A Look at a Canoe Trip

We just returned yesterday from four days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. We went with two other couples (one of whom we had never met before, but that's another story). It was the first time my wife and I had been in the Boundary Waters together--at least for more than a day trip. I'm thankful she initiated making arrangements for us to go.

Here's what a canoe trip looks like:

Beginning a portage
Paddle, paddle, paddle. The lake we camped on was around 5 miles long. It's not the largest by any means. I have no idea how much we paddled each day. One day we just explored the lake we were on so we did about a 10 mile trip.

Carry everything on your shoulders. To get from lake to lake, you portage. First you carry your canoe. Then you go back for your packs. Distances are measured in rods. One rod is the average canoe length: 16.5 feet. Our longest portage was 147 rods: about a half mile. But a portage is seldom flat terrain. Often you go up, then down, then up, and then down again. Possibly several more times. And there are usually pointy rocks dotting the trail. And tree roots. None of this makes carrying a canoe on your shoulders easy. Also, because of rains the previous day, the path of the long portage became a small stream--which somehow managed to flow down the front side of the hill as we climbed up it as well as down the backside as we made our way to the next lake.

Set up camp. We stayed in one place for all three nights. My last trip we kept moving. It's nice to not have to move. We were able to explore neighboring lakes and only have to portage with canoes and a food pack, which is nice.

Your toilet is in the middle of the woods. With no walls around. Just a tube, sticking up out of the ground. Ours happened to be a decent hike up a hill from our campsite. Of course, a toilet is not always needed...

Your food must be hung up in a tree every night...preferably between two trees, at least 12 feet off the ground. You do what you can to make it inaccessible to bears.

Your food is all camped over a fire (typically on a small camp stove). And all of your food you have to carry in on your back. Any campfires you desire must be made from dead wood you have found on the forest floor and brought back.

If you want to bathe, you jump in a lake. Many lakes are deep (over 100 feet). And almost all are quite cold. You may find a few spots of warm water near the shore, but generally the lakes don't get much above 60 degrees.

Our "bathroom"
Nature is your best friend--and your worst enemy. It happened to be our best friend on this trip. We hardly had any bug issues--which is rare. Normally flies and mosquitoes are a campers' bane in the North Woods. I didn't put any insect repellent on, and didn't need to. We had perfect weather--in the 70s most days, cooler at night. No rain until  the last morning when we had a few brief sprinkles. We were all hoping for the excitement of seeing a moose or a bear or some large mammal. Moose scat is the closest we got. But there were plenty of loons and several eagles. And of course wildflowers, birch trees, and evergreens galore. One of the nights was the peak of the Perseids. We laid out on one of the large boulders along the shore and star-gazed. None of us stayed up long enough to see the meteors in mass, but we saw several before turning in for the night.

It's wonderful stuff, this canoeing in the Boundary Waters. We're figuring out how to functionally be able to go with our children next time. It's feasible--it just requires some adjusting.

It is, for the most part, roughing it. I know that's not for everyone. But it is a beautiful place. Canoeing is good for the body and soul. And you will find few places as peaceful (unless there's a storm, but we didn't encounter that, so we're good).

1 comment:

pedro said...

Can't wait to hear more about it in person. We'd be strongly interested in planning a family trip with you, kids and all.