Sunday, June 25, 2017

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

In early June my buddy Justin and I trekked up to Ely, Minnesota for a weeklong adventure in the Boundary Waters.  For those not familiar with this area it is a collection of lakes and streams in the Superior National Forest and represents one million pristine, undeveloped acres on the United States-Canada border.  Directly across the border in Canada sits Quetico Provincial Park which adds another one million acres of lakes and wilderness.  The area is administered by the US Forest Service and National Park Service and contains 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 2,000 backcountry campsites and a lot of hiking trails and portages.

We had talked about doing a river camping trip in the kayaks but got the idea last fall to do the canoe trip instead.  Go big or go home, right??  This meant five days in the wilderness with no running water or showers, cell reception and the possibility of running into moose and bears.  Sign me up!!!

We went through an outfitter (Ely Outfitting Company) so all we had to do was show up with clothes and a first aid kit.  They provided a two person, lightweight kevlar canoe, camping gear, a backwoods kitchen setup, packs, food, fishing rods and tackle, etc.  It made it pretty easy to plan.

We drove up and took the scenic route through Duluth so we could see Lake Superior and camped at Tettegouche State Park.  I had camped there five years ago on a cycling trip around the lake and it was such a great spot.

The next morning before we took off to Ely we did a short half mile hike to High Falls within the campground.  It's the biggest waterfall fully in the state of Minnesota and pretty cool to see.

Off to Ely!  After arriving at the outfitter we watched a short video on the Boundary Waters that showed how to handle various situations (black bears seem pretty friendly) we got an overview of our gear, how to move the canoe and we would then be off to launch the next day.  Here's our approximate route:

The red/yellow spots are crossings where you have to take all the gear out of your canoe, carry the canoe across what is essentially a hiking trail (anywhere from 20 yards to over a half mile) and then get all your gear.

Finally - we were off!

The first portage after Snowbank Lake was ridiculously busy.  It was also the second longest portage we had in the entire trip so we had to jump right in.  After a few portages, however, we got our system down and started to get through much faster.

We stopped at one of the open campsites along the way for lunch.  Why am I drying my shirt on the left?  Probably because it was warm and DEFINITELY not because I fell into the water after losing my footing on a mossy rock getting out of the canoe.  Yeah, definitely not that...

Action shot of the man, the myth, the legend...

For those that asked how much gear we took - a lot.

This is what each portage looked like.  Some were more obvious than others and we navigated mostly by looking at the map, setting our direction with the help of a compass and trying to identify various land features to make sure we were on the right path (i.e. a small island, against a shoreline, spotting a marked campsite, etc.) but we did use offline maps on our phone's GPS as a backup at times.

Our campsite the first night.  We were tired boys.

Most of the food we were given was backpacking type food where you just have to add water and re-hydrate.  The first night we had fresh food like steaks (they were, uh, a little tough) and baked potatoes.  But the rest of the food was pretty good.  And we were also introduced to a little slice of heaven called Fry Bread.

Hanging our food packs from bears.  Notice the claw marks on the tree.  We didn't see any on the trip but there were signs of bears in spots.  To avoid the chance of coming across one in your tent you're supposed to hang your food pack 150 feet from your tents and the latrines are 150 feet away from that as well.  No bears that night but we were treated to a great, calm morning on the water.

All water has to be boiled or filtered.  We were given a pump filter but for drinking water Justin and I brought LifeStraw water bottles.  The filter is part of the lid and straw so all we had to do was dip the bottle in the lake, screw the cap back on and we were good to go.  Highly recommended.

Our next campsite was on a small island so we had it all to ourselves.  Justin thought it would be a good time to bust out the hammock which was a perfect idea.

Even had some time to do some fishing!

Everything is scenic out here.

The lake the next morning (Lake Insula) started out very serene but the wind picked up and we fought some wind and current while we paddled two hours to get through that very big lake.  After the two hours we entered the burn line.  Six years ago 10% of the Boundary Waters caught fire (from lightning, not someone that didn't put out a campfire, thankfully) and the re-growth is coming back very quickly.

We pushed on and somehow made it all the way to Lake Two on the third day.  This meant we could stay at the same campsite for two nights in a row and we lucked out on an incredible one.  We were on a peninsula and had a great spot for a hammock, a really good fire pit and a rock ledge on the back that had great views.  We even had cell phone reception which was a nice surprise and could check in back home.

Who doesn't like hammocks??

The next day was spent laying around, fishing and relaxing.  On our last day we only had about an hour of paddling to arrive at our pick up spot.  Since we had cell reception on the peninsula (but not 100 yards away from it in several directions oddly enough) we requested an earlier pick up time and got on the road.

It was a trip we'll never forget.  It was hard work in spots (all the portaging, fighting wind at times, things like that) but unplugging for a week and getting back to some simplicity was well worth it.  And surprisingly, two accountants that sit behind a desk all day didn't get lost!  I call that a win!  Unless next time...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sedona, Arizona

In early April my travels took me to Scottsdale, Arizona to attend the wedding of a good buddy (who is also a former co-worker) and spend a long weekend in the Valley of the Sun.  I've had several people suggest that I need to hit up the Sedona area as it's a paradise for mountain biking.  I've seen pictures of the area and it looks awesome but I was slightly (ok, a lot) concerned about the technical aspects of the trails.  With the welcome party for all the guests on Friday night and the wedding on Saturday it afforded me the opportunity to catch an early flight to Phoenix on Thursday, rent a car and be in Sedona by 10:00 a.m. Pacific time as it's only an hour and forty-five minutes from the airport.  Prior to the trip I rented a bike from Absolute Bikes in Sedona and researched some routes on the MTB Project website.  I picked a route that was "intermediate" thinking (given the fact I ride a lot of singletrack around here) I wouldn't have much of a problem riding it.  I put together a couple loop routes totaling around 20 miles, loaded it into my Garmin eTrex 30x and was ready to go.

The bike I rented was great but very different than what I'm used to.  I ride a Surly Krampus mountain bike which has wide tires but no suspension so there's a certain way to ride over obstacles.  The bike I had was a full suspension bike with a dropper post.  It only cost $65 to rent and as I signed the rental agreement felt like I should have read it a little more closely since it was a $3,500 bike!

I rode a combination of the West Sedona Loop and the Chuckwagon - Mescal - Long Canyon Loop.  These incorporate about twelve trails in the Sedona area.  I would have gotten completely lost had it not been for the eTrex since all I had to do was follow a line on the GPS.  The trails criss-cross each other a lot but are still marked well.  For a one day excursion I was ok with relying on the GPS versus studying the maps and area a little more.

The trails were incredibly rocky, technical, beautiful, etc., etc.  I walked a decent amount since there was no way I was dropping straight down over jagged rocks.  Or in some of the slick rock sections if I had fallen I would have tumbled several hundred feet and the last time I checked that would hurt.

Red dirt everywhere!

The picture doesn't do it justice but that was straight down and rocks everywhere throwing the bike around.  I walked down that section.

Deadman Pass...not a sign I was excited to see.

I only got stuck a few times by all the cactus plants!

Chimney Rock...kinda.

When my only two options were "difficult" and "extreme" I figured I would do a lot of walking, which I did.

Some people were out hiking and taking pictures and they took a picture for me.  This was the main slick rock section of the ride and at times the trail as right on the ledge.  I didn't risk it since the margin of error was pretty small.  But incredibly beautiful.

After a while this picture pretty much described how I felt.  Thinking the "intermediate" route would be in my ability level was pretty foolish.  It was one of the hardest rides I ever did and I had to cut the route early and did 15 miles but it took nearly five hours!  As I learned, that's not too uncommon.  It's not easy riding but the views and challenge was extremely worth it.

 My handy eTrex and cycling computer!

I wore my GoPro again this time and while it doesn't include all the time I walked and pushed my bike it shows a lot of the easier parts!  Until next time...