The cover photo of Crooked Lake was provided by Layne Kennedy and featured in the 2019 Boundary Waters & Quetico Calendar. You can pre-order your copy of the 2021 Boundary Waters & Quetico Calendar now!
It was, as it turned out, the longest paddling day of my life. (At age 72, I’m sure I won’t be doing anything close to 65 miles in one day again.) I hadn’t been to Crooked Lake for perhaps 15 years—family, jobs, and life having cut into my paddling time.
My partner and I left our campsite below Have-A-Smoke portage just after dawn, paddled down the Maligne River, took a break at Tanner Lake, had an interesting mix of wading, portaging, dragging, and lining south into Dark Water, and visited a favorite campsite on Argo before portaging into Crooked. It was mid-August with the sun setting noticeably earlier, so we arrived at the end of the portage just as dusk was setting in. No portages until Basswood River, a lovely calm night with a bit of moonlight, and fueled by a variety of desires, we decided to night paddle Crooked.
This lake is really a wide river full of bays, islands, twists and turns, making it a navigation challenge for those new to its wild ways. I had little memory of the route, certainly not enough to make it to Lower Basswood Falls without a map, even in the daytime. But my partner was far more familiar with this wild place, and we headed off with just the moon for light and the loons for company.
I remember being amazed that I had the energy to keep paddling after what had been a pretty active day by my standards. Then I remembered that my physician and his partner had paddled the entire route around Hunters’ Island, of which our route for the day was just a fraction, in a bit over 24 hours. So this wasn’t so exceptional; we weren’t trying for any records and could just relax into the night, astounded by the stars and soothed by the quiet lapping of water against our canoe. The pace of our paddling, so in sync after many miles of adjusting to one another’s rhythm for the two weeks we’d been on trail, slowed to a steady dip-pull-return that was nearly effortless.
There was a moment, at the Big Current, when we had to wake from our meditative state to dig in and make it up the push of water squeezed into a narrow channel. At another time, the quiet was disturbed by some serious splashing. We never did know the source— moose or mergansers most likely. At Table Rock we pulled over for a break and decided to spread out our sleeping bags and get in a few hours of sleep.
I didn’t know then that it would be the longest paddling day of my life, but I did know that Crooked Lake would always be one of my favorite wild places. And I knew it had been one of those days with memories to last a lifetime.