Thursday, August 28, 2008

Breaking Camp

After three days of no bathing, lots of exercise, mosquitoes and no cell phones, the younger members of our camping expedition were fairly motivated to break camp and get back to civilization. I have to say I was looking forward to that shower myself, and I swear if I ever go there again, it will be when I invent something that annihilates blood sucking creatures for a hundred mile radius. We actually got up, some of us ate breakfast, took down our tents, packed up our gear, and shoved off at a little after seven a.m. The lake was like glass, so paddling was quick. Portaging took less time because, duh, there were showers at the other end.

We made it back to Sawbill, greatly enjoyed our showers, and headed for Duluth and a meal at Grandma's Saloon and Grill in Canal Park. We were hoping to get to see Bill and Lois, but there was a miscommunication and I'm sure Bill will never let me forget about it. I'm SORRY you wore your good clothes all day!

While reflecting on the trip myself, and with other family members, I have come to a conclusion about taking such a challenging excursion that most people would not call 'fun.'

I think that the eight of us are very different people in a lot of ways, but also very much the same in that we were willing to put ourselves out there, take risks, embrace challenges, both mental and physical. There were things about the trip that none of the eight of us was pleased to have to deal with (they were different for all of us, the same for some of us). There is something quite rewarding in the fact that we portaged, survived in the wilderness for a few days, didn't succumb totally to the insects, and managed to get along without a lot of amenities that we take for granted. Also, we managed to get along with one another in unusual circumstances, and not a whole lot of space to escape one another. And you get some bragging rights for being able to accomplish what we did. It's not a spa vacation, by any means. But when I look at the pictures, I know exactly why we did it and what I'm going to remember about it. I'm glad I went . . . and I'm glad for my traveling companions.

Now that is an un-messed-with photo, and it doesn't get more beautiful than that. The love of my life and a perfect morning.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Quiet Magic

When you wake up in the Boundary Waters, you hear loons on the lake, birds chirping, maybe water lapping against the shore, and your fellow campers stirring. If you're lucky, the cooks are already up and you smell breakfast cooking on the fire. First order, of course, is to use the facilities, which doesn't take long because, well, yeah.

I don't know why it is, but meals always taste so much better when you are in the wilderness. And we were reaping the rewards of hauling in all that food because, boy, did we eat well!

After cleaning up from breakfast, your day is wide open. You can head out in a canoe to fish or explore other islands and lakes. I had a chance to read a book I hadn't had the time to start, take photographs, and have several nice conversations with family members. I got to sit down with my father-in-law and ask him questions about a journal his mother had written when she and some friends hitchhiked from Minnesota to Yellowstone in the summer of 1924, and it gave me an idea for a 'tween book.

Others of us busied themselves with catching supper.

Which the rest of us devoured, thank you very much Curtis and Grandma.

After such a hectic and stressful day, there's only one thing to do. Roast marshmallows and enjoy the sunset.

Which is exactly what we did.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wondering Why

I've had a couple of comments about why we are doing this Boundary Waters stuff. I told Lois I might comment on that in the next post, which would be this one. But I think I'll wait until the final one in this series. It'll make more sense.

We carried all our gear over two portages and found our campsite. Everyone put up their tents. We had a wide variety. Ours was a four man. This was home for a few nights.

There were a couple more two and three man tents, but then, we had the mansion across the way, which was the tent we gave our son for his birthday. I think it was a seven person tent.

Once we reached our campsite, we put up the tents, the portable table, hauled out the food and started supper. It was later than we thought we'd arrive, so we had to find a place to haul the food up for the night so that the bears wouldn't get it. We had unfortunately picked a site that didn't have trees that were accommodating for such a thing. It ended up that the food pack was strung between a couple of trees compliments of some creative tying and hubby hoisting our son on his shoulders to tie it up. Very impressive.

The first night was a little weird for most of us because it was so quiet and yet so loud. Noises we were not used to, like loons and, for some reason airplanes. People were sore from portaging. But we got up the next morning and had pancakes, eggs, and bacon for breakfast, and it was a beautiful day. Okay, the lake actually had sparkles.

And I have to say, these are not the faces of unhappy people.

We had no computers, television, or bars on cell phones. We had the wilderness, and it was marvelous. We had quiet and we had time to sit and talk with one another. We had a different way to live. Some of us freaked out over some of it (and I admit the airplanes in the wilderness freaked me out at three a.m.), but on the whole I think we handled the differentness very well. We were a wide variety of people.

Next . . . quiet magic.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Ritual of the Portage

So this is what happens when you portage. Portage is both a verb and a noun. It is the physical act of carrying the gear, but also the route on which the carrying is done. You take everything you brought, food, clothing, tent, sleeping bags, whatever you thought you couldn't live without for a few days, and put it into the canoe. Then, you paddle across a lake in whatever direction you've chosen, until you find a portage that you have selected on a map. Portages are pretty easy to see because they are a little different than the average shoreline. There is usually a bit of a clearing and a noticeable trail running up from the water's edge. Once you get close, you can see marks from previous canoes on the rocks, so you know you're in the right place.

Portages can be long or short. They are measured in rods, a rod being 5.5 yards, which is 16.5 feet, or roughly the length of a canoe. Sounds like not so long, but when you add a canoe that weighs about sixty pounds, or a Duluth pack full of food or cooking gear that weighs around thirty, factor in the rocks and, if it's been raining (which it had), the mud, it can be quite challenging.

The four youngest members of our group were surprised by the difficulty of the portages. The seventy-somethings and the fifty-somethings were carrying as much, if not more, of the weight of the gear. We all, however, had done this before and knew what to expect. The twenty-somethings did not. And I have to say, even I was a bit stunned by the portages. The reason being that when hubby and I went a quarter of a century ago, we had a 20 rod portage. And we were half our age. Still, the kids were troupers.

Once you're at this point, you have no bars on your cell phone. It looks like a nice little trail, but you're pretty much out on your own here. It took almost all of us making two trips down this trail to get our gear down. One of the reasons that we picked this particular week is because the mosquitoes are usually not as bad. We, however, experienced horribly large and aggressive insects while we were there. Deet wasn't very effective on them. I actually sprayed it right onto a mosquito on my jeans and I think it drank it.

This was our first portage, the second was ten rods longer. By the time we reached our destination, everyone was pretty tired. . .

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Land of Sky Blue Waters

There is a place up north, at the border of the U.S. and Canada, called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which will be the subject of my next few posts. It's a magical, pristine place about which the likes of Longfellow waxed poetic. Here, you can really 'get away from it all.'

So what, you may wonder, would happen if, say, two seventy-somethings, two fifty-somethings and four twentyish-somethings all went up to the BWCAW together for a three night stay? Allow me to enlighten you.

Hubby applied for a permit last winter, and people are picked by lottery. There is a limit to the number of people who can go in one group, and if you want a specific time, you have to request it. We got the permit and the time slot we wanted, and the planning was under way. Hubby and I went to the BWCAW twice, the first two summers we were married. The last time was 24 years ago. His parents have been there many, many times and, as a result, have years of notes from trips, lists of equipment and food they took, menus from meals, and so forth. This wealth of information was where they and hubby began.

We got our group together: In-laws, hubby and me, our son and his fiancee, our daughter and her best friend, four canoes. The Oklahoma contingent had a twelve hour drive to get to the in-laws, and the van was loaded down.

The day after our long drive was for packing and loading. Which looked something like this.

A couple of us also set up our tents because they were new, and we didn't want any surprises once we got there and attempted to set up camp.

We set out early on Friday morning, heading north, the direction of Lake Gitchee Gumee. We made one stop in Hinkley for some famous Toby's doughnuts. Farther north, Tofte is the city where we got off the beaten path, picked up our permit from the ranger station, and headed the 25 miles to Sawbill Outfitters, where we would eat lunch, rent canoes, and shove off.

We had a brief lesson on how to portage the canoes from one lake to the next. Here are the kids putting their newfound knowledge to good use. We hauled the canoes and all our gear down to the water's edge.

After another brief lesson on how not to tip the canoe and send all your gear and food and clothing into the drink, we were off to conquer new worlds and seek new adventures.

Excitement and anticipation were high, particularly in the four youngest members of the party. Little did they know - DUN DUN DUN - what was waiting down the trail.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sorry, I'm Too Attached

So it's come to this. Guess I'll just stick to regular.