Boundary Waters: Slow Down & Chill Out

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.6e6049ff0786a72c88ba05b6612a6b13 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 400x317necessities. 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. bwcaAfter 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 maxresdefaultmake 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.

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16 thoughts on “Boundary Waters: Slow Down & Chill Out

  1. I have known this class existed — but I have never heard about it from a student point of view. This was fascinating, Kasey. It sounds cold and exhausting and rewarding and challenging — all in one weekend. Your rundown of each part of the trip held me rapt. Great job!

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  2. Wow, what an incredibly detailed account of your trip, anyone who is interested in the class should read your blog! I am not one for camping but I have friends that went to the Boundary Waters two summers ago, they experienced a lot of the same things you did! In my Minnesota History class we learned about the voyageurs as they trekked through the wilderness- I can’t imagine doing so even with today’s technology, let alone hundreds of years ago!

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    • I like that you bring up your MN History class and how you learned about the voyageurs. I remember sitting around the fire thinking about cavemen and Native Americans and how, on a larger scale, that was their everyday life. What I went through is a minute version of what they had to do to survive.

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  3. This is a very detailed story of your trip to the BWCA. I would have to agree that the BWCA is a very peaceful and relaxing place to be but the effort put in to get there is what makes it all worth it! The real BWCA experience is what you had gotten with this class.

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  4. This is a great post! I personally feel I am not mentally strong enough to do everything at a “slower pace”, so kudos to you! I feel taking a vacation or traveling so include doing as little “work” as possible, but I love the way that you make this work seem relaxing and fun. I’m used to camping where actual showers and power are lined up. I know…pathetic. This post really makes me miss summer, even though we are only a couple weeks into the fall season.

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    • Mental strength is the perfect choice of words for this. It was mentally taxing. I agree with your ideal vacation. My ideal vaca would be on a beach in humid, hot weather not at the Boundary Waters. Summer passes too fast here!

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  5. Kasey, this was a great post about the Boundary Waters! I went and experienced very similar things for around five days three years ago. It had rained a lot that summer so one of the portages we took was like walking through a creek. But believe it or not, that one was my favorite of all! Carrying a canoe is tricky business but once you make it through the portage you feel a great sense of accomplishment!

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    • Bummer that it rained for you. I was extremely thankful that it didn’t pour down rain or rain all weekend for us, especially with how cold it was. The snow was a surprise though. Thanks for sharing your experience at the BW!

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  6. I have heard about this trip, but it’s nice to get a students perspective on it. Personally I have never been to the boundary waters, but I have always heard great things about going there. It sounds like you had a really exciting experience! (other than the bugs in your water) Thank you for sharing this story I will have to look into planning a trip with some friends.

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  7. I haven’t heard about this trip before! That is so amazing that you guys all got together and took a trip of a lifetime. I have yet to go to the BW. I have heard some great things about it! I may be to much of a chicken to go do that with out heat and running water. But kudos for you and your classmates for doing that! Any tips for a girly girl to go to the BW?

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    • I would suggest going during the summer. Then the only cold times would be at night, in the morning, and if it is raining. I would suggest bug spray and rain gear, otherwise, make sure you bring enough layers to keep warm.

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  8. I think not knowing the time is what would have drove me crazy the most! However; I’ve heard camping like this with zero electronics is a good way to reset your body’s “internal clock” (or whatever it’s called).
    Random question: where did you guys use the bathroom? Haha

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    • Not knowing the time was hard for me. If we had been there longer than a weekend, I think it would stop being a problem. I feel better after the trip. We drink the water, which is probably better for us than city or well water because it is natural. Since the trip, I’ve been craving water more lately. For the bathroom, there is a latrine at the campsite, which is liek a porta potty without the walls. Some people felt uncomfortable using it, so they just went in the woods. The outfitters supplied us with toiletpaper that I believe is biodegradable.

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