BWCA Getting Older Observations Boundary Waters Group Forum: Solo Tripping
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distinguished member(1956)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/03/2022 01:53PM  
I love taking my annual solo trip every year. Normally in Q except for the past two years. I did my first one when I was 17 or so. The past many decades I have done one solo trip in addition to group trips each year. I am very, very comfortable on all of these trips.

But................I will be 71 when this year's solo comes around. I have slowly become more safety conscious over the past few years. I wear a PFD. I carry a PLB in my pocket at all times. I stick closer to the shore than I used to. I am more cautious of wind on the lakes than I used to be. I am watchful and more careful on portages. I have switched to always double portaging.

With each passing year, I find myself thinking of "what if" situations before I go.
Not fear, but more apprehension than I used to have. And then I hop aboard the canoe at Prairie Portage or wherever I am entering and in seconds the freedom and glorious adventure begins, leaving the other feelings back on the shore.
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03/03/2022 03:49PM  
I turned 62 recently. I too am more careful of weather and foot placement.

I had a very laid back trip last summer with 3 camps over 10 nights. I'm thinking that was great but I'm up for a more adventurous pace for my next trip. I'll base camp when I'm 80.

Just thinking of ways to cut pack weight but also get in good physical shape too. Losing 5 or 10 lbs working out months before the trip will pay off.
03/03/2022 04:29PM  
"What if" thinking is appropriate. When we were young we would bounce back, now we lay there awhile. Better to what if and double check the footing. Going slower and not so far are my biggest adjustments.
distinguished member(850)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/03/2022 04:43PM  
70 here and still comfortable with traveling solo in the BWCA/Quetico. My trips are usually 10 days. I have spent a bit of money to lighten my portage loads and have my starting weight to two 40 pound loads. I can still paddle like I am 25 so as I age I am looking at bigger lakes and fewer portages. I am very careful on portages and never in a hurry. I break long or difficult portage into sections so I get the load off for return trips more often. I don't do real long days any more and don't travel tired. Most days I am at my destination lake before noon. I am finding it very easy to get campsites!

I can envision a time when I will do basecamp trips with little or no portaging. I look forward to spending a whole week on Brule for instance. My father stopped tripping when he was 71. He could still paddle pretty well and I planned some easy basecamp trips for us, but he declined. If he couldn't travel to the places he wanted he would rather not go. I am planning on spending time there in any fashion as long as I breathe.
distinguished member (307)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/03/2022 06:43PM  
I am 71, will be 72 when I next solo. I can't really add to the wisdom put forth here so far, but I agree with all that has been offered. We all age differently, for sure, but we all age. I have been triple portaging for a few years now, and for me, that has been necessary to keep going. I do end up walking more miles on portages, but the loads are not so taxing. It's actually kind of meditative.

I am so careful now not to overtax my body, rest when I need to, drink, eat, etc. I also try to watch every step I take when portaging. Also, during the year I approach an exercise routine with canoeing in mind.

Lightening my load (coffiin-like one-man tent), yet adding comfort (chair!) has really helped. I approach every year now as if it could be my last in the wilderness, but I hope to have many more.

I am deeply grateful for what I've had!

distinguished member(2673)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/03/2022 07:26PM  
Sorry a little off topic but sorta relevant

Great post, hope many others chime in. Feel like I am going to ramble here so be patient:)

I am 66, went a lot in my younger years then took 20 years off to raise the family and have been going once or twice a year for the last 10-12 years. Funny, a year or year and a half ago I thought hey getting old isn't so bad, i feel pretty much the same as I have for years. Then all of a sudden things start to change. Seems to be a new issue every week or two and the pessimist in me decides it is going to be the thing that does me in. But luckily for the most part they seem to go away. Go figure.

Our trips have changed a lot over the last 5 or 6 years to mostly basecamp trips where we go in a half to 3/4 of a day and set up camp and that suits me pretty well. Often spend a good part of the day exploring areas of interest and head back to camp already setup late afternoon. Sometimes we move once in a trip. I find this to be a good way to get to know an area better and explore the things that look interesting, which you don't always have the time to do on a travel every day trip. Photography is a big thing for us so we are happy if we can find things of interest to shoot.

I have never taken a solo trip but it has been on my radar for a few years now. At this point it would be more likely to be a hybrid solo where my tripping partner and I head in different spots and meet up for a few days, then make our way out. That would be cool.

I have never had anxiety my entire life but find that on occasion now, especially at night i find myself dealing with some of that. Not sure how that would pare with a solo trip, suspect I would work my way through it. Guess I would have to. I attribute that to part of the aging process. Not that much fun. Honestly if I think about it having a partner with probably isn't going to help a lot because the anxiety is internal, only I can fix it.

Regarding trips in general, I am glad to be able to continue to go paddling and camping in the BWCA and hope to continue for a few years if not more. The tough portages are much more of a challenge for me these days. I can go all day on flat land but steep and numerous hills have become much more difficult. Hence the shorter basecamp trips. I still have a hope, and something my buddy and I have talked about is one more epic trip of 10-11 days where we can actually cover some miles, while not overdoing it. Probably half of what most of you cover in that amount of time but still more adventurous than our normal basecamp trips.

I have been a member here for 16 years and many of you have been here with me for much of the time. Safe to say we have all experienced the challenges that come with getting older. I admire many of you who are still going strong on group or solo trips into your 60s and 70s, good for you. I find the portages more difficult, long stretches of paddling fighting a strong wind more challenging and crawling out of a tent in the middle of the night to answer natures call a bit more of a pain. But when I get up in the early AM and get the fire going for morning coffee, go down to the lake to enjoy the peace and beauty of the lake, it is all worth it. Nobody knows what the future holds for us. I hope I am allowed many more BWCA trips cuz despite the challenges I enjoy them as much if not more than ever.
distinguished member (254)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/03/2022 10:08PM  
I was expecting to complete my 50th trip last year when they closed the park for fires the day before I was to leave. Since I am just turning 75 it was criminal to lose a year, but life is sometimes like that. I hope to manage a spring and my normal summer trip this year. Yes as one gets older it does cut down your options when solo tripping. Since my summer trip is usually three weeks I have always triple portaged and kept my portage length to under 1,000 yards.

The things that have changed are many. Food used to be a big deal, now it is simply energy. Going all day was the norm, now I paddle from about 7:30 to the early afternoon. I set up camp then usually read, fall asleep and get up for dinner and then fishing. I like to do two or three day trips now so I don't have to set up camp every day. I also consider the kind of portage because sometime short portages can be equally ugly as a long flat portage. Bog, hills and rock and log footing are all portage issues that I consider. Normally I try to get to the center of park but I guess this year I will now stay further north because of the fires.

Like others have mentioned I take fewer risks now. I carry a sat phone and call my spouse daily with my location info. I try to stay close to shore and carefully consider traversing large lakes. I carry a pack across portages first so I can determine hot spots before I take the canoe. Thank god for the new lighter equipment or I would be totally sidelined.

When I think back over the years that I have been canoeing I am totally amazed that not one of my many injuries stopped me from getting out on my own. And over the years I have had many injuires and many falls but somehow you keep going.

Like someone else said, when the portages become too much I will do lot more base camping. The thought of never going to Q is hard to fathom.

03/04/2022 03:12PM  
Looking at 72 this July with a solo in May. I have always been cautious but made some age-related changes last year. I double carry and try to keep my ground miles at 3 or so per day, I could double that but find that I am less sure of my footing and more likely to stumble the longer I go. I took one trekking pole with me last year and will take 2 this year, stepping off slippery rocks and negotiating muddy up hills is ALOT easier with the poles. I also bought a lighter back packing tent that uses the poles in the set- up, (my excuse for taking the poles) I have planned the May trip with a route that starts at Cross bay and ends at Lizz, I figure 10 days with 2 rest days between travel days but will allow 12 or 14 days if necessary. I listen to my body, it's old and fat and knows it's limitations my brain still thinks it's 20 and good looking. Ditto the closer to shore, PFD and chair!

The one thing I still won't do is carry a phone or in reach or sos device, don't have a real good reason not to just don't want to.
03/04/2022 03:59PM  
Almost forgot ! designated pee bottle, no more crawling out of the tent at night.
distinguished member(2419)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/04/2022 05:07PM  
I’m glad you old farts are still tripping. I’m 54 but sometimes feel 70 :)

I still push hard and feel like a kid at heart. I still paddle wood canoes and go on crazy solo trips, but being more aware and careful of what I am doing for the sake of safety.

I think people get more careful as they age in part due to wisdom gained from living through trauma or knowing people that have experienced trauma.

Lately I have become more aware of my surroundings, hazards, potential hazards, and generally exercising caution. But I’m still having fun and pushing into the wild, just doing so being aware of what I am doing and planning to stay healthy as I travel.

See you guys on the lake!Thanks for the inspiring stories of wisdom.

distinguished member (334)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/04/2022 06:11PM  
Turning 74 this month and still going strong, though not as strong . Still single portage, I find it easier on my body. Of course, ultra- light gear. There will be three 74 years old guys (including me) in the border challenge this year. All 3 will start at Rainy and attempt to paddle to L, Superior in solo canoes, in 8 days or less. I must admit, I've been very lucky with my health. I've cut out all between meal snacking and have lost 16#. Only 10# more to lose and I'll be able to fit in my wetsuit.
distinguished member(571)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/04/2022 06:34PM  
This has been a very useful thread, mostly to find that most of us have recognized many of the same issues with regards to aging and solo tripping. The one thing that has not been mentioned that I find particularly problematic is the hazards associated with landings, not just portage landings, but campsite landings as well. As I have gotten older I have developed some balance issues. It's not really bad but landings are the one place where it causes the most problems. Just one example: last year with extreme low water conditions in many areas, landings became more treacherous than usual. I stopped to check out a campsite on Sawbill where the landing was especially rocky. I slipped on one rock and landed on my back on another rock. It was obvious from the pain the next morning that I had caused some sort of damage that would require some medical attention. I left a day early and drove home. A trip to the doctor the next day revealed that I had torn the cartilage where two ribs attach to the spine. A few weeks later I was fine.

I took a second solo later, in mid Sept. I was able to get a permit for Fall lake and went up to Pipestone Bay. I knew the landings at the two portages were pretty good, and I knew of a campsite where the landing was a beach, so I had no problems. As many other have mentioned, I'm more careful now, I go more slowly, and don't travel as far, but I still enjoy my solo trips very much. I have a permit for June for a solo into the Caribou/Horseshoe/Gaskins area. I'll turn 79 a few days after I get back.
distinguished member (129)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/04/2022 07:40PM  
I have been making a trip once or twice a year to the Q since the late 70's. Normally with a group of four. Only made 2 genuine solo's so far. Swore I would never miss a year up North, and did not until the damned Covid. I will be 65 this month and feel good. Have had 2 torn cartilage repairs, 2 knee replacements and 2 joints in my feet replaced, and yet my balance is still good. I am legally deaf in one ear and not much better in the other. Have never worn glasses other than dime store readers, now I am waiting on my first pair of prescription glasses. Still my biggest problem now days is digital devices of all kinds. I can barely operate my phone. Bought an In-Reach 3 years ago and still can barely operate it. Give me a map, compass and I can go anywhere. I have spent time and money on lighter gear even though I said I would never give up my canvas and leather Duluth Packs. Through the years I was always amazed when I would see folks much older than I, and I swore I would be them some day. I recall having a brief conversation with a Father and son on a portage trail. Dad was 82 and carrying a small day pack and his son was walking with him, at his side ,but not helping. Maybe I will get there some day? When I get back North this summer, I am sure I will do what everyone has described, get an earlier start before the wind comes up, stop a bit earlier in the day, take a breather more often, be even more wary of places like Bayley Bay, North Bay, Hug the bank a bit more. Stop on the portage return run long enough to appreciate the beauty passing by. OOPPS, Standard apologies, I have been rambling once again. MB
03/05/2022 01:24PM  
Happy to see folks older than me still taking solos! 63 this year, and going on my longest solo yet. I think 18 days worth of food for me & the pup will fit. I am more...not really cautious, but maybe thoughtful about routing and risks. And I do have a SPOT thanks to a kind person on the message board that gifted me their old one. Not that I expect to use it, but it gives my kids some peace of mind.

My mom can no longer do it, but honestly it seems more like she stopped doing it and THEN lost the ability. Does that make sense?

I don't plan to stop until I can't do it at all....certainly someday I'll have to go back to basecamps and having the kids come along to help me. Unless I drop in my tracks out there somewhere, and honestly that would be my preference.
distinguished member(1509)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
03/05/2022 08:29PM  
I can relate to this topic since I will be turning 75 this fall. And having lost the last two seasons I feel time is running out for me. A complicating factor for me now is having undergone hip joint replacement in December. I have been released by the surgeon and physical therapists to resume any activities I am comfortable with. Thus far walking about two miles causes a bit of discomfort and any weight bearing causes enough discomfort the next day that I am limping for the first 6-8 steps until I loosen up. This is the time of year I start carrying a canoe to prep for the season. So I should be able to determine how feasible trips to NW Ontario will be. Sad to think that I may done with the trips I have taken there every year from 2007 when I retired through 2019. But I will continue to take my spring and fall trips which are shorter, closer to home and basecamp or limited moving.
03/06/2022 02:42PM  
Could we keep this thread going a little longer? I have some health- related issues new this year and could use some advice. I need hearing aids, not the $4000.00 kind but the $200.00 kind. I worry about them falling or getting knocked out. Does anyone here wear them and how do you keep them in while roughing it? The other is the doc says I have type two diabetes. I halfway think it is a ploy to sell more drugs but I'm taking the medication and losing weight etc. Anything special I need to be aware of?
Thanks in advance, it's encouraging to see so many blue hairs still tripping solo.
distinguished member(835)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
04/07/2022 10:54PM  
merlyn: "Could we keep this thread going a little longer? I have some health- related issues new this year and could use some advice. I need hearing aids, not the $4000.00 kind but the $200.00 kind. I worry about them falling or getting knocked out. Does anyone here wear them and how do you keep them in while roughing it? The other is the doc says I have type two diabetes. I halfway think it is a ploy to sell more drugs but I'm taking the medication and losing weight etc. Anything special I need to be aware of?
Thanks in advance, it's encouraging to see so many blue hairs still tripping solo."

My husband has a cochlear (translate $$$) so keeping it safe is a big concern. There is a thin 3 inch rubber piece that can be attached to the hearing aid part, basically encircling the ear. He will also wear a hat over it. And on windy rough water days he takes it off and puts it in his pocket. Which might be a good thing so he can’t hear me swear at him when he takes us too far away from shore on water we shouldn’t be on!
distinguished member(1509)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
04/08/2022 11:05AM  
I use both a hearing aid and a cochlear implant. I have tripped with the implant since getting it 5 years ago and have been using hearing aids for more than 30 years. Both devices are out and safely stored while on the water due very high replacement cost especially for the implant (approx $20,000-some.) Both are worn in camp and I have only once had the hearing swept off by brush. I have small fishline-like cables which can be used to clip the devices to my clothing but haven't had the need to use them much.

While paddling with others they have to use hand/paddle signals when communicating with me. Five years ago on a three week Canadian river trip my partner paddled in the bow and we developed a quick and effective means of him telling me what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go using just his paddle.

Oh, and when we encountered fly-in fisherman with coolers he had to handle the negotiations on getting some cold beer from them.
senior member (56)senior membersenior member
04/08/2022 04:55PM  
Just a short comment, I am 66, been on 45 + trips, well over half solo, really enjoyed it, moving on a lake now has pretty much ended my trips up north, but a memory I have is of a older gentle man on Alton Lake portage a few years back, he came across with a Royalex canoe
, one of those heavy ones, and a Duluth pack on his back, single portaging, he was well into his 70's, very inspiring. keep going until you can't.
04/15/2022 08:30AM  
Had been a regular in this forum. Kinda shrinking in my contributions. For my 70th birthday I received the wonderful gift of arthritis in my knees and hips. Too unstable now for solo tripping and sold my Advantage. Any future trips will be in my tandem Spirit.
Happens to everyone in one way or another. Still kicking just not as hard or often as I once did!

04/15/2022 04:59PM  
I hear you Butthead. Sorry to hear about your arthritic knees and hips. I had both my knees replaced in Feb and March 2020. With a lot of rehab work and regular weight training I feel like like my knees are strong and stable enough to do some solo trips.

In fact, I kayak paddled the Mississippi River from Hastings, MN to the Gulf last year. Water levels were so low last summer from Headwaters at Lake Itasca to St Cloud that I decided to abort Itasca to Hastings. I am planning to finish my trip from Itasca to Hastings mid May or early June if water levels will allow.

Knee and Hip replacement surgeries have come along way the past several years. I had minimal invasive knee replacements. I went on a 2 week paddle into La Croix in June 2020 after having Surgeries in Feb 6 and March 19, 2020. Yes, it was a non portage canoe trip but at least I was able to get out and paddle and fish.

I am thinking my days of hard portaging to my favorite walleye lakes in the center of Quetico may be over but only time will tell. A good friend of mine that went with me to Lac La Croix soloed after having hip replacement surgery only 6 months before.

Bottomline, you may want to look at hip and knee replacement surgeries to get you back on the water in a solo canoe.

04/24/2022 10:28AM  
This group gives me hope. I am 64 and recently started coming back to the BWCA. Too busy with life, kids, job to go out but for a few times over the last 40 years. My first trip to the BWCA was in 1973 with a group from my high school. I was one of the few that had ever camped before. Fell in love with the BWCA. I made several group trips over the years and brought my son up twice, but the interest wasn't there.

Now I am older, heavier and have knees that I swear are 20 years older than the rest of my body. Arthritis is starting to creep into my hands. A couple years ago I went on a group trip (safety in numbers) to the west side out of Ely and found I did better than I expected. There were six of us in the group with three over the age of 70. Changed my perspective. I still can't sit in a canoe for too many hours without my knees wanting to lock up. So last year I did an easy solo trip out of Sawbill. As a concession to my wife and daughter (a bear will eat you!!) I got a Bivy Stick satellite communicator and kept in touch. Worked well and kept everybody happy. It was an awesome time. I have a trip planned for the end of May this year (assuming the ice does finally melt!)

I fish, but I'm not much of a fisherman. I take pictures, but no fancy photography equipment. I'm not into how far and fast I can go in X days. Done that a few times and didn't really enjoy it.

I like the peace, the solitude, the beauty and the elegance of the Boundary Waters. I fish some, I read, I just stare at the sky for hours. Just me and my tinnitus to keep me company. Works. Thanks to all for their posts on here. I have gleaned a lot of good information and feelings of camaraderie.

distinguished member (108)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/05/2022 04:35PM  
I very much like this thread and happy older folks still go out. I am only 50 but also have ever only done solos. I think I have always been careful and cautious from spending time in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa for “work”. I try to plan for everything, key gear redundant, and try to know my limits. I make mistakes on every trip, although minor. I think being mindful of one’s self is key.
distinguished member (103)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/14/2022 09:54AM  
At 63, I find that lack of regular, focused exercise is very noticeable. Somehow I have to learn new habits that include time every day for some kind of muscle and aerobic exercise. COVID took it's toll on my group bicycle rides and restarting from scratch is disheartening. Cross Fit that I joined was just way more that I enjoyed. Maybe I can find a 50-60 age focused Cross Fit. Fit Last year I purchased a Pack canoe so at least I can get short, "portage practice," walking to the lake anytime I want.

Tales of woe? Naw. Just observations. I want to continue enjoying hiking, canoe tripping, cycling, ice fishing, and even heavy bags of groceries and just need to pay more attention to my health.
06/14/2022 09:14PM  
I am more reluctant to go into the BWCA as I get older. I am not a fan of the crowds, and stressing out about finding a campsite defeats the purpose of the trip. That and the increased idiocy of groups making their way into the BWCA, frankly, sickens me. I miss the RABC option of getting into Quetico.

distinguished member(1051)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/15/2022 10:46AM  
Frenchy19: "I am more reluctant to go into the BWCA as I get older. I am not a fan of the crowds, and stressing out about finding a campsite defeats the purpose of the trip. That and the increased idiocy of groups making their way into the BWCA, frankly, sickens me. I miss the RABC option of getting into Quetico. "

I am almost there myself, Frenchy. I like to base camp when I solo and I've been staying closer to entry points as I get older. Predictably, that leads to camping on lakes that are more crowded...often with people that don't understand the values traditionally associated with the BWCA (like not being noisy.) For as long as I can remember, I've always stressed about campsites, though seldom have I (or my paddling partner) been forced to stay at a truly crappy campsite.

I know what it takes to beat the crowds. But at this point I'm not doing what it takes...

Physically I'm OK for being 57. However, my last solo really beat me up as I fell four times between Mudro and Fourtown... I think I was dehydrated and had low blood sugar, something just wasn't right. Anyway, my legs were a mess with bruises and swelling. So I just had to sit in camp and read! Not too bad. But Fourtown was a circus...

distinguished member (103)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/15/2022 02:17PM  
MikeinMpls: "Frenchy19: "I am more reluctant to go into the BWCA as I get older. I am not a fan of the crowds, and stressing out about finding a campsite defeats the purpose of the trip. That and the increased idiocy of groups making their way into the BWCA, frankly, sickens me. I miss the RABC option of getting into Quetico. "

I am almost there myself, Frenchy. I like to base camp when I solo and I've been staying closer to entry points as I get older. Predictably, that leads to camping on lakes that are more crowded...often with people that don't understand the values traditionally associated with the BWCA (like not being noisy.)

This is one reason I backpack, including BWCAW. I don't very often have time to go deep into the woods or lakes to get a mile or more away from people (at least overnighters) so I do the dispersed camping thing as well as shoulder season or when I get warmer 20 deg winter nights. The side benefit is it forced me to lighten my load and that just makes canoe trips that much easier.

I'm scheduled for a few days canoe starting East Bearskin (OP) on Sept 18 and just expect not to have the sense of being away from the crowd as much as I would like just because how much the camp sites are used.
distinguished member (102)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/23/2022 10:33AM  
It’s encouraging to hear so many of you are making trips into your 70’s. I’m 59 and got back to making at least one trip every year after a 10 year drought. I’m hoping for 3 trips(2 solos) most years now. Originally I was hoping to make it to 70, but you all have inspired me to go beyond(hopefully). I’m still in pretty good shape physically, I just wish I could say the same mentally:)

All of this shows me the power of optimism. And that we’re never too old for at least some kind of trip, even if it is assisted. I had a great conversation on Lake Two last year with a gentleman from Maine. He was an avid sea kayaker at home, but this was his first BWCA trip. He told me that in high school he covered his wall with BWCA maps and always dreamed of getting to the there. I told him I did the same in college. Now he’s planning annual trips. He’ll be 76 this year!

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