No room at the inn…
Cristi and I finished up our week of river running in Wisconsin with a whitewater filled trip down Section 2 of the Bois Brule River. We both felt a little sore after drawing, prying and backferrying the big red beast through rock garden after rock garden, so we laid in for a lazy morning at our campsite.
The forecast called for high temperatures near 90 degrees. We were tired of the heat and I suggested we pull for the North Shore on Lake Superior. I knew that it would be at least ten degrees cooler over in Minnesota by the Big Lake, and we were only a few hours away.
With our plan in place we decided to go fishing. Cristi is new to Tenkara fishing and we’re planning some backcountry fly fishing adventures in the mountains this summer. We spent a couple hours working the pool and riffles below the campground bridge with little success. Cristi did hook up and land a little Brown. Her first trout ever.
It was after noon when we pulled out of the Copper Range Campground. We rolled north toward Lake Superior and followed a winding gravel road that took us to the mouth of the Bois Brule. Maybe we would get in a swim before our drive. Lake Superior’s normally blue waters were stained brown from the red clay cliffs at the mouth of the river and the stable flies were relentless, so we turned tail and ran back south on Highway 13, headed toward Duluth.
Just north of Duluth we turned right onto the original route of Highway 61, now a scenic byway. The road winds its way along the shoreline of Superior, and delivers spectacular views. I drove Cristi this way once before, on our first trip to the Boundary Waters together, but that day was foggy and overcast. Today, the skies were clear and Cristi was stunned by the size and beauty of Kitchi-Gami.
By now it was early afternoon, but it was Monday. We figured we wouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot at one of several Minnesota state parks that line the route north toward Grand Portage and the Canadian border.
When we turned into Gooseberry Falls State Park we got a shock. The place was a madhouse. The day-use parking area was completely packed. People were milling around between the cars an in the path of traffic. We didn’t even stop. We bid a hasty retreat. Gooseberry Falls is a pretty small park. I was sure we would find a spot at Tettegouche.
At the Tettegouche visitor center we stepped up to the counter and asked the staffer behind the desk for help.
“We’re hoping to find a camping spot for tonight.”
[Typing and looking at computer monitor]
“All our sites are booked.”
“You don’t have anything at all?”
Fortunately, she had access to the entire state park system and could check availability on up the Shore. Next park on 61 was Cascade Falls.
Maybe Judge Magney would have a spot. It was way up the Shore, almost to Grand Portage.
“After that, it’s Canada,” I said. She smiled and nodded.
So there you go. Another lesson from the road. Even if it’s Monday. If it’s 90 degrees you can expect the entire population of Minneapolis to descend on the Shore.
We were striking out on state parks, and she began to suggest some private campgrounds that might work. Cristi was quick to jump in, “those will be too expensive for us.”
The last option on the list was a state forest campground. It was about three miles up the road toward Finland. It would be cheap, and hopefully there was room at the inn.
We jumped into the truck and swung back out onto 61. Our next left took us up Route 1 along the Baptism River. A few minutes later we pulled into the Eckbeck Campground.
It was hot. The weather was building. There was a severe thunderstorm warning for just about all of Minnesota, calling for dime sized hail and gust to 60 miles per hour.
My wife is a brave woman. There isn’t much that will back her down. But she doesn’t like thunderstorms. Lightning. We all have our Kryptonite. At least hers makes sense.
So there was a discussion about the weather. The impending destruction. Whether we would be safer three miles back toward the shore at the Tettegouche visitor center.
Now, I am about as cavalier about lightning as Cristi is cautious. And I was set on having a place to stay for the night. Being done for the day. I pressed my case. We stayed.
We did a couple laps of the campground, made a failed try to back into one site, and finally sawed the Casita back and forth into a spot that would work. Cristi stuffed a chunk of 2×6 under the driver side tire to level things out and we were parked for the night.
Thunder was grumbling. I didn’t know how long the rain might last, and we didn’t have an electric hookup. So we had to be able to keep the windows open to keep cool through the night. I broke out my 10X12 Cooke Custom tarp and slung it over the driver’s side of the Casita. Then I realized that water running off the roof of the camper would get under the tarp and into the windows, so I pitched a second tarp over the first to button things up.
We pulled out our REI Hang Time Chairs (I know, it sounds like a product placement, and we almost left them home, but the $7 Walmart chairs just didn’t cut it. We tried) and sat down under the tarp. Then the rain rolled in.
It rained. Hard. Dumping down. Pouring off the tarp. And there was lightning. It was pretty intense. Cristi told me later she went through three PBRs to calm her nerves. We turned on the battery powered FM radio and dialed in the UMD student radio station.
The thunder and lightning was almost continuous. We cranked the radio and sipped coldbeers. Highway 61 Revisited came on. It’s a regular radio program on the college station. Bob Dylan songs and covers. Some of it was really good. Obscure stuff. Gillian Welch came on doing a cover of a song I’d never heard.
Somehow it all came together. We’d driven old 61 up the Shore, struck out on camping at the state parks but managed to find a spot in the end. We were dry and tucked in for the night. That radio program was the icing on the cake.
“You know,” Cristi said, “I don’t usually like Bob Dylan.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but this is pretty good.”
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