Saturday, June 04, 2005

Boundary Waters - Part 2 - Our Adventure Begins

When last I posted I had every intention of posting more updates of our planning, before we headed North. That didn't exactly happen.

It's been a week since we entered the Boundary Waters for a three and a half day adventure, and it is time to start writing down the story before it starts to fade. I did keep a journal of sorts each evening, and I'll be referring to that as I write this.

We left the Twin Cities on Friday afternoon, apparently along with a significant portion of the Metro population. I guess we knew that was going to happen. After a stop in Duluth for dinner, our last chance for fast food, we arrived at Sawbill Lake as the sun was setting. Sawbill Canoe Outfitters was still open so we picked up our permit, our boats and one more portage pack for the food.

SCO operates the US Forest Service Campground near the entry point, so we camped there for the evening, sorting out our gear and making last minute adjustments. In preparation for an early departure the next morning we took all the boats down to a holding area. No locks, no security, it's nice to be able to trust that people will be decent.

Saturday morning started cool and clear, the lake was pretty well socked in with fog until the sun came up. We cooked up breakfast burritos to get us going. Once camp was broken down and every thing loaded back into the portage packs, we were off! Boats into the water, paddles in hand, and we were heading up the lake into the wilderness.

The Sawbill Lake Entry point is near the lower left corner of this map scan, and yes there is a small sign on that island at the red and black border line. We were heading for the far north end of the lake and that 50 Rod portage near the top of the scan. Our first challenge wasn't the portage but rather the dinner. Yes, it was only 9am and we were being dogged by a meal we wouldn't cook for six hours. I had decided on cedar plank salmon for the first night's dinner and one of the preparations for that recipe is to soak the cedar plank for several hours so that it smokes instead of just burning up. I had the brilliant idea to drill a hole in the corner of the plank and drag it along behind us. Little did I know that it would act like something out of the Rapala catalog and dive spin even at a canoe's pace. Brenda and I struggled with dragging that darn thing for the first hour, unable to keep up with the other two boats.

Our compatriots decided to take a break and wait for us. When we finally caught up with them the discussion led to us taking he board out of the water, only dunking it into the water occasionally for the rest of the day. The difference was night and day, I could not have imagined how much of an anchor that board was! At least as far as the paddling was concerned the rest of the day was smooth sailing.

Reaching the end of the lake brought us to the second skill involved in surviving the Boundary Waters: Portaging. The first portage was 50 Rods long, and of average terrain, or at least what would turn out to be average. A rod is 16.5 feet long, yielding 320 rods in a mile. A rod is an ancient unit of measurement, perhaps only outdone by the cubit. Rods were originally defined as the combined length of the right feet of the first 16 men to come out of church on Sunday. A rod also happens to be about the length of a canoe, I suspect this is why the unit has persisted when it comes to portages. Brenda and I decided that I would take the canoe, and she would take the pack. That meant she was actually carrying more weight, but at least it was a little awkward than the 42 pound canoe. I knew 50 roads wasn't really that long, but as it turned out I wasn't really prepared for it either. By the end of that first portage I was huffing and puffing and pretty sweaty. Things were pretty awkward as we had yet to develop a system for unloading and loading the boats. Once we were back on the water, it only took a few stokes of the paddle before I had faith again that we would do ok on the portages.

The next lake was only a short paddle, and then another portage, this time 80 rods. Half again the distance of the last portage wasn't going to be too bad. A momentary pause somewhere near the middle and then I was at the landing ready to put the boat back into the water. Brenda and I were already starting to work out the system of unloading the boat at the start of the portage and reloading it at the end. We were back into the water and heading across the third lake of the day!