Back in '98 I'd sent a letter to a flying service up near the Land of Little Sticks to see how much it'd cost to fly Allan and I to a point upstream on the river where their lodge sat. I'd had a vision of what a true wilderness trip should look like since the days I used to sit in Ole's Barber Shop reading outdoor magazines to pass the time while waiting for my monthly scalping. Though what we'd done to this point was close it still was short of the picture in my head. Yet, a part of me remained between those long ago pages and off on an adventure to Great Slave Lake where the water was ice free for only a few weeks a year. Of course my vision only included the forty pound lake trout and not the two pound mosquitoes that were more likely to bite. Since then both Allan and I had grown familiar with the roar in the woods and came to know those skeeters as both large and slow but had yet to catch a lake trout, or grayling, or arctic char for that matter.
Physical mail was something I did back then, it was charming, effective, and slow as molasses, particularly when crossing international borders and approaching the arctic circle. Eventually I did receive a response; short, sweet, friendly, and somewhere over three grand as I recall. African safari money to a man who was paid by the hour. Drive and paddle was more our speed. Still is. However, the idea of a fly in with all our gear never left my thoughts.
By 2003 my letter days were over and the much faster means of e-mail had taken its place. By now both Allan and I had become attached to northwest Manitoba as a destination. More likely, it was a mostly me destination, since we always went in my car, we always went where I wanted to go. Call it a combination of habit and satisfaction with our days in Grass River Park. We'd come to learn a little about where to go in the park and what to expect. Also, to this point we'd paddled no more than a third of Grass River's waters leaving us much left to see.
However, the lakes and rivers north of the park always drew my eye. In 2002 we'd tried to reach them by foot and paddle but had been stopped by frozen Reed Lake. Oddly enough the idea of a second shot at the Four Mile Portage never entered my mind. Why, I don't know. What did was an Internet search of flying services in the Cranberry Portage area and over in nearby Snow Lake (if fifty miles away can be considered near) where I found Gogal Air. Also, saw that someone with the last name of Gogal owned the Burntwood Lake Lodge thirty miles to the north of town. I both e-mailed Gogal and spoke with the lodge about possibilities and rates but received no answer from Mr. Gogal.
On the upside, there remained two unseen lakes of size in the western half of the park, B.C. and Barb (of the walleye a cast per Bob with the black lab). Both offered a challenge concerning access. B.C. was two lake crossings and three portages away into the bush after a five mile long drive on a backwoods sand track. That became the plan. We had four wheel drive for the track but also bought a hundred feet of heavy duty rope just in case. Barb on the other hand, was a simpler shot, six miles of lake followed by two miles of stream and portage. The plan evolved into a week on each with a twenty-five mile car ride between. Not the trip we were hoping for but we'd have a lot of new, near wilderness water to ourselves and no doubt catch a few fish along the way. What more could we want?
About a week before the trip I came home from work and was told a man from Canada had called. Yes indeed it was Larry Gogal and yes indeed he'd be willing to give us a lift into the bush. We politely chatted for a bit then I asked him the three thousand dollar question. Mr. Gogal was quiet for a few seconds then quoted a price that was so reasonable I accepted immediately. As to a place to stay on the night before he suggested the Blue Nose B and B in Snow Lake. Turned out their price, with the favorable exchange rate, would've been peanuts had I thought the plant would survive in the rocky, frozen soil. Oh boy was I excited. Now all I had to do was find Snow Lake on the map.
One thing is for certain on a nine hundred mile drive, no matter the weather when you climb into the car, it'll change somewhere along the line, then change again. Mostly it was smooth sailing outside of two hundred miles of wind, rain, and lightening between central Minnesota and the Canadian border. Wind and rain stretches rope and we had to pull off the interstate a couple of times to re-rig.
The directions we had for the Blue Nose once we reached Snow Lake were at best sketchy. Probably the lady at the B and B gave me a photographically accurate description of where she was but the sketch artist in my brain works with a dull pencil on the back of a soiled napkin. However, after a tour of the midnight dark town we did find the place right where she said it would be. Odd how that works out. Seemed the owners were off partying but their son gave us the lowdown on the building and the local dirt about the railroad grade all the Snow Lake folks used to drive to a couple of remote fly-in lakes. Anyhow, the place was ours alone, even the free Fruit Loops and toast breakfast.
Snow Lake is a mining town and also does a fair amount of hunting and fishing business. Enough anyway to warrant a cafe in town and that's where we figured to set our sights on come morning. We went outside, smoked a last butt, watched a faint display of northern lights, and went to bed.