BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 19 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
September 18, 2008
Number of Days:
Thursday afternoon, I was so excited to be traveling down the Sawbill Trail. As we twisted around the trail, I was very surprised to see a moose on the road! I stammered to my five year old, Dani, & she saw him before he jumped into the brush & was astonished. She has never seen a moose in the wild (neither had I). What a great way to start a trip!
It was too late for us to go out to a campsite, so we set up camp at Sawbill Campground & paddled around Sawbill Lake. I shed a few tears pushing off into that beautiful, clear water looking off into the wilderness. It was like coming home again.
I had decided on the way up that this trip was about Dani having fun, not covering a certain amount of ground or proving something to myself. When I follow my kids' lead without an agenda, I generally have more fun anyway. Although I wanted to paddle straight up the lake as far as we could before dark, Dani decided she wanted to get out of the canoe & explore each island, so we did & had a ton of fun doing that. There is something spiritual that happens when you move on “kid time”. It was a beautiful evening as we canoed back to shore. That evening, we ate a late supper, cleaned up, played cards & Dani fell asleep shortly after climbing into the tent.
The next morning, we broke camp, and loaded the canoe. I had initially planned to head to Flame Lake, but I was not quite sure of myself alone. I felt a little apprehensive being too far away from people with Dani. So, we paddled around Sawbill Lake all morning. Dani sat facing me in her little beach chair as I paddled, so we talked, sang, and played some word games. I enjoyed gazing at the clouds & the water. I have been amazed that looking at the clouds in the Boundary Waters takes me back to my childhood.
Early afternoon, we set up at a campsite on Sawbill Lake. Dani likes to help, so we had a nice time putting up camp. When it came to hanging the bear ropes, I grew a little frustrated. We were in an area where it was mostly pines with lots of little branches & I had only done this once before. I felt a little anxiety creeping in & those voices of doubt talking. After I missed about six throws, I started to doubt my abilities, in general, & feel a little paranoid about bears in the night. As I went to throw the rope again, I stopped myself & thought, “I better nip this mood in the bud right now”. I looked into the sky & said a little prayer to Whatever is out there. Right at the moment I finished, an eagle soared directly over my head moving to the North. I was rather flabbergasted at the timing & it made me feel much better. I did not feel so alone & frustrated. I tried again, with resolve, & hit my intended mark. Whew! It was a relief & a good mood booster.
That evening, Dani & I played cards by the water. It was ideal weather & the water lapping at the shore was serene. I saw some thunder heads forming to the North. I watched them for awhile & guesstimated that we would be on the fringes of the storm. I let Dani know it might storm during the night but we would be okay in the tent. For a moment she did not like this idea, but then, in total trust, she said, “Okay Mom.” For some reason, her complete & innocent trust in me made me a little anxious about the storm, which of course I could not totally protect her from. We did get some thunder & lightning as we snuggled in our tent but it was very peaceful. We sang some songs & she soon drifted off to sleep. I had some rare total alone time listening to the storm rumble through, holding Dani in my arms. That was a special time I will not forget. Special because it was so cool to fall asleep holding her, but also special for the second half of the night.
I must have had a nightmare, because I woke up quickly in the middle of the night totally out of sorts. I spent about an hour and half wrestling some demons of grief over my two brothers who passed away. I have found sometimes in total solitude, with no distractions, feelings spring up that we thought we laid to rest. At first I tried to fight it off & felt almost a little panicky, but then I just relaxed and let the feelings go. It seemed like I was in this novel I had to read in Middle School, where the main character goes through some surreal night wrestling with all his inner fears come to life. I finally drifted back to sleep & strangely enough awoke feeling better than I have in a long time about their deaths. I still cannot figure that one out.
The next morning we were awakened by some noisy Jays & something, probably fish, splashing in the water. It was chilly, so we bundled up & made a hot breakfast. It felt good to see the food pack still hanging. I made a VERY strong cup of coffee & it made me feel really good. After breakfast we went down by the water & any funky feelings I had totally disappeared. A few people in canoes came by, which Dani, my social butterfly, loved! She loved waving & saying ‘hi’ to them. We brushed our hair & had matching ponytails. As we played in the water, Dani looked at me and said, “We are SO like twins, Mom”. Geesh, talk about tugging my heartstrings!
We packed up & headed for the portage to Smoke Lake. She wanted to island hop again, so I let her. She had on all her warm clothes & her warm boots. She slipped on a rock & fell in the water, so I instantly felt silly for letting her play on the rocks in all her warm clothes. She started crying, but I told her all we need is a band-aid, a hug & a treat. At the portage, we got her in some dry clothes & I fixed her up with a band-aid & a treat. She reminded me that I forgot her hug, which was so cute. But she still was not too sure about the whole trip at that point. We decided to simply hike the portage trail (she loves to hike) & leave our gear until she decided what she wanted to do.
So we set off to find Smoke Lake. At the other side of the portage trail, as I stood on the boardwalk & looked off into Smoke Lake, I had a moment of wanderlust come over me. For a moment, I was really sad that I was not with a group taking off for multiple days. Then, Dani yelled, “Mom, how did a little red M & M get all the way out here!”. I turned to see her hovering over a crushed M & M on the boardwalk in total amazement. I had a moment of realization that someday I would be standing on this boardwalk going out with a group, missing my little Dani. We had lots of fun hiking the portage trail & exploring some things in the woods. We passed a man on a solo trip & visited with him awhile. It was nice to talk to another adult! It is amazing how quickly your confidence returns after chatting awhile with another human being.
We paddled out to the end of Sawbill Lake in almost total calm. The water was so still it was hypnotic-breathtakingly beautiful. On the way back, the wind picked up & it was challenging & fun. I feel very intimate with the Independence in the wind. I spent a lot of hours getting to know that canoe.
I decided to camp at our same campsite for the night, since I could not muster the courage to take off for Flame, but Dani informed that she missed Homer (the dog at Sawbill) & wanted to talk to the people at Sawbill. I did not want to return to the campground because of noise, but I was feeling a little lonely. So, we headed back to Sawbill Campground. In retrospect this was a good idea, because it dipped into the 30's that night & she might have been cold (I had some Pendleton blankets in the car). Homer greeted us when we returned, which made Dani very happy. The morning arrived, crisp & cold. We bundled up & hiked the trails looking for some kindling. Fall seemed to have arrived overnight! It was a magical morning as we paddled Sawbill & hiked the trails. The temperature was invigorating. A light rain made everything seem very Fall-ish & delicious.
I felt a grief at having to leave Sawbill, so Dani & I had a formal “good-bye to Sawbill" down by the water. I touched that crystal water & comforted myself that I would be back again. Dani sat on my lap for awhile & we looked at the water & talked about our favorite parts of the trip. I knew she had a great time, so I felt very happy. And, now, even after returning home, she is still talking about seeing that moose!