Added 12 August 2004
For Saturday, our last full day in the Boundary Waters, I convinced Shan to be a little more adventurous and do a trip involving some portages. The boat with our gear in it wasn't extremely heavy, but it wasn't light by any means, and she was apprehensive about having to carry the boat over the portages. On the route I planned the longest portage was some 40 rods, or about 660 feet; an eight of a mile. Not a great distance, but we had no idea what kind of terrain we might have to cover over the course of that distance. Would it be swampy? Rocky? Steep? The answer was a great unknown. But I had her convinced to try. I really wanted to do this. Not only for the adventure of it, but because it meant we could get deeper back into the wilderness, get away from everyone, and moreover, actually set paddle into the actual Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BCWCAW).
Up to that point, we had been in what I suppose would be called "the boundary waters", but we hadn't actually made it into the wilderness area. It was a silly notion, I realized, but I wanted to actually make it into that wilderness area, even if only briefly. To that end, the proposed trip was to start out in Iron Lake again, portage over to Tucker Lake, paddle across Tucker Lake and portage twice to get to the Tucker River (really more of just an extremely skinny lake) and paddle that on in to East Dawkins Lake, firmly inside the BWCAW. The trip would involve about five miles of paddling, one way, and 3 known portages, of 40 rods, 20 rods, and 30 rods, respectively.
We got a fairly early start Saturday morning and it was a beautifully calm (though gray) morning. On the way to the put-in, I saw a bear on the side of the road and slammed on the brakes. Shan was absolutely giddy with excitement. It turns out it was a youngin', and he was munching something (presumably berries) on the side of the road. Of course, our cameras were in the trunk. So I very quietly and carefully got out and got the cameras. Shan was taking pictures, but I couldn't really get out the window far enough on my side to get a decent shot. The bear then stood up, and Shan got a blurry shot of it just as a car went flying by us and scared the bear away. We were a little irked at whoever drove by. At least the person could have had the courtesy to slow down as he/she passed.
We drove on, but Shan wanted to go back to see if the bear came back. I was sure it wouldn't but turned around to appease her. To my surprise, the bear was right back where it was. This time I could see it well out my window, and we were even closer to it. The bear was hidden in the vegetation on the side of the road, but eventually stood up. As soon as he did and I was getting ready to take what was going to be a great photo, another car went racing past us and scared him off again. Argh! I drove up the road, spun around, and as we headed back towards the put-in, we saw the mother cross the road ahead of us and disappear into the woods. We slowed down, but kept on going this time.
When we got to Iron Lake the water was as smooth as glass, making the journey a magical one, where the trees and sky were perfectly mirrored in the water ahead and to the sides of the boat. We paddled largely in silent reverence, simply soaking it all in.
We got to the west end of Iron Lake past several small, picturesque islands and quickly found the portage. So I grabbed one end of the yak, Shan grabbed the other, and we trudged along, slowly. Shan couldn't carry it very far at a stretch, so we stopped often. She suggested that we just drag it, but I didn't want to do that, for fear of damaging the boat. Perhaps half way through the portage, I realized that with the scarcity of rocks or sharp objects on the trail, damaging the boat was highly unlikely and I just dragged it the rest of the way, occasionally asking Shan help me lift the boat over the few rocks that were on the path.
It was good to get back on the water again, both for ease of travel and because the mosquitoes were somewhat bothersome on the portage trail. We paddled across Tucker Lake, which was equally serene as Iron Lake, but had the unfortunate distinction of having a few homes scattered along it's northern shore. Their presence wasn't overwhelming though. There was a small group of loons gathered on Tucker Lake, and they weren't as shy as the other loons we had encountered, which was nice.
About half way along Tucker Lake we took the right spur, leading towards the Tucker River. We soon reached the end of the water line and started hunting around for the portage. The map said it was around to the right, but the trail we found was around to the left. I investigated that trail and verified that it went through, then I started dragging the boat again.
We got to the other side, got in the yak, paddled perhaps 50 meters, then got out for the next portage, which was longer and more treacherous than the previous one. But we made it through and found ourselves sitting on Tucker River. Though as I said, calling it a river makes it sound more dynamic than it really is. There was absolutely no discernable flow in either direction.
The river was gorgeous though. Near the very start, it was almost choked with water lilies, all blooming with beautiful yellow flowers. Shan was mildly distraught over our running some of them over, but there really was no way to avoid them all. Down most of the river, I paddled solo, largely so we could travel more quietly and because I had more control over steering along the narrow passageway. I also felt in no particular hurry to get anywhere. Being in the boundary waters does that to you. I love it.
After a short while, Shan spotted a beautiful Western Painted turtle (Chrysemis picta bellii) sunning itself on a rock in the middle of the river. We eased up to it, took pictures and watched it admiringly. He was a very photogenic turtle, I dare say, and he could have scarcely chosen a more picturesque location to pose for us. Eventually, he slipped quietly into the water and we paddled on.
Tucker River presented a few interesting obstacles along the way, including fallen logs that were submerged just a few inches below the water. Most of them stretched across the entire width of the channel, which meant we simply had to use momentum and extra paddle power to skip the boat over the top of them. We also encountered a road that we had to portage over. The more interesting obstacle though was a debris dam followed by the only portion of Tucker River that had an obvious flow. This section was all of about 20 meters long, and it required another unexpected portage. There we saw some very neat looking green dragonflies. I'd never seen green ones before.
After scouting out several different ways around this obstacle, I decided the best way to get through was to simply drag haul the boat over the debris dam and more or less float and drag it down what was effectively a little creek to the deeper water of the river beyond. At this point, it was about 11:30 a.m., and for some reason, Shan started getting a little cranky, and I couldn't quite figure out why. She wanted to turn around and head home. She was tired of portaging (even though I was doing most of the work) and was worried about getting too far away from home with too many portages between us and home.
I mentioned my desire to get into the actual BWCAW and briefly argued my point, but knowing that getting into the BWCAW was rather irrelevant, since we were truly in a wilderness whether we crossed that imaginary line or not, and not wanting an unhappy paddling companion for the rest of the day, I relented and agreed to turn back. At that point, Shan changed her mind and wanted to keep going. So I found myself in the unusual position of arguing to do something I didn't want to do, namely to turn around and head home. I knew she didn't want to keep going, but she insisted that we do, then got out of the boat and refused to get back in so we could paddle back the way we had come. So I relented again, agreed that we would only paddle on until noon, and started dragging the yak down the "creek." At that point, she realized just how short the portage was and was immediately happier.
Even though I told her the creek section was really short, she couldn't see how short it really was and made it out to be much more of a challenge than it really was. She was also fearful of my statement that I wasn't sure just how far it was to East Dawkins Lake. I knew we were close, about a mile and a half away, but didn't know the exact distance, and the uncertainty scared her as well. (She was having flashbacks to our Paria trip where "we've got to be close" turned into quite a few miles and hours more than expected.)
Once we were paddling again though, she seemed to be fine. It certainly was beautiful and peaceful, making it difficult to be upset. I had Shan help paddle at this point so that we could make better time and make it more likely that we would make it to East Dawkins Lake before we had to turn around.
We made it to the lake a little after noon, found ourselves a cute little island (and I do mean little) and ate a very blissful lunch. Although a pretty good portion of the lake was hidden by the large island in the center of the lake, we both just knew that we were the only people there, and moreover, that in all likelihood, no one else had been there for quite a little while. It just had that feel to it. It was gorgeous, it was phenomenal, and for the brief period of our stay, it was all ours. By this time, Shan was very glad that we didn't turn back at the last portage. It felt like we were in our own beautiful little world.
After our relaxing lunch, we got back in the boat and made our uneventful but beautiful journey back to the AdventureMobile. We made pretty good time on the way home and were back at the car by mid-afternoon. It helped that we already knew where the portages were and what to expect. We didn't stop as much on the way back either. We rowed pretty strong, but I had to laugh at how every time Shan started rowing again after a break, she invariably started out of phase with my rhythm. I found that when I was rowing alone or when we were rowing in sync, I just melted into the landscape around me.
After the trip we headed back to the Lodge, where we found someone to take a picture of both of us in the yak at the same time. Though we had one more day, that short little row on Gunflint Lake was our last time in the water for the trip.
Then we got cleaned up before our night out on the town. We had decided to go to The Black Bear Restaurant for dinner. On the way there we saw a doe and fawn. He was a cute little guy. The Black Bear was busy (as it apparently usually is) so we had a little wait before we were seated. We relaxed in the outdoor patio area out back and enjoyed the plethora of wildflowers there. The variety and beauty of flowers was truly astounding.
We had a wonderful dinner, and an excellent waitress with a quirky sense of humor. It was a very enjoyable meal. For desert, we shared an old fashioned vanilla malt, which I think Shan would have ordered for her meal if I'd let her. It was really good, and it put Shan on a malt craze. For a week afterwards that was almost all she could talk about.
After dinner we went back to the lodge and packed for the trip home.
Stats for Day 3: 10 miles, 8 portages totaling approximately 200 rods, approximately 6 hours start to finish