2020 Boundary Waters Family Adventure: Day 2 — Fishing & Exploring

It’s Saturday, late morning, and I’m bumming because we’re missing our second market in a row, or is it third? It’s hard to keep track. All these days in quarantine are starting to blur together. I’m hoping that at least Nick will be able to go to market with a few veggies next week, but man do I miss my market peeps. Just under two more weeks to go and the boys and I are in the clear.

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my last post about our trip to the Boundary Waters. We were on day two and had just unloaded our gear at a campsite before setting out in the canoe to explore the rest of the lake (in case we found a site with better fishing. Spoiler alert. We didn’t. The only two other campsites were taken.). Read about Day 1 here and Day 2, Part 1 here.

Fishing on Ham Lake near our campsite on the point.
Nick and Townes fishing near our campsite.

Exploring Ham Lake

After we unloaded our gear and loaded ourselves back into the canoe, we set out across the lake to a small section of rapids near the next portage. Ryker wanted to explore the rapids, so Nick pulled the canoe up to the rocks and Ryker and I disembarked to embark on a little adventure of our own while Nick and Townes fished.

Ryker and I exploring the rapids while Nick and Townes fish.

We hopped, jumped, and balanced our way across the rocks to the other side of the rapids where we shimmied along the shoreline to discover a still, peaceful area of lake flanked by a tall cliff rock. Now, all of the Boundary Waters is breathtaking, and not to say this was more or less so than the rest, but it was like coming up on a scene in a fantasy movie or novel where you discover this secret, magical place. The water was like glass and the rocky cliff to the left and the woods to the right created this winding channel that widened into a larger section of lake and sky, reflecting one another.

A still, beautiful channel on Ham Lake in the Boundary Waters.
Our magical place on the other side of the rapids.

We had reached as far as we could go without taking a swim or boat to explore the rest. So we made our way back across the slippery rocks, Ryker taking less care than before and basically wading through the shallow bits, soaked up to his knees. We met Nick and Townes on the other side and loaded back into the canoe and headed back to camp.

Once we got back to our campsite, the boys explored while Nick and I set up camp. By this time it was only about 11 a.m. Can you believe we did all that before 11 a.m.? To recap, we packed up from our night at the bunkhouse, made our way to an outfitters to rent our canoe, then paddled across three lakes and portaged two trails, unloaded our gear, fished and explored the rapids, then set up camp. It’s 10 a.m. here now and all I’ve done so far is scan my social accounts (which was pretty depressing — as usual), make myself a cup of instant coffee (coincidentally, what was left over from our trip), kiss my hubby, and make my bed, then settle into my favorite rocking chair to write this post.

Admiring the view of Ham Lake from our campsite.
Admiring the view of Ham Lake from our campsite. Photo credit: Townes McMillan

Catching Dinner

Throughout the day, we snacked on an Italian sub sandwich I bought the day before at a gas station, French bread, a block of cheese, summer sausage, and some Cliff bars. But for dinner, we needed to catch fish. Nick and the boys were able to catch a few fish off a rock cliff from our campsite, but then we headed over to our favorite little channel we camped on the year before, and caught just enough for dinner. I steadied the canoe using a paddle lodged into some rocks, while the boys fished away. When we had what we thought was a enough fish for dinner, we paddled back to the site.

Fishing in Ham Lake.
Fishing off a Southeast rock from our campsite without a whole lot of luck.
Bass fishing.
Ryker’s 19-inch Small Mouth Bass.
Bass fishing
Townes with his catch of the day right off a West-facing rock at our campsite.
Fishing on Ham Lake
The boys had a lot more luck fishing on the west side of our site rather than the Southeast side.

Eating Our Catch of the Day

While tinkering at the campsite (collecting and sawing wood, etc.) Nick and the boys heard a bit of commotion by the canoe. They ran down to see what they described as a giant snapping turtle demolishing off the last bit of one of our five fish. Nick picked up the line of fish and the snapping turtle just hung there for a bit before finally releasing our spoils and dropping back into the water. We were one fish down. It was time to clean them before the turtle came back. Nick cleaned up the fish while I readied the fire. Fried up in cajun batter, drizzled with fresh-squeezed lemon, we ate that deliciously fresh fish (small mouth bass) with a bit of ramen soup, rinsed down with dry red Bota Box wine for Nick and me, and lemonade for the boys (made with a dried powder mix).

Nick cleaning what was left of the fish we caught.
Townes and Ryker prepping/battering the fish.
Fish fry.
Ryker even offered to do the dishes.

Playing in the Rapids

After dinner, the boys wanted to head back to the rapids. This time, they wanted to swim in them. So they changed into their swimming suits. Once they were ready, we headed back over to the rapids. At which point, Townes and Ryker jumped across the rocks fighting to maintain their balance, before deciding to just dive right into the current of water. They slid down a mini waterfall while Nick and I laughed hysterically (something we realized we hadn’t done a lot of lately).

Townes slides down the mini waterfall first.
Townes and Ryker swimming in the rapids.
They had such a blast.

The kids played in the waterfall and rapids for about 45 minutes until they were shivering and chattering. We didn’t bring towels with us, so made a b-line back to camp so the boys could dry off and warm up by the fire. Once they were dry and in their Jammies, they did a bit more catch-and-release fishing from the campsite. Before it got dark, I read from “Little House on the Prairie” by the fire while the kids sipped hot cocoa. Then I made the 100-yard trek into the darkening woods to the latrine with Ryker so he could commence with his nighttime poo routine.

Ryker doing a dab for our awesome campsite.

The boys and I got ready for bed, while Nick finished his wine and put out the fire. Three of us slept on a full-size blow-up mattress (Nick, Ryker, and me) and Townes slept on a single sleeping pad at our feet in our Kingdom 6 tent (a heavy and large tent to be bringing into the Boundary Waters). As usual, we were asleep by the time the sun had fully set. Being outdoors all day, and the swarm of mosquitos that come out to feast on you at night, will do that to you.

Nick finishing his wine at the fire.

We knew the next day would likely bring some rain, but we got much more than we bargained for. But that’s for another post. In the meantime, enjoy these adorable pictures of my boys posing on a rock at our campsite.

It was a fun and event-filled day.

2020 Boundary Waters Family Adventure: Day 2 — “Portaging & Canoeing”

Would you believe that four days later I’m still doing laundry from our trip? Aw…I suppose if you knew me, you would 100% believe it. It would likely be harder for you to believe if I had all the laundry done by now. But let me say, my washer and dryer has been going non stop since we got home. I mean, you can only fit one sleeping bag in the machine at a time. So…yeah.

Before you read any further. If you haven’t already, you may want to read the first post of Day 1.

Day 2 of our adventure started early, though maybe not as early as Nick would have liked. (This time of year it’s a race to get a campsite, especially considering the BWCAW is seeing a 100% increase in permit purchases this year.) We woke up around 6 a.m., packed up and headed out to our next stop, Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters, stopping at the Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters office on our way out to square up. At which point we watched the owner’s two adorable English Setters obsess over an itty bitty chipmunk that kept eluding them up a tree or under a bush. Also, the owner gave us each an awesome Rockwood sticker — you know, the kind you tattoo all over your laptop or other such things.

Anyway, I’d say we pulled into Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters sometime around 7 or 7:30 a.m. It was just a few miles up the road from Rockwood. This is where we rented our canoe from. We have a canoe, but it won’t fit all four of us plus our gear, so the last two years we’ve been renting a four-person kevlar canoe from Tuscarora. It’s great, they load it up and bring it to the entrance point for you.

This is Ryker hanging at the end of our second portage waiting for us to make it back with the rest of the gear.

When we pulled up at Tuscarora, it was teaming with teenage boys. I can only guess it was a Boy Scouts’ trip, but not 100% sure. I did appreciate how one of the boys had a pink Nalgene water bottle and wore a fanny pack. I think I may need both of those for our 2021 trip.

After paying for the canoe, we drove to our final destination, Point #50, where we loaded all of our excessively heavy gear into the canoe, parked our van, and paddled our way through Cross River. This is a very short paddle and a stunning river!

Paddle & Portage #1: Cross River

As soon as we got in the canoe, despite our advice to be silent so we wouldn’t scare off wildlife, Ryker decided to test out his echo — loudly and consistently — throughout our paddle. We still got to see the most adorable family of otters though. A mom, dad, and four babies. They were swimming right toward us with their little heads bobbing above the water, before they dove under at the sight of our canoe coming toward them.

This was right after we saw the family of otters on Cross River.

We reached our first portage within about five + minutes. It really was a short paddle. Nick and I have paddled for hours on just one lake in the BWCAW in the past (mostly because of the wind). Thankfully, the day was partly cloudy, warm, and windless, making canoeing super enjoyable.

Nick pulling the canoe out of the water at our first portage.

The first portage was at the base of some rapids and was a giant pile of rocks with a few sharp edges to keep you on your toes. We all piled out, our feet getting soaked immediately, slipping across wet rock, and Nick handed me all the gear: Three packs, the largest weighing about 80 lbs, one tent pack, weighing about 30 lbs, two paddles, two Nalgene water bottles, maps, three fishing rods, and a leech caddy. We loaded the boys up with the fishing rods, water bottles, paddles, maps, and leech caddy, and sent them ahead down the first portage, which was 66 rods of uphill, muddy, narrow, and rocky terrain. (Quick side note: rods are how they measure the distance of portages. 320 rods = 1 mile. So the first portage was about .2 miles.) We were able to do this portage in just two trips (three passes). Nick followed shortly with the canoe hoisted above his head and then I came with the first and heaviest pack. Once we got to the end of the portage, Nick set the canoe partially in the water and tasked Townes with holding it while he, Ryker, and I went back to get the rest of the gear. When all was said and done we walked the portage three times for a total of 198 rods, or .6 miles.

This is the first portage, third pass.

Paddle & Portage #2: Cross Bay Lake

Next up was our paddle across Cross Bay Lake, which was about a 20-minute paddle. (Quick side note: we chose this trip, short portages and paddles, to keep the trip fun and light for the kids — and I guess us too.) Our next portage was just 30 rods, half the distance of the first and was a much wider and flatter trail, making it loads easier to trek across. And so we unloaded, carried all our gear across, and reloaded, again in just three passes, totaling 90 rods or .3 miles. Portaging for a total of about 1 mile the first day, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you’re carrying heavy gear on your back across ankle twisting terrain, it feels like A LOT. This was our last portage into Ham Lake, where we would stay for the next two nights — hopefully.

Carrying the tent on my front and a pack on my back for the second portage.

Paddle #3: Ham Lake

Next we reached the lake we’d be staying on, Ham Lake, assuming there were campsites available. Despite it being 119 acres, there are only three campsites on the entire lake. It’s not an overly huge lake, nothing compared to Brule, with about 17 campsites, or even Cherokee Lake that’s 880 acres, but large enough for our purposes.

Townes looking out at Ham Lake from a cliff.

We really hoped to stay at the same campsite as last year. It was the first campsite on our way into Ham Lake. It’s not much to look at, and we were actually pretty bummed when all the other sites were full last year and we were stuck with this one. It was small without much of a view or a place to hang a tarp over the fire, or even a hammock, but we quickly discovered it was perfect for fishing, on account of the small channel it was located on, and a great place for the kids to go swimming.

This was our campsite from last year. Not much, but the kids loved it!

Alas, much to the disappointment of the kiddos, this site was taken, though it looked rather empty aside from a handful of clothes drying on a line, and a teeny tent or tarp in a small space between a few trees. It reminded me of how my uncle David would camp, with not much at all.

Ham Lake.

So we paddled into the open water heading to the next campsite to see if it too was taken. On our way, we saw four other canoes heading in from what looked like one of the larger campsites located on a point in the middle of the lake. So, we headed that way, and sure enough, they were leaving. Watching one, then two, then three, four, and then five canoes leave from one site reminded me a bit of watching dozens of clowns piling out of a tiny clown car at the circus. Where did they all fit?

Townes and Ryker exploring a sandy beach off a trail from a campsite.

So we parked our canoe, hopped out, and started exploring the now abandoned campsite. And, despite the absolutely stunning 360-degree views, the sweet little sandy beach, and the absolutely fabulous fire pit, we were hesitant to start unpacking. We were worried the kids wouldn’t enjoy it as much since there wasn’t a rock to jump off into the water safely, nor a guaranteed fishing spot. So, we unloaded, but didn’t unpack, and set out to canoe the rest of the lake in search for a “better” site. What we wouldn’t realize until the next day, however, was this campsite was by far the best site we could have asked for given the impending rain. But that’s for another post.

The campsite.

To be Continued…

2020 Boundary Waters Family Adventure: Day 1 — “On the Road”

It’s Sunday, late morning, the boys are at Grandma and Papa’s at a sleepover. I’m relaxing in my rocking chair, feet up on my favorite footstool my dad secretly fixed (thanks, Dad!), coffee nearby in my favorite mug, and Taylor Swift’s new album, folklore, playing in the background — all while I balance my laptop on my fleece-covered lap. This, all coming on the heels of my new kitties destroying my house plants, getting dirt all over the carpet, and my older kitty having none of it — meowing and hissing for 1.5 hours straight until the rain stopped and he could go back outside.

Moving on…

We Went to the Boundary Waters

Four days ago we got back from a three-ish-day, impromptu, trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Though Nick and I have gone several times before/without the kiddos, this was our second time going with our twin boys, who are now eight years old.

Townes and Ryker loved their first trip to the BWCAW so much last year, we decided to do the same trip this year, changing it up slightly with a stay in a bunkhouse the first night.

This photo is from the boys’ first trip to the BWCAW last year. Here they’re jumping off a rock right at our campsite on Ham Lake.

Hitting the Road

Sunday afternoon, we loaded up all of our camping/backpacking gear into our crappy mini van (with no air) and hit the road around 3 PM, just an hour after our intended departure. On a time crunch, and with very few options, and hungry bellies, we hit the drive through at McDonald’s in Spooner, WI.

Just an hour into our trip, with loads of daylight left, Nick started nodding off. So…we pulled off in Superior, WI and I hopped in the driver seat. Then we were off again. Me, listening to the Office Ladies podcast, Nick, trying to get a few minutes (hours) of rest while the boys peppered him with a million questions about anything and everything. (Side note: As annoying as it is, don’t you kind of wish as adults we were in the habit of asking more questions?)

Just a few minutes later, Nick, with eyes clenched, most likely, I couldn’t know for sure because I was watching the road, breath held, door handle gripped, we past over the MASSIVE bridge from Superior, WI, to Duluth, MN. (Nick hates bridges, and though I know he was actually starting to fall asleep, I think a major incentive for switching to the passenger seat is so he didn’t have to look while going over that bridge.)

Four hours later…

About four hours after leaving the house, we drove into a Holiday station in Grand Marais to load up on leaches, sandwiches for the bunkhouse, and a couple of kid ponchos. 45 minutes after that, around 8:30 p.m., we pulled into Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters off the Gunflint Trail. We stayed the night in a bunkhouse so we could get an early start the next morning. We ended the day, all in lower bunks, with me reading a chapter out of “Little House on the Prairie.” The night was a bit sleepless for me, but I think Nick got some much-needed rest.

A Sleepless Night

Right as I was starting to drift off into what would be a “wakeful night,” Townes asked if he could sleep with me. So, he shuffled in the dark from his lower bunk to mine and shimmied into the same sleeping back as me on a tiny single bed.

Then, about “who-knows-what-time” in the night, Ryker found his way over to my bunk saying he was scared. So I stumbled my way from one crowded lower bunk to another, and fumbled my way into Ryker’s sleeping bag. From that time, every time I started to drift into some variation of sleep, Ryker would reach out for me saying “Mama, where are you?” Proceeding to rest one limb or another on some part of my body to ensure I didn’t evaporate into the bed itself.

And that’s how I spent my first night on our adventure. With very little sleep, but lots of excitement and optimism for what the day would bring tomorrow.

To Be Continued…