Mark Cahill is a friend of mine from suburban Chicago high school. The last time I saw him was many years ago in Lawrence, Kansas, where his then-girlfriend danced on the bar at an underage watering hole and got us kicked out. He recently got back from a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters and kindly wrote the following for Cold Splinters. Enjoy.
Just before Duluth, MN it was time that we switched drivers so that I could finally catch a couple Zzz’s. We left Chicago about seven hours earlier and it was a short drive along the Northern Edge of Lake Superior to the Ranger’s Station near Grand Marais, MN, where our permits lay waiting. I hopped in the front seat and shuffled around until I masterfully lodged my head in between the window and my seat belt. I had just fallen asleep listening to JJ Cale’s “Travelin’ Light” and was suddenly woken by a hard slam on the brakes. I popped up and about twenty feet in front of the car was a big fat, “Welcome to the Boundary Waters, Boys!” Somewhere in between that rush of thinking you’re flying into Lake Superior and being groggy from sleep, I realized that we stopped for my very first sighting of a Grey Wolf. I don’t know why, but I nodded at the beautiful little guy as he slowly retreated into the woods. Perhaps it was because I knew we were there.
After grabbing our permits from the Ranger’s Station, we turned North in Grand Marais and headed up the Gunflint Trail in Superior National Forest. Roughly forty-five minutes later and about a mile from the Canadian Border, we reached our departure point, Round Lake. There is a small Canoe Outfitter (Tuscorora) at the edge of the Lake, and as it turns out a friendly face – The owner’s sister lives in my hometown! After some friendly banter about water levels and fishing hotspots/depths we loaded up our canoe and pushed off. A quick half mile paddle across the Lake and we reached our first portage. It was a doozy at 142 Rods, and about half-way through we saw the sign! Entry Point #51. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
We took the Frost River Loop through the BWCAW, a fairly tough route that features a narrow winding river mid-way through. Lots of portages to hike and lots of beaver dams to hop; Gorgeous Lakes and good boulder diving; Leaches and pesky mosquitoes; Common Loon and Bald Eagle; Bull Moose and Black Bear…It was perfect!
A few days later I perched myself on a boulder and unsheathed my travel sketchbook from it’s waterproofing. Flipping through the worn pages, it occurred to me just what the glaciers had carved into our continent during the last Ice Age. Maybe by accident, or maybe because my bowling name is ‘Iceman,’ I’ve tended to live near distinctive landscapes created by those large glacial movements from so long ago: From Hills in Kansas, Moraines in Wisconsin, to those Great Lakes. I pulled out my favorite Techliner Drafting pen and scratched in a new page, then headed back to the camp fire with some old friends hoping to hear my new friend – the Grey Wolf – howl, “Good Night!”