Hiawatha and Voyageurs

August 16, 2017

We set sail on Rainy Lake this afternoon. The Voyageurs National Park sits on the southern side of this massive lake. It is not part of the Great Lakes because it’s water drains into Hudson Bay. This didn’t hinder the hardy French fur traders commonly known as Voyaguers. These guys with their woolen caps possessed incredible energy and endurance. The 24 foot trade canoes that they used weighed 300 pounds unladen. The craft could carry a ton of trade goods or furs along with a crew of 6 to 8 guys who would row 16 to 18 hours a day through this river and lake highway that extended from the Arctic and the Rockies to Montreal in the East.  They frequently traveled 3,000 miles each summer while carrying their canoes and cargo across portages. Today we sampled their world.

It was a pretty wimpy taste as we motored in the National Park tour boat for two and half hours. We never broke a sweat unlike the tough Voyagers. Their craft were usually built by the Ojibway tribe members who populated the shores of Lake Superior and the Rainy Lkae region. Hiawatha, one of their Chiefs according to Longfellow, is remembered throughout the region with National Forests named after him. The tribe seems to be doing fine with numerous casinos in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. I don’t believe his lover Minnehaha had anything to do with the naming of Minnesota.

Like Michigan, Minnesota is flat with few exceptions. The mineral rich north has hills but many more lakes. In the lakes are islands. Rainy Lake has 2,500 islands and the National Park contains about a thousand. We motored through a bunch this afternoon. We managed to see a number of Bald Eagles perched near their nests and fishery. It started to rain about half way through the trip. The joke about the appropriateness of the lake name “Rainy” quickly passed around the riders. We still enjoyed the voyage. 

My reaction to Minnesota is one of admiration. We are staying in International Falls on the Canadian border. It frequently is the coldest place in the US. The locals seem to laugh it off but do admit that it isn’t fun removing snow from their roofs. The rusted out cars that everybody seems to drive speak volumes about winter conditions. Road salt is to blame. Giant firewood piles are another part of the message. The local high school mascot is the Bronco. The old leather helmet NFL player, Bronko Nagurski went to school here. Along with the giant Smokey the Bear statue. This is the land of outsized heroes and tough regular folks. I am just glad we are here in the summer.

We continue our westward journey tomorrow.

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