Sunday, September 14, 2008

Did the Voyageurs eat cous cous?

I'm in the not at all uncomfortable position of being about a week behind on the blogging front because of too many paddle opportunities. Last weekend the Commish and I left the Traditional Gathering and headed for the Ash River put in at Voyageurs National Park. The VoiceOfReason, MayorOfTurtleRiver, RangerMark, and the FrugalFisherman had already arrived and spent a night camped in the park. I was skeptical about the rendezvous plan but we hit our crew on the very first campsite that we were instructed to try. The group was out on a day paddlewhen we arrived but the gear was familiar and we pulled in. It was most definitely September weather in border country with sun and rain alternating on an almost hourly basis. Like my buddy in Cumbria, northern England says however, there is no such thing as bad weather, only crappy gear. We have good gear and were plenty comfortable.

The Fall trip is a tradition going back maybe 20 years or so. The FrugalFisherman and I worked together at a county District Attorney's office in western Wisconsin in the mid 70's and have stayed in touch. I was first invited in 2001 and we wound up leaving Isle Royale on 9/11. There was uncertaintly as to whether the Voyageur II would be able to land due to all ports of entry being shut down but since this particular vessel was 1 of 2 using the Grand Portage marina, it was able to dock. Subsequent fall trips have been to the Slate Islands, the Apostles, Rossport, ON, and Voyageurs. The most memorable event that occurred on the last Voyageurs fall trip was when the GreenThumbChef (the only charter member who could not make it this time), grabbed what appeared to be a water bottle to make up some pancake mix. I thought the pancakes had an unusual tang to them but kept eating. TheCommish, he of the delicate palate, took a couple bites and asked the GTC which water bottle she used. It turned out that the Nalgene bottle she had grabbed did not contain water but Tanqeray Gin; and it really didn't taste all that bad. Coincidentally, this years most memorable moment also featured both food and the Commish.

The Mayor had to head off to work but the rest of us packed up for a leisurely paddle to the Wolf Pack Island group on Lake Namakan. But not before we took a photo of the two sisters and I with the VOR's unsecured boat floating out into Lost Lake in the background. We had a a nice paddle in sunny weather and a wonderful lunch as we headed over to the Wolf Pack Islands, where we set up camp and engaged in a fine happy hour. It was the Commish's night to cook but uncharacteristically he didn't have his usual well thought out and delicious meal. He was forced to improvise for some unknown reason, and the result was interesting. Bavarian knockwurst, sliced up and prepared with north Indian curry spices in a sea of Cous Cous. Call me sheltered, but I had never eaten this style of Cous Cous before. Truth be known, I don't even know what the hell Cous Cous is and reading the Wikipedia article didn't really enlighten me that much. I do know that none of us will forget this particular meal however. To begin with this was not an appealing looking pot of chow. It kind of looked like someone had thrown a bunch of sausage into a kids sandbox and then scooped it into a pot. The taste would not cause Wolfgang Puck to ask for the recipe either. But both of those negative attributes pale compared to the gastro intestinal havoc that this supper wreaked. We all went to bed full and feeling nourished but before dawn broke I heard the zipper of the FrugalFishermans tent and hurried footsteps up the hill to the throne.

Voyageurs Park features a fire ring, picnic table, and vault toilets at a number of paddle in sites. The toilet consists of a large tank or vault with a seat on top and no walls or roof. Liberating, airy, and boasting a wonderful view in good weather, these facilities are a bit wet and depressing in the rain. This particular privy offered a majestic view of Lake Namakan and the Canadian border a short half mile to the north. That morning the view was most definitely secondary. As I lay smiling smugly in my sleeping bag I suddenly realized that I had best head up the hill as quickly as humanly possible. As I took off up the path I heard, "Olson, are you heading up the hill?" "Yup." "Damn it!". It was like a revolving door. Our lone female member, the VOR, asked that I monitor the path and prevent anxious fellow paddlers from rushing the throne while she was up there. In one particularly poignant moment I heard the Commish yell, "Is anyone up there?" The FrugalFisherman answered, "I'll be done in a minute"and the response was, "I don't have a minute, followed by the sound of a body crashing through the underbrush. I'm sure you get the picture and I will spare readers any more graphic details.

There was debate as to which component of this delicate feast caused the multiple hill climbs. In my opinion, I've had plenty of sausage and curry in the past with no problems whatsoever. That points my finger squarely at Cous Cous being the culprit. I thought of checking with the CDC in Atlanta but I fear the outbreak would be too insignificant to be of interest. So for now me and my fellow paddlers are sticking to our firm belief that Cous Cous is certainly to blame for this gastric indignity and that the Commish had better come up with some savory and spectacular supper that will make up for this years near disaster. Fortunately, by about 10am when we took off in opposite directions, systems seemed to be back on an even keel. And we even let the Commish come out from behind the tree for the group picture.


Nan said...

No outbreak is insignificant -- but unfortunately the samples the health department would need to confirm Salmonella (the most likely culprit) got left in northern Minnesota.

If you really think the cous cous mix was contaminated call your local health department and give them the brand name and flavor and tell them how many people got the trots. You could do a phone call straight to Atlanta -- people do that, and it does get followed up on -- but someplace local would be the logical first step. Remember, what for you guys (all physically fit adults) was an inconvenience could kill a toddler or an elderly person.

Interestingly enough, my current project here at Large Nameless Agency (the big federal one in Atlanta with whole herds of epidemiologists roaming its halls) involves looking at how outbreaks of various communicable diseases, some potentially deadly (salmonella, e. coli) are inititially recognized. A surprising number are found simply by an ordinary citizen, not a doctor or nurse, calling the local health department to say "I had this experience and it just didn't seem normal." Large Nameless Agency is trying to improve the national biosurveillance system (which is actually many, many systems that don't communicate as well as they could) to speed up response time.

By the way, your description of the throne reminded me of the first time I saw that style of privy. It was in North Cascades NP and felt incredibly exposed.

And I will again say that I love your photos.

DaveO said...

Nan, thanks for the props on the photos. You can never capture the scene but its fun to try. As far as the 'outbreak' one paddler said he was unaffected and the balance (with unprintable remarks, of course) said it just wasn't that bad; 'frequent but not violent' would be the polite turn of phrase. I think we'll leave it lay for now