2002 was to be the trip of trips and it was but for completely unforeseen reasons. Call it ignorance or shortsightedness, call it what you want but by now we'd wandered into the north land bush enough times to know better. No matter a person's plans, nature rules the roost. But regardless of circumstance, we were ready as could be.
Back in '98 Manitoba Tourism had sent me several sketchy maps of Grass River Park. Near the north edge of one, trailing off the map, was a path labelled 'Four Mile Portage.' Struck me that only a fool would haul two hundred and fifty pounds of food, gear, and canoe that far to points unknown. There was no way I'd ever consider doing something that stupid, sloughed it off to the side, and over time the map disappeared. Odd thing was, I never forgot the portage. Sometime during the 2001 trip I must have mentioned it to Allan. We might even have discussed the off the map possibilities a four mile portage might lead us to. Over the fall and winter months the idea of heading to points unknown grew to be a definite maybe. I ordered maps from Manitoba just in case, poured over them, day dreamt of vague lakes to the north while staring through the windshield on the job, and eventually plotted a trip that grew to be a quest.
By spring we agreed this was something we wanted to do and grew excited by both its sheer idiocy, the possibility of huge fish, and the magic of the unknown. Yes, this time we were definitely going to paddle out of the box and fish outside the envelop or something to that effect. One notion we gave little thought till the day grew close was the opening leg as it slowly dawned on us it was the most dangerous part of the trip. The ten mile paddle across fifty thousand acre Reed Lake was an open invitation to disaster. A year earlier I'd read a Manitoba wilderness guide by Hap Wilson that included crossing Reed. He and his wife were experienced and talented paddlers and had used a spray skirt on their canoe when Reed's waves grew to danger level. Even then Wilson said Reed was a harrowing lake. Our crossing would be in an open canoe and loaded to the gills. I hated the idea of following the shoreline and nearly doubling the passage but it might be the only way that made sense.
Then there was the portage. We weren't gut-busting capable of toting two, ninety pound bales over the nine mile long Grand Portage like the Voyageurs of old. Hell, I wasn't capable of hoisting a hundred and eighty pounds much less move it. Looked like we needed to pare down our load and come up with a strategy. There was no doubt in my mind we'd have to triple portage the load in stages of about a hundred and sixty rods each. The way we'd do it, four miles of path called for eight miles of carry and four of going back for more and calling that a rest; leap frogging our way across from Reed to Morton Lake. Throw in a couple of snack breaks and I figured our hike at close to six hours. Odd thing was, we were excited about the misery.
Once across we faced a dilemma. Morton was tied up and locked in by Manitoba. The fishing guide said we couldn't so much as wet a line in Morton unless we were Canadian citizens or had written permission from one of the lodges back on Reed. Not sure what that was all about but it seemed someone had friends in high places. Once across the portage we faced the choice of paddling the length of six mile long Morton, maybe fishlessly camp for a night along the way, or do a short carry into the next lake, File, where we could at least fish if the notion struck us. More likely, after the portage and paddle, call it a day on File, eat a lot, and turn in early. Whatever we did would be decided by how our bodies felt at the end of the carry.
In a perfect world over the next day or two we'd continue our trek though a corner of fifteen thousand acre File, do a half-mile, semi-bushwhack into little Corley Lake to the west, and finally turn south on what looked like a short river trip into Norris lake with no doubt a short portage or two along the way. All-in-all we were facing twenty to twenty-five miles of paddle and around five miles of portage to a lake we knew nothing of besides seeing it on the map. Yes we were foolish but knew once we reached File we could call it a trip, base camp, and have wonderful fishing. Nothing was set in stone save we were going and would no doubt have a good time.
As to equipment, the only item of significance where we could save weight was the canoe. Exchanging aluminum for Kevlar would save close to twenty pounds and that became the plan. At a springtime scratch and dent sale of quality boats I found a Wenonah! Spirit II that fit the bill. Wide, deep, and light, it was built for big water. By late May the Jeep was loaded, the new canoe strapped atop, and we were rolling out of the driveway in Minneapolis with our sights set, once again, on The Pas.