Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Adventure Begins: Getting to the Quetico

Loon at Bottle Rapids Portage

Marv was running the meeting. Don was there. So was Carolyn and a few others, all gathered around a table in the conference room discussing several situations in need of attention. I volunteered to write two letters, but hadn’t made any notes. As we broke up, I had to get the addresses from Marv and asked Don if I could run the letters by him before mailing them. He agreed and we walked out of the building. Once outside, we were no longer in Salt Lake City, but Africa. We got into an old 2 ton truck. It was hot and I didn’t want to be squished into the cab, so I volunteered to ride in the back with several Africans. I could hear the radio and all the talk was about calls for Musharraf to resign. We drove out of the parking lot and down a dirt road and out into the bush, passing several checkpoints. Soldiers with guns were lining people up. One of the African men told me he was glad to be riding with us, that most of those who were being lined up would be killed, but he’d be okay with us because we were white. But at the next checkpoint, we were all ordered out of the truck and lined up at gunpoint. I was scared; I kept hearing in my head the man’s comments about those lined up being shot. Then a fat African woman came out and started leading us in stretching exercises, supposedly to see if we were carrying anything concealed. Then the stretches became aerobics and my alarm rang. It was time to get up and I had things to do before leaving for the Quetico.

We meet at noon, which allowed us all time for church in the morning. There were six of us (Doc, JB, HM, BV, TM and me), riding together in a 10 passenger Dodge diesel van that HM had rented from a friend of his who is a Dodge dealer. For $200, this can’t be beat. The van is large enough that we can stand up. It allows us all to travel together with our gear, keeping us from having to take two vehicles. I crawl in the back. I’ve brought along for reading Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari. I’ve had this for two years, but haven’t gotten around to reading it. 100 pages into the book, I read about a trip on the “longest road in Africa, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya. It’s as if I’m reliving my morning dream… Where did that dream come from anyway? All those folks from Utah, but Marv and Don weren’t there at the same time and interestingly, none of us are there now. And when did Musharraf move from Pakistan to Africa? Obviously, I’m still under stress. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for sometime, to be away from computers and cell phones. For the next ten hours, we talk, read and sleep as we make our way around the southern part of Lake Michigan, through Chicago (where there’s a traffic jam on Sunday afternoon), and north into Wisconsin. We stop in Rice Lake, spending a short night in a Microtel, before loading back up and driving on to Crane Lake, MN, arriving at 10:30 AM.

Leaving Canadian Customs

We are met at Crane Lake by Brad, who works for Zup’s Outfitters. We haul our gear onto his boat, park the van and in no time are on our way north into Canada. At the custom office, which is a remote post on a lake, we’re asked if we have weapons or anything to declare. He looks at our passports, but doesn’t stamp them.

Railroad Portage
In five minutes, we’re back onto the boat and heading toward Zup’s. The trip is exciting, as there are two portages for this large boat, where it is dragged over the height of the land on rails, in a cart pulled by cables. When we finally get to Zup’s basecamp, located on Lac La Croix, we obtain permits and fishing licenses and pick up three 18 foot long Kevlar Canoes, which are loaded onto the boat.

We’re driven by boat another 18 miles, to Bottle Rapid Portage. The 20-some foot boat, powered by a four stroke 220 horsepower Yamaha, makes quick time of the trip. Things slow down once we get to Bottle Rapids. The 120 rod portage (about a 1/3 of a mile) takes us from the lands of motors into the wilderness of the Quetico, where motors are not allowed. Because of shallow water, the boat drops us 100 yards from the portage. We throw our gear into the canoe and begin to paddle the short distance, stopping to observe a loon fishing. I’ve seen loons up close, but it’s a real treat to see the bird swim 10 or 15 feet underwater, in search of its prey.

At the entrance to the portage, we meet two biologists heading into the Quetico. These two women are studying the recovery of burned areas and are heading to a site that had been burned four years earlier. The talkative one, Brand, is from Wales. They work well together as a team. We get our boats and gear overland about the same time, but they are much quicker loading their canoe. They say goodbye and paddle away, each one quickly digging their paddles into the water in rhythm. They’re obviously become well seasoned with working in the backcountry, in this land where access, even the rangers and scientists, are limited to canoes and paddles. By the time we have our gear secured and are ready to begin paddling, the two women are out of sight.
Campsite at Rebecca Falls

East side of Rebecca Falls
Our first day's paddle is only three or so miles and we make good time. We stop to camp at the top of Rebecca Falls. After setting up camp, we take a few minutes to fish before starting dinner. HM is the only one to catch a fish large enough to keep, a 16 inch smallmouth bass. It’s filleted and skinned and dropped into water with the noodles for our mac and cheese. After dinner, I explore the island that sits in the middle of Rebecca Falls and try my hand at fishing. I have a few strikes, but miss them all. I’m skunked; tomorrow will be a new day. As the sun goes down, the sky turns purple and the mosquitoes come out. Soon, we retreat into our tents. We’re tired, but mostly we want to get out of the bugs. The temperature has dropped. I read a few more pages of Theroux’s journey, and then fall asleep. I wake up several times in the night. The stars have disappeared behind clouds. Early in the morning, I look out and notice that the stars have disappeared behind clouds. This was supposed to be the best night for viewing the Perseid’s, but not here. Instead, I fall back asleep and am a POW in the Civil War. But this isn’t a nightmare as there’s lots of laughs and jokes and pranks. The dream seems like an episode of Hogan’s Heroes, only in a different war.


  1. What a wonderful adventure! You've amassed memories for a lifetime in just that one trip.

  2. OMG. That last photo is... wow.

    Next time you venture to Rice Lake, pick up the paper and read the Police Log. I'm telling you, it's the best entertainment there is.

    Sounds like a fabulous trip. I'm happy for you.

  3. Such amazing scenery that few people will ever see . . . hope the stress eased up on you.

  4. Good to see you back. However I am away at Bangalore to be with my brother and his family. I will get back on 24th.

    Those photos are awesome.

  5. Kenju, it was a wonderful trip, but I've been blessed with many wonderful outdoor adventures. For two of the guys, it was truly the trip of a lifetime and they were really amazed.

    TC, on the way back (at the suggestion of one of the other guys who goes up to this area as often as I go West), we ate at the Rice Lake Supper Club, that was also a unique treat (I'll probably say something about it in a later post)

    Diane, it did, for about 8 days :)

    Gautami, I hope you're having a wonderful trip.

  6. Good thing you woke up when you did. No telling how far the aerobics with the fat African lady would have went.

    How come you guys didn't take the ferry across to Wisconsin? Is it passenger only and not vehicles?

  7. I often have dreams after falling asleep reading a good book where I'm in the continuation of the story. I always enjoy those dreams.

    I've only been up to that area once, a year or two before the big fires that went through the area, and thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It was so relaxing. In the heat of the afternoons, I would often wear my life jacket, put on a wide brimmed hat and float in the water half asleep. Sometime I would come to bumping against shore and other times I would have a little bit of a swim ahead of me.

  8. Murf, that ferry is expensive and from here doesn't save any time

    Ed, the interesting thing about the first dream is that I had it before I started reading the book... but I knew I was taking the book along and a bit about what it's about. I swam all but one afternoon (and then it was raining). I should have tried your idea of a nap, that sounds relaxing (and maybe I'd get my hat washed as it floated on the water)

  9. Sweet photos. I can't wait for more.


  10. How did you handle the mosquitoes? With Deet? Are they afraid of that stuff at all? Or you just let them eat you as they please? Share some tips on mozzies if you have please :)

    Look forward to more stories.

  11. Sherman, we're just starting

    Mother Hen, I had 100% deet with me and never used any of it. I have some cream that's about 35% and used it sparingly and it worked. In the evenings, I'd put on long sleeve shirt and pants and that worked best--I also had a head net but didn't need to use it

  12. Ahhhh! Deet cream? Never heard of it so will need to check it out. Personally I don't like the spray stuff. Yes saw that 100% deet bottle before - boy that stuff could kill you, in my opinion! :()

    With all the frogs dying from whatever virus, mozzie problem is worse this year in where I live, so I've been bitten badly this year from all the hikes even with long sleeves shirt and pants on. It's time for me to get that deet cream! Arh, I don't really like to use that stuff actually! :()

  13. Mother Hen, I carry the 100%, but have only used it when the mosquitoes are real bad and only then I spray it on clothes, not skin. This trip, they never got that bad--if I'd stayed out the last night, they might have been, but I retreated behind netting. I've seen mosquitoes swarm with 100s around your head, biting through clothes, etc.

    At the risk of feeling like a snake oil salesman, here is what I use. You don't need much of this and it's effective and last longer than OFF and the type of stuff you get in regular stores.

  14. Hello, Michele sent me to say that sounds like a great place to vacation - and from your dreams, it sounds like you needed it.

    We had loons at our vacation spot this summer too - lots more this year, and more vocal than usual too.

    Lovely pictures, too.

  15. This sounds like a promising start to your trip. That photo of the purple sky reflected against the lake is breathtaking.
    I have strange sort of geographically skewed dreams too. Its amazing what our psyches can concoct.

  16. That's a real type of adventure. So many thrills to see.

    Michele sent me.

  17. Hi Sage..I read only the first few lines...time is not my side now (have never been). Will return again to complete the whole thing,buddy. c ya.

  18. What a story! The pictures of Rebecca Falls are fabulous!! For purple skies like that, I'll put up with the bugs!

    I'm glad your journey went well and I hope to hear/see more!!

  19. Thanks for letting us live vicariously through your travels! Such logistics to get there but as I read of your experiences once you arrived, it became clear it was worth it. I want to hear more!

  20. Your pictures and words are, as always, magical. You have a serious gift for capturing the spirit of an experience. I feel the need to read and see more.

  21. You had me so confused at the beginning :) Glad it was a dream as I'm pretty sure I would have remembered if you were taking a trip to Africa

    The pictures are incredible

    I have been wanting to tell my "God's Country Tours" anecdote for a long time--keep forgetting

    If I'm not around for awhile--it's not you--I have so much to do when I get back to New York and might declare computers off limits

    I'm in serious need of three to five days without any responsibilities.

  22. What a journey you had, and such beautiful pictures to go along with well-written story. I enjoyed it.

  23. Hi Sage, thanks for the link, it's helpful. I didn't get to buy it before going on another hike yesterday, so I was bitten again :() will definitely seek that out this week when I go to the stores.

  24. That sounds like a great adventure, and less scary than the dreams!

    The pics are great but particularly the last one where the colours are magnificent!

    Michele sent me over to say hi :)

  25. great account of a wonderful trip.

    thanks for dropping by my place.

    you pictures are vivid and add a lot to your post.

  26. You have about as much beautiful natural colors in that post as I have ever seen anywhere at one time that wasn't tricked up. Wonderful.

  27. Now that I've finished part I I'm caught up. I love the dreams. reminds me of some of mine. But, lately they're more crappy than good. Pun intended. Did ya ever catch up with the women?

  28. Dreams and adventure mingled together to make love with mother nature. Thanks for sharing Sage.