Day 3 - The End of Our First Backpacking Trip - Cruiser Lake Trail - Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota
Well, today ended our three-day, two-night backpacking trip out in the wilderness of Voyageurs National Park. I call it a successful "experiment", and we'll do another trip later this summer.
At the end of the many survivalist shows that we watch, the survivors are "extracted" from their challenging environments. Since we had to rely on a boat to come and get us, Linda was calling this "extraction day".
Our water taxi was meeting us at the dock and trailhead at 10:00 a.m., and we were only 10 - 15 minutes away. So, we had plenty of time to enjoy our last morning.
Fortunately, it didn't rain last night, and we both slept well. But it was cloudy this morning blocking our sunrise. And we could hear rolling thunder in the distance which seemed to be a confirmation of the storms Linda said were predicted for today. Before we left on Friday, the forecast was that the storms would arrive after 11:00, and we were hoping that was still the case.
First thing this morning, I made one cast and hooked another Northern Pike. I could tell it wasn't hooked well, and I lost it right at my feet. Still fun, though.
We retrieved our food bag (actually one of our dry bags from our paddling adventures) from the bear pole, and Linda fired up the WindBurner and made her coffee. We sat on the rocks and watched the loons ....
and a couple of deer across the lake where we had been watching for moose. No moose sightings on this trip, but the young Whitetail bucks were a nice treat since we usually just see does on our hikes.
After our oatmeal, we started packing up.
We saved our Helinox chairs and Kindles for last and did a little more reading before it was time to walk the quarter mile to the dock. But, with the thunder getting closer, we decided to leave about an hour early just in case our ride showed up hoping to beat the storms.
With a couple pounds less food and about four pounds less water, my backpack felt great this morning. Perhaps it was also the cooler weather and a restful sleep as well.
For what it's worth, I really, really like my Osprey Atmos AG 50 backpack - I couldn't be happier with it. And I believe Linda is impressed with her Osprey Viva 50 as well.
Even with the clouds, the dock at the end of Lost Bay was very pretty this morning.
We walked up the rocks above the dock to watch for our water taxi. But with a good view of the main lake, it was clear that storms were coming our way.
A few minutes later, we could see the wall of rain. We threw on our rain gear and hustled to the trailhead latrine that we had just passed. It was clean and it would be our shelter for the next hour or so.
It poured and lightning was striking all around us. We were quite thankful for the roof over our heads. Still, we each ventured out into the rain every 15 - 20 minutes just to be sure Tim wasn't waiting at the dock for us. Lightning would chase us back.
We assumed the storms kept him from heading out, and we were pretty sure he was going to stay safe and come later.
After the worst of the lightning passed, we walked back out to the rocks leaving our packs at the latrine. We picked blueberries and watched as a beaver swam below us and an eagle flew from a tree not far from us. Unfortunately, the camera was packed away in a dry bag.
It looked like there was a window of decent weather, so we hoped Tim would take the opportunity. It started to rain again as we watched for him, and we were happy when his boat appeared on the smooth water of Lost Bay. He was only about 45 minutes behind schedule.
We loaded up and headed back to the Kabetogama Visitors Center. With our "extraction" complete, we thanked Tim, paid him, returned our keys for the canoe & paddle storage box, and headed home for a hot shower.
Our first backpacking experiment was complete.
So, what did we take away from this trip?
1. Every beginning backpacker resource I've read says "Get in shape!" That doesn't necessarily mean carrying the pack with weight (although it's recommended), but it does mean to get into good physical shape. If we were a bit stronger and carrying at least ten pounds less of our own weight, the hiking portion would probably have been easier. Before we tackle something more strenuous, we need to get in better shape.
2. Many backpacking resources say that just getting out there and hiking is the only way to get the muscles you rely on the most in the proper shape for the rigors of backpacking. Everything gets easier for long distance hikers after two to three weeks. However, we're not planning on doing any long distance hikes or being out for that long, so each time we go will probably be difficult. We need to get in shape, stay in shape, and keep our packs lightweight.
3. On this short two-night trip, we used everything in our packs except a) our extra clothing layers for colder weather, b) our 50-feet of paracord, and 3) our first aid kit. Those are all items that we'd still take with us on every trip. We also learned that we need to bring water bottles of some sort. While our hydration packs (water bladders) make it easy to drink (hydrate) while hiking, they are inconvenient once in camp if they are the only source to drink from. Also, on these types of trips where we are spending several hours in camp, a lightweight hammock would sure be nice. I'm sure we'll learn as we go, just like RVing.
4. We have no lingering aches and pains from carrying the packs. Our packs are comfortable and hold everything we might need.
5. Though the bugs were bad, because we were prepared, even Linda said they weren't as bad as she expected. They were an annoyance, but the bugs themselves wouldn't prevent a trip.
6. We loved all our equipment. Though we spent a lot of money and we've already gotten the "Your outfitter saw you coming" comment and an accompanying "A good wilderness experience does not need as many unnecessary accouterments" comment (both of which we expected), all our gear made the experience better and without some of it, Linda wouldn't be interested in going at all. So, I anticipate many more comments about how we spent too much money and how we don't need various items, but as long as we keep our packs reasonably light and enjoy our time in the wilderness with some comfort, we'll be more apt to do it again.
7. Linda is probably a four-night max backpacker and she needs comfort or she isn't interested. Had the storms arrived overnight, her resolve would have been tested a lot more. So, weather is definitely an issue for her, and it's often unpredictable especially when there is no internet for her to monitor her beloved weather website. She also doesn't want to deal with the hygiene issues (or lack of hygiene) for more than a few days. That's why campsites with latrines will work best for her as will campsites near water sources for easier clean-up.
8. I'm ready to go again. Although the thought of completing the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail (the U.S. Triple Crown) appeals to my sense of accomplishment, I doubt I'd ever be a thru-hiker (they just have to rush too much to fit in the hike before weather prevents completion). I'm more interested in lingering in the wilderness and exploring beautiful areas during optimal weather, understanding that inclement weather will happen and will have to be dealt with. So, I fantasize about a few days here and there, and perhaps a week to two weeks once or twice a year (maybe a month if it included a couple nights or so off trail).
This outing was successful and my plans for another trip this summer (for both of us) are a go. Later this summer, I hope we get to do a three or four night backpacking trip at Isle Royale National Park. That trip has campsites near water with latrines, so convincing Linda to go is a little bit easier.
There you have it. I consider the backpacking experiment a success primarily because I'm ready to go again AND Linda is not saying "never again".