Scratching my head, I wondered how to fit all the supplies strewn on the ground at my feet into two sleds. A 40 pound bag of dog food, another 15 pounds of frozen chicken, five Frost River bags the size of watermelons, three sleeping bags, a duffle bag full of base layers, and a bag of Snickers. The sleds designed more for youthful exuberance down the local sledding hill than hauling gear over a mile into a Wilderness Area. Layered up and full of gumption, I set off across the frozen, wind-swept lake towards my destination – two folks living a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
I spotted Dave and Amy Freeman’s tent and heard their sled dogs barking to the sky. A solitary skier emerged from camp, heading my way with a dog. Amy arrived with a smile and escorted me into camp. Arriving in camp, Dave and the other two dogs welcomed me.
With the frozen burritos of gear unpacked, the Freemans took Tina, Tank and Acorn out skijoring to let the dogs release a little energy. I found a spot sheltered from the breeze and prepared my sleeping system (when in doubt, add another sleeping bag).
After a hearty meal followed by a couple hours of post-dinner talk, I retreated to my sleeping burrito outside.
I awoke from sunlight grazing the ice crystals that had formed around the air hole of my sleeping bag. The sunrise brought false warmth to the frozen landscape. The dogs rose from their beds when I approached, eager to begin the day. I wandered around camp, taking photos until I realized my unprotected hands were not functioning properly. I retreated to Amy and Dave’s tent to warm my hands and grab breakfast. The Freemans were in the middle of morning chores, cooking breakfast for the dogs, boiling water for coffee and beginning to plan the day.
Soon, we were headed out of camp, and Acorn dutifully pulled my sled towards the edge of the Wilderness while I lagged behind. I caught up with the dogs, the Freemans and a new group that was just arriving. Introductions quickly transitioned to goodbyes as we parted ways.
The silence of the Wilderness soon enveloped me. The crunch of my boots, the dragging of the sled on the packed down path and the breeze flowing past my face were all sounds, but sounds that best occur in a quiet place, a Wilderness Area. The bustle of man carries well across lakes and through forests and that is why we need solitude, quiet, the peacefulness of Nature.
What does the Boundary Waters mean to me? The West Coast has Yosemite, Olympic and the Redwoods. The Mountain West has Yellowstone, Glacier and the Rockies. The southwest has the Grand Canyon, Zion and Arches. The southeast has the Everglades and the Smokies, the northeast has Acadia and Niagara Falls. But what does the Midwest have that resonates on the national level? We have the most visited Wilderness Area in the country. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park in Canada encompass the greatest canoe country in the world.
I love the Boundary Waters because the only thing that my dad asked me to do when graduating high school was to spend a couple weeks in the Wilderness. I love it because my dad knew Dorothy Molter, the Root Beer Lady, and she wanted to hire him to be a guide. I love it because I can travel for days and not see anyone. I love it because it is mostly unchanged since the days of the Voyageurs. I love it because every whiff of spruce imbued in the wind reminds me of the words of Sigurd Olson. I love it because it’s bigger than my lifetime. I love it because the portages are measured in rods (which are 16.5 feet). I love it because of the Rose Lake cliffs and the North Hegman pictographs. I love it because it’s our Yellowstone, our Yosemite, our Smoky Mountains and our place of worship.
We must protect this national resource so my kids and their kids can experience the same joy I do when the loon calls or wolf howls while paddling across a quiet lake.
Dave Caliebe spent his youth sauntering through the woods of Wisconsin and now works for a non-profit helping people to enjoy the outdoors. After listening to the Freeman's speak at Canoecopia in 2015, Dave began his effort to do his part to protect a landscape he holds dear. Having first visited the Boundary Waters in 1995, Dave became enamored with the landscape and has visited ever since.