Numerous invites had been extended to us over the years to visit Shelley and David Hamel’s family cabin on their island. Each year we sadly had to decline. When an invite arrived earlier this year, and now that we're retired and not having to overcome obstacles like “work” or “schedules”, we happily accepted.
Getting to A-75 is no small matter. Nor is planning to stay at the island. Everything and everyone has to go by boat. On a good day, a one-way speedboat trip to the island takes about 40-45 minutes. Using a pontoon boat can take considerably longer. A visit lasting more than a week usually necessitates a trip to town – that would be Fort Frances – to restock provisions. Or in the event of an emergency – say, for example, to pickup a replacement refrigerator - more trips are necessary.
Via a series of email exchanges between David and Shelley (who live in Westfield, WI), long time friends Warren and Sharon Gaskill who would also be guests (they live near Black Earth, WI) and the Sykes who live pretty much wherever they damn well please (at the time it was Dale, WI), the trip coalesced into a viable plan.
David, Shelley, Warren, and Sharon were driving up in the Hamel’s van along with two beloved canines, Dash and Sally. Our invitation was for a two-week stay and we were invited to share the van ride. However, we opted for a one week visit knowing we had to prepare for our travel west. We would return to Fort Frances when a run for provisions was made and as such we needed to have our own vehicle handy. We made the ten hour drive to the border (sans RV) in two days with an overnight stop in Duluth. It gave us time to visit a few spots along the way including Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area in Burnett County and the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory overlooking Duluth.
The plan was to meet the Hamel van gang in Fort Frances, Canada, to fill in the gaps for whatever additional provisions would be needed. Measuring each others travel progress via cell phone, we met up a bit sooner in International Falls. A trailer towed by the van suffered a flat tire, which required an unscheduled stop to buy a replacement tire.
After a brief and uneventful border crossing followed by stops for more provisions, we drove to a marina outside of Fort Frances where the Hamel’s speedboat was moored and where we would leave our vehicles. It quickly became evident that the total accumulation of luggage, provisions, six adults, two dogs and the odds and ends David brought (including a replacement casement window for the cabin and a two-draw filing cabinet) that more than one boat trip would be necessary.
First glimpse of A-75 and the docks
The three bedroom cabin lacks electricity and relies on propane for cooking and gas-fired lanterns for interior lighting. Propane is stored in a large tank near the shore. The refrigerators (two) are propane powered. Heat is provided by a wood burning stove located in the main living area. To maximize the stove's efficiency one needs to be in the same general vicinity (liberal use of blankets in a bedroom at night will do nicely as an alternative - snuggling is encouraged). There’s a gasoline powered portable generator used for charging a series of 12-volt batteries, which in turn are used to recharge other batteries such as found in cell phones or laptops. The generator is also used to run various power tools when the need arises. For folks who cannot live without a TV or a loud stereo, A-75 is not (thankfully) a viable destination.
Water is pumped to the cabin from the lake to supply water for the kitchen and bathroom sinks and an indoor toilet (empties into a holding tank). All water is boiled and stored for various uses – cooking, for example. Water pressure to pump water to the cabin is created by firing up a small gasoline powered engine. Best done BEFORE taking a shower. The gasoline supply for the gasoline engines (boats and water supply pump) and the portable generator comes from a large storage tank located near the docks. Gas is pumped by hand. To greatly reduce pressure on the holding tank volume, a well stocked (toilet paper, screens over openings, interesting signage and artwork) outhouse is preferred. A devilishly ingenious door latch system indicates when it is and isn't occupied. When in doubt, knock.
Kitchen and back door entry
Now, some may call A-75 living “rustic” and when compared to abodes with more utility conveniences I suppose the label is apt. But “rustic” need not imply uncomfortable or complicated. True, a few more steps were needed in order to get things done but the benefits far outweighed any inconveniences. Michael Gondry said, "Childhood is a wondrous stage of our lives and we should not be in such a hurry to finish it as though it were some terrible inconvenience." We dare say the same applies to people of all ages. And for our money, the word "Childhood" could just as easily have been substituted with "A-75".