Northern Wilds Magazine
Closeup of some ring-necked ducks. | JOE SHEAD
Along the Shore

How the Milwaukee Brewers Almost Stranded Me

I blame it all on the Milwaukee Brewers. If it hadn’t been for them, I’d have never gotten into this mess.

I’d spent the summer of 2011 in Alaska and was excited to finally be back home. Summers on the Kenai Peninsula where I’d worked as a rafting guide, aren’t really summers. You’re generally looking at 55 degrees and light rain most days. If it’s 60 degrees and sunny, people break out the shorts and sandals.

Since I was deprived of a “summer,” I wanted to try to salvage a little warm weather fun before the snow flew after I returned home. It was early October, but it was as warm as it had been all summer in Alaska—and it wasn’t raining.

The plan was to head up the North Shore with a fishing pole, a shotgun, a canoe, and a tent and just have some fun in the Superior National Forest for a few days.

After fishing a couple of my favorite lakes off the Caribou Trail, I found another lake on a map that looked “ducky.” I wanted to see if I could find some ring-necked ducks back in the marshy area.

The lake delivered. It was full of ducks. Plus, it had walleyes. Best of all, it was tough to get to. I had to leave the main roads and squeeze down a forgotten trail for more than a mile to reach the lake. Good fishing, good hunting, and isolation. Just what I needed.

By some miracle the Milwaukee Brewers had snuck into the playoffs, and being a native Wisconsinite, I was following their postseason run. The sprawling expanse of Lake Superior contains nothing that can block radio waves, and I can pick up the game from the radio station in Ashland. So one night as I cooked walleyes over a campfire, I cranked up the truck radio to listen to the Brewers take on the Cardinals.

As usual, the Cardinals were having their way with the Brew Crew. I’d have been way better off not listening to the game at all. Finally, around the 7th inning stretch, after the wheels had long since fallen off for the Brewers, it dawned on me that I’d been playing the radio just off the truck’s battery for an awful long time. Maybe I should start the truck.

Click, click, click!

Ugh… I’d drained the battery too much to start the truck! Oh boy! My brother’s words from a few weeks earlier instantly echoed in my head: “That’s the original battery in your truck. I’d get a new one before winter if I were you because it’s probably due to fail.”

Well, if I stood on one foot, with an arm stretched out like an antenna and didn’t move, I could get just enough reception to give my brother a call.

The lake provided good fishing for walleye and perch. | JOE SHEAD

“Ha ha ha ha ha!” he laughed over the phone from 400 miles away. Well, that wasn’t helping. Strike one.

Hmm, I was stranded good. I was at least 30 miles from Grand Marais where I could get a new battery, and it was midweek with nothing but gravel roads—this was more than a decade ago before things became so touristy, even in the fall. My prospects weren’t looking good. Maybe I could empty my wheeled cooler, pull it all the way to town and tow back a new battery? That didn’t sound too appealing. No, I needed to prey on the kindness of a friend.

Chuck! Chuck loves to hunt ducks. Maybe I could convince him to drive up from Duluth to hunt with me. I fired him off a few texts, emphasizing how good the duck hunting had been but purposely neglecting to mention that I was stranded. Chuck said he’d love to come up, but he couldn’t get away. Strike two.

Hmm. Maybe my buddy Joe could come to my rescue. Joe also loves to hunt ducks. If I could convince him the flight was in and I had the best spot in the whole state, I might be able to talk him into it.

I sent him a text. I played it up big. The 100 ringnecks I’d seen had now blossomed into 1,000, and they were as dumb as rocks! I had piqued his interest. Tons of them, I said. And the lake was kicking out limits of eater walleyes (another exaggeration). I sent text after text. He was certainly interested. But he couldn’t get there til Saturday and it was only Wednesday.

This was no problem, I offered. I had plenty of shotgun shells and fishing bait, and hunting and fishing were what I had planned to do all week anyway.

When I thought I had him, I went for the dagger. “Just one small thing,” I said. “I need you to bring me a truck battery. I’ll pay you when you get here.”

Radio silence.

I was running out of options. I decided to sleep on it. And since I was camped on a lake with a truck that wouldn’t start, I decided I might as well chase those ducks again in the morning.

The next morning I rose before dawn, slid the canoe into the water and paddled for a point in the vicinity of where the ringnecks had been the previous night. Just as they had the day before, the speedy divers lifted off an adjacent lake and pitched into my little bay all morning. When the flight was over, I had four ducks, which is pretty good considering the way I shoot.

I paddled back to camp at midmorning. Just for kicks, I thought I’d try to start the truck. To my astonishment, it slowly rolled over, then coughed to life! Plans for the day quickly changed.

I suppose I could have just driven around for a half hour and the alternator would have charged the battery just fine, but I decided to get a new battery right then and there. I loaded my gear, stuffed the canoe into the bed of the truck, and starting driving toward Grand Marais. I’d only gone a couple miles when I saw a grouse on the road in front of me. He scooted across the road and sprinted into the woods. I braked and threw the truck in park, mindful to keep the engine running. Then, I grabbed my shotgun and gave chase.

I hadn’t gone far before the bird flushed. I don’t know if it was sheer dumb luck or if those ringnecks had me dialed in to chase a fastball, but the grouse came tumbling down at my shot. He was doing the death flop as grouse often do when I picked him up, wings beating, but going nowhere—like a chicken with its head cut off. I carried the bird to the truck, opened the topper, and threw the bird in the canoe, quite excited at the thought of a grouse dinner.

The rest of the drive to town was uneventful. I drove to Napa, replaced the battery in the parking lot, then drove to the Gunflint Tavern for lunch. I bummed around town a bit, but wanted to get back to the lake in time for the evening walleye bite.

I returned to my campsite, happy to be back and have the whole battery ordeal behind me. I opened the topper and the grouse, which I would have bet good money had expired mere moments after I deposited it in the back of the truck, suddenly leapt into the air, darted out the topper window, and flew off strong and healthy. I watched it fly out of sight and it never missed a beat.

That grouse had been in my truck for four hours. At any point it could have simply walked to the end of the canoe, which protruded several feet beyond the tailgate, and hopped out. But instead, it had sat back there for the entire ride to town, while I changed the battery, while I ate lunch, and for the entire ride back to camp.

And do you know what a grouse does when it is stuck in a confined space for four hours? It poops all over your canoe.

I blame it all on the Brewers.

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