So, I last left you at the end of the first night of canoeing. Now we will move on to the rest of the trip. On day 2, we got up at about 0700, ostensibly, but really between 7 and 8. This was to be a patern for the rest of the trip, actually. We spent the morning creating an enormous breakfast of hash browns with cheese and eggs stirred in, and lots of bacon. We finally had camp struck and got on the water around 1100. Within a little while, we’d gotten off of Alder Lake and onto the Manitowish River. I think I was rowing with Micah Bot-Miller at this time. It wasn’t too bad, mostly, and went by a few waterfront houses. Then we found ourselves in a field. Grass rose up on all sides and we couldn’t see the river any farther. It turned out that there was a path through the grass, but barely. When we got through the grass, we were into just more grass. A different GOOP group, which had started halfway down the trail coming the opposite way, came by us and said nonchalantly, “It gets worse.” We were in a marsh that must extend for about a square mile, maybe two or three. Sometimes there was a way through the grass; sometimes we just had to get out and walk. Eventually it got a little straighter, but this was a cruel joke. We heard a machine noise in the distance. As we drew nearer, it got louder. Finally, we arrived at a confluence. Our river joined with another flowing the opposite way, and both of the rivers flowed into a grate punched into a tall wall at the bottom of a hill. I went up the hill to take a pee. There was a motorized pump, working hard and making the ruckus we were amiliar with, pouring the combined rivers into a manmade flume that ran along the edge of a deserted but well-mowe field. In the distance, over much more field, I saw a tractor or something. There was no explanation. So, we tried to remove our shoes by dragging the canoes through a shoestring stream whose banks were covered in sucking mud, all the while being careful not to step into the pool created by the confluence, because we would then be sucked down into the grate next to the mysterious, nasty deep water, where who knew what dwelled. We started rowing up the other river, the Trout River, which, as the other group had said, was even worse. When we got out to walk the canoe through periodical shallow water, we were walking on a mud bottom, not gravel. And the walks were frequent. Moreover, we were still in the marsh. We rowed for hours. Things failed to improve. Finally, we got to a beaver dam, and the water above it was a good foot deeper and twenty yards wider. We didn’t have any trouble rowing, and we were free to make conversation, which we did. However, by now it was also late, so for the first time in Ilan’s canoeing career, we stopped short of our intended campsite. The one we found was on the Trout River; another opposite-traveling group was staying there for the night. So Ilan made another amazing dinner, of I believe lentils and such, and we had fun with the other group, but mostly with our own group, getting to know each other. Or telling stories about stuff in our lives. We liked stories. I’ll tell a couple when I get to tomorrow night.
So, we set out earlier the next morning – instead of an enormous breakfast, we had granola cereal. There was still another two hours or so of the Trout River left, if you can believe it. Some of it ran by a golf course. Some more of it was completely unpaddleable, about a half inch deep, but by that time it had at least switched to gravel bottom. Finally, and abruptly, we ended up at the source of the Trout River: Trout Lake. Just looking out across it, we knew it would be difficult. The land on either side of us had protected us from the wind while we were on the river, but now it came galloping across the water at full speed, and we could tell it meant to bring rain with it soon. Even so, we steeled ourselves and pushed out into it, right against the wind. Trout Lake is a huge lake. We had a long day of padding across it. But at least we never had to walk. I think I paddled with Natasha that day. She’s really nice. Kind of shy, but warms up in not too long, as I said. We should have talked more while we were on the lake, but we were kind of focused on paddling. At the other end of the lake, we pulled up the canoes and did our first real portage.
We’d done a different one earlier, but it was just a few yards. This one was entirely different. I didn’t carry a canoe, which meant I had to carry two packs instead, and that was probably just as bad. We staggered down a paved trail, then across a street and down it a ways, and finally found Stevenson Creek and put down the canoes. Now, we’d heard horror stories about Stevenson. We’d heard it was the worst leg of the journey and mostly walking. But this year, as Ilan said, it “was really forgiving.” It was still the most bizarre creek that I think I’ll ever canoe on. For the most part, it was only about two feet wide – but a foot deep, giving ample paddling depth. At one point, bushes growing on the banks joined to form an arch over us. At another point, they did the same, except instead of over us, in front of us, and we had to plow through. It was surreal to see a creek with a width and twists and turns comparable to the creeks I’ve creekwalked on, hardly more than storm runs, but completely paddleable. Chris was the steerer for this, and I’m amazed at the ease with which he took the hairpin turns and astounding bottlenecks. In the next couple hours, our groups got very spread out, and the leaders, Micah and Alex, had no map or leader, so we didn’t know if they’d get lost. Then, it turned out they were behind us, which puzzled us to no end until they explained that they had hidden in a niche and waited to pop out and scare us, but then decided not to, and just paddled silently to confuse us later. We found another marsh. This one was much more mazelike than the others, and we took several wrong turns, but eventually we found the second portage. We carried the boats to Pallette Lake. Ilan carried both an 80# canoe and the ~60# food pack. I’d heard about Pallette and was expecting the best. It was even better. No motors are allowed on it, nor even some fishing. So it’s crystal clear. And the banks are completely free of Improvements imposed on them by civilization. We paddled briefly across it to another campsite, meeting en route a group that had left earlier in the morning on the first day, and set up. A few of us swam, but not all at the same time. Alex swam for about half a second before she got frozen out. Natasha, on the other hand, frequently swims in Lake Superior, so she was totally comfortable and had fun and a great exercise. I was somewhere between. While I swam, I was really impressed with how incredibly clear Pallette’s water is. Even at an eight-foot bottom, I could see right down to the rocks and sand. I swam without much aim, and then, getting bored and sort of lonesome with no one else out there, I walked back up to camp. Dinner was something or other delicious. Then we sat around talking. We were discussing strange things that happen. Chris told us about a time he and his friends were driving through a suburb at night. Suddenly, an owl came through the sky, swooped down, and landed in the road right in front of the car. Then it turned its head ninety degrees and stared at them. For about five minutes. They were too spooked to move the car. “This has got to mean something,” he thought. Finally it flew off and they drove directly back home. Chris also told us another strange animal anecdote. He says the squirrels at Grinnell are famously weird, and said the weirdest thing he knows of is: his girlfriend was walking along, when she saw, around the flagpole, a circle of squirrels. They were evenly spaced, and they were staring up at the flag. She was seriously weirded out. Ilan told us that he and some friends at a camp once spent a long time cutting some cords to a perfect length, then woke up at midnight, paddled across a lake to a girls’ campsite, and tied their tents shut. Then he said, “The thing is, that was the plan. What actually happened is, we slept through the alarm.” Alex had a story that I missed the first time she told it, where her mother told her and her sister, who thought boys were gross, I guess: “Some day you will learn to love a man’s penis.” Josh and Ilan, who are both Jewish, shared their respective experiences of traveling through the Israeli desert. I don’t know if Natasha and Micah had any, but they probably did, and I just forgot. I probably told some too, but I forget which, and anyway they’re probably ones that you’ve heard already.
The next morning we shipped off Pallette Lake and went lakehopping. There were three portages that day. I carried a canoe for two of them. The last one was the longest portage of the whole trip. Micah carried a canoe along the dirt road as well as me, but he missed the well camouflaged turnoff, and traveled about another third again as long as the regular portage with Alex. Ilan ran and caught up to him and got him pointed in the right direction. Micah carried the canoe the whole time. He’s incredible. I aspire to be as rugged as that. Through various lakes and a stream called Nixon Creek, we ended up back on the Manitowish River. We started by paddling off Boulder Lake onto the Manitowish River on the left; we would be rejoining it from the right. Boulder Lake is a wide spot in the Manitowish River. We made camp on the Manitowish, and it was a great campsite and great campfire and great trail calzones. We were all really happy, not least because tomorrow involved only about an hour and a half of paddling. We considered skinny dipping, apparently, but didn’t because only two people had volunteered, and it was decided that that would be kind of weird, rather than skinny dipping fun. Micah, ever helpful, filtered lots of water for us; we think he doesn’t trust water filtered by anyone else. I swam a little, but there were weeds on the bottom, so not much. We swapped more stories. I loved every minute of it. That night, I forwent the tent and slept outside in my sleeping bag under the bright stars. It was the best possible way to spend the last night on the trail.
The next morning, we slept in a little and ended up at Camp Manito-wish again around 1400. We had dinner there, and we were going to go to a supposedly great ice cream place, but the slow-witted guy there had closed down early and wouldn’t reopen for our party of thirty. So we just went to bed. And we rolled out, back to Grinnell, the next day. And of course I’ll be writing about Grinnell directly.