Trip Journal: First Expedition (1992, Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada)

Diaries: The First Expedition – Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

The first attempts at anything always seem to be a tottering balance of strengths and weaknesses. Our first foray into the North Woods together certainly bore that out.

The weaknesses column seems, in writing, to overshadow the strengths. To begin with, we were young, all of us barely in college, with all of the attendant maturity issues inherent there. Added to that, we didn’t know the area. While comparatively forgiving territory like that found in Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota, wasn’t likely to kill or injure us, it did hamper our progress, creating a wide rift between what we could do and what we though we could do. In addition to THAT were a series of poor judgments, miscalculations and blunders that would take years to shake out. But every single moment of that was fun, and I think that will come through as you read these trip diaries.

“Fun” was our first (and maybe our last) strength. Everything that happened on that first trip was fun. In addition, we had accidentally pulled together a group of people (see ADVISORS) that were knowledgeable about a variety of North Woods camping aspects. That happy accident allowed us to overcome the aforementioned series of poor judgments, miscalculations and blunders. And have more fun. Finally, we were lucky, then and now. Maybe that was the greatest legacy of our youth. Which is rapidly approaching middle age.

James Janega
February, 1999

May 17, 1992 – Wilmette, Illinois

Two groups of people, one comprised of Chicago suburbanites, the other made up of college students from Iowa, hunkered down in couches across from each other. Our put-in point was already set: French Lake, on Quetico’s far northeast corner. Final decisions were being made on routes and menus.

It was talking about food that got everyone opened up, although it was standing around a table spread out with multi-colored contour maps that generated the most interest.

Individual personalities were beginning to meld into a group dynamic that would carry us through several trips together in coming years. Matt Cassidy’s voice carried a lot of sway: we were in his parents’ basement, we were pouring over his maps, and were getting advice from his father, who had been there-done that in a way none of us came close to. Matt had been to parts of Quetico since he was nine- or ten-years-old, and those of us who had camped in the North Woods listened to him carefully for advice on how to camp out of a canoe. Second to Matt was Don McGady, who had guided trips for a Boundary Waters outfitter in the Lac La Croix area. Don’s questions were always pointed: what was the country like? How clean was the water? How often were the portages used? James Janega rounded things out by suggesting how much equipment and provisions to bring, as well as began planning how to stow the gear for load-out in Wilmette and put-in at French Lake.

They were not the most interesting people in the room. The two women in the group, Missy Hills and Jody McGady, sister of Don, brought necessary personality and self-effacing humor to this trip. Whenever Matt, Don or James seemed to be taking something for granted, Missy or Jody would magically ask the perfect question to deflate an offending ego. Their sense of humor also kept things on keel when they got tough later.

The only missing party at that group planning session was Jason Hagedorn, a student at the University of Iowa and a college buddy of Don’s. Early on May 19th, Don and Jody would leave their parents’ home in Darien, Illinois, bound for Spencer, Iowa, a rendezvous with Jason and a quick nap. Together, they made up the Iowa Contingent. Sometime in the late afternoon, they would leave Spencer for International Falls, Minnesota, timed so they would arrive at the same time as Matt, Missy and James, who made up the Chicago Contingent, who would leave Chicago in the early afternoon of the 19th. Then, our two-Jeep convoy would roll east on King’s Highway 11 past Atikokan, Ontario, to our put in at French Lake. We planned on pushing away around 7 a.m. on May 20th. Those present on May 17th decided our route after putting in at French Lake.

The northeast portion of Quetico is unlike any other part of the park. Marshy, remote and unkempt, it became our destination after a ranger’s comment to Matt that it was nearly always empty. The route we planned that night would take us through the emptiest part of the empty. Travelling along the eastern shore of French Lake, we would find the nearly hidden mouth of Baptism Creek, wind our way up the winding, grassy creek past its intersections with several tributaries, and eventually come out on the rocky northern arm of Baptism Lake. Baptism Lake, its shores strewn with Volkswagen-sized boulders and its surface mined with just barely submerged, canoe-eating rocks, would be traversed from north to south. The route would split the lake into two roughly equal parts, each of which contain one or two deep bays that bottom out into reeds at the back shores. In the middle of the lake is its one distinguishing landmark: a huge, pine-covered island shaped like a tortoise’s back. South of the island by a half-mile or so was the rocky bay leading to a short pull-through portage into Trousers Lake. Trousers is named for its shape as seen from the air. The pull-through ends near the left ankle of the “trousers,” and the route then continued up the “leg” past a series of small islands towards the “waist.” The next few legs of the trip would obviously be the hardest. From the “waist” on Trousers, we would undertake a lengthy two-and-a-half mile portage to Cache Lake. Very little was known about the portage except that it was bisected by the Cache River, and that the French Lake ranger – after a moment’s pause – said it was “passable.” Cache Lake is much shallower than the three previous lakes, and is reminiscent of the kind of circular-shaped lakes you can find in Wisconsin and southern Minnesota. It’s also big for the region, about three miles across, and the even terrain surrounding it does little to protect paddlers from the elements while crossing. And if the portage from Trousers into Cache was bad, it was nothing compared to the four mile monster waiting on the south end of Cache. Actually appearing to be shorter than the previous portage on our maps, the next portage winds its way through alternating swampy and rocky terrain until it spills out into Lindsay Lake, a tiny lake perched atop a rocky basin about twenty feet above MacKenzie Lake, our ultimate goal. The distance as the crow flies from French Lake to MacKenzie Lake is about 15 miles. As we sat planning and drinking root beers and Mountain Dew, we all agreed we could make it onto MacKenzie in one hard day IF we put in early enough, and IF the weather was with us. About the time we made that pronouncement, Matt’s father, Tom Cassidy, passed through the room, shaking his head. Unable to resist, he returned to the map table, jammed a slender finger onto a point on Baptism Lake and pronounced “You’ll get here.”

Damn him.

May 19, 1992 – Chicago, Illinois and Spencer, Iowa to International Falls, Minnesota

The Iowa Contingent got off to a slightly delayed start. Not enough to delay our put-in the next day, but enough to cost Don and Jody a nap on arriving in Spencer. Instead, the McGadys and Jason Hagedorn hurled Jason’s gear into the back of the crowded Jeep Cherokee, tightened the tethers holding the Hagedorn family’s canoe to the roof, and pulled off for the drive north. More would soon go wrong. A short time before the Iowa Contingent left Iowa City, James hiked the two blocks to Matt’s house, dumped the contents of his pack out and helped Missy load her equipment in. Patiently, Missy stood by while Matt and James went through the “keep this,” “forget this,” routine. For probably the first time in her life, she didn’t tell either of them to stick their opinions right up their asses.

After a thirty minute delay in reloading the Cassidy family’s Jeep – by chance identical in make, model and color to the McGady’s – the Chicago Contingent roared north with Matt at the wheel. Sometime in the late afternoon, as the Iowa Contingent had reached southern Minnesota, the McGady’s Jeep developed a problem: it would not shift higher than third gear. The engine immediately began overheating, prompting Don to hold their speed to no more than 35 miles per hour until the sun went down and the night air cooled the engine. Windows unrolled, the Iowa Contingent suffered on.

The Chicago Contingent had a jolly time driving north on I-94 through Wisconsin, followed by U.S. Route 53 to Superior/Duluth, Minnesota. From there, Matt, James and Missy cruised northwest through the cold night air towards International Falls, Minnesota. Because the Iowa Contingent was delayed by engine problems, the Chicago Contingent found itself wondering what was going on when the midnight rendezvous came and went, followed by two more hours of waiting. Several attempts by James to raise the Iowa group by CB were unsuccessful. Disgustedly, he threw the handset into the front seat. Finally bored with the department store parking lot they were waiting in, Matt roared south in the direction of Iowa, hoping to get close enough to Don’s Jeep to raise the group on the radio. The rural two-lane highway, he was traveling on, U.S. Route 71, wound through a thick, cold fog. In the front seat of Matt’s Jeep, Missy cringed as Matt whipped around turns, sped past caution signs and plunged into dips that overran the headlights. About 40 miles south of International Falls, and almost three hours after their failed meeting, Matt and Don careened around a foggy turn in opposite directions, narrowly missing each other. As Matt hit the brakes, James dove over the front seat and frantically tried to raise the Iowa Contingent on the CB. For whatever reason, it never did work.

May 20, 1992 – French Lake to Baptism Lake

Sometime overnight, the McGadys’ Jeep began running normally. Cautiously, the caravan edged up to 40, then 50, and finally 60 miles per hour without a problem. The sun rose over frosty peat bogs nestled between dark black spruce swamps in turn peppered by lichen-covered granite boulders. King’s Highway 11 cut straight eastward from International Falls/Fort Frances towards Thunder Bay, Ontario, through blasted-out spines of stone. For more than a hundred miles, our group encountered only two semi-trailer tractor trucks on the road. Only the smallest of logging roads crossed our route. It was lonely. Tired but not caring, we arrived at the French Lake ranger station at 8 a.m. An hour later, we pushed off from a sandy beach into ink-black water under leaden skies. The ranger station, attending picnic benches and other man-made objects quickly disappeared from view.

We made our first mistake almost as soon as we pushed out from shore.

We cut a course through the middle of the lake towards where we thought Baptism Creek emptied out. The decision was made in an effort to make back time lost in the overnight trip. Instead, we missed the entrance into the Baptism, and instead wound our way through a lily-pad-choked waterway that was actually the mouth of Pickerel Creek. A few minutes into the mistake, the sun came out. Its position told us we were heading west when we meant to head south. After pulling alongside to consult our maps, we agreed on our position and turned awkwardly around through the lily-pads.

Now approaching the Baptism from the southwest, our landmarks were thrown off. Between us and what appeared to be the mouth of the creek was a half-submerged bed of thick water plants. It was impossible to paddle over, and would bear our weight as we cautiously emerged from the canoes to drag them across the spongy bed. The sun shone hotly on us as we dragged for a hundred yards or more to an open channel of water. Mistaking it for Baptism Creek, we climbed back into the canoes and pushed off upstream.

We now believe we had dragged the canoes into a tributary or side-channel of the French River, which runs closely enough to parallel to Baptism Creek that we felt confident we were on the right track. The heat continued as we sipped from our canteens and continued upstream into ever smaller and smaller channels. Sometime in the early afternoon, we stopped in a stream not more than six feet across. Thick foliage surrounded the creek, and it had dawned on us that, somewhere, we had made a wrong turn. We had no idea when, or how. The compass was useless because we had made so many turns in terrain of incredibly uniform features. Likewise, the maps didn’t point out our location because we had passed landmarks similar enough to those we expected to find on our route. Matt and Don tromped into the growth in search of a point of high ground from which to survey the river ahead. They returned disappointed almost an hour later.

We back-paddled until we reached a moose wallow a few hundred feet downstream, then turned around and worked our way back toward French Lake. Our canteens had been emptied during our last wait, and all felt leery of drinking the murky water in the creek. Some time later we found a promising current – strong and swift – that was probably the main channel of the French River. We followed it upstream on an instinct. A few miles upstream, we found a grassy marsh like many others we had paddled past all day. Moose and beaver trails wound between the cattails, tiny channels of water about two feet wide. From the top of a large boulder, Don looked across the marsh and spotted another channel on the other side, about two hundred yards away. We half-paddled, half-dragged our canoes towards it. It was already late afternoon when we at last were paddling up Baptism Creek. We knew we were on the right track when we reached the first of three mapped portages. For a hundred yards or so we carried our packs and portaged the canoes to a portion of the creek deep enough to paddle on. We reloaded the canoes and moved off, still thirsty and not trusting the water. Clouds closed in overhead and we began to wonder if rain would be added to our inconveniences that day.

The next portage – named the Goat Portage for its thin, rocky path trailing along a sheer cliff above the creek, not unlike an alpine goat trail – almost stopped us. Tired and dehydrated as we were, no one wanted to portage a canoe alone. Expecting an easy trail like the last portage, Matt, Don, James and Jason each grabbed a portion of a gunwale and moved up the trail. Boots slipped and rocks skipped down a rock face into the creek thirty feet below as we tiptoed along the narrow trail. Jody offered to help, but was turned down in annoyance by her brother. Not disappointed, Jody nodded and continued up the trail laden only with a Duluth pack.

The creek – actually a river – continued showing its many facets. Before reaching Baptism Lake, we paddled through a section of the current confined on both sides by nearly sheer, 40-foot walls, featureless but for reindeer lichen on their surface and spruce forests bristling along their heights. Like sentinels, lonely white pines curved up and twisted their watch over the spruces. The sky lowered above us as the light began to fail. We were still on Baptism Creek, and knew we had to be close to Baptism Lake. We had already begun looking for a campsite when we dragged the canoes over softball-sized rocks into the lake. A juvenile eagle rocketed past, following the river as we had to Baptism Lake.

After 30 minutes’ search, we found a perfect campsite on an isolated point jutting into the middle of the lake – exactly where Tom Cassidy had pointed to on the map a few days before. This site is now referred to as “Comfort Point”. There was space for two tents, and a stack of wood had been abandoned years before for building a fire. Racing the night, we set up camp and started our first campfire in-country. Minutes later, Matt had landed two nicely-sized Northern Pike. Dinner was hot and delicious, and the clouds cleared away once more to reveal the Northern Lights. Exhausted, we crawled into the tents.

May 21, 1992 – Baptism Lake

Initiative had been sapped from our small group. Missy actually wanted to leave early, perhaps the next day, but would have gone immediately if anyone else had agreed. The sunny morning calmed our nerves a bit, and we moved only about a quarter-mile to a small, rocky island adjacent to the turtle-shaped landmark island in the center of the lake. The move was mostly to separate ourselves from the exhaustion associated with the last camp.

Jason and Matt had some luck fishing in one of the lake’s bays, and by afternoon, Matt had taught Missy how to cast for northern. She caught and released at least four that afternoon.

Don and James paddled around the margins of the lake, loading their canoe with firewood and discussing the group’s disappointing progress. Clearly, they would not make MacKenzie even in one more day, a trip becoming logistically impossible given the time constraints of the trip. Both men watched the sunset in the southwest, glaring above the rocky bay leading to Trousers Lake.

Spirits were up that night, buoyed by rest, water and food. The loons in that part of the park apparently called twice a night: once at 11 p.m. and again at 2 a.m. They would keep up their schedule throughout the week, sending echoing calls back and forth between far-flung lakes every night at the same times.

May 22, 1992 – Baptism Lake to Cache Lake and back

The sun rose into a clear sky, prompting the first tentative discussions of continuing further into the wilderness. The idea met with resistance, particularly from Jason and Missy, although everyone soon agreed to day trip to Cache Lake.

Matt and Jody packed a single knapsack with food, toilet paper and garden trowel for the journey while James impatiently edged the canoes towards the water. Don and Jason joked about college friends, and were joined easily by Missy. By 10 a.m., the group took to the lake, paddling south past the tortoise-island and a semi-submerged seamount in the middle of the lake termed “Attila the Rock” by Matt and Jody. Cautiously, the canoes wound single-file through a minefield of submerged rocks in the southwest bay to Trousers. Two to a canoe, the boats were hauled quickly the few rods between Baptism and Trousers. Just as quickly, the canoes were launched westward up Trousers Lake’s left leg towards the Trousers-Cache portage.

The portage began with a steady incline up a trail comprised of moss-covered basketball-sized rocks that wound between spruce swamps and pine forest. Not wanting to tax ourselves with the canoes, we left them behind on the Trousers Lake shore. Occasional flashes of sunlight trickled down onto patches of green sedges that looked like lawn grass. Dwarf dogwoods and tentative wildflowers lined the portage path as we hiked south.

That first half – later called “the dry half” – ended when the trail became muddier and muddier and finally trailed off as a long beaver slide into the Cache River. The river wound its way from east to west between marshy grasses as far as the eye could see in either direction. Where the portage trail crossed the river, it had widened into a broad pond. We spread out, picking our way east and west in search of a likely crossing. There was not much enthusiasm when Jason called us over to a spot a few yards east of the pond. The surface of the river was only about seven feet wide, but was contained between floating pads of grass that probably overhung the swampy river’s peat banks by a foot or more on either side. Nevertheless, we decided this would be the crossing. Matt made a terrific standing jump, but came up a foot short of the far bank. Gasping in surprise as he clambered out of water that was actually above his head, he crawled through soggy grass on the far shore, put on his best smile and invited the rest of us to cross. With a little more reluctance, James hurled himself across, managed to put one foot on the far “bank” of floating grass, and plunged into the cold water as the grass mat gave way underfoot. Disappearing up to his head, he likewise clawed his way out of the river. He and Matt beckoned to Missy, who had already begun backing away towards the portage trail, perhaps contemplating an escape after all.

Jody was the next across, not even trying to avoid the inevitable soaking. Missy relinquished and jumped after Matt and James promised to catch her. Their help limited her to a waist-high soaking as their combined weight forced an even larger portion of the floating bank temporarily underwater. Don moved upriver a few feet before his own similarly doomed crossing. Jason, the last across, had stars in his eyes when the sopping denizens of the far bank looked back across the river. He backed up a few feet to get a running start.

“Don’t,” Matt said simply. The advice fell on deaf ears. Hagedorn took three running steps towards the river, water splashing up from every step, misplanted his jumping leg when he put his foot on the very edge of the floating grass mat on his side of the river, and disappeared into the black water. He surfaced with a wry smile. “I was sure I was going to make it,” he said.

Together again, we moved along the muddy half of the portage trail to Cache Lake. It was early afternoon when we found a fire pit in a long overgrown campsite, ate lunch and dried off.

On the way back, we dragged a fallen log to the river, crossed it like a balance beam, and barely got our feet wet.

Dinner that night was more northern pike, which seemed to be the only fish you could catch in Baptism Lake. After eating, Don and James announced their plans to day trip the next day to MacKenzie Lake.

May 23, 1992 – Baptism Lake to Lindsay Lake and back; Baptism Lake

Just after dawn the next morning, Don and James eased a canoe into the still water and paddled softly off across the lake. Yellow streaks of pollen covered the surface of the water unevenly, swirling away as the canoe slid past under a cloudless sky.

They set a heavy pace, about a stroke a second, comparable to a sculling crew. They shortly reached the pull-through to Trousers, picked up the canoe, and ran to the other side. A few strokes onto Trousers, devoid of the pollen on the last lake, James grabbed the two canteens they had with them and began filling one on each side of the boat. An iodine pill was dropped into each canteen to guard against bacteria, and they were replaced in the day pack, trusting on time and steady movement to mix them.

It was not quite 9 a.m. when they made the Trousers-Cache portage. Don hoisted the boat onto his shoulders and began portaging at a quick walk. James followed behind and quickly passed with the day pack and paddles. By 9:30 a.m. the pair reached the Cache River, plopped the canoe into the dark water submerging the portage trail, climbed aboard and began paddling. It didn’t work. The water was not more than one-and-a-half feet deep, pond or no pond straddling the intersection of trail and river. Cursing, James and Don traded custody of the canoe and moved on. Shortly after 10 a.m., they crossed the final 300 muddy yards of the portage, slid the canoe onto Cache Lake, boarded and pushed off. A few hundred yards from shore, they each wolfed down a granola bar – which would be their only food of the day – and washed them down with a few swallows of chemical-treated water. Agreeing the portage ahead was the unknown variable of the day, they pushed on at the same motoring pace they had used to descend Trousers. A spreading white pine and a fallen tree marked the beginning of the next portage. The trail left a gap in the trees like a dark maw.

Around the same time, Matt, Jody, Missy and Jason began a slightly more leisurely day of fishing and sightseeing on Baptism Lake.

Now at a more sober pace, Don and James began the Cache-Lindsay portage sometime around 11 a.m. Dwarf dogwoods and Clintoniae lined a trail sprouting with pleasant sedges. They traded the canoe once, then again, exhausting their short repertoire of songs in the next 30 minutes. Songs gave way to stories, and then stories began to give out and only footsteps remained.

The trail climbed rocky ledges, muddy drainages, uneven crossings and slipped under fallen trees. Beside it, the forest loomed impenetrably. An hour into the portage, a huge tree felled by Carpenter Ants the year before showed recent bear claw marks. Ants swarmed angrily out of the log where the industrious bear had clawed chunks of brittle wood away. Gingerly, the pair stepped over the log, resuming their songs a little more loudly.

A few hundred yards later, they dropped to the ground beneath the canoe when they could clearly hear the bear shuffling along the muddy trail just over the next low hill. Vowing to wait a half-hour, they moved off in 10 minutes.

Sometime in the early afternoon, Matt and Jody explored some of the quiet, sheltered portions of the lake, where they mapped out potential campsites for future trips. Missy, back on the campsite island with Jason, caught her fourth Northern Pike of the day. She released it. Her success at fishing had completely erased her earlier reservations toward the trip, as well as earned her the nickname “The Fisher Queen.”

The next obstacle for Don and James was a huge prairie (now a beaver-marsh), where the portage diverged into criss-crossed animal trails. On the far side, some 200 yards off, the trails disappeared into dozens of openings in the treeline, each one appearing as likely as the next to be the portage. James put the canoe down and began walking across in search of the path. When he found it, Don joined him and they walked along it for several yards to be sure it was the right one. Returning for the canoe they pressed on.

A sizable stand of adlers stood in an ankle-deep beaver pond. The prairie routine was repeated when the path crossed a well-maintained fire trail. The fallen trees became more and more frequent, none of them showing the tell-tale chainsaw marks that meant a ranger had passed that way. The trees were raked by bear claw marks. Finally, the canoe had to be left behind when they came upon a 120-foot red pine that had fallen lengthwise along the trail. There was no way around, and first Don, then James, began crawling beneath the tree. By 2 p.m., they reached Lindsay Lake, dropped onto the ground, and argued over how safe it would be to unwrap the remaining granola bars for a quick meal in what was clearly bear country. After a few minutes of back-and-forth, the bear they had been trailing all day long literally appeared from the underbrush a few feet away. As one, Don and James leapt into the chilly brown water, weeds flipping past their faces as they hugged the sandy bottom and swam as fast as they could away from shore. Fifty yards away, both surfaced to see the bear leaving, apparently having only been interested in a drink. Sheepishly, the pair returned to the shore and heaved themselves out of the water. With few words exchanged, they staggered back up the portage trail and retrieved their canoe.

The afternoon’s shadows grew longer in the forest as they put in at Cache Lake. A stiff wind blowing directly across the lake made the hour-long paddle to the far shore a difficult task. It was late afternoon by the time Don and James were crossing the Cache-Trousers portage, and both men recall hallucinating on the trek because of a mixture of dehydration and exhaustion, often forgetting where they were or which portage they were on. Both convinced themselves to keep their heads down and continue following the trail they were on. Interestingly, both resolved not to mention their confusion during the ordeal, each for fear of damaging the morale and confidence of the other. As the sun was setting, Don and James carefully piloted the canoe through the rocky bay on the south end of Baptism Lake. Once on open water, they sighted the campsite and paddled directly for it. Too tired even to tell the story, both youths collapsed on a rock while their friends brought them food and water. They had been moving almost without sustenance for more than 15 hours.

May 24, 1992 – Baptism Lake to Thunder Bay, Ontario

Matt, Jason and Jody were the first to wake up on another sunny day. The sounds of breakfast – granola bars and Kool-Aid – being dug out of the packs and laid out for consumption woke the others. Chuckling (but not quite believing, despite frequent interjected “I swear to Gods” and “Reallys”) as Don and James traded their versions of the previous day’s trip, the group slowly pulled its equipment together and loaded it wetly into the canoes.

Without the confusion of paddling upstream along an unknown route, the trip out was remarkably easier. Well rested, and drifting downstream anyway, we sailed over the short portages along the Baptism River. By early afternoon, all saw for the first time where the river emptied into French Lake, the mouth of the river we had missed shortly after putting in.

It was easy to see how that had happened. Meandering slowly through low country, the Baptism River had picked up decades worth of sand and soil runoff, carried it downstream a few feet at a time, and deposited it systematically in two parallel rows reaching out into French Lake. Over the years, the parallel rows had grown taller and wider, emerging from the water, as well as longer, curving around themselves in a series of “S” curves and a final clockwise spiral. On top of the sediment, first grass, then bushes, and finally alder trees had taken root. The end result was that the Baptism River, as large as it was, had only a small, north-facing mouth that was just a few yards wide. The mouth was well camouflaged from view by the alders, and grew to be nearly invisible the farther away we paddled from it.

So remote was the area we had been traveling through that most of us felt a mild sort of culture shock at seeing our cars, to say nothing of whipping along at 60 miles and hour along King’s Highway 11 toward Thunder Bay. Nevertheless, all quickly got into the swing of things after checking into the hotel. We hastened to shower off as much of the dirt and smoke trapped in our skin as possible, and then rushed downstairs to commandeer the hotel’s pool and sauna. As the sauna’s steam soaked into our recently-scrubbed hides, it found still more soot trapped in our pores. In a few minutes the sauna smelled like a smokehouse. Embarrassed, we plunged back into the pool and stayed there, comparably odorless.

College students as we all were, the dual balms of beer and pizza soon salved our ravenous hunger, and we collapsed into a sprawling, snoring, slightly drunken heap in our rooms, despite the action-filled Rutger Hauer movie playing on HBO.

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