Saturday, July 15 to Friday, August 18, 2017 - Fort Frances (ON) to Grand Portage (MN)
Normally for the blog, I summarize what we have done and lived for each of the days. Talking yesterday at dinner with Dave from Naturally Superior Adventures, I realized that I did not put enough emphasis on what makes this adventure so unique, inspiring and different. Our encounters with people have changed us, made us evolve, made us think, inspired us. We left and sold everything a little more than three years ago thinking that we were going on a canoe adventure. Today, we can say that the canoe is a mode of transport and that the adventure is first and foremost a human one (with different aspects). Therefore, for this blog post, I will not dwell too much on the dates and details, but rather on the meetings we had.
We left Fort Frances on Sunday July 16th under a beautiful sun. Wheels under the canoe, we walked to US Customs located in International Falls. The agents were surprised to see us arriving with a canoe on wheels. Very sympathetic people, they were impressed that after so much time spent together in a canoe we were still married. One said that he could not even spend four hours in a canoe with his wife! Our entry into Minnesota went well and in good spirits.
We launched the canoe back into the Rainy River just before passing under the bridge, under which there was a lot of current and a strong flow of water from Rainy Lake. Later in the day, we met Tom Smith. He showed us a passage that saved us several kilometres (passage not marked on the maps). He also pointed out where the Voyageur National Park Visitor Centre was located. We stopped there and then proceeded to a creek on which we had to make our first portage (without the wheels). The flies and mosquitoes were bad! We continued until 19:50 before finding a location to set up camp.
Two nights later, we were in the Boundary Waters on Lake La Croix. We used two electric rail systems to move from one body of water to another and avoided two long portages. Thanks to this, we saved a lot of energy. We had to take advantage of those two systems … because there are a lot of portages in the Boundary Waters. On Lake La Croix, we met Ranger Tom and Nick (a volunteer). Tom was very nice to allow us to camp on the island where we were and gave us directions to get a permit allowing us to enjoy the park right up to Grand Portage. This park attracts more than 200,000 people a year. Impressive number! And quite honestly, the license is very affordable. It is an entry price and not a duration price. There are many organized campsites with toilets and fire pits. It was not a big headache to find places to camp.
The Boundary Waters and the Quetico Provincial Park are neighbours located on each side of the border. International boundary markers are present throughout the route. Sometimes the portages are located on the Canadian side, sometimes on the U.S. side.
We met a group in the first portage after Lake La Croix canoeing the entire park. Hayden, Erik (his father) and their group crossed the entire park to Grand Portage while taking water samples and validating the clarity of the water for all the lakes. This project is part of Hayden Eagle scout project, raising awareness of the preservation and the threats facing the Boundary Waters.
We celebrated our wedding anniversary by making more portages, including a very long one, called Curtain Falls Portage. The fall was sublime and worth every effort to get there. We fell in love with the Boundary Waters and Quetico during our stay. We will have to go back! In different places, we were able to discover and observe pictograms. Hands, canoes, pelican, moose, arrows, bears, ... We saw walls full of artwork from the past!
At the Basswood Portage, we met Adam, Donn, Scott and Brian. We had the easiest portage. Everyone took a few things on their back so we only had to walk one way to the next lake. No return trip required! We also received a map as a gift from Donn. When we acquired our license, we bought a map showing the campsites for the park, but the map covered only part of the park and there were not all the maps required to cover the territory up to Grand Portage. Thanks to Donn, we were able to easily find a campsite for the following nights.
Knife Lake was one of our favourite lakes in the park. Its waters are turquoise and translucent. The water is warm, compared to the other lakes. There were not as many animals as other places where we had paddled before, but it was in the Boundary Waters that we were able to observe loons the closest. They are familiarized to canoes and people and did not run away. What a beautiful bird and what can I say about its song! For me it is synonymous with nature and freedom.
After the Monument Portage, we crossed Lake Saganaga and then entered the Granite River. We met a group in one of the portages and Adam allowed us to take a picture of the next section on his map (for campsites). The following day (July 25th), we met a group of girls in a portage of 400 meters long. I was very happy to see a girl group! We had not seen a girl group before. I was very proud of them and happy to see that they had fun travelling by canoe and experiencing an adventure in the Boundary Waters. Way to go girls!
Then we arrived at Gunflint Lodge & Outfitters. We took a day off and slept in bunkhouse # 45. The owners are relatively new. Two years ago they took possession of this institution, established in 1927. Originally founded by a wealthy Chicago man, the place was registered under his wife’s name. During the depression, this man lost everything, except the lodge (which was under his wife’s name). It was then that this place took shape and that the daughter of the couple ensured the prosperity of the company and made it an institution. His son took over afterwards. Then, two years ago, John and his wife Mandy bought the place. The location is great and the services are diversified. There are 50 employees during the high season.
Starting from Gunflint, we walked another series of portages and stopped at the end of the day to the one leading to Rose Lake. Something told us that we had to stop there. Later, we saw a group go through the portage. They had not luck finding a campsite ( which would have been in the direction we were going). We invited them to share our campsite. What a beautiful group of brothers, fathers, sons and brothers-in-law. We talked until dark and the mosquitoes became too troublesome. The next day, we talked more and Al gave us two beautiful apples.
Subsequently, we started a long portage named Long Portage. 3.3 km walk (which you must multiply by 6 round trips, i.e. three round trips each). In the portage, at the ⅔ point, we met a really lovely couple,James and Heidi)p. We dropped everything and took the time to talk. James is a pastor and currently on a sabbatical. Heidi teaches their four children. They have traveled and lived in several places, such as Kenya. Discussions deepened on generosity, goodness, passion, faith in ourselves and others. We knew we were going to see them again. They were going to do the portage the next day with the children and their cousins (they were a big group). After Heidi and James left, during one of our return trips, Pierre stumbled. When I found Pierre, he was sitting on a log and had pain in his wrist and back. He also had dirt on his forehead. He had banged his head and a good bruise appeared later. He saw actually saw stars! Rarely do physical incidents happen, but in these moments, our brains are working quickly on alternative plans and an evacuation plan if the need arises. It was more fear than pain ultimately. Pierre helped me to carry the canoe (which we both carry at the same time on our shoulder). Then he made a last trip towards the end of the portage with a smaller load on his back. We set up camp at the end of the portage (although this is not an official site). Pierre's back began to seize. He had to take the time to relax. The next day, his back was still problematic, but knowing Pierre, I knew he wanted to continue with the portages and at least go as far as Lake Mountain, another beautiful lake where we bathed and relaxed at the end of the day.
Sunday, July 30, it was too hot to paddle. 37C with the humidex! Jasmine would have found it too hard. So we took a day off. While I was cutting Pierre's hair, our friends James and Heidi arrived. They were our neighbours on the lake. :) Then Bob and Shelley followed (Shelley is Heidi's aunt, but they have a very small difference in age). We talked a good part of the morning. Discussions were profound, even through topics such as leadership, passion, psychology and the human factor. Then a storm appeared on the horizon. James, Heidi, Bob and Shelley went back to their site to join their children. It rained in the afternoon, but the end of the day was superb.
The next day we made a series of portages and at the end of the last one, we met our friends with their children (from 11 to 18 years old). On a large, completely autonomous floating island, we had lunch together. Autonomous, because on our island someone was filtering water, others fished, some prepared lunch and a solar panel charged batteries. Cool isn’t it! Then we made another portage to get to North Fowl Lake.
Speaking last night with a friend on the phone (from Wawa, On.), she made me realize that, just like her, we worried too much about what might happen to us, about injuries and health. She told me that they were worried that we would have a health problem on our adventure. The truth is, there were problems. But oddly, we did not put too much emphasis on them. I believe that when one does what one loves and desires to do, the obstacles are easier to overcome. The attitude greatly changes our perception and influences our thoughts, our will and problem solving. Pierre does not like me to mention when he gets hurt. But I will allow myself to emphasize one situation. Just before we finished the portage, where we met Jame’s and Heidi’s group (the same day when we had lunch with them), Pierre broke a bone in his left foot. We had to modify our portages, but nevertheless, Pierre continued to walk and carry material. He continued the following days motivating himself by the fact that we were getting close to Grand Portage. Once there, there would be no more portages to do, for we were going to be on Lake Superior. It hurt, very badly, but he could walk. He modified his boot, and we found other solutions and alternatives if he couldn’t walk. We had different exit plans. We even considered staying longer in the park waiting for his foot to get better. Pierre often says that the human body is an exceptional machine, it is the brain that is the weak link. We must, therefore, motivate and condition our brains. We need to talk to it.
Once we completed the portage to Pigeon River, we paddled down to Partridge Falls where we camped for the night. At 6:51 the very next day, we were on the gravel road in the direction of Grand Portage. 14 kilometres of walking that made Pierre’s foot swell to the point where he did not feel his foot anymore. We knew we were getting close when we saw the lake stretching in front of us. We had a long downhill to do and we were on the brakes to hold the canoe back. Along the way, we were both impressed with the endurance that we developed over the months and years. The last days and portages were exhausting, but despite everything, we continued with the desire to go ever further. However, when we arrived at the marina at Grand Portage, Pierre took off his boot and saw his laces had dug into his skin. It was time for us to arrive!
We stayed three nights at Grand Portage. We had the pleasure of meeting Gunner (Larry). Gunner allowed us to go and do our errands in Grand Marais. We also spent a wonderful evening under the tarp, protected from the rain, with a good bottle of wine, in his company. Then we had an excellent dinner aboard his boat called Absolut-ly. Gunner is one of those exceptional people we have met throughout our journey. And just like the discussions we had with James, Heidi, Rob and Shelley, we left him with more energy and growing certainties and truths.
At the campground in Grand Portage, we met a beautiful family. Brian and Cassie, Chloe, Sam and Blake and their dog Hope. Pierre gave fishing tips to the kids and showed them how to fix fish in different ways. He also showed them how to tie some knots (remember: the rabbit comes out of the burrow, goes around the tree and then returns to his burrow). :) As a thank you, we received a wonderful card. This card is priceless to us!
On Saturday, August 5, we took our first paddle stroke on the sublime, and so adored, Lake Superior! Gunner left before us that morning, heading for Isle Royale with a couple, for a weeks fishing trip. He informed us that the lake was 2.5 feet higher than normal. It has been five years since we were on the lake. In 2012, the lake was much lower than normal. We quickly noticed the differences.
We stopped at the historic site of Grand Portage, where the North West Company was located in early 1800, before being moved to Fort William (near Thunder Bay). We continued on to Thompson Island, where we had stopped 5 years ago. On the island, there is a lovely site for boaters, with hiking trails. That's where we first met Steve and Kamila, who we had spent several days with back in 2012. They even took us on their sailboat to Silver Islet because of bad weather. We wanted to see them again. When we arrived in the bay, shortly before 7:00 pm
(we left late from Grand Portage), we saw the sailboat “Mary Jenny”. Then we saw Steve on deck. What a joy! Kamila was there too. It was their first time on the island this year. What luck! We had dinner aboard “Mary Jenny” and caught up with Kamila and Steve. 5 years have passed and it was as if it was yesterday!
The next day, Dan and Joy offered to transport us to Silver Islet. The weather window to cross over was small, so they generously offered to take us onboard “Some Day”. Along the way, we stopped on the edge of an island where there was a mine. Even today, you can see a tunnel. The water in this place is turquoise. Lake Superior will always fascinate me. It is a lake where I could spend a full season. Dan and Joy are a pleasant couple, who live simply. They are interested in so many things. It was a beautiful afternoon with them.
Once at Silver Islet, we met Joe, with whom we had a beer at supper. The next day we visited Bruce and JoAnne (whom we had met 5 years ago). Their generosity touched us and they have had a great impact on our lives. They convinced us, without knowing it, that we had to go back and live this great adventure. Peyton, their granddaughter was there too. She is now 10 years old. She was only five when we met her. Bruce and JoAnne’s daughter was there with her children. We felt very well when we left. Our heads were full of beautiful thoughts. It was if we began a kind of pilgrimage. Nevertheless, for the next few months, we will retrace the same steps as in 2012.
At lighthouse number 10, we stopped because of a storm. The afternoon was rocking and rolling. Thunder and lightning, strong wind. We met a group of kayakers. They too had to stop because of the bad weather. We finally spent the night on the island and had a wonderful evening with them (Megan, Lyle, Rob, Ian and Axel). It was interesting to spend time with other water sports enthusiasts and lovers of Lake Superior.
The temperature is cooler at night and good during the day. We had fog several times in the morning. But Lake Superior has been particularly lenient with us so far. There were two places, before arriving at Hattie Cove (Pukaskwa National Park), where it was really stirred up. Waves and rebound waves (clapotis) exceeding 16 feet! But apart from that, we were pleasantly surprised by the conditions. Lake Superior is beautiful! I can never say it enough. The water is so clear you can see more than 50 feet deep. Sometimes it is green, blue or turquoise. It is yellow or red, due to rocks, when shallow. There are long beaches of sand or gravel. The rocks are impressive. We do not get tired of looking at the bottom of the water and the rock formations. Pukaskwa National Park is certainly one of the most beautiful parks in Canada.
On Wednesday, August 16, we arrived at Naturally Superior Adventures located in Wawa. We met Dave, the owner, and set up camp. Rock Island Lodge was completely booked, so we camped on the beach. This place is really nice and the staff very friendly. It is a must for those who wish to paddle Superior. Here, there is equipment rental, guided tours, accommodation and a wealth of information. The meals are excellent! A place for families, groups, couples and singles. To come back here is like being home!
We will likely leave on Saturday, August 19th, towards Lake Huron. Until the next blog post, follow us on the social networks. We should have more connections once we reach Sault St. Marie. We will be able to publish more regularly.
Wishing you all a good end of August and a good back to school to the students!