Trip Journal: Northern Cross (1999, Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada)

Diaries: Northern Cross – Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

7/17/1999, 3:22 P.M.

On I-94 Heading Northwest. We are now entering the lovely town of Long Grove. Three vehicles and five people comprise our transportation for this group (or at least the one’s we’re bringing with us). The vehicles? Well, first we have the Groenewold minivan. The Groenewold’s are Betty’s parents and they were gracious enough to lend us their vehicle…

The second vehicle is Matt’s Saturn. This car has seen more than a few trips and currently has over a hundred thousand miles on it. The third vehicle currently resides on top of the minivan. It is the Groenewold’s canoe. We will be renting the second canoe from a local outfitter near Quetico. Writing from hindsight resulting from me transcribing this journal into the computer after the trip… I can safely say that all three of these vehicles will have stories of their own before the trip has ended.

As of now, I have already purchased and partaken of my traditional beef jerky and chili-cheese Fritos. They now reside- along with a healthy swig or five of Arizona Beverage’s Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey- in an uncomfortable lump at the lower half of my stomach. Perhaps it is time to come up with a tradition which is less destructive to my general well-being.

Oops… As I write this sentence, we are now passing by Great America (the one in Illinois) and Gurnee Mills shopping center… All to the tune of Ride of the Valkyries, on the CD player… Somehow the musical piece seems a bit too… Grand… For a large shopping mall and amusement park…

OH! I should mention the cast of characters for this trip! Our expedition leader is the fearless Matt “Dances With Trees” Cassidy. The Trip chronicler is none other than the enigmatic Dave Gummersall (when you’re the one writing, you get to chose any descriptive words you want, for yourself… It’s a fringe benefit). Other’s on the trip include: Mark “pack mule” Zeutzius (my apologies, if I misspelled your name, Mark), Dan Klest, and Betty Klest. As mentioned earlier, it was Betty’s parents that supplied the minivan and the canoe. Of this group, three of us (Dan, Betty, and myself) have never done anything quite like this. There have been at least a few times where yours truly has seriously wondered on the state of his sanity…

3:48 P.M.

We recently crossed the Wisconsin border- and were almost immediately hit with a short-lived but strong thunderstorm…

Oops. Never mind about the short-lived part. It’s back…

I think I’m going to stop commenting on the storm, in the hopes that it will forget about us and leave…

3:55 P.M.

It forgot about us. Hey! Now we are passing by the truly unique Mars Cheese castle. One wonders: do they truly get their cheese from the Red Planet?

…And time passes…

…Lots of time…

…Hum de hum…

…Hours of driving…

…Through Wisconsin and …

…Scenic Minnesota…

High points?

We hit Duluth rather late in the evening. Close to one a.m. It had transformed into a city of lights. The buildings (warehouses and factories) only were hinted at by grids and strings of lights. We made a traditional stop at a Perkins there for a midnight (actually a bit later) meal- the last “decent” meal any of us would have for a week.

After Duluth, we hit what must have been some new road, carefully and rather overzealously outlined by reflectors imbedded into the road… Something like ten feet apart. This, combined with a total lack of other lights (either street lights or other…) made for a surreal experience. We likened it to playing some sort of video game.


It’s late morning to early afternoon. We arrived an hour or so ago and broke up into two groups. Mark and myself stayed at the launch site with the gear, and started to organize. Matt, Dan and Betty went to check in at the ranger station and get the second canoe. They also had to position one of our cars at the exit point of the trip, so that we had transportation when we ended our adventure. We expected them to be gone around two hours… Again, writing from hindsight, I know now that was not to happen…

While they were gone, Mark and I brought down the canoe and some bags to the river. As we waited, several other groups arrived and put in. At one point, a very large group (twenty-one people) worked its way into the water. Actually, I think it was three groups. There was one guy who looks like he’s in his mid- twenties, and probably a group leader. There was also a boy who greatly reminds me of my friend R.F., as he was in his mid-teens. He was broad of shoulder and body, and wore fatigue pants and bandana. The kid saw my knife and immediately made a comment about its manufacturer and quality. Full of opinions and ideas on weapons…

The kids seemed like a good bunch. They were actually rather quiet, considering the fact that there was a group of twenty-some odd teenage boys going camping together. I’m guessing that the kids were American. One of them had a “Wisconsin Bow Hunters” patch on the right shoulder of a hunting-fatigue style jacket.

Also, while we waited, we ran across another group and an individual of interest. Mark and I had the pleasure of meeting one Doug Chapman, an outfitter in the area. He was setting up a group of fishermen for a trip into the park. Doug is a bit of a legend in this camping circle, and quite a character. The half of our team who went to rent the canoe rented it from Doug. He was a very friendly and jovial man who delighted in teasing Mark and myself. Unfortunately for him, at least one of his teasings fell flat, as the town he referred to was unknown to either Mark and I. The town was over two hours away and he had told us our missing members were on their way to there… Which would have made their return time even later than it had already been.

So far, the weather had been great. I wished we were already underway. There were only scattered clouds when we got here, but since then, more clouds have rolled in.

After an hour or so more, the rest of our party returned and we were on our way. Did I mention that this was- essentially- the first time I went in a canoe? Yeah, sure, I was in one by myself without any gear sometime in high school… But that was only for less than an hour, and I was young and stupid. Now, however, the story was different. We had three people in one canoe and two (plus extra gear) in the second. I was the middle guy in the three person. And oh my, did that thing feel wobbly. Yikes. I started off having fears that we would tip in the middle of the lake and half our gear would go to the bottom. Not to mention the indignity and fear of getting dunked wearing all your clothes in deep water five hundred meters from the shore. Matt, our leader, had strictly enforced a lifejacket-required rule just in case this did happen. I didn’t complain.

That first day, we canoed seven miles into the park, and stopped at Quetico lake. We had put in at Beaverhouse lake, and had one (short) portage. It was kind of cool, as there was an old log jam dating back to the park’s logging days, running along the portage path. That, and the rusted out hulk of a vintage automobile. Pretty spiffy.

Upon reaching a suitable camp site and setting up, we commenced dinner. Dinner was tomato soup and grilled cheese, cooked over the fire. We brought canned tomato soup and ate it the first night both to conserve weight (canned food is quite heavy) and to have a special meal for the first evening. It was yummy. Of course, almost anything cooked over a fire after canoeing is yummy.

We did have a bit of trouble with the fire. There were a few factors involved here, some of which would continue to haunt us the whole trip. First was the relatively poor construction of the fire pit. Then there was the fact that the wood was a bit damp. And finally… We really weren’t very good at starting a fire. The friends of ours who are the so-called “Fire Gods” were not on this particular trip… And they were missed.

The rest of the whole “making camp” thing went smoothly. The tents went up, and we unpacked our gear with minimal problem. The evening ended just before darkness…

And now for a survival tip when camping in Quetico: when the sun sets, dive into a nearby tent, zip it up tightly, and don’t come out until morning. All processes, both biologic and logistic must be done at least twenty minutes before sunset. When the mosquitoes hit, they hit unbelievably hard. First they appear as- and I’m not kidding- a pervasive hum from deeper in the woods. Then they come roaring out like something from a “B” horror movie. It’s this unearthly roar that you just have to hear to believe. If you look out of the mesh tent door from the inside, you can see scores of them just hovering outside, smelling you with their tiny, evil noses…

“Let us in… You smell so tasty! I can smell your blood… Ahhhhh…”


After something like ten hours of sleep, we staggered out and started breaking camp. It was around noon. We had a bit of breakfast. Oatmeal specifically. We had the “and creams” packs. Strawberries and cream, bananas and cream, etc. etc. Everyone was going “oooohhhhh, AND CREAMS!” Yet again, all food is better when cooked over a camp fire, seasoned by hunger. Even cheap oatmeal packs.

We launched rather late, as no one was moving quickly, but did well. I started out in front of the metal (aluminum)canoe (which we ascertained was more stable, and therefore more suitable for three people) with Betty (still nursing a headache that had started the night before) in the middle and Matt in the rear. The plastic canoe had Mark in the rear and Dan in the front. And so began our canoe route. I was having trouble with the shoulder muscles on my right side. It turned out that a great deal of the problem was due to poor technique (Matt helped me correct it). Technique is very important. Matt told me this at the start, and now I really believed him.

After a while, we followed a river filled with marsh plants (like thick grass). We stopped at an island at one point to pause, pee, and eat a few Nutra Grain bars (free promotion there…) The island itself was obviously the victim of a fairly recent? fire. Whether natural or man-made (there was a camp site on the island) we couldn’t tell. We saw a few fish, a beautiful blueberry bush, and lots of dead bushes just fifteen feet from the rock edges. After a pause, we were once again on our way.

Heading up to our next portage, the stream started changing into more of a jungle/marsh type environment. The water got more shallow and there was an abundance of water plants. Some were like large grass (two breeds, one with thicker stems than the other), and others were lily-pad like. One specie of “pad” had beautiful white flowers in the center, while another-which was much more rare- had smaller, yellow flowers. Of course, I know nothing of these plants, which means they could have been one specie. But hey, they looked different. Eventually, we reached our next portage. This one turned out to kind of suck. It was slippery, steep, and muddy. Generally not fun. Carrying canoes over scenically jagged terrain isn’t tremendously fun. We exited at the Kasakokwog lake. This particular portage took a lot out of us, so we found the closest good camp site and stopped for the evening. This site looked nice to everyone. However, it will be forever known to me as the “evil campsite”- as I was getting bad vibes from it while we were there. A rock ledge above the fire pit made for a convenient shelf for our cooking stuff. Dinner tonight? JANK!

JANK ingredients:
-Dried stuffing mix
-Crushed Cheese-Its
-Mashed potato mix
-and seasoning…

All this is thrown together with boiling water to make a heavy mess that has the consistency of fluffy mashed potatoes.

Seasoning is the key here. Without it, Jank is basically starch with some sort of bland flavor-like substance mixed into it. It has become a goal of mine to enhance this recipe before the next trip I go on. This time, we put little bits of pepperoni (sprinkled on top) into the Jank. The night ended with two things. First was a beautiful sunset. The second was a soap-less bath in the lake. Ohhh! Sooo good. I jumped right in and scrubbed vigorously, right before bed.

Then the swarm hit. Holy… Cow… It was even worse than the night before.

That night, I didn’t sleep well (by the way, Matt, Mark and I shared a tent the entire trip). Among other things, something tiny and scurrying tried to get under (into?) our tent several times. I finally found out the identity of our little invader when I caught it climbing the mesh of our front flap:

A large, brown, mouse.

Having ascertained the identity of the critter, which had actually scurried under the tent next to me (I could see the bulge in the fabric move between Matt and myself). I slept better from that point on. No more thoughts of gigantic spiders troubling my mind.


The next morning, we woke up stiff and sore. Dan and I were the first two up. We were rewarded by the sight of two crows chasing a bald eagle from the top of one tree. Pretty cool. Breakfast was a quick couple of granola bars and coffee/tea done on the tiny gas stove we brought.

We then set out. We had an ideal goal of four lakes and four portages by the end of the day. First, we finished the lake we were at and started shooting through a river. It was similar, but longer than the one before. The current was stronger, and against us. But we made it, and got to the portage point. It was small and easily crossed. No biggie. So we set out to lake McAlpine. Along the way, we saw a couple of canoeists (fishing, as were most of the “canoe people” we encountered). Shortly after that, we stopped for lunch. It was summer sausage and cheese sandwiches. Drinks were Kool Aid and Chrystal Lite from Betty. I had suspicions on the cheese. Next time, we’re bringing the lowest moisture cheese I can get my hands on. Something that can sit on a counter for weeks and still be edible. The cheese-oid stuff we had (in its own wrapper) was mushy and kinda strange. It also left the aforementioned wrapper to take out with us.

Lunch was fine- regardless of my opinions on the cheese. Shortly after, we set off to try and find Indian pictographs that were supposedly in the area. We paddled along the sides of a cliff-like shore, trying to find these mysterious pictographs for several minutes… Without success. Perhaps they were overgrown by lichens. Perhaps we were in the wrong place. We’ll probably never know. I’m told they were neat, too.

Soooo… We got to our next portage- forever to be called the “Big Fly Portage” in homage to the biggest damn fly we ever saw during the whole trip. It was a full inch long. I kid you not. I started to feel like we were in The Land of the Lost.

This portage could also been called the “hell” portage. It made the “nasty” one of the day before look easy in comparison. Completely uneven terrain, hills, slop, streams, and a considerable distance (at least, for us newbies). Oh, and tons of mosquitoes. All of this greeted our intrepid band of adventurers. As Matt had noted, the portage didn’t have a distance listed on the map. So Matt had hoped it would be short. It wasn’t. It ended up being the longest of our trip so far. Though, of course, Matt had been on worse. I rapidly came to the conclusion that I would not attempt to match Matt in agony of portages. Once we finally did cross, we set out along a short lake to the third portage.

This one acquired the name “Giant Spider Portage”, in reference to an enormous spider, which everyone but me saw right along the shore… Where I got out, to scout the path. Have I mentioned that I am not a fan of spiders? I am told that I nearly stepped on it when I exited the canoe. The critter added to my suspicions that we were indeed in the land of the lost.

One more portage (dubbed the “Green Bug Portage” for obvious reasons) was left. It turned out to be less eventful than the others and passed calmly. Finally, we put out into Batchewong lake. We chose a nearby camp site on the point of an island. The wind had come up by then, and kept most of the insects away for the first time. A bit more paddling, then we set camp. I fixed a pasta dish for dinner. Although there were some nervous moments (nearly over did the noodles) it all came through in the end. An addition of canned chicken to the sauce helped considerably.

That night we actually managed to watch the sun set before the bugs hit. I took another bath and bug inspection. So did Betty. The evening ended with Mark desperately trying to watch the stars come out- covered in Deet- and surrounded by ravenous mosquitos. Dragonflies surrounded him as well, swooping in to eat the mosquitoes. We like dragonflies. Yessir we do. The image of him silhouetted in the setting sun, surrounded by the tiny forms of dragonflies zipping around him will stay with me for years.


This was the first day of canoeing without portaging. I had gone out in shorts to try and get some color on my legs. I had no idea how hot the sun really was. Had I known, I would have been more careful. But as I said… I threw on some “fifteen” a third of the way into the trip… But it was too late. Investigations at the end of the day demonstrated that I had gotten rather burned- especially my knees. This forced me to wear my long pants for the remainder of the trip. So learn from Dave’s mistake, good reader. Even if it’s not all that hot out… The sun can still scorch.

Our goal for this day was to be a fourteen-plus mile trip to a camp site four to six miles out from the exit point in French lake. We stopped for lunch (PB&J tortillas) at one point, then stopped again later on to rotate people and answer the call of nature (that other one… Aside from the one that actually called us to the park in the first place… Laugh. It’s a joke). The trip was rather uneventful and we made it onto the big waters of Pickerel lake (this was the largest body of water we had been on . We were doing good time and feeling good. Another brief stop was made at a gravel and sand beach to stretch our legs (it had been a long ride in hot sun), then set out again. The beach was nice, and calm. This was to play a role just moments later.

Shortly after our launch, nature conspired against us. We hadn’t made it more than fifteen minutes out into the big waters, when the waves started kicking up. An executive decision was made to turn back to the beach camp site we had just been on. Much to my dismay, though not without good reason. So, instead of camping 4-6 miles out from the exit point, we camped 7-9 miles out.

This would come back to haunt us later on.

The site was okay, with the aforementioned beach and a rocky outlook point. A decent fire pit was also available. So we unloaded our gear and started setting up camp. Within an hour, the rough seas were calm again. This added to my disappointment, but could not be avoided. Majority opinion led to the decision for us to stay at the camp site for Thursday as well. This in turn, led us to put more long term stuff out, such as a hammock (deadly, if out don’t want to promptly fall asleep) and a clothes line. Dinner consisted of some dehydrated chicken teriyaki meals (camping food in a bag!) and dehydrated corn. It was all acceptable, if a bit salty. I again did the cooking (I kind of enjoy it), for what it was worth. I have to say that- though it was simple- I preferred the other food we brought over the dehydrated stuff. It just seemed less processed.

We noticed three little (or not so little) bits of wildlife at the site, as well. Or at least three that stuck out in our minds. First was the frog in the crack. The what, you ask? Well, as I mentioned, there was a rocky outlook that was part of the site. One of the huge slabs of rock had a crack in it about an inch across. And inside of that crack was… A frog. A little bitty guy, who had obviously thought he (or she) had found the greatest hiding place in the world.

Then there was our resident leech. We saw it floating just off shore at the beach. As far as leeches go, it wasn’t enormous (I’d guess one to two inches), but it obviously had a home. We checked several times over a period of many hours, and found the bloodsucker to still residing next to a rock, just under the surface.

And finally, the really interesting find. A tree, which had broken in half, exposing its shattered innards, was situated between the two tents. Inside of the broken portion of the trunk, and quite visible to us, was a rather large spider… I’m guessing something like a three inch leg span. Now, for those of you who like spiders, this was a really cool thing. It was speckled brown and very much a hunter (long legs, sleek body). I, however, do not particularly like spiders, as I mentioned before. In fact, I would have described myself as an arachnophobe in years past (I’ve worked at getting my fear under control). So… Part of me thought this was really cool… And part of me really wanted to freak out about the verified presence of a really big spider in our camp. Mutual consensus concluded that we were, in fact, visiting its home, and that squishing it was completely out of the question. Even if it was really big and scary.

The sunset was- as usual- beautiful. To add a bit of variety, we saw a very strange astronomical phenomenon during the sun’s decent. At first, it looked like there was a bright star above the sun. We commented on it, but otherwise give it little attention. After a few minutes, we left the rocky point which we were watching the sunset from and headed back into “camp proper” to take care of a few evening tasks. Mark returned first, followed a short time later by me. As I was positioning myself on the rock, Mark called out for me to look into the sky, and started summoning the rest of the crew.

The star had sprouted a short tail.

While Mark and I watched, it became a brilliant point of light, followed by a short (a few degrees?) but intensely bright tail. Even as the rest of the crew appeared, the brightness faded. Soon, it had faded out all together. Nobody could figure out what we had seen. One of us suggested that it was a plane, subjected to strange environmental conditions. Another person suggested that it could have been some sort of space debris. We finally decided that it was a secret Canadian spacecraft returning to its home base. Perhaps using UFO technology. After pondering the sight for a while, we finally gave up. It wasn’t to be for another six months before I figured out what was going on. It just so happened that I was outside of my apartment in similar conditions, and watching what I knew was a plane, when it sprouted the same sort of tail. The angle of the sunlight in relation to the plane’s contrail and our observation point had produced the effect.


This was our one and only day to do things other than pack up and go somewhere. So we managed to do new things. Swimming. A canoe lesson. A bit of reading and lounging in the hammock. Throwing the football around.

We had tried to do pancakes over the fire for breakfast. Unfortunately, we never did get much of a good fire going. I managed to make a few pancakes over the fire- flipping with a spoon and fork- before we broke out the gas stove. Cooking with gas was much faster (NOW we’re cooking with gas!). We ate our fill and cleaned up the mess.

A helpful tip on camping: always be sure that one person in the group is “good with fire”. We sorely missed that skill.

Lunch was macaroni and cheese, which I nearly destroyed. The stove heated the pasta much faster than I expected, and we nearly ended up with pasta mush in the cheese sauce. I’ve yet to figure out why the cooking time was so different out in the woods. Perhaps the time wasn’t, but my time-sense was. Regardless, everyone was good about it and ate it all up. Dinner was Jank again (easy and fast, if boring)…

I must learn how to improve on that particular recipe.

We have a few other experiences with the wildlife here. An inspection of the broken tree revealed that our resident spider (we think it was a “Barker” spider… But we are far from scholars on the subject) was still there. Apparently, it was his home.

Then there was the canoe lessons. For a time, those of us who had never steered a canoe took turns with Matt at the head, giving us a lesson. I think we all did pretty well. When my turn came up, I had an added bonus to my session.

You see, the entire park was populated with loons. These creatures had fascinated me from the start with their beauty and haunting call. In fact, it was concluded that the Loon was my totem animal. Nope, no exciting animal like a wolf or a bear… I get a loon.

But I digress… As I was saying, it had come to my lesson in the canoe. I was paddling along, and doing okay with Matt giving me directions, near the mouth of the cove that was our camp site. All the while a solitary loon puttered about nearby. Well, apparently our resident loon was not paying close attention to it’s surroundings, as soon became apparent.

Loons are divers, and will often dive under water for several moments, before surfacing again- sometimes quite a distance away. This is important to what happened next. Another thing to keep in mind is that canoes are not particularly noisy. This is also important. When you put the two together, you get the following. The loon had been paddling around nearby and had decided to submerge for a while. At the same time, the canoe I was in closed on it’s position. Very close.

Without the bird seeing us.

And the loon surfaced.

And screamed like a puppy that had its toe stepped on- when it finally saw we were right behind it.

“YIP!!” went the Loon.

It then proceeded to ruffle its feathers and make this nervous “hahahahahahaaa” noise, before scooting off to a safer distance. So there you have it, I actually managed to sneak up and frighten my totem animal. What does that say about me?

Later on, after we went swimming off the rocky outlook point, Mark found that he had picked up a tiny friend. Specifically, a small leech had affixed itself to his toe. It was so tiny that we weren’t at first sure it even was a leech… Maybe it was a speck of mud. But it turned out to be the sucking type, and we squished it.

Shortly after, I discovered that while running around without a shirt and hat for what I had thought was a short time, I had managed to burn my shoulders and part of my chest. First my legs, now my shoulders and chest. The sun is MUCH hotter than it seems. Very unusual weather for the park. We had expected cool, rainy weather, with some wind. Instead, we have still, clear, and rather hot temperatures. Funny that.

Well, the rest of the evening went by without much of an incident. We did what we could to speed up the packing process of the next day and went to bed shortly after sunset. An offering to the deities of the area was made that evening, in an attempt to assure good travel the next day.

By the way- and I think I said this before- swimming (and self-scrubbing right before bed) is great. It also gives a good time for self-inspection. Though the flies were annoying that night, the mosquitoes stayed away until after sundown. We actually had a chance to see some stars before we were forced back into the tents. It was nice. That night, at around 3:30 a.m. a thunderstorm hit. We were lucky, and the brunt of the storm missed us.


We got up to relatively calm waters and started packing as soon as possible. Breakfast was two granola bars (and two cups of coffee for Betty). Shortly there after, we set out. The cargo canoe had Dan at the stern and Mark at the bow. Matt (stern) Betty (middle) and I were in the other canoe.

A second offering was made (I launched the tobacco on a bark raft, while we paddled along). As we went, a dragon fly guide landed on the bow of the boat, and stayed there for some time. We made good time and did well until just about five minutes after the dragonfly left. That was when the wind and waves kicked up, and we were forced to seek the shelter of a rocky shore. Coincidentally, just as the dragonfly had left, I had made a comment to the effect that its departure wasn’t a good omen. Guess I was right.

For several hours we ended up stranded on the shore. The wind was blowing directly at the shore, and was kicking up a considerable amount of chop. The canoes were not designed to operate in such troubled waters, and we really didn’t see a viable way off. We had to pull them completely out of the water, just to keep them from being bashed repeatedly against the rocks.

And so we waited.

Doing nothing.

And getting more grumpy by the minute.

Finally, it was decided that the only way we were ever going to get home (the wind only seemed to be getting worse as we waited), was to physically carry the canoes and all the equipment from the shore we were stranded on, around the bend- to the opposite shore.

It proved to be a difficult and frustrating task, but we banded together “buckled down” and got things done. I for one, was happy that we were at least doing SOMETHING, rather than just sitting on the shore and hoping that things would clear up.

Eventually, we did get the gear and canoes to a safe (or at least safer) launching point and- after a dicey launch with the wind- were on our way. For this launch, Mark and Dan switched places again- as Mark was the more experienced sternsman. And we needed experience. Matt, of course, was steering our canoe, with me in the front. Everyone paddled furiously to get past a second point, and into calmer waters. There were a few moments where we had some fear of tipping over, but a combination of our sternsmen’s skill and a little luck saw us through.

The rest of the canoeing, though sometimes tedious and exhausting, passed by with little more to tell. In fact, we finally made it all the way to the exit beach with only a single stop to stretch our legs and rest our arms.

Believe me, there was much relief when we finally pulled up the canoes onto shore for what we knew was the last time. Some hauling brought them- and the gear- all the way up to the dirt parking lot, where one of our cars waited. A quick decision left Mark, Betty, and myself to watch over Betty’s parent’s boat and the gear, while Matt and Dan left to get the minivan. The rented canoe was left in a specified spot, which had been prearranged before we had started our trip.

So, Mark, Betty and I settled down next to our pile of stuff under a tree and waited. Mark and I read, while Betty stretched out. And time passed.

And clouds rolled in.

And Mark went for a walk- declaring after the walk that he felt the storm would miss us.

And big ugly clouds rolled in.

And Mark and I took notice.

And black and evil clouds rolled in.

It was at this point that Mark and I realized that we were about to get peed on big time. So we woke up Betty and the three of us began to throw the tarp over the equipment and get our rain gear on. It was now clear why the wind had not died down while we were stranded on the rocky shore. This bad boy was blowing into town.

Then it hit.

The big storm came on us like a train, blasting us with wind, rain, and yuck. The three of us did all we could to try and keep the gear dry while wind and rain assaulted us.

Then it was over, and we were left to inspect the parking lot. Shortly after, a ranger truck pulled up along the improved dirt road outside of the lot. It had parked next to a funny-shaped hill none of us had noticed before, and the ranger had gotten out. We went to investigate. You can chalk up what happened next, to us both being somewhat oblivious, and being rather lucky.

The funny shaped “hill” was, in fact, the bottom of an newly uprooted tree’s base. It had fallen directly away from us, and the dirt covered roots were the hill we saw. Not so good. In addition, the tree had fallen across the road, blocking passage. Definitely not so good.

Worse yet, another tree had punched through the windshield of a parked car. Definitely bad. Even worse news came soon after that. It appeared that the area was the victim of a microburst, which had blown down something like ten trees across the access roads, effectively cutting us off from the rest of the world until they were cleared. To make matters just that more fun, the mosquitoes were now back in force.

Shortly after, Mark and Betty decided to go walking down the road. I chose to stay around our gear. While they were gone, I overheard a story or two from other campers and the ranger. Apparently a second group I had bumped into, had just gotten off of the water when the storm hit. One man told of seeing a whole series of canoes being blown into the air from the point where they had been beached. He and another person had been forced to physically hold their beached canoe to the ground, as it fought to levitate. They had managed to move it into the shelter of dense trees before anything else had happened to it.

After a while, Mark and Betty returned from their walk. Shortly after, we heard the distant sound of a chainsaw. This was a happy sound, as it indicated that the road was steadily being cleared again. Eventually, we saw the fruits of the ranger’s labors, as they passed through our area, and cleared the trees off of the road. A caravan of cars followed them, all trying to exit the park. One vehicle was Matt’s car while another was the minivan. A truly welcome sight, let me tell you!

Some quick packing, and we were off to the ranger station, to check out and buy a few souvenirs. I purchased a map of the area while we were there. Then we broke into two groups, with Mark, Dan and Betty in the minivan and Matt and I in his car. Our next stop: the hotel.

And thank God for that. Matt and I talked for a while in the car, and noted some damage along the road, obviously from the storm that had just blown through. The trip to the hotel was uneventful, and we were soon checking into our room. Next came… The cleanup!

One weeks worth of beard shaved off.

Twenty minutes worth of scrubbing in the shower.

Brushing the teeth and hair.

Changing into clean clothes (left in the car for safe keeping while we went on the trip).

And ordering pizza from Pizza Hut!

Unfortunately, we were too late getting to the hotel, to buy beer. So we were forced to drink pop with the pizza. Not the full end-of-trip tradition, but satisfying none the less. That night, while laying on the floor (I opted for it, rather than sharing a bed, as it doesn’t bother me to be on the floor) I had the best rest I had experienced in a week. Nice, flat, carpeted floor. Oooohhh…

The next morning, we got up, cleaned up, and headed out. While still in Canada, we stopped into two places. The first was a donut shop. The second was a liquor store. Canada has several forms of alcohol, which you really can’t get around here, so we grabbed a few cases before we crossed the border.

And we were off!

First came Minnesota. Satisfyingly calm. I was back in the minivan with Dan and Betty for the trip home. Duluth turned out to be far less impressive in the daylight. Basically an industrialized town with a harbor servicing cargo ships. It was MUCH prettier in the dark. My apologies to anyone who lives in that city… Perhaps we only saw the industrial portion of the town. Honestly, though, I just wanted to get through it and go home.

Eventually, we crossed into Wisconsin. And as we did, we started to drive into one of the biggest heat waves Wisconsin and Illinois had experienced all Summer. An unwelcome surprise to everyone except Betty- who actually enjoys ninety-plus degree days. A feeling that this writer cannot understand.

We stopped at a restaurant for some food and a chance to move around a bit. While we were there, we got a newspaper and started catching up on a few of the world’s events, which we had missed. The TV in the hotel the night before had given some news (such as the death of JFK Junior in a plane crash- he had just gone missing the day we had left for the trip) but not much of else. It was an okay meal, but I found myself anxious to continue.

Which we did.

And experienced the first problem.

As we drove down the road, steadily closing the distance, there was a sudden BANG sound from the minivan. A rapid pulling to the side and stop revealed the cause: the minivan had blown a tire. Three hundred some odd miles out, and we had blown a tire. Well, after fumbling with a rusty jack for a while and being more than a little nervous about the trucks and cars blowing past us going seventy-five miles an hour (or faster), we managed to get the spare on.

The tiny little spare. Which had to get us all the way back to Chicago.

Or at least that’s what we hoped. Until the next problem arose: in the form of Matt’s battery light suddenly turning on twenty miles further down the road. We stopped, looked at it, and checked AAA for a local mechanic. Nothing was close, so we kept driving and praying nothing else would happen.

Nothing else did- until we reached the lovely resort town of Wisconsin Dells (Cheese Vegas, I think we called it). That’s when Matt’s car started acting really poorly and it became obvious that we weren’t going to make it. Finally, though, a bit of luck was on our side. One of the only mechanics listed from AAA that was open on a Saturday night, was just outside of the Dells. So we limped, in the dark, through the town and to this shop.

Picture a stereotypical small-town auto shop a ways away from the main strip (in the dark), and you will get the idea of what we saw. The mechanic took a look at Matt’s car, and found the problem: the alternator was failing.

This was his second in six months.

It was rapidly concluded that his car was not going to make it home. So, with much reservation, we came to a plan. We bought a used tire from the mechanic and put it on the minivan. Then we loaded all the important stuff into the minivan, got in… And left Matt’s car.

He would be forced to take a train up (or drive, if he could find a willing friend to drive him) the following weekend and pick up his repaired vehicle. There was no alternative.

So, the five of us, cramped inside of a minivan filled with camping gear, started off again for Chicago. Thankfully, the rest of the trip was quiet, and we finally managed to limp into town sometime after two in the morning. We quickly separated our gear, and went our own ways, relieved to finally be home.

And so ended the trip. Overall, I am thrilled I went. It was beautiful, and totally unlike anything I had done before. The challenges we experienced in the woods tested us all, and I for one feel better for having done it. I had never done anything camping-related to this extent, but I will most definitely do it again.

The whole broken cars scene can take a giant leap, though.

I hope that you enjoyed this little diary of our adventures. Until the next trip:

Live long, be happy, and enjoy life,

– Dave Gummersall

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