I’m doing an organized group ride starting at Itasca and following the Mississippi River back to the twin cities.

When I got to Ft Snelling for the start with my father in law, I was pretty amazed -I was the youngest person there by a decade. I was starting to worry that these old Betty’s were going to school my ass hard! Turns out, they just about all knew each other from the Hiawatha Bike club.

The bus ride to Itasca was just as long and boring as you’d imagine. The only excitement was the rest stop. Nobody told the driver how many people were on the bus, and he forgot to count. So we had a little missing person drama, when in fact everybody was already back on the bus.

The night in the cabins was comfortable and uneventful.

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Did another little S24O this weekend. Left from work, and rode with Tad to Tin Fish at Lake Calhoun, where we met up with Marcus. We ate a pile of fried food, and then pedaled off to Carver Park Reserve. The sky was clear and perfect the whole ride. We made crazy good time – Calhoun to Carver in just over 2 hrs. Tad’s single speed forced him to maintain a higher speed for cadence … We got to camp, and got the fire going, and then the rain hit and we huddled under Marcus’ tarp and drank. We ran out of scotch in a shocking hurry, so Tad and Marcus rode out to a liquor store and got a 12 of Heineken. We sat under the tarp and killed it. Loads of fun. The fire survived the rain, and we were able to cook our food after the rain passed. I basically made a giant hot dog out of a Kielbasa and a demi-baguette. Rocked. The rain had turned the campsite into a muddy bog, which made things very slippery, but surprisingly no tipsy campers took a fall. Hit the hay in a dry tent, and had a decent night. Rode out in the morning, coffee in Excelsior, and home by 10:30am.
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Went to the BWCA in early October of 2011 with a group of friends. The temps were great (lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s), the skies were clear, the friends were excellent, and the food was pretty darn good.

We left on a Thursday night after work, and drove up to Ely, with a stop for dinner at Toby’s. Arrived late, but got into the bunkhouse just fine. Got up nice and early on Friday morning, had some breakfast, and then went to the outfitter. An hour later and we, our gear, and our boats were on the water at Mudro Lake (put in 23). I didn’t ad any gear this year – didn’t need it.

The first day was very nice and cool. Although it was windy. We paddled thru Mudro into Fourtown, and poked around a little for sites. There was another group who was in the bunkhouse with us that was going in at the same put-in, so we felt like there was a little race for the good spots.

Ari and Dan scoped out (and stood guard over) a good one, and a the rest of us checked out the other side of the point. Both good spots, but we opted for #2. We set up camp, loafed, ate, and generally had a great time for the next 48 hours. Coming out was just the reverse of going in. Easy and fun.

Some highlights:
—> I made a bushcraft spatula for flipping the fish that Mike caught (but I had to kill and clean, and Pat filleted).
—> Perfectly smooth water the day we left – the reflections were super crisp.
—> Living in a city can make you forget what real stars are like. They were simply stupendous.

Now planning the next one …

Sorry for the terrible delay, but I’m finally getting around to posting about the S24O that Marcus and I did in June (!).  We did an S24O (Sub-24-hour-Overnight).  We rode from our houses to meet-up at Minnehaha Falls, had lunch at Sea Salt (where we were surprised by a bonus platter of calamari – can’t let any of that go to waste!), and from thence to Afton State Park.

This was the route, more or less.  I say “more or less” because I got us kind of lost in St Paul, and we ended-up running into Holman Field … Anyway, it wasn’t a bad trip, except for the low-speed low-side wreck in Lilydale due to really slippery mud washed over the trail.  With the additional wandering around in South St Paul, it was about 40 miles from my house to the Park.  As we got closer to the park, the terrain got hillier and the ups were harder on us tired old men.  But we made it to the park around 5pm.  And the road inside the park is pretty hilly too …

The camp site was nice, and the views were great.  We had a nice campfire, and ate freeze-dried food.  After hogging down all the fried goodness at Sea Salt, my gut was pretty bad.  But, Marcus the Prepared had a Pepcid in his kit and it worked wonders!  I gotta remember the Pepcid in the first aid kit!  I forgot the s’mores fixins again, so we had to rely on Marcus’ stash of scotch for the evening’s entertainment.  I had packed pretty light and was only using a tarp for shelter.  And I was packing so light that I didn’t have a pillow (that’s the cool way of saying that I forgot it …).  I set the Tarp up with the bike as a support for one end.  It worked OK, but I had the tarp too close to the ground and the condensation was like rain inside the tarp.  Ugh.  Coupled with the not-so-flat ground and no pillow, the night was actually awful.  I think Marcus was pretty snug/smug in his hammock.

From BikeCamping_Afton2011

From BikeCamping_Afton2011

From BikeCamping_Afton2011

From BikeCamping_Afton2011

The morning was cool and pleasant, and we had breakfast, and broke camp quickly, thinking that we were going to stop for coffee someplace along the way.  We kind of forgot that “along the way” meant Woodbury for a long ways – a desolate suburban wasteland of golf courses, giant high school sports complexes, and row upon row of basically identical tract mansions.  The first coffee we found was downtown St. Paul.  Argh!  Well, we had coffee, and made it home by 1pm.  All in all a good trip and a good first effort at S24O/touring/etc., and I’ll definitely do it again.

Gear-wise, I had the bike (of course) a rack and panniers, a Revelate frame bag, and a Maxpedition bag strapped to the aerobars in the front.  I got the weight down pretty well (although I wish I’d had a pillow) and it was pretty evenly balanced, front-to-back.  Marcus had everything in the back in panniers and on the rack, so he was a little rear-heavy.

 

From BikeCamping_Afton2011

 

From BikeCamping_Afton2011

This year was a totally new crew for the Boundary Waters. I decided to take my father-in-law (Charlie) for his birthday, and my neighbor (Pat) was interested in going. Of last years’ crew, 2 were having babies, and one had a conflict, so I was still short a fourth. In stepped a co-worker (Dan) to fill the final berth and (ultimately) provide a mountain of reasons to talk about Indiana. As before, I used Voyageur North as an outfitter for canoe rental and transportation. Gear-wise, the only changes were the addition of a new Therma-rest Neo-air mat, and the replacement of the old Quest Viper with a new REI Quarter Dome T2 tent. Both are significant moves in a lightweight direction for me. Oh, and the replacement of the old portage pack with a SeaLine ProPack (much more robust and with an actual “frame” for hauling).

Wednesday, May 19.

We met at my house in the evening to pack the car. So gear was spread all over the front-yard, and eventually crammed into Pat’s car for the drive up. Charlie was significantly over-packed, but that was remedied by leaving most of his stuff behind. ;-) I prepped and froze the steaks for Wednesday night.

Thursday, May 20.

At the crack of ass, Charlie and I piled into Pat’s car and then picked-up Dan. With us all aboard, we headed for Ely. Smooth drive and lots of interesting chatter. We arrived at Ely around 10 and puttered around Piragis for a bit before heading over to VNO. We checked in, John marked up the map, Pat got a fishing license, and they all watched “the video” for 15 minutes while I stole Pat’s car (and pulled it up to the van …). We loaded up the van and were at Entry #30 (Lake One) on the water by noon. The sky was totally clear and the weather was quite warm. I dumped my base layer and just went with shirt sleeves. Paddling was pleasant, sedate and hot. We had a little lunch at one of the early portages, and then pushed on. The water wasn’t as cold as we would have liked (for nice cold drinking water), but it did the job. We passed a couple that had gotten lucky with the fishing, and the woman was cleaning a nice sized northern on the portage trail (kind of in poor form) and trying to skin it with a multi-tool knife. Why they didn’t leave the skin on and let the cooking do the work is beyond me. And why they didn’t have a decent fillet knife and were using a multi-tool is also beyond me. We got one of the marked good spots at around 5pm, and leisurely set up camp. I was all excited to try starting a fire with no match, and it was easy! I had dryer lint, birch bark, and the wood was really dry. Caught in just a few strikes on the firesteel. We wrapped-up the green beans, fingerling potatoes, and the steaks, and put them to cooking on the fire grate. No scotch this time, and no s’mores (all ‘cause I’m an idiot and forgot them). The food was pretty good, although the potatoes weren’t done as much as they should be – I should have cut them up smaller. We ate well, and were stuffed. The evening was quiet weather-wise, but the bugs came out and made me run for a DEET refresh. There was a beaver that kept making a circuit around the campsite – we had some fun anthropomorphizing his exploits. Didn’t sleep so well that night. The Neo-air was fine, but I had a lumpy stuff sack for a pillow, and it kinked my neck. I also sweated balls ‘cause it was so hot.

Friday, May 21.

Morning was a little cooler, but not much. Breakfast was freeze-dried stuff. Everybody else was smart and did oatmeal. I tried a Breakfast skillet from Mountain House. The “eggs” were remarkably like styrofoam packing peanuts. Not good. I got the super cat alcohol stove to work just fine. I think it opened a few eyes to see a little cat food can with some holes boil water in 8 minutes. Anyway, We hopped on the canoes and went over to Little Gabbro and Gabbro Lakes. Pat and Charlie fished in one boat. The fishing was fine, the catching sucked. They got a couple of small fry, and through them back. We had lunch on a little island in Gabbro, and while we were eating, the wind blew a plastic bag into the water. Pat and Charlie tried to cast for it with their fishing poles, but they weren’t able to land a cast on the bag. So, I paddled out to get it. I should have sat in the middle. Trying to paddle back, the wind kept blowing me around and it was pretty hard to get back on the island (but I did). The wind was picking up, and the water was getting rough, and with a crew of newbies, I didn’t want us to be sideways and swamping, so we headed back to the more sheltered Little Gabbro and paddled around some more. It was really nice to just float around and check out birds, turtles, and other wildlife. It was pretty recharging. We got back to camp around 4 or 5 (who cares about time in the backcountry?) and set to fire- and dinner-making. I switched to lighting the super cat with the firesteel, and really got off matches. Dinner was pouch food. The beaver was back. There was an interesting time watching an eagle that had caught something get harassed by a couple of ravens. I don’t know if the eagle got to eat that night, or the ravens. Sleep was better, but still hot and sweaty. Ugh.

Saturday, May 22.

Morning of the last day. Oatmeal and packing-up. We paddled out to Entry #32, and arrived 2 hours earlier than we told the outfitter. Surprisingly, I had a cell signal and just called him to come get us. Technology does kind of come in handy … ;-) Cold bevs in the van. Showers back at VNO. Lunch at the Chocolate Moose. And a smooth drive back to the cities – which is where the %$#%$#^-ing construction hosed us up for a bit. But we made it. Another most excellent trip to the BWCA. I was glad to be back to the family, and was nicely recharged.

This year, four of us went to BWCA in mid-May. That decision had its pros and cons.

Gear-wise, there weren’t too many changes this year. I had the new shell (from a year ago), and that was about it. Instead of bringing a hatchet (which does have some maiming potential), I brought a folding sawvivor bow-saw and the camp knife (an old Ontario Knife machete that was cut down by my friend Alan into a bowie shape) for splitting. This combo was lighter than the hatchet, and served quite well for cutting and splitting firewood. I also brought a few figure-9s from Nite-ize, which turned out to be very useful for setting up tarps and hanging food bags.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We left mid-day on a Wednesday after a half-day of work, and planned not to return until Sunday. Again, I used a great outfitter – Voyageur North – and we spent Wednesday night at their bunk house. We got into Ely at 18:30 and were able to hit a restaurant for dinner and the liquor store. We checked-in at the outfitter and they marked-up Marcus’ map with the good camp site and fishing areas. Everybody was fishing except me. I volunteered to eat anything that was caught. Rob had driven-up separately, and arrived at about 3:30am on Thursday. So, he didn’t get much sleep.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday morning, we woke to snow. Not too cold, but snow nonetheless. We sucked it up and went out anyway. We put in at #23 – Mudro Lake and made for Horse Lake. There was one party on front of us, and they looked like they were heading for Horse as well, so we switched to Four Town Lake at the last minute. The sky was cloudy and it was windy, but the precip held-off. Marcus was experimenting with a different kind of footwear – knee-high neoprene socks under low hikers. They should have been waterproof, but weren’t. As a result, his feet were really cold, and we needed to take care of that, because foot amputations in the backcountry aren’t positively regarded. We found a nice campsite and set up in the blustery day. Rob took a nap. Marcus fished from shore. Ted and I hiked around to the other side of the bay and checked out a bunch of old junk from the old resort days. There was a rusted out Model-T truck, and a selection of old bed frames. Kind of freaky. There was also a lot of fur in clumps around the area. It was white with tan/brown tips, and I thought it was like dog fur, and could have been wolf. From the high-point of the ridge, we could see quite a ways, and waved at Marcus across the bay.

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We got back to camp and started to discuss dinner. During this conversation, a snowshoe hare got into Marcus’ stuff and stole his camp soap. We were puzzled by that all weekend. WTH? The soap?

By this point, the weather had cleared-off and it was quite pleasant out. We had packed in some steaks, fresh potatoes, fresh greenbeans, and scotch. The potatoes and greenbeans were cooked in foil over the fire with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano. The steaks, marinated in olive oil and season salt, were cooked directly on the fire grate. And, yes, it blew the doors off of anything else I can ever recall eating in the backcountry.

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Dessert was s’mores (courtesy of Ted and his 30-gallon plastic bag full of groceries). The evening was most stupendous, enhanced by Rob’s embracing his inner pyro and burning every bit of fuel that could be found. I do believe that the heavy cast iron fire grate was glowing slightly. Bed was 11-ish.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday dawned gorgeous. It was clear, bright, and relatively calm. Breakfast was eggs, real canadian bacon and tea. The other futzed about with fishing gear, and I packed. By late-ish morning, we had set-off. We paddled for an hour or so and fished and lunched on the north side of a little island. No great luck, but the views were stellar. We paddled across the lake, as the weather began to come up. Rob and I got separated from Ted and Marcus, and took refuge in a small cove. The wind was quite gusty now, and it was pretty hairy to be on the water in a small canoe! Eventually, Ted called us on the radio to say that he and Marcus had found a great campsite, so we paddled like crazy in the wind to get around the point to the new site. It was a nice location, and the sun was still out, despite the wind. We set up camp and went for another hike around the point. At the mid-point of the hike, we got some elevation and could see that the weather was moving in. A big wall cloud was racing for us, and we scuttled back to camp. It started to drizzle, but Ted and Marcus still went out to fish, and Rob and I stayed at camp. We got the fire going good, but the weather really came in hard – lots of rain and very strong winds. The tarp we set up near the fire was constantly blowing in and the fire was nearly put out by the rain. Rob and I ate freeze-dried dinner while waiting for the others. By about 7, Ted and Marcus returned – with FISH! They had caught a 20? Northern Pike and a 12?-ish Walleye. It was too miserable weather to cook them, however. So, Ted and Marcus ate freeze-dried food under the tarp. The tarp wasn’t big enough for all four of us to fit, so (since we’d already eaten) Rob and I stood outside in the rain and wind while Ted and Marcus boiled water for their pouch dinners.

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Early bed at 9-ish. Everything was wet and cold. General misery. My tent had seemed to leak, especially since we took the tarp that I usually use as a groundcloth for shelter by the fire. So, in order to stay away from the wet edges, I slept in the middle of it, and Rob slept in Ted’s tent. Marcus was dry in his hammock, but not out of the wind (as much as he would’ve liked). It rained all night. I was a little anxious about how the night would go, as I fell asleep.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday morning was cold (just under freezing) and snowy. There was snow on the tents and the ground.

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We all hung out in tents and sleeping bags until later in the morning, due to the cold. By the time I had to pee, it was nearly 9 am. My pants were still wet from the night before. The wind was still blowing hard. But, the little frozen, pellet snow was tapering. There was a confab. We were far enough from the take out (where we needed to be by 10:30 the next morning) that we couldn’t stay a second night. We needed to move, but the wind was making the lake really choppy – 2-3 foot waves and whitecaps, and we had to cross open water from our site. Actually pretty dangerous stuff, given how cold the water still was. We determined to make a go for a site on Horse Lake, and the move across open water was with the wind at our backs, so we could keep the canoes perpendicular to the waves. We still managed to get a little wet with bow-spray. We made it across the open water and thru the little portages. There was a longer portage that went around some rapids. Ted (ever the daredevil) convinced Marcus to run the rapids. The first (and only visible) set were pretty mild. Rob and I portaged. We could see from the far side of the portage that the rapids got much worse. I bushwhacked back to see if I could find the other boat. They were upright, contemplating the next set of rapids. I wasn’t close, but could shout enough to tell them not to run them, and they ended-up pulling the boat out by a little beaver creek and lugging it overland to the end of the portage. Marcus was OK with the first rapids, but commented that the second set would have violated his promise to his wife to “be safe”. Over three portages, Marcus ran with the fish on a stringer so that he could get them back in the water ASAP. We weren’t able to eat them Friday night, but weren’t going to let them get away. We eventually found our way around to another camp site. This one was very well sheltered from the wind. We set out all of our stuff to dry and Ted and Rob went fishing in a canoe while Marcus and I set up camp. Ted managed to catch another walleye, and so, for the final night, we had a pretty nice fish dinner.

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The wind cleared-out and we had a nice evening of s’mores and campfire.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The morning of our last day dawned clear, sunny and quiet. The lakes were glass-smooth, and the air was warm. Figures that the last day would be the nicest. We packed-up, and had a nice, mellow paddle back to Mudro Lake and the take-out. We were right on time to our pick-up and had a pretty uneventful ride back to the outfitter. A quick shower and we were on the road back to the cities.

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When I moved to Minnesota, I had to come up with something other than mountains to tickle my outdoor itch. When in Minnesota, there’s lakes, and lakes are what people do. So, I started planning what I can do on lakes. Back in 1995, I was able to come along on a trek to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a buddy’s graduation gift, and I really enjoyed it. So, I started planning a BWCA trip. I found a few folks at work that were like-minded, outdoorsy types.

We went to the BWCA for a long weekend – 2 nights in the back country. There were 4 of us, so two canoes, two tents, one camp. And a bit of rain. Well, a lot of rain. I had been planning this thing since late August, which gave me plenty of time to buy more gear for it. Moving to up-nort activities (from the nice, dry, bug-free mountain west) meant dry bags. Oh, and I needed a new <a type=”amzn” asin=”B003W9JK98″>knife</a>. I also took a small hatchet. Your basic 1 lb hardware store jobbie that I had reshaped the head, and gave it a real edge. I can really see why the woodsfolk here really value a hatchet – with a decent edge, you can do some remarkably fine work. In this case, it was a lot of splitting wood to get to (hopefully) drier wood in the center to actually burn … I was way happier to do that with a small ax than with a big knife.

We left Mpls late (big surprise there) on Friday and got into Ely (after a stop for dinner in Duluth) around midnight. The outfitter that I was working with has a bunk house and set us up for the night. He left the key at the 24 hour gas station next door. Good news for us. Next morning (Saturday) we grabbed breakfast at the Chocolate Moose, and met the outfitter. We watched a video about safe travel in the BWCA, got fitted for PFDs and loaded our gear in the van. They drove us to entry point #30 on (the imaginatively named) Lake One. Loaded canoes and we were off.

We spent the next five or so hours paddling along the South Kiwishiwi River. Eventually, we got to the area that had the campsites we were interested in. It turns out, the ones the outfitter suggested to us where all occupied. We realized this, and took the first open one we found. Not a bad spot, but I ended up with my tent in a low spot that was already suspiciously muddy. We were barely successful getting a fire going, but it’s didn’t matter so much because it was quite (unseasonably) warm. So warm in fact (and there’d been so much rain) that the mosquitos were confused and thought it was still September (or maybe even August), cause they were out. I will endure basically any climatological challenge, but bugs irritate me disproportionately to others; I hate ‘em. I had planned a trip in October in northern MN to avoid the bugs. No can do. They were brutal (to me). Saturday night was basically a pleasant night camping.

Sunday morning, we moseyed around and weren’t moving too fast. Had a little breakfast (the ubiquitous oatmeal), and got on the water. We basically paddled around and checked out Little Gabbro Lake and (regular) Gabbro Lake. Pretty country. Ted mugged for the camera on a tiny rock just above the waterline. We saw some eagles, but no moose. We had some lunch on a small island and were back on the water poking around when we saw some very dark clouds coming towards us fast. We made a bee-line for the closest shore and made it just as the rain came down in buckets. We flipped over the canoes and tried to shelter under them as best we could while the storm moved through and lightning struck less than half a mile away (that’s awful close when you’re huddled under a fiberglass boat with AL gunnels and rails …).

It passed and we got back on the water to head back to camp. Sunday night, we were more effective at getting a fire going (due to the generous amounts of birch bark from downed, dead trees that burned to dry out the other wood). Thankfully, we still had a small MSR stove that I brought that allowed us to cook our food without needing to cook over the fire that wasn’t cooperating. After dinner, we were hanging out and heard something banging around in the woods. After the initial little freak-out, we went to investigate and found a beaver had basically felled a small birch, drug it down to the water and was in the process of swimming with it across the lake. It was really weird to hear the gnawing sound of a beaver felling a tree. That was new to me. After the beaver excitement, we turned in.

Four hours later (at 2 am), I wake to the sound of rain pouring on the tent. It’s really dumping. That’s really loud on a nylon tent. I was quite pleased with my old Quest Viper, it did a great job of keeping the wet stuff outside. I lay there for a long time, listening to the rain. I think Rob was actually sitting up for a lot of it, since his sleeping pad was short and he was trying to stay on it …. Around 3:45, I sat up and was dinking around with something in the side pocket and put my hand on the floor of the tent. It was just like a waterbed mattress. The tent floor had made a relatively impermeable membrane, but we were still camped in a few inches of water (at least).

By this point, it’s getting on to when we were going to have to get up anyway, and the rain started to slacken. So, we just got up and started to break camp. Ted and Nick were blissfully unaware and sleeping through most of this (in their higher-ground camping spot). I’m really thankful for the decent sized vestibules on the tent – my boots were basically dry and most everything else under there was OK as well. Of course, it’s still dark (and overcast – no moon). So we packed up the whole camp by headlamp. I’ve done this before (or some other significant activity), so it didn’t bother me. I took some pictures of the tent in the muddy, nasty water. We made some breakfast (in the dark), loaded the canoes (in the dark), and headed out for the rendezvous with the outfitter (in the dark). Dawn light came on about 20 min into our paddling. We found our way to the take out (#32) and discovered a pretty long portage to get to that spot. That was rough – 4 hrs sleep, already going for a work day, and now I get to lug a 55 lb dry bag for about half a mile. We finally got all the gear to the pick-up spot, and it turns out we were there about 30 min early. Not bad precision for basically guessing. Back at the outfitter, took a quick shower, loaded up the car, had lunch in Ely, and started back down. We took a wrong turn out of Ely and headed for the North Shore instead of Cloquet, but we made up for it with a stop at Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors. And yeah, it’s hard to stay awake in a car after being up since 2 am on 4 hours of sleep. All in all, a great trip. We had a little rain, but it could have been way worse. It was warm, and everything dried out pretty well. I’m eyeing April … Any takers?