A reflection on a rediscovered fondness for learning and exploring the BWCA.
Hit by the COVID pandemic, my summer plans were canceled. I was feeling confined, restless, and yearned for adventure. The Boundary Waters had just reopened after the pandemic closure. So I called my friend Paige, strapped down the canoe, purchased a Brule Lake map -mask on and sanitizer in hand, and headed off for our gals only getaway.
This was Paige’s second canoe trip. Her first was without portaging or paddling as she had sat in the duffer seat of the canoe. Despite her inexperience, Paige is an inquisitive and adventurous spirit with a collegiate athlete’s work ethic. Her unrivaled talent for carrying conversation (sprinkled with the occasional punny joke) makes her a wonderful partner.
Practice makes perfect!
Since adolescence, I hadn’t spent much time paddling in the BWCA. This was a contrast from the annual family trips in my childhood, youth group adventures in my teens, and the Border Route canoe trip with my Dad. For some time now, other interests and far away places had held my attention; however, with nothing else to do, and nowhere else to go, the ember in my soul had called me back.
We paddled slowly onto the windy Brule Lake late Friday afternoon. As I’d warned, the good campsites were taken. Therefore, we settled into a less idyllic spot. One with a mediocre view, mucky landing, and clouds of bugs. We threw on extra layers, set up camp, ate dinner, and laughed until the gusty wind howled us to sleep.
In the morning, the sky opened and the wind broke. We decided to relocate campsites, this time to one with good views and fewer bugs. Shortly, we found what we were looking for and it came with recommendations from the former night's inhabitants who were on their paddle home. We set up camp and sloppily hung the bear-bag before deciding to explore a loop of 9 small lakes and portages.
Paige portaging the canoe.
On our excursion, nature gifted Paige a variety of conditions to cut her teeth on. Carrying the canoe, she walked through a mucky, leech breeding portage. Using a map and compass, she navigated her way across the sometimes confusing landscape. Perfecting her strokes, she steered across the glistening lakes. We giggled as we took the canoe “for a walk” through shallow-water portages. Eagerly, we both wished to find the moose that left a print in the mud and yesterday's dinner mid-trail.
As Paige paddled, memories from my first few trips in the BWCA ignited. I began to recall the sense of responsibility my 8-year-old self felt as bowsman, paddling hard to get us across a white-capped lake. I remembered the strength I felt when I first portaged with a pack on my front and back... while holding a few delicately balanced paddles too! I felt stubborn, as I used to while searching for the best campsite - you know, the one with a rocky outcropping and pines framing the sunset over the water. Like light on the water, the memories continued to flicker.
Hours later, we were back at camp enjoying a brisk swim, a warm fire, good food, and wine. At the best campsite, we sat and watching loons glide across the sunset framed by trees.
The best campsite.
The next morning, we set for home across a white-caped lake in my small cedar strip canoe, handmade by my BWCA teacher-my dad. A brief but stressful paddle provided some final lessons. Arriving at the entry point, we cherished a few more hours, paddling in quiet water and soaking up the last bit of sunshine.
Although short, sweet, and brought on by a pandemic, this trip rekindled my love for paddling the BWCA. New lakes were explored, old lessons were shared, and fond memories were created. I left the entry point that day with my canoe strapped down, a more experienced paddle partner, and a newfound excitement to explore my backyard.
Wintergreen Northern Wear's quick-drying canoe gear can be found here.
Based out of Duluth, MN, Karina works as a psychotherapist and is an avid outdoorswoman in her free time. As a jack of all trades and master of none, she is often found outside climbing, running, biking, or dabbling in something new along the North Shore. When not at home, her passion for exploration and adventure takes her to the mountains out west, far off corners of the world, or visiting her family in Mexico. Drawing from a lifetime of travel, outdoor experiences, and a knack for some suffering, Karina writes content informed by the wisdom she has collected and her passion for adventure.