Canoeing and camping in Minnesota’s Boundary Water Wilderness area isn’t what most people consider a vacation. However, one summer my grandparents made plans for themselves and my family to stuff canoes with packs full of food, cooking supplies, bedding, and other essential items, and spend five days exploring the wilderness. Initially, I wasn’t thrilled about spending part of my summer in the middle of nowhere without showers or toilets and with a minimum of personal belongings. However, I am very glad I did!
Our adventure started an afternoon in July when we arrived at the starting campsite. We packed everything into the six packs we would be taking with us. We also learned that unattended food should always be hung high in trees to avoid attracting bears. We practiced hanging our food packs up at the starting campsite between two trees which happened to be perfectly positioned for that purpose. Tuesday morning we put our canoes in the water and started off. The Boundary Waters wilderness contains hundreds of lakes. Our days consisted mainly of paddling the canoes, occasional portages, enjoying the nature around us, and talking. Portaging meant taking six 50 pound packs out of the canoe and carrying them on our backs across a strip of land to the next lake. Usually my grandpa and mom would hoist the two canoes onto their shoulders and carry them across the same strip, though sometimes I helped. The longest portage we had was about one mile.
Campsites in the Boundary Waters are furnished with flat ground, plenty of insects, a fire pit, lots of trees, and a long path to a hole in the ground where we could pee. In the wilderness, trees aren’t always perfectly positioned for food-pack hanging. We worked two hours Tuesday night getting the food packs up between two trees, and then had to drag them down again because we were hungry from all the work. Most of our food during the trip was made from dry mixes. Meals made from dry mixes five days straight may sound unappetizing when one is speculating about traveling. However, they are light and don’t spoil, and after a day of paddling canoes against wind and waves and of portaging between lakes, almost anything tastes good. The food from that trip is one of the things I remember most fondly.
Rain interrupted our travel on two days, preventing us from moving to new campsites. Being young and energetic, I wanted to hit as many campsites as possible during our trip. However, with grandparents over sixty years old and my mother along, energetic was not the most descriptive word for my entourage. We stayed at only two campsites in our four nights out. In retrospect, I realize that taking it slow was probably best. We enjoyed more time together and could really soak in the beautiful nature surrounding us. We found and ate wild blueberries, really heard the call of the loons, and had a chance to jump off cliffs into one of the lakes.
We took the Boundary Waters trip the summer before my freshmen year of high school, and I learned several things about myself that week in the middle of nowhere. I discovered that I could go for five days without taking a shower and enjoy myself so much I didn’t care. I learned to truly appreciate the beauty of nature, and I got to experience the stars in all their glory every night of that trip. Canoeing through the Boundary Waters that summer has become one of my most beloved memories.
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