BWCA EP23: Mudro-Horse-Fourtown Loop, October 11-14th, 2013

EP23 MUDRO HORSE FOURTOWN loop

Overview: This trip was a last gasp of the summer canoe tripping through an entry point that I had never done.  Mudro (EP23) was enticing for the opportunity to get into both Horse and Fourtown for late season/early fall fishing, pilot a “parallel solo” opportunity with a fellow paddler, as well as a chance to experience a couple of lakes without mosquitoes and hordes of other canoeists!

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Day 1: Left Twin Cities at 4AM to meet up with another BWCA forum solo who was looking for one more trip into the same lakes before the season closed out. I arrived in Ely around 8:30 Friday morning and picked up a Le Tigre SR17 from the good folks at Voyageur North outfitters and headed up to the EP at Mudro. Rolling into the parking lot I unloaded and trucked everything down the grassy banks passed a very low-flowing Picket Creek. John, my parallel solo partner arrived shortly after me and we were soon floating down the creek, rock-dodging.

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As the sunshine built over us, an eagle or two soared over us on the portage from Mudro to Sandpit. A good omen. With little wind we pushed on with easy paddling to find the well-disguised portage into Tin Can Mike, another short paddle and the quick, easy portage (stepping over the wolf scat) into Horse.

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Now the wind was coming up. We set our strategy for campsites and pushed up the west shoreline of Horse passed the river entry to Fourtown portage. Although not thrilled with our options for campsites, we stayed at campsite 1117 on the west shore because the winds had picked up and crossing Horse to the two sites on the opposite shore next to the Horse River was now, not an option.

The camp itself is okay with a  lot of space at the top of gently sloping rock face. The take out is a bit clumsy but if you paddle around to the backside of the site, the protected bay offers a couple of better options. Two tent pads are easily identifiable with a lower one on a grassy surface to the left of the fire pit and a second upper one situated on a half-dirt pack, half rock ledge but definitely pitch-able.

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I nestled my solo into the trees behind the upper tent pad in a stand of trees an grass in between a root or two but very comfortable. Tarp pitched in there as well although a bit awkward and tight.

Day 2: Early morning dawned grey and a stiff breeze. Fished the point to the west of the campsite and brought in a couple of 15 to 16 inch pike but nothing much else before breakfast. After a hot breakfast, we triaged our options with winds gusting 10 to 15mph by early morning and whitecaps building out on Horse.  We set out north from our camp for a windy island saddle up the west shore and then a series of back bays for our fishing. Not having much luck initially, the second bay up the west shore from our camp gave us a couple pike, a SM and a small walleye. Not much else seemed to  biting. John however brought in a decent sized pike (probably in the 18-20in range) which was the largest that either of us caught and a respectable SM which kept us entertained and enthusiastic to keep casting for a few more hours.  Rap 11cm brown/gold Husky Jerk, silver #5 Colorado-blade-spinners with black 1/4oz jigs, plastic leeches and fire tiger crank baits seemed to be the preference (although I had a sneaking suspicion that the pike I caught were just desperately hungry and sensed a long winter setting in!). About midafternoon, our own hunger was building and we decided to head back to camp for own hors d’oeuvres and dinners.  Just for fun I set up a deep tail dancer/inline sinker and trolled home for one last chance to reel in dinner.  As we rounded the last point on our way south, the southwesterly winds brought up a bit of squall and we fought our way back to our campsite in strong gusts and foot to foot-and-a-half breakers to make us earn dinner. When we finally landed, I reeled in a 13 or 14 inch pike from the troll that I was too busy to land with the frantic-wind-fighting tandem paddle that we needed to reach land! Setting in for the evening, we made dinner as misty rain moved up the lake from the south. We were in for a wet evening as we crawled into our respective solo (dry) tents.

Day 3: Next morning the winds had subsided, temps were slowly rising and the sun was rising bright orange over the ridge to the east. We set out for Fourtown portages just down the shoreline to the south and west. We had to extend the first portage an extra 30 rods or so as the beavers had been at work building up an 8 to 10 foot wall of mud, sticks & logs! Dropping in on somewhat steep rock face, we paddled out. But then we didn’t have to worry because we had to hop back out of our boats, albeit one-at-a-time at the next rocky, single-exit portage.

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Curious here why the portage was not cut on the reedy other bank which is flat and wooded but looks to be an easier passage. The put-in on the other side of this portage is an even steeper, sheer rock face which just makes dropping one’s canoe back in an isometric endurance test! Paddling onward we were out of our canoes in less than 30 seconds for the final 10 rod portage as the boulder field was impassable, even for attempting to line-a-canoe. By now, the rocky, steep put-in was expected.

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Dodging submerged rocks as we each shoved off in our turn, we paddled out again for a short arm-stretcher until we reached the final 5 rod-portage-through-your campsite before reaching Fourtown. There was sandy beach at the other end of this short portage which made this transition easier. Had a good chat with a fellow paddler from one of the 5-stars at the mouth of this entry to Fourtown who reported “not being able to buy a bite” the day before as they were fishing on Fourtown. I guess we were lucky.

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Saying goodbye to John, my parallel solo partner who was heading into Boot for a solo night, I turned south to troll my way down to the triple-portage into Mudro where I was spending my last night in.

There is not much to say that hasn’t probably already been said (or written) about the Fourtown portages.  They are rocky portages that I didn’t find particularly difficult – except for that first “10 rod” portage which is actually more like a 40 rod portage that is a sheer rock face to climb!

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However, I found the actual take-out from the north side and paddled back to it to portage my canoe (thankfully) and made it into the small unnamed beaver pond without a problem. Even dodged “Mr. Aggressive Beaver” cruising silently down to my end of the pond like a guided missile to check me out!

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My mantra on these portages was “keep your feet” because an ankle-turn on one of these would mean dropping your load with a  crash and crawling out! The next 140 rod portage was actually a lot easier than I was anticipating: a short “up” and the trail levels off pretty quickly — and then it was just a carry through the autumn leaves with the creek rushing down below me to my left. I had to break up the impromptu beaver damn of a few fresh logs that the industrious rodents has started at the end of this portage — so that I could line my canoe a few rods into a deeper, “floatable” part of the stream before paddling the ½ minute or so to the final 30 rod portage. More rocks. Rocks. Rocks. Rocks. Basketball sized. Broken. Uneven. Pulling out my gear, I hoisted my rented boat as carefully as I could over my head and threaded my way through the labyrinth of the boulder field for 30 rods to Mudro.

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Getting my gear loaded, I paddled the final 2 or 3 minutes to the one-and-only campsite on Mudro just to my left and around the bend from the put-in. Pretty site, fairly spacious with room for at least 2 and perhaps 3 tents and fairly well developed fire pit with a couple log seats. Nice bear hanging tree or two. With a cold night coming on, I quickly set up camp and made dinner. Being too tired to fish (is it possible?), I doused my abbreviated fire, hung my depleted food bag and dove into my bag as the temps dropped into the 30s.

Day 4: Beautiful sunny morning. Eschewing coffee and hot breakfast for a quick departure, I loaded and left thinking “ I bet the fishing this AM would be good after watching them rise late last night in the moonlight….” Oh well. A reason to return next Spring.

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A quick paddle found that the recent rains had risen Picket creek enough to effectively dodge submerged boulders and travel the length of the creek to the sandy beach takeout, shortening my final portage by about 20 or so rods.  A nice present for the end of the trip ( I hope the young couple heading in to Wheelbarrow portage with the wonderful, energetic husky had a great week on the water— I wanted to turn around and head right back in with them!).

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Lerome/Sue Falls-Cirrus Solo, Explore, Fish: September 14, 2013

Description of Trip

A solo trip to base camp, explore ‘upper Cirrus’ and fish that I had wanted to take since the beginning of the summer. I had also considered taking my family in through this route in July but opted for Beaverhouse-Cirrus (which was a better option!). It was a 5 ½ hour trek heading in as I searched about for portages and fought a bit of wind. Coming out I faired only a little better taking 5 hours from my campsite outside of Sue Falls to the take-out at the Lerome Lake access just off the Trans-Canadian.

Day 1 of 5

Started the day from the Twin Cities. Warm and a bit breezy but a delightful day and easy drive. Had a quick detour over to Ely to pick up a used Thermarest Guidelite series pad from an outfitter. Road work almost completed on 169 which was a blessing and I zipped in and zipped out of town quickly. Finally made it to International Falls by 9PM and stopped at the Voyageur Hotel. A great little place that is run by an older couple like a bed & breakfast. Felt as though I was walking into their living room when I entered the lobby. Good night sleep.

Heading North from the Twin Cities on I-35!

Day 2 of 5

Awoke at 5:30AM. Red sky morning sunrise and out the door at 6:30 to head for the border crossing. Made Atikokan by 8:30AM and self-registered. Stopped by Robins to pick up a blueberry muffin and fresh coffee since I didn’t have time for breakfast in International Falls (a great place!). Headed back west on the Trans Canadian for the 5 ½ miles to the Lerome Lake access/put-in. Windy! Winds blew from the SW at 12km/hr (7-10 mph or so) with gusts a bit higher. Was blown back into the first bay and had to fight my way through a small islet of reeds into next bay on the eastern coastline where I was promptly blown back into that bay!

Voyager Hotel IntlFalls   Dont Bumpadahead

Since I need to make time, I got out, moved from the bow (I was trying out paddling backwards) to the stern, readjusted my packs and hugged the shoreline down to where the portage was supposed to be. Had a bit of difficulty as I always seem to have with locating the first portage but finally there it was.

No Name lake put-in was very windy – sort of a natural wind funnel there I guess — but once away I was able to paddle down the Jackfish creek portage. Despite the stinking, loon-crap muck at the put-in Jackfish creek water levels were up high enough for me to float my boat without having to do the extra 114 or so rod “bog-trot” that Beymer describes. Beaver dam lift-over was not a big issue and found myself paddling easily across Bewag to next portage.

Portage Lerome NoName Lake        Jackfish Creek portage

Located a steep takeout on southwest shoreline as I aimed off where I thought the portage should be. Found a steep, rocky 10- or 15- rod goat-trail climb that levels out and gently drops down to Lark Lake. As a word of caution: Don’t take this portage! Continue southeast about another 200 to 300 yards along the south shoreline of Bewag and you will find a gentler, sandy/grassy takeout with a gentle rise and then level carry into Lark (found this out on the way out on Day 4!)

This was becoming an adventure on shore-hugging and portage –location. At the back of Lark I had read about “entering the marsh”. With a bit of trepidation, I paddled the 5 minutes or so across Lark to the south shore and entered a narrow marshy, lily-pad

SF portage take 2

strewn swamp-lined channel with red pitcher-plants. As I wound my way south, a beaver dam stretched in front of me west-to-east. I found the short white rock at the eastern edge of the dam that marked the take-out into another stinking, oozy mess that I thankfully only sunk about calf-deep into with my canoe-hat. Good thing that my Wellingtons stayed on my feet for the 20 rod carry into what I’m guessing is the upper part of Cole Lake.

Navigating the narrow, but pretty switchback into Cole Lake is actually a treat as an eagle or two soared above this secluded water, lined by largely pine and various conifers. Finding the entry to Cirrus Creek, I paddled south on the highly-flooded stream and swamp to the portage just east of the beaver dam across the creek and carried down to Sue Falls.

SoloCirrus 1st night camp     Campsite night one Cirrus

It was now 3 in the afternoon and rain was starting to threaten overhead. I took another half hour to set up my trolling rig, snack, rehydrate and consult my maps before pushing off into the little bay protecting Sue Falls. Paddling to the west, I trolled past a set of islands and picked up a smallmouth bass dinner. Perfect. Located my campsite (A2) on a well-sheltered point of land shortly after that and made quick work of cleaning the fish, setting up camp and starting the fire…..as rain started to patter down….one drop…at….a…time. Hate to say it, but good nutrition suffered that meal as fish was followed by s’mores to facilitate a quick cleanup before diving into my tent at 8:30. Fatigue was also setting in!

Fish in a pan 1st night Cirrus   Smore dinner night 1 Cirrus

Day 3 of 5

Next morning, startled another eagle that soared across Cirrus from the stand of trees at my site. Beautiful sun peeking out. Caught a small walleye about 6 inch from the point of the campsite and released. Had to move on as I wanted to get down to the lower “upper part” of this upper arm of Cirrus (just above the north-south channel that connects both parts of Cirrus Lake). Started moving out under light winds on the northern shore of lake. With wind picking up, made a stop at a nice 5 star site (94) across the lake from the “pinch” in the land where the eastern upper arm meets the “lower” eastern arm.

Quick mid-morning break. After my own internal debate, I opted for the more conservative route which is to make a wide “C” by hugging the northern bay from this site and exploring the great little islands and potential sites back there. Beautiful potential camp sites back there! Then shot a gap between two islands guarding the bay and hit the opposite, southern shoreline which guided me to the pinch and I easily dropped down into the lower upper arm of Cirrus. Winds abated. Beautiful paddling now under sunny skies.

Island Campsite on lower arm of Cirrus Lake – Night #2 of trip by Nandagikendan

Finally made my destination campsite on an island (34Y) above the north-south channel but it was already taken by the only other two souls that I’ve encountered on the lake. So, disappointed I begin picking my way down the north-south channel ruling out potential campsites that turn out not to exist until I find the island campsite (3F) at the end of the north-south channel. This is familiar ground as my family and I paddled past this site when visiting the other great campsite at the end of this channel this past July!

Setting up camp first, I then get to work fishing some jigs and a husky jerk and a spinner but no luck even as evening sets in. No fish today with dinner as I’m appropriately humbled. Crawl in early as I’m beat from a long day’s paddle and tonight is supposed to get down to freezing.

Day 4 of 5

Fog! Woke early this AM to find the rain stopped and FOG had rolled in! Couldn’t see past the trees on the top of the island campsite and definitely couldn’t see the water below. Unbelievable. Was supposed to have frost during the night (Atikokan saw -2 C temps) but no sign of it — just the lake evidently cooling off and the air above starting to rapidly warm. Quickly burned off though as the sun came up over the trees to form a truly spectacularly beautiful, sunny morning with no wind. Time to get going!

Island Fog Cirrus from island camp day 2  Fog lifting from island camp Cirrus AM day 3

I could not resist throwing in a floating rap for a couple of casts. A few nibbles but I had to get going to make Sue Falls by midday in case anyone else had similar plans.

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Heading north via channel connecting lower and middle arms of Cirrus Lake, by Nandagikendan

Set up trolling with a storm thunder stick and jigging rod in channel. Caught and released a walleye and SM while trolling shadows about 10 to 15 feet off shoreline. All told there were 5 small mouth and one pike of 24 inches that morning. Finally had to pull in the line so that I could finish paddling up to Sue Falls which I reached shortly after midday.  Chose my campsite (BD) on one of  peninsulas after a 4-hour paddle start-to-finish with two seat breaks and one to tie up fish on my stringer and dump them in my 50L dry bag doubling as my day tank. Dried out gear. Cleaned fish and ate a late shore lunch/early dinner.

24 in Pike Cirrus   SM 15 and 17 together

Checked out site and did my part by partially relocating and rebuilding the lower fire pit. Finally located the upper fire pit and campsite. Apparently 2 or 3 other tent pads have been covered by the large blow downs up there and the undergrowth – would need a bit of work with a swizzle stick, crossbow saw and maybe a chainsaw to hack out a tent pad or two in that area, as well as a bit more fire pit construction both upper and lower to turn this back into a 5-star. Unfortunately, one of last residents had tried to burn tin foil and drink mix wrappers in fire! Picked up what I could. Need to return at some point for camp maintenance and cleanup….and more fishing.

Day 5 of 5

The regret of any trip is when you realize that it’s moving day and time to head back out! Broke camp at 7:30 which is a bit of a record for me – as much as I love an early start, I have a hard time motivating myself to get out of my comfortable sleeping bag (and now pad!) before 6:30AM on any trip. Gorgeous sunny day with no wind so off I went for a trudge up the falls and into Cirrus Creek where the fish were jumping! Finally made No Name before being buffeted by winds for about 2 or 3 minutes and fought my way into the wind tunnel (think Venturi effect in fluid dynamics!) that is the 5-rod portage back into Lerome. Expectedly with winds coming again out of the south/southwest, the southern shore was calm once I exited the wind tunnel portage. Hugged the shoreline all the way home taking my back passage behind an island through a swamp that probably is impassable in low water levels until I made landfall back at the take-out. Five hours start to finish! Time for some Gatorade and a rest!

The only question that remains is when do I get to go back?!

BWCA EP 16: Nina Moose to Agnes: A Family Excursion, August 30-Sept. 2, 2013

By Nandagikendan

Friday, August 30, 2013

Night before, we stopped at Kawishiwi Ranger station to pick up permit from the nice folks there. Beautiful late summer afternoon drive up the Echo Trail. Arrived at Jeanette USFS campground about 35 miles north of Ely on Echo Trail. Peaceful, bucolic, small campsite nestled at base of a very pretty lake. Lots of longer-term residents there enjoying the last of summer fishing and camp community. Probably 11 or so total sites? Beautiful cool evening with lots of stars. We all slept well. Crawled under my Matrix to retie a banging heat shield from driving through the construction on 169 and the Trail. Bail fail off one of my 3 reels in transit so the Gladding Southbend 725A reel had to stay in the car. Oh well, that leads to LESSON #1 of the trip: ALWAYS pack a back-up reel!
Jeanette, Lake

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Saturday, August 31, 2013
— The PUT-IN.

Day dawned beautiful, cool, clear with only a few clouds and little to no wind at all. Great to take off. Up at 5:30 to make coffee. Quick breakfast and rousting of our two kids out of the tent. Finally packed and ready to go at 8:30AM (an early start for us!), reached trailhead at Moose River EP16 at 9. Unloaded and …disaster struck. After trucking the canoe down to the put-in and the family was in-process of staging the rest of the gear, I popped the watch pins out of my sport watch while struggling one of my packs (Lesson 2: Always put the watch in a pocket). Then the spine ripped out of my beloved, 25-year-old “recently repaired” Lowe Alpine internal-frame pack as I was gingerly struggling that one onto my back ( Lesson #3: ALWAYS bring a spare backpack. Luckily we had another large daypack and lots of 55L dry bags to shift gear around in.

Around 10:15AM, we finally shoved off down the river. Beautiful day! Immediately after the first 25 rod portage we found the impromptu sandbar portage of 3 rods which we “lifted over” and then walked the shallow rapids down about 20 yards. Then we came to what would be one of the 6 portages we did this day, another impromptu portage of about 10 rods around a set of half-submerged boulders in a 25 – 30 yard stretch of the stream (on the way back we artfully navigated through these – the hell with portaging that again!
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Rest of the trip upriver was uneventfully beautiful. We lunched on “the beach” at the north end to the left of the Nina Moose river inlet. A thunderstorm was building to our south/southeast that my son was nervously tracking for us and he rightfully suggested that we take cover! So, we landed, ate, were rained on briefly and then reloaded to paddle on with sun already beating down on us again.

Couple of notes: Nina Moose and Moose Rivers were both a bit high due to recent rains making beaver dams easier to glide over. Also managed to turn my ankle over on the 45 rod portage. Not to worry as I have a habit of packing neoprene ankle braces for just such occasions (still smarted though!). Also want to TIP MY HAT to the young guide from Ely Outfitters and his companion for grabbing our last 3 bags on the 95-rod portage and giving us great advice on campsites and fishing on Agnes! I owe those gentlemen a beer or tow!

So we made it to campsite #1804 per BWCA map by 3:30PM (about a 5 ½ hr. journey with our half hour lunch break and rather lazy double portaging). This is a lovely 5-star on the east shoreline of upper Agnes. It’s located on a peninsula that juts out into the lake. Approaching from the south, the camp is the 3rd in a line going east along that peninsula shoreline.
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Storm from Hell: We set up camp, stowed gear and began making dinner while lightning, clouds and thunder built up in the west/southwest. There is no apt way to describe what hit us while we were under our cook tarp prepping dinner. Rain, wind gusts (25? 30? Mph), lightning bursts, ear-splitting thunder and zero visibility across the lake. When the winds picked up our canoe (stowed about 25 yds. on shore) and tossed it into the water, it was time to 1) frantically dash to grab and lash it to anything on shore with the errant mooring line flagging behind, 2) dash for the tent (God bless our Kelty Salida 4!) and 3) comfort our poor kids who were very brave but more than just a bit unnerved.
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A lesson or two I learned: ALWAYS tie down your boat, even on shore (came through with only a minor pin-prick puncture). Check your weather radio with “stuff” rolling in. NOAA wasn’t kidding about the “violent thunderstorm” that we heard after-the-fact”. We did however congratulate ourselves as a family on competently tying down our tent, tarp and stowing our gear (nothing was lost!) as well as planning on the correct foul weather clothing to pack and wear.
Tie down the Boat!

Sunday, September 01, 2013
– Dry out and Recover.

The rest of our trip in comparison is rather anti-climactic given what happened on the first day! We spent the morning hitting the reset button in camp. ). I started the day at 5:30 by doing a bit of jigging from shore, trying out the TGO, and flinging the husky-jerker into the saddle between us and the island across from the site. But no luck (think I caught a clam on the TGO-method!). Making coffee and exploring our camp, I found my socks on opposite sides of the site: one had been left on the line and remarkably had only blown around camp (and not out into the lake) and the other was near the fire pit. With a bit of misty rain and overcast in late afternoon, my wife suggested we catch some fish for dinner so we paddled out into the lake, scooped water for our gravity filter and then I plied the small bays with jigs, Mepps (little too mid-summer still for that) and the jerker. Having no luck, we skirted the rocky points with a #11 blue/silver deep shad rap. Bingo. Pulled up a 14” walleye that we released. Paddled north around other points into the north bays, crossed the lake to the west and came back the way we came. Rounding the final point in front of camp site 2 (1803), we picked up an 18 in pike. Not a stellar fishing outing by most standards but then again, we only fish for that “one fish” we need for our meal. So it’s usually a once-and-done adventure which is fine for us.

IMG00610-20130902-0727 North beach nina moose paddlers on lake IMG00611-20130902-0727

Monday, September 02, 2013

Labor Day — Pancakes a plenty. Bacon. Fruit. Rivers of dark coffee (adults only ?). Packed up by 10:30AM which was also quick for our family. Sun peeking through this morning with water smooth as glass. An eagle on the rock across from our site where we left the pike carcass the day before. We can see the way out of the lake to the south peeking through the mist. A slow graceful paddle with lots of memories. The storm-of-the-century taking its place in our family’s shared legacy and dominating the conversations. Sun’s out, rivers are up. Break again at “the beach” on Nina Moose where we met a group of 3 canoes heading out after a long trip (in #14, LLC, out #16).
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Finding Nina Moose (river entry for Moose actually) by sight navigation a bit of a trick. Pushing a bit harder upstream to glide over beaver dams, we find the portages easier and quicker to navigate. Finally, we land at the 160-rod trailhead take out that I silently nickname the “160 rod Zen Walker Canoe Portage”. It’s 4:15PM. I find this portage easier to stroll up than it was to put-in. Happily fatigued and weary, we load up and drive down the Echo Trail to Ely for Chinese takeout in Ely is in order before the 4 ½ hr. drive back to the cities. Arriving home in SW Minneapolis at 11PM, everyone is toes-to-the-ceiling shortly thereafter.

EPILOGUE: In hindsight, it was a fantastic trip. Expectations were adjusted based on the energy level of the group, particularly the shorter ones. We knew going in that we would “get as far as we could get” and that “it would be beautiful” wherever we landed.