It was a sunny day in June when our group of five embarked on our 14-day journey. It was a beautiful day with a light wind as we paddled away from civilization with light hearts and calm minds. As the trip went on, we bonded over scary stories and stupid games. We joked about our eternal hunger and sore muscles. The time we spent on the water was time for singing songs and listening to Sally, our trip leader, read Harry Potter. Sometimes we would paddle quietly and simply observe our beautiful surroundings.
One of my favorite memories was on our first night when there was a beautiful sunset. We all stopped what we were doing and watched it. We were all yelling how beautiful it was and we had a group hug under the amazing sky. Sally wrote in our journal that night: “Our crew of five just spontaneously viewed and hugged through a mad gorgeous sunset on Ensign. Crayfish danced and the sky smoldered with pinks, purples, and oranges that were equally beautiful as they reflected on the water below. I’ve never been so stoked to be here.” It was an incredible first night.
As time went on, and we got further and further east, the beautiful trees and rocks gradually turned into plateaus and cliffs. We were getting closer to our final destination of the Grand Portage to Lake Superior, which we would complete on our last day. Our last full day we spent traveling up the Pigeon River to the mouth of the Grand Portage. We saw two moose in the span of a couple hours. At the time, the canoe in front of us slowed down to a stop and before I could ask why, I stopped in my tracks too. There was a huge animal crossing in front of us and it slightly scared me because of how close it was. The moose started trotting across the river, becoming more nervous as it went. It was incredible.
We got to the Grand Portage on our last day and completed the 8.5 miles in six hours. It was a grueling journey, but I’m so glad I could do it with some of my best friends. We made it to Lake Superior and hugged and cried after we set our canoes down. We were so happy. I’m extremely grateful I could spend two weeks in the place I love the most with some of the most amazing people I know.
Mackenzie Johnson is a junior at Minnetonka High School. Johnson made her first five-day trip to the Boundary Waters in the summer of 2014. She fell in love and could not wait to get back. In the summer of 2015 she went on a 10-day trip, and in July 2016 she completed a 14-day trip that ended with the 8.5 mile Grand Portgage to Lake Superior. Johnson loves everything about the Boundary Waters and supports the area in any way she can to make sure herself and others can continue to enjoy it for many years to come.
Today, I'm running though my final packing list and making sure that my gear will once again be ready for a great adventure that that has me very excited. Once again, I will travel north and experience the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in winter. For seven days I will travel with my fellow veterans by ski and dog sled in a place that provides a peace seldom found in modern life. The expedition is being put on by Voyageur Outward Bound School, the base camp is called home place. I could not think of a better name, because for me this is a return trip and home place means a great deal to me, and this is why.
Two years ago, I completed a weeklong dog sledding expedition with the Voyager Outward Bound School in the Boundary Waters. As a child, I had followed the expeditions of Will Steger and Paul Schurke as they explored the worlds’ Polar Region. Instead of just reading about these accomplishments from afar, I got to lead a team of dogs through the Wilderness myself and sleep in the snow, leaving with a sense of accomplishment. These new experiences, this accomplishment within me, filled a space in my spirit that had previously been occupied by the darkness of doubt. That darkness told me I would never be good enough, that I was a failure, and a burden. As I led my dog sled out of the Wilderness, I couldn’t help but feel that I was coming out of spiritual wilderness as well.
I joined the Army when I was 17, wanting to serve my country and seeking the adventure the Army was promising. I prepared myself mentally and physically for what I thought would be my long term career. In place of adventure, I experienced the pain of losing those closest to me, sacrificing all that we consider normal and traditional and did my best to survive two tours of duty fighting the war in Iraq. Like many who served alongside me, these experiences change me forever. It’s hardest to see what is inside you but those around me noticed a difference right away. Concern and fear replaced the relief those who love me felt when I returned home, as I stopped doing the things I loved and instead sought out alcohol to dull my pain. The more they asked me to seek help, the more I resisted, unable to admit the depths of my pain and self loathing. Then came the day I decided to kill myself.
Somehow I survived and, through the efforts of my family and the medical staff at the hospital and VA, I began living a zombie like existence. I was “stabilized” but not alive. During this stage of purgatory in my life I found Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS). To my surprise, I learned that they were offering free programs to veterans for years. VOBS was one of the first organizations to engage veterans in wilderness program to remind them of what they are able to do, and of things that can still be accomplished. This is not a therapy program. We went into the woods not to talk about our feelings but rather, we learned, side by side, that we are more than the sum of our damaged parts and that who we are, at our foundation, is unchanging and that we have the ability to connect with that again. Each day on the expedition I felt stronger in my sprit. The peace of the Boundary Waters was flowing into me and replacing the poison that had infected me. The bright sun and wind swept tress blowing through and dispersing the darkness. Since that expedition I have been affected by my experiences and resulting PTSD, but because of that expedition I have always had a way to connect back to myself and as a result I have never again thought, taking my life was an answer.
Since that first expedition, the hope I have felt is under threat from a powerful force that could change the Wilderness forever. Less than a mile from my expedition site, on the sun soaked and colorful banks of the Kawashiwi River, companies are already changing this once untouched and wild place. Veterans who are seeking solace from war are now being reminded of it when they are most vulnerable, when they are seeking help. Exploratory activity of a proposed copper mine has washed over the chirps of birds and rustling of animals in the foliage with loud helicopters, explosions and the constant grinding of drills.
I fear this wild place will be lost. I fear that losing the connection to my healing will be losing a piece of myself, and I am afraid of what that would mean for me, for my family and for anyone who needs another answer. I am only one man, but I still believe in fighting for others and I need to do something to stop this from happening. That is why I am sharing my story with you.
I know there are others like me, I believe in never leaving a soldier behind, and so I founded Veterans for the Boundary Waters, partnered with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. I want to reach those who need this place as much as I do and I am also seeking the support and action of others who recognize the value of this sacred place. Though deeply personal, I have shared my story on video, in Washington D.C, and in front a large crowd at the first listening session in Duluth this past summer.
I have been fighting this fight for two years, and during that time have learned that there are many, many others who have gone to the Boundary Waters (some leading scout troops, others with their families) but all of them have had a similar experience; a reconnection to life they once thought lost.
The Boundary Waters is incredibly unique; the diversity of plants and animals, activities and trails is unmatched anywhere in the world. It is why the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the nation’s most visited wilderness. This place is one of the few truly wild places left for anyone who seeks adventure, who seeks an escape from modern life, who seeks a quieted mind or a reconnection to their spirit.
What the Boundary Waters teaches us is different depending on who we are and our story. I can’t tell you what you will learn or what you will see. I can tell you that the Boundary Waters taught me what it means to live; it showed me the way back to myself and so I fight. I fight to protect this place, as I fought to protect my country. We are a free people, adventure is in our spirit and life is meant to be lived. The Boundary Waters needs to be permanently protected so that it is available to all generations. My fight continues and I invite you to join with me -- submit a comment today. We can do it, but only if we do it together.
The Boundary Waters taught 14-year-old Grace Christenson to see beauty in the simplest things. Grace wrote Leave No Trace for her spoken word poetry unit at school. The Wilderness is something that she is very passionate about and she wanted to inform people about the risks facing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Come with me to a place I love,
Come with me to a place I dream,
Come with me to a place I listen…
A fog over the land,
A change in my plan,
Can’t this be everlasting?
My paddle slicing the glass.
Tornadoes swirl through
The complex waters of beauty.
Like a mother’s hug,
The water envelops me,
Taking my breath away,
Like getting out of your sleeping bag
On a crisp morning.
No boundary shall live in
The Boundary Waters.
My footsteps will leave no trace,
The weather erasing it from
The earth at peace.
Slam the door,
We can’t balance
Our need for our greed,
The greed of minerals,
Without our need for beauty
Travel the world,
Sense the sea,
Comprehend the tree,
Love it all for me,
And all the billions of people.
Come with me to a place and listen...
For the loon calling to her kin,
The tranquil sounds of water,
The hushed whispers of wind.
Your voice stay humble,
Not soft, though..
“Speak loudly for a quiet place”
It must be a sacred place
To those who will embrace.
The clarity in the break of dawn.
It must be a sacred place
A powerful space,
With a soft pace.
Will you come with me for a moment?
Leave the busyness of your day behind?
Come with me to a place and imagine...
A forest, beach, or desert.
The wind kisses your face
Like the soft breath of a baby.
Rain tickles your head.
Trees, like a summers storm, laugh
Waves rejoice in song.
The Earth loves us.
Come with me to a place and love…
The Earth is a tapestry,
I weave into it when the stars shine in the sky.
The colors are bright capturing one's mind,
You turn them over never quite understanding
That the Earth is a tapestry
That this is the only one.
And yet we disrespect,
And abandon the pursuit of cherishing Earths beauty.
Earth has supported us,
She’s dusted our errors,
She’s polished our achievements.
But we’ve destructed her,
Adapted our understanding of
You can tell me what you think,
But I've got a whole Earth
Standing behind me.
Grace Christenson is a 14-year-old from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Grace finds that the Boundary Waters is a place for her to be herself, to let go of her worries and feel the purity of the wind on her face. With every trip that she has taken since she was four years old, she has seen her strengths grow more each year--from carrying her paddle and life jacket, to her own pack, to the food pack, and in more recent years carrying the canoe on portages.
Below are excerpts a Boundary Waters trip story that John Focke shared on his blog, Tales from the Focke.
If my body had a low battery light, it would have been blinking. We had just finished the unofficial first half of the WNBA season, which was condensed due to an extended Olympic break right in the middle of the season. My wedding was 12 days away, but I had a few free days to recharge before everyone descended upon the Twin Cities.
After talking things over with my fiancee, Ali, we decided we were in a good spot regarding the wedding details and I could bounce to the Gunflint Trail.
Our family has had a cabin on Hungry Jack Lake, just off the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota, for many decades. Originally purchased by my great-grandpa, I have made it up there every year of my life but one (shoulder surgery knocked me out in 2000).
There are two cabins, a big cabin and a little cabin, and we are just a short paddle across Bearskin Lake to the Boundary Waters--the crown jewel of Minnesota.
There is running water and electricity, but no cell phone access, TV or internet--the perfect place to unplug and charge up.
After unloading the car, I took the kayak down to the lake and immediately hopped in. The clouds were low and gray and no wind moved as I glided across the glassy surface of the lake. The silence wraps itself around you up there. I paddled to the far end of the lake into a bay and just drifted, leaning back I closed my eyes and felt totally at peace. I was just a small speck floating in a big lake. My mind drifting, but not thinking of anything--finally letting go.
The sun was shining the next morning as I hopped in the kayak, even though it was early I could already hear the kids down the lake splashing and paddling around. I paddled down to the first portage, one I have done a million times. Shouldering the kayak, I crossed the trail into Bearskin Lake. From there I had to cross the lake to the Daniels Portage, there was a little more chop on Bearskin Lake--as there always seems to be.
Looking to my left you could see the rocky top of Caribou Trail, to my right several canoes headed out from Camp Menogyn and others crossing the lake towards the Duncan Lake portage.
As I slid into Daniels Lake, I paddled along the bluffs on the left side. I remembered coming here as a kid and fishing off those big rocks where the water was so clear you could see down to the even bigger rocks below and the shadows of fishing swimming around. I remembered lunching on those rocks and the way the sun warmed your skin as we reclined on the rocks. Each of us finding our own little "easy-chair" to relax in.
I paddled further into the lake, debating on making the link up from here to Rose Lake but not feeling the effort of that seriously long portage.
The sun was high and not a cloud in the sky, just a deep blue with a light wind. I paused at the far end of the lake, drifting and watching the shoreline reflect on the surface of the lake. Our wedding was a little over a week away, the hay was in the barn as my brother liked to say. I was excited to welcome everyone in town and more excited to pledge my love and my life to Ali. She loved coming to this place too, and the thought of one day bringing our family to follow some of the same trails that I trod as a kid was a great vision.
Heading back to the portage I ran into a guy and his brother, about my age with their two kids climbing into their canoe. The guy mentioned it was his kids' first trip to the Boundary Waters. He said he had been coming up for years, but finally the kids were old enough to handle the canoeing and camping so they were headed out for a few days. It was so great to see another generation of kids heading into the Wilderness, learning to love it as their parents did. That’s what this area needs--defenders of all ages, people who understand the importance of preserving it for the next generation and the one after that and so on.
Later, I paddled into the lake and let my thoughts drift over to my vows: how do you tell the woman of your dreams how much she means to you? How do you put into words how much you love and care about her? Is it possible to take all those feelings and compress them into a few sentences? The thing about Ali that I knew right from the start, was how right it felt. How comfortable I was, how I could be myself without judgement, how all I wanted to do was make her laugh and spend time with her.
As I floated thinking about all those things, I thought about this land too: how do you put into words how special this area is? How can someone who has never put a paddle in the water and floated through a crystal-clear lake understand why we shouldn’t allow a mining operation on the edge of the Wilderness?
It can be hard to put into words what this place means to people. It’s a silent place that can’t speak for itself, you need to show people what it means. This is why I thought the Freeman’s Year in the Wilderness was so important. To shine a light on this area, bring it to the public mind, help people understand we don’t have many spaces like this left and how important it is to keep it wild.
I relaxed on the dock that evening, listening to the sounds of the loons as the sky faded to black and the stars began to come out. The sound of the kids playing in the lake slowly quieted as it began to get dark and the silence was total. It was a quick trip, but it was amazing what it did to recharge my battery and fill my soul. I closed my eyes and imagined for a moment sitting here in the future with my wife and family, soaking in the beauty of this place and hoping that it would stay as it is for that to happen.
We are the Girl Scouts from Northern Lakes Canoe Base. We enjoyed a five day trip to resupply Dave and Amy Freeman's Year in the Wilderness on Knife Lake. When we arrived at the Freeman's campsite, we were greeted by puppy kisses from Tank. The Freeman's then explained the purpose of their Year in the Wilderness and the threats of mining to the Boundary Waters. Some highlights of the trip were a day paddle to Thunder Point, measuring water clarity and oxygen levels, swimming and swamping the canoe for fun. After a day full of activities, Dave and Amy joined us at our campsite for pizza over the fire and cheesecake. We waved them off later that evening.
Rebecca Gaida is from Victoria, Minnesota, and is currently attend the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Rebecca is studying public administration with a minor in nonprofit leadership. Rebecca has spent the past six summers paddling the Boundary Waters, and the past two summers guiding for Northern Lakes Girl Scout Canoe Base.
When I entered the Wilderness for the first time as a confused and lost 19-year-old girl, I had no idea the path life would take me on. Now, 11 years later, I am a wife, a mother to a son and I am expecting a daughter. The Wilderness used to be my sanctuary. After meeting my husband, Bobby, the Wilderness became a setting of bonding and discovery. As we were starting our lives together, we entered the Wilderness and did extraordinary things. We learned about each other, we learned the importance of communication, we learned to care for one another and we learned to trust one another. We had conversations within the sanctuary of Mother Nature that would never have been able to take place in a bar, restaurant or even the comforts of our own home. When out exploring the Wilderness, a closeness and a bond is formed that nothing else can possibly duplicate.
Now it has become a classroom for our children. A place for us to take our children to help them learn life lessons, learn about ecosystems, learn about history, learn about the importance of preservation, learn Leave No Trace principles and learn to be thoughtful and caring human beings.
At the age of two, our son, Jack, has entered two wilderness areas--one of which is the Boundary Waters. During his third trip into the Boundary Waters, he was accompanied by his loving and doting grandparents.
Jack was able to be a part of a multigenerational trip into an area that has been protected since 1926. He was given a glimpse into what life was like for a voyageur traveling the area 200 years ago. These wilderness areas are truly precious and deserve our respect and protection.
When I think of my children, I imagine all of the adventures we will have with them throughout their lives. I think of the memories made. The photographs taken. The tears shed. The laughter shared.
I imagine them setting forth on their own as a young woman and a young man seeking adventure by themselves, with friends or with families of their own. I picture them emulating trips we have done in the past. Being able to experience the same campsites. The same lakes. The same paths. When our wilderness is threatened, the opportunities for outdoor recreation of future generations are threatened.
President Lyndon B. Johnson said it beautifully when talking of the importance of protecting wilderness areas for future generations. He said, “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
The Boundary Waters is a profoundly important stretch of wilderness that must be protected. This includes protection from within and without. As we--the visitors--enter the Wilderness, we must educate ourselves. We must practice and respect all Leave No Trace principles. Protecting this area from exterior threats, like disruptive and environmentally toxic mining operations, should have every one of us standing up, speaking out and working hard to protect this vital natural resource for generations to come. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”
Please, stand with us and speak out against the proposed mines. Sign the petition today, contact your local representative, educate others, or share your own personal stories. There are so many ways in which you can stand up and protect this scenic area for this generation and all those to come.
Bobby and Maura Marko live in Excelsior, Minnesota, with their two-year-old son, Jack, and newborn daughter, Rowan. Bobby works as a UX Designer for Amazon while Maura is a stay-at-home mom and writer for their blog, We Found Adventure. Both are avid outdoor enthusiasts who are passionate about protecting the wild places of our planet as well as encouraging parents to get outdoors and experience wilderness with their children. Though newbies to the Boundary Waters and canoe-camping in general, the family was hooked after their first trip in and have many more trips planned! They feel that protecting a national treasure like the Boundary Waters should be a priority for every person who believes that future generations deserve to inherit accessible and outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Happy Winter Solstice! On this, the shortest day of the year, it’s tempting to get out our Boundary Waters trip journal, wrap up at the fire and remember our summer trips of the past. To dream of warm summer days with cool nights, loons calling across the lake, fresh walleye dinners, star-filled night skies and the silence. Oh, the silence. Even when I step outside here at home in a relatively quiet suburban neighborhood, there’s always the hum of fa- away traffic, the neighbor’s dog barking (and ours barking at his), or our own cacophony of devices and electronic toys and music and TV and so on. Oh, the silence.
This past summer’s family trip was perhaps one of the best. It was the first time my spouse and I were able to get our three kids (and our two dogs) into the Wilderness for more than just a day trip. Our youngest, Eddie, finally graduated from diapers - we weren’t doing the “bag of death” packing out dirty diapers! We started on Snowbank Lake after the Ely Fourth of July Parade, made it to a spot on Disappointment Lake, packed up in the morning and six portages later found our five-star campsite for the week on Ima Lake. An exciting development: our two oldest, Donnie (6) and Elsie (8), each carried their own packs and doubled back on most portages to help carry some smaller items the first trip didn’t get. Helpful and they felt part of the team!
But what made this trip most memorable was watching the experience through our kiddos eyes. Kids don’t need toys in the Wilderness; they certainly don’t need screens. Rocks and pinecones can be thrown into the lake for hours. Fishing from the campsite to catch small pan fish and bass is thrilling. Marching off into the woods (with a safety whistle!) to explore and find secret spots, or drag small dead branches back for the fire, or find a stream in which to play “pooh sticks” (if you know, you know) can fill hours - sometimes even long enough for mommy and daddy to take care of camp and have spare time to sit and - oh my goodness: read a book!
Enjoying memories from this past trip flood back on this cold winter night like its own comforting warm blanket.
Most poignantly, perhaps, on this trip was a moment with Elsie during one of the portages out. We stopped mid portage on a tough 80-rod path up a steep hill and then down again. At the top were more fresh blueberries than we could eat - and how we tried! As we stuffed our faces, she paused and looked as if she was saying something that would insult me but resolutely said, “You know, Daddy, this is the longest you haven’t checked your phone.” A mixture of sadness and pride hit me: for what our current technologic-driven lives are doing to our relationships especially as parents; but also that she noticed the importance of and appreciated our specific focus on her and her brothers this trip.
As always, when we exit the Wilderness, the “Adult World” comes back: demands of our jobs, bills, schedules, traffic, noise, news, distraction. But we had that week. We worked and played as a team. We struggled pulling the canoe through a mucky approach to a portage. We got comfortable pushing the limits of swimming in increasingly deeper water. We started fires, we avoided the mosquito swarm after sundown, we caught (small) fish, we explored the woods and marked “secret blueberry patches” on our map and took in a stunning sunset that looked like the American flag.
Parents and kids need this place to unplug. We need it as a respite from the noise - both for silence but also the from the noise of our day-to-day routines. We need to be forced into a situation where you have to look for something to do -- not have your day delivered to you in a calendar full of regimented blocks of time. And when you emerge from the woods with a renewed appreciation for life in general, we know this place is worth fighting for.
The experiences my kids have had in the Boundary Waters have inspired them to want to protect it like I do. Last week at daycare, Eddie asked of Santa, “Please save the Boundary Waters.” The announcement of the lease denial and application for withdrawal certainly fits that ask. Thank you to everyone who helped make that happen … with perhaps a little intervention from the North Pole!
State Director Alex Falconer has been with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters for two years. Alex has been in the outdoors, northwoods, northshore, Boundary Waters and beyond since before he could walk. He has the extreme pleasure of now introducing his children to the Boundary Waters and watching them dip their paddles, drink from a lake, and listen to the loons and wolves. Alex has worked on electoral, grassroots and issue advocacy campaigns for the past decade and looks forward to dedicating all his time and attention outside of his family to preserving the Boundary Waters for generations to come.
On Saturday morning at 5:58 a.m., Boy Scout Troop 63 rolled out and headed north. We spent the weekend enjoying Lake Superior’s sites: Russ Kendall’s Smoke House -- a north shore tradition, two nights at Tettegouche State Park, and The Scandinavian Riviera that greeted us at every turn with breath-taking views and rock cliff faces. Rocks were skipped, cliffs were climbed and lines were dropped. My soul was at peace. We had a campfire, which burned late into the starry evening as old friends reminisced.
We broke camp Monday, loaded the trailer and headed to Ely by 6:30 a.m., hoping to beat a large storm that was blowing in. As we crossed over the Kawishiwi River, I did a fist pump in the air. I had finally arrived back to the Boundary Waters! I waved, and gave a nod as we drove past Dorthy Molter’s cabin, which stands as a guardian and greeter for all who enter the city on their way to the Boundary Waters. Around the corner from Dorothy’s relocated cabin is the International Wolf Center. The Troop spent the morning learning about and observing wolves -- a howling good time was had by all. We then left for Canadian Border Outfitters (CBO), off Fernberg Road on beautiful Moose Lake. We checked in, had our picnic lunch and did orientation before deciding what gear to pack in and what to leave behind.
Throughout our trip in the Boundary Waters, our outfitters at CBO put quotes from Sigurd F. Olson in our breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks to inspire us and make us think, which I've included throughout this story.
So we start the tale with this quote:
“Life is good to those who know how to live. I do not ever hope to accumulate great funds of worldly wealth, but I shall accumulate something far more valuable, a store of wonderful memories. When I reach the twilight of life I shall look back and say I'm glad I lived as I did, life has been good to me.” -- Sigurd Olson
Tuesday morning the Troop divided into two groups, which is where our story really starts. Two different rites of passage, two different sets of impressions and stories. I will tell the story of Group A, otherwise known as, "Poseidon’s Resistance." Assistant Scoutmasters John and Shawntell will tell the story of Group B, or the "Savage Squad."
Below are exerpts from the two group's trips.
Tuesday, Day 1
It would be the last time we would see the other group for three to four days. We devoured our breakfast and nervously awaited the arrival of the van to come and pick us up. Our group departed from CBO to Entry Point 27 on Snowbank Lake. It was already windy. After several attempts at loading the canoe and a close call almost tipping it only 100 feet from the dock, we boogied across Snowbank Lake and onto our first portage. It was our longest hike between lakes -- a little over a half a mile. Brad pushed us to carry everything in one trip. Against my better judgment, I agreed. The once light canoe was digging into our shoulders and the weight from the pack on our backs were making our feet scream and lungs burn, but the view of a blue sky and Disappointment Lake on the other side made our efforts worthwhile. This set precedent that we could portage everything in one trip, greatly speeding up our traveling time.
We portaged into Ima Lake and took the first campsite we came across, which was safely tucked away in a bay. We ate like kings that night with a steak dinner, and had a perfect view of the setting sun on Ima Lake. I heard the faint cry of wolves that night. That evening as the stars came out, through the wind I could hear the sniffing of a large animal 40 yards off in the thick brush. I sat straight up in my hammock. I slowly grabbed my bear horn to sound, but I had to wait until I could verify what it was before I attempted to scare it. Luckily, it slipped off into the night after a couple deep loud sniffs. I drifted off into a sleep under the windy night sky. Deb confirmed in the morning that she had heard the sniffing as well.
“The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten.” -- Sigurd Olson
Wednesday, Day 2
At 3 a.m. the wind woke me by just about blowing me out of my hammock. The winds were not letting up, in fact they even got worse. On the plus side, it kept the mosquitos down. We ate bacon, eggs and cheese tortillas for breakfast before we paddled into the wind. We jumped across a couple more portages until we reached Cattyman / Gibson Falls. It lived up to my memory from my childhood. It was beautiful, loud and serene. We portaged from Gibson Lake into Ashigan Lake. The winds of hell were howling louder than ever, and whitecaps ripped across the lake. We all just stood in amazement. We decided to paddle into the whitecaps to the other campsite on the lake. We reached the campsite around the island and next to the portage leading to Ensign Lake. I recommended that we just stay. Ensign Lake was only going to be worse. We watched a few groups struggle that afternoon on Ashigan Lake. We watched canoes get blown into shore and crash into islands. It was wicked. I was thankful to be in the shelter of the pine trees protected from the wind. Our campsite was a four-star palace on the rocks. The boys swam in the windy lake, and Justin found a rock bath tub. We enjoyed the windy afternoon on our layover day, and some of us even took naps. Rain fell on us late afternoon -- a warning sign of things to come.
“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.” -- Sigurd Olson
Tuesday, Day 1
On a sunny July 11 morning, Group B, with four canoes and nine members, embarked on our Boundary Waters adventure. Launching into Snowbank Lake, we turned north and met a strong headwind. We were tucked behind an island and then entered a cove. We warmed up with our first portage of 90 rods into Parent Lake. On Parent Lake, we again faced open water, a strong headwind and whitecaps. Halfway across Parent Lake the third canoe manned by Johnny Mac and Cole decided to check the water temperature and buoyancy of the life jackets and capsized. Packs, paddles and both paddlers all went into deep water. The bull horn brought to scare bears was quickly sounded by the second canoe. The three remaining canoes rendezvoused to get the equipment and paddlers back to shore. Packs, paddlers and equipment were rescued and taken to the nearby campsite on the northeast edge of the lake. The only casualty was a cell phone that took on water. Group consensus was the campsite was beautiful with its 15-foot shallow beach, plenty of trees for hammocks and good tent pads. An overall good place to put in for the night. The Scouts quickly strung a line to dry out gear and then spent the afternoon exploring the water’s edge finding toads and crayfish. The wind dried out our gear and kept the mosquitoes at bay, but also continued throughout the night affording little opportunity for rest.
“Simplicity in all things is the secret of the wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons. It is what we leave behind that is important. I think the matter of simplicity goes further than just food, equipment, and unnecessary gadgets; it goes into the matter of thoughts and objectives as well. When in the wilds, we must not carry our problems with us or the joy is lost.” -- Sigurd Olson
Friday, Day 4
The morning's beautiful sunrise made us realize that the best was yet to come. We broke camp and began a beautiful paddle for our final day. As I looked across the water at the four boats of our group and the people in them, I couldn't help but realize that we were not the same people that started the journey. We had been lost, frustrated, wet, tired, capsized, blistered, leeched and challenged. But something truly awesome had been given to us that we could only discover in this way. We are meant for more. We are stronger, and more durable than we believe. In each of us there is greatness just waiting to be challenged and discovered. Thank you Boundary Waters for helping us reach the awesomeness that is in each of us. We saw three bald eagles soaring the final stretch while paddling back to the dock at CBO. I watched them soar effortlessly, and as I did I felt for a moment that I was soaring with them. The muscles seemed not to ache for a moment, and the beauty that is this place was felt by everyone. We made it, and there will be stories and memories in each of us that will last a lifetime.
“There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known.” -- Sigurd Olson
Both groups had made it in safe! Stories were told over a final group steak dinner and into the setting sun. Late into the night our stories brought joy and laughter. Life was simple and good for one week. Thousands of emails and texts went unread. Phone calls were missed, and the world kept turning.
Note from the author: Our trip into the Boudary Waters would not have been possible without the support from parents -- thank you from the bottom of my heart on behalf of Troop 63.
Josh Redhead is the Scoutmaster for Troop 63 and works full time as an estimator / project manager for Elder Corporation in central Iowa. In addition to his son, Connor Redhead, who is currently in Troop 63, Josh has two daughters, Emory and Kaylie, who he hopes to take on Boundary Waters trips someday. He is in the third generation of his family to make trips into the Boundary Waters, while his son Connor makes the fouth. Josh made his first trip in the mid 80s and has been coming back ever since. Josh supports the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters because he says there truly is no other place like this on Earth.
I find it amazing that I woke up at 5:00 a.m. with no alarm clock--it just happened. The Wilderness started to come alive; bright bulbs in the sky faded away as the sun started its trek around Snowbank Lake for the 209th time this year. My accomplice on this trip, fellow Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Intern Levi, was still sleeping as the second day of our five-day trip began. As I sat on the shoreline eating a Clif Bar, I watched the lake start to burn; red-orange ripples calmly came and went across its surface. The flames were topped by a uniform blanket of fog rising from the water. The sun’s rays struggled their way through the tree line to the east. Quickly realizing I would rather be paddling than sitting on land, I gathered my tackle and gear. With a swift push of the canoe, I was off into the burning water.
With my jig bouncing along the the rocky bottom, the choir of loons on the lake crescendoed as I floated without a care in the world. Two members of the choir decided to give me a wake-up call by surfacing right in front of the canoe. They were at ease: stretching their wings, shaking their heads and taking turns dunking themselves in the flames. Without fear of me, the loons slowly moved on making only the slightest ripples in the burning water. Just as quickly as they arrived, they left.
In the time that the loons had come and gone, I realized how relaxing it was to not be in the concrete jungle we call civilization. Without the sounds of the city constantly ringing in my ears, the serenity of the Wilderness allowed me to sit back and ponder what an amazing experience I have had while in the Boundary Waters. In that moment, it hit me that I was there. I was enveloped in what I was working so hard to save with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. The sounds, the sights, the smells; they were all so real.
Mother Nature had let loose a couple of weeks prior to our arrival on Snowbank Lake. Wind gusts of 100 plus miles per hour had transformed the dense forest into channels of trees either snapped in half or uprooted completely. The shoreline was littered with fallen Jack Pines that still held their green needles—and my curiosity as to how many Smallmouth Bass were under each of them. The biggest issue I faced the rest of the day, and the trip for that matter, was deciding what lure to fish with.
“Should I use a Dare Devil, jointed Rapala or a Mepps spinner?” I asked Levi.
“Use whatever you … want!” Levi said with a jerking sound in his voice. “Yee-yee!”
I spun around to check out what was going on, and there he was with an exhilarating bend in his pole.
The line shot under the boat, and line screamed from his drag. Making sure that the line wasn’t going to break, Levi slowly muscled the fish to the surface.
As quick as we saw the flash of its belly, the smallmouth took its second run to the bottom. A tug of the line bought a look of serendipity and excitement to Levi’s face. The sun was high in the sky now, and the red-hot-coal-colored water of the morning had transitioned to flickers of bright yellow flames off the waves. Slowly bringing his prize back to the surface and into the net, we celebrated accordingly with picture taking and way too many handshakes.
Our afternoon transitioned into evening, and it was decided that the night bite would be best spent on Flash Lake. The flickers of bright yellow flames followed us along the 140-rod portage which seemed effortless as we were both too eager to get our lines back in the water. Our goal was simple: catch walleyes to cook over the fire for dinner.
My chartreuse jig hadn’t been in the flames of Flash Lake for more than a minute, and my dinner was nibbling on what they thought was theirs.
In the couple minutes that I spent reeling in my dinner, Levi and I spattered out nonsense terms that took the place of the name “walleye.” That jibberish sounded something like this:
“Wall-frys tonight for dinner baby!”
“Mr. Wall Senior!”
“Cricky, it’s a Wallapalooza!”
The fish we caught weren’t what made this evening bite so memorable for me, it was absorbing the moment. Baby loons trying to hoot just like mom and dad, a hen wood duck buzzing over our heads on her way back to the nest full of hatchlings and the occasional conversation about anything under the moon.
Our afternoon quickly turned into evening, and the flames changed color. Slivers of deep blue, purple and pink sliced the surface of the burning water. The woods were silent, and so were we. Halfway across Snowbank Lake, our paddles went still. I now knew why some 250,000 people visit and come back to the Boundary Waters; I felt like I was in a picture that you would see on someone’s laptop background.
The bright bulbs in the sky returned, and the burning water dwindled away.