Why did we come home?
12 days- 4 days of that travel, 1300 miles. A sore back and butt (from canoeing)
My wife and I had been thinking about this trip for some time. We read way to much about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Minnesota online and in brochures sent from just about everyplace north of Duluth, MN. It was hard to decide where we would set up our "base-camp". I knew I wanted to be near some sort of dump station and have access to pressurized water rather than hand pump water.
After printing off info on dozens of campgrounds, we decided our destination would be a place called Sawbill Lake, about 23 miles from the town of Tofte, MN. Actually, Sawbill is one of the entryways to get into the actual BWCA, and across the road from the campground is the Sawbill Outfitters.
Our trip began driving from Chicago to Superior, WI where we stopped for the night at a state park called Amnicon Falls SP. This was after nine hours of driving. We needed rest and wanted the Eurovan to rest. I've noticed that you are not allowed to run any generator in any Wisconsin state park. That kind of sucks if you want to boondock but need to zap the batteries every day or so.
Speaking of batteries, I was a bit concerned, because when we picked up the AS at storage, I checked the batteries and they read 10 volts! Not even enough power to get the power jack going. (I solved that by plugging the 7 pin plug into the Eurovan. These are the original Interstate batteries, and I think they have served us well, but I know I'll be looking at something new next season. We did bring the Honda 2000 with us, knowing that Sawbill did not have electricity, but they allowed running a generator for an hour or two during non-quiet hours.
Nine hours of driving seemed to temporarily heal the batteries. In my mind, there just had to be enough power to go 24 hours, when I would then run the generator.
Next AM, bright an early, we continue on into Duluth, and beyond that on highway 61, It's all scenery, all the time. Beaut-gorgeous. We averaged about 60-mph most of the trip, but here we dilly-dallied going about 40 and taking scenic side roads. We stopped at a bakery in Two Harbors to buy all things apple, cinnamon, chocolate...
We finally made it to Tofte, MN and the 23 mile hike that dead-ends into Sawbill Lake. As I had expected after calling the outfitters at Sawbill, the first couple of miles were paved road, to be followed by "gravel" road. First off, the first mile of the paved road was quite a climb! I had to throw the VW into 2, but the Euro made it like a champ. Slow, but successful. This was just the beginning of what was going to be the longest 22 miles of my life. Finally reaching the gravel, the first ten or so miles were without incident and we plowed along going about 25-30mph. Then the wash-boarding began, and seemingly never ended. My speed really quickly dropped down to about 15-20mph. I kept checking the rear-view mirror to see if the AS was still there. Things just got worse the last five or six miles.
I finally figured out which tooth goes where in my mouth after this underware-altering event.
The first sign that we where really close to the end of the line came as a vision of the universal dump-station blue sign, just before the intersection that goes to either the outfitter or the boat launch/campground.
We made it!!! For a few moments, I was considering just leaving the AS at Sawbill forever, rather than tow it back on the road from hell. I felt the need to inspect the VW and the AS immediately after putting my teeth back in my head.
We pulled over by the outfitter building, walked around the rig, and everything seemed OK. Engine sounded fine. No burning smell, except my armpits. All tires still pretty much round and attached.
Anticipating a somewhat rough ride, I had duct taped our refridge door in case that bounced open and released all of my corked belguim beer. I usually do this anyway on longer trips.
I'd like to say that the AS made it through as well as the Eurovan, but...
The stainless steel rock guards did their job. Even going slow, I managed to make the guards look like they went through a meteor shower. Mud flaps on the van you ask? Uh, no.
Upon entering the coach, All the overhead cabinet Plexiglas doors were open, and two had fallen out of their tracks and on to the floor. Easy fix there.
The closet door had not only opened, just about every screw came out of the hinges or were begging to be . The door was sadly dangling against the privacy curtain. On our CCD, you really have to give the closet door a good pull to open it, so I can only imagine the force it took to get it this way. Wait, there's more!
The converter (inverter?) thing was halfway out of it's mounting. I shoved that back in, and re-screwed it with the SMALL screws that AS used to install it. I fixed the closet door as well.
Any and all sawdust and metal shavings that the AS factory may have left hidden in our unit was now out in the middle of our coach, ready to be swept up.
In that debris, I found about five screws, some with the painted white heads. We went from front to back, top and bottom, and could not figure where these came from. I was mildly alarmed because I also found a half inch nut lying beside the inverter/converter thing. I was not able to figure out where that went. All those pieces went in a little "lost children" bin I use to collect rivets, screws and so on that I keep finding in our unit, thinking that someday I may find where the hell they came from.
OK. Inspection/repair/patching done. Time to look for a campsite. And we found a beauty that had a great view of the lake, and it was huge. You could have had twenty five people camping here, but it was just the two of us. We knew we were going to love this place. We also knew that with the 20 miles of butt-bouncing road, we were not going on to many road trips.
We went and filled water at the water/dump station, Did my finest backing in job. Let there be booze!!! Did I mention that on this trip, along with the beer, we had a nice bottle of mescal and something called buffalo vodka, that has a piece of grass in it. Sounds weird, but tastes good, and has a great effect on the Mrs. It seems to make her laugh all the time, but she claims that it is me that does that. I can't imagine that.
Most of the trip was spent relaxing in our campsite. There was a complete fire ban everywhere due to extreme drought conditions by our second night. We had our first and last fire, and since charchol BBQ was also banned, I did a lot of BBQing that first night.
The obvious activity to do here is canoeing. Deciding that we would not let the fact that neither of us had been in a canoe for decades, we went ahead and rented a fiberglass canoe. The not so fun part was having to portage the canoe from the outfitter about 250 yards to the water and back again on return. I was hoping to rent a canoe that would suddenly sprout wheels upon contact with dry land. A kid looking to make some good dough could make a killing schlepping canoes from newbies like us! After signing the necessary forms stating that the outfitter is not responsible for death or dismemberment, we were off.
No moose or bear sightings. Lots of wild raspberries and blueberries. We ate alot of those. My tongue is permanently purple from them. Then again, it could be just a huge bruise from bouncing up and down in my mouth on the ride in. Lobster mushrooms too, but we didn't get to eat any of those. We were glad that we did not bring the bikes with us. There are no real suitable trails around Sawbill. In fact, the closest and best hiking was back near Tofte where we did the mile and a half Carlton Peak hike. Nice. We also passed a great bike trail that goes along Lake Superior by highway 6.
On the second of our canoe trips, we did the "Kelso Loop", one of the few non-multi-day outings and that trip was about eight miles. We saw a gigantic snapping turtle walking down the portage path and we let him or her pass. A great lookin' fella and what a kisser!
Power from the batteries seemed good for 24 hours. My voltage before charging was anywhere from 11.3-12.0 volts. I also noticed some moisture on top of the batteries. I added a whole bunch of distilled water prior to our leaving Chicago, too. My gut tells me that once you have to introduce water to the batteries, death could be immenant. The fan from the fridge was the most draw, which ran almost constantly, until the outside temp got to less than 55 degrees. The furnace, which we needed sometimes at night, was a draw as well. To make the black tank last the entire trip, we (hesitantly) used the out houses. My god, what the hell are people eating? Showers and dish washing was done during times when generator was running to minimize affect on batteries.
We did a driving day when we drove into Grand Marais. It was really windy and gray. We stopped at the Angry Trout restaurant and had some soup and sandwiches there. Very good. We also went next door to the restaurant to a fish house to pick up something for a meal back in Sawbill. Unfortuneatly, it was Monday, and there seemed to be little inventory left. My wife, who is an east coast fish know-it all said that Friday through Sunday might be the best time to pick up some gilled item.
Back at the camp ground, we spent our time reading, drawing, playing and listening to music on the Lev-Blaster
, just un-winding from all big city and job related crap. In a funny way, it was kind of nice not having to deal with a campfire; finding wood, smelling smoky. Boy did we get lazy.
We left Sawbill on a Saturday and drove about 10mph to get to highway 61. Once again, I pulled over to check the AS. I had to reinstall the closet door, which I had duct taped shut even for the ride back. The converter/inverter thing was trying to make a break for it again, and I screwed that back in.
Our last night was spent in Wisconsin at Black River State Forest, A few hours north of Madison. They had pull-thru sites, which we took advantage of, because I was tired.
A great trip, and would love to go back to BWCA real soon. August is a great time too. Very few bugs. We never once set up the screen tent or spray bug repelent.
Thanks to CanoeStream and everyone else I bother endlessly with questions.