The Elements of Hooey

The group of nine parents, siblings, cousins, aunties and uncles endured the arduous twelve-hour drive to the outfitter in northern Minnesota. But the anticipation of backcountry canoeing and camping fueled their resolve. With unshackled enthusiasm, they unpacked, then repacked their gear to prepare for a week of paddling. Two eleven-year-old twin brothers were particularly incapable of containing their fever to get on-trail. Finally, everyone clustered beside their Chevy Suburban and the wilderness shuttle that would transport them to the entry point of Heaven. I introduced myself as their shuttle driver.
The plan was for them to follow me first in the Suburban to the end point of their trip. From there, they’d park, then pile into the shuttle for the remaining drive to their entry point. Usually, I’m alone during that first leg of travel. But for this group, the twin’s mother asked if I’d mind the two brothers riding with me from the start.
When I most certainly agreed, a wild-west stampede ensued to the passenger side of the shuttle. Their furor was surpassed only when I asked, “Who’s riding shotgun?” The brothers scrapped and shoved each other until one of them plunked into the passenger seat.
Their names were Jason and Jeremy. And though they were only eleven, they touted just as many years of wilderness experience. What’s more, their status as twins featured a twist—their birthdays were four days apart. I’d like to think I’m somewhat skilled in knowing hooey when I hear it, so I found all of this questionable. They scrambled to ride shotgun, but not clamor over each other to be first into the world? I decided to research that later or check with their mom at the entry point.
Jason won the shotgun seat, but Jeremy took full advantage of the entire back for himself. He began voicing plans to renovate the interior: tear out the seats behind the driver and install a table, then turn the rear seats lengthwise for camper-style bedding.
With those amenities in place, our conversation turned to wildlife. When they found I deer hunt, they asked questions about deer behavior in the North Woods. As we talked, three deer bolted from a ditch and I slammed on the brakes to miss them. “That would be bad deer behavior,” I said. The two laughed, so at least I gained some giggle points.
In light of their extensive camping background, they explained textbook precautions their family takes to keep bears from entering camp. They hang their food pack at least twelve feet off the ground and six feet from a tree trunk.
As if mentioning food triggered it, a fifty-pound shadow crossed ahead of us and lumbered into the woods. I slowed for a look when we reached the spot. Just inside the forest fringe, a black bear cub posed, hind legs on the ground, front paws against a tree, ready to claw upward. Mother Nature was cooperating nicely.
“Every time we talk about an animal, we see one,” Jason said. “So, now let’s talk about moose.”
We didn’t have much more time, but I couldn’t believe our luck again. The gravel road we were on had been freshly grated. The shoulder grit was moist, dark and unblemished—except for a single trail. Hoofprints the length of a football trekked alongside of us for a hundred yards before returning to the forest. A moose had come onto the road not long before. Though we never saw the moose attached to the tracks, it made an impression.
“Now let’s talk about unicorns,” Jeremy said, and we all laughed.
“Then let’s talk about sasquatch,” Jason countered, producing more chortles.
But that one I could accommodate. Here was my turn to test their twaddle meter and the timing was magic.
I started with a story that’s actually true. “Funny you should mention,” I said. “Whether for real or just to party, a group of Bigfoot fans sometimes search for it at a lake just north of your entry point.”
We approached a road sign tacked to a tree. As we got closer, I said, “Do me a favor and tell me what that sign says on the tree up there. I need to know if it’s changed.” They could see the word “DANGER” pre-printed in red across the top. But in the white space below it, they saw the handwritten words, “Bigfoot Crossing.”
They blurted appropriate bewilderment for just a moment, then Jason collected himself. “Did you put that there?”
Nothing got by these guys… And no, I didn’t put it there.
Eleven years of wilderness training became clear at the entry point. The family evacuated the shuttle. Nobody spoke except Dad who uttered just one reminder, “No one goes anywhere without carrying something.” With the efficiency of Navy Seals, they had two canoes off the trailer before I even had one untied. I never did get to ask Mom about the twins’ birthdays. She was already down-trail shouldering a Duluth pack and carrying paddles.
Riding alone back to town, I stopped for another look at the Bigfoot sign. It had been there about three years and the handwritten lettering was fading. So, I returned to my house and did my homework.
First, I found that twins actually can be born days or even months apart. I also came across the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization website and it dispelled some misconceptions about bigfoot, a.k.a. sasquatch. The organization is hardly a group of bigfoot pranksters passing the bottle around the campfire. Their mission is to legitimately resolve the bigfoot mystery through conclusive documentation that the species exists. This includes investigating and rating the credibility of human encounters. Some of those accounts in northern Minnesota have taken place at locations I know, like my deer hunting area and that lake north of Jason and Jeremy’s entry point.
A few months later, I went back to the Bigfoot Crossing sign. I don’t know exactly why. But I took a Sharpie marker with me and I re-darkened the lines of the handwritten lettering.


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