There are moments that stand out in our lives as highlights and unforgettable memories. These memories and moments have often happened in a certain place for me - in the Boundary Waters with my husband and three children. The memories created, the wilderness and all it’s silence and glory change you and stand out as amazing experiences that are difficult to express to others.
I recently had one of these unforgettable moments with my 13 yr old daughter, Elsie. We had a “girls trip” into the Boundary Waters which was about 2 years in the making. Elsie had taken a daddy/daughter trip when she was 10 yrs old and in the past couple of years really wanted to go with mommy. We were finally able to make it happen. I would be lying if I hadn’t paused and worried a bit about doing this type of trip as a female, doing it alone and being out in the wilderness, but also knew that I was strong and capable and it would be a great example for my daughter to show how women can do more than what society tells us we can do. Would it be challenging? Probably. Would there be unknowns? Yes. Would I create unforgettable memories with my daughter? Yes, definitely.
The idea of a Boundary Waters trip can be intimidating, but with the right gear and the right planning, it can be so easy to navigate and execute. We planned for a few months and got our permit for Sea Gull Lake. Originally we were going to go for a route with a short portage but given the timing and needing to be a shorter weekend this time around, we planned on Sea Gull to paddle and find a campsite. It worked in our favor! We drove up from the cities on a Wednesday night after school got out (great end of school trip!) and slept in the car in the lake access parking lot. We had stopped at Tobie’s for a treat (a must!) and had stopped in Grand Marais for gas, also checking on the weather since storms were north of us and most definitely going to hit us when we pulled in. They did and we got wet! There were a few other groups sleeping in their cars as well so we weren’t alone in the idea to get an early start. The rain and storms passed in the middle of the night and by 4am the sky was more clear. As Elsie and our dog slept, I watched as a couple groups of men unloaded their trucks and canoes to headed out around 4:15am. I let Elsie sleep in for a bit and then woke her up so we could get on the water. After some breakfast in the car we took off on the water by 8am.
We were stopped by a group of 3 who were out fishing and one of them asked about our gear, stating he had never done what we were doing and was curious. We had two Granite Gear canoe packs (our favorite gear bags), a bear barrel, and a couple small bags. Together we took the canoe off the top of our Expedition - another feat that we were proud to do together and loaded up the canoe while Ginkgo, our golden retriever ran proudly around gathering sticks in his mouth and getting excited about his upcoming canoe trip!
We were paddling for about an hour and a half before we saw that the island sites we were interested in were already taken. As a female traveling with my kid, I really wanted an island site. They seem safer from wild animals (even though I realize bears and wolves can swim!) and they have a sense of safety to me. This was not in the agenda for us, however, and after 2 hours and 4 miles of paddling we found a mainland site that Elsie loved. We could have continued on to see if a couple more island sites were open but she fell in love with this site and we set up camp! I realized that I didn’t have to be nervous - we had each other, we had a good system and we had our dog, even though honestly he would just roll over and play with anything that would approach us!
We set up camp and enjoyed the next few days just the two of us, making fires to cook our food, needing to find downed trees around our site for more firewood, paddling around to check out a nearby waterfall, exploring a nearby small island, staying in our screen tent and cooking with the propane during a windy rainy day and enjoying our time playing a lot of Phase 10 and making bracelets with thread.
What I learned is this - we are strong and we are mighty. We saw dozens of canoes every day paddling around and only one other female during the few days we were out. My daughter noticed this as did I. Why aren’t we taught that we can be in the wilderness, that we don’t need a male figure to keep us safe and start the fires and cook the steaks to perfection? My daughter was so energized and excited to show me how to make the fire better, “you’ll need more smaller sticks to keep the fire going!” And, we were both very excited when our roasted potatoes and steaks turned out perfectly over the fire in our cast iron (we never go into the BWCA without the cast iron!). She helped out in everything and was a rockstar in sawing downed branches and washing dishes. We were a good team, which I already knew, but this was different. We did it together and we felt strong. We felt a part of nature. She found rocks of rainbow color, she saved dragonflies that had fallen in the water, she caught a frog and talked to it, she found a dragonfly nymph and watched it morph into a dragonfly, unfolding its’ wings before flying off to a nearby tree.
The Boundary Waters slows us down - it brings life into focus of what’s important and reminds us of silence. The sounds of silence are unmatched - maybe only by the silence in the winter months out here, but listening to the haunting beautiful calls of the loons, hearing the paddlers paddles on the sides of their canoes, listening to the calls of the birds super early in the morning. It’s a beautiful thing to not have reception on our cell phones, to really engage with each other, knowing that the day holds all the possibilities of laying in a hammock, reading books, playing card games and making our food. Time slows down and helps us create space to enjoy smaller things such as making a fire that will be hot enough to roast potatoes for dinner or for our reflector oven to make our cookie bars!
My daughter was proud of herself - it was evident in everything she did. She felt grown up and I think she did grow up a lot in front of me those few days out in the wilderness. She knew her worth and value in being a part of the team and I didn’t have to tell her, although I did many times! She felt it. We needed each other and it was so natural and beautiful and I loved being out there with my sweet girl.
This trip was one of what will be many. This girls trip will be a new tradition every year in our household. We are already planning next year with a portage or two because we are feeling so strong and capable. Girls can do hard things. So, if you’ve been thinking about it and trying to decide if you can do it or not - get out there! Let’s be sure to show our children that we can be strong female role models and can go on trips into the woods and create strong memories with each other! Here’s to the next adventure and hopefully to not losing so many hands to Elsie in our next Phase 10 tournaments!