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Resupply Report: An Intern’s Journey to the BWCA

Monday, August 1, 2016
Posted by
Liesl Helminiak

Photo Credit: Reid Carron

The first time I set foot in a canoe, there was a storm. Rain poured through my jacket and hid the far side of the lake behind a damp grey veil. The waves rocked us as we paddled, and I loved every minute. Luckily, there were other people in the canoe who knew what they were doing, so I had the unique privilege of feeling like an intrepid, seasoned adventurer while simultaneously learning how to paddle.

The setting of my second canoe adventure was quite different. A long, winding drive beneath a blue sky and scattered clouds took us from Sustainable Ely to Sawbill Outfitters, where Mr. Hansen generously lent us a Minnesota 3 canoe. Sawbill Lake awaited us, a calm reflection of a gentle sun. After balancing the packs in the canoe, we climbed in and started to paddle.

We had embarked on this journey as a delivery service. The two bulky packs we carried with us contained supplies for Dave and Amy Freeman as they continue their Year in the Wilderness expedition. The packs were filled with dog food, muesli bars, granola, and an assortment of dehydrated vegetables that I had prepared in Sustainable Ely’s cozy upstairs kitchen. After reading about them in National Geographic, processing their water quality data, and prepping their veggies, I was ecstatic to meet Dave and Amy in person.

It didn’t take much paddling to remove ourselves from the sights and sounds of other humans. Once the dock was out of sight, a small group of loons came into view. They were our companions as we glided past jack pines, white spruce, black spruce and cedar trees. 

As the occupant of the bow seat, I was tasked with scouting for any rocks big enough to pose a threat to the bottom of the canoe. Most of the rocks were far below the surface, forming a mute landscape of sandy plains and sharp drop-offs. Occasionally, we would float past a submerged forest of swaying plants. As we neared the shore for our portage, minnows and crayfish darted away from the looming shape of the canoe. A short path led us through a tunnel of trees to Alton Lake, where crystal clear water revealed a pebbled bottom and kelp-like plants. My companions, Reid and Becky, spotted birds and stubby saplings that sprouted up from the rocks, but I was fixated on the underwater scenery.

Dave and Amy waved at us from their campsite, a little clearing on the shores of Alton Lake. We parked the canoe at the waterfront and climbed out. In my excitement, I missed the rocks and stepped right into the water. After clambering up on shore, the Freemans greeted me with warm smiles and handshakes, and their sweet sled dog Tank greeted me by licking my cheek. Becky and Reid introduced me as Sustainable Ely’s full-time intern, and I added that it was an honor to work for the campaign. Amy then asked what kind of work I did. Naturally, the first thing out of my mouth was

“I get to dehydrate your vegetables!”

I followed that outburst by telling them how much I loved learning the lay of the lakes through their water quality data, and how rewarding it is to talk to Sustainable Ely’s visitors about the cause. We discussed our mutual love of Maine, the dazzling clarity of Alton Lake, and the unfortunate omnipresence of microplastics.

Becky and Reid had brought fresh bread, fruit, and vegetables, and we sat down to a lunch of sandwiches and apple slices. It was delicious, and no doubt a welcome break from bags of dehydrated peas and carrots. Between bites, we remarked at the weather’s perfection. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Photo Credit: Reid Carron

As we were getting ready to start paddling back the way we came, Dave had a surprise for us. He has been working on compiling videos of all the visitors, a brief personal introduction accompanied by five words they had for the Boundary Waters. Dave set up the camera and relished the opportunity to say, “quiet on the set!”

There was no way I could contain the experience of being in the Boundary Waters within only 5 words. Should I hyphenate the words to draw it out? What if I said it in French?

It was my turn to be in front of the camera.

“My name is Liesl Helminiak, and I am from Barrington, Illinois.”

Five words for the Boundary Waters.

“I want to stay here.”

This is Liesl's first summer working for the Campaign. She plans to remain active in the fight to protect the Boundary Waters. Liesl studies environmental science at Carleton College, where she will be a sophomore this fall.



Dave and Amy on TODAY

Thursday, July 28, 2016
Posted by
Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

On Thursday, July 21, Harry Smith from NBC's TODAY Show paddled out into the Boundary Waters Wilderness in northern Minnesota to meet explorers Dave and Amy Freeman on Birch Lake. He learned about their Year in the Wilderness and their efforts to raise awareness about the threat that proposed sulfide-ore copper mining on the Wilderness edge poses to the Boundary Waters. On Sunday, July 31, Smith shared that visit on the TODAY Show. Watch it here and then take action to help protect America's most visited Wilderness.

 donate today to help #savethebwca






From the Freemans: Safety First

Monday, July 25, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

Last week a severe storm buffeted northern Minnesota. A ship making its way under the lift bridge in Duluth clocked the wind at 90 knots (109 mph) and winds gusts were estimated to have reached 70 mph over much of the Northland. This was the worst storm Amy and I have ever experienced in the Boundary Waters and one of the few times we have been really scared in the BWCA. We are thankful to have survived the storm unscathed and were so sad learn that the storm claimed the lives of several people and injured several more.

The Wilderness is not normally a scary place, it is a wonderful place to learn and grow, relax and contemplate. In the morning, after the storm had passed and another beautiful day had begun, we talked about strategies for weathering a big storm and other safety procedures. The goal of this post is to help you feel better prepared and confident by sharing a few things we've learned through our adventures.

Wearing Your Lifejacket

Like wearing your seatbelt in a car, it is best to get in the habit of wearing your lifejacket all the time when you are on the water. Lifejackets, or PFDs (personal floatation devices), will keep you afloat in an unexpected emergency. Don't get lulled into complacency, thinking you don't need a PFD because the weather is nice or you're a good swimmer. Amy and I typically adjust the straps on our portage packs so that we can carry the pack comfortably without taking our lifejacket off. When it is really hot, or for portages over a half mile, we often take our lifejacket off and strap it to the pack for the portage, but always put our lifejacket back on before getting back into the canoe.

Lightning = Get Off the Water

It can be tempting to just cross the lake to the next portage, or try to make it to your favorite campsite, which is only a mile away, but when a thunderstorm approaches it's important to get off the water before the storm hits. We typically keep our tarp easy to access so that if a squall moves through we can quickly get off the water pitch our tarp. It's best to avoid waiting out storms on points and ridges, or under the tallest trees, because lightning can strike a tree and then travel down the tree and through the roots or along the ground. Luckily, most of these storms do not last very long so you are often treated to clear, calm weather before and after a storm moves through.

Cold Water Safety

For most of the canoeing season in the Boundary Waters, the water is relatively warm. From the middle of June through the middle of September, swimming is a real joy. However, for a few weeks after the ice goes out and as fall turns to winter in October and November, an accidental dunk can be very dangerous and quickly lead to hypothermia. In the early spring when the water temperature is in the 30s and 40s, Amy and I typically wear drysuits just in case, especially on large lakes and windy days. Cold water can be deceptive and it is important to use caution when the water is cold. I have gone swimming in 11 months so far during A Year in the Wilderness and I don't anticipate that swimming in August will prove to be difficult. Swimming in April, May, October and November has helped us understand how quickly the cold water causes you to shiver.

Once in a Lifetime Storms

Amy and I have spent hundreds and hundreds of nights in the Wilderness, well over 1,000 nights in the BWCA and similar locations across Canada. Last week's storm was the only time we have had multiple trees fall on our campsite. This is extremely rare, but there are a few things that we learned from the storm that may be good to keep in mind, just in case. Most of the trees broke off 5 to 10 feet off the ground and we were surprised that they came to rest 10 to 20 feet downwind from where they broke off. Our main concern was to get out of our tent when we heard trees or branches cracking because we were worried something might fall on our tent. Our reasoning was that if we remained in our tent we would have no way to try and dodge a falling object. We moved to the edge of the lake that was upwind from as many trees as possible to reduce the risk of being hit by a tree and we remained alert looking up at the nearby trees so that we could try to avoid any branches or trees that broke off. We did not have to dodge any falling objects and nothing fell on our tent, but we were worried that this could happen. Every situation is different, but looking back we felt good about our decision to leave the tent and would certainly do that again if we ever encounter a similar storm. The one thing we would do differently is we would exit the tent even earlier.

Last night another thunderstorm rumbled through our camp. Because of last week’s storm we were acutely aware of its presence, but like hundreds of other storms we have listened to from our warm dry sleeping bags, it quickly passed and a damp rainfly was the storm's only reminder when we awoke in the morning. This article is not intended to scare you; our goal is to provide some tips that will help you have a safer and more enjoyable experience the next time you head into the Wilderness.

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. Read more: A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.



From The Freemans: Life In Front Of The Lens

Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Posted by
Amy Freeman

"One more time!" said a familiar voice from the clifftop. Dave and I found ourselves repeatedly hurtling off a small cliff into the deep, cool water of Cherokee Lake. On such a hot, sunny June day we probably would have been doing this activity anyway, but this time it was for the camera. Matt Van Biene was stationed on top, running behind us right up to the brink with his camera, while Nate Ptacek floated in a canoe below. A moment of exhilaration passed as we propelled ourselves out from the cliff face and we hit the water with a splash.

Once we shot up to the water surface and reoriented ourselves, we waited to hear the all too familiar phrase from Nate or Matt (or both): "That was great! Let's do it one more time." Someone would reposition as Dave and I clambered back up to the top. Then our three-second countdown and we launched ourselves into the air yet again. Once Nate and Matt were satisfied that all the angles of the jump had been covered, Dave and I would have kept jumping were it not for a looming blanket of gray clouds heading our way. Back in the canoes, we made our way back to our campsite on Long Island Lake.

Nate and Matt are the filmmakers we're working with throughout A Year in the Wilderness. Dave has been filming, too. Duct Tape Then Beer is going to produce a short film about our expedition, which is made possible by a grant from Patagonia. Our hope is that this film will amplify the impact of A Year in the Wilderness. In case anyone is wondering: yes, you do need a film permit from the Forest Service to film in Wilderness Areas and we have one.

This was Nate and Matt's third and final trip for this expedition. They had paddled with us in the fall and then plodded along on skis in the slush and below zero temperatures in the winter. What a contrast to be out here now in the warm sunshine, with all the deciduous trees fully leafed out and wildflowers blooming in the woods. Their fall shoot had been gray and stormy for the most part. The week they spent with us in February was actually the coldest week of the winter. When we were preparing for them to come this time around, we were all braced for rain and intense bugs. You can imagine our sense of relief on this glorious June day. The weather made all of our jobs just a bit easier.

I continue to be amazed by the way Nate and Matt work. Not only do they need to get all the shots on their shot list and hope the weather cooperates, but they have to paddle a canoe and portage along with us. It's remarkable to think about how video equipment has changed in the past 10 years. Sure, multiple camera bodies and lenses added weight to their packs, but Nate and Matt were by no means encumbered by their gear. Passing them on a portage or on the water, no one would know that their portage packs contained all the equipment needed for capturing astoundingly high quality and high-resolution footage.

We've learned a lot from these guys and I hope it shows in our footage that ends up in the finished product. Getting behind the lens has helped us see the Boundary Waters Wilderness in a whole new way. We've looked closely at intricate details of frost on tree branches and leaves floating on the water. We're continually seeking out new vantage points for various scenes. We're also enamored with the quality of light at sunrise and sunset.

Nate and Matt joined us for two sunrise paddles to capture the ethereal moment as a morning fog burned off and the sun rose higher in the sky. Since the summer solstice occurred while they were out here with us, we had several super early mornings. While camped on Snipe Lake, our alarms beeped at 4:45 a.m. Matt poked his head out of the tent to assess the conditions. He determined it was a go, so we all groggily emerged from our tents and launched our canoes. Although Tank is an early riser, this was still a couple hours before he would normally commence his daily patrol of the campsite. We called him and he sleepily blinked at us. By about the third call Tank knew we meant business, so he trotted down to the water's edge and assumed his position in the canoe.

There was indeed fog. There was a narrow passageway between two islands that we poised ourselves near, ready to pass through when the light was just right. Dave was anxious, declaring that the light was already amazing. Then it got better. Rays of sunlight streamed through the channel and Matt gave the signal to paddle. We silently glided across the water's glassy surface and marveled at how the light made the moss-covered rocks glow. This was well worth the early wake-up call. In fact, I've never seen Nate and Matt so excited before. A loon popped up on the surface of the water and the full moon still hadn't set behind us. What more could one ask for?

Moments like these will be forever etched in our memories. Moments like these make enduring the portages and the rain and the bugs all worth it. Moments like these are why so many people fall in love with the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Sigurd Olson called it the "Singing Wilderness" and this particular morning was the epitome of that concept. The Wilderness was indeed singing a sweet song and all of us floating in our two canoes felt honored to have the opportunity to hear it. And this is why we are compelled to stand up for the Wilderness. If you have heard its song too-- or if you haven't yet, but want to hear it someday-- please speak up in its defense. Your voice is needed now more than ever. Please sign the petition to deny the Twin Metals leases. You have until July 20 to do so. If you are able, please go to Duluth on July 13 to speak up for the Boundary Waters. If you need a little dose of Wilderness right now, check out the Paddle to DC video made by Nate and the Bear Witness trailer made by Duct Tape Then Beer:

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.


Resupply Report: Water, Woods & Wonder

Thursday, June 30, 2016
Posted by
Greg Braun

Our early June visit to Dave and Amy Freeman's Year in the Wilderness on Horseshoe Lake was one of the clearest reminders to our group of why the watershed in the Boundary Waters is such a unique and valuable supporter and sustainer of life. Clean water anywhere makes sense, and especially here!

We were taught the ways of the dragonfly nymph and how it spends so much of its life in water. We saw the mink along the shoreline and witnessed how this habitat is really its home. The water bugs were busy and the black flies were hatching while the nighthawks were attracted to their feast. We heard of the mom and baby moose around the way that came to the water to eat the aquatic plants. 

How is all this life to be supported in this place without clean water?

Our group of four came in with several goals in mind - accomplish the resupply; introduce two younger people (my daughter and nephew) to their first overnight Boundary Waters trip; and, for my cousin and I (prior Boundary waters tripmates), to “remember what silence sounds like."

We accomplished the main objective of getting the resupply pack to Dave and Amy on the first night safely (along with a burger and fries for each from Trail Center)! From there we witnessed the many sights and sounds of the dragonfly, mink, water bugs, black flies, birds, beavers, geese and many other forms of life that reminded us of the life the clean water, woods, and air supports.

We are always reminded at least once per trip that we are visitors here and it is their home. That moment occurred after our few nights with Dave and Amy when we had moved on to Caribou Lake for our last night and returned to our campsite from our day trip to Meeds Lake chased back by a bit of rain. The night was active with an on and off shower - we kept a fire going through it all with logs on top of the fire grate. Then, all in a matter of minutes it seemed after the shower came and went and chased us in and back out of our tent ... the double rainbow from end to end, the excited beaver passing along the shore, the large groups of Canadian Geese flying overhead, and back to the hope and awe of the fading rainbow.
This flurry of activity reminded us of the watershed, the new rain, and what the clean water supports -- It matters greatly. We know that each moment that we get to experience here is something to treasure and also know they are fleeting. We wondered if Dave and Amy had seen the rainbow at their new campsite. So many experiences in this amazing wilderness are frozen in a short moment or two at the right place and right time - you don’t ever see or experience it all and what you missed someone else may have experienced around the way, but you are always reminded clearly that this is home to so many forms of life.

The grassroots effort going on to forever protect this life supporting and sustaining watershed matters to keep this place a home to so many and help us keep our lives in proper perspective. Thanks to everyone who is making a difference to this end!

As we ended our trip, my daughter knew she would come again, my nephew crossed this item off his bucket list, and my cousin and I for sure “remembered what silence sounds like, "but most importantly we dipped our paddles in that water, and we saw the universal sign of hope that it will remain the clear, untarnished life-sustaining watershed it needs to be forever.

Greg Braun lives in Mason City, Iowa, with his wife and four daughters. He loves visiting the Boundary Waters with his family and believes in the power of the Wilderness to reduce stress and increase perspective. Greg is the CFO of Opportunity Village -- a private, non-profit disability services provider located in Clear Lake, Iowa. He became interested in conservation as an adult and has taken trips to the Boundary Waters for nearly ten years. Previously, Greg served on the board of Lime Creek Nature Center Foundation and has a strong interest in the life and work of Sigurd Olson.


From the Freemans: A Day In the Life

Friday, June 17, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

I think people often wonder what we do out here in the Wilderness. This blog post walks you through a typical day during A Year in the Wilderness. Our days are varied and there is always plenty to do. What's the weather like? Is it just Amy and me, or do we have visitors? Are we headed out on a long day trip, packing up camp and moving to a new lake, or spending the day close to home? Well, today we are staying close to our campsite.

By 5:30 a.m. the chickadees and white-throated sparrows are singing and the sun is beginning to light up the land. This is when I typically wake up. If an idea pops into my head, or I have something pressing I need to finish writing, I quietly get up, trying to let Amy sleep. If there is nothing urgent to dom I often lay in bed listening to the birds and the wind until Amy's watch alarm beeps at 6:30 a.m.

Once I am up and dressed, I grab my Helinox chair and iPad and leave the tent. Down by the water's edge I fill our pot and set up our BioLite stove. I grab the tiny, dry kindling I set aside the night before and build a small fire in the BioLite. While waiting for the water to boil, I take some photos and video if the light is good, or answer emails, edit photos, or work on a piece we will share on social media. I take a break every few minutes to place a few more tiny pieces of wood into the stove. I enjoy this quiet time when I am alone in the morning. It is a good time for me to jot down ideas and elaborate on things that floated through my head as I lay awake listening to nature. Once the water is boiled, I make a cup of coffee for myself. Once I hear Amy rustling in the tent, I brew a cup for her. While sipping my coffee, I add a cup of grits and several cups of hot water to our Fry-Bake, and put it on the stove to simmer for 15 minutes. I watch a pair of loons feeding off our campsite as I sip my Stone Creek Coffee and tend to the grits. Butter and cheese finish off the grits and Amy emerges from the tent to enjoy coffee and grits with me.

After breakfast, Amy cleans our bowls and the Fry-Bake while I set up the solar panels and the satellite terminal. Amy finishes the dishes as I finish sending and receiving email and packing up the satellite terminal. We sit by the lake and make a list of the things we hope to accomplish today. We have had a lot of visitors lately so there are a few things we need to catch up on.

Amy finds a nice spot in the sun and spends most of the morning catching up on her journal. It is supposed to be sunny and our batteries are nearly all charged, so I turn on our laptop and spend an hour backing up photo and video files on our external hard drives and importing them into our media catalogue. Afterwards I work on blog post for National Geographic Adventure and finish up our daily social media post. After Amy finishes writing in her journal she edits and proofreads everything I have written.

By now it is lunchtime, so we take a break to cook some Patagonia Provisions Tsampa Soup and quesadillas. We munch of GORP and Clif Bars while the food cooks. After lunch, Amy uses the Scrubba, which is like a combination drybag/washboard to wash some of her clothes. She squeezes a few drops of biodegradable soap into the Scrubba and places a T-shirt, two pairs of underwear, and a pair of socks into the bag. Then she pours several liters of lake water into the bag, seals it, and kneads it like bread dough for about five minutes. She then walks at least 150-feet back into the woods to dump the dirty water. She repeats this process two more times without adding soap to finish cleaning and rinsing her laundry before hanging everything out to dry.

While she is doing laundry, I set up the satellite terminal and email the blog post and social media content so that it can be published on the web. After Amy is done I take a turn doing a small load of laundry, which will dry in the afternoon sun that is baking our campsite.

We haven't done any water testing on Snipe Lake yet, so in the afternoon we launch our canoe and paddle to the deepest part of the lake. Snipe Lake is over 60-feet deep so it takes us over half an hour to take measurements at 1-meter increments from the surface to the bottom. Amy lowers the probe and records all of the data while I mark our location with our DeLorme InReach and work to keep the canoe from drifting off our mark. We are measuring dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity and turbidity. When the lake is perfectly calm, it is easy to hold our position. Unfortunately, today a stiff wind is blowing so staying in place requires constant adjustments. On lakes less than 40 feet deep we can use an anchor bag with a rock in it to hold us in place, which makes collecting data much easier.

After we finish take measurements, we spend a few minutes paddling around the lake and pull over along shore to gather some firewood. Our BioLite stove only requires a few handfuls of wood per meal, but we prefer to gather our firewood well away from campsites. When we find an easy place to land we just walk back into the woods until we are out of sight from the shoreline and gather the firewood we need.

After we return to camp, Amy inventories our food and supplies while I answer a few emails. After she has a list of the food we have, we compile a list of the food and supplies that we will need brought in by a group of volunteers in about a week. It's about 5 the time our list is complete so we take a break before making dinner. Amy reads while I take a few photos and a few casts. Instead of snagging a bass, I snag a log, so I place my rod down, launch the canoe, and paddle out to unsnag my lure.

Around 6:30 p.m. we light a fire in our BioLite stove and boil water for dinner. After the water boils, I fill Amy's coffee cup with hot water, which will be used for washing dishes. Then Amy adds lentils and wild rice to the pot and lets it simmer for 10 minutes. Then she adds a handful of dehydrated veggies and lets our dinner simmer for another 20 or 30 minutes.

It's still light at 8 p.m. when we finish dinner. We enjoy the cooler evening air, sitting by the lake. The sun casts a golden glow over our camp so I take a few photos while Amy washes our dishes. A gentle breeze blows across the rocky point where we are camped, keeping the bugs at bay. We sit on the end of the point relaxing and talking about the day before retiring to our tent.

My eyes are closed before it is dark enough to need a headlamp on a June evening in the Boundary Waters. Amy will stay up for another hour reading before switching off her headlamp and calling it a day.

Tank has spent the day napping, moving from shady spot to shady spot as the sun slid across the sky. He became active when the rustling of bags signaled meal time, but mostly he was content to sleep in the shade. Since it is a clear night he is curled up under a tree not far from our tent. If it was raining he would be curled up next to us in the tent, but he seems to prefer to be outside on clear nights.

So that's a pretty typical "rest day" during A Year in the Wilderness. Not much traveling, but still plenty to do and see. Probably a little different than the average Wilderness visitor's day, but a typical day for us during A Year in the Wilderness. We are out here bearing witness to this very special place and working to protect it from Twin Metals and other proposed sulfide-ore copper mines that threaten this maze of Wilderness lakes and rivers. Please join us in our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters.

We are so excited about the announcement the U.S. Forest Service made on Monday. The U.S. Forest Service is "considering withholding consent for lease renewal" of Twin Metals leases. This would be a huge step forward in our efforts to permanently protect the watershed of this beloved canoe country.

Please urge the Forest Service to deny those leases! Speak up today! Share this with your friends, family, and neighbors and urge them to take action as well.

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.


From the Freemans: Metamorphosis

Thursday, June 2, 2016
Posted by
Amy Freeman

While camped on Horseshoe Lake, we prepared to accompany our latest resupply crew to the portage to Gaskin Lake and noticed several dark shapes attached to our canoe. At first glance, it was obvious that they were dragonflies. Someone asked what they were eating and it was apparent that the insects had latched onto something. Upon closer inspection, we realized that they had recently undergone metamorphosis. They emerged from their nymph exoskeletons and were hanging off of our canoes, drying out and stretching their wings.

Suddenly, everyone was engrossed– taking pictures and delicately transplanting these bizarre creatures in their vulnerable state from the sides of the canoe to nearby rocks and vegetation. While Michelle, J.B., Jessica, Tim, Katie, Denny, Dave and I are adults, we were all acting like kids as we marveled at one of nature's many little miracles. The only kid in the bunch, ten month old Jasper– our youngest overnight visitor, was also transfixed.

Over the next few days we watched this process unfold multiple times, from the moment when the dragonfly first pops its head out of its old body, to the moment when it takes flight for the first time. Every summer I rejoice when I spot the first dragonflies flying around, because I know that they will eat some of those pesky black flies that leave such a vicious, itchy bite. The past 48 hours have given me new respect for dragonflies. According to this article in Smithsonian Magazine: "A single dragonfly can eat 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day."

A dragonfly spends most of its life in nymph form, creeping along on the lake bottom. Many species of dragonfly spend several years living as nymphs. We have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see these primordial looking creatures emerge from the water, crawl across the forest floor and then in an upward direction. "They look like little monsters," was one observation. These dragonfly nymphs are large– and they would play the part of scary alien invaders in a sci-fi movie well if they were closer to us in size.

We've found that they settle in a spot with a slight overhang, firmly latched on, so that their new bodies can take advantage of gravity. This is why the side of our overturned Wenonah Itasca canoe was an optimal surface. We've also spotted them on the trunks of cedar trees, balsam branches, rocks, and the guy lines for our Cooke Custom Sewing Lean shelter.

First the head and legs emerge. It may shift position a little to get in the optimal spot to allow its wings to hang down. The wings are barely noticeable at first, plastered to its body. Slowly they appear to grow. The dragonfly's abdomen appears to grow too, because it emerges wide and stubby, but slowly lengthens and narrows. Eventually the dragonfly spreads its wings for some final drying in the sun and breeze. You might miss the moment when it takes flight if you're not looking carefully.

Just today, as Dave and I were returning to Horseshoe from Vista Lake, we were hugging shore due to the significant east wind. I caught a glimpse of a large brown body several yards ahead and controlled my excitement enough to whisper to Dave, "there's a moose ahead." We veered out from shore a little and were able to watch a mother moose and calf wading in the water. The mother was engrossed in munching on aquatic vegetation, stocking up on necessary nutrients to feed her young one, as we silently glided by.

What does one the BWCAW's biggest creatures have in common with one of its smallest? Both the moose and the dragonflies depend on clean water for their survival. While a dragonfly spends most of its life in the water, a moose depends on the plants that grow in the water as a food source. Although most humans inhabit cities and towns–-and are quite oblivious to the source of our drinking water beyond knowing it flows out of the kitchen sink–-we need this clean water just as much as the moose and the dragonflies.

We're pretty darn fortunate that this vast tract of wilderness–-a 1.1 million acre landscape that is effectively half land and half water–-remains unpolluted. How about we keep it that way? Mining for copper in a sulfide ore body along the edge of the BWCAW is simply not an activity that is compatible with this water-rich environment. If you feel the same, join the movement. Please take a moment to sign the petition. Be sure to let your local elected officials know how you feel. And if you have a favorite Boundary Waters moment, feel free to share it here

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.


Resupply Report: Dream Come True

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Posted by
Helen Clanaugh

I am one lucky person. In May, I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet two of my heros, Amy and Dave Freeman, who are spending a Year in the Wilderness to help protect the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is a place for me where I can just let everything go for a bit and enjoy life to its fullest. I had been following the Freeman's journey since day one and it was unbelievable to experience it firsthand.

On the first day of our Boundary Waters journey, it wasn't quite all sunshine and roses, it was more like snow showers and wind gusts. When I got up in the morning, I thought to myself, ”wow this is really happening, I get to meet the people i've been dying to meet since the beginning of their epic journey.” Finally, we got on the road after all of the hard work of getting packed. We stopped at Kwik Trip to get some gas and of course our favorite donuts. The journey had begun. The drive up the North Shore was nice, and I knew it was going to be a great trip.

After getting our permits from the Tofte Ranger Station, it was BWCA or bust. The first portage of our trip came up quick. My dad and I skipped the first rapids, but after Kelly Lake we decided to save ourselves 15 minutes by going right through the rapids.

The Freemans campsite was so close we could feel it. Once we arrived, we talked for a while, and got started setting up before it started to snow. We all went inside the Freemans tipi tent and I couldn’t wait to eat. For dinner we cooked steak, pasta and stir fry. After dinner we just chilled for a while, and then some guys from Frost River came over to our campsite to hang out. We all talked in the tent listening to the wind howling and snow falling outside. It wasn’t until late that the guys went back to their campsite. We gathered outside for a group picture in the snow and then they were on their way. It was a very cold night. Day one was great, and I hoped day two would have many fun-filled adventures as well.

The second day was again very cold. We decided to stay at camp and have a relaxing day. The smell of coffee and fire burning filled the tipi tent, it was very nice. For breakfast Amy cooked some dehydrated eggs and vegetables. She added the leftover steak to the eggs and that sure added some good flavor. We relaxed for a pretty long time and it sure felt good to contemplate life in one of the most precious places in the world.

I decided to entertain myself by going on paddles with Dave and Don. At one campsite we visited, there were a few black-capped chickadees and chipmunks, and I got really close to the chipmunk. As we paddled back, some heavy winds started to pick up, and it made it pretty difficult to steer the canoe. Our afternoon paddle was quite windy in some spots and very calm in others, which made for an interesting trip. On the way back there was a beautiful loon. We paddled right up to it, and I got some great pictures. We took our time getting back to the campsite, because the weather was so nice.

When we arrived back at camp, Tank was very excited. I helped chop some wood, and that made my hands very cold. Amy started cooking dehydrated stir fry and rice for dinner. I had never had much dehydrated food before this trip, and it was actually quite good. After dinner we were all gathered in the tent around a nice fire. We heard a saw-whet owl that had been making a constant noise searching for a mate for quite a while. We crawled into our cold tent, and I feel asleep pretty fast.

On my final full day in the wilderness, I was finally able to hop out of our tent and not sprint straight to Amy and Dave’s warm tipi tent. It was still pretty cold, but the sun was shining over the lake nicely. I could sense it was going to be a nice day. My dad and I made some blueberry pancakes on the griddle and they were delicious. Later, all of us headed out on a day trip. I was very excited to paddle with Tank and Amy. We visited Jack and Weird Lakes and we explored the Vern River. When we got to the first portage, Amy asked if I wanted to portage the canoe. At first I was kind of skeptical, because I had never actually portaged one before. I had always let my dad do the heavy lifting. Also, that thing was huge, but with Amy’s encouragement I tried it and it was awesome.

After that we paddled to a nearby campsite to stop for some lunch. The site had been occupied not too long ago, and there was a lot of trash left behind and the fire was still smoking a bit, which is not the way you should leave a campsite. After lunch, we all picked up the trash and Amy put the fire out with her water bottle. It was so nice to be in the wilderness taking a break from my everyday school life.

We took the 10-rod portage into Weird Lake, making plenty of weird jokes. The Vern River was a very cool place and I’m so glad I got to paddle up it. On our way back to camp some sprinkles started to fall.

The closer we got to camp, the harder it rained. I put on some dry clothes on and found myself right back in the tipi tent. For dinner we made a nice vegetable and meat stew that had carrots, potatoes, onions and an array of spices. Tank was very happy to join us in the tent and he also enjoyed licking the pan before it was washed. We gathered around the warm wood stove and listened to the steady rain while enjoying each other’s company. It was very difficult for me to leave the wilderness the next day.

Thank you so much, Amy and Dave, for having me, Don, and my dad, you guys are truly an inspiration. I’m so honored to have met Amy and Dave and I can’t wait to be back. We have to keep working to save this national treasure from these horrible mining threats towards the BWCA wilderness. My hope is that by spreading awareness about this majestic place, the younger generation will want to #SavetheBWCA.

Helen Clanaugh is a 14-year-old from Duluth, Minnesota. She attends North Star Academy. This was Helen's second BWCA trip, but she plans to go back for a third time this summer. Helen enjoys playing basketball and being outdoors.




From The Freemans: That Squiggly Line Is Our Route

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

Take a look at our DeLorme Map above. It is probably hard to tell if there is any rhyme or reason to the line, which starts to looks like a bowl of spaghetti. People often ask us how we decide where to go during A Year in the Wilderness. In this blog post, I will try to explain some of the factors that help us plan our route.

We spent most of winter in the greater Ely area. We did this for several reasons. First, the logistics associated with organizing our resupplies in the winter were more complicated due of the added skill and specialized clothing and equipment necessary for our visitors to safely travel in the winter woods. Amy and I have led dogsledding trips for Paul and Sue Schurke at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge for many years. Paul and many of the folks at Wintergreen used their dog teams and winter skills to assist with the resupplies, bringing many people out to visit us. For many of our winter resupply volunteers, it was their first time visiting the Boundary Waters Wilderness in the winter. Bert and Johnnie Hyde, Bobby Shusta, Elton Brown, Jason Zabokrtsky and many other area residents also donated their time and efforts to organize and lead these resupplies, and of course Levi at Sustainable Ely was in the thick of it all, helping to organize volunteers and to purchase, pack and ready all our food and supplies. A large number of volunteers with varying skills were needed for the winter resupplies and we are very thankful that so many people stepped up to assist.

As it turns out, this winter was a warm one! The lakes froze several weeks later than normal and many bogs, creeks and streams did not freeze solid until well into February. The weather created abnormal travel condition so a few places that we had planned to explore in the winter we had to avoid because of the unusually warm conditions.

Now that the canoe season has started in earnest, we are traveling east into territory we have not visited during the first seven months of our Year in the Wilderness. Our resupplies between now and the middle of July will be brought in by groups of volunteers from entry points scattered throughout the eastern half of the Wilderness. Then we will head west again and spend our final months exploring the far western side of the Wilderness. We have visited 217 different lakes, rivers, and creeks during the first 231 days of A Year in the Wilderness. We are hoping to visit at least 500 different bodies of water. As we plan our route for our final four and a half months in the Wilderness we are trying to visit as many new lakes as we can.

Visitors are another factor that we consider when we are choosing our route. Beside standard resupplies, which come in approximately every two weeks, we have groups of friends, family, reporters and other people who are coming into the Wilderness to meet up with us. All visitors much have their own permit, so plan our schedule to be near the entry point where they will enter the Wilderness so we can greet them.

Our route planning has been pretty loose; we have been going with the flow. As we visit more and more lakes, we will have to think more strategically about our specific route. One overarching routing question that we have been pondering is: Should we visit the Gunflint section and the Trout Lake section of the Wilderness?

The Boundary Waters Wilderness is broken up into three sections. The main section is approximately 800,000 acres. The Gunflint and Trout Lake sections are each about 100,000 acres. To enter the Gunflint section we would have to leave the Wilderness and paddle for about 10 miles across Gunflint Lake. Then, after spending about 10 days visiting the Wilderness north of the Gunflint Trail, we would paddle back across Gunflint Lake and return to the main body of the Wilderness. To access the Trout Lake section we would have to leave the Wilderness for a couple miles and portage across the Echo Trail as we enter and then exit the Trout Lake section. There are specific travel routes that allow you to travel from one section to another without needing to obtain a new permit as long as you follow a few basic rules like not spending the night outside the Wilderness and not obtaining food or supplies while crossing from one section to the other.

We are trying to decide if we should remain in the main section for the whole year, or if we should travel to the Gunflint and Trout Lake sections. The Wilderness north of the Gunflint Trail is rugged and beautiful, and Amy and I have never visited the Trout Lake section, so there is appeal to visiting both. However, there is a part of us that doesn't want to cross a road, or leave the Wilderness even for a couple hours. If we do not visit the Gunflint and Trout Lake areas we would not be able to see as much country and visit as many lakes, but we would have more time to explore smaller lakes and streams that are off of the main travel routes. These smaller lakes are not linked by portages and you often have to crash through the forest, slog through bogs, and climb over beaver dams to visit these hidden gems.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Send us a message on Instagram or Facebook, or email

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.

Resupply Report: A Throwback to Winter

Thursday, May 5, 2016
Posted by
Dave Caliebe

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.