On Sunday morning at about 11:00, as I consolidated my gear, my dad pulled up in his maroon Chevy Corsica with the old canoe on top. His earliness surprised me. It was great to see him, and we were both excited for our trip. It took a while to get all of our stuff into the car, and we ended up having to ditch Jean-Paul's culligan bottle. Regretful. But there was simply no room.
Off we drove, catching up on each others' lives on the way to Hibbing to get some supplies. We rambled along the dead, historic Sunday streets of Hibbing until we finally landed at SuperOne foods. There we bought groceries, most notably ARCO coffee, from Duluth, ground coarse for percolators, on sale for $3 a pound!
Although we didn't need it this time, I noticed that here, and in every small town I'd been in, the supermarket sells Smart Balance vegan butter. Confoundingly, every loaf of bread in mainstream grocery stores contains high-fructose corn syrup. WHY?
From Hibbing, it really didn't take us long to get up to Orr, home of the giant bluegill, on Pelican Lake in the Superior National Forest. From there we continued up St. Louis County road 23 to Buyck. As we approached, my dad consulted the map and said, "The next town's called 'Boik' or 'Buick' or something like that?" When we saw their road sign, we learned how to pronounce it, for attached to the top of the sign was a little girl's bicycle! "Bike!" The townsfolk must have been sick of hearing it mispronounced.
Our ultimate destination was Echo Lake, down a dirt road seven miles from the Sportsman's Last Chance tavern. The Vermilion River runs through Buyck, and flows north about twelve miles to its terminus in Crane Lake, on the Canadian border.
The campsites at Echo Lake were generously spaced, and we chose one that was pretty open, and overlooked the lake. Several other campsites were occupied, which surprised us, being Sunday night and so remote. There was also a live-in host, which I had never experienced before, camped in a motorhome near the entrance. We saw several trailheads, a dock, a beach, and two playgrounds.
We couldn't believe where we were. It must have been sometime after 3:00 pm. Time for a beer. My dad thought I had asked for MGD instead of High Life, it was ice cold, and it would certainly do. He was saving the Red Dog. We drank MGD and unloaded some gear. In the trunk I saw the Coleman propane stove that had been on every family camping trip I could remember. My dad still kept it in the same cardboard box it came in, and it is a great cardboard box. It's screenprinted with faux woodgrain, to make it look like a crate, and the letters on it appear to be branded onto the "wood." The large photo on the front shows a man with short white hair and a red flannel shirt, squatting on a rocky shore in white canvas shoes, shaking pepper onto his frying eggs with an aluminum shaker. In the background is his beached canoe. What a man!
I noticed two small American flags tucked into the box with the stove. "To keep the rednecks away," my dad said. We clipped one to our site number post, and one to the gable of the tent.
As we sat at the picnic table, my dad said it would be great to bring a birdfeeder camping, to hang up in the site and attract more birds. We had some oranges, so I suggested cutting one in half and impaling the halves on a tree; oranges attract orioles. He liked the idea, and we carried it out.
We then set off in the car (the canoe still on top) with a two-fold mission: to find firewood, and to determine the point five miles from our campsite, where my dad would turn around on his ten-mile run. He had to begin his marathon training in the morning. At the five-mile point there was an easily recognizable grove of birch. I stashed his full bottle of Gatorade at the base of a tree, and dug a line across the road with my boot heel. He couldn't miss it.
On the drive back, we pulled over where we saw some big fallen branches. We went opposite directions. I climbed into a tangled pile of dead tamarack, but the branches were still too green, and only bent instead of breaking. I got back up to the road, and my dad was coming toward the car from the other side. When we met he handed me a tiny wild strawberry! I ate it, and followed him back up the sandy trail where he had come from. There were strawberries growing all over the place! I picked a handful, blew off the fine sand, and ate them with delight. The place he led me was the sad remnant of a clear-cutting job, now an vast dump of dry downed trees. We carried armloads of wood back to the car, and laid it on top of the trunk, underneath the canoe. We made it back to camp with nary a stick lost.
The northern evening granted us beer, roasted root vegetables, and well-earned sleep among the fireflies.