The Owatonna guys went up to Canada over our traditional trip over Memorial Day, but the Fargo guys had a conflict, so we went up the first week of June. After years of struggling to carry the boats, motors, gas tanks and gear through the swamp, in 1986, this group of Bruce, Jim, Steve, Ron and Jimmy tried to avoid the work with disastrous results.
We dragged the boats and carried our gear down the High Bank (easy) and camped on the Boy Scout Island (excellent), had good fishing (fun), then tried the fateful trip down the river (hard).
We shuttled and carried the camping gear from the island and up the High Bank to pack the Suburban. Ron drove the Suburban and the empty trailer 1/2 mile to wait for us at the bridge. He waited 9 hours! We took the big deep Lund and a smaller 14′ Alumacraft with just hand saw and an ax down the river. On the map, the length was smaller than a paper clip, how bad could it be? It was bad.
We encountered several trees down across the river. We cut what we could and just dragged the boats over the rest. The Alumacraft got stuck under a strainer and sunk, the overhanging tree branches pushed the boat under water. We collected all the gear that was floating down the river, took off the motor and was able to pull the empty boat back to the surface. We could float the Alumacraft and guide it with the oars.
We came across a huge tree down across the river. Even after we sawed through the tree, it was too big to move, so we cut a 6′ slot in the tree, enough space to float the boats thru (we thought). The Alumacraft quickly floated thru in the fast current released after cutting a slot in the tree, but the big Lund missed the slot and the bow shot up in the air, dropping the stern under the rushing water. Even after we pushed the Lund into the slot, it was too late, the boat filled with water and sunk quickly. I could just barely reach one hand down under water to twist off the motor clamps and still breathe. We finally got the motor off and collected all the gear that was floating down river on shore. The 4 of us tried standing on one boat gunnel rail and tried to lift the other side, but it did not budge in the rushing waters. Bruce was about ready to give up on his Lund, his pride and joy, when we thought to use the 4″ x 4″ beams we use to clamshell the boats together. We were able to use the beams as levers to get one side of the boat above the water and eventually out the water. We loaded the Lund and set off again.
By now, we had been bobbing around in our life jackets in the cold water for 8 hours and the sun was setting in the river valley. We were cold and wet. We floated for a while until we hit a sand bar with the Lund. We jumped out and Jimmy was pulling on the front while I was pushing from behind. Suddenly, the boat reached deep water and Jimmy pulled himself up with bow of the boat in his chest. I started chasing after the boat in the water, but the current was too fast. I could see the boat picking up speed in the river current was heading towards a rock cliff. I yelled to Jimmy to jump off, be he froze, stuck to the bow of the boat. Just before the boat slammed into the rock wall, it hit a another sandbar and stopped just inches away from the cliff. When the boat stopped, Jimmy looked up at the rock cliff, let go of the boat and started floating down river. We finally caught up to him, he was white as a ghost, clearly in shock. The 3 of us lifted him into the Alumacraft.
Fortunately, we went around the next corner and we could see Ron, the Suburban and the bridge. Jimmy seemed responsive when we gave him an oar and pushed the Alumacraft across the quiet little bay toward Ron, who was waiting along the shore with the trailer next to the bridge. Ron was yelling for Jimmy to paddle toward him, but Jimmy froze again. The boat was headed towards the rapids under the bridge. Ron (the only guy who was dry all day) had to wade into the water and catch the Alumacraft and pull Jimmy to safety. Jim, Bruce and I got the Lund through the brush and jumped in to paddle cross the bay over to the trailer. We got the bigger Lund boat on the trailer and strapped it down, but when Ron tried to pull out, it got stuck on a log. Using my last ounce of strength, I lifted the back of the boat and trailer off the ground and tossed it over the log. Once Ron pulled out I fell over in exhaustion. We loaded our gear and clamshelled the Alumacraft on top of the Lund on trailer. Once everything was tied down, we put on dry clothes and collapsed int he Suburban.
Other than Ron driving, we all fell asleep instantly. The logging roads look very different in the dark and Ron had never drove a truck up there before. Every time we would come up to a fork in the road, Ron would wake me up, I would shake out the cobwebs and tell him which way to go before falling back to sleep. Ron did a great job driving us out of there. The blacktop highway never looked so good! We had survived, with a story to tell.
Amazingly, other than me, this was the last trip for these guys. Ron did try it again 25 years later, on the condition that we would never try the river trip again!