The first time I canoed with the Forest Service’s Mike Manlove, in 1993, he informed me he was a legend.  I chuckled, but he soon proved it.  Two days, seven lakes and a river from town, we camped on the southeast corner of Lake Insula in the Boundary Waters, near the US-Canada border.  Well hidden back in the woods, there was a Forest Service cabin that few outside the organization knew about.  Mike stayed in the cabin; I pitched my tent on the nearby beach, not wanting cabin mice running over my sleeping bag or me during the night. 

That evening, I looked across the lake a mile and saw two large campfires burning near each other.  I walked up to the cabin and told Mike about the fires, saying I didn’t know that two campsites on Insula were so close together.  Mike was quiet, then: “There aren’t two campsites there.  Get the canoe ready.  Now.”

Mike realized there were two separate fires on one campsite, which was not allowed.  Fires may be built in only one designated place on each campsite.  Illegal fires are to the Forest Service what breaking sterile technique is to a surgeon.  We hopped into the canoe and paddled over there quickly.  The two of us could really move a canoe.  When we reached the campsite, Mike yelled at the two teenagers near the illegal beach fire, “Put that out.  Now!”

After I helped douse the fire, I walked to the main part of the campsite, where Mike lectured the couple about campfire safety.  The man knew the second fire was wrong, but this was the last family trip before the older child went off to college, a special time for any family.  He allowed himself to be convinced by, “Come on, Dad, let’s have a fire on the beach.  Nobody is camped anywhere near here, and there is no way the Forest Service will know about it.”  He shook his head:  “You guys came out of nowhere.  How did you know?” 

The Legend always knew.  That will be a $100 fine, sir.

Mike and I took 6 multiday canoe trips together on 30 different lakes, always with great adventures.  Few things bind people as being on the trail together, working hard in all sorts of weather.  I taught him how to suture; Mike was an experienced wildland firefighter who once allowed me to drive a huge water tanker at a controlled burn.  My instruction?  “Roll it and you die.”  Frequently, campers knew Mike, for he patrolled those lakes for 14 years.  We occasionally ticketed people for major rule violations, but Mike stayed calm and professional during the process.  Some got angry, stating they would never return to this country.  Later, out on the lake, Mike would laugh:  “Do you think the woods care whether they return?”  One June night, a monstrous thunderstorm complex hit northern Minnesota.  A large flash interrupted my dream, followed by a crack that made me jump six inches off the ground.  From Mike: “Are you awake?” 


We paddled Crooked Lake one day down to Curtain Falls in a 2 foot chop.  It was nothing that either of us had trouble handling, but the radio went off.  Mike listened, and then said, “Could you repeat that?”  There was a pause, and he said, “You want the serial number of the canoe, now?”  I stopped paddling, listening in disbelief.  With difficulty in the chop, I looked way up under the bow and got the serial number.  I had no idea why they needed it!

Later that afternoon, we passed a group of older guys going our way.  We got back to camp at the top of Friday bay and had dinner.  We were relaxing, and then Mike said, “Look who’s coming.”  Sure enough, it was the group of guys we had passed.  We knew there were no sites available down the lake, so they would either camp in a non-des (non-designated) site or move in with us.  We chose the latter, much as we liked our privacy.  They were grateful, we were entertained watching what appeared to be slow motion setting up camp and dinner.  Heaven only knows what time they went to bed; we were asleep I think before they finished dinner.  At least they were quiet.

The next morning, Mike asked me if I wanted to break camp and have breakfast on a nearby island.  I looked at one of the tents that had a large posterior pushing out the wall, and nodded assent.  We left.  Mike and I always had interesting trips!

In 2000, he was promoted to do educational and trail work that was known throughout Minnesota.  I continued to explore the Boundary Waters and the Canadian Quetico, and when in Ely always called and tried to stop by.  Occasionally Mike and his wife Becky were home, but when they weren’t, I left a note.  They lived in a lovely hand- built log cabin near a small lake deep in the woods, where they raised two good kids, Celin and Joseph.  Becky is an accomplished writer, social worker and now a Forest Service employee.  I first met Celin when she was 3; she immediately looked at me and said, “You’re a dork.”  She is now a real looker and getting her MSW at Bemidji State.  Joseph has a Ph.D. in math from Montana State.  I’m still a dork.  The family wasn’t wealthy, but they had no debts, either. 

I saw Mike and Becky in 2001 but not again until 2005, after a 5 day solo trip into Kawnipi Lake on the Canadian side, a beautiful lake I wanted to see again, while I still could. 

Two years ago, I went to Ely to present a scholarship for Vermilion Community College.  I drove up the Echo Trail to Manlove’s cabin and was lucky; both Mike and Becky were home.  We had a great visit, talking about past trips and Forest Service politics, always entertaining, since I knew many of the players.  When I left, Mike hugged me, which he had never done before, and said, “It was really good to see you.  I’m so glad you came by.”  I was too.

A week later, while hiking with his dog on the Bass Lake trail near his cabin, Mike sat down on the forest floor.  That’s where he was found a day later, dead of a heart attack just before he turned 53.

Don’t think that you will always have time to do the things you want or to tell people things you want them to hear.  Friendship takes work and time.  Take that time, even if your friends don’t.  They might say, “It was really good to see you.”  I don’t have many friends, and I really miss Mike.  I’m so glad I stopped in that night.

He was a legend.

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4 Responses to “THE LEGEND”

  1. Joe Manlove Says:

    No Ph.D. yet. I’m working on it though. Thanks! This means alot.

  2. Mike Says:

    Your dad meant so much to me. As I wrote, I don’t have a lot of friends, and Mike was one of my closest, despite the distance that separated us. Best wishes for a happy marriage, wonderful adventures on the great walls of nature (!):) and life, and do let me know when I can call you Dr. Manlove!

  3. Celin Manlove Says:

    You’re still a dork. Thanks for this. I cried. 🙂

    and IN YOUR FACE!

  4. Mike Says:

    I said it all to your brother. Neither your mother nor Jan, my wife, ever knew some of the stuff your Dad and I talked about. Very good to hear from you. I am on FB; can get me through your mother. Best wishes always, Mike. And IN YOUR FACE, KIDDO!

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