Troop 106 Camping in Munger's Field

Troop 106 Camping in Munger’s Field

OK. Confession time again. I’m borrowing the title of this piece from the book and the old Fred MacMurray movie of the same name. I don’t remember much about either beyond the fact the story involved an adult leader and Boy Scouts. Anyway. On with the story. A few weeks back, I signed up to assist wrangling and guiding seven Scouts and two other adults down the Cloquet River. The route was from my house to the landing off the Bachelor Road: a modest trip, seven miles or so by water, an easy five hour paddle in good weather. There are four DNR tenting campsites (similar to the BWCA sites many of you might be familiar with: clearings in the wilderness complete with a steel fire ring and, somewhere close by, a pit latrine) along the way where paddlers can pitch tents. A perfect route for novice canoeists. Given the water was high, the result of late summer deluges, there was little chance the boys would spill into the dark, black water of the Cloquet.

Friday night. I made apologies as the Scouts and their parents set up camp in my backyard. Seems, as always, I was double booked. I had to make an appearance at a birthday party of a colleague a few miles away. After setting up my tent, and with promises of being back before dark, Rene’ and I drove off. The forecast was problematic: drenching rains were promised. By the time I returned, a storm had briefly doused the campsite and everyone was tucked into their sleeping bags. I released Kena, my black Lab, from her kennel, let her do her business, and then the two of us clambered into my tent.

“Judge Munger?”

A male voice woke me up from a fitful sleep. I grabbed my cell phone. 4:05am. Kena remained curled against my hip, seemingly unconcerned by the intrusion.

“Yes?”

“Trooper Smith. State Patrol. I have a search warrant for a blood draw.”

Crap.

I’d forgotten that I was “on call” for the weekend; which, in judicial parlance means I needed to be available to sign legal documents for law enforcement. My eyes focused. I unzipped the tent to a downbeat of wicked rain. “Yes. I’m here.”

The Trooper handed me an application and warrant. I studied the documents by headlamp. The officer swore to the contents of the documents. I signed them. Then, he was on his way. Kena put her head down and returned to snoring.

In the morning, a light rain, interspersed with infrequent squalls, stalled over the river. As the sky lightened from black to gray, boys and dads struggled out of their bags. I started a fire. Older Scouts filled pans with water for oatmeal. Orange drink was mixed. Bags of apples and oranges emerged from the food bins. Breakfast bars were opened. By ten, the mist and rain diminished enough to dry out the tents. We broke camp, loaded the canoes, and slid them down the muddy bank into the current. I wore hiking sandals to steady the canoes as boys and dads took up their seats. The mist returned, at times pummeling us with more significant rain. The sun remained absent. The wind whipped up. Paddling became more of an effort. The group ducked into Hunter Lake, an ox bow off the main channel, taking time to investigate an old Scout camp, a beautiful piece of property, Camp Bunkowske. “Wonder why this isn’t used anymore?” was a question that boys and dads asked more than once as we explored. I knew the history of the place and shared what I knew. And then, we were back in our canoes, headed downstream. Rich changed positions with a young Scout, becoming the stern man in his son’s canoe. My new partner took the bow seat in my 18′ Grumman square stern and promptly launched into a dissertation on just about every topic under the sun. My new partner’s chatter never stopped. I tried to maintain patience, which, as anyone who knows me will attest, is a fragile component of my persona. Despite the multitudinous questions and answers launched between bow and stern, we got on just fine.

Hunter Lake.

Hunter Lake.

Troop 106 pushed on. The younger Scouts interjected frequently, “Are we there yet?” “Just around the next bend,” I’d reply as rain dripped off my waterproof bush hat. My lie briefly quelled the questioning but only for the time it took another Scout to draw his breath and bring the query ’round. Shortly after noon, we landed at Twin Pines campsite, our destination and lodging place for the evening.

Paddling the Cloquet.

Paddling the Cloquet.

Twin Pines.

Twin Pines.

After staking down my tent and unrolling my sleeping pad and bag, I threw on my life jacket and took a stab at tossing a dew worm and spinner into the tannin stained water of the Cloquet. I had one hit but landed no fish. After a hot lunch, with the rain gone but the sun remaining stubborn, I claimed my mummy bag and took a short nap. My neck was giving me grief and it seemed that even the cushion of a PermaRest wasn’t enough to let me slumber. But tired from the short paddle and the exertion making camp, I was soon asleep. In the late afternoon, we explored the ridge behind the campsite, following a four wheeler track for a mile or so through residual legacy white and red pines. After a dinner of brats, hot dogs, mac and cheese, and s’mores, we sat around the campfire as night descended. As the sky darkened, a pair of otters chirped and splashed nearby, oblivious to human visitors. A deer (we never did see whether it was a buck or a doe) swam from one side of the watercourse to the other. A train rumbled across a bridge downstream. The locomotive’s lonesome whistle reminded us that, though we were surrounded by forest, we weren’t far from civilization. A Barred Owl hooted. Bats swooped in and out of the trees. As night fell, the sky opened up and we tried to guess constellations.

Morning fog, Twin Pines.

Morning fog, Twin Pines.

In the morning, after  a breakfast of steaming coffee, hot chocolate, oatmeal, breakfast bars, and fresh fruit, we policed the campsite. “Leave no trace” means exactly that. Rich and his son found a tree frog in their tent. I’d heard the amphibian calling earlier in the morning when I got up to do my business. I placed the frog away from the hubbub of breaking camp. img_3525

A short paddle brought us to Bowman (Side) Lake, another ox bow, where the troop rested and considered the warming morning. I tossed worm and spinner with no success. My canoeing partner grew reflectively silent. We paddled past the Beaver River’s concourse with the Cloquet and an osprey nest built atop power poles. We made the Bachelor Road landing ahead of schedule, unloaded our canoes, and waited for transportation back to Munger’s Farm.

The group, minus two.

The group, minus two.

End of the line. DWP bridge in the distance.

End of the line, the DWP bridge in the distance.

 

 

  • Alan Onken:

    Nice write up, Mark. It sounds like you guys had a good trip despite the gloomy weather. Your continued help with the Troop is GREATLY appreciated.

    • Mark:

      Always! Time is tight this fall but I am trying to participate as best I can…Thanks for reading and for allowing me to mentor your son!

  • Jeff Wright:

    Great story. Even though the weather wasn’t the best, these are the stories the boys will remember for years. Thanks again for guiding and sharing the story. I wish I could have been there.

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