Jack Frost Loop, May 2002

Retreat of the Southerner

I went to the woods suddenly.  My plans for a May visit to my mother-in-law in New Hampshire changed to an August trip.  I had time to go.  I had had a great trip last year up the Little Indian Sioux River.  It was warm.  There were no bugs.  There was an abundance of wildlife.
So I left with hardly any conditioning.  I had often paddled for several hours on multiple days before other trips.  I had hiked around with a heavy pack.  But this time I got my permit and left a few days later.  I carried my pack around my field once and paddled on a local lake for about an hour.
To lighten my load and make up for a lack of conditioning, I replaced my trusty Eureka Timberline2 with a Sierra Designs Lightyear CD solo tent (3 lbs.).  I also bought a light weight 8' x 10' tarp (13 oz.).  I have switched back and forth between a Coleman Peak 1 and a Zip stove.  This time I took the Zip stove to save the weight of carrying fuel.  The zip stove uses wood and a battery operated fana mini blowtorch.  It blackens your pots but this is easily removed with oven cleaner at home.  It needs its own bag to keep the soot off everything else.  It worked great.  I've learned to keep a supply of birch bark on hand to get damp twigs going.
I wanted to go to correct you imbalances from other trips.  I carried many good memories of Alaska and the San Juan River but there was also some residue that needed be balanced.  Both of these trips were raft trips and I see myself as more a canoeist than a rafter.  These trips both involved a tension over not finishing too soon.  Much time was allotted to cover a minimal distance.  We had to worry about ending too soon.  In actuality we had long last days; but we had discussions about not going too far in a day.  And both of these trips involved companions.  It was time to front the wilderness by myself.
So I wanted a route that was long enough so that I didn't have to worry about coming to the end too soon.  I also hadn't been in the eastern BWCA and wanted to go there.  The Jack Frost Loop out of the Baker Lake entry point seemed to be what I wanted.  It was mostly small lakes and rivers, remote and a recommended 8-day duration.
I brought The Last Full Measure, a historical novel about the Civil War in the time after Lee's defeat at Gettysburg.  I've subtitled this report "The Retreat of the Southerner" because my experience echoed that of the Confederates as Grant's army slowly wore them down.  As you will see, this May was cold, the wildlife was hidden and I didn't particularly enjoy my food.  But I covered a good deal of territory and returned home renewed with the energy and centeredness that comes from removing yourself from our busy, busy world.  I was forced to slow down because the wilderness had yet to awaken to spring.  If it had been teeming with wildlife, it could have become just so much more TV.  I passed through a cold, gray world and had to look into myself to find joy and warmth.  Perhaps that is the lesson because all of that is always there for the asking.  The southerner retreated, but unlike Lee did not surrender and was not defeated.  Like Thoreau, he is a sojourner in civilization for a while.