Turtle River Trip Log, 2015
Published: February 8, 2016
This summer, the Les Voyageurs did something a little different from our standard trip at Voyageurs National Park. We took a trip in our own backyard, on the Turtle River. The unfamiliarity of this new trip would prove exciting and challenging for villagers and staff alike. But after our 6 days in the wilderness together, we would all emerge a tight-knit group with a remarkable, life-changing experience behind us.
Our trip began across the lake from our base camp, where we spent our first night with the Korean language village, Sup Sogui Hosu. After a hearty meal of polenta and a sauna at sunset, we had a song exchange with the Korean villagers around the feu de camp.
The next morning we got an early start at 5:30 a.m. Early mornings would be the rule on this trip, and we got into the routine right from the start. We quietly packed gear as the Korean villagers slept. The Turtle River was packed full of rice paddies, so much so that at certain points we were surrounded by them on all sides, and had to stand up in our canoes in order to find the river again. Nine hours and 12 miles of canoeing later, we had still not found our campsite for the night. The 4 p.m. sun was blistering hot, and on a river, there is no shade. It was our first of many tests this voyage would pose for us. We passed this one, as we did all the others, by being well prepared.
We ended up making camp at an undeveloped campsite along the Turtle River and used an overturned canoe as our dinner table.
The third day began early as usual, and we were out canoeing before breakfast, which was our routine. But it soon took an unexpected turn when we arrived at Big Rice Lake. Instead of the clear water we expected, we found that half the lake was covered in rice paddies! (No wonder it’s called Big Rice Lake!) After a breakfast on the beach we continued onward, newly invigorated with the knowledge that the worst of the rice paddies was behind us. We made our way to lake Kitchi without any more surprises. It was early in the afternoon when we arrived at our campsite for that night, so we had a chance to take a quick sieste (nap) That evening we dined on wild rice & mushroom soup as the sun was setting.
The next day would turn out to be our wildest yet. Our destination: Star Island, in the center of Cass Lake. We paddled with ease out of Lake Kitchi, and through the connecting Pug Hole Lake. We emerged at the mouth of Cass Lake, to find the wind howling against us. This lake was by far the largest we had encountered, and its waves were just as daunting. We later discovered that we were battling 35 mph winds that day, with gusts reaching 45 mph. And the nature of lakes means there is absolutely no shelter from this wind. Mother Nature’s full, unbridled force was ours to face.
The going was slow, but we kept going. We stayed close to the shore, for safety and for some respite from the never-ending wind. We lunched at about 4 p.m. and the fuel was exactly what we needed to keep going. I’ve never seen a group of 11 eat so much! In the end, 12 hours and 2 portages later, we arrived at our campsite just as the sun was setting over a mockingly calm Cass Lake.
That night, we cooked the best meal of the trip: fajitas. We were famished, and tired, but every member of that group was proud of themselves and of each other. The meal was made all the better by our sense of accomplishment that day.
Looking back on that day, it is clear that it was the turning point of the trip. After going through this hardship together, it was as if everyone had been friends for years. The next day, we had a day off from canoeing, slept in, and made pancakes in the morning. It was a refreshing and well-deserved change of pace, and everyone was jubilant to be on this trip together. The joking and playing was so much that it was difficult for the counselors to convince the villagers to do anything. But honestly the staff was just as happy to be on a break day, too.
Later in our break day, the villagers took a solo. In a solo, each villager is dropped off in a remote location, and left alone with his or her thoughts for about 3 hours. Following this, we had a debriefing about the experience in which we listened to each member of the brigade share thoughts and stories from this time alone in the wilderness. Everyone does something different for their solo. Some sing, some nap, others write, and still others just watch the world go by and contemplate the life. It is a wonderful, relaxing experience, and a great reset-button for the trip.
The last day of our trip we got another early start. Spirits were high as we continued our way through a calm Cass Lake, and arrived at the Mississippi river. It was a bittersweet day, as we knew this day would be our last together as a brigade. We paddled leisurely, enjoying our last day together, and stopping frequently to enjoy the day.
This was a gorgeous day to be canoeing, and a great day to be a Voyageur. This day was about enjoying life, and celebrating all that we had accomplished on this trip together.