I'm breakfasted, packed and paddling by 8:00 this morning. It's clear and warm with a little mist on the lake. I leave early because I plan to return to Bootleg about 17 miles and 9 portages away. But the current will boost me today; the wind won't bother me. The first half of my route will follow a narrow river winding among hills.
I suppose it is correct to say that the headwaters of the LISR are at the exit of Otter L. There are a series of 5 short portages and a rapids followed by a stretch of paddling, then another series of 3 portages and a rapids and finally the long portage to Bootleg.
The high point of the trip occurs just after I exit the first 120 rd. portage and round a bend in the little pond. I suddenly notice something gray moving on the right hand bank. A wolf! I lower my paddle and coast. My binoculars show a light gray wolf working its way through the brush at the edge of the river. I'm struck by how lanky it appears. It's no dog! It doesn't see me and swims across the narrowest part of the river. It shakes itself off on the left hand bank. It's hunting; it checks the shoreline carefully for any prey and pokes around some bushes at various angles. Too soon all I can see are a few bushes moving as it continues into the forest. I was close--maybe 100 feet.
About 1-¾ hours later I have left the fifth portage which had a small blow down. In addition to the wolf I have gotten very close to a moose (shedding its winter coat and very ugly, almost mangy looking), seen three eagles, an osprey, a deer and two beaver. Beymer's book talks of his crossing 28 beaver dams in 1998. Luckily the water is high enough for me to go over the ones I encounter. The beavers do not seem to be working on them yet. There are so many I lose count; but I do not think there were 28.
The McKenzie map only shows one portage before LTL after the first series. Beymer reports two more and a rapid. He's right; three hours into my day's travels the "mystery" portage appears and then another. (You'll see in the photo that the 1999 storm destroyed many trees in this area). I run the rapid. Half an hour later I am at the end of the 32 rd. portage. I camped near here in 1999. All the trees that were blocking my way then have been cut. I climb up a small hill on the edge of a huge blow down to my old illegal campsite. I'm sure I left a green plastic coffee press here and hope to find it. No luck. I find the campsite easily even though I have left no trace. I doubt that anyone would leave the trail and climb this hill. I must have dropped it somewhere else. I didn't have it the next morning and had to filter grinds with my teeth.
Ten minutes later I pass the entrance to LTL portage--the end of new territory. I'm curious to see how much the current speeds me to the Bootleg portage. An hour and ten minutes later I find that I'm five minutes faster. (I stopped for a few minutes to get my raincoat when a storm threatened). I do the Bootleg portage for the third time and decide to stay at the northern campsite but discover that it is occupied. So I end up at the southern one about six hours after I left Otter Lake.
My original plan was to spend the next night in complete solitude at Canthook L. which is a Primitive Management Area (PMA). So after I have rested and eaten some lunch, I paddle across the lake and set out through the woods following a compass heading. The question is whether I can get my canoe through the woods without a trail. It seems easy at first. There is a stand of large pines covering a small hill. But when I descend the hill I end up in an aspen thicket with pools of water. I cross it by balancing on dead trees. I decide I'll settle for a glimpse of Canthook. It is impossible to carry a canoe through here. Another swamp appears and I give up and start back. I am used to Tennessee woods that have no rocks, few swamps and less undergrowth.
I launch my canoe and head back to camp. As I round a small point and look for my tent, I am surprised to see people walking around in the campsite. I see two men carrying a Kevlar canoe up from the shore. I have a moment of dread--has something happened to my 86 year old mother or my 91 year old mother-in-law? Other family members? Is this some search and rescue volunteers searching for me? (As previouslly mentioned, I told my wife to try to contact me if there was some emergency).
An older man and young woman greet me when I arrive at the camp; two other men stay busy with setting up a tent. They are sorry but are stuck. The other campsite is occupied with 4 people and 2 dogs. But it works out. They are a family of four who used to come here 20 years ago. When the father retired last year they came up for old times sake. They had such a good time that they have returned this year. The father has been to Canthook; there's a trail somewhere. On his last visit he saw an old wooden boat that had been left. We trade some food. I give them freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream and they make me some hot chocolate. We chat around the fire talking mostly of canoes, wildlife and camping. Soon we all go to bed. During the night, I discover that snoring is a family trait. I have to admit that some company feels good after four days of solitude.