Wilderness Adventure – Day 2 Hiking

Hooker Lake – Just out from the yurt

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.

An iris by the lake

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.

Topper Lake

“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.

Looking down into Hooker Lake

Blizzard 2019

“Eight to ten inches of snow for southeastern Minnesota,” predicts the weather lady on the Saturday evening news, “followed by 45-50 mile per hour winds. There is a blizzard warning from 6 p.m. Saturday evening until 6 p.m. Sunday evening.”

            I groan. Not again! We have already received almost 40 inches of snow in the month of February. It is piled high along the sides of our driveway. More snow is the last thing we need. But like all Minnesotans we take the prediction with a grain of salt and hope for the best.

            Mother Nature has started to shake clusters of fat fluffy snowflakes past our security camera before we crawl into our warm bed. The storm has begun. Church has already been cancelled for tomorrow so it remains to be seen what the landscape will look like in the morning. I awaken several times during the night. The wind howls around the corners of the house. At least we don’t have to go anywhere being it is a Sunday.

            I peak outside in the early dawn of morning. The sky is blue, and the sun shines brightly. Judging by the stacked pile of white peaked on the deck railing, it looks like we might have gotten around seven to eight inches. The trees are whipping back and forth but otherwise, it is a winter wonderland out the bay window in the back of the house. It is a different scene from the front door. The wind drives sheets of white across what was once our lawn and hurdles them down the drive. Our snow fence and garden fence have disappeared beneath the ocean of blinding brightness. Only the tops of posts with specks of orange webbing peak out. So much for the snow fence effectiveness. The stone bench by the apple tree is no longer visible while the apple tree trunk has gotten significantly shorter.

            Hubby ventures outdoors to steal a few pictures and I follow him in a few minutes. Just how bad is this situation anyway? I step into his footprints as I trudge after him seeking to avoid making new tracks in the mid-thigh drifts. I am soon out of breath with this balancing act. Our whole driveway is covered to this depth. Neither of us go far in this labor-intensive march and turn back towards the house. The wind blasts us in the face and hubby disappears into the snow. “Help me up?” is the request thrown my way as I look back to see if he is coming.

            “If you really can’t get up, I am not strong enough to pull you out.” I worry out loud. This could be a life-threatening situation if one fell out here alone. The tracks we have made only a few moments before are almost filled back in already. I extend my hand and he is soon back on his feet. Together, we return to our warm cozy house.

            We have a plow truck, but an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness engulfs me. There is no way that we will be able to push these kinds of drifts. I make several calls to different neighbors looking for someone who has a large tractor snowblower or a tractor and bucket. Everyone is in the same predicament and not willing to venture out in this weather. There is not much we can do in this wind anyway. We both finally make the decision to wait until Monday morning when the wind has died down to tackle this impossible project. I am supposed to work at 9 a.m. but maybe I can negotiate a later time.

            The same white landscape with even deeper drifts greets us in the morning. Now the drifts are solid and unmovable. Thankfully, the wind has retreated, and the air is still in the almost zero-degree weather.

            “I am going to see what I can do,” Hubby announces. My stomach is tight, and I am tense. I know how this will end – being stuck. I watch the movement of the truck on the security cameras. Back and forth. Back and forth. I am constantly watching for a lack of movement. He needs to drag the snow backwards with the plow in small amounts and deposit it out of the way. He does this over and over because it is too hard and too deep to plow forward. I am just putting my boots on to go out and check on the progress when I hear the garage door slam. Uh Oh! That is a bad sign. Hubby has come to retrieve the shovel. I stomp heavily in his footsteps to the stranded truck.

            “Are you stuck?” I ask the obvious. The front wheels have dropped over the edge of the driveway in his effort to push the massive pile back from the edge. The plow is buried in the snow drift. Soon we have the wedged snow dug out from under the plow and the truck frame. But the attempt to back up only results in two deeper holes for the front tires and the back tires spin. The chains usually work wonderfully for traction but now are digging only deeper holes.

            “We’re done for!” pronounces Hubby. We stand and stare at our hopeless situation. But my ever-creative husband has an idea. He gathers all the tow rope that we own and ties the truck off to the other truck in the shed. Then he attaches his come-along. Neither of us are optimistic that this is going to work but we have nothing to lose. While he is doing that, I struggle back through the snow for a ½ full pail of sand and salt for the back wheels.

            “Get in the truck,” he directs, “and put it in reverse while I ratchet.”

            I let out the clutch and apply the gas until the wheels begin to spin. Then I stop. We do this a couple of times while Hubby tightens the rope with the come-along. Finally, he says, “That is all I can pull it. I think we are done. Try it one more time.”

            I let out the clutch and step on the gas – this time like I really mean business. Amazingly, the truck rises up out of the hole. I am almost shocked by our success. The extra tension and the pulling downward on the rear bumper were the ticket to triumph. My husband is a genius.

            I retreat to the warmth of the house while I wait for the next call for help. Another hour goes by before I hear the house door bang again. “I need your assistance.” In this last hour, Hubby has been able to clear out by the house garage. This leaves us with the access to his 4-wheel drive work truck, a significant improvement from our previous predicament. I drive the plow truck while he pulls with the other truck. Soon, I have been dragged backwards out of the snowbank and planted firmly on the drive again.

I glance at my watch. 10:00. If I am going to arrive at work by noon which was my re-negotiated start time for today, I will need to leave in an hour. The drive is only ½ cleared after three hours of plowing. My decision is made. I need to let go of my guilt and life-long instilled drive to always meet my obligations. I will make my first road call ever. I am already stressed to the max over this situation and the sheriff’s department is saying many roads are still closed with huge drifts in places.

One more episode of needing to be dragged backward out of the snowdrift on the side of the drive occurs in the next hour before Hubby announces, “I’m through. I can get out. I need to go on a service call though. One of my customer’s barns collapsed. You can try to widen the path a little if you want while I am gone.”

I have no desire to get stuck while he is gone, and I have no one to pull me out. However, I have this bright idea that I can go to town with the snowplow and fill the truck with gas. The roads are snow covered so the chains won’t be so hard on the blacktop and it will give me a chance to see what the roads are like. I switch over to 4-wheel high gear and off we go. The chains do make for significantly more chattering of the tires, so I drive slowly. Several spots in the road are one-lane only but otherwise, the road is in fair condition. One mile out of town, I notice that the “Coolant Low” light is on followed by the “Engine-Overheated” light. Great! Just great! I am frustrated as to why the truck should be overheating. We have plowed all morning without a problem. I pull over, turn the key off, and pull the hood lever. I do have extra coolant with me. I know that one is not supposed to open the radiator lid when the engine is hot, but I think that I can turn the cap just enough to let off some of that pressure slowly. I stand back and slowly turn the cap, allowing the scalding coolant to sizzle gradually around the cap. But the boiling liquid has other intentions. Like a volcano, the cap shoots into the air following by the trapped geyser like those found at Yellowstone National Park. I stand there in horror and watch the spouting liquid cover the plow, the engine and the front of my coat. It does not stop until most of the coolant has been spewed into the air.

“Can I help you? Do you need a ride?” the voice is that of a gentleman who has stopped.

“I’m good,” I say, “it just overheated, and I wanted to add more anti-freeze.” I am not about to admit that I am a total idiot for taking off the cap while hot but I’m sure it is obvious from the state of my truck. The engine is steaming, and the plow is covered in orange-yellowish liquid. He wishes me well and drives away. I am left to dump what remaining anti-freeze I have with me into the holding tank. It does not begin to fill it. If I can only make it to town, I can buy more. Now to find the missing cap. I look under the truck and all through the engine compartment. No cap! “Lord, help me,” I breathe. This is an utterly ridiculous pickle. I turn around and look up the road. There it lays on the shoulder of the road six feet in front of the plow. “Thank you.”

The temperature gauge has dropped back into the safe range when I restart the truck. If I can just make it this last 1 ½ miles to the gas station. No sooner have I started out again than the temperature begins its climb and the “Coolant Low” light comes on. I barely make the city limit before the “Engine Overheated” begins flashing again too. Frickit! This is not going at all like I planned. There is nothing to do but stop and walk to the gas station to buy coolant. Walking down the icy street because the sidewalks aren’t cleared makes me feel totally conspicuous. The middle of the street is piled high with the remnants of the storm making me an even more likely target for unwary motorists. Soon I am able to buy more coolant and stroll back to the truck. This does allow me to reach the gas station where I buy another container of coolant to empty into the bottomless hole. A full tank of gas and a full container of coolant later, I am ready to begin my journey home. The temperature stays in the acceptable range. Thank you, Lord. But as I make the last turn into the drive, that pesky “Coolant Low” light comes on again. Ugh!

The drive is passable, the truck is gassed, and blizzard 2019 is over. I am so done with this storm. And we are left with memories of a lifetime.

When the Memory Begins to Go

080I have just a few minutes to brush my teeth before setting off for Rochester for my Chiropractor appointment in thirty minutes. I step into the bathroom and my heart does a flip flop. There lays my husband’s cell phone on top of the laundry basket. Great! He is supposed to be working 45 miles away today and I can just see him not discovering this until reaching the job site. My brain does a quick spin. How should I deal with this? I can’t call him to tell him of my discovery. Ah, I don’t think he has left yet. Maybe I can catch him. I swirl and try to hurtle down the stairs. But my speeding is not very smooth and coordinated anymore. It is more like having the brakes on in the car while pushing on the gas. Reaching the bottom, I surge out the house door to the garage just in time to see the overhead garage door touching down. Grr!  A few more steps and out the side garage door I fly.

“Stop,” I scream towards the rear of the receding truck. Well, that is obviously not going to work. What now? The car keys. . .  I can catch him with my turbo charged car. I plunk into the seat, slide into reverse, and rocket out of the garage. The stones fly as I speed down the driveway and up to the highway. I groan as I realize there is a pickup coming from the left. I have to stop if I don’t want to cause tiny pieces to go flying everywhere. Now to make matters worse, I have a law abiding vehicle between me and my target. Not to be deterred, I kick it up to 90 miles an hour and sail past the puzzled man in the obstructing vehicle.

“Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep,” I lean on the horn over and over and over again as I tailgate behind my husband. Apparently, not only does he not notice other people on the road with him, he can’t hear them either. The oncoming lane is now empty, so I ease up alongside my oblivious husband, finally catch his attention and wave him over. I hold up the phone and he rolls his eyes and lets out a sigh. “Thank you,” he says.

Though frustrated, I chuckle. There is no reason to be irritated with each other. These kinds of things have become the norm in our lives these days.

I do a donut in the middle of the road and head back to the house to finish getting ready and grab the paper work I need for the day. That little adventure only took 7 minutes. Soon I am driving towards Rochester like a sane person. Suddenly, I realize that I didn’t get my long-distance glasses on for driving. Oh well, my computer glasses are just going to have to do – the world in front of me is a little blurred but distinguishable. I arrive at the chiropractor only two minutes late.