One of the benefits of working for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is a lot more access to the Boundary Waters we’re all working so hard to protect. Last weekend, I was up in Ely on a work trip (poor me, I know) and I took the opportunity to bring my family up for an extended weekend. Dave and Amy Freeman were on Fall Lake, relatively close to the border of the Wilderness, in order to get a resupply for A Year in the Wilderness from another volunteer. So we were excited to head out and see them for the first time in 115 days!
It was the coldest day of the year (at -24F) when we woke up, but thankfully it had warmed to a balmy -20 by the time we got to the Fall Lake entry point. Once we were all bundled up (a big shout-out to our Ely and Duluth business supporters for their mittens, hats, and mukluks we’ve purchased over the years to keep us warm), we headed out. Elsie (age 8) walked most of the mile out there (with some assistance from her mommy) and I pulled Donnie (6) and Eddie (2) in our stroller with ski attachments.
The moment we stepped on the ice, we felt the familiar thrill and pull our hearts feel every time we step foot/dip our paddle in the Boundary Waters. There really is nothing like it. The quiet, the undisturbed forest, the only sign of humans were actually dog sled tracks.
As a family, we’ve been following Dave and Amy through their Wilderness Classroom website, blogs, and their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts. The kiddos love the pictures of the steam rising off a lake, wolves, holiday lights on their tent, pictures of them dancing on the ice, videos of the dog sleds in action and more. For Elsie in particular, heading out meant meeting up with her first celebrities! She even had a question prepared she really wanted to ask when we met up (we’ll cover that later).
About half way out, Dave and Amy came skijoring out with Tina, Tank and Acorn to meet us!! We greeted one another, met the dogs and then continued on our way. The dogs’ excitement and untapped energy could be felt, and it was exciting to watch them pull Dave and Amy back to camp.
Upon reaching their campsite, we got the grand tour of their temporary home for the next few days. The dog's sleep on their pads and outside the tent (in case you were wondering, they’re used to the cold and overheat in the tent), the dog sled and toboggans for hauling their stuff are stashed in one spot, and their tent is set up out of the wind in another area. Our boys were especially excited to get out of the stroller/ski/sled, so the kiddos all ran off, dug through the snow to find the ice, jumped and played and got to do what kids do best in the Wilderness -- explore.
Of course, being as cold as it was, we headed into the tent after a bit. Dave and Amy cooked up some hotdogs and we warmed up and chatted about their trip.
Elsie whispered to mommy “they’re making us food?” in a silent awe. After a bit, Elsie wanted to ask her question, but she was a bit too star-struck to say it, so we asked on her behalf (she really wanted to know this): “How do you go to the bathroom without freezing your butt?!” A very practical thing an 8-year-old would be concerned about! I don’t know if I should divulge the personal habits of Dave and Amy, but suffice it to say, Elsie learned a thing or two about the everyday needs of people living in the Wilderness year round and she was satisfied with the answers.
We did have to eventually get going, so we said our goodbyes, gave hugs and shared well wishes for the rest of winter and into spring.
The trip out for my family really touched on something we talk a lot about on the Campaign: Accessibility. It’s one thing to have a remote, untouched area full of wildlife, pristine water and a healthy forest. But it’s another to have one so readily accessible to people of all walks of life. In the Midwest especially where wilderness areas are relatively few and far between, to have 1.1 million acres within a day’s drive of major metropolitan regions is one of the reasons this is America’s most visited wilderness.
Take that into account with the fact that literally anyone can make the trip. When sharing our story on the Hill in D.C. or talking with concerned citizens at the Minnesota State Fair, I like to say “You don’t have to be able to climb 12,000-foot peaks, or carry 5 gallons of water into a dessert, or be able to afford a chartered plane to northern Alaska to experience the wilderness. All you need is a canoe for a day trip. Add to that a tent, sleeping bag and some cooking gear and you’re set for a week.”
And by “anyone” I also mean the young and the old (how many of us were introduced to the Boundary Waters by our grandparents and dream of carrying that forward to future generations?!). The physically disabled and the top physically fit people on Earth can each have their experience. Disadvantaged youth from Minneapolis or Chicago go through camps to learn life skills and come out better people, Veterans recovering from PTSD can find peace and solace and a place to heal, students from Madison and families from St. Louis … and so many more examples.
More and more as our lives get inundated by technology, busy schedules and the ongoing burden of every day life, we need special places where we can relax, feel ourselves restore, be one with nature and hear literally nothing but wind in the trees. This is one of the reasons why I am fighting to save the Boundary Waters, and it was reinforced by how easy it was for my kids, including Eddie the two–year-old, to make a day trip on the coldest day of the year.
There are, however, casualties of every trip:
"Daddy, why don’t we have a winter tent?"
"Daddy, why don’t we have sled dogs?"
"Daddy, when are we going to be in Ely again?"
At least the last question was easy to answer: "Soon, kiddos. Very soon."
Alex Falconer is state director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Water. Alex has been in the outdoors, northwoods, northshore, Boundary Waters and beyond since before he could walk.