BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 03 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 17
Elevation: 1184 feet
Saganaga Lake - 55
Where The Loons Never Left Us: Saganaga to Seagull June 2013
June 26, 2013
Seagull Lake (54)
Number of Days:
It was a normal day, one of those days where nothing was going wrong. The sun was shining, which in Washington state is always a welcome sight. I was making progress on my school work and was headed downstairs to the library. I don’t remember what I was going to get. I am Joseph Pates, and I live in Steilacoom, a small town south of Tacoma, Washington, with my family. I descended the stairs to the basement and was headed to the book case when all of a sudden, out of the blue, a thought struck my mind. “Why don’t you take a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters?” For that thought to make sense, I need to explain a couple of things.
Both of my parents were born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where my grandparents and most of my family still lived. At the time of this event, my mother’s dad had been retired from his job as a school teacher for about twelve years. Back in the 1970s when he was just starting his career, a colleague of his had the bright idea of starting a summer school course called “Growing Inside, Outside.” This course involved taking a group of students up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the northeastern corner of Minnesota. Just in case you haven’t heard of it, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is located in northeast Minnesota and consists of a million acres of lakes and virgin forest. In days gone by, the fur trapping industry used portions of the Boundary Waters to bring their precious cargoes of fur to trading posts. After fires and logging had taken their toll on some areas, and industrialization began to threaten the wilderness, some faithful conservationists succeeded in convincing the federal government to designate the Boundary Waters a nationally recognized wilderness. Today, people from all over the world come to paddle the Boundary Waters. Many of the lakes are connected to each other by rough trails through the forest called portages. Most of these lakes are paddle only, with no motorboat access. Paddling is most often the only way to reach these secluded lakes.
My grandpa helped teach this summer school course for five years. This involved taking two groups of students to the Boundary Waters each summer. A three week training period would precede the trip where the students would learn wilderness skills and build up their physical strength and stamina with exercise. Then, the group would drive about six hours north from Minneapolis to the BWCA, which is right up on the Minnesota-Canada border. Once they had received their supplies from their outfitter, each group would spend five days traveling from lake to lake, carrying all their equipment, and learning basic wilderness skills and teamwork. Years after his time teaching in this role, Grandpa also took two trips with my mother and uncle and friends.
Eventually, Grandpa retired from a thirty-four year teaching career, and in his retirement began writing books that told the story of his life. The second book he wrote was called Growing Inside Outside, and was about his years of canoeing in the wilderness as he taught the summer school course of the same name. He took experiences and students from over the five years and, with the help of a friend, wove them all together into a story of adventure that I had read and enjoyed since I was a little boy. My grandpa is one of my closest friends. He and I share a common love of the outdoors. For many years, we had talked about potentially going on a canoe trip, but no one had ever seriously pursued the vision.
All of this to set up for the day the big question popped into my mind. “Why don’t you take a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters?” My first thought was Grandpa. He had just turned seventy-one years old and, although in excellent health and good physical shape, had survived a stroke and a bout of colon cancer. He is not the spring chicken he used to be, although his positive attitude more than makes up for his white hair. For this reason, I responded to myself, “No, I don’t know if Grandpa could do it. What about his health?” My mind surprised me with the answer. “Yes, he can do it. He’s in great shape! Come on, man. Don’t you really want to go and experience it with him now, while he’s still healthy?”
My wheels were working now. Suddenly, all of my mental resistance broke down. I almost cannot explain how it happened. I went from my years of saying “no way” to wanting this trip almost more than I had ever wanted anything. I was no longer satisfied with reading about it. I wanted to experience it! I returned to my work and my life, but the thought kept popping into my head. It just wouldn’t leave. As I processed it more, I realized that the trip would be a meaningful gift that Grandpa could give to me, perhaps to commemorate my eighteenth birthday or high school graduation. But was this still a good idea?
Sharing the Vision
I kept my vision to myself for a few weeks before sharing it with my mother, who along with my father is the springboard for my most important ideas. I wanted to share the idea with several other people before bringing it to Grandpa. Dad was on call, and I was keeping Mom company while she worked at her desk. “Mom, I need you to hear me out on an idea that’s been mulling around in my mind for a while,” I began leaning back in my chair. She looked at me and nodded. “A really interesting idea struck my head the other day. I’m thinking about taking a trip to the Boundary Waters with Grandpa next summer.” “Really?” “Yes. When the thought came to my mind, my first thought was Grandpa’s health. However, I know he could still do it.” “Totally.” “Besides that, I realized that God is sovereign, and that He has foreordained all of Grandpa’s days.” “Absolutely correct. Besides, if he did die, could the Lord pick a better place for the man to die?” Mom exclaimed. “I thought we could take along some other people and do the same route that Grandpa wrote about in Growing Inside Outside. I’m doing this because I really want to experience the Boundary Waters with Grandpa before his age doesn’t allow him to come along. I think it would be a meaningful gift that Grandpa could give to me, and I feel like this trip would be a real blessing for him. Do you think I should go for it?” I asked. “Absolutely!” she said. “Go for it!” Mom had been to the Boundary Waters with Grandpa and knew the challenges we’d face. We talked for a while longer about various matters of the trip, including who would go along and how I would go about presenting the idea to other people. Shortly after that, I consulted my father. He was honest with me. “I didn’t have a good time when I went to the Boundary Waters,” he cautioned me. “It rained all the time and was really hard work.” “I’m ready for that,” I stated confidently. “If that’s what you want to do, then you can do it,” he replied. I respect my dad very much. Although he doesn’t feel the same way about the outdoors as I do, my dad loves me and is very generous with me.
Several weeks later, I was in my hotel in Las Vegas, on a business trip with my dad. Dad was down at his conference, and I was up in the hotel room. It was a Sunday morning, and I didn’t have much to do. I gave my cousin Ryan a call on my cell phone. As I talked to him, I looked out the window towards the Las Vegas airport and the Nevada mountains beyond the airfield. “What’s up, man?” I asked him. “Not much. I had another crazy night out working with the television crew. No one would do their jobs. I had to holler a little,” he chuckled. “I had this idea the other day and I wanted to hear your opinion on it. You got a few minutes?” “Shoot, man.” We talked for a long time that day about my vision, and the long and short of it is that Ryan was skeptical about the idea. “I don’t know. What about Grandpa? We don’t want him to have a heart attack or something,” Ryan stated. “That was my initial thought too! However, as I thought about it, I realized that Grandpa’s in excellent shape and should be just fine,” I responded. “Isn’t that route a little long?” “Grandpa did it, didn’t he? Ryan, this is a lot more about Grandpa than it is about me. Think about how much a trip like that would bless him.” We talked for a long time about the trip, going over some potential plans. He was unsure if we could pull it off, but agreed that the upcoming summer was the time to take the trip. I told him to talk to his parents about it and that I’d be in touch with him.
Back in Washington, I talked to Aunt Becky, Ryan’s mom, about the trip when she called me on my birthday. She was a bit more receptive than Ryan was but still spoke of the need for further planning, and the need for some other adults besides Grandpa to come along. I agreed. As we finished our conversation, I told her to ask Uncle Mike, Ryan’s dad and Mom’s brother, about the trip and to get back to me. I didn’t hear back from them for several weeks. In the meantime, Grandpa and Grandma Hall came for a long visit over Christmas. The day after they arrived at our house, I went down to the guestroom where Grandma was sitting in her chair. “Grandma, do you have a minute?” I asked as I sat down. “Sure, Joe," she replied, staring at me over the rims of her glasses. “I was thinking a couple of months ago about a meaningful 18th birthday present that you and Grandpa could give me. I thought Grandpa could take me to the Boundary Waters and we could do the same route that Grandpa did in Growing Inside Outside.” “You think that, huh?” The fact that I didn’t get a flat no was a good sign. I had originally thought that if anyone would say no, it would be Grandma. That’s why I wanted to ask her before I talked to Grandpa. I didn’t want Grandpa to be bummed out if we couldn’t go. “Yeah, I really think he could do it.” “Oh, there’s no question that he could do it.” My heart raced. “Is that a yes then?” I asked excitedly. “I guess.” I was overjoyed, and wasted no time hurrying to tell Grandpa, who was sitting in the other room doing his devotions.
“Grandpa, an idea came to mind a while ago that I want to share with you.” I said sitting down on the couch next to him. “What is it, Joe?” “You’ve been telling me about the Boundary Waters for a long time. I decided a few months ago that I want to see it for myself.” “You’re kidding!” “No, I’m serious! The idea just came to mind one afternoon. All of my resistance and worry about your health and bears and everything just broke down.” “Do you think it was the Holy Spirit?” Grandpa asked. “I don’t know. Maybe. I was thinking that this would be a meaningful birthday present that you could give me. I’ve shared the idea with Ryan too. I was thinking we could take the route that you took with your students in Growing Inside Outside.” “The Boundary Waters is beautiful, and the trip can be fun at times, but it’s no picnic,” Grandpa stated seriously. “Yes, I know. Your book told me that much. I’m prepared for that, though.” “Well, Joe, you have a great vision. Let’s commit the idea to prayer for a few weeks and see what happens.” I agreed to do this. The idea then took a back seat over the Christmas holiday.
However, all of a sudden, the idea came back to the front of the line again and started to become a reality. “You know, if you’re going to go to the Boundary Waters next summer, you need to make reservations right now,” Grandma told us. “Those permits fill up fast.” “Okay, Grandma, we’ll do that,” I said excitedly. A couple of phone calls went back and forth with Mike and Becky. We finally heard from them, and they tentatively agreed to the idea only on the condition that Grandpa and I would plan it and sort out all the details. This we agreed to do.
Grandpa and I sat down at the computer in my parents’ bedroom to start researching outfitters for our trip. I asked Grandpa to pray before we began. “Father, we thank you for this idea and we pray that you would help us as we plan this trip. If you open the doors for us to go there, we will praise You and bring You glory. Help us sort out all the details.” Grandpa prayed. “Amen!” I echoed as I pulled up the Internet and typed “BWCA Outfitters” in the search box. A list of names came up. Grandpa and I looked through them and found one called “Seagull Outfitters.” We looked at their website. They were located on Seagull Lake on the Gunflint Trail side of the Boundary Waters, which was the general area we were planning to camp in. After examining some of our other options, we decided to write an e-mail and ask Seagull Outfitters some questions. I sent them an e-mail outlining our route and asking them about their rates.
We promptly heard back from Deb Marks, the owner and operator of Seagull Outfitters. She told us our route was a good one. However, we would be on the move every day. “What do you think, Grandpa?” I asked. “The way I see it, you have to keep moving every day to fully appreciate the Boundary Waters,” he replied. “Part of what brings the team together is the setting up and taking down of camp each day.” “Let’s do that, then,” I said, looking back at the note, “It says right here that Seagull Outfitters offers a complete outfitting service. She has included a list of what’s involved in the full outfitting.” “If we were able to buy or borrow some of the equipment, we could save a little money,” Grandpa acknowledged. “I still think we should get a complete outfitting, though. What we’re paying for is the convenience factor. We don’t want to have to deal with anything other than our clothes and fishing gear.” We decided to go with Seagull Outfitters and a few days later called them up. Grandpa was on the phone, and Mom and I were listening in to help him out if he needed it. Deb and Grandpa small talked for a while before getting down to business. Of course, Grandpa told her about Growing Inside Outside.
Deb suggested that we reserve slots for five people since we were not yet sure about the final size of our party. This involved making a five hundred dollar deposit. We could sort out any balances later on. When we hung up the phone that day, we had a five day trip scheduled from June 26 to 30. Our package would include a night in their bunkhouse the day before we began, food, sleeping bags, tents, sleeping pads, Duluth style packs, canoes, paddles, life vests, stoves and fuel, and all of the other equipment we would need. Seagull Outfitters would also take care of the necessary permits. Grandpa and I were both so excited. Over the next couple of days, we arranged some further details with Seagull. They sent us a menu form, which we filled out. Shortly after we arranged these final details, Grandpa returned to his home Minneapolis.
We had tentatively decided on a route that covered a lot of ground and took us through some of the most scenic and picturesque country in the Boundary Waters. Some large fires had affected portions of our route, so by traveling deeper into the wilderness we would escape the places where the flames had left their mark. Our route began at the end of the channel on Saganaga Lake, where our outfitter would start us, and wove through the islands. We would camp the first day at American Point, where Grandpa and his students had always camped. On the second day, we would paddle down through Saganaga Lake’s three bays and, after a short lift-over portage, through a small lake called Swamp Lake. We would then take a portage called Monument Portage which ran directly on the Minnesota-Canada border. After a short paddle through Ottertrack Lake (once called Cypress Lake), we would take a second portage to Ester Lake, where we would camp on the second night. On the third day, our group would paddle through a small channel at the far end of Ester Lake into Hanson Lake, and then portage from Hanson Lake to the south arm of Knife Lake. From Knife Lake we would tackle four portages and three small lakes (Eddy, Jenny, and Annie Lakes) before arriving at Ogishkemuncie Lake, where we would camp on the third night. On the fourth day, we would take two portages and camp on Jasper Lake, which was one of Grandpa’s favorite places in the Boundary Waters. Finally, on the fifth day we would portage into Alpine Lake, and from there to Seagull Lake. After paddling the full length of Seagull Lake, we would enter a small channel and end right at the outfitters’ dock. This was essentially the same route that is described in Grandpa’s book. Early on, we were not sure of exactly who was coming with us. Regulations stated that only nine people per group were allowed into the park. I had originally envisioned the trip as an all-guy trip including myself, Grandpa, my uncle Mike, my cousin Ryan, and a couple of Grandpa’s brothers and friends. Back in Minnesota, Grandpa started asking around. Chris Erickson agreed to come, but didn’t end up coming because we ran out of slots, as will soon be described. Chris was one of Grandpa’s former students who went on the original Boundary Waters trips with Grandpa. These trips sparked a friendship between Grandpa and Chris that has lasted ever since. Grandpa’s brothers Steve and Jon weren’t able to join us either.
Jared Johnson, Grandpa’s good friend and “nephew-in-law” enthusiastically agreed to come with us. For many years, Jared had read Grandpa’s books to his elementary school students. He was excited about the trip and was looking forward to the good time we were planning on having.
One evening some time later, I walked into Mom and Dad’s room to say good night to Mom. My dad was working that night, which gave me an opportunity to sit and talk with my mom late into the night. God has used these late night talks to sanctify me and help me clarify my vision. “You know, Joseph, I’m thinking that Jesse should go to the Boundary Waters with you and Grandpa,” Mom began. Jesse was my little nine year old brother. A year earlier, I had decided to move him into my room so that I could give him some manly character instruction and begin the process of helping him overcome his immaturity. Jesse had a good heart, but was impulsive and did not always think before speaking. He was also a ball of energy and never seemed to stop moving unless he was sleeping. He reminds me so much of Grandpa. “I’m not sure that would be a good idea. If anything happened to him, Dad would kill me!” I responded. Dad really loves Jesse. They have a very special relationship. Mom laughed, seeing the element of truth in my statement. “Oh, he’ll be just fine. I’m sure he’ll behave himself, and it will be good for him to be with all of you praising the Lord up there.” I wasn’t so sure, but Mom finally convinced me that it was a good idea. She is very discerning and wise. "Bringing Jesse with you will knit your hearts together," Mom said, looking deep into my eyes and my soul. "You will treasure the memories you make with Grandpa Hall and reminiscing with Jesse will allow you to relive the experience when Grandpa is in heaven." I had always wanted to be a good big brother, but I often got frustrated with Jesse and was hard on him because I saw so much potential in him. Here was an opportunity to bless him in a big way. Mom was right. I had to take Jesse. How could I deprive him of these precious times with Grandpa? This trip had the potential to make a lifelong impact on him, and mold him into a man just like his grandpa, who was a godly man and loved Jesus from his toes. “All right, you convinced me, but I need to see some impressive character growth on his part if I’m going to take him.” I stated emphatically. “All right. We’ll tell him he can go this summer if he matures.” Mom finished. Jesse was extremely excited when he heard that he was going to come to the Boundary Waters with me. Just the fact that Jesse knew his brother was willing to take him on a trip worked wonders for his maturity. Over the next few months, I did see some impressive character growth in him. I was glad he was coming with me. Little did I know how much the whole team would appreciate having Jesse along. He was more mature than I knew.
I still could not get a straight answer from Mike and Becky. They had agreed to the idea but were taking a long time to make a decision about the trip. Mike had to figure out if he could get the vacation time, and I was still not sure if he wanted to come along in the first place. In March, we finally heard that Mike had decided to come along, and that he wanted to bring not only Ryan but Becky, Rachel, and Amy as well. (Rachel and Amy were Ryan’s sisters.)
Grandpa and I called our outfitter and made the necessary reservations. We had already received our entry permit. Our group then would consist of Grandpa, Jesse, Mike, Becky, Ryan, Rachel, Amy, Jared, and me. As time went on, I continued to make most of the contact with Deb, sending frequent e-mails with questions and information as I sorted out the details. I bought a book about canoe camping and a Boundary Waters map, studying both to gather information. I reserved three four-person tents (so everyone would have plenty of room) and one two-person tent. We decided to take aluminum canoes for the added stability, and I reserved three two-seater canoes and one three-seater. I also scheduled several phone conversations with Deb and, in the course of those conversations, ensured that we had everything we needed. I called Grandpa and Becky often, answering their questions and keeping them updated. I’m describing in these few paragraphs what actually took about six months. I didn’t mind the responsibility and did my best to make sure I didn’t leave any stones unturned.
Of course, I continued to do my school work, although I still don’t know how I managed to do it. The trip we were going to take was constantly on my mind. Spring came and I began my work of caring for my neighbors’ lawns, earning the necessary funds for purchases I had to make. As spring went on, I began to prepare for the trip. I collected a lot of old clothes from around our house (for myself and Jesse). I purchased two collapsible cups, a good knife, and a very nice lensatic compass, mailing them ahead of me to Grandma’s house. I also bought a small banjo that I could bring with me on the trip, and my sisters and Grandma made a waterproof case for it. I somehow indicated to my long shore men neighbors that I needed a new pair of rubber boots, and one afternoon they stopped in front of my driveway, called my name, threw a box out of their car window, and tore off to their house. It contained a brand new pair of steel toe rubber boots. I was ecstatic. I also continued to cover the trip in prayer. I wanted our experience to be a time of fellowship, joy, and blessing for all of us, but especially for Grandpa, who was generous enough to pay for the trip. He was probably the most excited of all of us, except for me.
In the meantime, back in Minnesota, Mike was able to obtain the necessary vacation time for the trip. He too started purchasing rain gear and other gadgets. He sat down with Grandpa and went over our route on the computer with him, describing the altitude changes and distances on the route we had picked, which he thought was too challenging. Time would tell how wise Mike’s advice actually was. Grandpa made the decision to stick to our original plan, but did agree to camp closer to the outfitters to allow for a shorter paddle on the last day. We wouldn’t get to camp on Jasper Lake, which Grandpa was a little bummed out about, but that was all right.
The excitement of what lay ahead was thrilling my soul with joy. I realized as I was thinking about the trip that we would be taking the trip exactly forty years, almost to the day, after Grandpa had taken his first Boundary Waters trip with his students. I endured the wait with a bad case of the wilderness bug.
Time flew by and soon it was time to leave. I packed my suitcases. My mother drove my brother Jesse and I up Interstate 5 to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Two hours later we were on our flight to Minneapolis. Our adventure was just beginning. Jesse and I would never be the same. Mom walked us in and watched us while we went through security. Jesse did everything I did in perfect rhythm. When I took my shoes off, he took off his, and when I put my bags on the belt, Jesse followed suit. We walked slowly through the security gate, turning around to wave at Mom. I noticed tears in her eyes. I think she knew she was sending her little boy home, and he was going to return a little man. She didn't know that she was sending home a young man who would come home with his life and character changed as well.
The car pulled into Grandpa and Grandma Hall’s driveway. Jesse and I hopped out with our bags and said good-bye to Grandpa and Grandma Pates. We had enjoyed a wonderful five days with them, and things were only going to get better. I walked between the garage and house into Grandpa’s big back yard, walked up to the back door and rang the bell. Grandpa answered.
“Hi, Grandpa!” I said giving him a hug. “Hi, Joseph. Did you have a good time with John and Sharon?” “I sure did. We were in Duluth today. I woke up at 4:30 this morning and saw the sunrise over Lake Superior. It was beautiful! They took us on a harbor tour earlier this morning, so we saw the grain elevators and all of that.” “That’s great, Joe.” Grandma then came outside. I greeted her too and began showing her everything I had brought with me for the trip. “You’ll need to bring those things inside, Joe. We need to get you organized.” Grandma stated. “Sure, Grandma, we’ll take care of that in a bit.”
Just then Amy, Rachel, and Ryan ran over from their house. They live right next door to Grandpa and Grandma. “Hello, Joseph!” Amy said just on the verge of a giggle. “Wow, Amy, you’re really growing up!” I stated. Amy was six years younger than me. She had really grown up a lot since I had last seen here. She was eleven years old. Amy was expressive, bubbly, and joyful just like her mother. Amy turned to give Jesse a hug, and I greeted Rachel next. “Hi, Joseph,” Rachel said smiling. At fifteen, Rachel was also growing up. A deep thinker, she often surprised us with insightful comments. I could tell that both Rachel and Amy were excited about the adventure that was going to begin tomorrow. I turned to greet Ryan as Rachel and Amy started asking Jesse about his first plane flight. “What’s up, bro?” I said giving Ryan a handshake and slap on the back. Ryan and I have been good friends since we were both very young. He was a head taller than me, but I was five months older. Like me, he was passionate and verbal, but he was a lot more down-to-earth than I was. “We’ve been pretty busy.” “I’m sure. How’s your mom doing?” “She’s doing fine.” “You got all your stuff packed?” I prompted. “Yep, took care of that after dinner.”
Uncle Mike had walked over with his kids. I turned to say hello to him as well. “What’s up, man?” I asked. “We’ve been busy all day getting things ready for the trip,” Mike responded. “I heard you made a couple of purchases yourself. Ryan tells me you bought yourself a full bug suit,” I said chuckling. Mike was well known for his interesting purchases. “Yep, that’s right! I’m not going to have to put on any bug spray,” Mike smirked triumphantly. “I’ve got this great rain suit too.”
“Joseph, come here and try casting this fishing pole,” Grandpa called from the other side of the patio. “It’s a really nice one that I bought at Fleet Farm for this trip. We’ll have nine fishing poles with us on the trip.” I walked over to the other side of the patio. Grandpa had a weight on the end of the fishing line so Jesse and I could learn to cast into a bucket in the backyard. I tried it once or twice and, while not landing in the bucket, got the hang of casting. Grandpa was bringing all of the fishing gear for the trip from his cabin in Wisconsin. Jesse took the fishing pole from me and started learning how to cast it. Jesse was nine years old and was bubbling over with energy. “I almost got it!” Jesse yelled. He wasted no time reeling the weight back in and trying to cast it again.
I walked downstairs to the basement and opened the box containing the little banjo that I had sent ahead to Minneapolis. Finding my fingerpicks in my suitcase, I walked back out to the patio and sat down in one of the chairs. Tuning the banjo up, I began to pick out a couple of songs. “Can you believe we’re leaving tomorrow?” Grandpa said, sitting down in the other chair. “Grandpa, I’ve been dreaming about this day for six months and now it’s finally here. I can’t believe I’m not asleep.” “Yeah, I know what you mean,” Grandpa responded. “How’s packing coming?” “Joe, Grandma has just been amazing. We would be totally screwed without her help. She has us and our stuff all organized.” “I want to go and say hello to Aunt Becky real quick, and then I’m going to come back and go over my stuff with Grandma. I’ll be right back,” I said as I strolled through the gap in the hedge and over to Mike and Becky’s house.
I walked into their house and saw that a major packing operation was in progress. Becky looked up from organizing clothes into a large plastic bag. I love my Aunt Becky. I don't know if Ryan sees how wonderful his mother is, so I try to remind him often. Becky is so much like my own mother. Both of them give of themselves beyond comprehension. I wonder sometimes if my father and uncle see what incredible gifts God has given them in their wives. I see it. Being home schooled has given me the opportunity to see all the ways my mother lays down her life daily. I really want to marry a woman like my mother and Aunt Becky someday. Should God give me that gift, I will appreciate her, encourage her, help her, cherish her, and love her deeply, because God has given me eyes to see the beauty of sacrificial love. “How are you doing?” I asked as I gave Becky a hug. “It’s been a whirlwind past couple of days,” she replied. “How’s the packing coming?” “It’s getting there,” she said. “I sure do appreciate all of your help getting all the details organized.” “You’re welcome. Well, I won’t hinder you any more. See you tomorrow!” I said as I left. Becky likes to have all her ducks in a row. She is incredibly hard working, organized, and always prepared. I couldn't help but notice how tired and sweaty she looked. I could tell she had been working hard all day and hoped that she would have a good night's rest. I was glad that Becky was coming along to take care of all of us, especially Jesse.
I returned to Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Grandma came downstairs with me, and I spread all of my stuff out on the basement floor. “I see you’ve got your socks and shirts in plastic baggies,” Grandma commented, looking at my piles. “Yes, Grandma, I do, right in line with your instructions,” I responded. We had discussed this earlier. “I need you to try a few things on,” Grandma said after looking at what I had. She produced a pair of water repellent nylon pants for me to test. “This is what Becky, Mike, Grandpa, and Ryan are wearing on the trip. These are great pants that will dry out right away if they get wet. I found them at Fleet Farm for fifty percent off.” My grandma is a bargain shopper, and her good deals always amaze me. I tried them on and they fit nicely. Next, Grandma had two rain coats for me to try on. “I brought a rain coat,” I protested, producing my tried-and-tested rain coat from Washington. She looked at what I had. “This will be better,” Grandma said. “It’s really light and also should dry out right away. Whichever one of these two you don’t choose, I’m going to return.” “Okay, Grandma,” I responded, choosing the coat that fit me best. Grandma inspected my rubber boots next. “Those clodhoppers will never work,” Grandma stated firmly. “They’re several sizes too big for you.” “I think I’ll be fine, Grandma. Besides, I also brought a pair of sturdy sandals that I could use as swim shoes.” I showed her a picture in my Boundary Waters book that displayed a pair of boots similar to the set that I had. Grandpa was sitting in his chair watching this whole interchange. “I think Grandma’s right, Joe. Those boots are too big, and you’ll have blisters in no time,” Grandpa put in. Grandma disappeared into her storage room and came out with a shoe box. “Try these on. It’s a good thing I didn’t return these.” The box contained a pair of leather boots. I put them on and walked around a little. They fit me perfectly and were much more comfortable than my big rubber boots. “See how much better those are?” Grandpa said. I had to agree. They were added to one of the piles. “Thank you guys so much!” I said. Little did I know that the nylon pants, rain coat, and boots would be some of the most valuable things I brought along.
Grandma and I then overhauled every one of my plastic bags. She showed me how to remove all the air from the bag and seal it firmly. It took us about an hour to get everything all ready. We ended up leaving a lot of things out, including several books. “I bought the nature guide and book to read at camp.” “I don’t think you’re going to have time for a lot of reading, Joe.” She was right, as always, so I didn’t try to argue. “Now, you need to put a little bag together with all of your clothes and stuff for the first day,” Grandma went on as she continued to sort through my piles. “Why do I have to do that, Grandma?” “You don’t want to dig around in your pack on the first morning, do you?” “No, I don’t. Man, Grandma, you think of everything!” “It’s a good thing somebody does,” Grandma said as she assembled a “first morning” bag for Jesse and I. “Do you have your toiletries sorted out?” I didn’t, so I jumped right on that. “Did you buy a fishing license?” “I sure did, Grandma,” I responded. She put it in a plastic bag and secured it in one of my pants pockets. “You also need to have a bag with clothes to wear home,” Grandma said as she sorted all of our things into a duffel bag. “I’ll just wear the outfit that I’m going to wear up to the outfitters tomorrow,” I responded. We got everything squared away for Jesse as well. Grandma had a poncho for him too. “Now, when you get up to the outfitters, you just place this duffel bag right into the Duluth pack,” Grandma instructed, handing the bag to me. “That’s my good duffel bag, so don’t trash it all up.” “I won’t, Grandma. Thanks for all your help!” I said giving her a hug. “What are you going to do while we’re gone?” “I’m going to rest! I’ve been on my feet for a whole week getting you guys organized,” Grandma said as she headed for her bedroom.
I went downstairs to put Jesse to sleep. Jesse brushed his teeth and then hopped on the couch in Grandma’s basement, where he would be sleeping that night. “Are you excited, Jesse?” I asked. “Yeah!” Jesse said. Jesse didn’t talk half as much as I did, especially when he was excited about something. “Let me pray for you,” I said. “Dear Jesus, thank you that we arrived at Grandpa and Grandma’s safely. I pray that you would protect us on this trip and keep us safe. Help Jesse to sleep well tonight. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” “Amen,” Jesse echoed. “Good night, Joseph.”
I said good night to Jesse and then climbed up the stairs. I walked through the kitchen and living room and entered the screen porch, where Grandpa was sitting. “I just love this room!” I said to Grandpa as I sat down in one of the comfortable chairs. Several years before, Grandpa and Grandma had enclosed their screen porch and installed knotty pine on the walls, creating a comfortable sitting room. “Didn’t our builder do a great job?” Grandpa replied as he leaned back in the other recliner. “He sure did. How are you feeling?” “I’m excited, Joe. I think it’s a real blessing from God that I’m going to get to go back to the Boundary Waters at my age. I thought I was done with these kinds of trips.” “You’re in great shape, Grandpa! Come on!” “I know, but I’m not what I used to be. I’m grateful that God gave me the opportunity to take this trip with the people I love most.” “Yeah,” I said, looking out the window. “So Chris isn’t coming, huh?” “No. That’s too bad, but things just didn’t work out. We went out to lunch the other day, and he told me that he would be praying for us. I’ve got my whole Bible study group praying for us too.” “That’s wonderful, Grandpa. I think this just might be your best trip yet.” “It very well could be, Joe.” We talked for about an hour longer before heading off to bed. “Come in and wake me up when it’s time to get ready,” I told Grandpa as we exited the sitting room. “I will, Joe.” I took a shower, enjoying every second, and brushed my teeth before heading into the guest room. Jesse was already sound asleep.
Before turning in for the evening, I called up my parents to say good-bye. “So you’re all ready to go?” Dad said. “Yes, we have everything all ready. Grandma got me all organized.” “I’m sure she did!” Mom laughed. “Is Jesse awake?” “No, he’s sleeping already. He’s tired. We had a long day today.” “Is he excited?” “He really is, Mom. I’m so glad I brought him. It’s getting late here and I need to go to bed, but I wanted to call you before I left because I might not get a chance later on.” “Okay, Joseph. Let me pray for you,” Mom said. She prayed a beautiful prayer and asked God for safety and good fellowship on the trip. “I love you guys. Thanks for everything!” I said as I hung up. I put out the lights and lay in bed, but I didn’t go to sleep for a while. I had one more Person to talk to first. “Father, thank you so much for making this great experience possible,” I prayed. “The day that I have dreamed about for so long is finally here and I can’t wait! I pray that you would protect us from all harm and danger, give us good weather, and draw all of us closer to Yourself and each other because of this trip.” I don’t know how it happened, but I fell asleep soon after that.
Grandpa opened my bedroom door at five-thirty sharp, raring to go. Jesse was already up, and like his grandfather was quite excited. It amazes me how much these two are alike. It also fills me with joy because I know Grandpa's life is almost over, and I will have to say good-bye sooner than I would like to. He is my best friend, and I don't know what I will do without him in my life. God has already provided for that deep need of male spiritual fellowship in fashioning Jesse, my brother and future sole mate, to be just like my incredible grandfather. I am eternally grateful and treasure these things deep in my heart.
I got dressed and walked upstairs to the kitchen. Grandma was busy bustling around in the kitchen. “You’re all going to be having a big breakfast at the Village Inn a little ways out of town. I’ve got a little snack to hold you over until you get there.” She laid out some toast, donut balls, and apple juice. I was excited but ate heartily despite the butterflies in my stomach. After finishing my plate off, I hauled my duffel bag upstairs to the garage so Grandma could get it loaded up in the trunk. Grandpa and Grandma had been working on that task for a while. I headed back downstairs to grab a couple more things.
I came back upstairs to find Jared had arrived. “How’s it going?” I asked as I greeted Jared. I hadn’t spent much time with Jared. I was present at his wedding, and he and his wife, Mom’s cousin Mandy, had visited us once at our home in Washington, but that was it. I was looking forward to this time to get to know him better. “It’s going great!” Jared responded. “I got up early this morning to drive over here. Mandy will be by to pick up my car later today.” “How is Mandy doing?” I asked. Shortly before this, Jared had found out that he was going to be the father of twin girls. “She’s getting over her morning sickness and is feeling much better. We’re so excited to be parents.” “I’ll bet!” I replied. “Do you need a hand with your things?” “Sure, let’s go get everything,” Jared said as he headed out the door. Grandpa and I followed Jared out to his car. He handed me a fishing pole and a pillow, and grabbed a fully loaded backpack from his trunk. After ensuring that he had everything he needed, he locked the key in his car.
By this point, the cousins had walked over from their house. Mike and Becky drove the van around to Grandma’s driveway. “Sleep well last night?” I questioned Amy. “Yeah, I did. I’m really excited!” “I am too!” Rachel put in. “Did you get all of your stuff packed, Becky?” I asked her. “Yes, I did, but I was up pretty late.” “You got all the directions figured out, Mike?” Grandpa asked. “I sure do,” Mike said. “First stop is Village Inn.” “Everybody come over here,” Grandpa stated. “I’d like to do a quick devotional before we hit the road.” We all gathered around as Grandpa read from that day’s entry in Our Daily Bread. Grandma was standing with us too. I love how Grandpa brings God into everything. “Jared, would you mind praying for us?” Grandpa asked. “Sure!” Jared responded. We all bowed our heads. “Father, we’re all so excited for this trip! We’re all looking forward to seeing your beauty and getting to know you better. We are coming to the wilderness fully expecting to meet You there. Protect us, fill us with Your love, and help us all to grow closer to each other. Finally, we pray that you would give us traveling mercies on the road today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Jared prayed. “Amen!” we all echoed. We all then said good-bye to Grandma. “Thanks for helping us get all ready. I love you!” I said as I gave Grandma a hug. “Have a good time!” Grandma said.
We all made our ways out to the car. I was so excited that I could barely contain myself. “Woo-hoo!” I whooped. Becky was standing right next to me and jumped. “Whoa! Joseph, you really scared me!” Becky said. She understood, though.
I climbed in the passenger seat of the Buick LeSabre, and Ryan hopped in the back seat. The adults had worked out a driving system for the trip, and Mike would be driving the Buick up to the Village Inn. Mike led the way down 62nd Avenue, through Brooklyn Center, and down Interstate 694 to Interstate 35. I selected some John Denver music. “What are you trying to do, bring back memories from my childhood?” Mike joked. “Yep,” I responded with a smirk. “I don’t get to listen to him much.” Mike made the turn onto the highway, leaving Becky and the others in the van trapped by the long red light. Mike assured us that Becky knew where she was going, so we continued on, talking, laughing, and joking the whole way. After clearing a morning traffic jam, we started onto Interstate 35 with Becky again right behind us. We lost no time arriving in Wyoming, Minnesota, where the Village Inn was. Piling out of the car, we descended on the restaurant and were soon seated at our table.
After we ordered, Grandpa stated that he had a few things to say. “I’m really excited that we’re all going to go on a canoe trip this summer,” Grandpa began. I could tell by his voice tone and body language that he was excited. “One of the things I always tried to foster in my groups was teamwork,” Grandpa continued. “To accomplish that, I as the leader have assigned roles to everyone in the group. Joseph, you and Mike will be in charge of the navigation. You’ll be in charge of finding the portages and getting us to our campsite every day.” I nodded confidently. “Becky will be in charge of the cooking, and Amy and Rachel will be helping her,” Grandpa went on. “Jared loves to make fires, so I’ve given him that role. Rachel has figured out a system that will rotate all of us around so each of us will be with a different person each day, so she’ll be in charge of that. Jesse will be in charge of making sure that all of our water bottles are filled. He’ll also carry the fishing poles over the portages.” Jesse quivered with excitement at his new responsibility. “Joseph, Ryan, Mike and Jared will be in charge of portaging the canoes, and everyone else will help portage the bear barrels, packs, and other things.” I nodded, not so confidently this time, thinking about those seventy pound aluminum canoes. I knew I could do it, because I had endurance, but at the same time I knew it would be hard. “Those are your responsibilities. Of course, when you’re done with your responsibilities, you can help someone else with theirs. The point is to foster a spirit of helpfulness and cooperation so we can all work together as a team,” Grandpa concluded.
Becky handed us each a trip journal and a red bandanna. I laughed, catching the allusion to Growing Inside Outside immediately. In that book, Grandpa’s group had named themselves the “Red Duffers.” Our food arrived promptly and we all ate heartily. I stuffed myself with eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and hash browns. Mike and Jared paid the bill, and the rest of us made our way out to the vehicles. “There’s a great rest stop outside Duluth that we can stop at if you need it,” I said to Mike. “I was just there yesterday.” “I’ll keep that in mind,” Mike responded as he hopped into the van.
Returning to Interstate 35, we headed north towards Duluth. Becky was now at the wheel of the Buick. As we drove north, we took the time to catch up on each other’s lives. We hadn’t talked about many things other than the trip in a long time. Ryan was off in cyber reality with his game boy, so he didn’t say much. After about two hours, we pulled into the rest stop in Duluth. “That sure went by quick!” Becky commented as she parked the car. We all climbed out and headed out towards the view that I had admired just the previous day. From the overlook, you could see the St. Louis River headed through the Duluth harbor, under the lift bridge and into Lake Superior. I could see green trees stretching out, line after line, as far as I could see headed towards the Wisconsin border. “Wow,” Mike gushed. “Rachel, get a picture of that!” Rachel pulled the camera out of her purse and began taking pictures of the view with Mike directing her. “This is beautiful!” Grandpa said. “Haven’t you ever seen this view before?” I asked. “No,” Grandpa responded. “This is the first time I’ve ever been here. I’m glad we pulled off to see this.” “Everybody over for a picture!” Becky called. We all gathered around and took a couple of pictures. Then, Amy had a great idea. “Let’s all stand on this rock wall and take a picture of ourselves in the glass window of the rest stop!” We thought this was a good idea. Soon the picture was taken and we all headed in and used the restroom before pulling back onto the highway. Becky was still driving, and as we were not finished catching up yet, we passed the time doing that.
At Duluth, we headed onto State Highway 61, which hugged Lake Superior’s North Shore. We drove through Two Harbors, Silver Bay, and Lutsen headed towards Grand Marais. The North Shore drive was stunning and picturesque. On the right hand side, Lake Superior stretched as far as you could see. Tall green forests of aspen, birch, and white and red pine stood majestically on the left hand side of the road. We drove through tunnels that had been blasted through the hard cliffs of the coastline. In no time at all, we were entering Grand Marais, Minnesota. “I can’t believe how quick this drive is going by!” Becky said as she shook her head in disbelief. “We’ve been driving for over an hour since the rest stop.” “It’s because we’re both talking so much!” I responded. We laughed. We drove down the hill into the town of Grand Marais and pulled off by the Gunflint Trail intersection. The adults had a discussion while Grandpa and the rest of us kids wandered over to take pictures by the sign marking the road. We found parking at the Grand Marais harbor.
I looked out over the lake. The pebbly beach stretched up to the large boulders that formed the lake shore. Superior herself was a beautiful azure and on that side of the harbor was unusually calm. A rocky outcropping covered with pines and deciduous trees sat a little ways out from the shore. I could still see the rolling grey fog drifting in a thick layer over the horizon. “Isn’t that beautiful?” I said to Amy. “It sure is!” Amy responded. Rachel snapped a few pictures. Jesse stood there wide-eyed as well. As we stood there, an old-fashioned sailing ship (which I later found out was Hjordis, North House Folk School's schooner) emerged from the fog and began sailing towards the shore. We all stood in awe and watched it for a while before heading towards downtown Grand Marais. Grandpa treated us to a delicious lunch at Sven and Ole’s Pizza, and then we headed for the gift shop.
As I pulled open the door to Lake Superior Trading Post, I knew what I was looking for: a full-size canoe paddle. I was grateful to Grandpa for giving me the inspiration for this trip, and I wanted to find a paddle for him as well. After browsing the store, I found a rack of wooden canoe paddles. I selected two and purchased them along with some post cards. Emerging from the store with my purchases in hand, I headed down to the beach, where Amy, Jesse, and Grandpa were skipping rocks. Setting down my purchases for a minute, I joined them. Heading back to the cars, we drove over to the gas station and filled up the gas tanks in both cars. At this point, Becky went over to the van and Grandpa and Jared joined Ryan and me in the Buick.
We headed out of Grand Marais and began driving up the Gunflint Trail, the road that connects State Highway 61 to the lake country of the Boundary Waters. Jared had turned on some stand-up comedy, and we all spent a good hour in stitches. Once we got tired of that, we alternated between listening to music and talking. I started to focus more on the beauty of the Gunflint Trail. The small two-lane highway wove its way like a ribbon through the thick green forests of the true North Woods. On each side of the road were some of the thickest woods I’d ever seen in my life. The white pines, red pines, aspen, birch and maple stood majestically shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, forming a thick green wall of life rising up from the glacial moraine and humus of years gone by. Puffy white clouds drifted across the sky, obscuring the sun and then drifting away. Periodically, we would see glimpses of a lake through the trees. The northern woods of Minnesota had a beauty all their own, and I loved them at first sight.
“You know, a friend sent me this great quote when he heard I was going to the Boundary Waters,” Jared commented as he was driving. “What did it say?” Grandpa asked. “It went like this: 'Such sights as this are reserved for those who are willing to suffer to behold them.' I thought it was really appropriate.” “That’s a great quote, Jared. It’s true, too. I’ve said over and over again that the Boundary Waters is beautiful, but the trip itself is no picnic. We’re going to work, but it’s all worth it,” Grandpa responded. “I’ll keep that in mind as we travel," I added.
“Look at the burn area!” Ryan supplied. We all looked out the windows to see an area that flaming tongues of fire had devastated several years before. I could see the lacerated trunks pointing like columns towards the blue sky, and fallen timber lying on the ground. “How sad,” I mused. “Look, though, it’s growing right back,” Grandpa mentioned. “The fire cleared off all the dead growth to make room for all the new seeds to sprout and grow.” I could see that he was right. A whole new layer of trees was rising up underneath the dead trunks. In a few years, there would be no sign that a fire had ever been there.
We soon re-entered the forest, and I caught a glimpse of a large, beautiful lake as we crested a large hill. I didn’t get my camera out fast enough. “That lake was gorgeous! Which one was it?” I said. “That was Gunflint Lake,” Grandpa replied. “We’re not far from the outfitters now. We should be there soon.” My heart started to beat with excitement. After passing through another burn area, we saw a sign for Seagull Canoe Outfitters and Cabins. We made the left turn off the Gunflint Trail and pulled into the parking lot. Our adventure was commencing. Seagull Outfitters
Hopping eagerly out of the car, I immediately started looking around at our surroundings. We were parked in a large gravel lot that was the central hub of operations for Seagull Outfitters. To my right was the dark green building that served as the store room and gift shop for the outfitting enterprise. Large stacks of Kevlar and Royalex canoes sat in piles just waiting to hit the water, and tarps were stretched out to dry on a tall rack. Several canoes sat to my left on boards, drying out from a thorough washing. Straight ahead was the dock, floating in a long narrow waterway which I immediately concluded was the channel heading out to Seagull Lake. I could see the entrance to the channel quite a distance away.
I looked around at the setting. It was clear that this place had just barely escaped one of the forest fires, which had been within yards of destroying it. You could especially see the impact on each side of the channel. On the right side of the channel timber still stood untouched, but stripped, charred trunks protruded from the earth on the left side. Behind us you could see a similar effect. It was beautiful in its own way, because of the life that emerged from death; the death and resurrection so obviously evident in the way this world works. I was still grateful that most of the Boundary Waters was unaffected; leaving undisturbed virgin forest sitting just a paddle away waiting for me.
We did not stand there long before a young lady walked out of the main building with a smile on her face. “Tom Hall?” she asked, looking at my grandpa. “That’s me,” Grandpa responded. “I’m Mellie, and I’m going to be taking care of you all today,” she stated. We all shook Mellie’s hand and greeted her. “Did you have a good drive up?” Mellie asked. “We sure did,” I responded. “The North Shore and the Gunflint Trail were gorgeous.” “Well, if you’re all ready, we can get your permit for you and then go over your complete outfitting.” We all followed Mellie through the parking lot to a small green building, which she explained was the routing house. Entering the building, we all sat down around a table. I took a moment to look at the building. Fishing trophies hung on the walls, and various equipment samples sat around the room. A small TV sat in one of the corners.
“Let’s get started by showing you the required video that will lay out some good wilderness ethics,” Mellie said. We all watched and passed the short oral test that followed with flying colors. Grandpa signed our entry permit. Mellie then produced four maps. “These are for you to keep,” she explained, “one for each canoe. This one here is marked up based on data that other paddlers have brought back.” “That’s really impressive!” Grandpa said looking at the map. “Who marked that all up?” “I did,” she replied. I leaned in to look at the map. I could see that our outfitter had indicated good and bad campsites and good and bad portages. She had also marked out where bass, northern pike and walleye were generally located. “Awesome!” I thought. “Deb suggested that, for your first night on Saganaga Lake, you take this campsite here if it is open,” Mellie suggested indicating a spot a little farther down than the spot I knew Grandpa had stayed at in the past. “It’s nice and big with lots of room for your tents, and there’s a sandbar located right over here.” “That’s great! We’ll look into that.” Grandpa responded. “We also wanted you to recommend a good site on Seagull Lake. I’ve paddled through Seagull many times but have never camped there. We’d like to be a short paddle from you guys to make for an easier last day.” Mellie pointed out an excellent campsite on the northeast side of the lake that exactly fit our bill. She also pointed out a couple of good camp sites on Ogishkemuncie Lake as well, and indicated a few portages for us to avoid.
Looking at a paper covered with notes (which I figured out contained all of the information regarding our outfitting), Mellie went over all of our equipment with us. “Your Duluth packs have been placed in your rooms at the paddlers’ lodge, where you will be staying tonight. There’s no one else staying at the lodge tonight so feel free to spread out if you need to,” Mellie told us. “We’ll be sending you with two large white gas stoves. They’re a little fussy, so I’ll track down our staffer Brad and he’ll show you how to get them started. He’s also a great fisherman, so he can answer all of your fishing questions.” She then went on and left no stone unturned making sure we knew everything we needed to know about our equipment. She showed us how to assemble our camp saw and operate the water filters they were sending with us.
Then, Mellie went over our food menu with us, which Grandpa and I had discussed and selected previously. “We’ll be packing you a steak dinner with potatoes for the first night,” Mellie began. “On the second night, you’ll have brats, and then beef Stroganoff on the third night, followed by chili on the fourth night. We’ve got all your breakfasts and lunches squared away as well, with plenty of snacks to hold you over in between mealtimes. We’ve enclosed nine loaves of bread for you to make sandwiches with. All of your food will be placed in three bear proof barrels.” This surprised us pleasantly. I had told Deb we were big eaters, and clearly she had taken me literally. “Wow!” Jared said excitedly. “I wasn’t expecting much in the area of camp food, but I guess we’re going to live like kings out there.” “You sure are,” Mellie said. “This is top-of-the line stuff, too.” “Mellie, I’m really impressed with your great people skills. You’ve done a great job getting us all squared away. Thank you!” encouraged Grandpa. We all chimed in. Grandpa is always encouraging people, setting an incredible example for me to follow. “You’re welcome!” Mellie responded, smiling.
After answering some of our questions, we all left the routing house to get a lesson on how to operate the white gas stoves. Brad joined our little group under a shelter that was located right next to the main outfitting building. Like Mellie, he was very professional and courteous with us greenhorns. We received a full demonstration on stove starting. Mellie also found life jackets and canoe paddles appropriate for our sizes. “Can you recommend any good fishing techniques?” Grandpa asked Brad. “I’m especially interested in a good fishing knot. I still knot my line the old fashioned way, with seven twists.” “I’ve got a great knot that I use that has never slipped on me once,” Brad responded. “Do you want to see it?” “Sure!” Grandpa replied. Brad demonstrated the knot, and then Grandpa tried to do it and didn’t get it. I could tell Brad was a good fisherman, since he clearly had the patience for it. As he demonstrated the knot again, Jared whipped his phone out and took a video. “Nice one, Jared,” Ryan said. “I figure we’ll need to see it again sometime soon.” Jared stated. “What kind of bait would you suggest using?” Grandpa asked. “We came fully equipped with all artificial bait.” “I’d suggest using live bait. They’re really hitting well on leeches right now.” Brad recommended. We arranged to buy a lot of leeches and a leech bucket from the outfitters and add it to our bill.
“Thank you, Brad, for your patience and your courtesy. Where are you from?” Grandpa inquired. “I’m from Webster, Wisconsin.” “No kidding! I have a cabin on North Sand Lake near there. Where in Webster do you live?” “We’ve got a farm with a huge vegetable stand in front right off of County Road A,” Brad responded. “You’re not going to believe this, but I’m one of your regular customers! Your corn is delicious!” Grandpa laughed. He and Brad began discussing their other mutual acquaintances from the area. What a small world that was.
Jared, Grandpa and I walked into the outfitting building to settle up the final bill. Jared had to buy his fishing license, and Grandpa had to pay the final fee to the outfitters. I looked over the items in the store and bought a small souvenir paddle. I then went and joined Grandpa as he made the final payment. He and I were the only ones to see the final cost of the trip. The trip cost a lot, but Grandpa paid it with a smile. He is a giver. Through his whole life, he has given to whoever crosses his path. I want to live my life generously just like Grandpa because I see how much joy it has brought him. Grandpa is one of the happiest people I know. “This is a bigger deal than I thought it was,” I thought to myself. “This better be worth it.” Little did I know that this trip would change my life forever, turning out to be well worth the cost, and then some. “Thank you, Grandpa,” I said as we left the building. “You’re very welcome, Joe,” Grandpa responded. “It’s my pleasure to do this for all of you. I’m really excited.” Grandpa didn't have to tell me that he was excited. I could see it. As we walked back towards the car, I could see the little spring in his step and the joy in his eyes.
Before leaving us, our ever-helpful outfitters recommended a good place to eat dinner about twenty-five miles back down the Gunflint Trail. They even told us about a spot we could stop at to see moose on the way there. Now that our briefing was done, we had a short conference. We were all pretty hungry and tired, so we decided to eat out first and then organize our equipment in the paddlers’ lodge. Piling back into the cars, we made our way back down the Gunflint Trail. “I’m really impressed with the service at Seagull Outfitters,” Grandpa said to Jared, who was driving. “Deb sure knows how to hire good people. Mellie had great people skills, made good eye contact, and was so professional and courteous.” “You got that right,” Jared responded. “I still can’t get over how much food they’re sending along.” “We’re not going hungry, that’s for sure!” Ryan said. “This is a great operation,” I put in, “and if I ever come back up this way, I’m going to outfit with them.”
We arrived at Trail Center Lodge and Restaurant, a rustic looking building sitting just off the Gunflint Trail. We were seated promptly and received great service. We all ordered burgers and fries. “I’ll have a Mountain Dew,” Jared told the waitress. “Enjoy it, Jared. You’re not getting one of those for a while,” I teased. “I’ll do that,” he laughed. “Could you get me a chocolate milkshake, light on the chocolate?” Mike requested with a little smirk on his face. We all looked at each other and laughed. Mike always tries to order this dessert at every restaurant he can. And it has to be light on the chocolate every time. Of course, we had to wait for our meal. Ryan, filmmaker he was, did not waste any time. Producing the video camera, he filmed the first entry in what he called his Boundary Waters “vlog”, standing for video log.
“Hi everybody, this is Ryan,” Ryan said to the camera. “I’m awesome. You won’t be seeing much of me, because I’ll be filming.” Turning the camera towards Amy, Ryan went on. “This is Amy.” “Hi, I’m awesome too.” “This is Jesse,” Ryan said, pointing the camera at my brother. “This is all a new experience for him.” I was next. “This is Joseph,” Ryan stated. “This whole thing is his fault.” We all laughed. “This is Grandpa,” Ryan continued. “He’s in charge of everything.” “You betcha!” Grandpa responded. “This is Mom. She is also in charge of everything. And this is Dad.” “Chocolate milkshake, light on the chocolate,” Mike interrupted, taking another sip of his favorite dessert. “Right. This is Rachel.” “Hi!” Rachel said. “And finally,” Ryan concluded. “this is Jared.” “He’s really in charge of everything,” Becky laughed. We all laughed with her, but her words were prophetic in a very real sense.
Ryan put the camera away just as our food showed up. We ate as much as we could, and then headed back up the Gunflint Trail. Back at the outfitters’, we parked our cars and hauled all of our clothes up the tall flight of stairs into the paddlers’ lodge. We had a lot of stuff. When all of our gear was spread out over the lodge, we began the difficult task of squeezing everything into our Duluth style packs. A Duluth pack is a canvas backpack specifically designed to fit in a canoe. It has no frame, allowing for maximum efficiency and comfort. We were using canvas packs constructed in the same style as the classic Duluth packs. The outfitters had also left our sleeping bags in our rooms. We rolled them out on the bunks, so we were all set for bed.
Having nothing to do at this point, I played my little banjo for a while, and then walked out on the deck, which overlooked the Gunflint Trail. The sun was setting through the trees, so I watched that and took a picture. We all walked over to the bathroom in order to take care of our personal hygiene. It would be the last time I brushed my teeth for five days. Making our way back to the paddlers’ lodge, we all retreated to our rooms. I plugged in my camera to charge it. Ryan, Jesse and I stretched out on our bunks and were soon fast asleep, preparing for the day to come.
I woke up to see a cold gray light streaming through the lower half of our window. Ryan and Jesse were still sleeping. Swinging out of bed, I got dressed. I put on my new rainproof pants, a bright yellow golf shirt, and my wide-brimmed hat. My compass hung at my waist, and my camera hung around my neck in a waterproof case. Headed for the bathroom, I walked outside. Looking up at the sky, I noticed the sky was overcast, and a slight breeze was in the air. The outfitter had mentioned a fifty percent chance of thunderstorms for that day. “I hope it doesn’t rain today,” I thought, “but I’m going to have a good time either way.” I silently prayed that the decent weather would hold up.
Slowly but surely everyone else made it out of their room. We began to finish packing. “I’ll help roll up the sleeping bags,” I volunteered. Grabbing one of the bags, I rolled the sleeping bag up in a tight cylinder and squeezed it into the stuff sack. Discovering that I had a knack for it, the others promptly elected me to that position. We soon had all the sleeping bags secured in one of the Duluth packs. As part of our complete outfitting, the outfitter had placed a quick start breakfast in our rooms, including fruit, cereal, and bars. I ate as much as I could but I had a severe case of butterflies in my stomach. Jared pulled out a plastic bag from his pack. “Mandy made some cookies for me. Anyone want some?” We all made a beeline for them, since Jared’s wife Mandy is a great cook. I took a few bites of mine but couldn’t eat any more due to the said butterflies. I tied an apple in my bandanna for later.
We had a quick conference. Mike and I broke the map out, took a glance, and decided that by hugging the north shorelines of the islands we could hit the far shore of Saganaga and paddle straight up to American Point. It actually looked to be a rather manageable paddle. We promptly emptied out of the paddlers’ lodge and hauled all of our gear down to two loaded trailers that contained our canoes and the rest of our equipment. The outfitters would be driving us to our starting point at the end of the Saganaga Channel, commonly called “81 Landing.” Deb Marks, the owner of Seagull Outfitters, strolled out of the main building to introduce herself to us. We all greeted her. “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Deb. It’s been great working with you so far,” Grandpa said. “You sure do know how to hire good staff.” “Thank you,” she responded. “If you don’t mind, we’d like to take a picture of you all for our records.” “No problem!” we all said. After the picture was taken, we said good-bye to Deb and piled into the two SUVs that were hitched up to the trailers. Two of Deb’s employees drove us a little further down the Gunflint Trail and stopped at 81 Landing. I hopped out and broke out my camera to capture the moment.
I could see that we were parked right near end of a narrow channel. The water was clear and calm, and I could see two cabins perched on the rocky outcrop across the water. The wind had died down somewhat. We all stood around and waited as the young men hauled our canoes down to the shoreline and started loading them up. They carefully arranged the packs, bear barrels, fishing poles, and other things in the canoes to maintain an even distribution of weight. Jesse and Grandpa climbed into the three-seater canoe, with Jesse sitting in the middle and Grandpa in the stern. Paddling out a little ways, Grandpa turned around and brought the front of the canoe up so I could hop in the bow. The employees pushed us out, and we were on our way.
I cannot describe to you the way I felt as the dream I had had nearly a year before was finally realized. I was filled with emotion and energy. Whooping loudly, I made sure everyone else knew that. “Hi-why-enne-meene-key-key-oo-cha-cha-anna-pee-wha-wha!” I hollered, calling the distress call from Growing Inside Outside. “Ay-dee-ee-dee-eye-dee-oh-dee-you-who!” Jared responded. I could tell he felt the same way I did.
Grandpa and I turned the canoe in the right direction and waited for everyone else to disembark. Before my eyes, the Saganaga Channel stretched out in a long ribbon of water. I could see cabins on both sides all the way to where the channel narrowed. “Grandpa, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to finally be here. I’ve waited almost nine months for this moment,” I said, glancing back at him. “I know how you’re feeling,” Grandpa replied. “Memories of this paddle are coming back to me too. I used to have this same feeling every time we embarked. I’m back, Joe!” I smiled. To hear that from Grandpa assured me that we were blessing him already, not even ten yards off the landing. I glanced back at Jesse. He didn’t say much but I could tell he was excited as well. All boy just like his grandpa, Jesse was taking his first adventure into the wilderness. I am sure it won't be his last. Finally, the last canoe was shoved off. Deb’s employees hollered good-bye to us and hopped back into the SUV’s to drive back to Seagull Outfitters. We began stroking down the channel.
Jared and Amy paddled nearer to us. “How does it feel?” I asked Amy. “It feels great!” Amy called back. “I think I’m finally getting the hang of paddling in the rear,” Jared stated. “Tom, am I doing this correctly?” “Yes, you are,” Grandpa stated after watching him for a while. “Why?” “My father-in-law took me out and gave me a lesson when we were at the cabin and had me doing the dumbest thing with my paddle. I figured out right as we started that his technique would never work,” Jared explained. We chuckled. “You’re doing it right, Jared. Keep up the good work!” Grandpa encouraged.
As we paddled down the channel, I still saw cabins perched on the rocky shorelines, with charred trunks protruding from the ground a lot closer than I would have liked if I was a cabin owner there. “Cabins are allowed on the channel,” Grandpa stated. “My old outfitter used to be on this channel but they’ve torn his place down. I can’t remember where it is now. It’s amazing that so many of these places survived the fires. They must have sprinklers on their roofs.” “Let’s slow down a little and let Mike, Becky, Ryan, and Rachel catch up," I suggested. We slacked off a little to allow the others to catch up. I grabbed my water bottle and took a drink. The outfitters had placed ice in the water bottles to keep them cold and refreshing. “What a nice touch!” I thought. The others finally caught up within shouting distance. “Watch out for rocks! Some of them aren’t that far beneath the surface!” Mike called. “We’ll do that!” I hollered back. Then, in a sort of cluster, we all continued to head down the Saganaga Channel.
I began to think about Mike. Over the course of my life, I had learned that a man must be a protector and provider for his family. Mike was an excellent example of those two things. While I knew that the wilderness was not his passion, I did know that Mike had come along to watch over and protect his family and his father. For this, I respected and admired him.
The cabins were fewer and fewer now, and I began to see more trees. In a continuous motion, I leaned slightly forward, dipped my paddle into the water, dug deep, lifted it out, and repeated the same motion again and again. The paddle fit my hand perfectly. I had brought gloves so my hands wouldn’t get blisters, but after two minutes of wearing them, I put them away. I loved the feeling of the paddle in my hand. A motorboat raced down the channel, and upon seeing our party slowed down to reduce the wake we’d have to paddle through. “Motors are allowed on parts of Saganaga,” Grandpa said, “but you can only have a twenty-five horsepower motor or less.” “The outfitters offered a tow boat service,” I put in, “but I think we should do just fine without it.” “Totally,” Grandpa responded. “We don’t need that.” As the motorboat passed us, Grandpa hollered a greeting and asked where the channel ended. The boater pointed north, telling us we couldn’t miss it, and with a roar continued on down the channel. The channel gradually widened. There were no homes now, and it was starting to feel more and more like a wilderness. I glanced at the far shoreline. Stripped tree trunks still stood, but a thick layer of pine and deciduous trees was growing up. In a few years, there would be no sign of a fire. “Isn’t that amazing?” I said, snapping a picture. “It really is,” Grandpa said. “Look at how fast the forest is coming back.” “When I come back in twenty years it’ll be just the way it used to be,” I said as I put my camera away and continued to paddle. We were leading the procession. The channel narrowed down to a small inlet and then widened out again. I saw a black and white bird swimming a couple of yards away. “Look, it’s a loon!” I said to Grandpa. We watched as he swam around and ducked under the water as we got closer. As we paddled along, a caravan of canoes came down the channel headed the other direction. “You headed back in?” Grandpa called. “We are!” the response came. “How long have you been out?” “Five days, and we had a blast!” the lady responded. Their big smiles told us they were telling the truth.
Soon, we found ourselves paddling in an incredible expanse of water punctuated by many islands. “This is Saganaga Lake,” Grandpa told me. “Really?” I said, glancing around. “This isn’t how I imagined it. I know this trip is going to change my whole mental picture of the Boundary Waters.” "I'm sure it will, Joe," Grandpa laughed. “Hey, we’re on Saganaga now!” I called to the others. “That’s great!” Jared called back. “We should be at our camp site in about two hours now.” I whipped my compass out of its case on my belt and took a quick heading. Pointing in the correct direction, I headed off in a northwesterly direction, threading through the islands. The others followed us. The trees were much bigger now. I could see that the islands were rough and rocky, but that didn’t stop the trees. Grounding their roots in the hard soil, they majestically stretched high into the sky. The sky was still overcast, and a relatively strong breeze was blowing. “We’ve hit it pretty good,” Grandpa commented. “I’ve had some tough paddles on Big Sag before. One time a portion of this paddle took us three hours when it should have taken us one. The wind was really blowing that day.” “Do you recognize anything?” I asked Grandpa. Grandpa looked around. “I’m looking for Red Rock Bay right now. Once we see that, we just hit the shoreline and go straight up. I don’t see it yet.” We continued to paddle northwest for about a half an hour. “I think that might be the island where one of my students cut her foot,” Grandpa said indicating an island up ahead. I hollered the good news to everyone. We rounded the island and continued to look for American Point. I began to wonder if we were on the right track. This didn’t seem quite right. I examined the map. “I don’t see the big part of the lake that I think we should be seeing,” I noted. “I don’t think we ever see the big part of the lake. The islands keep most of that hidden from view,” Grandpa answered. “Really?” I said, taking a second glance at the map. I wasn’t so sure, but I didn’t let it worry me too much.
I continued to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. We were really in the wilderness now. The sun broke out of the clouds for a while and sent its warming rays flooding down on us. The sunlight touched the shoreline and set off the greens of the trees and the grays of the rocky, mossy shorelines. I leaned back comfortably in the canoe chair. The islands started to narrow and I thought I could pick out where we were on the map. If I was correct, we were actually approaching American Point that very minute. I informed the others of my discovery. “Yay!” Becky cheered. “That didn’t take long at all,” Jared added. “This is great!” “I’m not so sure,” said Grandpa. “Nothing looks familiar, and I don’t see the little bay that was right by our camp site.” We saw some campers on an island nearby. Paddling closer, Grandpa hollered to them on shore and asked them where American Point was. “It’s a couple miles away straight west,” they called back. Grandpa and I looked at each other. “A couple miles west? Are you sure?” Grandpa called back. “Uh-oh,” I thought.
“Do you have a map? I can show you where you are,” the camper called from shore. Grandpa and I paddled in while the others waited for us a little ways out. I grabbed a hold of something on shore to keep the canoe in place, and Grandpa handed our map to the gentleman on shore. “You’re right here at Horseshoe Island,” the man said confidently, indicating a spot on the map. “Canadian Customs is just up that way.” “Really!” Grandpa responded. “How do we get over to American Point then?” “Just head through the islands in a southwesterly direction. Once you hit this open expanse of water here, you’ll be able to get your bearings.” “Thanks for your help!” I said as we pushed off.
Grandpa and I paddled our canoes back towards the others. We came up alongside Mike and Rachel’s canoe and Ryan and Becky’s canoe, and the adults started glancing at the map. Jared and Amy drifted a little ways away as Jared intently studied his map. “Are you sure the man was right?” Becky asked. “He was very confident and looked like he knew what he was talking about. I think he was right,” I said, pointing to Horseshoe Island on the map. “He identified his location as right here.” “This map doesn’t make any sense. It’s not fitting with the landmarks. I can’t tell where we are,” Mike said. “This is what comes for taking off too quickly without consulting the others,” Becky scolded Grandpa. “Sorry,” Grandpa said. “Let’s look at that map again.” The adults turned back to the map again, discussing all the possible options. I looked off across the lake. “Just help us to get to our campsite safely, Lord,” I prayed silently. Jared padded closer to us. “What do you think, Jared?” called Becky. “We don’t have a clue where we are.” “Well, I don’t think we could go wrong heading southwest. That’s the general direction of American Point,” Jared responded after consulting his map again. “Let’s do that,” Grandpa stated. We took a heading with our compasses and started weaving our way through the islands. I could tell that everyone was a little frustrated. “We acted way too quickly,” I said remorsefully. “You know, Joseph, you never get lost in the Boundary Waters, only bewildered. We’ll eventually find our way there,” Grandpa encouraged. “You’re right," I replied. We continued to paddle southwest, because that was the only direction we knew at that point. We wove our way around the many islands trying to get our bearings. Pausing, we continued to check our surroundings, but had no success. We saw two motorboats several miles away but never got close enough to wave them down. After about an hour of paddling, we eventually reached the edge of the islands, and I saw what I had been looking for so long. The large section of Saganaga Lake that I had seen on the map stretched itself before my eyes. I could see the Canadian side of the lake a couple miles to the north. “Hey, Grandpa, there’s the big part of the lake I was looking for! We’ll find our way now!” I said excitedly. “You’re right, Joe. Let’s keep paddling. The wind seems to be picking up a little,” he responded. “It’s a good thing Jesse has a paddle too.” “We need to check out your Boundary Waters book when we get to camp and read some proper methods of navigation,” Becky hollered from a little ways away. “You got that right!” I called back. “Let’s keep going.” We never got around to taking that book out.
After we had been paddling southwest for about a half an hour, the wind really started to pick up, and paddling got harder. Grandpa and I were way out in the front, and the others were quite a ways behind us. “Joseph, look over there!” Grandpa said, pointing to the southwest. I looked, and my heart froze. There coming straight at us was a line of dark clouds. The fifty percent chance of thunderstorms was turning out to be correct. The wind was getting stronger, right in our faces, and the waves started to get taller. Staring at that black line of clouds and not having a clue where we were, I have never felt so helpless in my life. Suddenly, a spine-chilling thought came into my mind. We were in a seventeen foot lightning rod. We had to get off Saganaga as soon as possible. I looked around and saw a small island to the east of us, within a reasonable paddling distance. “Let’s make for that island, Grandpa!” I yelled nervously. “We can make it to the other shore, Joe,” Grandpa responded. I looked, first at the opposite shore, then at the dark clouds. “No, we can’t. Grandpa, we’re heading for that island right now!” I said. “We’ll never make it, and I’m not getting hit by lightning!”
Grandpa saw the sense of what I was saying and turned the canoe in the right direction. Digging my paddle deep, I paddled as hard as I’ve ever paddled in my life. My adrenalin totally went off. I knew we had to get to shore. “In the name of Jesus! Protect us and keep us all safe!” I prayed to myself over and over again as I leaned forward, pulled the canoe paddle back with all my might, and then repeated the same motion. I’m shivering as I write this. Looking back, I realized that I’ve never been so terrified in my life. Grandpa and Jesse said nothing but both paddled as hard as I did. We finally got in the shelter of the islands again and made for the shore of the island. “There’s no place to beach the canoe!” Grandpa called over the wind. “We’ll have to find one!” I said. We paddled in and, finding a spot low to the water, made our landfall. The wind was growing stronger and the black line of clouds was getting closer and closer. I heard the distant rumble of thunder.
I jumped out of the canoe. My feet hit the water for the first time on the trip, but there was no time to be sentimental. I pulled the canoe part ways on shore and made it as secure as I could. Jesse climbed over the packs and jumped on shore. Grandpa also climbed out, and we both pulled the canoe securely in place. “Good thing this is an aluminum canoe!” Grandpa commented. “If it was a Kevlar, we’d have a hole in it right now.” “Yeah, right!” I said, thinking about the rough shoreline. “Where are the others? I hope they all get to shore in time!” I threw a couple of the packs ashore. Now that I was on land, I felt much safer and began to focus on helping the others get ashore. Just then, Jared and Amy pulled in. We found a spot and helped them beach. Amy hurried ashore. I could tell she was scared, and I didn’t blame her. The wind blew even harder, and rain started to fall just as the other two canoes made it in. None of us had our rain coats on, except Grandpa, but that didn’t matter right then. We helped Becky ashore and pulled the canoes farther in. “The canoes aren’t very stable!” Mike yelled. “We’ll have to make do,” I said. Ryan was sitting in the back of his canoe, completely getting buffeted by the wind and rain. We heard the first clap of thunder. “Get on shore, man!” I yelled. “Let Rachel get out first!” he yelled back. I couldn’t help but admire him for his gallant actions. We helped Rachel ashore, and then Ryan scrambled over the packs and onto land. “We need to get the rain gear out!” Becky shouted. We were already soaking wet, but hurriedly dug through the packs we had on shore. Some of the group had their rain coats more accessible and quickly got them on. The others had to wait, as the rain was coming down harder and harder.
After grabbing as much as we could, we made all haste for the shelter of the forest. Before heading up, Jared, Mike, and I pulled the canoes as far up as they would go. Mike stayed closer to shore for a while to keep an eye on the canoes. Thankfully, none of them drifted away. Amy, Rachel, Grandpa and Becky had formed into a little huddle to stay warm. Amy started crying. Jesse stood still, not saying anything. He was holding up really well. I was proud of him. Knowing this was a moment we would all want to remember, I took a picture. “He’s got the whole world in his hands….” Becky started singing. Grandpa and I joined in as boisterously as we could. “He’s got the Boundary Waters in his hands……..” Becky and Grandpa sang. I knew they were right. I glanced around our island and out at the lake. You could barely see across the channel due to the rain. The thunder shook the sky as lightning shot from cloud to cloud. “You know, we’d better move a little farther in,” I said, looking upwards. “We’re under the tallest tree in the area right now.” “Good call!” Becky said. We all moved in. The wind had died down substantially, but the rain, thunder, and lightning continued. “Let’s pray!” Grandpa suggested. “Dear Lord, we pray that you would keep us safe during this storm. Help us to be able to reach our campsite soon. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I was soaked from head to toe, since I hadn’t got on my raincoat in time. I was used to it, having worked and played in the Washington rain for quite some time. My raincoat helped me stay warm and kept the rest of the rain off of me. My brother likewise seemed to be all right, as did Grandpa and most of the others. Mike had never gotten out his raincoat and stood there sopping wet saying nothing. Ryan was also soaked to the skin.
“Anyone want a candy bar?” Jared suggested producing a few Snickers bars. “Oh, Jared, you rock!” Becky said. “Where’d you get those, Jared?” Ryan asked. “I pulled them out of my pack and thought now might be a good time to eat them,” he responded handing one to each of us. We all laughed and ate heartily. I will never eat a Snickers bar again and not think of that stormy day on Saganaga Lake. I opened my waterproof case and took my camera from around my neck. “I’d better take a few pictures,” I said. “We’ll want to remember this later.” Despite our dire circumstances, we all smiled big, except Mike, who was the wettest of all of us. I didn’t blame him.
Taking the pictures gave me an opportunity to look at my surroundings. We were standing in a magnificent stand of red and white pine. Cedar trees were growing everywhere as well. I broke off a cedar needle and smelled it. The wonderful smell was invigorating. The rain, although unwanted, was refreshing. “Hey, let’s look at the bright side, folks! We have a lot to be thankful for,” I said cheerfully. “For one thing, we’re finally here in the Boundary Waters. Secondly, we got to take the scenic route to our campsite, and we’re probably never going to be in the forest like this for the rest of our canoe trip! This is the real wilderness.” I named about fifteen other things. “There, I just named about twenty things to be thankful for right there!” I said enthusiastically. I could tell that everyone agreed with me even though no one said anything. “I wonder if anyone’s ever been on this island,” Rachel pondered. All of a sudden we heard a loon calling from the lake. “Listen to that loon!” Amy said. He laughed once more, and then was silent. We all cheered up a little. The rain was still coming down hard, and there was no sign of the storm letting up. Mike and I went back down to check on the canoes. They were still stable. Jared hadn’t said much, but was staring and the map and evaluating our situation. “My watch picked a good time to die. Does anyone have a time?” Jared asked us. “It’s one-thirty,” Becky said glancing at her watch. “Well, we have plenty of time. That’s the one good thing about this situation. If this storm doesn’t let up, we may have to try to camp on this island,” Jared informed us. “Tom and Joe, let’s go and look around the island and see if we can find a campsite.” The three of us made our way down a rough trail. Our search was unsuccessful. “Tom, we need to get Mike into some dry clothes,” Jared said seriously. “He’s starting to shiver and I don’t like to think of what could come next.” “Good idea, Jared,” Grandpa agreed. “Becky’s getting cold too,” I added. “Jared, thanks for staying so strong,” Grandpa encouraged. “Yes. I’m sure glad that you came along,” I chimed in. “Oh, you guys, it’s the least I can do,” Jared assured us. As we headed back to the others, I began thinking about Jared. In the midst of the whole stressful situation, from the moment we found out we were lost up until now, he had never lost his cool. His example inspired me. We got back and urged Mike to get into some dry clothes. “I don’t want to get more sets of my clothes wet. What if I need them later?” Mike shivered. “If you get dressed really quickly and then get your rain gear on, you should be just fine,” Jared suggested. Mike agreed, Walking back to the shore, we found Mike and Becky’s pack. Mike dried off as best as he could and put on his rain coat. I could tell he felt better. “Becky, you’re next,” I said. “No, Ryan, you go ahead. I’m fine,” Becky replied. She was shivering and her teeth chattered together as she spoke. “Mom, I’m fine. You need to get dry,” Ryan insisted. Although I could tell he was struggling, he was holding up great. Becky also dried off and got some dry clothes on. Everyone else didn’t seem to be uncomfortably cold. I sighed with relief knowing that at least we were all somewhat warm now. We continued to wait for the storm to blow over, but just as we thought it had petered out, the sky would flash again. We were stranded on the island for about two hours.
After it seemed like an eternity had passed, a ray of hope literally broke through. “Look, everyone,” Jared said as he pointed to the northwest. “You see that light there? I think this storm is almost over.” I looked to the northwest. A spot of light was breaking through the dark clouds. It illuminated the island and our hearts. “Thank you, Lord!” I thought. The rain finally stopped, and we made our way down to shore, only to find that our canoes were filled with water. “Oh, dear,” Becky sighed. “I guess we’ll have to bail them out,” Jared said. Jumping right into action, he hopped into one of the loaded canoes, dumped out his water bottle, and started bailing. Grandpa, Mike and I were able to turn over some of the canoes so the water could run out. The girls and Jesse packed everything up and made sure we left nothing behind. “We’re leaving no trace even on this island,” Becky said. We all laughed. Convinced the storm was finished, we loaded up all the canoes again and pushed off into Saganaga Lake. After being stranded for two hours, we were finally on our way again.
I was sopping wet, but I felt relieved. We were all safe, and we were back on the water. I shot up another prayer of thanksgiving. “We’re finally back on the water,” I said to Grandpa. “Now we just have to get back on track.” “Yeah, that was pretty bad,” Grandpa echoed. “Are you wet?” I asked. “A little. I had my raincoat on when we landed so it wasn’t too bad. How are you?” “I’m wet, but I’m not cold. I’m used to it.”
We continued to work our way southwest, with Jared and Amy in the lead. I continued to scan the islands and shoreline to try to identify where we were, but I was yet unsuccessful. I then noticed something that blew me away. “Look at the lake, Grandpa!” I said. The lake was glassy smooth. Just two hours before, the waves had been rearing their white heads, and now there wasn’t even a ripple. It was still overcast above, so I had the sensation of paddling between two layers of clouds. “That’s incredible,” he responded. “See how fast things can change up here?” “You’re not kidding!” I laughed. “Jared really was incredible back there on the island. He probably saved us.” “Jared really has emerged as the leader,” Grandpa commented, watching him study his map up ahead.
We approached a large bank of land, which I assumed was the far shore of the lake. All of sudden Grandpa spoke. “I think I see something familiar up ahead.” Hurrying forward, we informed Jared about our discovery. “You paddle ahead and check it out,” he told us. We got closer, paddling carefully due to the rocks that loomed just below the surface. Grandpa studied the shore line intently. “No, that’s not it,” he said. “I don’t see a fire grate. There’s not a campsite there.” We regretfully paddled back and informed Jared of our discovery. Jared examined his watch. “It’s three o’clock now, Tom. We have to find a campsite soon,” he said.
We continued to paddle along. The wind began to blow a little again but nowhere near as bad as the time before. As I looked first at the lake and then at my map, I suddenly saw that I could pick out where we were. Looking far ahead, I saw a small island sitting right off the shoreline. “Grandpa, I think that’s it!” I said excitedly, glancing at my map. All of a sudden, we saw a motorboat speeding across the lake. Mike, bringing up the rear, was closest to it. Waving his paddle in the air, he flagged it down. After consulting with the driver of the boat for a minute, Mike began paddling towards us as the boat sped off in the other direction. Reaching us, he pointed ahead at the spot I had just noticed on my map. “That’s American Point right there,” he shouted to Jared and us. “I was right!” I rejoiced. Mike pointed out and named a couple of other islands. I shot up another prayer of thanks. We now had our bearings, and we would reach our intended destination that night. For that I was grateful.
Now I could relax, and I started to enjoy myself once again. We rounded the tip of the point and began to head down the south shore, carefully identifying the campsites on the map, so we wouldn’t get lost again or overshoot our campsite. “See that campsite right there?” Grandpa said pointing to a spot on shore. “That’s the one we always stayed at when we passed through here. There’s a little bay right through that little inlet there that holds some great fishing.” “I think we’re aiming for that one that Deb recommended,” I replied. We continued to work our way down the shoreline. Suddenly, something caught my eye high up on shore. It was a fire grate. “I think that’s it!” I said. “Go in and check it out!” the others called from the water. Grandpa and I paddled in, and I climbed out of the canoe and hopped up on the rocky shoreline. A worn trail wove through the trees, so I followed it. Reaching the top of the hill, I saw several tent sites and a fire grate.
“This is it!” I called. “I’ll go look for the latrine.” I looked around, knowing the trail would be obvious. At the far end of camp, I found it. My sturdy sandals treaded over the rough trail of pine needles. I smelled the latrine before I saw it. Heading back to camp, I informed the others of my discovery. “It’s now four o’clock,” Becky said glancing at her watch. “Let’s get everything on shore and eat some lunch before we set up camp and start dinner.” Working together, we unloaded the canoes and carried all of our packs and the bear barrels up to the area where we would be setting up camp. Becky broke open one of the bear barrels, and after a quick prayer, we all dove into our turkey sandwiches. I ate like a starved man. “Can I have another sandwich?” I asked. “Absolutely. We have way more food than we need,” Becky stated looking at the incredible assortment of food we had. “Anyone want some more bread?” Ryan quipped, looking at our incredible stash of nine loaves. We all got a kick out of that.
“Hey, guys, I have an announcement,” I said dryly. “I’m resigning as navigator.” Everyone got a kick out of that, but I was serious. I wasn’t ready yet, and I did not want to get lost…..I mean bewildered…..again.
We finished up our meal, and Grandpa began to delegate duties. Becky and Rachel spread out a tarp and began to organize our utensils, getting ready for dinner. Grandpa and I stretched a clothesline between two trees and we all hung up our wet things. I took off my coat and hat and hung them up. My pants were already dry. “I’m sure glad that I have these pants!” I thought. Jared messed around in his pack for a minute and came back with a blue bag. “This is a gravity filter that I bought when I thought the world was ending a few years ago,” Jared laughed. “You just fill it up and the water comes out. No pumping.” “Man, you’ve got all the gadgets,” I said. “Now I’m really glad we brought you.” We needed more water than that bag would hold, so we filled up the two filter bags that Seagull Outfitters had sent us with. Jesse was put on duty filling up all of our water bottles. He immediately got the hang of using the filters and kept us all well hydrated as we worked.
“Ryan, let’s take a look at these tents,” I said. Breaking a tent out of the tent pack, we removed it from its bag and spread out the ground cloth. I assembled all of the stakes with no effort at all. “Now what?” I said. We tried as best as we could to put it together by intuition, but it just wasn’t working out. “Is that how you set up a tent?” Amy asked, looking on. “Uh, no,” Ryan responded. “Grandpa, do you have a second? We need a little help,” I called. Grandpa finished putting up his tent, and then came over and worked with us for a while. We finally decided to check out the directions and were able to get it up so it wouldn’t fall down. After that, Grandpa helped us assemble the other two tents. Ryan, Jesse and I would be in one tent, and Jared and Grandpa in another. Rachel, Becky, and Amy would be in a third tent, and Mike had a two person tent all to himself. The minute we had his tent up, Mike immediately entered it, and emerged shortly clad in his bug suit.
With all the tents up and our beds all ready for the night, Ryan and I walked down the latrine trail to find some firewood. We had to walk a little ways into the woods behind the latrine before we found something dead and burnable. Filling our arms, we walked back to camp. Jared began to build a fire with our findings and some firewood that had been left at our camp. Becky, in the meantime, had begun to make dinner. “We’re eating the steak tonight,” she stated, “and the potatoes too. I don’t want to portage all those potatoes.” “Good thinking!” Jared agreed. We put some water to boil over the fire. After that, Becky and Jared began to fuss with the stoves. We only got one of them started that night (our fault entirely, not the outfitter’s), and Becky began to cook the steak and potatoes. I volunteered to make the instant pudding. Walking over to our gravity water filter, I measured out the correct amount of water, and began to mix the instant pudding into it. I got a little dirt in it. “Gross!” Rachel stated. “Aw, who cares? We’re in the wilderness,” I commented to the observers. "Just wait until you see my wilderness manners at dinner this evening."
It was really difficult cooking for nine people in the size pan that we had, and poor Becky got a little frustrated with it, but we eventually had dinner ready, although it took us several hours. I filled up my plate with two steaks and a generous helping of fried potatoes. We sat down on some fallen logs around the fireplace and dug in. “Delicious!” I hollered over to our beautiful chef, who was still bending over the stoves making food for the others. “Everything tastes so fantastic! I love fried potatoes, by the way.” “I didn’t do the cut of steak justice,” she responded. “It was a good one, too.” “It tastes great!” I encouraged. “It really hits the spot after a hard day!” I cleaned off my plate and went back for a second. “I’m not getting hungry out here, I know that for sure,” I thought as I washed down my steak with some fresh filtered water from the lake.
Jared sat down on his camp chair near me. “Isn’t this great?” I asked him. “It sure is,” he said. “That storm was pretty rough, though. I’m glad that it’s over and we can enjoy ourselves a little bit. You need a little air?” At this, Jared handed me a hand held battery run fan. I shook my head in amazement. “You were worth bringing along just for the gadgets, man!” I stated. “Like I said before, we all appreciated your calm temperament during the stressful situation we had this afternoon.” “I’m a fourth grade teacher. I’m used to stressful situations, Joe.” We both chuckled.
By this time, the wind had completely blown the clouds away and the sun was shining. For the first time, I could now enjoy the virgin forest that we were camped in to the fullest. Most of the trees were evergreen, with pine, fir, and cedar standing thickly around the clearing where we were camped. Walking down to the shoreline, I was awestruck as I looked over the wide blue expanse of Saganaga Lake. As I looked down the far shore, I saw the narrows that we would be paddling through the next day off in the distance. On the other side, I could see the dark timber of the Quetico and the narrow entry to Cache Bay. Taking a deep breath, I smelled the wonderful wilderness scents. The birds were singing sweetly, and I felt completely at home. Going to my pack, I produced my two harmonicas and banjo. Sitting down by the fire, I played for a while, listening to the sweet sound of my harmonica blend with the singing wilderness. It was a beautiful sound-at least to my ears and hopefully to everyone else’s as well.
The adults had a conference down by the water and returned after a thorough studying of the map with a complete understanding of our route for the next day. We decided that only a few of us would go fishing that night, so Rachel, Jesse, and Grandpa went out in one of the canoes and started working their way down the shoreline. They returned with no fish. I volunteered to help Becky and Amy do the dishes. It was quite a task, seeing as we had to filter all of the water. The coffee pots were black from sitting on the fire, so I scrubbed them until they shone. I also scraped the pans and washed them out. It was no small task. “This is pretty hard,” Becky said as we scrubbed away. “I’m used to it. This isn’t the first time that I’ve scrubbed out a pan this bad,” I responded. My dinner duties at home, although sometimes exasperating for me, had prepared me well for this experience. “You’ve really got a knack for that, Joe,” Becky noticed as I produced a spotless pan. “Can you take care of this one too?” “Sure!” I agreed. After about thirty minutes of crouching on the lake shore, we pronounced the dishes complete and put them away.
Six hours had passed since dinner preparations first started. We learned that preparing dinner would consume quite a lot of our time each day. I felt sorry for Becky, who had clearly struggled to get our meal ready, and for that reason made a special point of helping her out and encouraging her. I hoped that things would be better tomorrow. Of course, just because we were working hard didn’t mean that we couldn’t enjoy our surroundings. As we sat down by the lake scrubbing away at our dishes, the sun began to set. The dragonflies darted here and there as they ate the mosquitoes that were just then starting to come out. The lake was calm and still. The yellows of the setting sun contrasted sharply with the dark blue of the sky and the dark shoreline, and reflected brilliantly over the water. At this point dusk had set in and the bugs were beginning to come out. Everyone slowly made their way to their tents to hit the sack. “Are you coming, Joe?” Ryan asked as he and Jesse climbed into our tent. “No, I’m staying out for a while. I want to have a wilderness moment,” I responded. “That’s what I came here for. I’ll put out the fire when I’m done.” “Good night!” everyone called as they entered their tents.
I sat by the fire, which was still crackling. The cool of the evening had now set in, but I was still comfortable, having put on a flannel shirt. The bugs left me alone as well, due to my mosquito spray. I began to listen to the sounds of the forest. The cicadas and crickets began to call through the forest, and the ominous humming of mosquitoes looking for their dinner filled the air. I could hear the ripple of the lake from down below. I listened to the laughter of the loons echoing across the water and off the near and far shores. Once or twice, I thought I heard a wolf howl, from the other shore. I sat there in silence for about ten or fifteen minutes, enjoying myself immensely. “Lord, thank you for bringing us here safely,” I whispered. “Bless this night, and help us to have a wonderful time. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
I walked softly towards my tent. I could hear Becky and the girls giggling about something in their tent, and Jared and Grandpa were engrossed in a conversation of which I heard little. I could see the beams of Mike’s flashlight darting around his tent as he got himself organized. I entered my tent and made myself comfortable in my sleeping bag. Jesse was already sleeping. As I lay there, still listening to the music of the woods, I heard Mike turn on his weather radio in his tent. “For Ely, Minnesota. Thursday, June 27: Slightly overcast skies with a forty percent chance of thundershowers in the afternoon. Friday, June 28: Overcast skies with a fifty percent chance of thundershowers in the afternoon.” I prayed that the weather would hold. Thankfully, according to the radio, the other two days would be nice. Shortly after that, I drifted off to sleep, grateful for my air mattress.
At about three in the morning, my eyes opened, and I realized I had to go to the bathroom. Quietly unzipping my tent, I exited and took a leak in the woods. At the same time, Mike unzipped his tent door and did the same thing kneeling in the doorway. We cracked a couple jokes to each other before I returned to my tent and lost no time falling back to sleep.
Day 1 Lakes Traveled:
My eyes opened. I could see that it was light outside. Quietly grabbing my clothes, I slipped out of the tent and left the others sleeping. I looked around the campsite. Most of the people were still sleeping, but I saw Grandpa down by the shoreline washing up. After telling him where I was going, I headed down the trail to the latrine. Nature was calling-no pun intended. Strolling down the trail of pine needles, I smelled the fresh air. A cool breeze was blowing from the northwest. The dew had settled on the trees and as it evaporated, it brought the scent of pine and cedar with it, combined with the woodsy aroma of the bracken. The sun had just finished working its way above the horizon, and I could see that there weren’t many clouds in the sky. It was a beautiful morning. After finishing up with my business, I returned to camp. Before doing anything else, I replaced the orange bandanna (our Boundary Waters version of a lock on the bathroom door) and toilet paper in the specified place. Someone else would need it sooner or later.
The others slowly drifted out of their tents. Becky broke out the stoves and started mixing up the powdered eggs and frying the hash browns. The girls were helping her. Seeing as there was nothing to do, Grandpa and I walked down to the shore and decided to try our hand at fishing from land.
“How did you sleep last night?” I asked Grandpa. “All right. How about you?” “I slept like a baby. I think I was tired,” I responded. “Thanks to my air mattress, I was actually quite comfortable.” “Which pole do you want?” Grandpa asked, surveying our nine fishing poles. “I’ll take this one,” I said. “Help me get the leech on.” I’m not much of a fisherman. Prior to this day, I had caught some sunfish and a baby small mouth bass. I tried again and again at Grandpa’s cabin to catch something worth talking about, but to no avail. Apparently I didn’t have the knack. Grandpa slipped a leech on my hook. I walked down to the edge of the rocky ledge and flicked the fishing pole. The leech, sinker and bobber sailed high into the air and landed about fifteen feet from shore. I could see my bobber bouncing up and down through the waves.
All of a sudden, I felt something grab the end of my line. I let him mess with it a little before watching the bobber dart under the water. “Set the hook!” Grandpa urgently called. He was as excited as I was. I set the hook, and the fight was on. My fish broke water as I began to reel him in. “Joe, that’s a huge smallmouth bass!” Grandpa exclaimed as he went to find one of our nets. Amy and Ryan ran down from camp to see the action. I finally got him up to shore. Grandpa swooped with the net and missed. I brought him up again, and this time Grandpa succeeded. Pulling the fish off of my line, Grandpa handed him to me. “This thing is a trophy fish, Joe. It’s at least a four pounder.” “Really?” I responded in disbelief. “If it was the last day, I would have brought it back and had it mounted.” I grabbed my bass by the lip and held it up. Whipping my camera out of my case, I handed it to Ryan, who took a picture. While my fish story isn’t half as impressive as others I’ve read about, I’m very proud of my bass. Holding up my first real fish was one of the greatest moments of my life, and I’ll never forget it.
“Hey, everyone, I caught a fish!” I called to those back in camp. “That’s great, Joe!” Becky called back. Ryan had seen enough. Grandpa got him all set up with a leech, and Ryan began to cast out in the same area I had. On his second cast, he got a bite. He too pulled in a small mouth bass. It was a little smaller than mine, but I complimented him all the same. As I can testify from personal experience, a fish is a fish. “Let’s filet these!” Grandpa said excitedly. When he gets a bee in his bonnet, there's no stopping him. I'm told that I'm a lot like him that way. Grandpa located our only wooden canoe paddle and set it down on a stump. Heading up to his tent, he returned with his filet knife and a pot to set the meat in. Laying Ryan’s fish down on the paddle, he began to slice through the scales. “Shoot!” he exclaimed. “I just cut my hand!” “I’ll keep an eye on everything,” I said, looking at his cut. “It doesn’t look too bad. Go get it fixed.” Becky spared a minute from her kitchen duties and helped Grandpa wash his cut and put a band aid on his finger. “Now, be careful, Tom,” she cautioned. “I will,” he responded. Returning to the shoreline, he resumed his filet job. Finishing up one side of Ryan’s fish, he turned the fish over and began to work on the second side. “Joe, you’re not going to believe this, but I just cut my hand again, and I cut it worse this time,” Grandpa said. “What happened?” I sighed. “The paddle slipped.” “Well, go take care of it. I don’t want any infections on this trip, Grandpa.” I kept an eye on the fish as Grandpa remorsefully made his way back up to camp. “Becky, you’re not going to believe this,” I heard Grandpa say, as he showed Becky his finger. “Oh, Tom, that’s really bad. You need to be more careful. Start applying pressure.” “Poor Becky,” I thought. “Breakfast is already taking a while, not that I care, but to have this on top of that would almost be too much.” Jared came over to investigate. “Look what I did, Jared!” Grandpa commented. Jared winced. “That’s pretty bad, Tom. It almost looks like it might need stitches, but let’s see what we can do.” It took Becky and Jared a couple minutes to stop the bleeding. They applied some Bacitracin and went through at least one bandage. Jared created a splint using a Popsicle stick and a stick he picked up from the ground, and then pressure wrapped Grandpa’s finger with bandages and duct tape. “That’ll do it,” he said as he finished.
Grandpa and I returned to finish filleting the fish, bringing a proper cutting board with us. “Now be careful,” I insisted. We finished up the fish with no further injuries, and I washed the meat out in the lake, leaving the carcasses for the turtles. Breakfast was ready at this point. We all gathered around, prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, and dug in. The hash browns were delicious. The eggs I ate, but they left something to be desired. “How did you sleep, girls?” I asked them as we all sat on the fallen logs around the fire pit. “We slept well,” Rachel said. “Good job catching your fish!” “Thanks,” I said. “I wish that Grandpa hadn’t cut his finger though. Did you sleep well, Ryan?” “You and Dad woke me up taking a leak in the woods,” he commented dryly.
Up until now, Mike had not emerged from his tent. He finally came out and ate some breakfast. I could tell that he wasn’t feeling well. He quietly whispered to me that he was having a migraine headache. “Oh, dear,” I thought, as I prayed for him. Becky graciously fried our fish for us in the pan. I took a generous helping, leaving some for Grandpa and Ryan. That bass was one of the best things I ever tasted. The void in my stomach left by the powdered eggs was filled comfortably, and I was set for the day. There’s just something wonderful about fish fresh out of the lake. “Thank you, Becky,” I said, giving her a hug. “The fish were delicious!” “I just threw them in with whatever was in the pan,” she responded. I could tell these mealtimes were really stressing her out. “I haven’t tasted anything that good in a long time,” I said. “You did great!” Cleanup took at least as long, if not longer, than it had the previous evening. “This is never going to work,” Becky stated. “We can’t take all this time every morning cleaning our dishes. We’ll have to re-evaluate our food supply and have bagels for breakfast tomorrow.” “And bread,” Amy put in. “We have plenty of that.”
When clean up was finally finished, we hurried to break camp. The tents went down and were placed in their bags. I helped roll the sleeping bags and mattresses up in tight wads. All of the kitchen equipment was put away in their proper packs as well, and we did a final walk over to make sure nothing was left behind. Some of us, including me, made the walk to the latrine. After about an hour, we were finally ready to go. With all of our equipment down on shore, we had a short devotional and prayer before loading up the canoes. Jared and I were paddling partners that day. Jared took the stern and I the bow. The others loaded our canoe, and we pushed off into Saganaga Lake. As we did, I looked behind at the spot where I had caught my first real fish. It turned out to be the only fish I would catch on that trip.
The Difficulties Begin
“Well, we’re off again!” I commented to Jared. It was about noon. “That we are,” he responded, “and it’s a great day too, except for this wind right in our face. We’re going to have a pretty substantial paddle today, not to mention our first couple of portages.” I didn’t want to think about that right then. It took about half an hour, for some reason, for everyone else to depart from the campsite, so Jared kept the canoe headed into the wind as we slowly headed northwest up the Saganaga shoreline. We passed the time talking and catching up, and I learned a lot about Jared and his family.
I thought about Jared. He was a calm and calculated leader, as the storm showed. Moreover, he was caring, understanding, and sympathetic. I could tell he was a great teacher and husband. Thus far on our trip, Jared had set an admirable example of a strong, emotionally stable, encouraging leader. Watching him taught me a lot about godly leadership. “You know, Jared, we all agree that you were the best thing that ever happened to Mandy and her family,” I said. “I’m glad that we can take this trip together.” “Thank you for your kind words, Joe. I’m grateful to be traveling with you, too,” he responded.
Finally, Mike and Rachel pushed off from our campsite, and we were really off. “Where are we headed?” I asked. “We’re headed for the narrows beyond that little island,” Jared replied. The wind was pretty strong, but we were both strong paddlers. In about forty-five minutes, we were the first ones to reach the narrows. I looked back to see how the others were doing. Grandpa and Amy were not far out from us, and Becky, Ryan, and Jesse were about thirty yards behind them. Surprisingly, you could barely see Mike and Rachel. They were quite a ways out and it didn’t look like they were moving too quickly. Jared and I sat back to wait just to the right of the small channel that connected the open sweep of Saganaga Lake with the first of Saganaga’s three bays. Grabbing hold of a cedar tree, we relaxed in our canoe chairs. We were drifting near a small campsite on the Canadian side of the lake.
Grandpa and Amy pulled in next. “How was that?” I asked. “It was pretty tough,” Grandpa agreed, “but not as difficult as yesterday. The wind’s right in our face. I’m looking forward to tomorrow when we change directions and start heading southeast again.” “How are you doing, Amy?” I asked her. “I’m doing fine, but that was pretty hard,” she responded. Amy was tough (as I would learn), but not afraid to be honest about the way she was really feeling. She was able to do this without being negative, though. I really admired this. Becky, Ryan and Jesse pulled in. I tossed my water bottle to Jesse, who was our official water bottle filler. “Fill me up, would you?” I asked. “Sure,” he said and immediately went to work. While the others paddled, he would use one of the hand pumps and fill up our water bottles as we went. The little things that would have been annoying for the rest of us to do were perfect responsibilities for Jesse. He loved having jobs on the trip. It made him feel like a man. I glanced back out at the lake. Mike and Rachel were gaining ground, but we had at least another fifteen minutes to wait. “I think we all need a little Life Saver power,” Becky commented as she produced the candy, handing a couple to each of us. Jared likewise produced his fan, and we all took a turn with it.
Finally, Mike and Rachel pulled in. We passed them some Life Savers. “Looks like you need a couple of these,” I said. “I think we need to turn around,” Mike said. “I’m not sure if we should go any further. I don’t know if it’s safe.” I was confused at this. A lot of thoughts ran through my head. There were so many lakes that I wanted to see, but I could clearly see that Mike was not feeling well “Well, I think we should go on, but I submit to your better judgment,” I informed the adults. They all looked at each other. “Let’s keep moving,” Becky decided, after glancing at the map. “We’ll have lunch once we enter this second bay.” We drifted through the channel and entered First Bay. I was still confused by conflicting feelings about wanting the route that I had planned, but yet concerned for Mike’s welfare. Knowing that the decision was not mine to make, I tried to take my mind off of it.
The wind was better in the smaller bays, and in about twenty minutes we had reached the spot where First Bay narrows into Second Bay. “Wait a minute!” Jared said looking at the shoreline. “There’s no entrance here!” “Oh, great,” I thought. “We’re lost again.” Remembering Grandpa’s adage about never getting lost in the Boundary Waters, I remained calm and asked Jared where he thought we were. “Let me see,” he said. “One thing that we didn’t do last time was backtrack. Let’s just look at our surroundings and get our bearings for a second.” Jared glanced at the map, the compass, and at the surrounding islands for a while. “Let’s try the other end of this bay. From where we were, it didn’t look like there was a channel there, but we could be wrong. Let’s lean on our paddles and check it out before telling the others to follow us,” he concluded after some thought. We stroked quickly to the north end of the bay and after a closer look saw that there was a passage. Jared blew his whistle and indicated to the others to follow us. “At least we weren’t bewildered as long this time,” I noted thankfully. It was clear Jared was a better navigator than I was. With that, Jared became our official navigator, and we were never lost again for the remaining four days of our trip. This was good, as we had greater difficulties lying ahead.
Entering Second Bay, Jared began to look for campsites to make sure we were still on track. We found a couple. “I think we need to have lunch now,” Becky called from behind us. “Let’s pull off at one of these campsites and bring one of the bear barrels up.” We found a campsite that sat high up on a peninsula jutting out into Second Bay. Beaching our canoes, we grabbed a bear barrel and made our way up to the fire grate, sitting around it. Becky began to make lunch. Mike lay down on the ground totally exhausted. “Let’s go look for a latrine,” Jared said to Ryan and me. “We may need to camp here since Mike’s not doing well,” Jared confided as we headed down the trail. We searched the woods, and while we could smell a possible location for a latrine, we never found one. It was obvious that other campers hadn’t either.
As Becky continued to make our sandwiches, I saw a rain cloud move over us. Several droplets bounced off my hat. “Uh, folks, I think we should get our rain gear on,” I suggested. We all got on our rain gear just as the rain started to pour down from the sky. Thankfully, no lightning or thunder accompanied it, and the solid breeze would blow it away in a few minutes. “Here, take a Slim Jim,” Becky said as she tossed one to me. “I love Slim Jims!” I stated as I mowed it down like a tree chipper. “You got another Clif Bar?” “We’ve got plenty,” Rachel said as she handed me one along with my salami sandwich. I put that away quickly too. The rain blew away quickly and the sun came out, illuminating the clearing with light. I noticed that we were sitting in a large clump of Norway Pines. The clear blue water caught the sunlight and shone brilliantly. “This is gorgeous country,” I exclaimed. “I don't know if I've ever been in a more beautiful place." I looked at Mike. His eyes were closed and he did not look well at all. I prayed silently for his full healing.
When lunch time was finished, I asked if we were going to keep going, looking at Mike, who had eaten a little. “We are!” Becky said cheerfully. Pulling me aside, she told me that Mike wanted me to paddle in front for him, and Rachel would join Jared. “Absolutely,” I agreed. I felt sorry for Mike and wanted him to enjoy himself a little more, so here was my chance to help take some pressure off of him. Mike stood up and followed us down to the water. Climbing across the packs and seating himself in the stern of the canoe, he paddled out and turned around. I hopped in the bow and helped push us off with my paddle. “I’m glad you’re feeling a little better,” I told Mike as we stroked off into Second Bay. The wind was still blowing strongly. “I’m feeling a little better,” he responded, “except I can’t take the medication that I want to take just yet.” “Yeah, that stinks,” I sympathized compassionately. “Listen, if you’re tired, need to drink some water, or need to rest, just keep us on course and I’ll paddle for the both of us. I’ve got endurance and can do that. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” “I’ll keep that in mind,” he responded, “but I’m feeling all right now. You’re a good paddler, Joe.”
We wasted no time entering and crossing Third Bay. I paddled as hard as I could, keeping us moving at a good speed so Mike didn’t have to expend so much effort. I was grateful for all of my yard jobs back home, which fostered that endurance in me. I thought about Mike. Clearly, one of the reasons he had continued onward was to honor his father, even when it was hard. Even though he was hurting, he kept going and never said a negative word on the trip. I admired him for this. Reaching the end of Third Bay, we encountered our first portage, which was only a couple of rods long. (A rod, by the way, is the length of a canoe, about sixteen and a half feet.) The portage was essentially a low rock outcropping extending about twelve feet into the lake. A narrow channel ran on the left side between Saganaga and Swamp Lakes. “This really isn't even a portage,” Grandpa stated. He knew what was ahead. We didn’t.
Jared, Mike, Grandpa, Ryan and I hopped out. We moved some of the heavier packs out of the canoes and then with all of our might hoisted each canoe over the portage and set it in the water on the other side. A party came up behind us and waited very patiently for us to finish portaging. It only took about twenty minutes. In no time at all, we were back on the water and crossing Swamp Lake. After about ten minutes, I saw a narrow wooden dock protruding into the lake.
“That,” Grandpa announced, “is Monument Portage. It runs right along the border between Canada and the United States. It’s about eighty rods long, which isn’t too bad. Let’s get moving, everyone.” Pulling up to the dock, we all climbed out. “Give me a pack,” I said. “I want to walk the portage first and see what kind of ground I’ll be encountering with the canoe.” Becky helped me put a Duluth pack on my shoulders, and I strolled down the portage. The pack was heavy but I could handle it without too much effort. As I walked by, I saw a monument with “Canada” on one side and “United States” on the other, hence the name “Monument Portage.” “Neat!” I thought. For the first time in my life, I had left the United States. I then began to concentrate on the terrain. The trail was essentially a dirt path weaving its way through the thick woods. In spots the trail was quite muddy, so I looked for rocks or sticks I could step on to navigate through the puddles.
The trail headed gradually upwards, and then made a sharp drop down hill. I navigated my way down the hill, climbed over a fallen tree, and about ten minutes after first leaving the portage, I had reached Ottertrack Lake. Setting my pack down, I took a breather and helped Rachel take her pack off. We then made our way back down the portage, heading back for a second load. I shook off my shoulders as we crested the sharp hill, and began to smell the wonderful woodsy smells of muskeg and duff, tempered with pine and cedar. Birds were chirping to each other from the trees. “This is no picnic,” I thought, “but it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Passing by other exhausted portagers, we encouraged them, stopping to take pictures of the monument. Jared passed by us carrying the three seater canoe. Back at the dock, I decided to take a bear barrel next. This was much heavier than the pack and a lot more uncomfortable, but I managed it.
Ryan and I made our way back down the portage. “Do you want to take a canoe first, or do you want me to?” I asked him. “You go ahead,” he responded. “I want you to walk behind me with a pack in case I need help,” I said. Back at the dock, Grandpa lifted up the end of the aluminum canoe and I walked under it. The portage pads rested on my shoulders, and I slowly stood up. “Oof!” I grunted. “See you later, Grandpa!” “Good luck, Joe!” I waited for a second while Ryan grabbed a pack, and then started down the portage path once again. Walking through the mud on a gradual grade, I carefully watched my footing. While the canoe was pretty heavy, the awkward balance of the canoe was worse. “Whoa!” I said as the canoe’s weight began to shift forward. “I don’t know if I can do this by myself, Ryan, I might need your help.” “You can do it, man. Good job!” Ryan encouraged. I re-adjusted the weight of the canoe on my shoulders and continued onward. “Where are those canoe rests Grandpa always talks about when I need them?” I panted as I shifted the weight a little bit. Grandpa had talked about special places where a canoe camper could set his canoe and take a break. I didn’t see any as we navigated the trail, and neither did anyone else. The problem of balance was further accentuated as I headed downhill. I was sweating now and my shoulders were killing me. You might not think it was possible to hop over a fallen tree carrying a seventy pound canoe, but allow me to be the first to assure you that it is indeed possible. Ryan was a great team player and encouraged me the whole way.
When we reached Ottertrack Lake, Jared lifted the canoe off of my shoulders. “Whew!” I said, wiping my brow. “Well, the first portage is always the hardest. I’ll walk behind you, Ryan, and make sure you’re all right.” Heading back down the portage, we soon reached the wooden dock. I took a final look at Swamp Lake, grabbed the final bear barrel, and then walked along the portage behind Ryan. He struggled as much as I did. “This is a killer!” Ryan groaned as he headed up the hill. “This will probably be my first and last canoe trip.” “You’re doing great, man!” I encouraged. “Keep it up, you’re almost there!” Finally, we had all of our gear portaged.
The canoes were all loaded up, and we pushed off into Ottertrack Lake. This was a much more narrow and rugged lake with tall trees and a high rocky shoreline. By now, the wind had died down somewhat. As we paddled along, an ominous rain cloud drifted overhead. I put on my rain coat in preparation, as did Mike. A light rain began to fall from the sky, but after the portage we had just experienced, it was quite refreshing. My Dri Ducks kept my upper body and head dry. As we paddled along, I tried to think of ways that I could make portaging a canoe easier. I finally decided that, if Ryan walked behind me carrying a pack and helped balance the canoe, I could manage the weight of the canoe much better, shifting the load from my shoulders to my arms as needed. I would then do the same for him.
After about twenty-five minutes, we reached the beginning of the portage heading to Ester Lake. I climbed out of the canoe and looked at the portage. It was rocky and rough, but that’s not the first thing I noticed. It was headed straight up.
“Last portage of the day, everyone! We can do it!” Becky stated triumphantly. “We’ve got a great campsite waiting for us!” “How many rods is it?” Grandpa asked. Jared glanced at the map. “It’s only about seventy rods, so it’s a little shorter than the last portage.” Hearing that, we all rallied a little and began to unload the canoes. “Like last time, I’m going to take a pack over first and see what kind of ground I’ll be covering,” I said as I picked up a bear barrel. “I’ll take two paddles as well.” I headed up from Ottertrack Lake climbing the steep craggy trail, with a pack on my back and a paddle in each hand. Soon the lake was lost to my view. This portage was much steeper, rockier, and muddier than Monument Portage, and what’s worse, it never seemed to go down hill at all. I climbed over some fallen logs as I headed up the steep hill. I carefully navigated my way over the muddy trail, taking care not to slip. Ryan was right behind me. At the very end of the portage, the rough trail dropped sharply down hill. I walked down to the landing, carefully working my way around the rocks that graced the trail, and looked out over Ester Lake. The portage ended on a small channel on the north side of the lake. Dead logs sat where they had fallen near the shorelines on the opposite side. I saw a loon swimming around, oblivious to my presence. If he did notice me, he didn’t react. Setting down my pack and paddles, I headed back up and over the ridge to get another load. “We must be gaining a hundred feet or more in elevation!” I thought. “Hopefully we’ll start to go downhill sooner or later on this trip.” I passed several of the others as I made the walk back to Ottertrack. “Good going, Amy!” Ryan encouraged as she walked by with a pack and a fishing pole in either hand. “Thanks!” she said as she huffed and puffed her way up the hill. Becky was close behind, and, incredibly enough, was carrying two packs, one in front and one in back. “Are you crazy?” I asked. “I needed the balance,” she responded as she followed Amy.
“Now, Ryan,” I stated, “I thought up a system that would allow us to work together on the canoes. One of us will carry the canoe, and the other will walk behind with a pack, balancing the canoe. If the balance gets awkward, the person in back will push the canoe down or up to help the person carrying the canoe regain his balance.” “That’s a good idea,” he said. “Let’s do that.” “Do you want to go first, or should I?” I asked. “I’ll go first so I can get it over with.” We finally reached the landing on the other side. I pulled a bear barrel on my back and then watched as Mike loaded Ryan up with a canoe. Mike lifted up one end of the canoe, while the other end rested on the ground. Ryan crouched under the canoe and got ready, and then stood up as Mike moved out of the way. “See you at the other end!” I called to Mike as I followed Ryan, who was grunting as he hauled that big load of aluminum up the first steep part of the trail. “Push down, push down!” Ryan ordered as the canoe started to pivot forward. I grasped the bow of the canoe with both of my hands and pulled down. “Thank you, that’s better,” he said. We continued to make our way up hill. Ryan carefully navigated around the slippery mud puddles and around the rocks. He almost lost his footing once. I heard him swear. I didn’t blame him. “Man, I’ve got my work cut out for me,” I thought to myself. “You’re almost there, man, keep up the good work!” I encouraged as Ryan’s grunts were starting to get a little louder. We finally neared the top of the ridge. “Aauggh! Aauggh!” Ryan yelled as he scaled the hill and made the walk down to the shoreline. Jared and I boosted the canoe off of his shoulders. Ryan whipped off the bandanna that was on his head, looked up at the sky, and started balling his eyes out. That portage took everything he had. We all looked on. Jared reached out to shake Ryan’s hand, and I did the same. “Respect, man,” Jared said. I echoed a similar sentiment. Ryan regained his composure.
“Well, I guess it’s my turn. See you soon,” I said as Ryan and I headed back over the ridge to grab the final canoe. At the other end, Ryan lifted up the canoe. I wrapped my coat around my neck to improve the padding, and crouched under the canoe. Standing up, I began to head up the steep slope. Ryan followed with the final bear barrel. I had made up my mind to sing over this portage, so I broke out into Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. I knew all the many verses and thought I could scale the portage in the time it took me to sing it. I walked along singing my lungs out. “Down!” I shouted as the canoe began to pivot forward. Ryan adjusted me. “Thanks, man,” I said, returning to my song. “With a load of iron ore, twenty six thousand tons more, than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty….” I was glad my ship wasn’t that heavy. The trek began to be one of sheer existence. One foot in front of the other. Right, left, right, left, hup, two, three, four, hup, two, three, four……Get this thing over the portage……Dodge rock……Hop over tree branch……Don’t slip…… I shifted my hands to the portage pads and relieved my shoulders for a second, bearing the weight of the canoe with my arms. My neck and back were telling me to quit, but I wasn’t going to quit. I scaled the crest of the hill singing my lungs out.
Down by the water, the others were beginning to wonder where we were. “Do you think they’re all right?” Becky had just asked. They heard my singing and knew that we were all right. I finished the song just as we began to head down towards the lake. I carefully stepped down from rock to rock as we neared the landing. “Someone grab a camera and take a picture, please,” I yelled. “I don’t want to forget this one.” Rachel captured the moment for me. Ryan and Jared boosted the canoe off of my shoulders. I was filled with emotion and joy, knowing that I, with the Lord’s help, had overcome that obstacle. I threw both of my arms up in the air. “YES!” I yelled and then whooped loudly. My voice echoed across the water and off the other shores. My heart rejoiced. That was one of the greatest moments of my life. As boys grow into men, they often have moments where physical, mental, and emotional strength are pushed to the limit and overcome. The portage definitely did that for me.
Grandpa and Amy were already in their canoe and ready to go. “I have to take care of something real quick before I get in,” Becky said. She walked into the lake up to her waist, and then plunged backwards into the water. “Oh, that’s so refreshing,” she said. “Now I can think.” “You look great, Becky,” Grandpa encouraged. “Oh, stop it, Tom,” she responded.
“Joseph, that loon is still there. See?” Rachel pointed out. I looked. That loon had barely moved an inch. It was as if it was sitting there just to encourage us.
Mike and I were the last ones off. We pushed off into Lake Ester and began to head southwest towards our camp site. Jared led the way. “Well, that was a challenge,” I said to Mike. “You did really good,” he returned. “All of you did great.” It was about seven in the evening. The sun had emerged a little as we loaded the canoes, but it was soon obscured by more clouds. Ester was a much smaller lake than Saganaga and, like Ottertrack, had many high, rugged, craggy cliffs that loomed over the water. The water was clear and refreshing, and the air smelled wonderful. Jared led us southwest as Mike and I brought up the rear.
“Look over there,” Mike said as he pointed to the northwest. I looked, and my heart faltered again. There loomed a group of dark clouds, headed straight for us. “Not again!” I thought. Once again I snapped into my survival mode and began to paddle much faster. Fortunately, this storm seemed to be smaller than the other system that had passed through the previous day, and seemed to be moving a lot slower. We reached our campsite ahead of the storm.
“This is the camp site I always stayed at on Ester,” Grandpa said as he hopped on shore. “It hasn’t changed a bit.” “We need to hurry and get those tents up,” Becky said. We quickly unloaded the canoes, and Ryan and I began to set up the tents in order to beat the storm. We could hear it getting closer. Jared and Grandpa began to set up theirs. “Rats! Nothing’s going together right again,” I muttered. “Hurry!” Ryan shouted as the first drops of rain began to fall. Mike and Becky hurried over to help, but we didn’t get all of the tents up in time before the rain began to come down even harder. Some of them got completely drenched. “This stinks!” Ryan stated as we finally got the girls’ tent to stand up, and then started in on ours. “We’ll all be wet tonight.” I said nothing.
We finally got all the tents up, although they didn’t look too pretty. Fortunately there was not much thunder and lightning involved in this storm, but the rain came down in buckets. Everyone stood around the bear barrels. It was clear from some of the comments and tones of voices I heard that the others weren’t happy. “I’m not going to even try to get dinner ready," Becky said. “It's Clif Bars and trail mix for dinner tonight.” She was clearly all done.
We headed for our tents as the rain continued to fall. I tapped Grandpa’s shoulder and motioned for him to follow me. We walked down to the edge of the lake and stood there as the rain came down steadily. “Grandpa, I want you to know that I’m having the time of my life no matter what we encounter. This trip was our baby, and I’m excited that our dream is finally in fruition. I don’t care what’s involved,” I began. I meant every word I said. “That’s fantastic, Joseph! I’m glad the circumstances aren’t changing your attitude. I feel the same way,” Grandpa responded. I could tell he needed to hear what I had said. “Well, that’s true for me,” I went on, “but I’m not sure about the others. We had a really hard day today and it’s clear that some of the others aren’t having a good time. I wanted this trip to be a good time for everyone. Can we pray together that God would change our circumstances for their sake?” “Sure,” Grandpa said. He and I prayed, and I gave him a big hug. Experiencing Grandpa's favorite place with him was so wonderful that I didn't care how bad the weather was. “Thanks for bringing me up here. It feels great,” I said genuinely. “You’re welcome,” Grandpa responded. “This is my favorite lake, you know. I’m a little bummed that you couldn’t see the beauty of it.” “That’s all right. Maybe it will clear up tomorrow. If not, I’ll come back someday and see it how it’s supposed to look,” I replied.
Grandpa went into his tent to join Jared. “Are you coming, Joe?” Ryan called from inside our tent. “The trail mix and Clif bars taste great!” “Not yet,” I responded. “I’ll be in soon.”
Looking over the lake as the rain came down, I ate a macadamia nut Clif bar and thought about everything we had went through that day. I felt terrible. I didn’t feel bad for myself. I was having a blast and nothing would ever change that. However, I felt bad because I felt responsible. The trip had been my idea, and I had wanted this trip to be a rejuvenating time for everyone. I knew that some of the folks that were with us had endured a challenging year, and I wanted this to be a time for unwinding and relaxing. Now my vision had put them into a place that they were dying to get out of. What’s worse, I could not change our circumstances one bit to make anything better. But I knew Who could.
I walked down to the edge of the water and stood there as the rain came down. My heart was weighed down with this burden, and I needed to get rid of it. “Father,” I prayed, “I thank you, first of all, for making my vision a reality, and I want you to know that I am enjoying this trip immensely. I have a concern to bring before You, however. When I envisioned this trip, I wanted it to be a wonderful, joyful time for everyone involved, especially for Grandpa. This whole trip was for him. I’m having a good time, Father, but there are some others here who clearly are not. That’s not what I want. Father, improve our circumstances, not for my sake, because I don’t care, but for the sake of the others who came along to have a good time. I pray these things in the power of Jesus’ name, Amen.” I continued to pray for about a half an hour as the rain continued to steadily fall. My heart was breaking.
All of a sudden, the western sky began to get lighter behind the clouds, and a brilliant orange light illuminated the clouds from behind. The rain was still coming down, but my heart began to sing. The sun set behind the clouds, never emerging, but that was all I needed to see. “Thank you, Father. I didn’t need a sign that You had heard my prayer, but I sure do appreciate it,” I silently whispered. I continued to walk around our camp site, feeling a little better now. The rain still came down hard from above, and the bugs began to come out. I swatted them away.
Then, to the northwest, the clouds slowly parted, and I saw the blue sky of dusk. I walked down to the shoreline, took out my camera, and took a picture of the storm as it cleared away. As I stood there, a strong breeze came up and blew the rest of the rain clouds away from overhead. The rain stopped, and my heart rejoiced. The Lord had heard me, and what’s better, He had removed the burden from my heart. I prayed another prayer of thanksgiving as I walked to my tent.
After eating a hearty meal of trail mix and Clif Bars, and changing into some dry clothes, I rolled up in my slightly damp sleeping bag and fell asleep filled with hope.
Day 2 Lakes Visited:
Portages: 2; 160 rods
I woke up the next morning shortly after sunup, although I saw no sunrise due to the thick clouds that covered the sky. Leaving my tent, I quietly dressed, put on my rain coat, and made a trek to the latrine. Mounting the Forest Service throne, I swatted away the bugs and let it all out. We were camped on the southeast shore of Ester Lake on a large slab of rock that descended down to the water’s edge. It was large and roomy, and had several good tent sites that we had utilized. Trees of various sizes had worked their way into the rocky soil over the years. Due to the rain that had fallen, the air was fresh, and a chilly breeze blew in off of the lake. It wasn’t raining.
I sat down on one of the fallen logs that lay around the fire grate and looked out over the lake. On the other side, I saw a rough and craggy cliff that I assumed was the “Mount Ester” that Grandpa had always talked about. Although I felt better than I had the previous evening, I was still a little low. I decided to have my devotions while I was sitting there. My Bible was buried in my pack somewhere, so I began to quietly recite Scripture from memory. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth….” I began, quoting Psalm 8. I continued to work through various psalms before a verse came to mind and surprised me with hope. “Though sorrow may last through the night, joy comes in the morning,” I murmured, feeling the impact of every word. I got the urge to sing a song. Humming a C sharp, I began to quietly sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” acapella. From there, I went on to sing other hymns, such as “I Need Thee Every Hour”, and a couple of psalms. The words lifted my spirits and brought me joy and hope.
I saw the guitar sitting in its case at the other end of the clearing. I glanced at my watch. It was about seven. “Well, if I play quietly, no one will hear me,” I thought. Quietly strumming a couple chords, I sang a couple more songs before putting the guitar away. My burden was now completely gone and I was ready to face the day knowing that I had put the Lord first. Despite the fact that there were still clouds overhead threatening to rain on us, I trusted that God had heard me and would answer my prayer.
The others slowly emerged from their tents. Becky whispered good morning and began to start up the stove to make the morning coffee. Grandpa likewise emerged from his tent all ready for the day. Jared made an appearance shortly after. “Sleep well?” I asked Jared as he sat down near me. “Not really,” he responded. “There’s something about Tom’s snore that sounds like a thunder clap, a bear walking into camp, and someone unzipping the tent.” Becky laughed. What Jared didn’t tell me (but I found out later), was that, at the minute he had finally started to drift off to sleep, I had started my little praise and worship time over at the other end of camp, which wasn't as quiet as I thought it was. Sorry, Jared!
“What’s on the menu for breakfast?” I asked Becky. “We’ll be having bagels for breakfast. There’s a couple different varieties for you to choose from, and we have cream cheese, jam, and peanut butter. I don’t want to deal with dishes this morning,” Becky responded. “Good idea,” I said. “Let’s see if we can’t get an earlier start today!” “Here’s your cup and your Emergen-C,” Becky said handing me my plastic mug and a packet filled with the drink I would consume in lieu of our vitamins. Walking over to Jared’s filter bag, I filled up my mug and poured in the contents of the packet. Mixing the drink with my finger, I downed it in a couple of gulps. Picking up a bagel, I spread cream cheese on both sides and wasted no time putting it away along with a Slim Jim or two.
The others slowly emerged from their tents. Jesse received his vitamin drink and, not having a spoon, used his Slim Jim to stir it up. “That’s really funny, Jesse,” Jared commented. “You’re our little MacGyver.” “Huh?” I asked. “Back in the seventies, there was a TV show hosted by a survival expert named MacGyver, who would use ordinary things to make bizarre creations. He would make bombs out of things like Windex and superglue.” Ryan and I cracked up. “Rachel has a tick just over her eye,” Amy informed us. “Really?” I said. “Does she know about it?” “No, she’s still sleeping.” Becky walked to the girls’ tent and returned shortly. “I just pulled the tick off. She didn’t even wake up,” she said. “That’s really funny,” Ryan said. Rachel woke up and was informed of her tick.
Mike was the final one to make his appearance. He looked much better than he had the previous day. “Feeling better?” I asked him. “Yes, very much so,” he said. “I don’t have a headache today and actually slept all right.” “I'm glad to hear it!” I responded.
“The hot chocolate is now ready,” Becky said, “so come and get it!” We all filled up a mug with hot water and mixed up the hot chocolate. I sat holding my warm mug in both my hands and waiting for it to cool off. Everyone seemed to be in a better mood today.
“This really tastes good,” Grandpa said. “Hits the spot on a morning like this, eh?” I responded. “Absolutely. See that rocky cliff over there?” “That’s Mount Ester, right?” “Yep. I used to always climb that with my students. Do we have time to do that this morning?” “No, we have to get loaded up and leave. We have a long day today,” Becky informed him.
Jared had been examining our map. “We have five portages today,” he reported. “Five portages?” Ryan exclaimed. “The first one is our longest and is about a hundred and twenty rods long. The other four are really short compared to it and shouldn’t take too much time. We’ll be paddling from here to Hanson Lake,” he finished. “We decided to keep the same paddling partners as yesterday,” Mike said, “seeing as all of the strength is now equally distributed.” We all agreed that that was a good idea. “Let’s start breaking camp, then!” Grandpa announced.
Finishing our breakfast, we began to pack up our gear into our packs. I rolled up our sleeping bags and mattresses and left them in a pile underneath one of the trees, where they would eventually find their way into one of the packs. Ryan and I then began to dismantle the tents. “They’re still wet,” Ryan commented. “We’ll have to dry them out when we get to camp this evening. Hopefully it won’t be raining,” I returned. After about an hour of packing, we had our gear pretty much ready to go. Ryan broke out the camera for another entry in his “vlog”, taking a short video of the campsite and the walk to the latrine. He had filmed several entries the previous day. Amazingly, the camera had not experienced any water damage.
We hauled all of the gear down to the shoreline where Mike, Grandpa, and Jared arranged them in the canoes. After we all made our final trips to the latrine, we pushed off into Ester Lake, leaving our campsite behind and heading southwest. Jared was leading the way with Rachel. Grandpa and Amy followed them, and Becky, Ryan, and Jesse followed them, with Jesse busy filling water bottles. Mike and I brought up the rear. The wind was still coming from the southwest and at a fairly good clip. “Too bad we can’t rig a sail up,” I said. “Yeah, right,” Mike responded. “Look at that sandbar!” We were passing the sandbar where Grandpa and his students had gone swimming on one of the canoe trips many years before. “That’s really incredible up here,” Mike said. “Most of the shorelines, as you can see, are rocky, so a sandbar up here is really rare.” “Neat!” I said. “I can tell already that you’re feeling better. Did you take the medicine that you wanted?” “I sure did.”
After about twenty minutes of paddling, we reached the narrow channel that connected Ester and Hanson Lakes. We stroked through the reeds and soon arrived at the north end of Hanson Lake. It was a straight shot to the portage. “Would you mind not saying anything for a while?” Mike asked. “I want to have my quiet time.” “Absolutely,” I responded.
As I paddled, I began to look at the shoreline. I noticed that the forest was mixed, with cedar, fir, spruce, and various deciduous trees. The trees made their way right down to the water, so that you couldn’t even see the shoreline. It was still cloudy. Occasionally, I saw a patch of blue sky, but the sun didn’t show its face. “I’ll bet it’s even more beautiful when the sun is shining,” I thought. When Mike was finished with his quiet time, we began to talk and joke, exchanging silly comments, as we brought up the rear of the party. All told, it took us about an hour to stroke across Hanson Lake.
The lake finally started to narrow, so we knew that we were getting close. Mike looked at his map. “The portage should be right there,” he said indicating a spot about fifty yards away. “We can’t miss it,” I looked. The trees formed a solid wall of green. “I don’t see it, Mike.” We had caught up to Grandpa and Amy. “I’m really mad that they took down the signs that identified the portages,” Grandpa stated. “They must be trying to make it more difficult to keep it as close to a wilderness as possible,” Mike replied. “I know, but those signs were really helpful. So were those canoe rests. You'd just walk under them, set the canoe down, step out, and rest your shoulders. That really took the edge off of the portages,” Grandpa said. In the meantime, Jared persistently worked the shoreline as we continued to keep our canoes headed into the wind.
Mike was also studying the trees. “I think I see it,” he said. Jared must have too, because he made for the exact spot that Mike indicated. "I can't believe that's the portage," Mike said. "Take a picture of that, Rachel." We followed, paddling under some low-growing trees and navigating our way over submerged logs. We finally saw a trail headed into the forest. “Let me go in and make sure this is it,” Jared said. After disappearing down the trail for a few minutes, Jared returned and declared that we had reached our first portage for the day. “This is retarded,” Mike said. “You would never know that this was the portage if you were right on top of it.” “Well, here we are,” I announced. Climbing out of the canoe, I hopped on shore. Taking a bear barrel, I pulled it on my back and started down the portage towards Knife Lake.
Portage After Portage
At the beginning, the Hanson-Knife portage headed up a steep hill before leveling off somewhat. It then hugged the shore of a small pond for some distance before re-entering the thick woods. I adjusted the weight of the bear barrel on my back and continued down the trail with a paddle in each hand. It was clear that this would be a challenging portage. I headed down several sets of log steps, and then carefully worked my way down a rocky hill. I watched the ground ahead of me carefully for sticks and loose stones that could cause me to lose my footing. Thankfully, I never slipped.
Hearing the sound of running water, I realized that the portage was near a rushing stream. The sound was music to my ears. Then, I heard a roaring sound up ahead. “There’s obviously a waterfall in here somewhere,” I thought. “I hope I get close enough to see it.” I wasn’t disappointed. Reaching the top, I could see that I was standing right near the top of a waterfall that descended about thirty feet to a rushing stream down below. Carefully making my way down the steep hill, I reached the bottom, pausing for a moment to look back. It was a beautiful sight. Clear pure water cascaded through a bed of solid, mossy rock and into a rushing creek down below. Fallen, mossy logs lay across the creek. Deciduous, fir, and cedar trees grew in abundance. I couldn’t stop for long, though, as I had a bear barrel on my back that was feeling heavier every minute. I headed down the portage, following the rushing creek, which eventually slowed into a quiet stream. Reaching the end, I set down my barrel and stretched for a minute, looking out over the south arm of Knife Lake.
Rachel had left Hanson Lake shortly after I had and was the second one to reach the landing. I helped her with her pack, and then we both started up the trail together. “Did you see the waterfalls?” I asked. “I sure did!” she said. “They were awesome!” “We’ll stop on the way back and take a few pictures,” I decided. As we headed up the trail, Rachel spoke again. “I really love the walk back on the portage,” she said. “You can just enjoy the beauty of the forest.” “Yeah, and rest your back,” I added. Reaching the waterfalls, we took some pictures of the beautiful cascade and then continued to head back to Hanson.
We passed many of the others along the way. Jared passed us carrying a canoe. He was taking two canoes every portage, and Ryan and I were each taking the other two. Grandpa and Mike passed me with their arms full. Ryan and Jesse passed us next. Both were loaded up, and Ryan was taking a video as he walked along. “Good job, Jesse!” I encouraged as we passed.
Reaching the landing again, I took a second bear barrel, and Rachel took the stove pack. We headed back down the trail. About halfway through the portage, I panted my way up another hill. “I need a break!” I thought. Then a clever idea struck me. I saw a fallen tree lying near the edge of the trail. Walking over to it, I rested the bear barrel on it and sat down, relieving some of the tension on my shoulders. I sat there for about two minutes before standing back up. Amy passed me all by herself headed the other way. Dropping the bear barrel at the other end, I headed back with Ryan to get one of the canoes. “This is a long portage, so let’s relieve each other periodically on this one,” I suggested. “That’s a good idea,” he said.
Amy, in the meantime, was strolling near the pond carrying a pack that we had christened the “evil tent pack” for obvious reasons. As she strolled along, she lost her footing and slipped. Sliding down the bank towards the pond, she was stopped by some of the saplings that were growing on the slope. It’s a good thing, too, or she would have landed in that pond with that heavy pack on, and no one would have heard her because of the waterfall. She tried to get back up but couldn’t, so she left the pack there on the trail and headed back to get something lighter.
Ryan and I reached the landing, and I loaded Ryan up with one of the canoes. Then, we headed down the trail, handing off the canoe to each other every five minutes or so. In this way, we carried both canoes over. I breathed a sigh of relief as we set the last canoe in the water. Ryan headed back to grab Amy's pack and soon returned with it. Becky tossed me an oatmeal bar, which would give me energy until we had lunch after the next portage.
As I ate it, I looked over Knife Lake and the deep green shoreline. The sky was clearing now, and the sun finally came out. The forest was unbelievable. “This is great country here,” I said to Grandpa. “I’ve paddled through Knife Lake several times, but I never realized how beautiful it really was,” he agreed. “You were sure right, Jared, when you said that 'such sights as this are reserved for those who are willing to suffer to behold them.' We’re working hard, no doubt about it, but just look at this setting,” I commented. “I’m sure glad my friend gave me that quote,” Jared replied.
“Where are we going from here?” Ryan asked. “Eddy Lake,” Jared responded as he produced the map. “Once we hit the wide open expanse of the lake, we head straight south to the portage. We can’t miss it.” “It shouldn’t be that too hard of a paddle either,” Grandpa added, looking out at the lake. “I’ve had some killer paddles on Knife Lake, but this doesn’t look all that bad.”
With that, we embarked. As we pushed off, I glanced at my watch. All told, the portage had taken two hours, and I had walked a total of three miles. “Look at that,” Mike said, admiring the beauty on both sides of the water. “Take a picture of that, Joe!” I pulled my camera out of the waterproof case and snapped a couple of pictures. The rugged shoreline of Knife Lake was a sight to behold. Craggy rock faces and cliffs lined the waterside. The timber was tall and thick, and tough white and Norway pines managed to thrive rooted in the rock right up to the water’s edge. As we paddled along, Mike and I saw a gull sitting on a rock out in the middle of the lake. We got close enough to where I could snap a picture of him. He then took off and, flying right into the wind, headed off in the opposite direction. To our right, an enormous rocky cliff loomed fifty feet above the water. Small saplings were growing right out of the rock. “How do they do that?” Mike asked, completely in awe. “I think they work their way into small crevices in the rock, and then slowly break apart the rock with their roots,” I answered. “It’s pretty incredible.”
We finally reached the open sweep of the lake. Mike and I were bringing up the rear. This was just fine with us, since we were getting all the good pictures. Producing the map, Mike glanced at it for a while and then pointed south. Becky looked at her map. “We’ve gone too far down. The portage is this way,” she called back indicating another direction. “Let’s see what Jared does,” Mike responded. Jared, a little ways up from us, studied his map for a while and then began paddling in the direction Mike had indicated. “Jared knows where he’s going. Let’s follow him,” I called. With that, we headed south across the wide open sweep of Knife Lake. The sun was shining, and white clouds were rolling across the sky. I couldn’t have picked a better day for paddling. The Lord had answered my prayer from the previous evening, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves a little more now.
After passing a small island, we approached the far shore. I started to hear the sound of another waterfall. “There must be a waterfall by this portage as well,” I said. “There is. See those people there?” he replied. Two people were fishing out of their canoe near the mouth of a small creek, which I assumed was fed by the waterfall. I saw one of the folks pull in a good sized fish. “If we get to camp early enough tonight, that’ll be us,” I told Mike. Mike nodded as he took another drink from his water bottle.
After a short while, we reached the landing for the portage to Eddy Lake. “How many rods is this puppy?” I asked. “About twenty-five,” Jared replied looking at the map. “This should be a snap compared to the one we just finished.” As always, I picked up one of the packs and headed off to survey the terrain. I followed the trail a little ways up the steep hill. The trail then hugged the side of the high hill heading sideways to the top. As I walked along, I continued to hear the thunder of the waterfall, passing the top of it just as I reached the crest of the hill. From there it was only a short walk to the landing. Setting my pack down, I started back to the landing, pausing to take a picture at the top of Eddy Falls. I passed the others, pack and barrel laden, as I headed down the side of the steep hill. “You’re not going to believe how short this one is. We’ll have this one conquered in no time,” I told Grandpa as I passed him. Short does not necessarily mean easy. Heading up a steep hill with a canoe can be rather treacherous, but with Ryan helping with the balance of the canoe, I executed the maneuver without any twisted ankles.
With all of our gear portaged, Becky opened one of the bear barrels and began to make lunch. I walked with some of the others back down the portage to take another look at the waterfall. Rachel, Mike, Jared and Grandpa climbed onto a fallen tree log that lay across the rushing creek just at the top of the falls. Jared stood on a second log just behind the first one to take a picture of Mike and Rachel. I bush-whacked down to a place where I could get a clearer picture, and captured the rushing water as it crashed its way through the forest down to Knife Lake. “That’s real safe,” Ryan commented looking at the others perched on the log. “I know it’s not, but it makes a great picture,” Mike said.
Returning to the landing, we started in on a hearty lunch. That afternoon, summer sausage sandwiches were the main course. As we ate, we relaxed on the shoreline looking off over Eddy Lake, which was much smaller than Knife Lake. “Look at those two loons,” Amy said. A pair of loons was swimming a little ways off shore. Periodically, they would dart under the water, re-emerging after a few minutes. They provided us with free entertainment as we finished our meal. “We’d better hurry up and keep paddling,” Mike said. “I think there’s a rain cloud approaching us from behind.” We all pitched in and loaded up the canoes. Grandpa, Amy, Jared, and Rachel started off in a southeasterly direction. Mike and I pushed off next, and waited for Becky, Ryan and Jesse to disembark. Mike had been right. A gray cloud was coming up from Knife Lake, and it was definitely a rain cloud. I pulled my rain coat on in anticipation. “Let’s not paddle too fast now,” Mike said to me. “I don’t want to let Becky fall too far behind.” “Got it,” I said. “We need to beat this rainstorm though.”
Leaning on our paddles, we continued to work our way through Eddy Lake. All of a sudden, we saw a commotion off to our right. It was another loon, and he was putting on a real show for us. Dancing across the water, he darted underwater and back up, and then tore off through the water like a jet ski, flapping his black and white wings. “I think he’s got a fish,” Mike said, “and it’s too big for him. He could be taking a bath, too. Isn’t that cool? “It really is. He’s moving too fast to take a picture though,” I said watching him.
“Speaking of shows,” Becky called from nearby, “I need to take a picture of you two. You look like twins in your matching rain coats, and you both have sun glasses on too, even though it’s cloudy.” We did have matching brown rain coats. Mine were Dri Ducks, and Mike’s were Frogg Toggs, made by the same company. They were essentially the same coat, and the difference was not that significant to most. “Get rid of those Frogg Toggs, man,” I told Mike. “Dri Ducks are way better. In a toss up between the two, I’d go with Dri Ducks every time.” Mike laughed. “It hasn’t rained yet, thankfully, but it sure looks like it’s about too,” Mike said glancing behind us. “Let’s get moving here.” “What are you rushing me for?” I protested. “I’m not Russian, I’m Swedish,” he responded with a straight face. At this, I roared for about two minutes. “At least somebody laughs at my jokes,” Mike commented.
We finally reached the end of Eddy Lake and found a small waterway that took us right to the Jenny Lake portage. This portage was steep, but thankfully it was short. Since there was a deep gully on the left side of the portage, we had to hug the right side of the trail. This portage was completed in much the same way as the previous one. Mike and Becky had taken up two key roles on our portages. Mike would unload the canoes at one end, and Becky would re-load them at the other end. This would take pressure off of Jared, who had to carry two canoes on every portage. It still, praise the Lord, had not rained, although the gray cloud still loomed behind us. Without further ado, we loaded the canoes and pushed off into Jenny Lake, another small body of water that we crossed without too much effort. Another loon watched us from near the shoreline.
We promptly reached and conquered the Annie Lake portage, which was even smaller than the Jenny Lake portage and, although much flatter, was also quite muddy. “Whew, I’m getting tired,” Ryan said as he set his canoe down. “Just one more to go, man,” I encouraged. As we stood at the landing looking across Annie Lake, the sun came out behind us, illuminating the opposite shoreline with an intense burst of light that caught the trees and enhanced their color. I could see dark and light shades of green and everything in between. “Have you ever seen so many different shades of green?” Mike asked. "That’s really neat,” I responded. “Look at that other cloud, though. Another dark rain cloud is looming over the horizon on the other side of the lake,” Becky observed. “We’d better get going, then,” I said.
I had one more thing to tell the girls first. “Grandpa was camped at a site on this lake.” I told Rachel and Amy, “when the bear walked into his camp site.” “We didn’t have to know that,” Rachel replied. “Aw, we’ll be fine,” I said. “Our food is in bear barrels anyway.” As we stroked across Annie Lake, I suddenly grew hopeful. “We’re riding right between these two rain clouds,” I pointed out. “The wind is blowing in the right direction, so hopefully neither of them will rain on us,” “Let’s hope that that’s the case,” Mike responded.
As we reached the portage to Lake Ogishkemuncie, the rain did start to fall, but only a little bit. After about half an hour, we had hauled all of our gear over the portage and re-loaded the canoes. “Finally!” Ryan said as he breathed a sigh of relief. “Where are we camping tonight?” I asked. “I think we’ll shoot for something in this area here,” Jared answered, indicating the north side of the lake on the map. “We definitely have to find a camp site soon.” As we pushed our canoes off into the water, we fought a strong wind that was blowing right in our faces. At the other end of the lake, I could see a dark rain cloud that was already dumping its contents on the other shore. It was headed right for us.
“It looks like we’re going to get wet,” I hollered over the breeze. “That isn’t a thunderstorm, is it?” “I don’t think so,” Mike responded. The first drops began to fall. I pulled my hood over my head, pulled the strings tight, and then replaced my wide-brimmed hat. Just then, the rain started to steadily pour from the sky. We all continued to paddle, not stopping for an instant. Jared and Rachel were leading the way, with the rest of us following behind.
Although the rain came down hard, there was no thunder or lightning, and the wind died down substantially. It was actually quite a pleasant paddle, with one particular exception. “Hey, Grandpa,” I laughed. “I’m sitting with my crotch in a big puddle of water.” “Me too,” he responded from the other canoe. “This is pretty bad.” “It could be worse,” I called back. “Remember Saganaga?” “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he said.
We continued to make progress across Ogishkemuncie Lake. My rain coat kept my head and upper body perfectly dry, and, if the canoe seat hadn't been waterlogged, my water-repellent pants would have kept me reasonably comfortable as well. “This won’t stay for long,” Mike noted, “See the sky opening up over there? The wind is coming from that direction, too.” “Oh, good,” I said. “The rain should be stopped by the time we get to our camp site. I’ll bet the fishing will be good tonight.”
We made our land fall just as the rain stopped. Jared, our fantastic navigator, had led us to a camp site on the north side of the lake, located on a peninsula near what looked like the entrance to a small bay. “Go see if that’s a bay,” Jared called to us. “I want to make sure that we’re where I think we are on the map.” Mike and I paddled past the camp site down the small channel and confirmed that it was indeed a small bay next to the camp site. “See that loon there?” Mike pointed out. “There must be good fishing in here.” Sure enough, another loon was working his way around the bay and channel, looking for his dinner.
We joined the others on shore and hauled all of our gear up to the camp site. This site was built on a lot of solid rock, and was large and spacious with several good spots to pitch our tents. Going right to work, we set up a clothes line and started hanging our wet coats and sleeping bags to dry out. I took off my rain coat. The sun broke out from behind the clouds, and with it came a strong wind. I strolled down to the water’s edge and took some pictures of the departing rain storm, admiring the beauty of Ogishkemuncie. From our camp site, I could see several small islands scattered across the lake. On the opposite shore, high hills covered with trees touched the sky. As the sun emerged, it illuminated the other shore with spots of light.
“Rachel, could you help me dry out our tents?” Grandpa asked. Our tents were still wet from the night before. Grandpa and Rachel took one out of its pack and held it up into the wind. The strong breeze blew into the tent door and completely inflated it. As soon as they had finished it, Ryan and I took it over to the site where the girls would have their tent set up. We made short work of setting it up. “This is awesome,” I said. “We’ll all be much more comfortable tonight.” “We’re getting the hang of this now! That was easy!” Ryan said. The others had another tent ready for us, so we set that one up next, also without any problems. Soon, we had four aired, dry, and (almost) correctly set up tents waiting for us to climb into them. The air mattresses were inflated, and the sleeping bags, which had dried nicely on the line, were brought into the tents.
The clouds were now quickly scattering, and it was clear that we would have a beautiful evening. By now, the breeze had died down. I couldn’t help but think of the Bible verse that tells of how the Lord sent a breeze to dry the earth after the Flood. He was gracious to us in that way too. Everyone seemed to be in a better mood, and my spirits were flying high.
Firing up both stoves, Becky began to cook our brats. Mike emerged from the tent, clad in his bug suit, and headed out with Jesse to fill up our water bottles. Jared emerged from the woods with firewood and started working on our fire. Since the wood was rather wet, it took a while to get it going. “This fire starter isn’t working right,” Jared commented. “Give me some of that white gas.” Soon, we had a good fire going, and dinner was ready. Mike and Jesse returned with plenty of water for all of us. I selected two brats, adding a couple of condiments, and sat down by the crackling fire to enjoy them.
“These are fantastic!” I said. “All compliments go to the cook, of course.” “It’s progressing a little better than the steak did,” Becky acknowledged. “And these buns! I’ve never had a better hot dog bun in my life. It really hits the spot after a hard day. It’s just the right consistency, both firm and soft,” I went on. “I’ve never heard a hot dog bun described that way,” Jared observed, as the others started laughing. Rachel emerged from the forest with some more firewood to keep the fire going. “Hey, look at Pyro,” Becky said. “She can’t stand to see our fire go out.” Rachel smiled and set down her pile near the fire.
After finishing a couple of brats, I sat back to relax. The sky was blue overhead and the wind was a gentle embrace. “Joseph,” Amy called. “I found this view above our camp site, a little ways down. Do you want to come and see it?” “Sure,” I responded. I followed her down a narrow trail and into the woods. We headed a little ways in before climbing up the rocky trail to a large rock that was perched on the top of the hill. I hopped up on top of it. You could barely see the lake due to the tall and stately trees. “There’s a spot a little higher up,” Amy told me. We headed up a little ways more and found another rock outcropping. I could see parts of the lake (through the trees) to the south, and trees as far as I could see to the north. It was really something. I took a couple of pictures. “Thanks for bringing me up here,” I said. “We’ll need to bring Grandpa up here later. How did you find it?” “We were looking for the latrine and, while we didn’t find it down this trail, we did find the view,” she responded. “I’m really impressed with you and Rachel. You’re both having a great attitude and are real troopers on the portages,” I encouraged her as we walked back to camp. “You’re welcome,” Amy said with a cheerful smile. “I guess I’m having a good time now.” “I’m really happy to hear that,” I responded.
“Grandpa, you have to come see this view,” I mentioned when we had returned to camp. “Amy brought me up to see this. It’s amazing!” “Let me finish my dinner, and then we’ll do that, Joe,” Grandpa responded. Sitting down by the camp fire, I took the guitar out of its case to play it a little. It was a little wet, but I dried it off as best as I could. The rain had completely destroyed the cardboard case. “Your case is toast,” Ryan noted. “That’s fine. I’ll just get a new one when I get home. Play something, Joe,” Grandpa said.
I picked out a couple of tunes and helped keep the fire going while the others finished their dinner. I slapped a few mosquitoes. "That bug suit is looking more desirable every day we're up here," I said enviously to Mike. "I'm never going to laugh at your purchases again." Mike nodded with a little smirk. "No bug spray for me," he said triumphantly.
A little later, Grandpa, Rachel, Amy and I headed back down the trail to the view up above our camp site. An enormous toad as big as my fist sat under a bush nearby and graciously posed for a picture. “This is really impressive,” Grandpa said looking across the tree line. “Isn’t the Boundary Waters just a beautiful place?” “It’s one of America’s hidden treasures,” I responded.
To the west, the sun set between the clouds in a brilliant display. I took a picture of Grandpa, Rachel, and Amy together, and then we started down the trail back to camp. “Thanks for showing me the view,” Grandpa said. “Don’t mention it,” I said. “Thank you for bringing us up here! I feel like we finally turned the corner today.” “It’s starting to feel that way, isn’t it?” he responded. “How’s your finger?” I asked. “It really throbs at night,” he answered, “but it’s doing all right, I guess. Let’s see if we can’t go catch a few fish from shore.” Grandpa, Ryan, Jesse and I headed down one side of the large rock outcropping right down to the waters’ edge. I could see that about three feet off the shoreline, there was a really sharp drop off. “This should be a good spot,” Grandpa stated, “so let’s give it a shot. Hopefully we’ll hit a school of walleye.” Strolling over to our fishing poles, Grandpa groaned. “Look at this, Joe!” The fishing lines had completely entangled in a hopeless mess. Grandpa, Ryan, and I worked with them for a while and managed to free three of them. “We shouldn’t have brought so many fishing poles,” Grandpa said regretfully as he slipped a leech on my line. “We aren’t doing as much fishing as I thought we were going to do.” “That’s all right,” I responded. “At least we have the capacity.”
We casted and reeled in our bait for about thirty minutes, not getting as much as a nibble. Since it was getting dark, we decided to call it a night. Poor Becky was having a hard time back in camp. Nothing was fitting back in the packs like it was supposed to. After banging the pots around for a while, she finally managed to get everything put away. I could tell she was really upset. Everyone made their way into their tents, and I sat down on one of the rocks so that I could enjoy the night for a while. Mike started walking towards his tent.
Suddenly, Becky started sobbing from inside her tent. Mike turned around and headed back to see what was wrong. He stood at the tent door for a while, saying nothing. Becky was broken. “Help her feel better tomorrow, Lord," I quietly prayed. Mike bent over and worked with something for a while, and Becky continued to sob from inside the tent. After about ten minutes, Becky had calmed down, and Mike headed back for his tent with his flash light illuminating the way. I walked next to him. “What happened there?” I asked. “She had a big leech sucking on her foot,” he responded. “She probably got it while loading the canoes today and didn’t notice it until now.” “Ugh,” I winced. “How’s she doing now?” “It took us a while to stop the bleeding, but I think she’s doing all right now.” “That really stinks,” I said sympathetically. “Well, sleep well tonight!” “Yep, good night,” Mike responded as he entered his tent.
I walked back over to my rock and sat there for a little while before entering my tent. Rolling up into my sleeping bag, I joined the others in a hard-earned rest.
South Arm of Knife Lake
Portages: 5; 190 rods
The sun reared his head and sent his rays all over the canoe country, marking the beginning of another day, shining his head for the umpteenth time in the six-thousand-year history of the ground that we were camped on. The sleeping bag lost its staying power, and I quietly slipped out of the tent. After making a trip to the latrine, I was ready to face the morning. The breeze was strong from the northeast and the sky was somewhat overcast. There wasn’t any rain in the air.
Grandpa and Becky were also up, and Becky was setting up breakfast. I downed my vitamin drink and, with Grandpa, headed down to our fishing spot to make another attempt. With a leech on my hook, I began to work the shoreline. “This tangled mess is impossible to fix,” Grandpa said, indicating the fishing lines that were hopelessly intertwined. “I’m just going to cut the lines. We can set them up again later if we need to.” “Sounds good,” I said. “Are we going to shoot for that campsite on the northeast side of Seagull that our outfitter recommended?” “We’ll see,” he said. “It depends on how hard of a paddle we have today.” “How’s Becky doing?” I asked glancing back up at the camp site. “She’s doing all right now. Did you hear what happened last night?” “I did hear about the leech. Poor Becky! She was pretty upset,” I responded “Have you talked to her this morning?” “I did. I guess she spent a lot of time in prayer last night. She was feeling the burden of caring for us, and the pressure got too much for her. The Lord spoke to her and said, ‘Why are you carrying that burden? It’s not yours to carry. Give it to Me. It’s Mine.’ I think she has done that,” Grandpa stated.
“That’s good. I hope she feels better. I heard her sobbing last night and really felt sorry for her. This trip’s been pretty hard on her. Hasn’t Jared just been amazing?” “He really has, Joe. He’s emerged as the leader of this trip. We’re having no navigation problems now, and he’s fantastic on the portages. I feel bad that he has to carry two canoes every time.” “I know you could carry a canoe,” I encouraged. “I could, but Mike and Becky don’t want me to, so I don’t try to argue,” he said, somewhat remorsefully. “That’s probably a good idea. Isn’t Ogishkemuncie beautiful?” I asked, changing the subject. “Those beautiful high hills covered with trees are gorgeous. You know, we haven’t had a bad camp site yet, either." “This site is really awesome. Wasn’t it just great last night when Rachel and I were airing out the tents in the breeze? That was a classic.” “I’ll never forget that, Grandpa. That was sweet.”
Jesse walked down to join us. Grandpa got him fitted up with an orange rapala, and he began to work the shoreline as well. All of a sudden, his bobber darted under the water. “I’ve got a fish!” he yelled. He reeled it in to find a small mouth bass hooked under the lip. “Good job, Jesse!” I encouraged. This was his first fish ever. We took a picture of him proudly holding his catch, and then he released it. It wasn’t big enough to eat.
Putting the fishing gear away, we headed back up to camp and ate more bagels for breakfast. Then, we began the task of getting our camp site packed up. We were much more efficient by now, so it only took about an hour to get everything torn down and stowed safely in the packs. Ryan pulled out the video camera again, which was completely fogged up due to the temperature and the moisture that it had been sitting in. “Something is seriously wrong with this lens,” Ryan stated, as he shot a view of the lake. “It’s actually a really nice day.” “I have something to say,” Mike said, as Ryan turned the camera on him. “When going to the Boundary Waters, previous proper planning prevents poor performance.” “Right. You have anything to say, Jesse?” “Can I canoe on the Canai River?” Jesse asked with a straight face. (Get it?) Heading up to camp through the trees, Ryan reached the main part of the camp site to film everybody else. “Got anything to say, Joe?” “Well, I’m having a blast, but I’m glad that I have my boots on, though,” I said. After three days of portaging in my sturdy sandals, my feet had blistered up and, while not excruciating, were somewhat painful. As a result, I had decided to take my boots out for day four. “This has been a really interesting experience, and I don’t think I’m ever going to do it again!” Amy said. “I understand the title of Grandpa’s book: Growing Inside, Outside,” Becky said to the camera as she worked on one of the packs. We all laughed. We all later agreed that the trip was much better looking back on it from the other side. “Let’s all head down for devotions before we disembark,” I said. “Joe!” Mike said as we were headed down to shore. “Take a picture of that random rock right there. That’s a great picture.” It was just a loose rock sitting on top of the enormous slab of bed rock that we had camped on, but I snapped a picture anyway. We all gathered around near the canoes. Before Grandpa could say anything, Becky spoke. “I’ve got a word, Tom.” “I’ve got a word, too,” Rachel added. “Me three!” Amy chimed in. “All right!” Grandpa said. “Rachel, you go first.” “This has been a really hard trip, and we’ve had to work hard,” Rachel shared. “I was thinking yesterday about the Bible verse that says, ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’. I think that really sums up how we’ve endured this trip, because God is our strength in our weakness.” “That’s really good, Rachel,” I commented. “What do you have to say, Amy?” “It all started back at the first day when I saw the storm coming," Amy said. "I prayed, ‘God, show me that you’re here in this storm.’ Right after that, I saw two loons flying overhead, and during the storm, we heard a loon calling." "I'll never forget that," I stated. "It doesn’t stop there, though," Amy went on. "At the end of the hardest portage, there was a loon just sitting there. He didn’t move at all until after we had left. Yesterday, there was a loon on every lake. For me, the loons represent the fact that God is watching over all of us.” “Wow,” I said. It was all I could say.
“Becky?” Grandpa asked, looking towards her. “We have all endured the wilderness in a different way, and I for one am so appreciative of the grace we all have for each other,” Becky said. Her voice cracked a little and she started to cry. “Good grief, Becky, do you have to make me cry like that?” Grandpa said, wiping away a few tears of his own. “I can’t pray like this. Joseph, could you?” “Sure!” I assented. “Bring it in, you guys,” Jared encouraged. We all gathered in a huddle there with our arms around each other, and I prayed. To be honest, I don’t remember what I said. What I do remember was, as I walked to the canoe, I knew that we had just experienced the turning point of our trip. We were united as a team and had overcome the adversity. I knew that from that point on things would be different. My heart rejoiced. The trip was quickly becoming everything that I had wanted it to be.
We pushed off into Ogishkemuncie Lake and began to paddle towards the western end of the lake. The wind was blowing hard from the northeast, but it did not bring any rain clouds with it. A layer of hazy clouds drifted across the sky, keeping a good portion of the sun’s rays at bay. Neither Mike nor I spoke for a while. We continued to keep the canoe headed into the breeze. “You know, this is a great paddling day,” Mike said, breaking the silence. “If we didn’t have that thin cloud cover, the sun would be beating down on us.” “That’s right,” I said. “Wasn’t Amy’s thing about the loons just awesome? I can’t believe that I didn’t see that.” “Amy’s word was great,” he responded, as he returned to his quiet time. Seeing a couple of loons swimming thirty yards away, I again thought of Amy’s words. While I didn’t need a sign that God was watching over us, I was still amazed by the way that He had confirmed first her faith, and now mine, through these birds. I love loons. Their beautiful black and white coloring and ruby red eyes depict the infinite creativity of our Creator. Living their lives in the waters of lakes and rivers, they feast on water plants and fish. Their rollicking laughter fills the night air with joy, excitement, and peace. In my mind, the common loon will always represent the spirit of the North Woods. Now, because of this experience, loons also represent to me the watchful care of God over all of his creatures.
Calling to Becky, Mike broke the reverie of my thoughts. “How are you doing?” “I think I want to nickname this lake Ogishy-ishy!” she said. “We’re not too far from that portage now,” I said, laughing. “Those campers we passed a little while ago said the portage was just up that way.” It was slow going, but we continued to make progress against the wind. I then began to notice that we were re-entering the burn area. I could see the exact place on the shoreline where the old forest stopped and the charred trunks began to tell the tale of the forest that once was. I took a picture. “We’re in the burn zone now,” I told Mike. “I see that. It’s amazing how much damage the fires did." “Joseph!” Becky called, pointing to Jesse in front of her. I smiled, a little enviously, as I took a few pictures. My little brother was sound asleep in the middle of the canoe, leaning back against one of the Duluth packs. He was really filling a key niche in the trip with his water duties. I was impressed with how tough he had been during our tough experiences. He hadn't cried once on the trip, nor had he said a negative word. I was so proud of him.
We finally reached the narrows of Ogishkemuncie and paddled up to the landing. I scrambled ashore. Becky helped me put a pack on my back. “I don’t need that pack belt around my waist,” I protested. “Just put it on. It’ll be easier for you.” After fastening the belt in place, I started off down the trail towards Kingfisher Lake.
The Good Portages Without a doubt, we were in the burn zone now. I headed up a gravel path with tall grass on each side. I could see fallen logs everywhere, and many tree trunks still standing, whitened and bare. The portage hugged the shore of Ogishkemuncie for a while before turning to go over the hill to small Kingfisher Lake. Ryan was behind me with the stove pack. “This ground looks like it’s a lot better than the other portages we were on,” I said. “It’s much firmer and not as muddy."
Arriving at Kingfisher Lake, I glanced over the burnt shoreline briefly before dropping my pack and heading back for another. Back at the landing, Mike, who was unloading all the canoes as usual, loaded me up with a bear barrel. Grandpa and I then made the trek over the portage together. Grandpa was a real trooper, but he was red in the face when he got to the other end of the portage. Becky made him sit down and drink some water. He protested, but did as he was instructed. The rest of the portage was uneventful. I carried my canoe over again, with Ryan walking behind me and periodically balancing me on the steeper hills and helping me make the sharp turns. It was getting easier each time, and I actually felt pretty good.
Mike and I were the first ones in the lake. We waited there in our canoe while the others loaded up. “Hey, Ryan,” Mike called. “It looks like the death marshes of Mordor in here.” I laughed. Lord of the Rings fans understand each other. We pushed off into Kingfisher Lake, opening up the portage for two other campers who were waiting for us. It was Saturday morning, and all of the weekenders were beginning to show up.
We promptly arrived at the Jasper Lake portage, and the same process happened all over again. The ground was much the same as that of the previous portage. I hauled a bear barrel and a few other things over, and then my canoe. My boots really helped my feet, and I inwardly wondered why I had not taken them out sooner. Standing at Jasper Lake, I glanced around to see what still needed to be done. “What’s back at the other end?” I asked. “A whole lot of little stuff,” Becky responded. I volunteered to go get the remaining things. Walking back to the landing, I passed Mike, who was carrying the final pack. A lot of life jackets, two paddles, and the leech bucket were the only things left. I managed to grab everything, took one final glance to make sure I had left nothing behind, and returned to the others waiting at the other side.
“Here, take an oatmeal bar,” Becky said, tossing me two along with a bag of peanuts. “We’ll have lunch at the next portage.” I sat down by Amy and wolfed my oatmeal bars like a tree chipper, followed by the peanuts. Jared was sitting close by. “I think this is our best day yet,” I said to him. “I’d have to agree, Joe. There’s not any rain in the air, and while the wind could be better, I’ll take wind over thunderstorms any day.” “So this is your favorite lake, Grandpa?” I asked. “My favorite camp site is on this lake,” he replied. “This lake looks nothing like it used to, though. In the old days, the forest on these shore lines was so majestic and tall. It’s sort of sad to see it like this.” “I’ll come back in thirty years and see it how it is supposed to look,” I assured him.
We all began the paddle through Jasper Lake. The wind had died down a little, so we didn’t have to work as hard. “You’ve been to Jasper Lake, right?” I asked. “Yep," Mike replied. "Dad brought me here with your mother, his good friend Dick Abramson, Dick’s two sons, and my neighborhood friend. Everything that we saw back then, though, is completely fried now.” “Do you have any memories of that trip?” “Well, for one thing, your mother cut her foot on this next portage because she was wearing thongs. Grandpa was a little upset with her.” “Really?” I said. “She’s never told me that.” “You’ll have to ask her. Has she told you about the buckwheat pancakes?” “I have heard about that,” I laughed. “Apparently they didn’t agree with her and she barfed all over the packs. Grandpa kept telling her to lean over the side of the canoe, but she didn’t.” “I remember that very well,” he said. “Well, at least I can say that I saw untouched wilderness,” I said as I continued to look at the desolate shoreline of the lake. “You sure did. Wasn’t Knife Lake beautiful?” “It was fantastic! That was one of the highlights of the trip.”
We passed the campsite that Grandpa always used to stay at, only to see that it was occupied. Continuing on, we paddled past a beaver lodge. “See that beaver lodge there?” Mike pointed out. “That’s really cool,” I said as I snapped a picture. “You know what they say, one dam project after another.” Becky, who was paddling close by, shook her head, as I laughed. “Look at that duck!” I observed. “I’ve never seen a duck like that before.” It had a white body and a brown head with a tuft of feathers at the very top. I later learned it was a merganser of some sort.
I began to hear the sound of Jasper Falls from up ahead. The crashing noise of the water grew progressively louder and louder. Then, I saw the portage. This portage had lots of space, with a good thirty feet or more of bed rock for us to land on. We all pulled in, not getting too close to the falls, and pulled the canoes onto shore, leaving room for others to portage through. Becky began to make lunch.
I strolled a little ways down the portage and tried to find a good picture spot. Jared walked a little closer to the falls, and then, hopping from rock to rock, sat on a large rock that looked over the very top of the falls. He posed for a couple of pictures. “Anybody want to join me?” he called. I was the natural volunteer. Pushing my way through the brush, I worked my way down to the shore line. I hopped onto a small rock in the stream, and then took a leap across the rushing water to join Jared on the large rock. Sitting on the slab, I looked over the white water as it crashed its way across the rocky riverbed, twisting, turning, and laughing down the hill until I could see it no more. “You guys are being really stupid!” Ryan called from shore. I didn’t listen to him. After a few minutes of relaxation, I made the treacherous walk back to the others, who were starting into their sandwiches. In the process, I got one of my boots wet, for the first time that day
“That was really smart,” Ryan said sarcastically. “Oh, don’t worry about me,” I assured him. “I came here for moments like that.” Becky handed me a summer sausage sandwich, which I made short work of. “Do we have any more bread?” I asked, half jokingly, as I made another sandwich. “There’s six loaves; are you kidding me?” Becky said. “We’re going to have to give some of it back to the outfitters, I’m sure.” “Well, it’s always better to have too much than too little,” I stated.
“I have lots of special memories about these falls,” Grandpa reminisced. “I had a student who jumped down part of it once. He was a little bruised but turned out all right.” Becky winced. “The fishing beneath these falls is just great. The bass gather here to feed in the daytime. When night falls, the walleye move in and chase the bass away. My student Chris landed a huge northern here once.” “Too bad we don’t have time to fish,” I said a little regretfully. “I’ll come back someday and land some monsters here.”
Loading up, we began the trek to Alpine Lake. The portage ran next to the falls for the entire length, a dirt and gravel trail weaving through the head-high young trees. It ran slowly down hill and passed the bottom of the falls before ending on a large slab of bed rock. In terms of carrying, this portage was as uneventful as the last. After about an hour, we were all gathered at the foot of the portage, with all our gear. Another party sat waiting for us to push off into the lake. It looked like another family, with a grandpa and his sons and grandsons. He looked at least ten years older than Grandpa. “That’s encouraging,” I thought. I wondered if that grandpa was half as good as mine. I'm sure he wasn't. I have been blessed with a grandfather who makes a special point of investing in his children and grandchildren, both materially and spiritually. Grandpa has lived his life investing in people, and has impacted many as a result, but I still am convinced that his greatest impact is found in the ways that he touched the lives of his children and grandchildren. This trip was a special testament to that fact.
After getting the others on their way, Mike and I began to work with our canoe. “It doesn’t want to go,” Mike said. “Pull, Joe!” "Well, I guess my boots are going to have to get wet," I thought. I jumped in the water, carefully navigated my way over the slippery rocks beneath the surface, and pulled with all my might on the end of the canoe. It finally responded to my touch and glided off the rocks. We both hopped in and headed after the others. “Look, there’s Big Sir!” Mike said pointing towards a large rocky cliff that stood about fifty feet away on the shoreline. “Your mother and I, and a lot of Grandpa’s students, jumped off that rock.” “The whole thing?” I asked, referring to the cliff. “No, just that rock right there,” Mike said, pointing with his paddle to a craggy rock that stood about ten feet above the water, a little ways out from the big cliff.
I took a picture, and then we began to leisurely follow the others. Looking at the map, I saw that there were many camp sites on this lake. “Are we going to try to camp here?” I asked. “I don’t know. We’ll see what the others do ahead of us,” Mike said, after taking a drink from his water bottle. “Are you staying hydrated?” “I am,” I said as I sipped from my own bottle.
Alpine Lake was a large lake with many inlets. The sun began to break through the haze, and the air started to warm a little. Fortunately, there was a nice breeze on the lake that kept us all comfortable. It was clear from watching the others that we were headed to the Seagull Lake portage. Arriving at the landing, we all jumped out and pulled the canoes on to shore.
“Last portage of the trip, everyone! We can do this!” Becky said enthusiastically as she began to pull packs out of the canoes. “We’ve got a nice camp site waiting for us on the other side.” Grandpa turned to me and winked. “Doesn’t Becky look just great out here, Joe?” he said, quite loudly. "Her face is simply glowing." I caught on. “Absolutely. You look fantastic, Becky. You could easily pass for thirty,” I added. “Oh, stop it, you guys,” Becky said smiling. A true Proverbs 31 woman is beautiful no matter where she is or how tired and sweaty she may be. She does not need any make-up, nor does it matter how fancy her clothes are. When a woman has a beautiful spirit touched by God, she will be more externally beautiful as a result.
“How long is the portage?” Ryan asked. “It’s about a hundred and ten rods, but the outfitters have marked this as a ‘good’ portage,” Mike responded. “In my opinion, a good portage is five rods or less,” Jared put in. “Good portage, huh? Well, we’ll see what that means,” I stated as I grabbed a pack and headed off down the trail. Like all of the other portages we had taken that day, the trail was dirt and gravel, and felt good compared to the rocky, treacherous portages I had endured earlier. It also headed through a forest that was quickly returning after a burn. Most of the young trees were deciduous, but I saw some pines making a comeback as well. Best of all, the portage was incredibly flat, with just a few mud puddles to go around. “Those outfitters weren’t kidding,” I said to Rachel, who was behind me. “Yeah, this is a 'good' portage,” she said. “I think this is the easiest one we’ve had yet, probably because it’s so flat.” “You know when the Red Duffers were singing ‘squish-thump-thump through the portages’ in Grandpa’s book?” I asked. “I know exactly what they meant now.” I squished and thumped in my wet boots all the way down the portage, which had some long steps down the final stretch. Setting my pack down at the other end, I returned for another load. As I headed back, Jared passed me carrying one of the canoes. I knew he’d rest well tonight knowing he had portaged his last canoe. The way he executed that task with strength and fortitude set a great example for the rest of us on the trip. Jesse walked by with a load of water bottles and life jackets, and Rachel and I encouraged him. After hauling another pack over, I helped Ryan carry his canoe over the portage, and then he helped me with mine. I stopped for a few breaks, but actually carried the canoe the full one-third mile by myself, without switching off to Ryan. After the canoe was lifted off my shoulders for the final time, I looked around. “What’s left?” I asked. “Mike is at the other end with one more pack and a couple little things,” Becky stated as she re-loaded the canoes.
I passed Mike, who was carrying the final bear barrel, near the beginning of the portage. Grabbing the rest of the gear, and taking one final glance at Alpine Lake, I headed down the portage and soon caught up to Mike. “You’re doing great on these portages!” I said. “This is the last one!” “I know,” he responded. “Won’t the cabin feel great after this?” “Are you kidding me?” I said. “Although I’ll miss the wilderness, it’s going to be great. Just think about Grandma’s fantastic caramel rolls.” “Stop it, you’re making me hungry,” he said. “Are your allergies any better?” I asked. “They’ve improved a little bit. It’s crazy that they’ve waited until today to show up. How are yours?” “To tell you the truth, I’m not thinking much about them right now.” Arriving at the other end, we placed Mike’s bear barrel in one of the canoes and pushed off into enormous Seagull Lake. The haze was all burned off now, and the sun was starting to head its way towards the western horizon. After twenty minutes of paddling, we saw an empty campsite sitting atop a large rocky island. “Mike and Joe, you go south a little ways and see if you can’t find another vacant camp site. We’ll watch this one and make sure no one takes it. Since it’s a weekend, we may need to take what we can get,” Jared stated. We paddled southwards and saw at least one occupied camp site before Jared whistled to us to come back. As Mike and I headed back, two more loons popped up in the lee of a small island. They bobbed through the waves, keeping a careful eye on us. As quietly as we could, we paddled closer and I took a couple of pictures. I couldn’t help but think of Amy’s words again. It was clear that the Lord was watching over us.
“We’ve decided to take this camp site,” Jared called to us when we got closer. We paddled towards the island, and I jumped ashore. I balanced the canoe so Mike could get out. Grabbing a pack, I headed up the steep slope to the top of the slab of rock that we would be camping on. I saw several good tent sites and a fire grate. Making the short trip down a well marked trail, I found the latrine.
Returning to the others, I helped pull the canoes up onto shore. We hauled all the packs up to the center of camp and instinctively began setting up camp. “Look, Becky, God built you a natural counter!” I said pointing to a large slab of rock that would nicely hold the stoves. “That’s funny!” she responded. “I’ll start getting dinner ready. You go ahead and get the tents set up.”
I walked over to help Grandpa and Rachel set up our clothes line, when suddenly Amy gave a shout from a little ways up. “One of our canoes is drifting away!” I looked out across the lake. One of the canoes, with a pack still in it, was drifting about twenty yards off shore. “Let’s go get it, Ryan!” I hollered. We all ran down to shoreline, and Ryan hopped in the back of one of the canoes. I tried to hop in the front of the canoe, but my boots hit a slippery rock and I fell into the lake. Ryan pushed off and started off towards the drifting canoe. “Thank heavens for my waterproof camera case,” I muttered. “Hold on!” Becky called to Ryan. “How do you plan to get the other canoe back by yourself?” Ryan didn’t listen. He zipped out into the lake and was soon alongside the other canoe. After pondering the situation for a minute, he stuck one of his legs out and caught the other canoe. Straddling both canoes, he paddled the short distance back to our camp site. We all pulled the canoes up out of the reach of the waves. “I don’t believe this, Becky,” Mike commented. “The one worst thing that could have happened on this trip happened.” “No, that’s not the worst thing,” she responded. “The worst thing begins with a B and rhymes with ‘scare’.” “Good eyes, Amy!” I said. “We probably would never have noticed that! Now that all the canoes are completely secured on shore, we should be okay. Nice save, Ryan.” "I'm in the TV business, Joe. I have to make quick decisions all the time," he dryly remarked.
Ryan and I then worked on the tents, which efficiently popped up with little effort. Our tent and Mike’s were near the fire grate. The girls’ tent was pitched in a good place on the trail to the latrine, and Jared and Grandpa would be sleeping at the other end of camp. Jared and Rachel emerged from the woods with plenty of firewood. Using our axe and saw, Jared cut it up and began to build a fire in the fire grate. Jesse jumped on a large bent stick in an attempt to crack it in half. The stick flew up and hit him in the head. “Are you okay, Jesse?” Jared asked. Jesse nodded. I could tell he wanted to cry, but he shook it off and kept on helping the others. He was really tough. I knew this before the trip, but I knew it even more now. This trip had clearly developed a lot of character in him.
Jared lit up our fire, and Mike and Jesse paddled out in one of the canoes to pump water for our water bottles. “What’s on the menu for dinner tonight?” I asked. “We’re going to eat this beef Stroganoff with blueberry pancakes,” Becky stated. “They look like two of the easier things to cook.” “Anything sounds good after a paddle like we had today,” I responded. “Are the stoves working well?” “They’re both working, which is nice. Our equipment’s actually quite good. The challenge is cooking for nine people in this tiny frying pan. I’d never get a white gas stove again, though.” “Propane might have been a better choice, huh?” I asked. “Without a doubt,” Jared answered from over by the fire. “At least I now know how to outfit a trip,” I said. “This has been a great learning curve, and I’ve learned a lot.”
After about half an hour, Mike and Jesse returned with all of our water bottles filled. Dinner was ready at about the same time. “These are pretty sorry looking pancakes,” Becky commented, as I took a picture of our feast. “They sure don’t taste sorry, though,” I responded. “This beef Stroganoff really hits the spot after a hard day. The sausage is great too!” I cleaned off my plate and headed in for a second. As I did, I noticed two hot dog buns that no one had claimed. "Are those by some chance some of the incredible hot dog buns I had last night?" I said with my mouth watering. "They are," Becky laughed. "Since you've been talking about them all day, you have to eat them both." "Well, don't worry about that," I replied, tossing them on my plate. "I'm telling you, they're just the right consistency."
When I was finished, Grandpa and I headed down to the shoreline to try our hand at some fishing again. Grandpa set up two or three poles, and I began to work the shore line with a leech as the hazy orange sun slowly sunk towards the western horizon. The lake was calm and smooth as glass. “I think this is the best day we’ve had yet,” I said to Grandpa. “I agree,” he replied. “I think we hit our turning point this morning.” “Oh, there’s no doubt about that. We conquered the portages well today, and nobody had any melt downs, at least yet.” “That makes me glad. At least we can enjoy a leisurely evening tonight. Tomorrow’s paddle shouldn’t be too bad,” Grandpa stated. “You know, everyone’s doing a great job on this trip,” I said as I slipped a new leech on my line and tossed it back out. “Truth be told, we’ve all had our moments, but when all is said and done, I think we’ve overcome this obstacle course with God’s help and had a little fun on the side.” “I agree. Mike and Becky sure did fill a key role when Mike unloaded the canoes on the one end and Becky re-loaded them on the other. That took pressure off of Jared, who was our canoe hauler.” “I’m really impressed with Rachel and Amy,” I added. “They’re real troopers on the portages and have maintained a great attitude despite the adversity. You know, they’re modeling for me what I’m looking for in a wife. I want a woman who is tough, but still beautiful.” “That’s great, Joe," Grandpa laughed. "And how could I forget Jesse?" I went on. "This trip has done wonders for his maturity and for our relationship." "I think this trip has been great for all of us, but especially for my grandchildren," Grandpa said. "Neither Ryan nor you are in sports, so I think it was important for you to get pushed to your limit and gain strength that way. Don't you feel so strong and fit?" "I don't know if I have ever felt any better in my life! But I have a feeling that a whole lot of that is just being with you up here. I'm so grateful that God has kept you around so that we could take this trip. Thank you so much for this trip, and for your investment in me," I stated emphatically. "It's my pleasure, Joe," Grandpa said with a smile. Ryan and Jesse came down to try their hand at some fishing. We lost several leeches but overall had no success.
“Hey, you guys, come here for a second,” Amy called from up above. We put our fishing poles away and headed up to see what she wanted. “I’ve got a great idea,” she said. “Everyone has to wash their own dishes tonight.” “That sounds great, Amy! Let’s go do that now,” I replied. Grandpa, Jesse, Amy, Ryan, Rachel and I headed down to the shoreline and began to work on the dishes. “I dropped my fork,” Jesse groaned. “Shoot!” Ryan said. “Let me see if I can find it.” Pulling out his flashlight, he scanned the water for a while. The search turned unsuccessful. We all continued to scrub away at the pots and pans, while coming down with a bad case of the tired sillies. “I feel as bad as buckwheat pancakes,” Amy laughed. “So you’ve heard that story, huh?” I said as I scoured a pot. “I have. That story is funnier than buckwheat pancakes,” she said, and started laughing again. “Son of a buckwheat pancake,” Ryan muttered, to no one in particular. I couldn’t keep a straight face at that even if I tried to. I roared for about two minutes and then joined in the fun. Everything under the sun was compared to buckwheat pancakes. "Wasn't that sunset beautiful?" I stated. "It sort of looked like a buckwheat pancake to me," Amy laughed. Grandpa looked at me and shook his head. “This is getting a little annoying,” he commented. “Better laughing than crying, though, right?” I said. “I guess you have a point there,” he replied. Once the dishes were done, we helped Becky put them away in the packs, still cracking an occasional “buckwheat pancake” joke.
After that, some of the others made their way to their tents, but the rest of us stayed outside to enjoy a campfire. I played guitar, and Grandpa, Jesse, Jared joined me around the fire grate. It felt good to finally have a proper campfire with music. Grandpa and Jesse made their way to the tents. “Are you coming in yet, Jared?” Grandpa asked. “No, I think I want to sit out and look at the stars for a while.” “I’ll stay out too,” I said. “I’d also like to see some northern lights if I can.”
Jared threw the rest of our wood on the fire, and we leaned back and fixed our gaze on the stars above while our mosquito spray kept the bugs at bay. The dim light in the west slowly disappeared, and more and more stars began to come out. The heavens spread themselves out before us in an amazing display of light, order, and unity. Fireflies began to dance through the air, and I could hear the quiet ripple of Seagull Lake down below. Old familiar night noises started up and grew stronger. The wilderness was going to sleep. “Isn’t this beautiful?” I said, breaking the silence. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen stars like this before.” “I love looking at the stars, and especially after this trip, am grateful that I have the cabin for that,” he responded. “I’ll bet! Have you seen any shooting stars yet?” “Not yet, but I’m looking. Look over at that island across the lake, Joe. Can you see the fireflies?” Glancing across the water, I beheld one of the most incredible things I had ever seen. The shoreline was sparking with phosphorescent light. “That’s amazing!” I said.
At that minute, a loon called from the lake. Another answered it. The two continued to call to each other until their two voices blended into an incredible fusion of laughter and joy. Neither of us said anything until it was over. “That was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard,” I replied. “Moments like this are what I came here for.” "Wasn't it neat how they were calling to each other?" "It was unreal. Have you seen any northern lights yet? I read that this year was the best year for seeing them within the past decade," I asked. "It looked a little hazy to the north, so I doubt that we'll see anything. You never know, though," he added. “Look, there’s a shooting star!”
The two of us continued to admire the glorious framework of the sky for about an hour, watching satellites drift across the sky above us and shooting stars darting here and there. The Aurora Borealis never showed itself. After putting out the camp fire, I made my way into my tent, curled up into my sleeping bag, and was soon enjoying my hard-earned rest.
Portages: 4; 213 rods
Sunday morning, I rose at six o’clock and left my tent. The sun had just broken over the horizon, and I watched it for a while. I could hear Mike snoring in the tent next door. Stifling a laugh, I made a beeline for the latrine. When I returned, I read my Bible for a while, and then took a couple notes in my Boundary Waters journal that would aid me when I worked on the full trip write-up upon my return to my home.
Grandpa emerged from his tent next. I followed him down to the lake side while he washed his face. “Well, Grandpa, this is our last day in the wilderness,” I said. “Hasn’t this trip gone by so fast?” he replied. “I don’t want it to end! Do you?” “I’m having a blast, Joe, but I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight,” Grandpa responded. “You know, I’ve learned that I’m not in the shape that I used to be. I’m feeling this trip physically more than I did on any of the others I used to take. I can’t believe that I used to take two trips like this every summer.” “I think, if anything, this trip has shown that you can still do what you used to do,” I encouraged. “I’ve still got it in me, but I have a feeling that this will be my last trip,” Grandpa sadly replied. I didn’t respond.
“Do you want to try fishing again?” Grandpa asked. “Sure!” I replied. “I’m bound and determined to catch a walleye.” He slipped a leech on my hook, and I again began to work the shoreline. Jesse walked down and asked to fish too. I set up a pole for him and baited his hook. He began to cast left and right. The others, by now, were starting to get up. Becky was setting out our breakfast. Jared was looking over the lake as he drank his coffee. Mike was messing around in his tent, packing his gadgets. “Hey, I got one!” Jesse yelled from down below. Something definitely had a hold of his hook. Jesse began to reel it in, when all of a sudden his line went slack. He brought it in. “He got the hook!” Jesse exclaimed. “And the sinker too,” I said examining the line. “My knot must have gone out.” “That’s too bad, Jesse!” Grandpa said. “I’ll bet you had a big northern on there. It would have been so fun to see you pull it in.” Jesse didn’t have much time to be disappointed, though.
“We’re going in swimming!” Amy called. “Do you want to come?” Jesse and I raced back up to camp, pulled on our suits, and then followed Rachel and Amy down to the lake. Amy, who loves the water, jumped in right away. Rachel, Ryan, and Jesse followed suit. Then, to our surprise, Mike strolled down to the shoreline and followed the others in. “Oh, my gosh!” he exclaimed with relief as he settled back into the water. “Does it feel good?” I asked. “Oh, yeah!” he said. Mike washed out his hair and then headed back up to camp to get a towel. I stood on shore taking pictures. “It feels great!” Amy said. “Come on, Joe!” Handing my camera to Grandpa, I slowly stepped into the water and submerged myself. The water was cold but extremely refreshing. Taking the shampoo bottle, I squirted some biodegradable soap into my hand and washed out my hair. “I probably could have waited to shower until we got back to the outfitters’ place later this afternoon, but this sure does feel good,” I said to Ryan. We swam for about twenty minutes, splashing each other and having a real good time. Grandpa sat on shore watching us.
By the time we had dried off, breakfast was ready. “We’re just going to eat up a lot of stuff today,” Becky told us. “Of course, you have your Emergen-C to drink. Besides that, we have plenty of bread, trail mix, Clif bars, chocolate, and a few extra Slim Jims.” “I guess we have a ‘bits and pieces’ breakfast this morning,” I stated as I admired the spread, all laid out on a tarp. “I like that, ‘bits and pieces’,” Becky laughed. “Are we having buckwheat pancakes?” Amy asked. “Don’t start that again,” Ryan groaned. I picked up a piece of bread, spread cream cheese across the top, and added a couple of Slim Jims. “That is gross!” Becky exclaimed. “Just try it,” I said, taking a bite. “It’s fantastic!” None of the others followed my lead; they were missing out. Eating my share of chocolate, Clif bars, and bread, I powered up for the long paddle ahead. “Boy, I’m stuffed to the rafters!” I hollered. “I’m going to organize my pack now so it’ll be all ready to unload and put in the car.” I spread out the things that I had brought with me and sorted it neatly back into Grandma’s duffel bag, securing everything in our Duluth Pack. I laughed, thinking about how I had never once taken out my Boundary Waters how-to guide.
Once breakfast was done, we busied ourselves taking down camp. For the last time, we rolled up our sleeping bags and mattresses and secured them in their stuff sacks. The tents were taken down and put away. The tarps were folded, and the rest of the food was returned to the bear barrels. Mike and Jared hauled everything down to shore and loaded up our canoes. “We have to take a group picture!” Rachel said. “Let’s sit on those rocks up there. That would make a great shot.” Resting the camera on the now cool fire grate, Rachel set up the timer, and then hurried to where the rest of us were sitting on top of the rock shelf. We took two pictures. “I can see a new picture coming in Grandma’s room at the cabin!” Mike said as he looked at the viewing screen. “Let’s head down and take pictures with our paddling partners,” Rachel suggested. When this was done, Grandpa prayed. “Father, we thank you for this great time that we’ve had up here. We pray now that you would bless our paddle across Seagull Lake and bring us back to the outfitters’ safely. Thank you for the character building experience that this has been, and help us to take the lessons we have learned back home to our daily lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen!”
Climbing into our canoes, we pushed off from our final campsite. Mike and I lagged behind while we got comfortable, and I took a few pictures. “It feels like we’ll be paddling into the wind today,” I noted. “I can’t believe that the wind changed just when it should have been at our backs.” “I’m glad that we took our last portage yesterday,” Mike replied.
After getting directions from a helpful paddler, we found Three Mile Island and began following its south shore in a northeasterly direction. “Oh, Becky, you’re not going to want to see this,” Mike called as a snake swam through the water past our canoe. “What is it, Mike?” she asked. We pointed to the snake. “That’s just gross!” she said and paddled just a little bit harder until the snake was far away. The paddle was long and hard, right into the teeth of the wind, and it took us about two hours to paddle the full length of Three Mile Island. To pass the time, I began to sing, starting out with a couple of folk songs. Then, I remembered that it was Sunday and began to sing hymn after hymn.
As we brought up the rear, we saw the others stop at a large rock that stood like a ship at anchor. Becky stepped onto it, pulled out a bear barrel, and tossed candy to each of us. We rested for about twenty minutes. “This is sure a nice rest,” I stated as I leaned back in my canoe chair. “How are you doing, Grandpa?” “This is pretty hard,” he replied. “Are you drinking enough water, Dad?” Mike called to Grandpa. “I’m good, Mike!” he called back. “Hey, Amy, I was singing while I was paddling back there,” I said. “You know, I was too!” she replied. "I think God put this little island here for us," Rachel added. "Does anyone know how long Three Mile Island is?" Mike asked. "About six miles, with the wind," Jared commented, as we all cracked up.
After raffling off the last few candy bars, we set off again for the final stretch of the paddle with Jared in the lead. We were back in civilization again, and I could see large, stately lake homes perched on top of the high shoreline. Jared was trying to find the channel leading to the outfitters. He would dart into a small bay, look for a while, and then re-emerge. After about an hour, Mike spoke. “I think I see the outfitters,” he told me. “See that American flag waving? I remember that from when we were there earlier.” I looked closer only to see that Mike was correct. My heart sank, and I didn’t put as much into my paddling. I watched Grandpa and Amy paddle in ahead of us. “This could be the last time that Grandpa ever sees the wilderness he loves so much,” I thought.
I began to think about Grandpa, who was going to turn seventy-two shortly. He is a man who has impacted many lives. Someday, a lot sooner than I would like, the Lord will have to bring him home to heaven. Because I know this, any time I can spend with Grandpa is priceless to me. I treasure any opportunity I can get to be with him and bless him, because I know that every time I see him could be my last.
Mike and I were in the final canoe to reach the outfitters. We pulled up to their floating dock and received a hearty greeting from the employees. “Do we have to unload anything?” Mike asked. “No, sir, we’ll take care of that for you,” they assured us. Scrambling onto the dock, we headed to join the others on shore. Mellie emerged from the main building. “We’re glad to see that you made it back safely!” she said. “Did you have a good trip?” “We did!” Grandpa said, speaking for all of us. “Can I get you anything cold to drink?” she asked. We all looked at each other. “Cokes all around would be great,” Grandpa told her. Mellie headed off in the direction of the main building. I watched the other employees as they un-loaded our equipment. They already had the canoes out of the water and were spraying them off with hoses. After pulling out the large waterproof bags that had served as liners, they washed out the Duluth Packs and hung them to dry. Returning with our Cokes, Mellie set them all down on the table. I opened mine and walked back to the dock alone.
Standing there, I drank my Coke while looking back down the channel towards Seagull Lake. I was thinking about John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. As the expedition was approaching Independence, Missouri, the place it had departed from many months before, Colter saw the town on the horizon. Realizing that he never wanted to leave the wilderness he loved, he separated himself from the expedition, forfeiting all the rewards that would be his, and returned to the wilderness where he lived for the rest of his life. That day, standing on the dock, I knew exactly how John Colter felt.
We had one more thing to do before heading off to shower. Our team stood together, and the outfitter took a picture for us. United through the good and the bad, we stood with huge smiles on our faces. Grandpa's vision of a team had come to fruition.
After taking a refreshing shower and loading up our cars, we started off down the Gunflint Trail. I was still in deep thought. We had taken the trip that I had planned so carefully and looked forward to for so long, and now it was over. All I had were the pictures, the memories, my souvenir paddle, and the marked up map that the outfitters had given us, which the others had let me keep. I stared out of the window in silence.
The radio broke me out of my thoughts as I began to listen.
“You know a dream is like a river Ever changing as it flows And a dreamer’s just a vessel That must follow where it goes. Trying to learn from what’s behind you And never knowing what’s in store Makes each day a constant battle Just to stay between the shores.
And I will sail my vessel ‘Till the river runs dry Like a bird upon the wind These waters are my sky. I’ll never reach my destination If I never try So I will sail my vessel ‘Till the river runs dry.
Too many times we stand aside And let the waters slip away Until what we put off till tomorrow, Has now become today. So don’t you sit upon the shoreline And say you’re satisfied Choose to chance the rapids And dare to dance the tide.”
I thought about all the past years of my life when I had shrugged away all thoughts about going the Boundary Waters. How grateful I was now that I had taken the plunge and blessed my grandfather so much. “Grandpa, that verse describes how I thought about the Boundary Waters for so long,” I said. "I don't think that anymore, though." “That's amazing, Joe." he replied. “Listen to the next part,” Jared said.
“I know there will be rough waters And I know I’ll take some falls But with the good Lord as my captain I can make it through them all.”
“Amen!” I thought.
“And I will sail my vessel ‘Till the river runs dry Like a bird upon the wind These waters are my sky. I’ll never reach my destination If I never try So I will sail my vessel ‘Till the river runs dry.”
As we drove down the Gunflint Trail, with the tall forests on each side of us, I sang along to the final words of the song.
“So I will sail my vessel ‘Till the river runs dry.”
We returned to civilization that evening, and I have to say that the Dairy Queen burger that I ordered that evening was absolutely fantastic. But, as we headed back down the highway towards Minneapolis, I realized that I was not the same person as the one who had driven north on these same roads five days before. The Lord had used the Boundary Waters trip to increase my faith, strengthen me as a person, and teach me what it meant to be a man. The trip also strengthened my relationships with everyone who had gone along with me.
There was still another important thing I had to do. I wanted to give Grandpa a special keepsake to thank him for his investment in us. He had made this incredible experience possible. I took one of the paddles I had purchased at the gift shop in Grand Marais, and snuck it over to Mike and Becky's house one day. We all thought of a special message to write to Grandpa, and using a permanent marker, inscribed it on the paddle. Our family went up to Grandpa's cabin a few days later, and I secretly packed the paddle in the back seat of the car. Jared was also at the cabin, so he wrote a message and signed his name as well.
All of our family was sitting around the breakfast table at the cabin a few days later. After we had finished eating, I walked over to the bunk house and retrieved the paddle. As we sat around the breakfast table, I read aloud an essay by Sigurd Olson on paddling a canoe. When I had finished, I looked directly at Grandpa.
"Grandpa, we can never thank you enough for the investment that you made in all of us," I stated. "Each of us encountered the wilderness differently, and I'm sure we all could talk of the ways that our experiences impacted us, strengthened our character, and drew us closer to God. We wanted to give you a little present to show our appreciation for the wonderful time we all had." At this, I handed him the paddle. "Oh, my gosh!" Grandpa said. "When did you do this?" "I had it hidden at Mike and Becky's, and we all wrote our messages on it after we had been home for a few days," I replied. "This is really neat," he said. "What a great gift!" He tried to read the messages, but had a hard time making them out. "Get your glasses on, Tommy," Grandma said from the other end of the table. We all laughed. Grandpa put on his glasses and read all of our messages aloud.
"Listen to this great line on the handle: 'Such sights as this are reserved for those who are willing to suffer to behold them.' That's Jared's quote, right?" "Correct," I said. "Man, is that ever appropriate! And here's Mike's message: 'I am thankful our family experienced Growing Inside Outside. Thanks for the memories.' Thank you, Mike, for coming along! What does this say? 'This Boundary Waters trip was quite an experience! I grew in strength and in character. I love you! Rachel.' That's a great message, Rachel! Here's Jesse's message: 'I had a great time! I love you! Jesse.' I'm glad you had a good time, Jesse. Would you do it again?" "Yeah!" Jesse replied with a huge smile on his face. "Jared wrote this: 'It's about all the memories........and I have many of them! Thanks Tom!' Ryan said, 'Thanks for a fun trip, Grandpa!' Amy said: ' I had fun being your paddling buddy! Love, Amy.' I loved being your paddling buddy too, Amy," Grandpa read, his smile growing wider as he saw each new note. We all watched him with big smiles on our own faces as he continued to read. "Joseph, you wrote: 'I had the time of my life! I am so grateful to God that He allowed us to share this experience together. I love you!' Becky, you nailed it with your message. 'The title of your book is so true. God used this experience to grow us inside, outside. :) Thanks for the good memories! I love you!' I don't know what to say, you guys. Thank you so much for this fantastic paddle and for your encouraging notes! It was my pleasure to bring you all with me." As we all dispersed to our various activities, Grandpa sat down on the couch, still reading the messages we had written. "I love this paddle, Joe," Grandpa said. "It's the least we could do, Grandpa. You made this incredible investment in us, and I wanted to make sure you knew how much we appreciate it." "I'm going to have it put in my coffin with me," he joked. I knew he was just joking, but this comment did tell me how much he appreciated the gift we had given him.
Back at home, Grandpa hung the paddle near his desk where he could see it every day. I hope he knows that the trip he made possible had a profound impact on all of our lives. None of us will ever forget it. I am grateful that we were able to bless and honor Grandpa in this special way.
I returned home to Washington and re-entered the life I had left behind. It felt good to be home, but I came home a different person. As I reflected, I began to think about the different ways that the Lord had used the trip to change me. In April, months before I had taken the trip, I had prayed that the Lord would take me to the next level in my walk with Him. I realized that he used the Boundary Waters trip to accomplish just that in my life.
First, and most importantly, the Boundary Waters trip strengthened my faith in God in an amazing way. I experienced the beauty of His creation in a way that I have never experienced it before, up close and personal. I saw the pine trees standing on shore, each of them pointing upwards in praise to their Creator, the lakes responding to His voice, and the storms parting at His will. I learned to love the wilderness. There, cut off from all civilization, I experienced God in a way that I never have before. As I endured the high and low points of the trip, the Lord gave me a great reliance and trust in Him. As I looked across Ester Lake in the rain and prayed to God to relieve the burden of my heart, I drew closer to Him as I leaned on him for strength and joy.
I had struggled with fear since my childhood. I think my parents were amazed that I wanted to go to the Boundary Waters for that reason. I still remember talking to my dad before I left. "I'm really proud of you, Joe," he had told me. "Ten years ago, I never would have dreamed that you wanted to take a trip like this. You had the most irrational fears then, and now you're going on a trip to the Boundary Waters. This really speaks volumes to me about your maturity." His words really touched me, and he was right. When I returned from the canoe trip, I realized that, for the first time in seventeen years of life, I was completely free from fear. As I endured the storms and the rugged unpredictability of the wilderness, the Lord purged my life from this stronghold that had troubled me for years.
I came home with more strength and endurance. Hauling the packs, bear barrels, and (not to be forgotten) the canoes had given me physical and mental strength, and perseverance to finish a task. The canoe trip was one of the most physically exerting experiences I have ever taken. By the grace of God, I was able to overcome the difficulties and obstacles. I learned that difficulties are not to be avoided, but rather are to be encountered and used to make you a stronger, more faith-filled person.
I learned that your attitude should transcend your circumstances and not be subject to them. One old wilderness guide said it well when he said, "Remember, no matter how cold and wet you are, you're always warm and dry." A whole way of life is embodied in that statement, a way of life that embraces difficulty with a smile, knowing that with God's help anything can be overcome with joy.
On a deeper level, this trip taught me what it meant to be a man, especially through watching Mike and Jared. In Jared, I saw an example of a man who stepped up to the plate and did his duty, even when it was difficult. Although he probably worked harder than anyone on the trip, he never spoke a negative word and was the emotional rock that many of us leaned on. I learned that men take responsibility and do it even when it's hard. In Mike, I saw an incredible respect and love for his father. Like Jared, Mike never let on about how he was feeling, so I did not learn until after the trip how much he had really suffered. Despite his migraine on the second day and his concerns for our safety, he drove onward to honor his father, who really wanted this trip. In doing so, he gained my admiration and respect. Watching Mike, I also saw that being a protector is a big (and often difficult) responsibility. I admire him for executing this role so well. Someday, I will do the same for my own family.
Furthermore, the trip gave me a closer relationship with all those who had gone with me. On this trip, I got to know Mike, Becky, Ryan, Rachel, Amy, and Jared in a special way. I watched them endure the same things I went through. I saw their ups and downs, their highs and lows. I learned new things about each of them. I watched as our family group merged into a unified whole, into a team that paddled together against the wind, carried our gear over the portages together, set up and tore down our camp together, made and cleaned up our meals together, and built up each other with encouragement, grace, and love.
This trip drew me closer to my brother Jesse as well. By bringing him along. I showed him how much I believed in him and how much I wanted him to grow to be a man of strength and character. I saw Jesse grow in amazing ways as he faithfully carried out his responsibilities, remained tough and undaunted through adversity, and learned to love the wilderness like Grandpa and I. I look forward to many future trips with him, and with my other brothers as well, and I'm glad that I can share these memories of Grandpa with him.
As a result of the trip, I also grew closer to my grandfather. I thank God that he preserved Grandpa through several major health crises and kept him in good shape so that I could experience his favorite place in the world with him. I am so grateful for the incredible investment that he made in me and in the rest of us. I consider myself greatly blessed to have known him and am honored to call him my best friend. Through this experience, Grandpa passed the wilderness bug down to me, and I’ll never lose it. He has passed down a lot more than that to me, though. Grandpa has given me a desire to invest in other people, whether that means an encouraging word or a large financial expenditure like the Boundary Waters trip. He has also given me a powerful example of a life touched by the Spirit of God.
I long to go back to the Boundary Waters; once again to feel a paddle in my hand, to dip it into the water and pull it back towards me, once again to smell the fresh air after the rain, once again to sit by a crackling fire as the crickets begin their chirping in the woods behind me, once again to carry a Duluth pack over a rough and rocky portage. I long to ride the waves again, to watch the sun descend towards the western horizon, and to hold up a beautiful fish in the cool hours of the morning. I am haunted by the calling of the loons. Their laughter still echoes in my mind, and I again feel the joy that their voices brought to my soul.
Yes, I long to return to the place where the loons never left us. I long to return to the place where the Lord never left us. But most of all, I long to return to the place that will forever remind me of my grandpa, who has impacted my life in an amazing way.
And those memories, like the loons and the Lord, will never leave me.
This trip, especially as my first, was a huge learning curve for me. I have so many lessons that I could elaborate on:
-Know what you are getting into. A canoe trip in the Boundary Waters can be one of the best experiences of your life, but it is no picnic. Know that you are at the mercy of the land and lakes. You cannot control the wind, the rain, or the elevation of a portage. You simply have to take it as it comes. That being said, don't fall to the other extreme and pass on going. Time in canoe country can be refreshing to the human soul. It is one of the most wonderful places on earth. Have fun, but be aware that it is hard. A good attitude and a good philosophy of "unexpected difficulties" is essential.
-Appreciate the beauty that is all around you. Many a tough portage and paddle can be made better by simply taking time to breathe the fresh air and admire the forest. Buy The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson and read it. Toss it in your pack. You will forever look at the wilderness through new eyes. The Boundary Waters is a challenge to be overcome, but that cannot be all that it is. It is a beautiful wilderness. See it as such.
-Take a layover day or two. One of our mistakes was that we did a great route in five days with no layovers. Stay in camp. Go swimming or fishing. Listen to the singing wilderness all around you. Cook that super high-maintenance meal and enjoy it. Have a campfire. This is what the wilderness is all about.
-Buy a good raincoat and water-repellent pants. I highly recommend Dri Ducks or Frogg Toggs (although Dri Ducks are better....smirk). The bugs are never as bad if you have a long sleeve shirt and long pants on. Then you just have to spray your feet and your face, and you won't need sunscreen except on those areas either. I tried a bug net but hate it. I came to be in the wilderness not to be screened from it. The bugs are only as bad as you want them to be, at the end of the day.
-I would do this route again, but never with nine people and four canoes. Large groups are best on shorter trips. For long trips like this, keep things simple. Set yourself up for success on the portages by minimizing the amount of loose things you have in the canoe. Pack away as much as you can. I walked the Knife Lake portage EIGHT times, four times each way, because of the amount of gear necessary for nine people.
-Mealtimes can make and break your trip depending on what you have gotten yourself into. If you are on the move every day, meals should be simple. Bagels for breakfast, summer sausage sandwiches for lunch. By the time you get to camp, you will be smoked. Stick to things that portage easily and that you can cook within a half hour or so. Buy or rent yourself a good stove. For your layover days or base camps, you can bring in more difficult things or pack as heavy as you want.
-Know your gear. Know how to set up your tent, stoves, saw, etc. before you go if at all possible. Don't be afraid to take your first evening or layover day and figure everything out. It will save you time and stress later on.
-Plan carefully, but DON'T be afraid to take a challenging route if you have the ability to do so. You can set yourself up for success.
-Take time to enjoy the wilderness! Even my grandpa tends to view the wilderness as something to be conquered. He's right, but the wilderness is first and foremost something to be appreciated and enjoyed, not just conquered. Take advantage of the silence. This is what it is all about. I had a reasonable and proper "wilderness moment" every evening.