Wilderness Adventure Day 1 – The Yurt

The Yurt

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.”

The path to the yurt

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!

One wall of yurt

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.

Looking towards Hooker Lake

Grand Marias Glamping August 2020

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.

View of Lake Superior from our Tent

            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.

Devil’s Kettle

            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.

Grand Portage Falls

            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.

Kaduce River Wayside 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.

Grand Marias from the Lighthouse

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!

The Moon Reflected on Lake Superior

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.

Temperance River Falls

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.