I can easily break our vacation up into 2 halves:
before and after the accident.
Maybe I am being dramatic,
but since I’ve been cooped up for 4 days, it is what it is.
Let’s start with before.
With the gear all packed,
Kevin spent hours the morning we were to leave for Ely, MN
preparing the GPS.
So I packed the car, took the dogs to the boarding place,
and waited a bit impatiently for him to finish up.
I’m never good at waiting, especially when we are nearly ready to head on an adventure.
Finally we hit the road and made it to Ely by 2pm.
We were about an hour early, so we popped in a couple shops,
taking notice that the small town is totally about servicing the boundary waters.
If the store isn’t tied to an outfitter, then it’s a gift shop,
zipper repair shop, or canoe shop.
When we arrived at our outfitter, we got a rundown of our gear,
maps, schedule, and night’s accommodations.
We got a recommendation for a burger restaurant off the beaten path
so we headed there for what we thought was our last meal in civilization for 5 days.
That night, I had a momentary scare.
Kevin got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and he didn’t realize that I followed shortly behind to do the same.
When I returned to our room,
I found the door locked.
I knocked but didn’t hear any sounds inside our bunk room.
I thought we must have locked ourselves out and I had just shut the window and had no way of contacting the outfitter.
I knocked again frantically,
This time I heard a “you have the wrong room”.
I knocked again and Kevin finally let me in,
Looking like he was going to beat me up.
He was laying in bed and thought I was there next to him in the room.
Breakfast was at 7AM the next morning,
and we were ready to hit the road towards the Fall Lake put-in by 8.
I was eager to get going since we had a lot of paddling to do that day
to make it up to Basswood Falls.
We had a rigorous trip planned in order to find a campsite each night by 2PM
and make it back to Mudro for our pick up time.
Admittedly, I was pushing us a bit…
But even with that said, we easily took to the waters.
Paddling came much easier to us on the light canoe,
and we fell into a pace at around 3MPH on the calm day.
There were lots of other boaters and canoers out that day,
but for the most part they kept their distance.
Even the motorboats were mainly small – canoes themselves with small motors.
We saw tens of loons not far from us and seagulls,
and many rocks in the distance seemed like they could be bear.
We stopped for lunch at a campsite, which gave us a chance to check out the pit latrines,
fire pits, and dig through our food pack a bit.
We realized that while the mosquitoes were no where to be found on water,
they played unfair home advantage especially while sitting on the latrine,
attacking every bit of open skin.
We saw 2 waterfalls that we portaged around.
It’s amazing how you can hear even the smaller ones
from miles away.
And by the time we reached Basswood Lake, we started looking for a campsite.
We found one facing the North around a point.
It was a rocky spot
that was a little slippery getting out of the canoe,
but had a great rock beach for lounging
and the fire pit and tent sites were up on a hill tucked away.
We settled in,
took a quick swim to freshen up from our paddling day,
and made dinner.
We saw a gardner snake, turtle, eagle, and crayfish near our camp.
We were in bed by 8PM, exhausted from the day.
When we woke around 4AM for a pee break,
I was surprised at how warm it still was outside.
We looked up to the bright stars, noticing a couple constellations.
Kevin kept hearing noises in the woods,
which turned out to only be birds that were aggressively looking for food or nest.
The next day, we were up by 7AM, had a breakfast of eggs and bacon,
packed up camp, and were in our canoe by 9.
After a short 1/2 mile paddle, we were on our first portage,
which was a 1 mile portage around the Basswood Falls.
That morning, we had evened out the packs so I could carry the heavier pack,
and Kevin could grab the canoe and kitchen pack.
That way we’d be able to make the trip in one shot rather than doing 3 miles
to carry the gear across in shifts.
We quickly realized that the path was rocky, and the gear was heavy,
so we stopped a couple of times.
I plowed on ahead, mostly to avoid the mosquitoes while Kevin took a slightly longer break.
I came up to a washout in the trail at around 9:45.
The washout had 3 small rounded rocks spread out that one could use to cross over the water,
but I decided that would be too difficult with the heavy pack,
so instead stepped into the water thinking it was only inches deep.
I quickly sunk in, fell forward into the mucky water up past my knees,
hitting my knee on a pointy submerged rock as I did so.
Disoriented, I tried to get out, setting my pack on the higher rock and taking it off
and then climbed out just as a uniformed man approached me coming from the opposite direction.
He asked if I was ok, and I said “yea I’m fine,
I just need to sit down for a minute.”
Kevin calls this stubbornness.
So he continued on his way.
I noticed a small amount of blood running down the front of my leg,
but thought it was only a scratch.
By the time the next guy in his group had walked by,
I was standing on the elevated ground,
had looked at my knee,
saw the 3 inch gash down to white which I assumed was bone,
and had freaked out a bit knowing I wouldn’t be able to go on.
When I saw the group of men,
I asked them if they could help me.
The 16 year old boy scout pulled me and my pack around to a spot where I could sit,
and assessed the situation.
Just about that time, Kevin came around the corner
(he had accidentally taken a trail down to a campsite and had to backtrack),
saw me sitting and asked if I was ok.
I shook my head no and he came over to inspect it.
Luckily, though the other guys had gone ahead,
the 16 year old and another guy, who turned out to be an EMT,
pulled out bandages between my medical kit and theirs.
They kept me calm
while Kevin began taking the canoe and pack back to the start of the portage,
and called back the group’s leader who was the first guy I had seen.
I quickly found out that a couple in the group were an advanced group of scouts called
Order of the Arrow,
and two were volunteers of the Canadian side of the boundary waters in Quetico,
including the uniformed man I’d seen who was skilled in wilderness survival techniques.
They were in the area to fix some of the portage trails and were on their way back to base.
I was definitely in the best hands in the wilderness!
We sat there for awhile waiting for the larger group to return,
and we made a plan to go out of the boundary waters the way we came.
That way required less portaging and a familiar route.
The group radioed their base, who got in touch with our outfitter.
Our plan was to paddle 2 miles back to the motorboat area
and look for a boat that could haul us to the first portage about 10 miles away.
By this time, I wasn’t in much pain at all.
My wound didn’t bleed much either.
I was mostly just worried about damaging my knee further,
and wanted to get help as soon as possible.
But when we got to the motorboat area,
it was a completely different scene from the day before.
We didn’t see one canoe or boat for miles.
Finally when we found a group of two canoes having lunch in the water,
we asked for a cell phone to check on our outfitter’s status.
Theirs was available but dead, and so was the next phone we came across.
But that group wanted to help however they could.
They paddled across the lake to check with a couple of fisherman.
They came over with a cell phone that had a 5% charge,
and we were able to check in with our outfitter’s resort;
we were about halfway back to the Fall Lake point by now.
The resort told us the outfitter would call us back,
and minutes later when we hadn’t heard back,
the group agreed to paddle with us just in case they received the call.
But when the phone went dead a few minutes later, we were on our own again.
A couple times along the way, I had moments of losing hope.
I had hoped we’d see a boat.
I’d hoped to be able to continue our trip,
and I was mad at myself that one small step could put me out of the game.
I was sad that we wouldn’t be able to see all that we’d come to see
and that I’d planned for months.
But Kevin kept my spirits up.
We made jokes that this was the slowest ambulance we’d ever seen,
making siren noises from Despicable Me 2,
and began planning our trip for next year
with all our learnings on packing and trip planning.
Hours later, we came across the first portage.
Kevin took two trips, while I walked slowly carrying only the paddles and a couple items.
We cruised through another 2 or 3 miles, and saw a man in red standing at the beginning of our next portage.
As we got closer, he waved,
and we soon realized it was our outfitter!
When we landed, he helped Kevin portage our gear across the 80 rods to the motorboat,
we loaded up and sped along at 20MPH for the couple short miles to parking lot.
We then headed to the ER.
By this time I was tired
- it was around 6PM -
and worried about the medical procedure.
Would I lose my leg, would this hurt?
What if it’s infected?
The doctor took off my bandage and said it was a mess!
The wound was black from the mud and muck.
He warned me that I would need to be patient so he could clean it out,
and he began ordering items from the nurse.
I hid my face under a baseball cap so I couldn’t see what he was doing,
but I knew that he was pulling at my skin,
digging dirt out piece by piece,
washing, and repeating for about an hour.
He had to keep poking me with more medicine to numb the area,
using about a bottle and a half.
Meanwhile, I had an IV of antibiotics.
Finally he began stitching me up.
This part didn’t hurt at all and I eased up into conversation.
The doctor and EMT that stepped in to help were amazing.
They did a great job, taking extra precautions to fight off infection.
10 stitches later, I got a tetanus shot and we went on our way.
Now I’m 4 days into recovery. I haven’t seen any sure signs of infection yet,
but am not sure if the burning of the skin below the laceration is from my sunburn
or something else.
Basically everything from the knee down looks foreign.
I have no ankle bones. The blood rushing down from the injury has my ankle and foot swollen
I hobble around, trying to stay off of it except for bathroom breaks.
Kevin has stayed home with me yesterday and today to help put away our gear,
clean the house, and take care of me.
Tomorrow I go in to get my tube out, check on any signs of infection,
and Monday I should get the stitches out. A picture of my stitches is below.
Although our trip was cut short, I’m still glad that we were in the boundary waters for 2 days.
We got a taste of the beautiful scenery, the peacefulness, the adventure.
Even Kevin would like to go back.
We would either add a couple days to our trip to do the route from this year,
or do something completely different.
Maybe this time just having a home base for a couple nights so that we could slow down
to experience all the wildlife.
I’m really thankful to all the nice, helpful people we met. Those who tried to help,
those who bandaged me up,
those who did what they could,
those who kept me and Kevin calm and put us on a path.
The strength I had to canoe out, and I’m sure God played a part in keeping my pain down
and seeing us through the journey.
Picture of my knee with stitches… scroll at your own risk.