Sunday, December 30, 2012

Another road trip, another paddle.

As we were planning our last big road trip down to Florida to paddle the Everglades, a groupon for outfitting a five day canoe trip in the Boundary Waters showed up. This is a canoe trip I've long hoped to try, and it was shockingly easy to sell Doug, Darren and Valerie on a second big road trip and backcountry paddle before we'd even been on the first one! I love these guys!

There were some big differences between these two canoeing experiences. Latitude, season, and the really big one, portaging.  For folks how have never experienced the joy of portaging, it's when you have to unload your canoe, carry all your gear and your canoe down a (hilly, rocky) trail and reload it before you continue on your canoeing journey.  Awesome.  Weather and location were the other big differences.  April in Southern Florida versus September in Northern Minnesota.  Also awesome.

The Boundary Waters is a region of wilderness straddling the Canada–United States border between Ontario and Minnesota just west of Lake Superior. The Boundary Waters is this vast network of waterways and bogs and boreal forests. It's pretty much the mecca for folks who love backcountry canoeing.  I love camping and paddling, and love experiencing the backcountry with all the joys of floating with all my gear.  I couldn't wait to get there and enjoy the quite of the great northern woods.  Doug, Darren, and Valerie, were also looking forward to lots of fishing.

We took this second big road trip of the year again with our fun fearless friends, Valerie and Darren.  And in addition to a love of paddling, we also love beer, cheese, and roadside attractions.  Which meant, of course, that we needed to stop many times along the road to take silly pictures, eat lots of dairy, and drink tasty beverages as we made our way up to (almost) the most northernmost point of the contiguous US.  This trip was a lovely counterpoint to our journey to the southernmost tip of the US in April.

Our first day on the road got us up to Madison, Wisconsin,  We couchsurfed there with a lovely lady who lived near the Botanical Gardens on the east side of town.  After we spent some time at the gardens, our host let us know that the Taste of Madison was going on downtown, so we headed there and discovered the joy of deep fried cheese curds.  Yum.

The next morning, we woke up before dawn to make it to Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters, which is practically in Canada.  We could, in fact, see Canada, just across the lake from the cabin we stayed in for the night.  After a not so restful sleep (in a cabins that had critters running through the walls) we got up really early, frantically packed all of our stuff into the outfitters van, and headed out to the drop off point.  Woohoo.

Now, our maps (and the outfitter) had let us know that we needed to do two portages before we'd get to a lake that had campsites, but the crazy fishing folks on this trip (everyone who wasn't me) desperately wanted to catch so tasty fishies to eat on our trip, so we were hoping to get to a great campsite that had the chance of the best fishing.  Doug was positive that if we made it to Gaskin Lake (7 miles and 4 portages away) that we would be at the best possible spot for the ultimate fishing.  As we paddled along, on a weirdly hot day (somewhere in the mid-eighties), and talked to the multitudes of folks heading back home that day (it was the end of Labor day weekend, so most people were leaving), we got plenty of conflicting advice on where the fish were and weren't biting.  Doug was an immovable force however, even as the rest of us were tired and hungry and hot... offering to carry all the gear and boats on the last (most hilly and longest) portage, to get to the spot he wanted that night.  :)  And Doug, being Doug, got his way.  We got there (very tired, hot and cranky) to the most beautiful campsite on a lovely lake, in the middle of the afternoon of our first day on the water.  And we celebrated by lightening our packs a lot, by drinking wine and eating steak.  Yum.

And I spent the next few days lounging on the edge of the lake, reading books, hiking around, and generally relaxing.  Valerie, Darren and Doug did some of same, but also took some time to fish...and unfortunately our lake was a bit of a bust for fishing. Doug did take off in the late afternoon the second day, to take a day trip over to the next lake to see how the fishing was over that way.  As evening drew nearer, and storm clouds raced in, I started to get a little worried for him since he didn't have water, food, raingear, or a flashlight along.  But all was mostly well, as we could see Doug just barely beating the storm that was racing towards us, across the lake.  He arrived just as the sky opened up above us, and we all huddled under a tarp for the most amazing thunderstorm I've seen in ages, which thankfully cleared up in less than an hour.  Just enough to completely drown Valerie and Darren't tent, of course.

Doug had discovered that the fishing on the next lake over had better fishing, so he and Darren headed off for a day trip of fishing (complete with food, water, raingear and flashlights) and Valerie and I enjoyed a quiet day of reading, napping and hiking.  Also, wading in the lake next to our campsite. It was lovely.  As dusk arrived, so did the boys, with a stinger of bass for dinner.  There was great rejoicing.

The next day, our fourth on the water, we started to head back towards our take out.  We still had one more night of camping, but we wanted to split up the portaging on our last day on the water.  And, it gave the obsessed fisherpeople one last chance to catch some slippery little critters.  As we packed up our gear to head out to our next campsite, it was discovered that fish weren't the only things that were more clever than us.  An entire clew of worms had escaped their holding container.  :)  Clever little guys.  

We got through two of the four portages and started scouting our campsite for the last night.  Now, I haven't talked too much about the weather on this trip.  You would expect that September in northern Minnesota would be significantly colder than our canoe trip in southern Florida the previous April.  Weirdly enough, the temperatures had been unexpectedly, but pleasantly similar during the days.  And, we'd also lucked out on bugs--black fly season was well over, and the mosquitoes weren't really too bad.  But, on our last full day in the Boundary Waters, the weather decided that it was time for autumn temps.  The wind definitely kicked up and the temps dropped.    This didn't stop the fishing, but the hot cocoa around the fire that night was definitely appreciated.

Our last morning on the water started out dreary, and progressed to really windy and rainy as we fished our portages and searched for the take-out point.  Which was shockingly hard.  :)  Lots of unmarked docks....but we eventually found it, and called the outfitters for our ride home.  And we got some much needed hot showers and a great meal that was not cooked using water we had to boil in a tiny little pot.  Divine.

And so started the long road trip back home.  Which was fairly similar to the trip north, more beer, more dairy, more roadside attractions.  Also another stop in Madison, but this time to see comedienne, Paula Poundstone.  It was awesome in every way.  We sat in the front row and Doug got interrogated by Paula. Repeatedly. Which was great fun for all of us who weren't Doug.

Here's some of the tasty tasty beverages we got to sample and silly sights along the way.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

You want to go canoeing, where?!?

When I was in my crazy crunchy-granola graduate school, we went on the most awesome backcountry canoe trip along the Wekiva River in Florida.  It's possible that I told a few too many stories about how many alligators we saw because it was a 10 year long job to sell Doug on the idea of a canoe trip in the Everglades.

This spring, we started off our Fantastical Florida trip with amazing alliteration and by driving down to Louisville to pick up Vivacious Valerie and Daring Darren.  To be honest, the absurd alliteration didn't start until 10 hours into our 20 hour car ride.  We managed to drive halfway there the first night, then drove the rest of the way to Everglades National Park on our second day. The next morning, we got our backcountry passes and started our awesome adventure on the "easy" Hell's Bay Canoe Trail.

This trail is considered easy because it each turn through the crazy curvy mangrove swamp is marked--not because the canoeing is actually easy. We eventually improved our rusty canoeing skills and managed not to kill each other or get lost in the first long day's paddle to our first chickee.

So, canoe camping in this area of the Everglades means setting up camp on platforms several feet above the surface of the water. This is necessary for two very important reasons. First, so (long scaly) critters don't visit and because there's no dry land. We passed a lovely and only slightly buggy evening. There was fishing...with not too many bites, but Doug did manage to land one fairly tasty catfish.

The next morning, we headed out for our next chickee (camping in Hell's Bay allows only one night on each campsite). This part of the trail had more open water and wider trails through the mangroves. We spent our last lovely evening in the Everglades on the Pearl Bay chickee and then packed up to head home the next morning. The paddle back to the trail head seemed way easier....and while we didn't technically see any alligators while we canoed, we did heard one slip into the water and watched the movement of water as something big swam under our canoes.

After we repacked the car and got some much needed showers, we headed out towards the Keys. We lucked into finding an open camping spot at Curry Hammock State Park. We spent a few nights there while we explore the area, ate tasty seafood, and celebrated Doug's birthday by going deep sea fishing!

We also got all the way to the furthest tip of the continental US, as we made it all the way to Key West. And then we turned around a retraced our trail back home again...finding fabulous food, beautiful beer, and ridiculous roadside attractions all the way home.

And just imagine, just a few months later, we did another crazy canoe trip in the other direction...Boundary Waters here we come!