Back in '94 we had a 3/4 ton, full-sized van. A road barge that rode the bumps like it was floating in slow motion through jello. As a camping vehicle it was great. Both me and Allan could sleep inside and have room left over for all our gear and a face cord of oak if we'd wanted.
On the trip in question there were six of us. Five related by blood and an in-law. Full load of gear and my wood trailer behind. Three canoes, one on the van, two on the trailer. Near to five tons rolling up I-35 to Duluth, then Highway 61 up the scenic North Shore. That drive alone is always worth the price of admission.
The trailer was a homemade wonder. Not made by me but by a local man in Pine River. He'd make a new one each year to haul his fire wood. Then stick a sign on it in his front yard where it'd be snatched up by passers by. Like me.
The frame was of scrounge, heavy duty scrap metal welded to one ton Ford truck suspension. All-in-all a masterpiece of recycling. Paneled of plywood and painted pink 'cause that's what he had. Pink was probably the reason it was still sitting there when I passed by for the third time that weekend. But the trailer could haul something over a half cord of green oak. That's solidly over a ton and macho enough to offset its color. Not that pink bothered me a whole lot.
Hauled a lot of firewood and lumber over the years. Wore out tires but never the basic structure. At the moment it's still in the yard and visible from space, yes it is visible from space, even though it's now a less flamboyant grey-blue.
Regardless of load she pulled like a part of the van. I had to occasionally look in the rear view mirror to see if it was still there. Sometimes the trailer would send me up a message that something was amiss. Like the time I was passed by one of its wheels. That'll catch your attention for sure. The trailer felt the same even though it was rolling on the drum. Seemed I'd had a blowout and the wheel ripped right through the lug bolts.
That was close to twenty years ago but remains an example of life up north. Sixty bucks got the trailer hauled nine miles to the garage still half filled. Also bought a wheel, new lugs and a tire good enough to get the trailer home.
Anyhow, the plan was to camp on a trout lake. I knew of one that had three fine primitive sites. Yeah, she was full up. Plan B was a second trout lake. The site was beautiful. Like something out of Field and Stream as my brother put it. Of course that was also full. Lucky for me we had backups C, D, E and F. Though F was a pure scramble.
It was C that was the fun part. I has this Superior National Forest map and on the map it showed a primitive, remote campsite on the far shore of a lake called Devilfish. It was choice C 'cause the DNR said Devilfish was a walleyes only lake. I'm not a walleye man. Most fisherman in Minnesota would call it a sacrilege that a lake be disparaged 'cause it only had walleyes in it. It is the state fish after all. But we were after smallies or if worse came to worse, a pike now and then. Walleyes are for killing and eating and we already had a couple of coolers filled with steaks and whatnot.
But Devilfish looked pretty on paper and was close to where we wanted to be. So it was choice C.
There were two ways for us to make it to the site, car or canoe. Canoe was out due to our half ton of gear. So it was car. Or in this case, van. And over a marginal two track forestry road. In a vehicle designed to cruise the highways. And pulling a wood trailer. But I wasn't thinking much beyond a place to sleep far from the madding crowd and maybe a line in the water yet that evening even if the only fishes were walleyes.
Almost forgot. There was a campsite shown on the map right at the boat access. Yup, it was taken. So we set off down the two track. Not a bad one as it turned out. Unless you consider it being the day the frost was coming out of the ground or a ground water seepage that was flowing unseen under the road surface at the bottom of a hill in which I managed to mire the van up to the hubs a problem. It all seemed so familiar. If he was still around, Greg woulda taken it in stride. Or at least not whined about it as much as me.
'Course whining was out of the question on that day as a I had to keep up a manly appearance. A "Shit fire boys, I been in lots worse places. There was this time in The Nam...." kinda face.
That's the one good thing about having screwed up many times over the course of a life's passage, you realize that this ain't the end of the world and that you'll figure a way out. Having no choice is a fine incentive.
The time me and Greg had floated his little truck in what grew to become a pond the more we worked at it, there was just the two of us. Nowhere near enough manpower. This time the story was different. Six men can move a lot of weight. Almost as good as a two ton come-along.
First of all there was the trailer. The hill behind us wasn't but twenty feet high as the frog jumps. Piece of cake, so there we parked it.
The van was another story. What with the disintegrating ground and one wheel drive, even with five men pushing as I gunned the engine, she moved with a mind of her own. And that mind tended toward the two track's south side. Didn't matter what was tried. She'd get up a head of steam and drift straight toward this thigh thick birch tree. Finally only one choice remained and I did have an ax with me.
Now, as far as I know, it's completely illegal to chop down any tree on state property without written permission. Seeing as how it was better than thirty miles to the nearest state office, and each of those miles was a walking mile, I wrote us a mental dispensation. We each took a few whacks to spread out the blame in typical execution form. Then carried the cadaver deep into the woods to hide it. You know, a lot like Lewis and Bobby and Drew and Ed did in Deliverance. I apologized to the tree for having stupidly taken its life - yeah, I occasionally do those kind of things.
Once removed, extrication of the van was no problem, the trailer reattached and we were off to plan D. Which turned out to be unoccupied but not up to my standards. How stupid can a man be? But I figured when you're twenty miles off pavement in a countryside of hill, bluff and pine forest, there's still no reason to camp on what appeared to be a crumbling concrete parking lot left over from the CCC days back in the '30s.
Outside of that and being quite a ways from any fishable lakeshore, it was an intriguing location. Fifty yards distant across the gravel road a small river rushed its way through a bolted steel culvert that appeared a leftover from a time of industrial might. Probably another Civil Conservation Corps product. Quarter inch or thicker steel, it'd been there for fifty-five years and looked to have another century left in it. Those boys built with style and a sense of the future.
I sometimes think back on that spot and the stream lullaby it would have afforded us and regret not having spent our few days there. But plan E, that being Judge C. R. Magney State Park on the Brule River, wasn't more than a half hour away and we had a lot of daylight left. It was and is a splendid park. Me and Al had camped there two years before and had the whole place to ourselves. A lock for sure.
Who'd have thought an entire state park could be closed for repairs? But Magney sure was and I was down to straw grasping as what to do next.