Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

The Kindness of Strangers
by bottomtothetap

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/01/2012
Entry Point: Wood Lake (EP 26)
Exit Point: Moose Lake (EP 25)  
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 6
Trip Introduction:
Each year at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, in St. Cloud, MN, we organize a church-sponsored trip to the BWCA. Typically, two adult chaperones will guide four to six youth--introducing them to the beauty of Northern Minnesota’s wilderness and helping students learn stewardship of our environment. This year, for the twelfth annual trip, six of us travelled to Ely for a 4-day, 3-night adventure.
On our first day on the water, we entered at Wood Lake late on a hot morning. On one lake after another, all of the campsites we passed were occupied and we had nowhere to choose from as a place to stay. As the afternoon became evening, we had just portaged and paddled through the bog between Indiana Lake and Basswood’s Wind Bay to find yet another taken site. By now, we were all hungry and very exhausted and I was worried that we would have to travel still another mile or two to only find more occupied sites with darkness upon us. At that point, a couple of people from the group at the island campsite of Wind Bay—4 men and 2 women whom we had met on the trail earlier in the day—paddled over to us and expressed concern for our situation. They invited us to their camp and offered to cook our food for supper, share some of what they had, and clean all of the dishes while we rested! Of course we gratefully accepted this kindness and while supper was being prepared, two of their party insisted that they would scout ahead for an open site while we ate. The plan was to drop one of our packs to “claim” that site and return to us, letting us know what they had found. If nothing nearby was found open, we had located a spot or two on the island that at least would (illegally, I know) accommodate our tents for the night. I was willing to risk a fine rather than risk injury or getting lost in the dark with a group of first-time youngsters.

After about an hour, our scouts returned with the good news that they had found an open campsite. I expressed my additional gratitude for their help and stated that as soon as they pinpointed it on our map we would be off to beat the darkness. They responded that they would be happy to take us to the site! I told them that an escort would be terrific since that would save us some time and give us a little more chance to get the tents set up before the night-time bugs descended upon us. They said not to worry about the tents because they had already set them up for us!!!

We were all flabbergasted at the level of kindness and generosity that we were being shown and made sure that we got names and contact information so we could properly thank our new friends once everyone returned home. As we parted, they even made a point to inform us that if we liked their site better than the one they had found for us, we could have theirs in the morning since they were moving on the next day.

This encounter on Day 1 really made our trip.

On day two, we did indeed move to this party's former site. Here we enjoyed a leisurely day with swimming, fishing (and catching!), a tasty and relaxing meal and a cozy campfire. The sound of a few gentle raindrops on the roof of our tents lulled us to sleep.

On the third day, we portaged over to Wind lake and camped at a pleasant spot that faces north from the mainland out over Wind's widest part. This day was much the same as the second day with more swimming, fishing (and more catching!), good food and another evening fire. This night's rain was heavier than the night before but we still stayed dry and comfortable in our tents.

On day number four, we traveled from Wind into Moose Lake for a final paddle to the dock at Canadian Border Outfitters. A strong headwind on Moose meant that we were going to fight some whitecaps. While our rookie paddlers were now more experienced than just a few days before, I knew that this would still be a challenge for them. Therefore, I thought it wise to make sure that everyone's life jackets were secure and to emphasize a close-to-shore strategy on the populated side of the lake "just in case". Sure enough, a combination of waves and boat wake caught two of our canoeists broadside and into the lake they went. Fortunately, this happened in shallow water and help was close by. No one was hurt and nothing was lost other than a little pride and some left over toilet paper that got soaked even in its "dry" bag. Rather than let the cool temps and strong breeze induce hypothermia on a wet body we decided to end the adventure right there on shore and stayed warm while we waited for the pick-up that we then called our outfitter for to arrive. 

On our way home I thought about the prayer that our church uses to send off each year's Boundary Waters group. It includes the words, “…while the trip may turn out different from what is expected, may it, at the same time, still be everything that is hoped for”. This year that prayer was certainly answered since that is exactly what transpired. The students learned a few great lessons through this experience and we all gained memories that will last forever.