Picture having to do everything at a slower rate. Create your own heat instead of turning up a thermostat. Canoe out to the middle of a lake to gather water instead of turning on a faucet. Carry everything you own on your back and shoulders instead of leaving it at home. Walk instead of drive. For three days, I lived my life at a slower pace.
Just this past weekend, October 7-9th, I took a trip to the Boundary Waters with eight strangers for a college course. We spent Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday together in the wilderness.
In case you have not heard of the Boundary Waters (BW), it is a portion of the Superior National Forest, which is located in Northeastern Minnesota. The Boundary Waters is about one million acres of preserved wilderness, which does not have roads or allow motorized vehicles and boats. You will run into lakes, hiking trails, campgrounds, and if you are quiet, some wildlife. The way of traveling through the BW is by portaging (foot) or by canoe.
We started the semester off with a two-hour class at LSC where we did the usual firs day of class items then we got to know each other’s names and talked about the gear needed for the trip. Thankfully, the trip had been set up well for us. It was suggested that we wear almost all our clothing, give or take a few items, and the rest of the necessities will be supplied for us. This made it easier to pack a small amount (because we have to haul it with us). Our second class consisted of us learning about the BW and why we get two college credits for the experience. The third class was on the St. Louis River, we practiced canoeing with our partners (still strangers) and left feeling somewhat ready for the trip.
Our first day, we had to meet at the school at 7:30 a.m. We boarded a large yellow school bus and drove for about two hours. Our destination was the Sawbill Outfitters. These are the people who supplied us with our tents, sleeping bags, food, stove, and other necessities. After getting off the bus, most the students were already chilled and ready to get moving, but that’s not how it works when you take eight students into the wilderness where emergency assistance can’t be called. The Outfitters started our training by playing a movie, you know the kind of movie, the one where it is required, which makes it the most mundane thing you’ve ever seen. The next step was to see what is in our packs and how to pack them back up; although necessary information, this was the boring part. I along with other students, was ready to get a move on. Obviously, we were impatient because we still needed to go over how to carry the canoe, hang our food to keep bears out, and get fitted life jackets. I’ll point out, all of this was happening without us know the time, which caused me to become antsier. Finally, we were ready to go.
It was my job to portage the canoe to the first lake, Sawbill Lake. It was a small walk, but it was hard. I clumsily tried to get the 42-pound canoe onto my shoulders with my partner’s help while carrying the pack on my back, which probably weighed a good 30 to 40 pounds. After an already long day, this was tough, plus, I’m a scrawny little thing. We waited to put the canoe in the water and talked about our route. The instructor pointed out that we have two portages we will be doing, a 30 rod and a 200 rod. A rod equals 16 feet, which means a 480 ft and 3200 ft portages. This didn’t sound too bad, WRONG! We canoed through Sawbill Lake to our next portage, in about forty degree weather. It was windy and drizzled on-and-off. Once through Sawbill Lake, I did the 30-rod portage, again, it was tough and I couldn’t wait to get to the next lake, Alton Lake. With a much larger lake, we were pumped and ready to get to camp. After getting the canoes in the water, the drizzle turned to snow and sleet, which showered straight into our faces. The only way to get out of the wind and waves was to make it to the far side of the lake where it was calmer. We could barely see in front of us, but we made it to the other side. As soon as we made arrived at the other side, the snow stopped. It felt as if we were being tested. We continued on this lake, not led by the instructor due to it being “our experience”. Once we were almost to the end, our plans changed, it was suggested that we go to a closer camp, which will shelter us from the elements. When this was decided, I was thankful for the decision! It was well passed time for me to eat. We found the campground, but it still was not time to eat. We needed to set up our tents and sleeping bags while it was still light out, gather water, and start a fire for heat. All of this took hours but finally it was time to eat, which was exciting until I realized the bugs in our water. The instructor said that it is perfectly fine to drink. We made dinner, with the buggy water, and I scarfed it down. It was freeze-dried beef stroganoff; sadly, it was one of the best meals we had the whole weekend.
On the second day, my favorite day of the trip, none of us wanted to get out of our warm sleeping bags because even with the fire we still felt cold. Moving around kept us warm; we all chose a duty and did it. Breakfast and a fire were made, water was gathered, dishes were done, and wood was found. At this point, we still had the 200-rod portage and two other lakes to explore. In my mind, 200 rods didn’t sound like much, but when I walked it (without the canoe) I was surprised at how worn out it made me. This portage brought us to Lake Wonder where I had been told there is good fishing. I was excited to get out and fish. The instructor told me that he had been fishing here for 13 years and has always caught a fish. He caught three and I caught zero, which I didn’t care. I was happy to get the chance to fish. We decided we would explore the last lake on our list, Sunhigh Lake, but we had to find the entrance and get over a couple of beaver dams. It sounds silly, but going over those dams was the highlight of the trip. Everyone was smiling and laughing. We couldn’t seem to make it over them without getting stuck, rocking the boat, and getting wet. Overall, enjoyable. It was time to go back to camp, which meant my turn to portage 200 rods. Long story short, it was one of the hardest things I have done physically. I would guess I made it a third or half way before my partner, (a male) took over. I cannot explain the appreciation I had for him at that time. The exciting thing about that portage was; it felt easier. I could not carry it the whole distance, but I was getting better at portaging. Finally, we made it back to camp, did our duties, and sat around the fire until bedtime.
On Sunday, our third day, we wanted to stay in the sleeping bags, but many of us had started the countdown to our next hot shower, which caused me to move a bit faster. We worked efficiently as a team to get tents taken down, pack bags, and clean up the site. It was finally time to head back to the Outfitters. I was excited, but on the way back, I realized that I enjoyed the wilderness, and I enjoyed pushing my limits. I realized that I would miss this experience.