Gearing Up

    Four of us are heading for the canoe country soon. Old friends, long-time paddlers, we’ve done this for so long that it comes together almost without effort. A couple of phone calls. A couple of follow-up e-mails. Next thing you know, we’ll be at someone’s house at 6 in the morning, tossing the old Duluth packs into someone’s rig.

    We’ll throw together a couple of tents, a couple of canoes, a kitchen tarp and a little fishing gear. A couple of the guys plan to buy food today. There is no lobbying over this meal or that. We know what it will be — stir-fry or steak the first night, probably a burrito meal or some camp pizzas another night, some garlic mashed potatoes to go along with the fish we might or might not catch. We’ll paddle hard. We’ll be hungry every night. It won’t matter much what’s on our plates.

     Three of the four are coffee drinkers, and the morning brew will be important. Having missed the coffee gene on my DNA, I don’t take part, but I enjoy watching this morning ritual. They gather at the fire, where someone has already put the pot on. The flames are nursed just so, making sure that the pot roils nicely but doesn’t boil over. Someone grabs a glove or a Leatherman tool, lifts the pot from the grate and pours out the life-giving nectar. Ahhh. Another day in canoe country. Some among us have been known to take a cup to the canoe as we leave camp for the day, taking a sip now and again as we paddle down the lake. It almost makes me wish I drank the stuff.

     I spoke to a friend of mine who guides bass anglers in the Quetico-Superior every summer. The bass are still on the shorelines, he said, in a post-spawn mood. They haven’t begun to move to the mid-lake reefs yet, he said. The walleyes are scattered, harder to find. We’ll see what we can do. He gave me some ideas.

     Meanwhile, we put our outfit together. I did this at a canoe outfitter in Ely (Canadian Border Outfitters on Moose Lake) for a summer more than 30 years ago, and I can still see the checklist on the counter in the packing room. Tents, kitchen fly, cook kit, ax, saw, grate, griddle…right on down the line. I’ve made my own checklist now and print it out before each trip, checking off items as they go onto the pile. It’s a delicious ritual. I love those worn Duluth packs, my battered camp saw, the fire-seasoned cook pots. I’m breaking in a new kitchen tarp this season, a 10-foot-by-10-foot silicon nylon fly made by Cooke Custom Sewing. I almost hope it rains.