HJO was run by Dave and Nancy Seaton, a lovely couple who were somewhat surprised about how excited the boys were about a wifi code. HJO was set right on the southeastern bank of Hungry Jack Lake. We were based in two bunkhouses and after taking them over and having a swim we went out for supper nearby, excited to begin canoeing the day after.
The sun was shining as three canoes with two people in each launched off the jetty into the lake to learn the fundamentals of canoeing and, for LCpls Burns and Leech, the fundamentals of capsizing. Cpl Bell was in his own canoe, something he would later come to regret, and began his instruction. In the afternoon we went to the other side of the lake and everyone was looking like they had canoed lots before. Owing to the birthdays of three of us landing within two days of each other we took the opportunity of the evening to head down to Grand Marais and sample the local nightlife. After supper in the Gun Flint Tavern we asked the waitress where to go next. She suggested we go to either the Raven Tavern or the Raven’s Nest. As it turned out, both were within the same building – the Tavern being a bar just in another room and the Nest being upstairs. Despite this summing up the tiny town, everyone made the best of it and promoted the British in the best light, despite the ram skulls.
Another day of paddling came after our breakfast in the sun, this time through Hungry Jack Lake to the north. We went all the way up to the Canadian-USA border, to a route called steps. It gave us our first experience of carrying canoes in what would become a very regular occurrence – the portage. The method of placing the boats upside down onto your head is unique but in the end not quite as hard work as the trek that Nancy suggested to the top of the viewing point. It was worth the walk with its views into Canada, but much more worthwhile coming down for a swim in the waterfalls nearby.
The final full day of paddling would land us very close to our take out destination and we began the day through some winding lakes with two huge portages. Thankfully the absence of the chicken, bratwurst and steak had lightened the food bag by a significant amount but it didn’t stop a couple of people “throwing” a flip-flop or two on the route. We paddled through a part of the BWCAW that had been stripped two years before by a wild fire and now looked incredibly green with stark bare trees above. The sun was beating down as we made our final passage towards our camp. Dave, our outfitter, had circled one on the map that turned out to have no trees useful to our hammocks and so after we paddled a little further on we found by far the best camp of out trip. Atop a huge rocky outcrop at about 8 meters high, we ate our final supper and watched the sun set surrounded by a huge storm in the distance. It was beautiful but unfortunately it only took about 4 hours for the storm to reach us. We laid in our hammocks swinging in the wind listening to the thunder while those in tents floated on their roll matts as the water piled down the rock. Nobody was too distraught as we packed and drank coffee in the damp the next morning. We were soon “on the road” for the last time and the weather thankfully cleared as we balanced on long planks which were the flooring for two of the final portages.
We met Dave and after being bussed back to HJO; de-kitting and showering we got underway for our journey south. Our final destination was to be Chicago but after a map recce we decided a stop in Madison and Wisconsin which was essential. We were proved correct as the previous birthday boys got themselves some bottomless pints, which could be easily distributed amongst the rest of the party. Despite our relatively questionable accommodation, everyone was in one place when we left in the morning and we took the drive to Chicago. Our arrival in the big city gave way to an evening of deep pan pizza, a few drinks, some Irish and Rocky and then our final day in country consisted of watching the Cubs play baseball.
We soon found ourselves scouring the nearby suburbs for gas before returning our hire car. It was after that we finally got onto our aircraft, but the delays began, leading to us spending 9 hours in Dusseldorf where we were meant to connect to another flight; finally we touched down in Blighty which was a relief to everyone 23 hours after starting their journey, but everyone agreed it had been well worth the effort of the travelling.