The Alzheimer's JerkFest


August 31, 2003 - Wednesday
September 3, 2003

Duluth, MN -
Lake Saganaga, MN

161 miles

3:45 driving time




The plan was simple.  We'd meet up with the Jerks at the Beaver House in Grand Marais for lunch, then head up the Gunflint Trail to JerkMaster Tom's family cabin for three days of fishing and reminiscing.  Carl, Lyle and Jim had already joined up with Tom in St. Paul, and would be driving north along highway 61 (the same one Bob Dylan sang about decades ago) to join up with me and Whizmo.  The Beaver House was easy to find - just look for the bait and tackle shop with the giant walleye sticking out of it.   We all went inside to buy 3-day fishing licenses, and spotted this guy inside with a very appropriate t-shirt.  He wasn't a member of the Jerks, but I'm guessing that he's got his own group of friends just like us.  And they're probably just as bad at remembering stuff as we are.

Jerks meet here

"Without flashbacks I'd
have no memory at all"

JerkMaster Tom at the helm with
Lyle en route to Baird Island

The history of the Jerks is well-documented elsewhere within these pages, so I'll just give a condensed version here.  We're a group of six friends who graduated from high school together.  Some of our friendships go back to grade school.  Since 1993, we've been getting together every other year to renew our friendships.  Each time the event hosting rotates among the group.  This year, Tom is hosting the event at Baird Island along the Minnesota - Canadian boundary waters, where his family has a lovely cabin on a remote island in Lake Saganaga. 

This year's JerkFest is special - we're all turning 50.  Gulp.  How can that be?  We don't feel 50.  That sounds so old.  I've got a button at home that says "I'm not 50, I'm 18 with 32 years experience."  That button offers an accurate description of what it feels like when the Jerks get together.  We're immediately transported back to the edge of adulthood, just before we embarked on our individual paths yielding the grown men we see before us today.  Among the six of us, we've had seven marriages and sixteen children, ages 9 to 25.  But when we get together, it's like we're 18 again.  Just with more grunts, groans and napping.  And one other thing - there were a lot of conversations that had to be repeated for the benefit of people who couldn't remember what was said fifteen minutes ago.  Sheesh.

A common denominator for all of our gatherings has been proximity to water.  Tom's made arrangements for a fishing guide who assures us that we'll be feasting on fish for dinner that evening. 

Fishermen congregate

Lyle shows off his baiting technique

Guide Cory brings a boat that will accommodate himself and three Jerks, so we bring along a 'tag' boat for the rest of us.  The main difference between the two boats is that the one with the guide seems to be catching all the fish.  When I grew up, fishing meant putting bait on a hook and dropping the line in the water with the fervent hope that when you felt some pressure on the line, it was a fish and not a snag.   Apparently that's all changed in this day and age.  Now we've got fishing gizmos.  At least for the Jerks lucky enough to fish with the guide. 

Fishing with a fish-finding gizmo

Jim lands a 30" 10lb walleye

Cory Christianson is our fishing guide on Lake Saganaga.  He is a full-time fishing professional who works summers on Lake Sag and winters in Florida guiding land-lubbers to big game fish.  He knows the lake and he knows his tools, and the day's catch proves it.  By the end of the day, we've caught nine fish, including the trophy fish proudly displayed by Jim in the photo above (and in the gallery).  Cory gets all the vital stats and tells us that Jim will be mentioned in the Duluth newspaper for his accomplishment.  For dinner that evening, we had an abundance of bass, lake trout and walleye, prepared expertly by Jim and Carl.  (I won't tell you how many fish I caught, and no, I'm not the slightest bit bothered by it.  I did take some good pictures, though - check out this fine walleye-view shot of me in today's gallery.)

Back in 1993 at our inaugural Henry Island JerkFest, we decided to bury a time capsule filled with memorabilia from the reunion.  Unfortunately, ownership of that property changed hands and it was decided that it would be best if we relocated the time capsule to another location where it wouldn't have to be moved again.  The time capsule was carefully transported to Minnesota by uniformed agents of the federal government.  Our mission was clear - find a suitable burial spot on public lands where the time capsule could safely rest as we all gradually forget its existence.  I wrote down the coordinates somewhere, and I'm sure I'll find them sometime in the next 12 years.

Time capsule burial landing party Tom and Jim digging Lyle marks the spot

We loaded up the entire crew and headed for another nearby island.  Identifying a suitable high spot between two large trees, we (meaning Jim and Tom) dig a hole, deposit the 1993 time capsule, and cover it over with dirt and rocks, the precise coordinates known only to us.  The plan is to come back in 2015 and dig it up after it has aged for a total of 22 years.  While some of us remember what we put in there, the memories are gradually fading, and as this year's get-together has been nicknamed the Alzheimer's JerkFest, we'll be lucky if we remember that we buried anything.   We'll probably look at these pictures and assume that we were trying to find someone's lost cell phone.

Gizmo modeling '97 and '03 Jerk Junk

A critical aspect of ALL JerkFests is the JerkMaster attending to each and every detail of the festivities, including food and commemorative junk.  If you skimp in any area, you are immediately subject to VPA's (Vicious Personal Attacks) and less-than-desirable nicknames.  "One-Bag Boyle", "No-Junk Shunk" and "No-Coffee Carl" are all examples of what happens when you don't take your JerkMaster duties seriously.  So it would be fair to say that Tom was on notice that he should bring plenty of the right foodstuffs AND have a suitably high-class piece of memorabilia marking the '03 event.  I can tell you that he passed all challenges with flying colors.  As a matter of fact, Tom was awarded a two-hour exemption from any VPAs as a result of the really handsome shirts he handed out.  Well done, Tom!

If you've read through our 2001 trip reports, you might remember the tragic events on Lake Lanier that led to a jet ski boat harpooning the house boat we'd rented.  That event has risen to the top of Jerk lore, and it was too easy of a target for me and Whiz to pass up in the off-season.  Whiz proposed that we create a parody of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", titling our version "The Wreck of Jerkfest '01".  In order fully appreciate this work of art, it would help to go back here and read the summary of the day's events, then come back and listen to our little creation.  It's a big file (1.4MB), so be forewarned.  Here you go ... in its worldwide public premier, 'The Wreck of JerkFest '01" by Whizmo and Gizmo.

It takes a couple of days and some good scotch to peel back the protective layers as we eventually really open up with one another.  We engage in a series of evening conversations about our convictions and our innermost thoughts.  It's cheap therapy, and all is safe among true friends.  We talk about what makes our time together special.  We agree that meeting at a remote, disconnected location creates fertile ground for reconnecting with our youth.  With no electricity, cell phones or computers, our bandwidth is completely devoted to one another.   It seems like a lot of overhead for a few moments of pure truth, but it's all worthwhile.

From left to right, Mister Magoo, Speedy Gonzales, George Jetson,
Fred Flintstone, Elmer Fudd and Foghorn Leghorn

At one point in the conversation, Whiz asked the open-ended question "What cartoon character does each Jerk most resemble?"  After the guffawing settled down, several deeply insightful associations emerge.   See the caption above to match Jerks with cartoon doubles.

Jim breaks 100 with his winning style

After departing the island, we loaded up the vehicles and headed south for some golfing at the Superior National Golf Course in Lutsen.  We played a fivesome (with the golf course's permission, of course).  Somehow, the players behind us all seemed to know who we were.  More than a few times we heard "what a bunch of Jerks!"  Jim had the best score of the day with 2 birdies, and yet still pushed 100 with his total score. 

JerkFest Dessert

It's challenging to paint a verbal picture of the relationships among this group of guys who have known each since being kids.  In my life, I know that these relationships keep me connected to my own coming of age.  I look forward to our reunions, and I'm a bit wistful when we break up and head back to our regular lives.  This year's reunion was very nicely managed by Tom, and everyone agreed he set a new standard for excellence in every dimension.  Anticipating this praise, Tom had ordered a special cake for the occasion.  We enjoyed it thoroughly.

Tomorrow, Whiz and I will say our goodbyes, clamber back aboard the bikes and head west.  We're both looking forward to getting home.


Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.  In our haste to meet up with the Jerks, the Quality Control department (that would be me) neglected to thoroughly proof Contest #4, "Help Whizmo & Gizmo Make Ends Meet".  The amateur who put together the form for the contest (that, again, would be me) managed to capture every bit of detail except the most vital part, your Really Great Suggestions.  Please indulge us by giving us your entries once again so we can make you famous.  Click here to get right back to that form.  And if you were procrastinating, that means there's still time for you to win!