One day last year, amidst the shitstorm of a job and life I was living in the city of Chicago, I IM'd my buddy, Josh and told him that I needed another trip to the Boundary Waters. I wanted to check out from technology, humans, the city, insanity, everything.
A trip to the Boundary Waters, a complete wilderness area absent of all civilization, modern conveniences, and man made structure seemed like exactly what I needed. This is a place where canoes and feet are the only modes of transportation, paper topographic maps are the only way to navigate, and you only take what you can carry. There are no cell phone towers, electricity, roads, running water, man made structure, and minimal human contact. In short, you treat a trip to the boundary waters like a trip to a deserted island… except, unlike a deserted island, you can actually drink the water.
So anyway, Josh was in, he booked the trip and we finally got to go this month.
Here's how it went.
We drove up to the edge of the BWCA with various stops along the way to pick up fellow paddlers and gear. Once getting into the Superior National Forest, we setup camp with Josh's sister Chelsea, who'd helped us with planning, shuttling vehicles, etc. We then got dinner at a local lodge and came back to camp to look at the crazy bright sky while making s'mores with some of Chelsea's outstanding homemade fudge.
A couple quick rules about trips with Josh's crew are: 1, no watches. Everything is done by biological clocks, the sun, and ultimately how we're all feeling. 2, every morning after getting everyone into their canoes, we collectively "take 5 minutes" to just sit, look, listen, and appreciate the silence of the wilderness.
So we put our canoes in, took our first 5 minutes of silence, and then paddled across Brule Lake until we found a super nice camp site on the peninsula of an island and decided to stick around. After setting up camp, we hid from a couple short rain showers, played cards, fished, then watched the sunset, moonset, shooting stars, and some crazy lightning way off in the distance.
It's amazing how much more observant you are about weather, astrology, etc while in the wilderness.
We decided to stick around and base camp at Brule Lake for another day while dodging a couple more rain showers. Most of the day was spent goofing around: playing cards, Super Tic-Tac-Toe, making fire, hiking, fishing, and wading around the freezing cold lake water.
We packed up, portaged and paddled across 4 lakes and a marsh until reaching the beautiful Winchell Lake. Here, we found another rad campsite located on a big staircased rock peninsula with tent sites tucked back in the trees. So we setup camp and goofed around until crashing for the coldest night of the trip.
So far, this had been the coldest trip that many of us had been on. We all wore long sleeves and jackets pretty much the entire time, sleeping fully clothed in our bags, etc. Tuesday night though, we added stocking caps and hoodies and still froze. ... and later, we found out it got down to 38°F.
We thawed out as we got into our first sunny day and decided to base camp so we could putz around the lake: fishing, exploring, hiking, swimming, collecting berries, and playing more cards. Half of us hiked to the top of a cliff and then searched for and found a waterfall that we'd suspected was there based on our topo maps.
This was easily one of the best days of the trip. It's amazing how the sun and heat improve your mood after a few chilly, overcast days in the wilderness.
We packed up camp and moved on to Gaskin Lake where we found another really cool peninsula site with huge trees and a staircase. After setting up camp, we ate lunch, swam, fished, and enjoyed another beautiful day on the lake. I took the solo, kayak style, canoe out for a while and putzed around while fishing. I had a few bites, got a couple lures stolen by northerns, and realized that I am terrible at fishing. Josh, on the other hand, was catching northerns, which we later fried and ate up.
Our last full day wound up being the nicest with the warmest night of sleep yet. It was great.
We packed up, paddled, and portaged to our exit point at the Windigo Lodge along the Gunflint Trail. As soon as we half-entered civilization we ordered pizza, pitchers of Mountain Dew and beer, showered, and relaxed around the lodge.
That night, we got to sleep on mattresses before making the long journey south.
Despite some cold weather this was an amazing trip and exactly the escape I needed. The dudes I camped with were great. I learned a ton from Paul, got a lot of good laughs from Curt, and had a great time with all of the other dudes I'd camped with before.
Leaving the wilderness, even after a short week is always such a culture shock. Even though everything seems to move crazy fast out here, I still feel a thousand times more relaxed than I was when I went in.
This is a great feeling. The exact feeling I was looking for when hitting up Josh last year.