Allan ran the music show on our drives to and from the north. Once in a while he'd throw me a bone like The Beatles and almost as often I'd fire up John Prine. But mostly it was Allan and whatever phase he was passing through at the moment. Over the miles I developed the ability to tune out a variety of styles. My forte was hip-hop. Every so often Allan would ask my opinion about the lyrics of a particular tune and I'd have to return from wherever my thoughts were at the moment with a "pardon me?" I said that a lot, sometimes when my attention had wandered and sometimes due to a hearing loss. Al once said I should have 'pardon me' engraved on my tombstone. However, on this trip a couple of songs by the Minneapolis group Semisonic, latched onto my memory and are playing now playing between my ears as I sit here writing.
Somewhere past Ashern we did manage to briefly pick up Canadian Public Radio and a discussion of UFOs. Not something a man wanted to hear when headed into the bush. Being abducted was farther off the map than I'd ever considered traveling.
Once we passed St. Martin Junction there was little to see beyond road, graveled ditch, forest, swamp, or lake. All exotic in their own right if you'd never traveled Highway 6 before. What the heck, this was all a lake bed a few thousand years earlier, that anything at all lined this highway is remarkable.
We had only one turn we could possibly miss in the next three hours and tonight it was well-marked and blocked by a semi-trailer. Seemed the local police and the Mounties were checking for inebriates and maybe smugglers trying to plant Minnesota walleyes in Manitoba's pristine waters. I was more than ready and forced an innocent Mountie to check every legal document in the Jeep. The Canadian government said I needed them and by golly this Mountie was going check all four documents.
Our goal for the evening, like it had been for all of our trips north, was The Pas, mainly 'cause they had beds for rent. Being the dudes we were, it was always a pleasure entering the bush well-rested and clean from beaten-to-hell sneakers on up to crushed-and-slept-on hat. Mine was a genuine Filson. Still have it and may be cremated with it perched atop my head.
We were up and ready by six a.m. As usual we were pumped and in a hurry to reach our goal for the afternoon. We'd have fished Brunne Lake last year had I not broken my ribs. From Cranberry Portage she was fifteen miles of paddle and two portages away, one of which was cut by the ranger we'd talked with in 1998. In case you wonder what Canadians do with their spare time, they cut portages. Don't know why but Canadians sure like to make paths between lakes.
By now we had our paddling and portaging down pat. Unlike last year we left the bay with a gentle tail wind, moved so fast down the lakes we were forced to explore an island on the way. Not sure if our main reason was ecological interest or simply to empty our bladders. The hundred-twenty rod portage to the river exiting Bear Lake flew by, made us wish we'd carried more weight to at least make it interesting.
The portage from Bear into Brunne looked like it'd been cleared with road equipment. A few days later on a hike into an abandoned mine site, we followed another wide trail, this one looked to be lined with ruts from tires. Could be what the ranger called a portage was actually a winter road. Some wilderness eh?
Off to our left in a swampy, pot hole of a valley stood a fifty-five gallon, metal barrel. Not something I expected to see twenty miles from the nearest toilet. A little thought and we figured it a gut barrel for black bears, no doubt set there by a lodge or hunting guide. Much easier to find bears when you've baited the trap. No doubt Pa Crockett used the same technique for three year old Davy. No other way to explain a toddler killing a large omnivore unless the song writer was just blowing smoke. A few yards farther as we crested a gentle rise we came upon an impressive pile of dog crap. With not a dog within a six hour trot and a fair amount of hair and fur binding the droppings, there was little doubt we were in wolf country. Gave us back a little of the wilderness feeling the winter road and bear barrel had taken. Oh well, we were here for the fishing anyhow.