Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Not exactly a trip report, but a Wall Street Journal story about escaping to the BWCA
by fourkeelers

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/09/2020
Entry & Exit Point: Mudro Lake (EP 23)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Not exactly a trip report, but a story in the Wall Street Journal about escaping to the BWCA during COVID times.

A globe-trotter’s retreat to the Boundary Waters

Robert Keeler knew what his 2020 work schedule was supposed to look like as early as last September. He had 42 weeks of travel planned across the U.S. and from Europe to Australia. Once the pandemic escalated in spring, those trips evaporated, to be replaced with hours of back-to-back phone calls.

“It definitely makes for a longer day, not going to lie,” said Mr. Keeler, a 52-year-old resident of Chaska, Minn., who works in sales for a consumer electronics trade association.

Trying to get in touch with clients via email amid conflicting schedules means it’s common for Friday work hours to stretch into the evenings. “You have to be much more patient and understand that things might take a little longer to get done,” he said.

Robert Keeler, right, and his son, Ryan, went to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.


Of all the travel spots on his list, Mr. Keeler looked forward to Australia the most, especially since his work obligations would’ve been a half-hour away from family members who live there. That kind of quality time is hard to come by for a self-identified workaholic, but the pandemic made an alternative possible closer to home.

Mr. Keeler and his 23-year-old son, Ryan, went to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, just south of the Canadian border, in June and August. They were miles away from civilization with little cell service. The barrage of emails and phone calls halted.

He stayed unplugged for five days, not turning his phone on until after they returned home.

The two of them spent four to five hours paddling in their canoe each day, trying (and failing) to catch lake trout and spotting bald eagles, coyotes and other wildlife around them. They went days without seeing people in June, but in August, there were plenty. The two of them had to keep paddling until they found an open campsite because most were taken.

The best moments were the nights when they sat in chairs overlooking the lake and stayed up late talking under the starry sky. Mr. Keeler loved listening to his son share details about what was happening in his life, from navigating work after being furloughed to picking out a new tattoo. “You free yourself from all those distractions, and the conversations tend to be a lot deeper, a lot more genuine,” Mr. Keeler said.

Ryan Keeler in his canoe during the trip.


“It’s funny how all the crap that’s going on with Covid is probably our favorite summer,” Mr. Keeler said.

He and his wife are already planning their next getaway before they reach Minnesota winter, dusting out the mothballs in their 20-year-old travel trailer and giving it a much-needed makeover. He’s not sure where they’ll go in the next couple of weeks, but staying in Minnesota for Split Rock Lighthouse State Park or Gooseberry Falls State Park are possibilities.

“Wherever I’m at, I’m working. It’s easy for me to be in L.A. and overlook the ocean and work still,” Mr. Keeler said. “I see some pretty cool places, but you’re still grinding away and it’s just nice to escape.”

—Cordilia James