Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Canoe Trip Journal
During my recent canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, www.ely.org, in Northern Minnesota I kept a journal of what we did each day. Granted it might sound a bit repetitious but if you sit in traffic for your daily commute our trip was definitely more relaxing :)
We drove from the Twin Cities to Ely, Minnesota after an entertaining breakfast at Mickey's Diner in downtown St. Paul. Upon arrival in Ely we stopped by the open air studio at WELY AM and FM radio and the Chapman Book Store which is dominated by the smell of incense and the owner's cats while shopping downtown. For dinner we visited an Ely landmark - Sir G's Pizza and Italian Food - complete with spumoni ice cream for dessert. In fact our foreign policy should include shipping spumoni to Iraq because people would stop killing each other just to enjoy this treat.
After staying overnight at the outfitter's bunk house we had breakfast in their dining hall complete with bacon that was "...as crisp as a West Point salute" (my words). Our group they drove over to Lake One to begin our canoe trip. We spent the day working our way through Lakes One, Two, and Three until we stopped for a late lunch at an island campsite on Lake Three near the entrance to Lake Four.
Since the campsite was ideal we decided to camp overnight (which turned into our base camp for the week). The pit toilet at our camp site was labeled "Number 14" so the forest rangers could keep track of inventory apparently. The campsite was very quiet except the gray jays (birds) and squirrels trying to rob our food.
The rest of the day was filled with setting up camp, getting water, cooking, and reading books.
Unlike any past canoe trips I cooked about 90% of our meals this year for some reason plus I washed the dishes almost every meal -- clearly my trip companions benefited from my presence!!! No one got sick so my cooking was safe it appears.
Today we hiked around our island -- which turned out not to be an island anymore since the lake's water level was about 3 to 5 feet lower than in past years so some swampy land appeared on the far north end connecting us to the mainland but this area was not walkable. We spent time gathering a lot of firewood since it was scarce and because we decided to base camp of course. During the afternoon we went swimming/bathing in the lake which reminded me of George on "Seinfeld" since the water was a bit cold for the boys but hygiene in essential!!
Today we left our Lake Three base camp for a day trip of paddling to Horseshoe Lake and around most of Lake Four. We noticed vast quantities of water lilies on the lakes which is a very encouraging sign since that means the lake is healthy.
When we returned to camp we went swimming and worked on re-building my father's rock piles that he built as "traffic signs" to direct fellow canoeists around the shallow water/rocks near our camp site. Despite our rock formations it was amazing how many people ran aground on shallow rocks by not following our suggested path.
We base camped at Lake Three of course so we read books, collected more firewood, and I took a long nap made necessary by my father's nightly snoring which ensured I could not sleep throughout the night. Throughout the day we saw rather heavy canoe traffic on our lake but later in the day I noticed complete and total silence on the lake with no boat traffic, no flies, no birds, etc. just silence which was ideal.
We made another day trip to Horseshoe Lake but this time we took the portage to the next lake (an un-named smaller lake) to hike on the Pow Wow Trail which cuts across the portage trail. We met a solo hiker from Chicago who was hiking the entire trail and later in the day we talked with a French-Canadian gentleman from Texas who was exploring the area before his friends arrived the following week for their trip -- what a motivated person!!
After breakfast we paddled back to the Lake One entry point for our drive back to our outfitter's office -- Williams and Hall -- which is a quality outfitter if you need food and equipment for your own trip. Once we re-packed our gear we drove back into Ely to stay at the Super 8 Motel for the first of several hot showers since we did not have one for the last week of course. Following some shopping in downtown Ely we had dinner at the Ely Steak House which was an excellent meal coupled with excellent staff thus I award them with a "3.5 rating".
1.) My dad and I have been canoeing in the BWCA on and off since I was 12 years old with my dad having made 15 trips to the North Country. This year he made sure I spent time navigating our group so I could lead a future group -- a passing of the torch I guess which is both welcome and un-welcome at the same time since it represent a passing of time.
2.) The great outdoors still has some beautiful areas despite Al Gore's fear parade. I personally saw the most frogs this year that I have ever seen while canoeing which is always a sign of good water quality.
3.) Now this is not a racist or heartless statement by any means just realistic -- but had the residents of New Orleans made a similar trip to the BWCA annually like we did where they would have been forced to live in tents, collect their own water, gather fire wood, cook over a camp fire, and organize a camp site I believe the hurricane recovery effort would have been much better by now due to this "survival" experience.
4.) Character -- a trip like ours is semi-demanding, more demanding for others depending on their tolerance for a lack of modern conveniences. If anyone is looking for a corporate team building exercise look no further than a canoe trip in the BWCA!! Trust me when I tell you such a trip is better than the "setting up dominoes and watching them fall down" exercise I had to do with about 50 colleagues when I worked in corporate life -- I don't work there anymore and now I know why!!!
Leave your cave once in a while,