Today we finally broke our ties with Fall Lake and Ely by paddling 12 miles out to Canadian Point on big Basswood. The day brought mostly sunny skies, temperatures in the mid 50’s and light winds. It was a perfect day to be in a canoe. A 90 rod portage became a 200 rod portage as we maneuvered gear around low water and mud into Hoist Bay. The days are definitely growing shorter. As soon as we made Hoist Bay it felt late in the day. We found our camp and gathered wood in dying orange light, the sort of light only seen on late October afternoons. As we start our fourth and final leg of this journey I can sense the end. I am not ready to return to the real world. Where does the time go out here?
I cannot believe we have been out here for nearly a month. As the days roll on it becomes more routine. I guess once it gets too routine it may be time to stop. We are on the home stretch, which is bittersweet. Today we paddled and portaged 15 miles to Carp Lake. Basswood is a giant, and it feels good to be removed from a lake with such a propensity for lumbering white caps and camp sequestering winds. The last six miles of Basswood offered light east winds (still a head wind) and vague gray skies. The short carry over at Prairie Portage took us into Birch Lake. The typically bustling (relatively speaking) portage was eerily quiet on this gray October morning. The winds really died down in the afternoon making for spectacular reflections of flooded timber along shore. Another short portage brought us to the emerald waters of Carp Lake. We are camped on an elevated piece of land that surely would be an island if not for the low water. Dinner consisted of grilled BBQ chicken sandwiches and fresh baked brownies; it was one of our best meals. Tomorrow we push on into the Man Chain, knowing each mile brings us closer to the end of this incredible journey.
Yesterday we moved a scant 5 miles into the Man Chain lakes. These are some of the most beautiful lakes yet, and we decided to spend an extra day enjoying them. Steep rocky hills surrounding emerald waters and dozens of picture perfect islands screaming to be explored make it easy to take a rest day. Even the portages are enchanting, which meander through dark cedar glens along gin clear streams. It makes me want to stop and build a cabin and stay there for the winter. Camp was set up on a small island halfway down This Man Lake. It is a very private site, not that we have anyone to hide from. We awoke this morning to the year’s first accumulating snowfall, merely a dusting. Nonetheless it made for a splendid scene. I took the solo boat out for an early morning paddle on glassy waters. It felt like winter was closer than ever. In the afternoon we made the hike up a steep burned hill on the north side of This Man Lake. We dubbed the hill “Man Mountain.” The climb was a bit challenging, but the view at the top was well worth the effort. It offered a pretty good look at our island we were camped on. As we began our scramble back down the mountain the snow started again making for a tricky descent. At the bottom we found a small creek and followed it into the woods up to a small beaver dam. It felt good to be out of the boat and do some good old fashion exploring. The day seemed set on being of the gray and wet variety, but the sun broke through for a few glorious minutes in the late afternoon. In those few minutes the fish started biting and we picked up enough for a mega-fry. These past few days have been some of the best of the trip.
It is our last night on trail. Today’s travels made it apparent it is time to go. Persistent drizzle pestered us all day, occasionally turning into snow and sleet. Many of the portages throughout the day had snow on them from the previous day’s precipitation. We also needed to break though skim ice to get through a creek on Fran Lake. This is a sure sign our method of travel’s days are numbered. The Man Lakes were some of our favorites and they will not be easily forgotten. From Other Man we traveled through Bit and Bell before the icy creek on Fran. A short portage brought us to Slate Lake, which is another beautiful lake. We pulled over into Saganagons and set up camp on the same site we spent our first night. The last time we were here I spent the night in a T-Shirt and slept in a hammock. Tonight we weathered rain and sleet huddled around a blaze before getting cozy in the tent. It only took us 27 days on trail but tonight we finally spied a bull moose on the opposite short. A very appropriate goodbye.
Today’s paddle down Saganagons and Saganaga to our truck at Trails End Campground was the calmest yet. The water was literally glass. It was surreal to be on water that big in dead calm conditions. This trip has been epic. There is so much to remember. The incredible spectrum of weather experienced seems only possible on a trip of this length. The last month saw temps in the 80’s with us swimming and hammocking, to gale force winds that stopped us in our tracks for days, to temps in the 20’s with snow and ice. Spending a month out there has given me perspective on the wind and weather, and how it hardly pervades normal day to day life, but makes all the difference in the woods. Spending a month out there allowed us to watch the leaves change color and fall off their branches. We spent enough time in the wilderness to watch an entire lunar cycle, and lose an hour of daylight. We paddled over 300 miles and portaged close to 30. A voyage this grand is hard to wrap your mind around. It seems impossible to put it down on paper. I feel we’ve been a part of the woods for the past 28 days. It’s exciting to think we may have been the only humans out there at times. It will be hard saying goodbye. For now, I am left with a sense of perspective and maybe a sense of understanding, not a crystal clear sense but a hint of a sense, which I think is the point. We will never have it all figured out. For now, I am left wanting more. For now, I am left with a thought from Sigurd F. Olson. “Many go through stifled by the narrowness of their daily affairs, dreaming little that at their very doors for the asking is a wilderness to explore, the wilderness of their understanding.”