E062418B - Motorboat Crew

June 23 - July 2, 2018

Crew Leader: Andrew S, Assistant Leader: Wyatt Z; Scott M, Evan W, Bobby B, Zach H

Advisors: Mr Meyers (ASM) & Mr Zabela (ASM)

Link to PDF for Detailed Maps, Profiles and details for each day

Mr Zabela's Notes

Day 1 – Saturday

We got started late in the day but everyone arrived at the VFW and we set off toward National Airport in short order. The caravan arrived in pieces but everything worked out and we got through both AA check-in and TSA security without serious delay. Some of the Crew got held for a few minutes while bags were reexamined and questions asked but then it was all-hands to the gate. The flight was uneventful as was arrival and transit through Minneapolis-St Paul Airport after 2200. A short shuttle ride to the hotel, check-in and room assignments then all to bed for an early rise.

Day 2 – Sunday

We decided to meet by 0700 for breakfast in the lobby and found some of the Scouts already there at 0645. No one should be surprised by the copious amount of waffles, sausage, donuts and snacks consumed by a dozen teenage boys. We met our bus at 0800 and headed through the city north toward Ely. By 0930 the bus stopped in Hinckley and the driver suggested we get lunch. Oddly none of the fast food restaurants serve lunch so early and Mr Z asked if we could stop again ~1230 in Ely to actually get food. During the five hour trip there was lots to discuss and the Scouts didn't hesitate to talk or bury their face in a phone. The adult leaders had to correct some behavior issues but otherwise the trip was fairly smooth. There was a restroom on the bus and very quickly it was discovered that it clogged easily. In Ely our driver stopped at a gas station with no regular food in sight, sigh! Only 35 more minutes to the Northern Tier base. Once there we were introduced to our interpreters Skyler and Jack, given a quick historic and geographic overview of the region and marched through the woods to a little yurt on stilts where we'd be staying that night. Drop our bags and head out to scout the base, complete the check-in paperwork, do medical interviews, visit the supply house for our camping gear, the commissary for our food rations (then sort and pack it before returning the 135# bag for overnight storage) and then we visited the mess hall for dinner. Dinner was cheese stuffed pasta with spice cake for dessert. A very busy day so far wasn't complete yet. We pulled out all of our gear for a shakedown before heading to the lodge for video orientations of the BCWA and Quetico Parks followed immediately by Scout Service. By now we'd all been busy for most of the day but that wouldn't prevent the Scouts and Adults from visiting the store for a snack and review of the souvenirs they'd return to purchase in a weeks time. Some of the Scouts went back to the mess hall to play cards with Skyler but we all turned in by 2230. The yurt had a 5 ft door and low ceilings, definitely built for small people. There was some rearranging of stuff and people and discussion about how to keep the bugs out but the cool air flowing but we all settled down and slept well in the chilly air of the Minnesota north.

Day 3 – Monday

Alarms sounded just after the sun was rising in the sky and we all packed up gear for the trip downhill to the mess hall. We needed to take everything as we'd not be returning once started. Making a neat pack line (sort of neat) we entered the hall to find most of the camp already engaged in their meal. To our surprise they had warm, soft, lusciously delicious scones (blueberry or apple) which I'm certain everyone enjoyed. Shortly after breakfast we reviewed our proposed route with Skyler after he'd gotten advice from veteran interpreters and we purchased our maps; he said 75 miles was ambitious but certainly doable and we'd appreciate the challenge. Having talked to Crew A's interpreter Jack we'd travel a similar path to the center of Lake Agnes but we'd continue north while they went southwest down the S-Chain with a layover day planned for 50 miles. He also got a schedule for our departure at 0845 and we were set to go BUT there was a delay because an earlier crew came back and botched the whole process. We sat and talked about the trip, practiced flipping and carrying canoes and were finally able to leave by 1115. The canoes were loaded with the Adults in the last one but we rapidly passed the Scouts because we were able to go straight. Up Moose Lake we squiggled, paused and meandered almost seven miles to arrive at the Prairie Portage on the US-CAN border. As this was our first portage it was a logistical challenge followed by a test of strength, endurance and willpower. This portage is wide, somewhat flat and exceptionally well traveled but there was trepidation on the Scout's passage. We arrived on the canuck side just in time to see the A crew preparing for departure. The adults walked to the border station to pay fees and we gathered everyone for the official briefing from Carol (the border administrator). Since we'd paddled into the afternoon this was a good time for lunch and a little reorganization of canoe assignments. It was now that we discovered that one prep weekend was clearly insufficient. Most of the Scouts had little idea how to steer a canoe resulting in lots of paddling but very little forward progress. After 30 minutes we gathered so Skyler could teach basic steering technique using C-turns and J-turns.  

We made progress and traveled through Bayley Bay to North Portage then Sunday Lake. This portage was harder and exhausted many of the youth so we decided to make camp. This was not so easy, we needed to find an appropriate site and passed several that were already occupied before finding a free spot at the north end of the lake. Everyone was exhausted making camp setup and tasks a chore. As dinner cooked several of us wanted nothing more than sleep. Some of the Scouts had a headache and everyone was sore from paddling 7+ hours. Despite the time, the Scouts made a campfire to bring them together and cheer weary spirits.

Day 4 – Tuesday

Skyler said we'd get to sleep in until 0730-800 but he ended up letting everyone rest until 0830. After breakfast, cleanup and tear-down we hit the water at 1000. A very short time later we began our portage  experience in earnest at the first of the B&Bs (160 & 140 m respectively). Jokingly called “Bed and Breakfast” the two portages are  alternately described as “Bitch and Bastard” for good cause. Seemingly all uphill, covered by roots and rocks or slick mud the climb ended in a steep decline which wasn't easier than up. If a 45 lb canoe sounds easier to carry than a 45 pack just remember that it is 18 feet long and the 2 ft wide trail twists and turns between trees and bushes. You can barely see where you're going and the mosquitoes must know you can't take a hand off the boat to swat. Some of the Scouts were taken to their limits sliding and falling more than once but every one of them succeeded the traverse to Lake Agnes. After the second portage it was only a short paddle to Louisa Falls. We arrived, unloaded the boats and carried everything up to the clearing. We liked the short hike through lake and stream to the path adjacent to the falls. Somewhat steep but not terribly long we all got to the basin between the first and second tier where everyone eventually got into the “bathtub” of rather chilly water. Some were “all in” immediately but some needed a little coaxing. Eventually smiles graced faces and we headed uphill again to allow another crew access to the basin. This was a great “pick me up” for the crew and instrumental in mentally getting past the trials of the dual portages. A big lunch to provide energy and reduce pack weight improved spirits enough to get us another 4 miles and an early camp about a third of the distance north on Agnes.

Day 5 – Wednesday

Our attempt to wake by 0600 turned into 0700 but it was not detrimental to progress. A great morning of paddling enjoying the beauty of the north woods, crisp air and gorgeous weather was only slightly diminished by fighting the strong headwind all the way north to the headwaters of the lake. This put us at the edge of the map (E-10) and the beginning of the next trials. We had several short portages necessary to transit from Agnes to Lake Williams. All of the canoe landings were murky, muddy, slick and rocky causing several of us to fall and resulting in several injuries but luckily only one serious. The falls also had the consequence of being nearly or completely submerged, soaking the unlucky recipients. Then the rain began followed by rumbles of thunder and occasional flashes in the distance; this prompted our interpreter to urge haste so we could get to camp and off the water. Another portage, more rain, haste and falling; had there been a safe place to get off the water we would but the surroundings were steep and inhospitable so we pressed on. Finally we reached Lake Williams and our campsite. The landing was small, slippery and very steep; Mr Z took a hard fall exasperating the prior injury. Suddenly the rain stopped improving our outlook and efforts to get up the hill. Amazingly we were able to get there, setup camp and hang some lines to catch a few hours of meek sun that provided a fair effort toward drying nylon clothes. Tonight's dinner was “Kek” (scalloped potato, vegetables, ham and cheese) one of Skyler's favorites; alas our chef ended up accidentally dumping the pot and we lost about a third. We salvaged the remainder and supplemented with smores on the camp fire. It turned  out to be a pretty good evening after a tough afternoon. The mosquitoes arrived at dark and we all turned in. Oddly a turtle kept walking into the adult's tent but left after a short while. The Thursday forecast was rain so we discussed the procedure for that and planned a late departure if necessary. 

Day 6 – Thursday

We awoke early with the sun and tweeting of birds on this beautiful morning. A bit of oatmeal and we carefully made our way back down the slope to the water. With an ambitious plan including multiple portages between 3 or 4 lakes, we headed south buoyed by great spirits and beautiful calm water. It was too good to be true, after lunch the wind really started to blow and paddling became much harder; our afternoon was a bear. We fought the stiff wind and once high spirits sagged especially after more than one of our choices for camping was inadequate or occupied. Today we portaged through a swamp between two dry portages which alternately had stream, bog, mud and shallow sections. We needed to carry gear sometimes or walk the loaded canoe (without passengers) at other points and a beaver dam had to be crossed to get us safely to the next safe water. All in all it was quite a day. Skyler has been talking about the challenges and encouraging the Scouts every step of the way. He's more than just a guide to the crew, they truly like this affable young man and for good reason. Skyler is going into his last year of college in Oklahoma dual majoring in Engineering and tacking on a few minors. As an honors student he has more work than most and this is apparent in the breadth and depth of knowledge exhibited in conversations. Our Scouts really enjoy his company and rise to the challenges and expectations set each day. This evening he poses questions about growth and he coaxed the boys to think about answers, provide reasoning and expound on their introspection. 

Day 7 – Friday

Cloudy with more than a little chance of thunder/lightning. We all grabbed breakfast quickly and headed to our tents as the deluge began. You could hear the wind approaching like a jet then pattering turned into pounding followed by the billowing of tent material, more rain and more wind. It lasted about two hours while the Scouts chatted and told jokes or stories. Who knew Zach could ramble? Because of the wind the tents were wet but not soaked so packing them wasn't awful. Again we had a short paddle to the portage after looking in a few coves for the Yum-Yum trail. If they thought B&B was bad this was its equal or worse. Skyler let us know there was a five foot drop somewhere on Yum or Yum (two distinct portages) but he knew not where. Mr Z led the charge canoe in hand and competed the portage with a few scrapes and bumps finding the drop most of the way to the end of the first portage. It was not sheer but was longer than five feet. I returned to the wet rocky slope to assist the crew and though we had more falling and bruising everyone survived the trip.  At the second Yum Mr Z took another tumble; one step after getting the canoe on shoulders it was face first into the water with a canoe impacting quickly thereafter, Ow! Slow recovery but no crushing blow. The Scouts are growing as young men and coping with their anxieties and fears, they are becoming more confident, faster and better at their tasks. This was a great experience and we're still two days from completion. The crew (at least the adults) are looking forward to a warm shower and bar of soap and perhaps a trip to the shop for treats and t-shirts. By this point we can smell ourselves so it's a good thing we're near completion. Today we trekked through a mud bog and several of the crew were plunged to the waist or more in quicksand like black smelly mud; Ew! After dinner the Scouts delayed cleaning and suffered the consequence: cleaning pots and hanging the bear bag while the swarm of mosquitoes attacked was a terrible experience and one they will not soon forget.

Day 8 – Saturday

Friday late there was a thunderstorm which woke some of us but not the soundest sleepers. At the morning meeting we discussed the Scouts progress and decided they'd benefit as a team by removing the adults. Mr Z, Mr Meyers and Skyler took the first canoe and departed letting the Scouts work out the logistics, packing and locomotion of their share of gear. There were a few disagreements; loud arguing carries across the lake quite well but by the second portage they were singing, joking and performing. It took some effort to locate the last two portages and we paddled and extra two or three miles as a consequence; need to work on those map reading skills. Despite the confusion we still managed to arrive at camp by 1500, set-up and dry off in quick order. This allowed us to better dry some clothing especially with the increased wind although it should have also warned us of impending weather. Before lunch Skyler found wild blueberries and after the Scouts went hunting for the nearly ripe berries. We found out some things about food preference when Zach ate two packages of chicken and Bobby ate a half pound of cheese.:) Dinner was soup and then later than we should have, Skyler made brownie cake, mmmm!  

This camp has an international boundary marker and we can see Prairie Portage in the distance. Our camp also has an Eagle nest and we were able to get a few photos of the majestic bird. Everyone is excited because tomorrow has one mile to the portage then six and a half to base camp where we must arrive between 1300-1400. After all we've been through this is easy, we thought.

Day 9 - Sunday

Our final day started cloudy but the sun arrived shortly thereafter and we cheerfully packed in the warmth of the clearing blue sky. A short breakfast had us on the water and passing the other crew still in camp. We arrived at the portage and waited 15-20 minutes for an outfitter to clear the landing. Eventually we pulled in along side to quickly and efficiently empty, carry and load our canoes while they watched in awe. Our Scouts got quite the thrill beating the wimpy adults in the outfitters group; practice does make a difference. We saw a mother Loon with chicks on its back which was pretty cool after seeing the Eagle. Back on the lake for five minutes and the drizzle began. No one thought much of it and with the blue skies earlier everyone had packed their rain gear away for the last day; mistake, we were going to get wet. The wind picked up, against us of course, and the rain increased in earnest. The rain came so had for so long we were bailing liters of water every few minutes just to keep buoyant and stable in the water. The next six miles were tough and we had to contend with another crew inbound and five or six outbound. Because of the time we needed to stop for lunch; can not arrive before 1300. Lunch was no fun as we couldn't find an appropriate site. After procuring one we set up a tarp but many were shivering. We made hot water and required everyone to eat for their strength, warmth and endurance. All were soaked through at this point and back in the lake we needed to cope with more motorboat wakes that made the last mile seem infinite, but seeing the camp landing was a boon to the soul. To their word the staff made six crews of Scouts sit in the pouring rain until exactly 1:00 and then wait seven minutes between each crew once they had vacated the landing, misery loves company. Check-in was orderly but continued to be wet, seemed to take forever because of the backlog of crews and cold as we were all soaked. We did our paperwork and checked-in with US Customs via computer before being allowed to grab our personal gear, bags we'd left at camp (with soap and clean clothes) and trek to our assigned cabin. The “hot” shower turned out to be luke warm but the camp has a sauna that many enjoyed. Dinner was not memorable then we all ended up in the store buying the patched we'd earned and souvenirs the crew had been thoughtfully considering all week. Skyler told us about the local Root-Beer, it was good but not awesome. The rain quit while we were in the store (~1800) and we had sun for almost an our before the Rendezvous (camp gathering and show). The show put the interpreters in the role of Voyageurs (French Fur traders of the 18-19th century) telling stories, jokes and singing songs about the north woods. We separated to return to the store, play cards “mau” in the mess hall or head back to the cabin. Mr Meyers and I discussed the challenges of crews starting their journey on the day we returned and decided we were glad to be back. We were all in the cabin by 10 with wet clothing, boots and tight quarters; it made for tough sleeping but the cool night promoted snuggling in sleeping bags and deep sleep.

Day 10 – Monday

Awake at 0600 and waking the crew by 0630 to pack before breakfast at 0700. We wished for more blueberry scones but got dry pancakes and greasy sausage. We hung out talking with Skyler until 0845 then went to the parking area to catch the LCS coach for our five hour drive back to Minneapolis-St Paul Airport. Unfortunately we needed to sit in the airport for five hours before the flight and arrived after 2200 at Reagan National Airport so traveling took the entire day.


Skyler had the Scouts do several reflections on their journey and consider how they have grown. Most said they'd gained courage, confidence and strength. I saw that they worked together over time and improved communication skills; a bit longer would have given them even more to be proud of achieving. There was an occasional outburst, poorly chosen comment or laziness but over all the crew left Northern Tier much better for the experience. I hope they can carry this forward to improve themselves and their Troop and have every confidence their leadership will benefit tremendously by their time on this adventure. There was plenty of food even if not everyone liked every meal. Skyler put considerable effort into pre packing the food with consideration for our allergies and we really appreciate it. This trip was different than Philmont in many ways beside the location and activity. We pushed harder and longer and the Scouts needed to rely on one another far more. The days were similar in time but seemed to end much later and take more effort. It really helped that the interpreter stayed all week and had our Ranger Jack remained many of the difficulties between Scouts may have been averted. Skyler's age, experience and charisma inspired the crew to accomplish things the Adult leaders  may not have. The last few days forced the Scouts to build on their teamwork and cooperation to find success and they really achieved great things.

Mr Meyer's Notes

Andrew's Notes

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