Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 8: Connecticuts and Canoes

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The sun came up and off we went.  We left the tent standing.  That is how it works when you on a mission.  With a scheduled turnaround time of 0800 hours, we find Natalie a Connecticut Warbler, or, we don’t.  In either case, with some known miles ahead of us, we didn’t have all day.

Driving roads we had previously overlooked the day before, we finally heard the “Chippy-Chipper-Chippy-Chipper” song.  Finally!  For at least 30 minutes, we walked and paced and looked for the little bugger but to no avail.

We never saw him.

I was prepared to wait longer for Natalie’s sake (I’ve seen them before), but she was ready to go.  Not in defeat.  Not with her head hung low.  She was ready to go as she has demonstrated, repeatedly, that she is a mentally stable adult.  Sure, she could have pouted and poo-pooed the lost opportunity, but she is not like that.  She is not prepared to waste hours of vacation looking for a silly bird that is tantalizingly close.  She certainly won’t lie about it later (unlike the other frauds and cons that have infiltrated the ranks of our wonderful hobby).  Besides, as we rationalized our schedule, the Connecticut Warbler breeds in Michigan. We could make a weekend of it in the future.

In any case, the probable wolf tracks in the sandy road were cool. No photo. I’m an idiot.

I did, however, get this photo of a Broad-winged Hawk. Meh…

With that, we returned to camp, broke it down and set out for Minnesota.  Crossing the Bong Bridge into Duluth, we made our north along Lake Superior’s west shore.  Fog gave way to rain.  The scenic route was hardly scenic.  Scenic soup. Yeah, that’s what we’ll call it. 

A horribly botched GPS entry for a local brewery resulted in us missing it by 20 miles.  Really.  20 miles.  Even if I did it right, it was closed anyhow (it is not a seven-day-a-week operation).  Instead, we blundered into the town of Finland (population: nobody).  At the local diner, Sarah Palin waited on us.  At least it looked like her.  Sounded like her.  Wait. The waitress had a brain. Nope, couldn’t be Sarah.  Nat and I enjoyed the newly acquired Lost Trout Brown Ale (#1460) from the Third StreetBrewhouse.  Yummy yum. I mean it. Really damned good.  Did I say we liked it?

After a brief stop at the Two Harbors lighthouse, we made it to Grand Portage with about 2 hours to enjoy Grand Portage National Monument.  It was not enough time, but what an awesome place…

No longer will I listen to people bragging about how tough they think they are.  Outside of Navy SEALS, the Voyageurs were about as tough as you can get.  

Short and stocky, but strong, they paddled 40-foot canoes loaded full of metal trade goods from Montreal (yes, that Montreal) to Grand Portage, Minnesota.  Hustling 10-14 hours a day at 55 strokes a minutes was typical.  The meals sucked. The bugs sucked (literally and figuratively).  The weather could easily suck.  The tobacco you smoked (to keep accurate time) probably killed you just like it does today.  But they did it.

Once in Grand Portage, the suckitude continued. The goods (literally tons per canoe) were carried over land eight miles to bypass the falls of the lower Pigeon River.  It was re-loaded into smaller canoes which fanned out across the central part of the continent.  Throughout the summer, at various trading posts, the metal goods were traded for beaver pelts.  Packaged conveniently into 90-pound bundles, the return trip was made….all the way to Montreal. 

Keep in mind, the voyageurs were the muscle.  They moved the stuff. They were not responsible for prices or trade.  They simply got supplies from point A to point B.  You might think of them as truckers of their era. I wonder if they played silly games on the open lakes like these guys did?

This went on for decades.  Literally tons of goods (both fur coming out and metal goods going in) passed through Grand Portage during its hey-day.  The Fur Trade was one of the leading economic activities of its time.  It was huge. It was global. And Grand Portage was a North American epicenter. 

Standing on the original footprint (as proven by archaeological digs), the Grand Hall served as a headquarters for the North West Fur Company and was the center of both business and social activities.  While the fire detectors are not period 1801 either, the opportunity to walk through the hall was cool. History speaks. 

We also had a chance to walk “the trail” used by the Voyageurs when carrying the gear over land past the Pigeon River falls.  Those 90 bundles of beaver fur I mentioned earlier? Yeah, they carried two of them at a time.  16 miles.  In 8 hours. Suck on that, Tough Mudders.  Time is money. I was carrying a camera. I got pooped. Not really. But you know what I mean.

Marveling at how much the region, in the fog and mist, resembled Washington, Natalie and I needed to secure lodging.  As freakish as it sounds, we stayed at the Casino in a $130-a-night room that only cost us $50 bucks.  We were able to do this by signing up (for free, mind you) with Casino memberships.

Yes, folks, that’s right. We now have the opportunity to return to Grand Portage and piss away our earnings. What could more fun than working, converting that money to credit, and then spending hours in a zombie-like state, pushing buttons and pulling levers.   Wow.  Fun, huh?

In fact, it was thought to be so fun, we gave it a whirl. Really. For getting the room, we got $10 to gamble with.  We would have rather just cashed in the money and bought dinner or something, but the system works against that.  So, we gambled it.  Woooooowwww.  Fun.  Dumb.

Speaking of dinner, before participating in the gambling boondoggle that is wrecking families and futures across the country, we got a pizza in the dining room.  Still marveling at the Lost Trout Brown Ale, we ordered some more.  Natalie and I are also fans of spinach-artichoke dips. This particular version was a bit spicy as it had red pepper flakes in it.  She is mostly intolerant of nasty spices but it was within her threshold. 

It was at this point that I felt a tickle on my leg. There are tickles and then there are tickles.  This was a tickle I knew well.  As I casually scooted away from the table, I peered down on my leg only to notice a red pepper flake crawling just below my knee. I didn’t know they could that!  How cool!  Oh wait.  They don’t.  Ticks do.  Damn those things….

It is also worth noting that the dining experience was a little less than ideal. It was nice only because no one was smoking. You see, at this place (or maybe the whole state, I dunno), the smoking section and the non-smoking section share the same room. No walls, windows, curtains or any other divider separates the two.  Would someone please help me understand that?  If someone in the “smoking section” is playing the part of a chimney, what good does it do the person one table over in the non-smoking section?  Come on.  Isn’t that a lot like glass walls for a bathroom stall? Really….what is the point?

A brief evening drive (before the gambling nonsense) to scout for the morning found us gawking at Ring-necked Ducks and a beaver in a local pond.  If the sun had come out, evening photography might have been in order. Alas, it didn’t happen. Clouds were solid.

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