Back then we had a full fledged road barge, a heavy duty, three quarter ton conversion van. With a stiff tailwind it'd get fifteen miles per gallon. But it had a lot of room inside for gear and people and, on occasion, a face cord of oak. She was a beast and more than doin' her share of climate change. Atop, our fifteen foot alumacraft sat like a beanie on Andre the Giant.
I sure was excited when we hit the road. Don't know if Al felt the same.
Since this was a last minute deal and we didn't have more than the basics of camping gear, we weren't aimin' for the BWCA. Instead we chose a state park just off the edge of the Arrowhead Trail by the name of Judge C. R. Magney. Not very wilderness sounding but perfect for our introduction.
Since we had all day and four more like it ahead, there was no real hurry. I wanted to make this as much fun for Al as I could. Over in the shotgun seat he was equipped with a stack of comic books, Mads and just maybe something approaching literature.
The drive north starts through city traffic, past downtown Minneapolis, twenty miles of the north 'burbs and finally into farm country. Breakfast was at Tobie's in Hinckley, more or less a classic on the road to Duluth. They're famous for their gigantic sweet rolls. Their bigger makes up for their lack of better. Dining out, just the two of us, wasn't something I'd ever done with my son.
A few dozen miles farther up the interstate we passed over the first hint of the Canadian Shield in the form of a lengthy, black slab of basalt. A hint of what's to come like that finger of rock gets my blood stirring. From there to Duluth the land generally rolls and rises till it's several hundred feet above the city then plummets down the long, winding descent toward the harbor.
But Duluth ain't where we want to be and did little more than slow us down as I-35 evolved into Highway 61, the ran up the shore of Lake Superior toward Grand Marais. She's a two hour drive with many a scenic stop. A lighthouse, rivers, waterfalls, agate beaches, state parks, Russ's smoked fish, Betty's Pies and a few roads that turn inland.
A hundred miles up from Duluth the roads take on the name of trail. They're roads to be sure but there was a time not too long ago that they weren't. Caribou, Sawbill, Gunflint and our trail, the Arrowhead. And all those trails dead end at a place not so much different than it was back when the trails were really trails. Yeah, times have changed but the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area are big enough to let a man pretend for a while. And maybe catch the fish of a lifetime.
Grand Marais functions somewhat like a modern day jumping off point for the BWCA. There's a ranger station there, good local food, a couple of outfitters, lodging, tackle shops and enough tourist oriented businesses to satisfy most anyone. If you're gonna spend any time in town it's best you change from the shorts and t-shirt you put on back in eighty degree Minneapolis into jeans and a sweat shirt. When the wind's coming off the big lake temperatures are likely to be in the high forties down by the harbor.
Here we gassed up and grabbed a bag of bakery donuts for the last, short leg to Magney State Park outside of Hovland. The town has a post office and what functions like a general store (or maybe a gift shop). Throw in a few houses and what once was a harbor for the local herring boats and that's about it. Alongside the turnoff onto the Arrowhead Trail runs the Flute Reed River. Upstream a short ways the outdoorsman and author Calvin Rutstrom once owned acreage.
Like all the north shore streams, the Flute Reed has it's share of trout. In them you'll find brookies, sometimes rainbows and once in a while, browns. Should you want to catch a few of those trout just head upstream till the brush becomes impenetrable, the mosquitos unbearable and pray your backhand flip cast stays out of the branches.
But in the early afternoon the two of us turned into the state park, paid our fee and found the first of what, over the years, became many camp sites.