasty evening meal of mashed potatoes and steak. Then it is time for bed. The night starts out wild and noisy again as the wind picks up more shortly after flopping out on top of the sleeping bag. It whistles across the canyon and the tent rocks back and forth. Will I and my ten rocks hold it down. I hope so! Off in the distance, I hear the clattering sound of some of the kitchen equipment flying freely across the beach. I lay there awake for a couple of hours listening to the gale and the roaring water of the rapids close below. I finally decide I probably won’t blow away and drift off to sleep.
It is light when I awaken at 5 a.m. Dawn and I soon begin our last day task of taking down the tents and stashing our gear in the waterproof bags. We have become experts at creative stuffing. It goes much faster this morning, and I am soon ready to lug my bag down to the raft staging area. In my early morning wisdom, I decide to roll the heavy bag down the hill instead of carrying it. I aim for the open area between the tables and give it a push. But instead of rolling where I expect it to, it makes a left curve towards the liquids breakfast table. Oh no! I see horrified aghast looks on the faces of everyone on the beach as I make a running dive after the runaway bag. I catch it just as it touches the table leg.
“Good catch,” Alex comments, “That was the save of the day.”
Breakfast for me is the last of the hot chocolate, some grapes, and a bagel. Our guides are pushing to get moving this morning and soon have the boats loaded and ready to go. The sun has topped the canyon wall and it promises to be a sweltering day. The family of three starts out in the kayaks while Dawn and I each choose a raft. I decide to spend the day on Hayden’s raft for a change. Hayden is the lead guide on this trip and the one with the most experience. He is tall and thin and sports an unruly brown beard and matching hair. I learn Hayden is the son of a Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot having been born in Africa. He loves the outdoors and doing these trips. On Hayden’s raft, I actually have a backrest and spread out in the scorching sunshine. This is our last day and we have twelve miles to go.
Hayden and Marla methodically row through calm water intermingled with short rapids. The water today is extremely muddy indicating a stream entering from storm runoff in another canyon. We stop for lunch on a sandbar around 12:30. It consists of a tasty wrap of lettuce, tomatoes, and other goodies.
After lunch, Haden makes the decision to strap the two rafts together again and start the outboard motor. The kayaks are strapped to the sides, and everyone jumps aboard the extended boat. Soon we are tootling along at a nice clip. The sun beats mercilessly down on us. It is hot. I am guessing it is close to one hundred degrees and everyone is eager to make some time towards our takeout location. Pouring water over myself does help but it dries in as little as ten minutes. We cover five miles in record time. Then our guides break the rafts apart again for the last 2 ½ miles. Alex’s family resumes their trip in the kayaks.
“Look, some mountain sheep,” someone points out. Along the riverbank are a couple of ewes, a ram, and a couple of babies. We have been rewarded at the last minute with spotting one of the animals we have been looking for our entire trip. Then around a few more curves, through a long rapid, and there is the concrete ramp for our takeout. As we drift up to the shore, an elderly man with a PFD on is standing in the water.
“Sir,” Marla calls, “You need to move so we don’t hit you.”
The man takes a step and falls right over. He floats in the water. It is evident that he is unsteady and unable to get up by himself.
“Do you need help?” Marla inquires.
“No,” he responds, “I’ll just float over here to the dock.”
As I watch him, he struggles to get on his feet. He grabs a stick floating in the water and tries to stand up but can’t. I can just see him floating through the rapids just beyond the dock and drifting down the river.
“I think someone needs to help him before he floats away,” I implore Marla.
Is he not with anyone? Is the question. She finally goes looking for someone who might be family or friends. Eventually, two men do appear and haul him out of the river by his flotation device. Talk about leaving someone in a perilous situation.
A cool air-conditioned spot right now will feel really good. But nothing surpasses a few days in the vast wilderness God has created. It was a trip of solitude away from the chaos and craziness of the everyday world.
I am up by 6:30 a.m. because of a need to visit Grover. Grover is the portable toilet that gets placed in the great outdoors usually with a lovely view of the Green River. There is a 5-gallon bucket to balance upon for urine only and another little toilet shaped canister for number two. The instructions for disposing of human waste out here in this wilderness seems rather strange to me. The urine gets put in the river and the stool gets hauled back to headquarters. And yes, one is supposed to pee in the river in front of one’s companions during the day. Privacy is forgotten as someone of importance has decided that this helps the environment.
The next task is to take down our tents and stuff everything back in the big blue watertight bag for the day. Dawn and I each have separate tents, but we find that performing this task is much easier as a team. We drop and roll each tent and then do some creative stuffing. The tent goes in first with our personal duffle bag stuffed down beside it. On top is positioned the sleeping bag and any extra items. One person can hold the bag open while the other person reaches in and guides the items past each other. Lastly, we roll the top down three times and fasten the fasteners. This will keep everything snug and dry until we need it again tonight.
Breakfast is waiting by the time we are done our morning chores. Mine consists of an English muffin with fried egg, Canadian bacon, and cheese, along with hot chocolate. It takes our guides 1 ½ hours to get all the supplies and utensils stowed back in the rafts. I watch Haden for a while and realize he is pumping air into the rafts. Is that a bad omen?
“Is there a leak that you need to pump air into the raft,” I question.
“No,” he says, “The air expands during the day but at night when it cools off, the air contracts so we fill up each morning” Whew! That’s good to know.
The sun is coming over the top of the ridge by the time we push off. The rafts have been broken apart today and the motor stowed away. Haden will be rowing one raft while Marla rows the other. Dawn and I hop onto Marla’s raft. Alex, Colin (14 years old), and Casey (17 years old), the other members of our party, are trying out the inflatable kayaks. They will paddle between the rafts.
The sun is bright today as well with a smattering of clouds. As we start out this morning, the wind is gusty and in our face. Marla struggles to keep the raft moving downstream. At one particular bend in the river, the wind catches the 2000-pound raft and spins it into an eddy, or an area where she rows and rows and rows without making any progress. Finally, she is able to get us out of our predicament and continue the slow paddle.
Rapids are intermingled with areas of calmer water that require full body powering of the oars by Marla. A roar announces the arrive of a rapid and the water bubbles and churns over the rocks submerged beneath. These hidden rocks present a challenge with the entrance into each rapid. At one of these rapids, Marla enters in an area that looks to be obstacle free but as we bounce over the rolling swells, the raft scrapes over a huge rock and comes to a halt in the rushing torrent. Marla tries to bring the craft around, but we are stuck. Before I know what is happening, Colin has bumped into the back of the raft with the kayak and flipped. He is left clinging to the side of the raft. His water bottle and paddles have floated away downstream. Marla’s priority now becomes hauling Colin in by his PFD. Once everyone is safely on board, it is back to the work of freeing ourselves. Dawn, I, Colin, and Casey, who came on board earlier, are instructed to move to the front and jump up and down. Now jumping up and down on a rubber floor for two old ladies is a hazardous activity and isn’t about to happen unless one wants more people in the river. Dawn and I mostly bounce while grasping the side. Colin and Casey are left to do the jumping while Marla gets out in the rushing river and tries to pull the raft off the rock. Several versions of this procedure occur repeatedly throughout the day as we hang up on various rocks. As an alternative to jumping, I decide to grab both sides of the raft and rock back and forth. Amazingly, this actually has better results than the jumping.
Further down the river, a voice calls out, “Did you lose a paddle?’
“Yes, Colin did,” we shout back.
“The park ranger has it up ahead,” we are informed.
Thankfully, the Bureau of Land Management ranger has caught Colin’s missing oars and returns them to him as he rows by.
Just as yesterday, around 3 p.m., the sky darkens, and a downpour begins. Today we planned for this, so I have my rain jacket. And no ice balls clunk on our heads either. But the water still wets our heads and trickles down into my pants and underwear before ceasing twenty minutes later. The sun comes out and the canyon wall sparkles with the moisture. We soon pull over and proceed to hike to an old abandon homestead from the early 1900s. Swedish immigrants who were given free land in the new world made an attempt at farming in this hostile climate before abandoning the efforts after just a few years. There are the remains of a stone roofless house, a wooden shop with star gazing potential, and a small stone chicken house. The fences were constructed with pieces of tree branches positioned at various angles. Soon we are drying out and warmed up and we tromp back to the rafts to continue on to a camping site.
A couple more hours bring us to our overnight camping spot. The sky is again clouding up and the same mad scramble ensues to get the tents up in the wind before the next downpour. I am getting rather frustrated with this crazy weather every day. Casey has come up with a new name for Desolation Canyon. She calls it Bipolar Canyon.
The alarm is set for 4:50 a.m. but we are awake by 4:40. We have been told to meet at the airport at 6:30 a.m. for our air flight to the put-in site for Desolation Canyon. As I walk out our hotel door at 5:15, I am met by wet payment and the smell of rain. Light sprinkles touch my face. I didn’t know that rain was expected but it has cooled the atmosphere from the prior day’s heat. By the time we arrive on the north skirts of Moab, it has stopped drizzling. The cloud cover is starting to move on, and the sun’s rays are peaking through. It is sixty-eight degrees – a beautiful day.
We arrive at the airport shortly after 6 a.m. and settle down on a bench outside to wait. The airport lobby door is locked and there is no sign of any other passengers. The air is cool and the morning pleasant but as the minutes tick by, butterflies begin to awaken in my stomach. Did we misunderstand? The clock ticks slowly by 6:30 and still no one has arrived. Two small planes sitting on the tarmac fire up, taxi away from the hanger, roar down the runway, and disappear into the sky. Now our anxiety has spiked, and we begin to pace back and forth. We have no cell phones and no way to contact anyone. Did they leave without us? Are we at the wrong airport? There is really nothing we can do about our situation, and we feel helpless. We check all the doors again– still locked. Finally, a car pulls up to the Redtail Aviation Maintenance building. We rush over to the gentleman who emerges.
“Do you know anything about a flight leaving at 6:30?” I question anxiously.
“There is a flight scheduled for 7:30,” he responds, “I’m the pilot and my name is Dan. I will be taking you today.”
Whew!! What a relief. They haven’t left without us after all. I let out a huge sigh. Now that our panic has been eased, we settle down again to wait some more. Right around 7:30, the remaining people arrive. There is a dad, Alex, and two teenage kids, Casey and Colin. We are soon led out to a small eight-seater airplane. Decked out in red and white, it greets us with an open door. There is no ID required. After a short orientation, I am soon strapped in with a seat belt and shoulder harness. Headphones finalize the ensemble and the pilot throws instructions our way while revving the engine. Soon we are speeding down the runway and lifting into the air.
Below us, the dry barren land of Utah gives way to the sandstone cliffs of Desolation Canyon. The land east of the Green River in the canyon is part of the Utz Indian reservation so we will only be able to camp in the wilderness area on the western side. Our route takes us north along the canyon’s course just a few thousand feet above the ground. A forty-five-minute flight later finds us bumping along the pebble strewn ground of the makeshift landing area of a flat mesa above the river launching area. Soon we are bouncing along a rocky dirt trail in a pickup winding our way around and down to the river.
We have been informed that the river is extremely low this year due to a small snowpack last winter and little rain. The river is at 800 cfs (cubic feet per second) which is the lowest level they have ever rafted at. The two rafts that we will be taking have been lashed together and our guides, Haden and Marla, will be using a small outboard motor to move us along in the slow flow and calm water. Any rapids today will be class 1 or 2. Dawn and I clamber into the front of Marla’s raft. The first thing I notice is that there is water seeping into the boat at my feet. Having water coming into out floating home doesn’t seem like a good way to start out a water trip.
“There’s water coming in,” I point out to Marla.
She chuckles. “These are self-bailing boats,” she proclaims, “They have openings to let the water drain out if we get swamped in the rapids. Otherwise, we would have to hand bail.”
Oh, that’s an interesting concept I never thought about. At least I know we will not be sinking in the first hour.
The sun is bright and warm. With a little breeze, the day is not uncomfortable. We move along slowly, not unlike a barge and a pusher on the Mississippi River. We weave this way and that attempting to navigate in deeper water. Sand bars extend into many areas of the channel. Several times, we get bogged down in the sand and Marla and Haden jump into the water and push our stranded vessel out of its predicament. Then we motor onward.
Around noon, we glide onto a sandbar purposely and our guides set up a table to serve us a meal of pita bread with fixings. The temperature is quite warm, and I wade into the water to wet my feet while simultaneously trying to clean the mess off my pants that I have made from being a sloppy eater. The afternoon starts out much like the morning though clouds have now started to obscure the sun at times. This makes for a much more comfortable temperature. But as the afternoon progresses, the sky continues to darken and over the next couple of hours, the dark clouds advance. By midafternoon, lightning flashes occasionally and rumbles of thunder punctuate the silence.
“Should we be getting off the river?” is the question being asked. We are from Minnesota and electrical storms mean “get off the water.”
Our guides seem unperturbed, “With the canyon walls being ¼ mile high, there is little chance that we will be struck by lightning” is the sentiment and we continue with our water journey. Soon splashes of water touch my skin and bounce off the raft. But what starts out as sprinkles soon turns into a pouring deluge. Then those raindrops begin to feel rather hard. Ouch! Ice balls bounce off our heads, collect in the raft, and create large ripples in the water. It is hailing. I hunch over miserably as the water and ice creeps down my back under the personal flotation device and into my underwear. All our raingear is packed away in the dry bags which is not at all helpful. Haden and the other three guests grab helmets to protect themselves from the onslaught. I am too wretched to move. Marla comes to join Dawn and I bringing a six-foot long by three-foot-wide seat cushion which we hold over our heads while we huddle together shivering. Marble size hail balls sting the skin on our hands and legs. Dawn develops bruises from them. It seems like this ambush from the sky goes on forever. Is this ever going to end?
Just as quickly as it began, the torment stops, and the sun comes out. But we are cold, wet, and shivering. Haden makes a decision to land at the next campsite so that we can move around, dry out, and warm up. We are led along a trail through the desert sand in the sunlight to a cliff with petrographs. This is just what the doctor ordered. The sun warms our torsos and begins the drying process of our clothes. My scrub pants and underwear are still soaked but at least I am no longer hypothermic once we jump back into the raft.
A few more hours of navigating lead us to our campsite for the night around 6 p.m. The sky has again clouded over and thunder rumbles. We grab our dry bags with all our possessions and scramble up the sandy hill. The race is on to get our tents erected before the rain begins again. Then we dive in while the downpour cascades from the heavens. I am exhausted. But soon this shower too has passed and the sun shines on us for a pleasant evening.
As we sit in lawn chairs waiting for our supper, someone spots a small brown head gliding just under the water in the river. As it emerges on the opposite bank, we are able to identify the creature as a beaver. He or she splashes merrily around for our entertainment. The Bureau of Land Management ranger who visits us the next morning reports that a bear was also spotted across the river on this evening. I am so disappointed that we missed this appearance.
Our guides cook and eventually serve us a scrumptious meal of shrimp alfredo pasta along with a salad. It is topped by strawberry shortcake for dessert. By 9:30 p.m., we are stuffed and ready to crawl into the sleeping bags and tents for the night. I discover after I arrive in my tent that my carefully checked and battery replaced flashlight does not work. Great! Just great! There will be no light to find anything in my tent and no light to stumble my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I also brought along an air mattress and a small battery-operated air pump. The air mattress is waiting for me positioned on top of one of the seat cushions from the raft. This arrangement will work out splendidly. It cushions my body perfectly as I lie there trying to fall asleep. The wind has picked up outside and the tent begins to rock back and forth. These tents are designed to sit on top of the ground without staking corners into the ground. Here stakes wouldn’t stay anyway due to the loose sand that covers the landscape. In the escalating wind, my tent begins to rock back and forth. It bows almost to the ground on one side. As it bends over, everything on that side of the tent gets dumped up on me. Flaps flop up and down like a bird with wings. I lay there in the pitch dark wondering if I am going to be trapped inside this enclosure. I finally fall asleep after I decide I probably won’t smother if it does totally come down on me. (to be continued)
My traveling partner, Dawn and I arrived in Moab, Utah around 5:30 p.m. local time on Monday, July 12, 2021. The temperature is 105 degrees. “At least, it’s a dry heat,” people often say but it is still hot. Red rock rises into the sky on both sides of the highway and the landscape is dry and barren. Nothing grows green. Moab is a sprawling western tourist town with probably more motels than anything else. We check into our accommodations at Bowen Motel and then decide to walk across the street to Wendy’s to get supper. Apparently, Utah is still hanging onto the Covid 19 restrictions yet regardless of whether one is vaccinated or not. Wendy’s lobby is locked up tight but there appears to be cars going through the drive thru. We turn away and stroll south along the sidewalk. There has to be something open within walking distance. However, each place we pass has a “closed” sign on the door. I am getting hot and frustrated. Dawn wants one thing and I want another. We are like two old married people who can’t agree. We finally decide to walk back to the motel, get the car, and drive through Wendy’s drive thru. We are the fourth car in line. Our hopes rise that we will soon be chowing down and filling our bellies. Unfortunately, the minutes tick by while we chomp at the bit. They finally take one order and fifteen minutes later, another. The gas idles away as we wait. Fifteen more minutes goes by.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” I finally say, “This is ridiculous.”
I quickly check the GPS for suggestions of other nearby fast-food places since the ones unique to Moab all seem to be closed or not open for dine-in. I am so glad I brought my GPS along. It has provided useful information on restaurants, gas stations, and rest stops along our route. McDonald’s is just .6 mile down the street. We are met with the same drive through line only there but at least it is moving. We soon have some sandwiches, fries, and a milkshake to satisfy our growling stomachs. We have made it safely to our destination.
The sun is peaking over the cliff just to the east of our motel when I enter the warm morning air. The temperature has not dropped below 80 degrees during the night. Orientation is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Mild and Wild Rafting office in Moab. Dawn has brought along an electric skillet, and she whips up some French toast. This along with grapes is our breakfast meal.
A little before 9:30, we head out for the rafting headquarters. It only takes a few minutes to make the drive. A young lady sits at a picnic table under a shady canvas canopy. There is a light breeze which wafts away the feeling of overwhelming heat.
“Can I help you?” she greets us.
“We are here for the orientation,” we respond.
“You are early,” she says, “but I will go see if I can find one of the guys to do your orientation.”
Soon she is back with a young man, Haden, who is to be one of our guides on our adventure. “You are the only two that will be here for orientation so I will just do it now,” he declares, “The other family is not flying in until this evening.”
He gives us each a waterproof sack twice as big as a pillow. Into this, which already includes our tent, we each are to stuff a sleeping bag, a mattress, and a duffel bag of personal clothes and necessities. With a little creative stuffing, I finally get the task accomplished. And that is the extent of our orientation. We are ready to leave and go about our day by ten. So why did we come a day early?
We make a decision to drive the short distance to Arches National Park. After reading on-line about the overcrowding of our national parks and the high chance of being turned away if one is not there by 7:30 in the morning, I have grave doubts that we will be able to get in. But there is no line, and we easily zip through the ticketing process. Motoring around the park in our vehicle is mostly our means of sightseeing. Large red rock formations rise against the sky. Many of them have acquired names for their shapes. This national park is known for its sandstone arches of which there are many. We swing into a parking pullout every so often to snap a photo. Even a couple of very short hikes are in order, but the heat soon chases us back to the car. Before we know it, our stomach is calling us to head back to Moab for some food. We discover at Denny’s the same issue we had the night before at Wendy’s. They are extremely short of help with only one man seating patrons, cleaning tables, taking orders and delivering food. In spite of this, we are back out the door within an hour.
After an afternoon siesta time, we head downtown on foot to scope out the various shops and enjoy an ice cream treat. Our final task of the day is to deliver our electronics to the rafting company office for safekeeping. Leaving them in a 200-degree car for four days does not seem like a prudent idea.
Sunday, June 20 is Father’s Day. We stay snuggled in our sleeping bag until 8 a.m. We have no where to be. Because it is supposed to rain today, we left the car last evening out at the end of the ½ mile trail to the yurt. I was able to walk back in ten minutes – not bad. That should be a doable hike on Monday morning carrying the rest of our belongings.
The day breaks with the sun shining before slowly sliding into cloudiness. After a light breakfast, we decide to go for a slow meander along the prairie path and down another track that ends at a stagnant marsh. Budding spring flowers line our path and stopping to photograph them is required. Mosquitos swarm us every time we stop moving. A wet splop lands on my nose. What was that?
“I just felt a rain drop,” I report, “Time to start back.”
We spy some moose tracks in the beaten path close to the yurt. That is probably as close to a moose as we will get. One last visit to the lakeshore and we head indoors.
A steady pitter patter on the canvas roof and sides of our abode meets our ears not more than fifteen minutes after getting back from our journey.
“It’s chilly in here. Can you see if you can start a fire in the stove?” is my next proposal.
Soon the fire is slowly burning emanating a toasty warmth. It has become a day for me to write and to read and for Dave to play solitaire while the rain pounds a steady rhythm of song on the canvas roof.
The wind howls in waves throughout the night while the rain continues its steady drumming. Just after midnight, I am awakened by an “Oh, no!” by Dave. His portable CPAP machine which I have bought for trips like this has died. I had bought a lithium battery to power it here due to no electricity but really had no idea how long it would last. We tried to do some recharging using the car cigarette lighter during the day on Saturday when we were driving around but apparently, it was not enough. The whole concept has worked beautifully up until now. But now I spend the rest of the night dozing off and on listening to my hubby stop breathing and then wake himself up over and over gasping.
By 6 a.m. on Monday, we decide it is time to get up and get ourselves together since we aren’t sleeping anyway. The temperature on the thermometer on the pole outside is 42 degrees. Time to hustle if one does not want to freeze while dressing. As I pack up our stuff and put away the rest of the food in the cooler, I notice that the trail mix bag has a semi-circular cut out of it and the mix is scattered all over the metal cart top. I think we had a visitor during the night.
The sleeping bag is rolled up and tied with rope so Dave can sling it over his shoulders while also carrying a small leather bag and a medium sized duffel bag. I throw a small backpack on my back and hoist up the cooler. We are ready. The ground is soggy with puddles which require skirting. My hands are freezing so I call for a stop to roll down the sleeves on Dave’s quilted shirt which I am wearing. Fifteen minutes of strolling through the cool morning sunshine brings us to our car. We are soon headed homeward. That planning ahead managed to work out splendidly for us. We have survived one more daring trip into the wilderness.
As daylight filters into the globe of the yurt on Saturday morning, the sky is heavy with clouds. Snuggled into our sleeping bag against the 52-degree chill, anxious thoughts flit though my mind. Is it going to rain today? How are we going to get out of here if it does? What about our plans for today? With my stomach all in a tizzy, we finally roll out. We can’t sleep anymore anyway. A quick visit to the car at 7 a.m. allows for listening to the weather forecast. It is the only way we have of knowing what is being predicted.
“Cloudy today,” says the announcer, “with a high of 65 and 90% chance of steady rain tomorrow, Sunday, with a high in the fifties.”
Ugh! That means today is probably going to be OK but what are we going to do about tomorrow. Will we be able to get out of here after it rains for a full day? Hubby and I make a decision to rearrange all of our belongings so that we are keeping only the bare essentials. The rest we will load in the car this evening and leave it at the beginning of this bumpy, rut and rock filled path so when it rains, we are not stranded in mud. I think I could probably mud my way out but don’t really want to do that to my car. What is left of our belongings we will hike the .5 mile with on Monday morning. As we begin reallocation of our belongings, it begins to rain. But it’s not supposed to rain today!! So should we go on our BWCA daytrip or forget it?
The plan for today has been to go pick up a Kevlar canoe from the yurt proprietor and haul it to the Duncan Lake BWCA entry put in site. Our car does not have a canoe rack, but our original plan was to pay the outfitter to haul it for us to the site entrance. But she was very hesitant when we requested this.
“You will have to help me lift the canoe and tie it on my car,” she said, “I don’t have any help this summer and my husband recently had a stroke.”
Feeling sorry for this lady and her unfortunate set of circumstances, our objective is to figure out a way to haul the canoe ourselves rather than burden her with our need. We wrack our brains for ideas. We have front to back bars on my Subaru but no crossbars to take the weight of the canoe. How do we prevent damage to the sunroof? By Friday evening, we still had no real good answer. Then after arriving back at the yurt on Friday, I glanced at the front tire on the driver’s side of the car. The tire appeared low. We do not need a flat tire out here in the middle of nowhere. I wondered if we have any kind of a spare. To calm my apprehensions, I decided to check the trunk to see if we had an acceptable spare should that become necessary. As I pulled up the carpet board covering the “trunk” and spare tire, I discovered a treasure. The “trunk” is fitted with three pieces of molded foam. Wow! Just what is needed to place on each side of the canoe and support it. We had brought along ratchet straps, so we are all set. It struck me as amazing how one potential problem has led to the solution to another.
By 9:30 a.m. on this Saturday, it has stopped raining and we set out for the home of the outfitter to pick up our canoe. Our devised plan for canoe transport works like a charm and by 10:30 a.m., we have set our canoe in the water at the Duncan and Daniel’s Lake entry portage. I have also come up with a plan to wear sandals for launching the canoe and then change to tennis shoes and socks for hiking and portaging. That way, I can wade out into the water without worrying about getting my shoes and socks wet. Getting into the canoe without capsizing is always the first struggle for Dave and I as we age. Canoes are notoriously tippy anyway and we are stiff and not very nimble anymore. Dave struggles to get his feet up and over the side when entering the canoe and even more so when exiting.
Finally, we make it safely into the canoe and we are off and paddling across Bearskin Lake toward the Duncan Lake BWCA entry point. The wind is steady making slightly rolling waves that are at an angle to our direction of travel. This makes for a vessel that wants to rock back and forth. Maybe it is the operators and not the conditions. It has been a long time since we last paddled a canoe. It is still cloudy but not an unpleasant day. The personal flotation devices add just the right amount of warmth to a mildly chilly day. Before we know it, we have paddled across the lake and glided into a shallow smooth rock-covered-bottom portage. There are quite a few people backed up at the portage, so we move our canoe off to the side to rest and catch our breath. Because of neck and back issues for Dave, we agree that I will carry the canoe and Dave will bring the rest of our gear. After a few minutes, Dave helps me hoist the 17.5-foot Kevlar canoe to my shoulders and I am off. The trail begins with a steep upward climb before heading back down onto a more level area. I am puffing with the exertion, but the load is easy to handle. Watching my stumbling feet is the challenge with roots and rocks and gullies to traverse. Slow and steady I trod the 81 rods or about ¼ mile. The last portion of the trail heads steeply downhill again to Duncan Lake. It is not that far of a distance, but it seems like miles. I need a breather and a drink before putting into the water again. Our final destination is Staircase Portage that leads to Rose Lake. Along this portage is a spectacular fall, Staircase Falls, that we wish to see.
All of the portage landings today have been what I call “nice” landings. They all have a fairly shallow water level with a rock or hard sand base. There is no need to worry about disappearing into the mud or drowning if one falls in.
Paddling is a little tricky in Duncan Lake but once we adjust our direction to face the swells, the canoe is more stable. Methodically we make our way over the lake. Three or four canoes are ahead of us making it easy to spot the portage opening. As we glide into the small cove leading to the portage, two swans glide silently along just a few feet from us. Paddling behind the leading swan are two little signets. They seem unperturbed by our presence. I count four or five canoes stacked side by side at various locations around the portage opening. We plan to do the same thing as all these other people – leave our canoe and hike the portage only to see the falls.
We decide to first spread out the lunch we have brought along on a large rock. We will relax and eat until some of the people return to lessen the congestion in the area at the falls. Bread, a salmon spread, chips and trail mix make up our luncheon while we wait.
It is a fairly short trek to the falls once we get started. Staircase Falls tumbles and turns several times on its way to Rose Lake. We descend a set of fifty or so steps to the base of the main falls and then decide to explore the portage a little further. Soon we come to another set of steps that disappears into the foliage on its way down to the lake shore. It is time to turn back. I can see why one would not want to portage this particular crossing. It looks like the portage from hell especially carrying a canoe.
After spending fifteen minutes or so photographing this hidden beauty and enjoying its splendor of cascading water, it is time to head back. By now, it is around 2:30 in the afternoon and the sun has appeared to add its warmth to the day. We wonder aloud if this trek might be our last canoe adventure into the BWCAW. Our stiffness and waning balance have become a safety hazard. Not only that, rowing and portaging is physical torture for these aging bodies.
“It starts to get more fun,” declares Dave, “after I have forgotten all the pain.”
Friday morning, June 18, dawns with the sun shining brightly throwing rays of daylight through our clear dome on the yurt. Last evening in the light of the ½ moon, the dome threw out the impression of being a round bubble with domes extending down as well as up. We peer at it intently in the morning light. No, it only extends up. I wonder what gives it that illusion.
Our plan is to launch the canoe onto Hooker Lake this morning and tootle around. But I am extremely anxious and struggling with our plan. The lake is a dying lake; it is not very big, and it is shallow. One can see the algae and lake grass growing just below the surface across most of the lake.
“Don’t try to swim in it,” voiced our proprietor, “or you could get stuck in the mud.”
When asked about moose using this lake, she responded, “If a moose goes in there, he won’t come out.” To this she added, “But it’s fine to canoe in.”
By now, I am doubtful about the “fine to canoe in” part of that statement and I am totally freaked out about even trying to canoe. I can see us getting stuck in the mud and disappearing forever. One such experience occurred for us on a prior BWCA trip and probably has scarred me forever. It was a year in which the water was low, leaving many of the portages with receding landing areas. As we approached this one particular portage, the water had receded approximately 100 feet from it’s original, leaving an extremely muddy landing. Previous travelers had placed a series of tree trunks through the mud out to the water to hop out upon. We came in further to the right with the idea of getting our canoe as close as possible to shore and then dragging it over the rest of the wet muddy spot. This technique resulted in us becoming hopelessly mired in sucking mud. There was only one choice. Someone had to get out and make their way to dry land and that someone was me as I was in the front of the canoe. I took rope with me and jumped as far as I could. Of course, that was when I could still jump. Down into the mud I sank to a level above my knees. I knew I had to keep the momentum going or I was in real trouble. I pushed off with my right leg followed by the left, leaving my shoes in a miry grave. Fear of being sucked to China filled my soul and provided the energy for the onward plunge. Thirty seconds later, I was safely on dry land but covered in dark goo as high as my thighs.
An hour of exhausting pulling and slowly inching the canoe forward finally resulted in Kaitlyn being able to reach over the side of the stuck vessel and retrieve my shoes. Finally, the rest of my family was able to make their way safely to shore and we finished retrieving the canoe. Our daughter has never wanted to go BWCA canoeing again, and I now realize I have a permanent fear as a result.
Instead of canoeing this lake, we decide to go hiking. I have found a pamphlet titled, “Hiking On The Gunflint Trail Scenic Bypass.” There are twenty different hikes to choose from along the 56.6-mile Gunflint Trail from Grand Marias to the Canadian border. We decide to start on the Moose Viewing Trail. It is listed as “easy” in difficulty and is only a mile round trip. The path ascends at a thirty-degree angle. If this is easy, what is difficult? I guess it all depends on your perspective. Butterflies of various colors flitter around, and the way is bordered by little yellow flowers and white petaled ones backdropped by green leaves. A few stops are made for photographic opportunities and then we trudge onward. Soon we veer off onto a narrow trail that leads down to the viewing platform. The air is warm, but the wind is chilly here in the canopy of trees. One hundred yards through the pines is the perfect spot for moose to feed. A small pond is visible with cattails and lily pads scattered about. It is a tranquil scene, but no one has put out the moose today. Soon we make our way back to the car and plan for our next stop.
Daniel’s Lake looks like a good option for hiking as well. It is actually in the BWCAW and requires a permit. It is also listed as “easy” and is a 3.75-mile trip along an old railroad grade which was once used to acquire white pine lumber on Rose and Clearwater Lakes. This looks promising. We follow the directions without a problem down Clearwater Road to the West Bearskin Lake boat landing where the trail is supposed to begin. There is a self-permitting station to pick up a permit, but we can find no entrance or head to any trail. OK, this is frustrating. We drive several miles further on this road before we give up and turn around.
“How about Crab Lake Trail then?” mentions Dave, “It says it is ‘easy’ too. It’s eight miles to Crab Lake but we don’t have to go that far.”
It’s decided. We return to the Gunflint Trail and head north another eleven miles. “Turn right on the road to Loon Lake Lodge and drive .9 mile. The trail head is just past the lodge,” says the brochure. As we drive past the lodge, there is a small parking lot for “guests.” We assume that means lodge guests but no trailhead to be seen.
“Let’s go on just a little further,” Dave suggests.
Soon, I am creeping down a narrow rocky road. Still no trail head. We are having terrible luck today finding our targets.
“Water crossing ahead,” flashes the yellow sign on the side of the road. Ugh, I am not doing any water crossing. I think it is time to turn around. On this small one lane path, I do just that.
We decide to make one more attempt at finding another trail before throwing in the towel for today. Topper Lake Trail head is just four miles south from here on the Gunflint on our way back to the yurt. It is also listed as “easy” and only 1 ½ mile round trip to the lake and back. The directions actually lead us to a trailhead. Hurrah! Uphill we saunter for ten minutes until we are puffing mightily and then back down again. Finally, the lake comes into view. Ah, an actual BWCA lake. The sky has clouded over, and the wind causes one to shiver.
“We are going to get wet before we get back,” announces Dave.
“I hope not.”
I look around for a couple of rocks to sit upon and hoist a flat rock into place to spread our picnic lunch upon. Tuna salad is mixed for sandwiches and some chips and trail mix are thrown in for our dining by the lake. Soon it is time to head back before we do get wet. A stop at the store for some ice on the return trip is in order. Thankfully, it never does rain on us.
We build a roaring fire in the fire pit at the yurt on our arrival to our home away from home. The smoke chases away the swarming mosquitos and allows us to treasure a few smores while listening to the repeating songs of the various birds.
I arise at 6:30 a.m. to start the day. We are headed off today for a vacation of camping in a yurt by Hooker Lake in far northern Minnesota. The yurt is located right on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) so our hope is to also make a day trip by canoe into the BWCA. My hubby loves the solitude of the wilderness.
“Moo, moo” is the sound that reaches my ears as I exit the house. “Why, little one, are you standing in that pasture all by yourself?” I question the wayward bovine out loud. I sigh! I am in my pajamas, and this is how the day begins. I scan the fence line but do not see any wire on the ground – just a calf stuck on the wrong side. I shuffle out into the pasture, drop down the fence opening and shoo the wayward animal back to the others. I call to Claire, the dog, to get her to continue on with me to the barn to feed the cattle but she just sits on the sidewalk and gazes after me. Oh well, she will have to do her business at the kennel.
A ping and a plunk echoes through the air as we pull away from the garage, on time, no less. What was that? I step out to investigate. The tennis ball that dangles from a cord and descends when the garage door opens has caught on the bike rack on the back of the car. It has been catapulted across the garage as the cord popped with the tension. This is not the first time this has happened, but all is well otherwise and we are off.
Our drive to Grand Marias up Hwy 52, then I35, and State 61 goes without incident. We arrive around 3 p.m. We turn north on the Gunflint Trail and wind our way 28 miles until we arrive at Lime Grade Drive, a narrow gravel road through the forest. After a couple of miles, the GPS tells us to turn right on Little Ollie Drive. I thought we were already on it. After wandering onward for a few more miles down this shale path, we arrive at Little Ollie Bed & Breakfast tucked back in a pine and birch forest. It reminds me of the enchanted forest with trails coursing through the yard. We approach an enclosed porch that seems unoccupied, and our knock goes unanswered. Since silence is the only response we receive, the front door of the Bed & Breakfast seems like it might be a better choice. At least it has a doorbell. I push the button a couple of times before I hear a soft sound of footsteps.
A slightly bowed elderly lady pushes open the door, “If you had come around to the back it would have been so much easier,” she says.
There wasn’t any sign directing customers to the back and I would never have guessed that I was supposed to go down the hill and around the back of the house but OK. She leads us through the first level of the house and slowly down the basement stairs into the company office.
“I have no help this year,” she shares, “and I can’t afford to hire anyone with Covid shutting us down last year. We have no money, and my husband had a stroke recently. But you don’t need to know all that,” she finishes.
What a bummer! I am perplexed. Why is this elderly woman trying to run a Boundary Waters Canoe outfitting company in this situation especially when the internet advertising seems to indicate a host of services available? It just seems rather sad. It is a good thing we didn’t plan on hiring a guide to accompany us on our adventure into the Boundary Waters. Oh well! Our primary goal is to rent her yurt in the woods by Hooker Lake and we were hoping, maybe, to have her haul a canoe for us – not guide or supply us for a BWCA venture.
After we settle our bill, discuss weather, and plans, we climb back into our Subaru and head out to the yurt. A yurt is a round canvas structure much like a tent but large enough to stand up in and move around comfortably. It was often used as a primary residence by nomads in Mongolia, Russia, and Turkey.
“I don’t know if you can drive to the yurt,” she informs us. “It’s really rocky and muddy since we had lots of rain.”
Hmmm… I really don’t want to walk in and out a ½ mile every time we want to leave.
“I will take you and your things with the pickup, and you can see what you think,” she continues.
We follow the diminutive lady who can hardly see over the steering wheel in her pickup with our car as we turn down a beaten path. It doesn’t look so bad to me – a little rough, a few rocks to dodge – that’s all. Finally, she pulls over at a bend in the path.
“I think we should stop here and see what you think.” As she and I stroll along the barren wheel track path with foot high grass growing in the middle, she points out the mud puddles, the rocks and the rough terrain. It only looks like a normal farm field drive to me, but we agree to ride in with her to test it out. She seems so worried for us. The old battered pickup bounces over the obstacles and we are jerked this way and that. Soon through the trees, we spy a small wood shack that is identified as the sauna. Just a little farther in tucked into the birch and pines is the yurt. And to the southwest just visible in the distance is Hooker Lake.
Our guide gives Dave some instructions on firing the woodstove for heat, lighting the gas cooking stove, and the use of the water and then she roars away in her pickup that has seen better days. I am getting the very distinct feeling that she is not really prepared for us to be using the facilities.
“I’m going to walk out and get the car,” I holler to hubby. My walk provides a chance to survey the rocky route up close. I am pretty confident that I can traverse this with limited difficulty. My car has a smaller wheelbase than her truck allowing for sneaking between some of the rocks that she has been bouncing over. I think I maybe have some better springs and shocks as well as the road is not nearly as rough in my vehicle and soon, I am back at the yurt. That was a piece of cake!
Our temporary home has two sets of bunk beds and a futon with a bunk over it along one circular side. There is a table and chairs in the middle of the structure. The wood cast iron stove, the gas cook stove, and a stainless-steel cart for holding water containers and dishes lines the other ½ circular side. The center top sports a clear dome through which the sky is visible, and the lighting always seems to give the impression that the light is on.
Soon, it is time for supper. The menu is brats and mashed potatoes rehydrated from dry flakes. Neither one of us is into making a fire outside tonight so we decide to heat things on the stove. Dave turns on the gas to the burner marked RF and holds a match over the circle. Several matches burn themselves out or try to burn his fingers without the burner lighting. All of a sudden, there is a huge whoosh and a ball of flame shoots up. Both of us jump back startled.
“Are you OK? The back burner just lit,” I repeat several times to Dave.
“It couldn’t have,” he keeps reiterating.
Finally, he decides to test my theory and turns the handle marked RF but holds the match over the back burner. It lights instantly. He does the reverse with the RR and the front burner lights. Well, that’s a wee bit of a safety hazard.
The wind dies down to a perfect calm by 9 p.m. A loon’s call echoes in the distance. In the stillness, we read by the light of the lantern.
“What should we do tomorrow afternoon,” questioned my husband on a Saturday evening in mid-April.
“I think it is too early for bluebells to be blooming,” I answered thoughtfully, “but it might be fun to hike again at Carley State Park. We haven’t been there in a really long time.” Carley State Park is only about eight miles from where we live so it is a local activity.
The next day dawns cloudy and cool. The temperature barely touches the low 50s. Not willing to abandon our plans, I check the weather radar on my cell phone climate app. The forecast calls for a 15% chance of rain all day, but the radar shows that green morning splash that touches the screen as sliding off the display by two p.m. Maybe there is still hope for our plans.
Claire, our dog, barks as we both put on our jackets and then eagerly jumps into the back seat of the car. She knows something exhilarating is happening. Tiny splashes of water dash the windshield as we start towards town. Ugggh… It is still trying to rain. Well, we are going to plow ahead in spite of the windshield wipers flapping back and forth. I am hoping that we will have the trails and the park all to ourselves.
A gently curving route leads into the entry area. We follow the right road split to the vicinity where a little DNR cabin used to sit. The cabin is gone. All that remains is a small kiosk at which to register. Apparently, it has been a lot longer than I thought since we were last here. The small parking area which I remember as usually being empty is full of cars. That’s strange.Is there a special event today, I wonder? We wind our way down the forested gravel lane to the lower-level parking area. This parking lot is full as well. I don’t think there is anything special today. I guess people have nothing else they can do in the midst of the Covid pandemic. This state park used to be pretty much empty when we visited in prior years. Since the gate is closed to the camping area, I pull up to it and park in front of it. Afterall, there is no “NO Parking” sign. My hubby, the rule follower, doesn’t say a word. Claire is excitedly prancing around – ready for a new adventure.
We choose the path along the north branch of the Whitewater River which gurgles and loops slowly through the park. The sky still hangs heavy, but the misty rain has stopped. The trail has a dark brown firm mud underlay from the numerous footsteps that have traversed its length since the recent rain. The trees are just starting to shoot out their buds and the underfloor of the forest is covered with green. Carley SP is known for its bluebells in spring, but I think we are just a couple of weeks early. Many of the plants have purple buds peeking from their green but they have not fully opened. A few shoots display fine cone shaped white blossoms. The day is perfect for a walk such as this. Claire eagerly sniffs every new smell of this fresh unexplored place. She weaves to the right and then the left and then circles back for another snuffle. She soon puts it in 4-wheel drive and tries to drag me along.
We leisurely mosey along the narrow trail, sometimes stopping for Dave to take pictures, sometimes stopping off to the side for others to pass. Claire, of course, wants to bark at everyone but she soon settles down and waits quietly when I cling tightly to her harness handle. Soon we come to a double river crossing where it looks like one part is only water filled when the river is high. The river crossings at this park are not bridges but huge concrete steppingstones that have been placed parallel to each other but perpendicular to the flow of the water. One needs to jump from stone to stone to traverse the river while maintaining dry feet. The absence of recent maintenance also means the riverbanks have become eroded leaving the base along the bank muddy. This calls for some ginger stone stepping attempting to miss the mud. Claire is not sure what to do so she wades out into the water for a splash around before clawing her way onto the concrete steps.
Safely across, we continue our amble through the woods. Soon the trail turns and begins an ascent along the bluff. Hubby and I are panting with the effort. Claire decreases my effort needed as she attempts to drag me along. We climb upward for about ten minutes and then stroll along the ridge for another ¼ mile before the trail begins its decent to the river below again. This river crossing presents a much more challenging dilemma. The erosion along these banks are much more extensive on both sides of the river. Someone has dragged three separate sections of six-inch diameter trees to the riverbank and slid them into place side by side to make a slanted bridge to the first concrete step in the water. This could be hazardous for two sixty something-year-old persons. There is nothing to hang onto, the bridge is uneven, and neither of us have the balance of a younger individual. I wonder for just a moment if we should retrace our steps back the way we have come. But that is an overwhelming thought, so a different plan is needed. Claire is not in the least bit interested in stepping onto that rickety makeshift crossing either, so this also presents a problem. There is no way we can carry her.
I finally give Claire’s leash to Dave and step out onto the round trees. I quickly realize that I will be in the drink if I try to walk across these logs with nothing to grab onto when I lose my balance on the unsteady surface. There is a larger tree at the bottom of the dip just below the makeshift bridge. Maybe I can walk on that and use the trees for balance. I lower my butt to the threesome of trees and gingerly shuffle partway across the larger tree until I can take a flying leap to the concrete step. Once safely landed, I turn to help retrieve Claire. Dave has ended up sitting on the muddy riverbank and he pushes her towards me on the rounded trees. She quickly gets the idea and comes bounding across. That just leaves Dave to traverse the dangerous crossing. At least, I can extend my hand to him for balance. Like an old pro, Claire leaps from concrete step to concrete steps and scrambles up the muddy three-foot bank on the other side. That just leaves the old people to claw their way up on hands and knees. Well so much for being clean but we are safely across! And we didn’t even fall in the river.
It is just a short walk along this side of the stream back to the parking area where our chariot waits to ferry us home. But first, we must cap off the day with a Dairy Queen treat.
Friday, August 28, 2020, I awaken to the rumble of thunder. The bedroom is still cloaked in darkness. The digital clock blinks out 6:20 a.m. I still have ten minutes until the alarm goes off but maybe if I get up now, I can get the dog pottied and the steers fed before it rains. The weather report last evening was for heavy rain this morning. As I swing my feet over the edge of the bed, the first pitter patter of raindrops sounds on the steel roof. I am too late to stay dry.
I grab the umbrella on the way out the door in my pajamas. Water is now pouring from the sky. Claire, our puppy, shakes her head at the deluge. She finally manages to squat to pee. Forget waiting for #2. We flee to the barn. I haven’t figured out how to carry two pails of feed and hold the umbrella at the same time, so I tuck my head and make a dash for the feed box. No animals are in sight to greet me as is their usual routine. Their food is going to be mash mixed with all the water collecting in the trough if they don’t come soon. Even with the umbrella, my t-shirt top and my hair is soaked as Claire and I make the dash back to the house. I scan the pasture for cattle but see none.
This is how the morning begins of our weekend camping getaway to Grand Marias, Minnesota. The cattle still have not come to eat by the time we head down the drive. The car is put in reverse. We can’t leave if the cattle are missing. That is an ingrained farmer thing. I walk out along the pasture fence looking for those familiar black blobs. There is just a little rise in the landscape so sometimes it is hard to see over it. “Come bossie,” I call, “Come bossie.” Finally, I hear an answering, “Baa!” and as I squint into the morning gloom, a few dark specks emerge from the tree line. Soon, four black creatures are thundering my way. Now we can go. The steers are fine.
We drop Claire off at “doggy daycare” before heading north. We make our usual traveling breakfast stop at Kwik Trip. I select yogurt, a donut, and a “baby” milk while Dave gathers his breakfast choices. We approach the checkout and pay together while the clerk places the purchases in a plastic shopping bag.
As we are eating while we drive, Dave says, “Where’s my diet Dr. Pepper?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see any Dr. Pepper,” I respond.
“I am sure I put some on the counter at the checkout,” He insists.
“I don’t think so,” I reiterate.
“I must have left it when I picked up my food,” He concludes.
“We can stop at the next Kwik Trip and buy one,” I reassure him.
After a few minutes of thoughtful silence, he says, “Check the sales slip. See if she charged for a Dr. Pepper?”
We are about to take the next Kwik Trip exit as I pull out the receipt and read, “Long John, hash browns, sausage/egg croissant, M&M Peanut butter, skim milk, parfait, and … Dr. Pepper.” There it is. Maybe I should look in the bag at my feet again. I reach in and … sheepishly hold up a bottle of … Dr. Pepper!
“I thought I was becoming senile,” Dave intones.
Oh dear, apparently one of us is losing it but it’s not Dave.
We continue our journey traveling north on Hwy 52. I haven’t set up the GPS as I don’t want it talking to us the whole way. But I have printed out a Google direction sheet just in case. I don’t think we need much help with this part of the trip. We just need to hop onto I35E North until we reach Hwy 61 in Duluth which will take us to Grand Marias, Minnesota. At the last moment, I decide to consult the printed directions to see how to make the connection with 35E. The paper says, “Take the exit on the left to I94 east. Go .7 miles and exit onto 35.” As I look at the road signs coming up, I am confused. The road sign indicates that to catch I35, one needs to go west on I94. This is the right exit, not the left. Should I follow my intuition or the directions in front of me? I foolishly choose to ignore my sixth sense and instruct Hubby to take I94 going east. As soon as we make this turn, I instinctively know we are going the wrong way. I dig through the glove compartment for a real road map while proclaiming, “We are going the wrong way. We need to turn around.” We are old enough to still use those old-fashioned things called roadmaps.
Dave looks at me incredulously, “You know it’s not that easy.”
“I know. But according to the map, I35E is west of where we came into 94 so we NEED to turn around.”
After making a speedy exit and flipping around to the west lanes, we travel just a few miles and there is our correct exit. This experience leads me to one of the strong convictions I hold in life: if you find you are going the wrong way in life, never be afraid to turn around and go the other way.
We make a couple of stops along the way to Grand Marias. Our plan is to first stop in Duluth at the lift bridge and maybe have a picnic lunch in Canal Park around noon. As we drive around the lakeside, the roads and sidewalks are crowded with people milling about and there does not seem to be anywhere to park let alone have a quiet lunch. We might as well move on. As we are leaving the harbor area and stopped at a stop light, we notice that the road ahead is blocked off so that only the right lane is usable. Besides that, we need to turn right to get back onto the I35 entrance ramp.
“Put the turbo on and just pull ahead of the pickup in the right lane when the light turns,” I urge my husband who has it ingrained in himself to yield to others no matter how much of an inconvenience our predicament might leave us in. Surprisingly, today though, he stomps on the accelerator and we have no problem pulling ahead of the truck and getting ourselves into the lane we need to be in. But the pickup truck driver sees our actions as a personal affront. “Beep, Beep, Beep!” he lays on the horn over and over again. He rides our bumper for several miles and then exits off the interstate and up a ramp. As we pull away, I see his left arm extended out the driver’s window and his middle finger pointed skyward. I am not sure why driver’s these days are so ready to kill each other for the smallest infractions or actions of others. Oh well, we need to take a deep breath and move on. We stop instead for a quiet picnic lunch at a secluded rest area just off of Hwy 61 north of Duluth.
We are ready for another leg stretch stop by the time we arrive in Silver Bay. There is a sign for an overlook. We wind uphill and around and around until we arrive at the top of a cliff. After parking, we wind our way around a shady trail through a wooded area. It is a cool, cloudy day and no one else is around. This is how we like it. The trail leads to three separate overlooks. The first one grants a view of Lake Superior and a large iron ore mining company on the shore below. The second overlook provides a view of the layout of Silver Bay. The third overlook gives a different vantage point from the other two. The views are breathtaking in their magnitude.
I decide it is time to plug the address of Hungry Hippie Hostel into the GPS. They are located on a township road about eight miles east of Grand Marias. It has been advertised on the internet as having great views of Lake Superior. As we drive up the road towards the establishment, we seem to get further and further away from the lake. We are somewhat disappointed as we pull into the driveway around 4:30 p.m. as all we can see is trees.
“There is no way we can see the lake from here,” declares Dave.
The owners are expecting us and direct us to drive around to the back parking lot and haul our stuff with a little wagon to the first “glamping” tent that we come to. I have no idea what “glamping” means so I look it up on the internet. According to Wikipedia, “glamping is a hybrid of ‘glamorous’ and ‘camping’, and describes a style of camping with amenities and, in some cases, resort-style services not usually associated with ‘traditional’ camping.” Our “glamping” tent here is an open front canvas shelter erected on a raised wooden platform. Inside is a mattress and box spring ready for sleeping. When I registered, I thought this would be unique but still be tent camping without the sleeping on the ground. My expectations on this, though, don’t begin to meet the standards of a similar style abode we stayed in in Africa in 2013. That one was a full-scale bedroom with all around mosquito netting. It also had a full bathroom and shower, all inside a large canvas tent. That’s what I call glamorous.
Back here in the real camping world of Minnesota, there are three glamping tents and they are quite close together and out in the open. Inside, there is a mosquito screen and a privacy sheet covering the area where the bed is located. The problem is, they have left no room to stand to dress, undress, or even get into bed in the “bedroom.” How are we supposed to undress and get ready for bed in a 3-sided open room with wide open views of the outdoors? Dave does some moving around of hanging clips and designs a small “dressing room” with the privacy curtain.
As we look out our south tent opening to the horizon way off in the distance, surprise of surprises, is a spectacular view of Lake Superior. This view is tempered by the huge freshly dug unfinished mound septic system in the foreground just 100 feet from the opening of our tent. Seriously?! To say I am disappointed is putting it mildly. I can’t say it makes for photographic delights either, but here we are. We might as well enjoy it the best that we can.
We drive back to Grand Marias in search of supper. What shall we eat in this time of Covid-19? There are few indoor dining places. Most dining out is done by ordering on-line, by phone, or in-person for pickup. We finally decide on tacos from Hungry Hippies Taco, an establishment owned by the same people who own the tenting grounds. We don our masks to order and then enjoy our much too spicy food at a small table out front.
Then it is time to head back to our home-away-from-home. The day has been cloudy and cool throughout. We sit on the wooden steps outside our tent and watch the sky. There are two plastic chairs to use but mine already has a crack and Dave’s weight adds a crack to the other one. Now we are afraid to sit on either of them. As we talk by the light of one solar powered Ball Jar light, rain drops begin to splatter on our heads.
“Let’s make one last trip to the bathroom before it starts pouring,” I suggest.
The rain has picked up as we exit the bathroom. It is a good 400 feet back to our tent.
“I am going to run,” I inform Dave who is slowly limping his way back. My running in the dark over rough ground is more like a slow stumble. I can never be quite sure when the ground might come up to meet me. By the time I hit the wooden steps of our strange home, it has started to pour. We might as well get ready for bed and climb in. At least it will be warm and dry there . . . I hope. This tent leaves much to be desired especially in a rainstorm. There is no flap to let down in front, so water is splashing in. I move the suitcase, our coolers, and clothes as far back in as possible. We hurriedly get ready for bed and tumble our 60 something bodies onto the mattress and skootch down into the sleeping bag. As we lay there in the dark and listen to the continuing of the pouring rain, mist droplets splash on our faces from above. Uh oh! I hope this tent repels water. Oh well, there is not much we can do about it if it doesn’t. Maybe it will stop raining soon. When I get up to traipse to the bathroom at 3 a.m., the sky is sprinkled with a million twinkling stars. We are still relatively dry, and the mattress is actually a pretty comfy bed.
Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. I have brought along most of our food which was a good decision. The menu consists of hard-boiled eggs and gluten-free coffee cake. We are ready to start our adventures by 8:15 a.m. Judge C.R. Magney State Park is just a few miles east of where we are staying. Our goal at the state park is to hike to the Devil’s Kettle. The Devil’s Kettle contains two waterfalls. One cascades into a deep pothole with what seems like no outlet. The other side splashes fifty feet into a pool before continuing down the Brule River to Lake Superior. The park map shows the Kettle and the falls to be a mile hike. Even though it is still cloudy, the temperature is in the 50s. It is a beautiful morning and perfect for trekking. Most of the path angles upwards with some steep steps along the way. At least it will be all downhill on the way out. Not many people are around yet, so we pretty much have the viewing platforms for drinking in the beauty of the falls to ourselves. It takes us about two hours to make the round trip back to the car.
From there, we follow Hwy 61 further northeast to Grand Portage State Park. Grand Portage State Park straddles the US/Canadian border. I would have liked to go further north into Canada to Thunder Bay where there is another glorious waterfall, but no one is being allowed to cross the border due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The falls here at Grand Portage is only a ½ mile hike. Most of the path is made of blacktop or is a boardwalk so is much easier to traverse. Dave’s left knee and his feet are hurting him, so our hike is rather slow. The viewing platforms here are much more crowded. The waterfall is glorious in all its splendor, but we do not stay long due to the number of people waiting. The sun has begun to peak through the clouds asking me to take off my sweater. It is still quite cool and windy.
My plan was to eat our lunch here at the state park, but we decide instead to seek out a quieter place. We drive just a couple of miles back down Hwy 61 to the Grand Portage overlook. There are several empty picnic tables here. The wind calls for holding down the plates and food with one hand while eating with the other. We enjoy sandwiches and chips for sustenance. The view of Lake Superior from here is fantastic. One can see for miles.
Dave would really like to do some beach combing so I keep my eyes open for a stopping spot that might offer that activity along the shore of Lake Superior. I finally spy the Kadunce River Wayside Rest which seems to offer a pebble covered northern Minnesota kind of beach. There is even still a parking place for us. A fair number of people linger along the shoreline. As Dave does his exploring for unique colored rocks, I find a spot to sprawl out and rest.
Around 3 p.m., we decide to head for Grand Marias to finish our day there. As we walk to the car, Dave pats his shirt pocket and then stops, “I am missing my phone.” A panicked tone takes over his voice, “Where did I lose my phone? All my numbers are in there.”
At this point, I am sure all is not lost. I am sure it can be found. It must be in the car or back at the tent. My confidence is not contagious though as Dave is disturbed and agitated over this loss. The joy of the day is gone for him. But there is nothing we can do about it right now so we might as well continue with our plans.
I do a thorough search of the car when we arrive in Grand Marias but there is no sight of the missing phone. Our plan is to walk out to Artist’s Point and then to the lighthouse on the pier. It is not just a simple walk to either of these places. The path to Artist’s Point switches back and forth from tree-root tripping to rock jumping and traverses in all directions depending on how the multitude of prior travelers wished to go. We eventually come out on the big flat rock that overlooks the lake. Sailboats and smaller watercraft dot the sparkling lake. We retrace our steps over the treelined path and head west to the lighthouse. This is not really a path, but a deteriorating seawall built to protect the Grand Marias harbor. Walking on top of it is how we navigate our way to the lighthouse. We turn away as we pass others going back towards the town. Afterall, we don’t want to breathe on anyone.
Dave’s heart is no longer in exploring as he is too distracted by his phone loss, so we soon head back to the campground. We pick up Subway sandwiches to take back to the tent to eat. My first order of business is to search high and low through the tent and along the path to it but there is no phone to be found. We might as well kiss it good-bye. Dave surmises that it got pushed out of his shirt pocket while accessing his camera bag sometime during our day. It could be just about anywhere. And of course, it is an older flip-phone style and it is turned off so even if someone finds it, they won’t have a clue how to go about contacting us.
The sun has finally chased all the clouds away and a clear sky soon exhibits a climbing moon that is almost full. As dusk deepens, the moon casts long bright shadows on the surface of Lake Superior. Dave sets up his camera and takes some shots. The evening is windless, quiet and peaceful. I sit and read my Kindle while Dave peruses some magazines. The temperature has dropped into the shivering zone. We both begin to put on more clothing – first a sweater, then a coat but we are still cold. We might as well go to bed. Dave climbs in fully clothed. I have added a long-sleeved turtleneck to my winter pajamas. Our night remains restless. Dave is not sleeping well anyway due to not being able to use his CPAP. There is no electricity here and I listen to him wake himself up every few minutes due to obstructing. I continue to be cold and my left hip causes pain all the way to my ankle when I lie on my side. Who ever thought old people should go tent camping? So much for glamorous!
I think I do get in a few hours of sleep because before I know it, it is 6:30 a.m. We might as well get up and get moving. Dave wants to go back to Judge C.R. Magney State Park to see if maybe someone has found his phone. I don’t think the park is staffed and therefore, I think it is a lost cause but since we are here, there is nothing to be lost by checking before leaving.
The dew is heavy this morning and because we have no flap on the front of the tent, everything is wet. I tried to move the coolers as far inside as possible last evening and then laid my phone, hearing aide, and clothes on a towel. Dave also threw a towel over his camera. I thought our possessions would be fine. But everything is completely wet. I am dismayed. I can only hope the electronics still work. I shiver while I get into my damp wet clothes. Amazingly, my phone and the camera work after some drying off but my hearing aid only emits a long continuous screeching. Guess that won’t be of any help. I can only hope that it will dry out and then work. I guess I will be deaf if that is not successful.
We have a short breakfast of the remaining hard-boiled egg, banana, and coffee cake and then hurriedly throw everything in the car. No one is around at the office to Judge Magney SP and we can’t find anyone at the maintenance building. This is an exercise in futility. We might as well go home. At least, my hearing aid has started to work again.
Traveling west and south on Hwy 61, we stop at Temperance State Park. I don’t think we have ever been to this park. A short walk brings us to Hidden Falls. It is a waterfall tucked back into a crevice between two large rock walls. One can hardly see it. The map shows another falls a mile upriver. I don’t think either one of us is up to a two mile walk today so we opt to drive north on Temperance Road and enter the trail closer to the falls. We are alone on the trail which calls for stepping over tree roots, climbing up and down rocks, and balancing over water holes. We question several times if we are going the wrong way but eventually, we actually do find two separate small waterfalls. It is approaching 10 a.m. and time to get moving on our way home. At least we are warmed up now from the activity.
Our chosen route home takes us into Wisconsin at Duluth. We find a park by Superior Bay to eat our lunch then head down Wisconsin Hwy 53. This allows us to avoid the very busy traffic of the twin cities. I take over the driving as Dave is falling asleep from his lack of sleep these last two nights. We end our journey with a Dairy Queen treat in Wabasha, MN. And tomorrow, I need to shop for a new cell phone for Dave.
Monday, I begin my day by visiting the Verizon store in Rochester. I am hoping I can pick up a phone similar to what Dave had. I have picked one out on-line that looks to be of slightly better quality.
“Can I help you?” questions the young man behind the desk without even looking at me.
I explain to him our situation. “Do you have one of these phones?” I point to the one I have on my printed paper.
“No, we don’t carry it here. They might have one at one of the other stores in Rochester.”
He makes no attempt to check if any of the other stores carries this style of cell phone. “Could you call them and see?” I plead.
He shrugs, “I can’t. They don’t have any phones.”
I look at him dumbfounded. Verizon cell phone stores that have no phones to call each other!Such a helpful salesperson. I am becoming more and more frustrated. I am not about to run all over town. I will just go home and order it over the internet.
The new phone arrives in two days. I am able to activate it without a problem and low and behold, it automatically downloads all of Dave’s prior contacts. One couldn’t ask for a better outcome.
Five weeks later, Dave is sorting through his camera bag looking for some accessories that he would like to use in a photography project. He pulls out a small black object.
“Well, I found my cell phone,” he calls up the stairs. “I remember now what happened. I put the phone in my camera bag one evening so it wouldn’t get wet or lost when we were in Grand Marias. I feel so stupid. I never thought of it once until now.”
Seriously?? All that and the phone has been riding in his camera bag the whole time. Oh well, I have done the same thing before as well – put something away securely so it would be safe and then can’t remember where that might be. He likes his new phone better anyway.