Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Great Fishing Adventure - Part 3 Are We There Yet?

We woke up the next morning with morale at an all-time low. We were disgusted and miserable. The weather had not changed and did not look like it would clear up any time soon. Thinking we had given the motel enough of our money we went to a nearby cafe for breakfast. Here again we saw more evidence that "Friendly Manitoba" is a worthy title. The service and food were exceptional. The coffee was strong and hot and my omelet was delicious. All eight of us were downright cranky but the server did not miss a beat. She took our order cheerfully and accurately.

We got back to the motel and again contacted the outfitter to discuss our options. We were still on standby and would be notified as soon as the airplane would be able to fly. We did learn that our weeks worth of food was still in the freezer at the float plane base waiting to be flown in with us. We were welcome to partake of some of that so we didn't have to continue spending money at restaurants.

So a couple of guys drove to the float plane base to acquire some food. We were still miserable but were happy we didn't have to pay for another meal in the restaurant. The guys brought back some bread and sandwich meat and some very delicious fresh baked donuts and pastries. The bakeries in Canada also know what they are doing.

We considered our options. Should we cut our losses and leave? There was a no refund policy so that wasn't very appealing. Neither was continuing to shell out money for motel stays. In the end we decided we would stay at least one more night in the hope we could fly out the next day even though our fishing days would be cut almost in half. We decided we would also double up on the rooms so there would be 4 per room rather than two. The motel also offered to give us a small discount if we needed to stay another night.

With a plan of attack, our mood got just a little better. We again congregated together in one room. The room my brother and I were in as a matter of fact. My dad made the comment that it smelled like a gym locker room. I said it smelled just fine until everyone started coming over. We were a very cranky group.

The mood got a little better when the stories started. It is amazing how much trouble teenage boys can get into in rural Minnesota. The antics me and my brother got up to were nothing compared to my dad's and uncles adventures. It amazes me they lived to tell the tales. We were in full flow of laughter and storytelling when there was a knock on the door.

We all looked at each other with "Who could that be?" expressions. Our door wasn't locked and a burly guy with a strong Canada accent said our plane would be ready to fly in 45 minutes to an hour.
We were caught totally by surprise. For awhile no one said anything or moved a muscle. It was almost as if we'd jinx it by taking action. Suddenly we came to our senses and chaos erupted. It was late afternoon and long after checkout time at the Motel. Someone ran down to see if we would get charged for another night. Thankfully the answer was no. In record time we were packed up and on the road, and the Papertown Motor Inn was an image in the rear-view mirror.

Blue Water Aviation was where we intended to depart. You could tell immediately, they were very experienced at flying people back and forth to lakes. We got checked in, bought our Canada fishing licenses and started unloading the vehicles. All our gear was carefully loaded onto carts and weighed. 8 guys with food and luggage for a week is no small amount let me tell you.

Here's the scale with some of our gear. I think we had 3 or 4 trolleys that had to be weighed. The plane still hadn't come in and I was a little nervous everything would not only fit but still allow the plane to be light enough to take off. The guy assured me we were well within our weight restrictions so I figured he was the expert. He said he estimated our body weight at 200 lbs/person. My face got a little red. All I will say is I'm glad I have some lighter relatives because I was a tad heavier than that.

After verifying our total weight was under the maximum we congregated outside to await our plane. The weather still wasn't the best but the aviation people and the outfitter really wanted to get their customers on the lake as well as get the people trying to come home off the lake so they made a decision to fly in less than ideal conditions. After awhile the glorious deep-throated sound of a plane engine cut through the windy air.

We looked up and could just make out the speck of an aircraft in the distance. I've mentioned before I am an aviation nut. I love airplanes of all shapes and sizes. Float planes are really something special. I can't describe how cool it is to watch one come in for a landing on the water. It was made more special knowing that shortly I would be on it flying to a wilderness paradise.

Here's a shot of the plane moored to shore. We had to wait for the party coming in to disembark and unload before we could load our gear and climb aboard. We got a big old assembly line going and got our stuff on the plane in no time. Getting on the plane was interesting. You had to walk first on these wobbly wooden boards and then climb a metal ladder before stepping into the cabin area.

My younger brother was the first one on the plane, "Dibs on the co-pilot seat!" he yells. Miserable little sibling always trying get the good spots. I'm just kidding. I was so happy to be on the plane you could have strapped me to the wing outside and I would have been just fine. If you look at the photo, you'll notice the control stick is on the pilot's side. It is designed to flip from one side to the other depending on who is flying the airplane.

The pilot was a grizzly sort of person that may have flown during the Korean war era. My brother asked him what button do you have to push to move the control stick to the co-pilot side? The pilot looked at him and said, "are you familiar with the phrase, 'over my dead body?'"

Here's my brother looking pretty pleased he got to sit up front. On the right side of the picture is a sheet that detailed all the emergency procedures. Needless to say, there was no flight attendant demonstrating the steps.

Here's a shot of the cabin area where the rest of us were sitting, kind of cramped quarters. Here you see Rick, Eric, and about half of Dave. I'm the one on the left with the hands fiddling with my cell phone camera. The "Barney the dinosaur"-colored purple bag you see in the back is mine. I didn't get to pick my family's luggage color. At least it makes it really easy to find on the baggage carousel in airports.

Finally all the luggage and people were strapped in and the pilot fired up the engine. We taxied out to open water and the throttles were opened up. The wonderful sound of the engine roared through the cabin. As I said the weather wasn't exactly ideal, and I was a little worried how smooth a take-off we would have. It wasn't bad, we got airborne in no time.

We then started what was to be the longest 45 minutes I'd ever spent in an airplane. I don't believe I've ever been subjected to so much tossing and bumping. The turbulence was so bad I could feel my stomach protesting after a few minutes. All of us were very happy when we touched down on Black Lake which would be our home for the rest of the week.

As the plane taxied up to the dock we got the first glimpse of our cabin. The pilot was in a hurry to get back so we formed the assembly line again and wasted no time getting everything unloaded.

After the plane took off we took stock of our surroundings. It was wet. Five solid days of nonstop rain had taken it's toll. The boats had been pulled up on the shore but not far enough. All four of them had the back end submerged in the water. We got our gear inside the cabin and went to work bailing the water out of the boats.

I hadn't gotten very far with the boat I was working on when I got my next surprise of the trip. A huge (at least huge to me) fishing spider crawled out from under a life jacket. I was too freaked out to take a picture, so I found one on Wikipedia that is a pretty fair representation of the monster.

It was probably about 3 inches from limb to limb. I scooped it up and hurled it out into the water. You would have thought the spider did this everyday. It calmly proceeded to swim back to shore. Right at me! I have to say it is kind of interesting how they can basically walk on water propelling themselves forward with their feet. I stood there until it swam back, scooped it up again and this time I threw it on the ground and promptly squashed it with my boot. I'm sorry, I can't handle spiders and this one seemed to have it in for me.

I went back to work purging another vessel from it's watery cargo. Quite a bit more carefully now in case I would be surprised by any more of the local wildlife.

Another shot of the bail-out crew. Bailing water is not the most flattering thing to do when someone has a camera.

One last shot of Jeremy still scooping water. I had to tease him about his hat. He looked so much like Gilligan. Sorry Jeremy.

At last, the water inside the boats was back in the lake and our gear was put away. We began to have thoughts about supper. We decided on grilling some polish sausages and opening up a few cans of baked beans. Nothing had ever tasted so good. It's amazing how therapeutic a hot meal can be after you've been miserable for a few days. We didn't talk much. We were hungry and I think all of us were just happy to finally be at the lake. This trip had been booked for a year and it was nice to finally see the results of all that planning.

After the meal and dishes were done, things livened up a bit. We started getting ready for bed. You would have thought we lived in a frat house. All the men with this pent up energy. My bed was most disobligingly placed so that the light from the room across the hall beamed right into my face. Someone was having much fun turning the switch off and on. I finally had to shut our door because it was giving me a headache.

At last, things quieted down and the boys went to bed, with visions of walleye dancing round in our heads.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Great Fishing Adventure - Part 2 Rain, Rain Go Away

My brother and I woke up Saturday morning with knocking on our room door. Dad informed us that because of the low cloud cover and wind the float planes were not able to take-off that morning. There was a chance a window would open up in the afternoon and we needed to be ready to leave on a moments notice but for now would be at the mercy of the weather.

Major bummer! I did take a picture from our window of my car now saturated with rain and the ugly weather outside but the poor quality of my cell phone didn't do the picture justice. It just looks like the hood of a car sitting outside. What a miserable turn of events. After crossing the border the day before it had rained pretty much the whole way to Pine Falls, but we never dreamed it would be so bad the planes couldn't take off.

However, it is much better to be safe on the ground than unsafe in the air so if the pilot says we don't fly, then we really better not fly. We stared out the window in sorrow for several minutes before making our way to the restaurant for breakfast.

Breakfast was delicious. The motel features what they call breakfast bowls which have your eggs, meat, potatoes and all manner of other things heaped into a large bowl. I like dishes like this so I enjoyed it immensely. If you're the type of person who needs to have everything separate on your plate, you may want to try something else. I got the Southwest bowl with sausage, peppers, and onions, and of course a few healthy shakes of Tabasco sauce.

We went back to our room to pout. There were several things making us miserable. Not only was our fishing trip being delayed, but our lodging and the food we would be eating for the week had already been prepaid, so every meal we ate and heaven forbid additional motel stays would add even more to the cost of an already very expensive trip. Misery loves company and after awhile dad knocked on our door again inviting us into one of the other rooms where the other unhappy travelers were commiserating together.

One bright spot in this deplorable state of affairs was that I had brought my laptop. I cannot tell you how much grief I was subjected to on the drive up. Why on earth did I bring my laptop on a fishing trip to the Canadian wilderness? My plan was that as since I was taking quite a few days off from work I could at least make an attempt to keep up with email the nights we spent at a motel. I was told the chances would be very slim the motel would offer anything resembling Internet access.

Ha, I beg to differ! They not only had wireless Internet Access, they also had High Speed access in certain rooms. So I was able to get some work done as well as "loan" my computer to others who all of a sudden just had to update their Facebook pages. I took great delight in exacting my revenge by saying several times, "Good thing I brought that computer, huh?"

However, the best thing to happen as a result of bringing my laptop was that we got to wish my grandpa a happy birthday via web-cameras. My dad has web-cam at their house in Tucson (where grandpa and grandma also live) and I've got one built into my laptop. So even though we weren't yet at the lake we had an amazing time visiting with grandpa and grandma and singing happy birthday.

Technology truly is a miraculous thing when you think how inexpensive web cameras are now and how we can not only talk but look at people in Tucson while we are in a motel room in Northern Canada. The fact that this was not only possible, but that the video quality was so good, was really cool.

We spent quite awhile visiting on the webcam but grandpa had to get to a party in his honor so we said goodbye and went back to feeling sorry for ourselves that we were still stuck at the motel and watching the horrible weather out the window.

As the day grew longer, we lost hope in reaching the lake that day and began to consider options for the evening meal. The motel lounge had a steak and spud special that was about the same price as my hamburger and fries the night before so we couldn't pass that up. The steak was a little small (barely 6 oz.) but it was excellently prepared and I can't resist a big pile of sour cream with some pieces of baked potato in it.

There was also something else that made another night in the motel more interesting. KARAOKE NIGHT BABY! This is something else I can't resist. I love to sing, especially with an ear shattering sound system supplying the music. I'm sorry dad, but I just had to post this little picture. I apologize the image is so blurry. My hand was either shaking from laughter, or my dad was "busting a move". I sang way more songs than I care to admit, but the best one was probably "Fishing in the dark," by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Eric said that was an appropriate song given the reason we were in Canada to begin with. I guess if we couldn't actually be fishing at least we could sing about it.

After way too much fun in the lounge we headed back to the rooms and prayed for a better forecast the next day.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Great Fishing Adventure - Part 1 Welcome To Friendly Manitoba!

At last, the long awaited chronicles of my fantastic fishing trip to Canada. I'm sure the few people that actually read this can't wait to get started so here goes.

For awhile now, my dad and uncles have been taking these fly-in fishing trips. If you are not familiar with these, the way they work is you drive to some place in Canada that hosts a float plane base, some lake or river that is large enough for planes to take off and land in the water. From there, you park your vehicle and fly to a lake that is only accessible by plane. The Canadian wilderness has several lakes where this is the only way to get there. The plane dumps you on this lake where a cabin and boat docks have been constructed along with some boats and enough fuel to keep anglers happy the length of their stay. At the end of your trip the float plane picks you up and flies back.

On my dad's last trip, they talked about organizing a father-son expedition. Now that most of us grandchildren have wives and children of our own, we very seldom get together, and a "guys only" experience never happens. So they thought it would be fun for a bunch of us to take one of these trips together. I will be forever grateful they did.

This brain-child came to fruition last June when my dad, brother, and some uncles and cousins, eight of us in all, met just North of Fargo and set out on a trip I will treasure the rest of my life. Here we are at the Cenex station in Harwood. This was the most convenient place for us to meet up with those coming from Minnesota. From your left you have my uncle John, my cousin Eric, my uncle Rick (the only non-Meissner of the bunch thanks to his marriage to my dad's only sister, Lois), as you can see, he likes to talk with his hands. Then you have uncle Dave (Eric's dad), my dad Jim, and my brother Jeremy. I happened to be taking the picture and my cousin John Allen (John's son) must have been in the rest room. Not to worry, both of us will be coming up later for your viewing pleasure.

I apologize for the cell phone pictures again. I was not allowed to take our expensive digital camera lest it come to some harm on the trip. If you knew my history with expensive items, this was a reasonable precaution.

The plan was for us to take 2 vehicles into Canada, spend the night in a motel so we would be ready to fly out the next morning at 10:00. We gassed up and proceeded North. We got to Grand Forks around lunch time and Eric had to get some blank CD's for his digital camcorder. We found a Best Buy right off Interstate 29 and looked around for someplace to eat. Jeremy saw a Jimmy John's Sandwich place nearby and said they were pretty good. They were indeed, a little more expensive than Subway but they make a bigger and much better quality sandwich in my opinion. I had the VITO sandwich with hot peppers which is kind of like Subway's Italian BMT. Delicious, but make sure you have Rolaids or forgo the peppers if you're prone to heart burn issues.

Our hunger and technology needs satisfied we proceeded to the border crossing at Pembina. I was driving and my dad was in the back. He was taking an insane amount of pleasure asking, "are we there yet?" every few minutes. Obviously getting back at me and my brother for all the years we spent going to Minnesota visiting grandparents. He succeeded very well, perhaps too well.

If you haven't crossed the border in awhile, you are in for an experience. My dad assured me it would be quick, easy and that they'd never had any trouble. We were about to learn that it would be neither quick nor easy.

You pull up to this drive-through area and come face to face with the most cranky expression imaginable. Every single one of the border guards looked this way. They either really dislike their jobs or "angry-eyebrow" expressions are part of the necessary qualifications. My dad said it most accurately, you cannot help but feel guilty when you drive up.

The lady in the window subjected me to a brutal interrogation. Had I not been so nervous, I probably could have answered the questions more smoothly. I just knew I sounded guilty every time I opened my mouth. Where are you going? (Pine Falls), what is the reason for your visit? (fishing), where are you fishing? (Black Lake), how long will you be staying? (a week), do you have any alcohol? (just a little), any meat or animal products? (no), any firearms? (no), any knives? (well yeah, you need something to clean the fish and we are camping after all), what kind of knives? (the fish cleaning kind and various camping and pocket knives). Then she went through all the same questions again. She was probably trying to see if I would answer differently the 2nd time. As I couldn't remember anything I said I prayed I was giving the same answers.

After this relentless questioning we were instructed to pull over and go in the building. We did this only to be subjected to the same series of questions again with someone else. After doing this, the new person took our passports and went into a back room somewhere. Probably to make sure we weren't on someones "most wanted" list.

My uncle Rick had an even worse time. Every so many vehicles are subjected to a more thorough search. Rick was one of these lucky drivers. He had to pull into this archway that looked kind of like an airport x-ray machine for vehicles. Then guards proceeded to empty out and go through every piece of luggage and equipment they had. To their credit, the guards did put everything very carefully and neatly back where it was. We expected they would just leave everything sprawled out for us to re-pack. We did thank them for this act of kindness. This is why you would never want to give your border crossing guards a bad time. They can very easily make your life even more miserable.

Then Rick and his passengers had to go into the building and go through the same process we did. Interestingly enough there was a John Meissner somewhere that was not to be allowed into Canada and my uncle John was subjected to even more questions and was cleared only after he showed that his hands were free of any scarring. Evidently the person they were looking for had scars on his hands. Being scar-free, my uncle was allowed through. My cousin, John Allen was also allowed after giving up some wrist bands he was wearing that might have been considered weapons. He was told he could pick them up on our way back.

This was an excruciatingly long process. It was hot, it started to rain, but not hard enough to keep away the massive-sized mosquitoes. We were getting a little frustrated and I commented that if this hassle keeps a terrorist out of our respective countries then I am more than willing to be a little inconvenienced. Our border crossing people have a very thankless job and they do it very well so we do need to try to be patient. They are just doing their job.

Eventually, we were allowed in, welcomed to Canada and wished a pleasant trip. We proceeded to Winnipeg and a small town about 90 minutes to the Northeast called Pine Falls. I took great pleasure in pushing the kilometer converter button on my digital dashboard. This was the first time I'd ever had the occasion to use it. After the shock at seeing my vehicle which now has over 197,000 miles on it suddenly switch to 317,040 KM on the odometer I chuckled at my seemingly faster speed. I don't believe I've ever seen a speed limit sign with 100 on it so that was a novelty. Too bad that was only a little over 60mph.

Finally, after many hours of driving, fun conversations of our childhood years and absolutely hilarious stories of my dad and uncles growing up together, we arrived at the Papertown Motor Inn at Pine Falls, Manitoba. Blue Water Aviation was going to fly us to the lake and this was where their base was located. I was a little disappointed that karaoke night wasn't until Saturday and by that time we hoped to be snug in our cabin after a busy day of fishing. It was probably all for the best as I get addicted to those things and don't know when to stop. Some people have said I have a good voice, but most would rather not listen to it all night long.

We got checked in and had an excellent meal at the Motel restaurant. I had a delicious barbecue bacon cheeseburger. I would like to shake the hand of the first person to think of the idea of putting bacon and BBQ sauce on a cheeseburger. In my most humble opinion, that is a very winning combination and I'm happy to say Canadian beef is every bit as good as American.

Manitoba's official slogan is "Friendly Manitoba" and it is very well deserved. Everyone from the person at the gas station, to the servers at the restaurant were extremely nice and hospitable. After supper we tucked ourselves into bed. I was happy to share a room with Jeremy as he has proven to be a pretty quiet sleeper. However, sleep was still hard to come by as all we could think about was the exciting time we were going to have.

So ends day 1, stay tuned for more.