Modern Day Voyageurettes - Women in the Wilderness

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Modern Day Voyageurettes - Women in the Wilderness

Postby paddlequest » Sun Aug 31, 2008 12:12 am

We, modern day voyageurettes, left the comfort of our homes, the security of our jobs, and the predictability of our lives, to go ‘up north’ for a week of adventure July 27 - August 2, 2008. We are four women who met last year on a similar journey and decided to travel again together as friends. The oldest is 57 and the youngest is 43. Our entry point is #30 Lake One and our pick up at #32 South Kawishiwi River. The route allowed us a relaxing journey with enough challenge to test our skills, muscles and competency. Knowing the ropes – how to pack, lift and carry a canoe, how to mark our maps, we took our time driving up from the western suburbs of Chicago. We spent the time catching up on each others' news. We practiced our bowline and taut line hitch. We sang to Dolly Parton, John Denver, and Kenny Rogers. We arrived in Ely to have a light supper at Northern Grounds and then off to VNO to repack, mark maps, and anticipate the adventure ahead.
Unable to sleep beyond 5:30 a.m., we leisurely finished packing, had breakfast, loaded the food pack, claimed paddles and PFD’s, and by 7:30, headed off to our entry point Lake One. We are traveling with one food pack, four individual packs with personal and group gear, and one small day pack. Just before leaving, we made a quick decision to leave Lynn O’Kane a note asking her to schedule spa appointments for us at The Pebble Spa. Dusty asked if we had ever been to Look Out Point and if not, did we have time to do take that side trip. We were all about adventure and spontaneity, so right turn on Look Out Road. From the height of land, we looked out onto a sea of green and gathered wild raspberries as we made our way back to the van.
By 9 a.m., we were on the water, right turn down the North Kawishiwi River. Our wilderness adventure had begun! Loading the canoes, remembering paddle strokes, maps out, all felt familiar and comfortable. Mother Nature had blessed us with the perfect morning – still cool, clear blue sky, and a light breeze felt on our skin. Women are socialized to work well together and communication comes easily. We have within us a sense of rhythm, of purpose, and focus as we head to the first portage. Turtles are sunning on the logs. Loons are diving nearby. Vultures are playing in the air currents above us. We greet others along the route wishing them ‘safe journey.’ This is my second journey this season and my fourth time on this route. The water levels are high making the portage landings a bit more difficult with Duralite canoes. The rapids are running with greater strength making lining the canoes less of an attractive option for safety concerns.
The portages, 20 rod, 15 rod, and 36 rod, remind us of who we are and why we came. We all go through life individually, one on one, and in larger groupings. We work together to lift canoes and load packs. As we settle the canoe on our shoulders or heft our pack and head down the portage, life becomes one step after another. We enter our own inner wilderness of thoughts and feelings as we negotiate rocks, roots, mud, and mosquitoes. As Sigurd Olson writes in Listening Point, "Then almost imperceptibly the trail led down the ridge, and it was then I caught the first sight of blue, just a glimmer through the trees but enough to take away the weariness and fill me with the same old joy I had known thousands of times in the past, an elation that never grows old and never will as long as men carry canoes and packs along the waterways.” His words resonate in our experience as we make our way down to the portage landing.
The walk back for the next load offers us a whole new perspective reminding us that no matter how many times we walk a portage or go through the daily ness of our lives, there will be something new for us if we stay present and expectant of new discoveries.
We line the canoes through the 5 rod portage filling our boots with water as we walk along the rocks. We stay on the Kawishiwi and head toward the island campsite delighted to find it open – home sweet home for two nights! First our lunch of turkey bagelwiches, chips, sliced tomato, and cookies before setting up camp. Old pros from last year we get the job done quickly for a swim, a nap, and just being.
I sit now with my feet dangling in the cool water gazing out at a crayola box of greens – pine green, spruce green, yellow green, grass green . . . The wind whispers through the pines and the canoes lap at the shoreline. Clouds are moving in with scattered showers predicted for Tuesday. I think about redoing the rain tarp as I am not satisfied with our first attempt. Watching the wind on the water and the stillness keeps me sitting on the warm granite that seems made for the curves of my body.
Tuesday morning about 5:30, the rain began to fall. One of the women really wanted to experience rain in the wilderness and had ordered up ‘three hours of rain.’ I hoped she was sound asleep – alas, not. I looked out the tent and saw aqua raingear circling and dancing her way over to our tent urging us to get up and come out in the rain. Where else would you get up at 5:30 in the morning to put on your raingear and sit on the rocks for the experience! One hour later she’d had enough and we all went back to our tents to sleep.
I awoke first, got hot water going for coffee, and savored the quietness of the morning stillness. I can hear the gently breathing of the women and realize that all is not still. The flies are buzzing. The turtle swims by. The fish jumps. The water flows. A bald eagle flies across the water. The wind rustles the leaves. The birds chirp. The ants move along the rock. Even in stillness there is much activity. As I sit writing, one breath follows another. It is only my mind that I want to quiet and be still.
Once everyone is up, we fix a hearty brunch of scrambled eggs with bacon bits and cheese, English muffins with jam, sausage patties, Tang and coffee. After dishes, we gather the first aid pack, the TP pack, some snacks, and set out to explore – destination to walk the 210 rod portage. We paddled wind and wave keeping watch for the tree trunks submerged in the water left from the lumbering days. We tied up our canoes and headed down the portage enjoying the walk with no canoes or packs. Little side paths got us closer for looks at the rapids. Seeing wolf scat on the trail, we looked for possible dens and discovered an abandon one. Climbing over the rocks we also found a deer jawbone, ribs, and a coffee can bucket with a bail handle. The Awesome Foursome headed back to camp to make dinner, tired and satisfied from our day of adventuring.
It’s Wednesday, time to break camp and travel on down the South Kawishiwi. Gray skies all day with lots of weather moving through. We don’t see anyone. No one on the portages and all the campsites are empty. We lined the canoes through the 15 rod portage. We finish the 30 rod and are hoping the first camp site is open. Canoes are coming in the opposite direction, so we hurry to land and secure the site. This site has at least three great tent pads with a rock front porch. There are wonderful places along the shoreline to sit and watch deer and the resident snapping turtle.
Putting up the rain tarp is not one of my favorite camp chores! With the large rock front porch, there are not many trees to facilitate putting up the tarp. So, it was time to rig it to get height in the center. The weight with line got stuck in the tree! So many creative attempts had been made that I was willing to cut the line and loose the weight! I walked away to set up my tent. Just as I was snapping the tent poles together, my tent mate walked toward me with a long stick. Sometimes we hold the solution right in our hands without realizing it! I could see on her face that she had figured out that the tent pole was the solution we were searching for! We got to work and retrieved the weight. We found a tree trunk that worked great as a center pole – DONE!
We stayed up late as the men at the neighboring campsite had been firing a small hand gun. We waited for their campfire to go out before we retired to our tents. Two of the women paddled over asking them to “please stop setting off firecrackers” as we did not want them to know we knew it was a gun. We gathered information as to group size, their outfitter, when they had entered the BWCAW, and where they lived, planning to report them to authorities on our return to Ely. (Once back in town, we were told that handguns are allowed in the BWCAW so no report was made.)
Thursday, the men are breaking camp and heading out! (They don't go far as we hear gunfire again in the evening.) We clean up breakfast, secure camp, and head off to explore. We are planning to make a loop portaging by dam #2 around to Little Gabbro and then the 122 rod portage back to the river. As we head to the portage by dam #2, we have to get out of our canoes and walk them through the rocks and rapids. At one point I turn to the women and shout, “if our mothers could only see us now!” We are having the time of our lives walking carefully through the water and watching our footing on the rocks. Once past, we chat with a group heading in the other direction and they discourage us from doing the loop. They tell us about the waterfall at the portage and we decide to go that far and have lunch at the top of the falls. Rain gear at 5:30 in the morning and lunch at the top of a waterfall – does life get any better than this! Simple pleasures as we embrace what life and Mother Nature has to offer! None of us seem to be in a hurry to leave. We sit watching and listening to the rushing water tumble over the huge granite boulders.
Back in camp, we all busy ourselves with tasks – no bake fudgy chocolate cookies being made with the antics of a very friendly chipmunk providing entertainment. Firewood is split and ready for the evening fire. I am studying the map deciding when we need to be on the water to make it to our take out point on time. The sun light dances on the water like fire works. So much beauty when we still ourselves enough to take it in.
Every trip I take, the week begins slowly and then all of a sudden, it is the eve of heading out. There is a melancholy that sets in as ‘the last’ begins to occur – last fire, last night, last opportunity to see the stars, and so on. And then the savoring of each moment because next year is 365 days away!
We break camp Friday morning and carefully pack our packs for the 147 rod portage we have ahead of us. Balance is so important, in life as well as on the portages. We have enough time to enjoy the river, watch the eagles soar, and greet those we pass as they begin their journey. This portion of the river is narrow and the water high enough to paddle through the little portage. We stop for lunch at an open camp site fueling ourselves for our longest portage of the trip. The women have decided they will carry through, no leap frogging of canoes or packs for them! We have a bit of trouble finding the portage but once landed, we load and go. No blue water through the trees – the tops of cars and vans become the welcome site. And the news that we have spa appointments beginning at 3:00 p.m! Life is Good! We carry in our hearts, minds, and souls, another journey of a lifetime, hopefully enough to sustain us until next year!Image
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