Each succeeding entry gets tougher to write. Yes, each trip was different. But what can be said to keep it interesting? Seems like I keep crossing the line into the repetitive. Even I get bored. Uncle Emil won't talk to me. And when he does, his index finger wags at me like I'm eight years old again. Yes Uncle Emil, it was me who forgot to put the minnow bucket back in the river. Mea culpa (like an old Lutheran like him would know what that meant). Anyhow, I'll give it a shot and see what comes out.
Last two week trip. Probably our last trip, period. Allan was done with school and on the job. A 21st Century intern affair where you don't get paid much but are thankful for getting paid at all. A Graphic Designer no less. A long cry from his ancestors slinging manure and hoping there was enough food in the larder to last 'til Spring. All by the by. But, as a beginner making next to nothing, his company was open to him disappearing for a couple of weeks in early June. That was fine with both of us.
Don't know why but any thoughts of reattempting the Four Mile Portage never arose. Grass River was still the destination and new water was the goal. At least for me. Allan didn't seem to mind where we went so long as big fish were involved. Reed and anything accessed through Reed was out. Bob's 'fish a cast' Barb Lake was definitely in. But two weeks on Barb was way too much time. Even with a mucking two mile portage it was no more than five hours each way. A week there, no more. Having no other way to get onto Barb besides air or mucking meant it wasn't going to get crowded. Good. Close to a thousand acres, big walleyes were a possibility. Maybe even trophy pike. Both good. We hung it on the board for a week's stay.
So, where else? The inexplicably named B.C. Lake rose to the top. Out of the way at the western edge of the park and five to six hundred islanded acres, it looked good on the map. Also not easy to get to. A four mile drive north of Cranberry Portage. An east turn on gravel or sand passed the landfill (had to be a great lake if a dump was involved). A few miles farther with possibly a stream crossing and we'd arrive at a half mile trail to Anvil Lake. From Anvil another five, or so, miles of lake, swamp and portage into B.C. Since the portages were drawn on the official map and since Canadian officials never lie, we figured they must be there. Since the portages were there, B.C. must be accessible. And not just another one of my pipe dreams.
My nephew spends way too much time guessin' about stuff. And way too little time livin' in the real world. Maybe came from his time in Vietnam. Tells me he was only there in body. Can't say I blame him for doin' that. Heard it was a real shit hole. As for Grass River Park he says, "Who am I gonna call?" and, "No books, no guides, no nothing." The only info is a few paragraphs in the park brochure. Says there's trees, birds, rocks and fish. That's about it. So what you gonna do? Paddle in, throw a line and see if anything attaches itself to the end. Won't use a fish finder so it's hit and miss. Good thing he doesn't mind gettin' skunked.
His plan's usually based on the 'that lake looks good on paper' method. Should have been an art critic not an angler. Counts islands and figures acreage by eyeballin' kilometer squares. Allan's headin' in the right direction by being a graphic designer. Maybe he could get into map making and draw out just the kind of lakes his old man would fall for. I can see Markie now. Lookin' at the map, then the lake, over and over. "Somethin's wrong with the lake. It don't match the map at all." Total bozo.
Come Spring, that was the plan. A week on B.C., Anvil and maybe a bushwhack or two. Then back to the Jeep for resupply and a drive to Iskwasum. Head into Barb for the second week. Maybe try what looked like a dry mile bushwhack into Vanco Lake. Only half the total food weight on each phase. Not necessarily a great plan but it was new water all the way.
A few years earlier I'd given some thought to a fly-in trip, gear and all. Probably a flashback to the overheard conversation in '65. Went so far as to send off a couple of letters. One reply. The only part of it I remember is the thirty-five hundred buck price tag. Enough of a shock to cause a mucus blast and an are you shittin' me? And that didn't include the getting there and all the incidentals. For that kind of price tag we could have flown to Hawaii, rented kayaks and camped for two weeks. I wrote fly-ins off as a rich man's game.
Then along came the internet. Took a while but even a schmuck like me eventually hooked on. Began to explore the possibilities of the wilderness via cyber space. And learned that flights on Cranberry Air would fit into blue collar pockets. Cheap enough to make me suspicious. And recall almost being run over by them in '00. Sometimes I'm too distrustful for my own good.
So I sucked it up and fired off a couple of e-mail inquiries to Cranberry Air and a service out of Snow Lake to the east of the park, called Gogal Air. Good thing I wasn't holding my breath while waiting.
Not knowing what the two track out of Cranberry Portage would be like, I bought a come-along and stout rope. Been stuck a couple of times in places that seemed designed to do just that. The idea of being able to winch the Jeep out of a bottomless pit had it's appeal. By mid-May we were about as ready as we could be.
'Bout the same time Allan began to pester me about actually calling one of the air services. That didn't fly with me and my problem with seeking any kind of help from people I didn't know. A long distance call to some unknown dude in Canada was on the level of asking an insurance salesman over for a cup of coffee. I just don't do that. So I chose what seemed the tougher of the two, Gogal Air. Knew nothing about Snow Lake except some guy named Gogal had a plane there. Of course there was no answer.
Then I shocked myself. Forty miles north of Snow lake sat the Burntwood Lake Lodge. Owned by the Gogal family. The same Gogal maybe? Couldn't hardly believe myself when I called them. Yup, same guy. Nope, not in. Canoe? You better talk to Larry but he ain't here. Left a message and wrote it off as not gonna happen. Locked myself in the hall closet for two hours as punishment for calling strangers.
Tuesday before departure I came home from work to find out some flyboy from the boonies had called. Twenty minutes later I'd learned:
1) Round trip to either File Lake or an outpost cabin on remoter Dow Lake was $550 USD,
2) Cash was best,
3) Water levels were down on the File River but he'd check them out with a low fly over,
4) Out of country calls were an extra charge on our Sprint plan, and
5) I still like to make lists.
The man on the phone was the one and only Larry Gogal. Easy to deal with. Then again, seemed like most people who'd lived in the far north got that way. When I asked about a place to stay in Snow Lake he immediately thought of the Blue Nose B&B. Years later I learned that the Blue Nose is the sail boat on the back of the Canadian dime. And the boat was named after the title given one for crossing the Arctic Circle in a boat. B&B unfortunately was not named after the liqueur. Told Gogal we'd be there come Saturday morning. A second call to a nice lady got us a room and directions to the house. Like I'd have any problems finding a building in a town of 1200 people. Whoo boy! Set for some adventure now.
Eventually it had to happen. On the road before 8 a.m. on a workday for the first time. Took some creative finagling, help from those around me and dodging the boss. Good thing we did. The forecast called for us to meet up with a storm front around 9 a.m. And we had to make the map store in Winnipeg before they closed at 4:30. Somewhere between where we were gonna be dropped off and where we were gonna be flown out there was a hole in our area knowledge. Guessing my way through eighty miles of wilderness ain't my idea of fun. Too much like real adventure.
The storm hit right on schedule. Wind, rain, thunder and lightning. Finally the crosswind got so strong I had to pull over. Checked the straps and turned the wheel over to Al. Our speed slowed from 75 to 60. Semis we'd flown by earlier now wreaked havoc on the Jeep. If the weather got any worse, we'd have to go home and get Lois to drive. Seems like every time the weather turns bad or there's a bad stretch of road, I'm riding shotgun. Long story short, we were falling behind schedule. Way behind.
The weather improved near the border. We switched seats, bumbled our way through customs and lit out for Winnipeg. City limits with twenty-five minutes to go. Rush hour traffic. Stoplights everywhere. All the sonsabitches red. Our map drawn on the back of a cereal box in crayon. Somehow we found the place at 4:29. On the nose. I rushed to the door. Locked. Frickin' locked. I'd have beaten on the door but was afraid of breaking a nail. Slump-shouldered, despondent, lost, I stood there. A truck door opened behind me. The ring of jack boots on the pavement. A deep timbered voice says, "One side Yankee Doodle. Let me show you how a real man, a Canadian man, knocks on a locked door." The building shook.
His wife worked inside. She was more than happy to bail out a couple of foreigners and turn our currency into maps. We needed three, she had two. A minute of rousting and she found what the missing map. Had to do an over scale copy of a Burntwood Lake prototype. Thank you ma'am. Walking out, we had everything but a two mile section of the File. If the edge of the world or stretch of rapids called 'The Cadaver' wasn't missed, we were gold. Roads were empty by then. Went across the street to Wendy's and leisurely drove four hundred, seventy-five miles up the road to Snow Lake.
Once in a while Markie writes a paragraph even I'd read. Then he goes and edits it out. Good or not? You be the judge:
No doubt I asked at the front counter if the Wendy's hamburger patties in Canada were square just like the one's in the real world. I can't claim to know anyone else's thoughts but possibly, more likely probably, the young lady behind the counter thought to herself, 'What an idiot. If I ever have children I swear they're not going to end up like that (eh)'. The twig is bent and somewhere down the road, maybe two or three generations, a grandson or great-grandson sits with a high powered fusion rifle at the top of a tall building in Windsor, Ontario. He fires a badly aimed shot into Detroit where it strikes the last remaining copy of Mule Skinner Blues, by the Fendermen. Thus making the world a slightly better place.
Wordy as all get out. But the gist is interesting. Later on he writes that peeing outdoors ought to be in The Bill of Rights. In my book, that's a fine mind at work. Just needs to put a clamp on the ego and crisp up the action. Heck, it's a fishin' story ain't it? He's gettin' better. But may not live long enough to make it. By the by. About fifty years ago he thought the Mule Skinner Blues was up there with Mozart. If you ain't heard it, check it out. But don't go and write me if you think it stinks.
Thankfully the Friday night sobriety road block was well and good. Had those five minutes blocked out on the schedule. Didn't want to screw things up. And just to the north sat our new last gasp gas stop at Grand Rapids. Seemed like The Place to be on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg. She were a jumpin', inside and out. A peek at the big lake made the canoe shudder. Me too. Then it was all new country. Rolling hills, lake views. Felt like we were rising out of an ancient sea bed. Long before Snow lake the sun went down. We turned into a moving wedge of light cutting through solid black. No traffic whatsoever for two hundred miles. Had the feeling we'd come up over a rise and broadside a wooly mammoth. Needed a periscope to see over the hills. Felt that way until we rolled into Snow Lake around eleven-thirty.
My scribbled directions failed us immediately. Looking for a log sided building down the hill next to two churches. Found the gold mine. Toured the town. Twice. We were the only thing moving. Town closed 'til Saturday morning. A lucky wrong turn did it. Found the key. Read the note. Made a call to the owners. They were out partying somewhere. Their son paid us a visit instead. Got the low down on the gravel right-of-way. And all the sordid hearsay concerning the Grass River Lodge. Went outside. Had a last smoke and watched the Northern Lights. Nine degrees farther north.