After an evening in great company with Richard and his family we had a great place to reorganize all our food before heading out on Rainy Lake. The weather forecast is predicting very strong winds for the next few days and so we decide to try and make good progress on this beautiful day. Since the weather is so nice we eventually decide to take a lunch break and stop for a swim, even Magali went in the water a testament of the warm weather. We paddle for a long time and realise it might be harder than expected to find a place to stay due to the amount of cabins on almost every island. On this beautiful day I also get the great news that the second chapter of my thesis was accepted for publication with only minor revision, whoohoo! Unfortunately Magali’s shoulder started hurting a bit again late in the day but we have to push forward to find a place to camp, which is getting pretty challenging. As it is getting pretty late we eventually end up camping on the point of an island despite our doubts about the exposure to the strong winds forecasted for the next day and the strong possibility that we were going to be wind stranded for a couple days… We should have listened to our instinct because we ended up regretting our choice of campsite once again.
Day 87 July 28th
Although we set up our camp in prediction of strong winds, we had a hard time sleeping due to the constant noise of the tarp flapping away in the wind. I even got up in the middle of the night at 3am to adjust the tarp and reduce the annoying sound. Despite that we spent a pretty bad night and realise we still have our post traumatic wind disorder (due to our past experiences on the great lakes of Manitoba) that makes us always very stressed when the winds pick up during the night. The really strong winds and the forecast for electric storms make us decide to take a day off. However, we decide to change campsite and move to a sheltered bay a few hundred meters away in case the wind keeps hauling for a few days. We find a place deep in the bush and set up our camp which will end up being our place for the next few days. Later that day Mali and I went fishing and we caught a nice northern pike that we ate with pesto pasta that evening. We enjoyed the relaxed day but are not looking forward to being wind stranded for the next couple of days.
We spent a great night despite the really strong winds because our campsite was well sheltered. Since the winds did not die off we decide to wait another day before heading out on the large Rainy Lake. The winds are even stronger today with wind gust as strong as 60km/h. So another relax day exploring the surrounding forest, fishing, swimming and resting, we wanted to play cards but we realised that they got wet at one point during the past few days and our thus ruined... I also work on some of the revisions I just received on the second chapter of my thesis. We keep following the forecast for the next day closely but it doesn’t seem very good. However the winds should be at our back and should only become very strong in the afternoon and thus we decide to head out anyways since we are excited to move forward and tired of staying put.
I wake up a bit early and finish sending my revision on my second chapter to my supervisor. Then we pack up camp and head out early before the winds get too strong. The winds are very kind in the morning and we quickly cross the large bay allowing us to reach a sheltered section of Rainy Lake. We pass by a Marina and decide to stop and get a new deck of cards since Mali just loves playing cards in the evening before bed time. During that visit Mali and I witness a huge Lake trout of 63 pounds on the wall. Mali asked me where that fish was caught and I tell him Lake Superior. He then looks up at me and says: “We won’t fish on lake superior dad.” We keep going on Rainy Lake a very beautiful lake with lots of Islands allowing us to stay sheltered from the winds who are gradually picking up but at least we have them in our back and thus we take out our sail and progress very quickly. Later that day we end up crossing into the US and thus contact the border to let them know. From this point on we will most likely camp on the US side for the next couple of weeks as we were told that the campsite are more numerous and better maintained on the BWA. As we enter the Voyageur National park we start noticing lots of home boats and people camping with motors boats a new phenomenon for us that we find pretty funny. We try to race a few of these motor homes with our Windpaddle sail and the strong winds at our back and manage to put up good races but never won… Later that day we had one last crossing to reach the south shore of the last big section of Rainy Lake and it was a bit of a stressful moment. Mali who was sleeping got woken up when a wave crashed into the boat right on his head, no need to say he woke up pretty quickly wondering what was happening. The winds became increasingly worrisome that afternoon and we tried to find a place to camp. However we got stuck on a stretch of shoreline with cliffs and no safe spots to land and thus we had to keep pushing forward until we found a little bay with a beach where we quickly headed and spent the night. There was a motor home in that bay but they didn’t mind having neighbors for the night and understood we didn’t want to get back out there.
The next day we wake up early hoping to escape the strong winds that should only be a problem for the first few kilometers before leaving Rainy Lake. We leave our campsite around 7am before our neighbors are even up and witness a series of motors homes heading back against the winds. We weren’t the only ones trying to escape the winds early in the morning. After Rainy Lake we decide to take a little short cut instead of following the US border. We reach the Soldier Portage a portage without a trail which will lead us to Namakane Lake. As I’m scouting the portage to find the next lake I soon realise that there is poison ivy everywhere and I had most likely been walking in it for a while… I also realise that I did not have my socks on and that my feet most likely were exposed… We find a safe spot without poison ivy for the rest of the family to portage and have lunch on the other side of the portage. My foot is not itching so I hope that I was lucky and didn’t get it on my foot.
The next morning we leave our amazing campsite and reach the Loon River where there was a lot of motor boat traffic. As it is a super narrow river it was a bit stressful every time we heard them coming in the distance. Most of the boats were from outfitters that were on a schedule and out of the 10 boats we saw that morning only one slowed down for us while the others just blasted full speed just a few meters away from us… The Loon River could of been a beautiful place but our experience was tarnished by all the boats. At the other end of the Loon River we reach old rail systems which allowed us to effortlessly portage to the next lake and the following portage also had a similar rail system that we took advantage of. Two of the easiest portage we had so far! We reach another amazing campsite under pine trees where we even have a bunch of wood already piled up and sorted by size waiting for us. We added some more wood and made an effort to leave some for the next people as well. That evening the winds were so strong that we decided to set up our tarp vertically to make a wind shelter, which turned out to be a great idea since the night was very windy. It also had lots of heat lightening which would turn the dark sky in a light show every few seconds for a good part of the night. Combined with the strong winds it was a very special feeling (not the best kind of feeling) to be in our tent that night. We felt pretty vulnerable especially after seeing the amount of fallen trees all around our campsite and the size of the ones left standing…
We were now on Lac à la Croix and were hoping to make it to other side today. Early in the morning we passed another group of paddlers and are so excited to see other canoers. We paddle towards them but quickly realise they are not as excited as we were. Later that day we would understand why that was. As we progressed through the lake we met lots of other canoers, many of them were dropped by the outfitters that kept passing us on the Loon River but also many other canoers on adventures of their own. When we reach the end of the lake there is at least 3 other expedition waiting to complete the portage. We waited our turn and slowly made it to the other end of the portage. We realised we needed to try and be as efficient as possible during all the portages as from this point forward we will have as many as 8 portages a day. We quickly start noticing as well that everyone seems to be on a race to the campsites and we quickly understand why, campsites are limited and there is a lot of people on the BWA where we currently are. Since all the groups ahead of us on the portages told us they would be staying on the following lake, Iron Lake, we decided to reach Crooked Lake where there are many campsites thus another portage before camp. At the end of the portage we met a group of students actually on a class trip which we found was amazing. Mali watches them fish and even receives a nice bait to catch small mouth bass the prominent fish in the area. Unfortunately we can’t stay long to chat as it’s getting late and we still need to find a campsite which wasn’t and easy task that evening. We must of passed at least 5 different campsites that were all taken before finally finding one that was free just before sunset. We set up camp around 8:30pm and Magali wasn’t a happy camper feeling like we should of stopped earlier that day. We would learn from this to some extent but at the same time most groups would set up camp around 2-4pm while we had to put longer hours to reach our end destination in time.
The following day we once again meet lots of other canoes on the water but most of them don’t seem to want to chat to much once again, probably tiered of seeing so many people on their wilderness camping trip. Us, on the other hand, we were very happy to meet other people for a change, especially other paddlers. We are hoping to reach Basswood Lake that evening and will thus have a few portages as we go up the Basswood River. We complete the first few portages easily and during one of these meet of group of boy scouts that were very kind and we exchanged stories with them for a while. We manage to line up one of the rapids to avoid a portage and finally reached our last portage of the day the Horse Trail portage which was 1.5 km long. Just as we get to the start of the portage we catch up with another really kind group from Outbound Adventures that give us a few tips about the portage. This was going to be our first long portage without our canoe kart. Up to know most of our portages had been 500m or less or we could use the canoe kart on the longer ones. This was a pretty hard portage but it could have been a lot worse if all the previous groups hadn’t cleared the trail from all the dead fall as they did. We manage to complete it but not without a lot of efforts. Luckily for us there was a campsite just near the end of the portage which was great since it was starting to get dark. We have a quick super and go to bed quickly after. That evening I could see that Magali was starting to get worried about what was to come… This was by no means our longest portages and I could see that she was starting to realise how hard some of the later ones were going to be.
Since we are tiered from the hard portage we had the day before we take it easy in the morning and take the time to make blueberry pancakes with freshly harvested blueberries that Mali and I gathered from around our campsite. The small rash on my foot that started a few days earlier is now becoming more prominent and it’s clear now that I have a poison ivy reaction on one of my feet. It’s not too bad yet and not much to do for now anyways. We eventually leave around 11:30am and slowly make it across to the other side of Basswood Lake. To our surprise there are some motor boats on this lake which was a bit of a surprise to us having had to portage so many times to get here… The good thing about these motor boats however is that there is another easy portage waiting for us at the other end, a ride system to get motor boats to the next lake. We took advantage of this easy ride to Birch Lake once again. That evening we struggle to find a campsite as they are all taken. We eventually reach the end of the Birch Lake and were really hopping not to have to portage so late in the evening but still no campsite available in sight. We eventually meet with a few USDA park rangers that tell us that even if we portaged the campsites in the next few lakes are all taken as well and they are actually in the same situation as us. We stop and chat with them for a moment and learned lots about the area. Two great men that are very understanding and helped us the best they could. They even offered to bush camp with us on the US side if we can’t find anything so that we would be legit in there company. We eventually told then we might just camp on the Canadian side in the bush and they were happy with that solution. We say our goodbyes and go our separate ways. We found a nice little spot that looked like it had been used before and we spent a great evening on what we tough was an island on the Canadian side (but later realised we were still in the US… oups).
We get up early as we have many portages planned for the day. We get to the end of Birch Lake just in time for the fog to lift. We take the time to film a bit of portaging shots that morning but are quickly joined by two different groups portaging in the same direction as us. We realise it will be a busy day in the portaging trails. One of those groups was from a camp (a councillor with 6-7 teenagers) and we ended up following each other all day. It was great to have some company and to share the struggle with other paddlers for once. When we finally reached Knife Lake we went our separate ways as they were heading south while we were keeping going east. We stopped for lunch and for a swim and the water was almost as clear as Lake Kakagi. Another canoe passed us moments later (Jim and Alie) that were on their way to Lake Superior as well. We eventually caught up with them on the water and chatted for a bit before it was their turn to stop for lunch and wished them well. We are really impressed as they seemed of the same generation as our parents and still taking on great adventures. We felt inspired and hoped that we would still be like them at that age. Later on Knife Lake we witnessed vast areas that had been burned by a forest fires a few years ago. It was very impressive to see the vastness of the area affected. A short portage later we reached Otter Lake where we were welcomed by a family of loons feeding their young one and signing for us. In the narrows passages of Otter Lake the sounds was magical echoing and bouncing off the numerous cliffs. We stayed there for a while just witnessing the show. We complete the last few portages allowing us to reach Saganaga Lake including the Monument portage which has multiple monuments indicating where the Canada-US border is. So after about 6 or 7 portages that day we were pretty happy to set up camp and have a nice meal before easily going to bed.
We wake up on the Canadian side of the border as all the US campsite were taken the evening before and we just wanted to find a campsite after our last portage. Today is Tursday and we realise we could try and make it to the Gunflint lodge were we could spend a few nights. The members of Les chemins de l’or bleu highly recommended spending a few days there as they were very nice and they had affordable accommodations for paddlers. We look at the weather forecast for the next couple of days were supposed to be pretty bad and think that it would be great to make it to the lodge for a few nights. We also feel like we will have more chances of having a place at the lodge if we get there on a Thursday evening instead of Friday. So we push forward for another long day of portages (about 7 in total). We quickly make it to the Granite River and realise this was going to be another day with lots of traffic. We encounter at least three other groups during the first few portages up the Granite River. One of them a group from a camp in Ontario is now on the 30th day of their trip and one of their councillors (Emile) is from Montreal. We had lots of fun chatting with them and they were pretty impressed that we were almost on our 100th day of our journey. Most of the portages go relatively well and we even manage to line up two of the rapids that day. Magali really like lining up rapids! However after our supposedly last portage I realise that there were actually another few portages that I didn’t see on the map because they were so short. Although they were short Magali didn’t appreciate that surprise. Just after our last portage it starting raining and gradually it started pouring pretty hard just as we saw the Gunflint lodge in the distance. We paddle as hard as we could and in our minds we were really hopping they had a spot for us. We were very happy to learn they had a room in their rustic canoer’s cabins and after quickly dumping our gear we go for a feast at the Lodge restaurant. We must have looked like people who hadn’t eaten in days as we ordered so much food and drinks but when we explained to our waitress where we were coming from she understood and laughed.
We ended up spending two full days at the lodge to rest and reorganize. There was a ton of activities for kids and we were really happy for Mali. We went on interpretive hikes about edible plants, Mali went fishing with his own personal fishing guide for a afternoon, assisted different music shows, arts and craft activities and Mali fed the duck so much food on the beach that I doubted their ability to migrate down south after our stay. During our stay I also managed to find calamine lotion for my foot with poison ivy which was not getting any better on the contrary. We also met some of the groups that we met the day before on the portages and we exchange some more stories with them. We also had lunch with Jim and Alie who we had met two days before on Knife Lake and they cheered us up since we had just realised something terrible. A few hours before lunch we realised that we had lost our GoPro… I was devastated, not so much because of the camera, but due to all the footage we had captured on it and which was not backed up yet. I realised we had lost the GoPro when I was trying to back up the footage actually and after looking through all our stuff at least 5 times I had to accept that it was gone… The last time we remembered using it was two days of paddling ago on the Monument portage. Unfortunately Jim and Alie did not see it but their company was great to cheer us up. We posted a message on an online forum but in my mind it was pointless and we had to just move forward thinking it was gone forever. I manage to get over it with the help of our new friends and a few beers and we slowly started getting ready to head out after two great days of rest. The staff and people we met at the Gunflint lodge were amazing and we would recommend to anyone passing through stopping for a night or more.
After one last delicious breakfast at the lodge restaurant we slowly get back in our canoe and start paddling east once again. When we reach the end of the lake we struggle to find the little stream we needed to take but luckily for us Mali came here the day before during his fishing afternoon with his guide. He thus points us towards were we need to go and despite our scepticism due to the absence of visual evidence we trust Mali and keep paddling were he tells us to go. Eventually a very narrow stream appears and we find our way to the next lake. We make two short portages before reaching Rose Lake where Mali falls asleep just before the next portage. We try to wake him up but he is out cold… We thus decide to make a trip with some gear while he sleeps. When we come back for the second trip he is still sleeping so we carry the rest of the stuff. Unfortunately he woke up during our second trip and tried to follow the portage trail but eventually turned around and waited for us at the beginning of the portage trail crying… When I came back to find him I felt so bad and reassured him the best I could. He taught we had left him behind but I quickly made him understand we would never do that. Mali was a real angel for a couple a days after that ;-)
Wow our 100th day of the trip! We are woken up by an angry squirrel throwing pine cones at our tent and he kept chirping at us all morning. Mali had lots of fun protecting our campsite from him. We were going to celebrate our 100th day by starting off with a 4.5 km portage that morning. We manage to use our canoe kart a bit but mostly had to make multiple trips with all the gear on our backs once again. During this portage we are past by Jim and Alie who were super light and they cruised by us like a breeze. We were not so light unfortunately and during every trip I made I couldn’t wait to see the other end of the portage trail. There were many steep slopes and it was a really ruff trail and we all struggled a lot during this portage. This portage was especially hard on Magali not only was it challenging physically but also mentally. She just kept thinking of the Grand Portage and how awful it was going to be. During each portage I would always be very encouraging and I would always run back to help out with Magali’s loads when I was done but despite that Magali always had a discouraged face during but more so after the portages were over. I think my positive attitude and her perception that I was finding this easy or fun also slowly got on her nerves (why is he not as miserable as me she must of thought). After this really hard portage we had to talk since her attitude was starting to affect my moral as well. I told her that it’s ok to find it hard during the portage, but when it’s over we had to celebrate and be really proud of ourselves a feeling she struggle with at first. She eventually embraces portaging and started feeling proud of her accomplishments but her determination was still going to be tested in the next couple of days. Mali on the other hand was very keen on portaging. He always carried his small backpack and then smaller items on the second trip but overall he kept up with our speed and was happy to hike for a change. He rarely complained and when he saw us struggle he would always try and cheer us up. I think he saw how hard we were working and just wanted to make our lives as easy as possible. We took the rest of that day relatively easy and after just completing one other portage found a nice campsite on Mountain Lake.
We get up early with the goal of reaching our last lake before the Pigeon River and the Grand portage. As we are heading towards our first portage we noticed Jim on the shore waving to us and asking us to come see him. Jim wanted to offer Magali some coffee! We ask them were they were planning on spending the night and if they would like to share a campsite with us since we were planning on camping on the same lake. They like the idea and thus we planned on meeting later that day on the North Fowl lake. As we were heading back to the portage we met another groups a paddlers from the same camp in Ontario that we met a few days earlier. They told us that they will be at least 7 different groups from their camp on North fowl Lake that evening and thus it might be hard for us to find a spot to camp. We were happy to learn that and thus planned on camping on the lake before, Moose Lake, where there are many campsites. We complete the 3 portages leading to Moose Lake and our friends Jim and Alie caught up with us just as we reached the lake. They were more than happy to stop on Moose lake and we find a campsite together. That evening Jim, Mali and I went for a bit of fishing to catch super while Magali and Alie set up camp. Thanks to Jim’s fishing advice we caught a great meal. Mali caught the first fish (although it was the smallest we had ever seen), Jim caught the most fish and I was able to pull in the biggest of the evening. Jim then showed me out to filet small mouth bass since it was the first time we had caught this kind of fish during the trip. We spent a great evening with them around the campfire and share a great meal together. For Magali and I Jim and Alie were a real inspiration and we imagined ourselves later in life still living simply and enjoying challenges in the wilderness. Thanks Jim and Alie for the inspiration it was really great to meet you guys.
We wanted to get an early start but hard to do so in such great company. We manage to convince Jim to try our camping chair despite his strong belief that is lifejacket is the best seat when camping. After breakfast and saying goodbye we head out to our first portage. The end of the first portage welcome us with a huge muddy landing and we noticed the many footsteps from all the groups that were going to camp on North Foul lake the night before. We reach the end of the lake and try to see if we can get the around the dam leading to the Pigeon river. However we quickly realise that this option will be too dangerous and thus we try to find the classic portage which skips the dam and the few rapids bellow it. This portage is 1.8km and I quickly go scout it to assess where it leads and if we are on the good trail. After a few trips and lots of hard work we make it across to the Pigeons River. We will finally be paddling downstream on the Pigeon River a beautiful narrow river that has many little rapids. Unfortunately we quickly realise that the water level is very low and in most of the rapids it is a struggle to find a line without rocks. We have a water fall to get around and try to see if we could find a quick portage around it. However as we get closer the sharp horizon line and the tree tops behind it quickly have us realise we do not want to get close to this water fall and we take the long way around. This was a good decision as this waterfall must of been at least 30-40 feet high! During this portage we tested our canoe cart in some really deep mud wholes and it worked like a charm. There is a reason why we called our kart Rambo! After that portage we make it at Fort Charlotte just before sunset and we meet all our friends from that camp who are staying just across the river from fort Charlotte at their camp that they called Rome (because it was built in one day the summer before). We try and get some rest but we are a bit anxious for the big day coming up!
The big day has finally arrived. We try and get started early but we are slowed down by the amount of traffic building up at the start of the portage with the 40-50 kids from the camp getting ready for the portage. We leave first but are quickly caught up by all the groups who seem to be flying down the trail compared to our very slow pace. We quickly realise that the canoe kart will not be too useful due to the amount of small wooden bridges that we encounter every 200-400m on the trail. Every time we need to unload the canoe and make a few trips across the bridges. After about 2 hours of grueling portages we get a message on our Inreach device. Someone found our gopro and will be sending it to us by mail!!!!! Wow what great news that really cheered us up and gave us a momentum boost. A boost we would have needed a bit later but for now we felt great.
The next morning I can barely contain my excitement to see Lake Superior and thus wake up around 5am. I get out and since the rest of the family is still sleeping I decide to go and make myself useful and get the rest of our gear (canoe, small back pack and the canoe kart) that were left maybe 2km from the end of the trail. Once I get back I call my father to ask for advice regarding my foot with poison ivy and nail injury. After he tells me what to look for tetanus symptoms and what antibiotic take if my state starts getting worse I’m pretty reassured and feel confident I will be fine. Just after hanging up I go to the bathroom in the bush and get another surprise. A 3m long tapeworm exits my body as I liberate myself… WTF I cannot believe it… What’s next, I think to myself, kind of half laughing but kind of nervous as well. I call my father back right away send him a few pictures and spend the next half-our on google trying to figure out what kind of tapeworm it was and what to do next. I quickly figure out that it’s most likely a fresh water tapeworm (Diphyllobothrium latum) which is relatively harmless in some regards. The treatment is simple and my father sends medication our way for us to take. My crazy fatigue the day before seems to make more sense as its one of the potential side effects of having a tapeworm… When Magali finally wakes up I share the exciting new news with her and she can’t believe it. Once the whole family is up we finally make it to Lake Superior and find a campground nearby were we decide to take a day off and rest from our recent challenges.