Quetico Solo
June 11 - July 2, 2003
Photos and text by Doug Clark

To go or not to go... that is the question. Tugged in both directions, the logical side had gained the advantage, and I had almost given up on the idea. I did not feel good about leaving elderly parents for such a long stretch, and it was a little unnerving to be contemplating such an adventure after having been laid off from a long term job. The other side countered that I would not have this opportunity if I had not been laid off. It's going to take awhile to save up 3 weeks of vacation at a new job. And my parents seem to be in a reasonably stable place. My brother and friends will make an effort to spend extra time with them. The spirit took hold of me and I decided to give it a shot.

I had no permit reserved, and I wondered what might be available at this late date. On calling Atikokan I found that Beaverhouse entry was full up. There was an opening for Nym (Batchewaung) on June 11th, and then nothing for another week. The 11th would be next Wednesday..... this is Friday. Oh dear. I took it. I have to leave Monday night to make the HQ in Atikokan on Tuesday afternoon to pick up the permit, or I will have to wait until they open on Wednesday morning. I really want to be on the water long before that hour of the day, so... I have 3 days to prepare for a 3 week trip. Yeah right. I'm going to be really jammin' for this one. It's not like I haven't thought about it. Yes. Thought about it. Dreamed aboout it. To measure the length of the trip in weeks instead of days. Who has loved Quetico and not had that dream? I have spread out the maps, and imagined traveling simply over extravagant routes. I have also imagined traveling extravagantly over simple routes. I have looked at the food and equipment lists, and made some decisions about what I would change/add/cut for a solo trip. I have thought about hanging a fully loaded food pack alone. I have thought especially about how my canoe (Wenonah Minnesota II) would handle as a solo. Alot of boat for one person. Yes, I have wiled away many winter evenings with these thoughts and dreams. Now it's time to make them real.

I made a supply run Friday evening for food, new water filter, new pack rope, and to pick up a 2-man North Face tent that a friend has offered the use of. It is lighter and packs much tighter than my Kelty 3 man. Still with a vestibule, and that's a necessity on my list.

Seam sealed the tent between showers and it's flapping in the breeze (from a fan). The dehydrator is busy with spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes, etc. Another friend stopped by to assist with food packaging in the evening. Thank you.

Kept the dehydrator going with chili and burger. Made a last pass through the fishing equipment. New line on the spools. Found that if I stomped on the lid I COULD get that last lure in. Most of the gear is packed. I wonder if I have missed anything. If so, it's probably buried underneath one of the piles strewn about.

Kept the dehydrator going with jerky through the afternoon. I have a new canoe rack for the pickup. A simple design that a local welding shop put the hurry-up on. Thank you. Mounted that with no problems. Loaded the canoe and lashed her down. It feels close now.

Finished packing food. Loaded the gear. Loaded the cooler. Left at 8 pm on a side trip to Lincoln to pick up a depth-finder from a friend. On arrival, I learned that he had already gotten fresh batteries for it. Thank you. A quick check of the weather channel confirms the worst. Two different storm fronts are closing in. I can dodge one, but don't see any way to miss the other. High winds and hail. Doesn't look pretty, but I am on a mission. Met the heavy rain outside of Omaha, and the killer wind was right behind it. I pulled over and hid behind an office building until it passed. Checked the tie-downs. Back on the road. No more rain, but the wind remained strong. As it turned out, I would battle it the entire way....

I kept expecting a rope to snap under the strain. After a hundred miles or so I started believing that the canoe wasn't going anywhere the pickup didn't. For some reason, that thought did not raise the confidence level. Many miles of highway ahead. Time to plan the route. Nym/Batch entry trunk has many branches. Objectives... A balance of old and new water. Trout fishing early before they go any deeper. I prefer the road road less traveled, but I am uneasy about getting too far off the traveled lakes while solo. No trailblazing. The planning helped keep me awake and alert (somewhat). Not having access to the maps got the mental videos rolling. I came up with a loose loop that included 12 lakes either directly on the route, or one portage off, where I thought might enjoy spending a couple of days. I estimate this loop will take 7 days of actual paddling. If I travel 1 day, then spend 2 days base camping, and repeat this process, I will be able to have quality time at 7 of the 12 lakes on my list. There are also 2 points in this loop where I could bail out to a shorter route if needed. There are no killer portages, but several could be difficult if wet. I plan to save those for the return half of the loop when the food pack will be on the down side.

I stopped for a rest early morning, but no sleep. By the time I made Int'l Falls I was running on caffeine and when I took my hands off the wheel, the grip marks remained.... they may be permanently etched. I had been combing the stores around home for a particular style of elbow brace, and stopped by the drug store in the Falls, just to give it one more chance, and they had one. Thank you. Tidied things up for the border crossing and had no delays there. Made it to the HQ at 3:30. An hour to spare. Had a really nice visit there with some of the park staff. I know they were busy, and I appreciated the extra time. I spoke with Robin Reilly about the Quetico survey that I responded to last fall and picked up a copy of the results. Checked into the Radisson for my last night between clean sheets, and after a call to reassure everyone that I made it ok and a quick weather report, I was sound asleep.

Doug Clark