July 4th in the Boundary Waters

On Thursday, July 2nd, we rolled into NorthGate Brewery in Minneapolis, MN, for a UVA Club of Twin Cities happy hour. We tried to hit the hay early as the morning called for a 4-hour drive to northern Minnesota.

We stayed at Adam's house, a friend of Darius', and woke up early to load the canoe and hit the road. We made our way to Ely, MN, where there is an International Wolf Center, the infamous Bucky Burger, and most importantly our starting point Moose Lake (a common Minnesota lake name). Adam is an experienced canoer and worked several summers out of Moose Lake for a Boy Scout canoeing program.

Canoe 1 (Kevlar): Trevor, two backpacks, Adam, and two fancy paddles, one made of polished and lacquered wood that looks like it would be just as comfortable above a homey fireplace telling stories of past adventures over Hot Toddys and laughing friends.

Canoe 2 (aluminum): Ryan, a cardboard box of 24 plastic Bud diesel bottles, a large portage pack known as the 'Grey Whale', another backpack, Darius, and two aluminum paddles that have seen the wear and tear of 13-year-olds complaining about cold water and sore arms. 

You can probably see where this story is going. With packs loaded, permits acquired and cars parked we dipped our paddles into the surprisingly warm Minnesota water and aimed east. 

Canoe 1 glided serenely through the water as Adam balanced 'C' and 'J' strokes to direct his boat in a straight path. Canoe 2 glided serenely in a 'Z' or 'S' pattern despite Darius' best efforts to go in any predictable direction.  

We passed Loons with chess board backs and fluff ball newborns. Adam and Trevor rested their paddles to watch Bald Eagle nests while Ryan and Darius took a non-purposeful meandering route through the lake. 

The paddling ended when we found a campsite that had a good view of the sunset and allowed us easy access to jump in the water. Adam began teaching us tips and tricks of the trade as he introduced us to the tortilla dish cleaning method. You put a flour tortilla in your bowl, fill it with chili, devour the chili, enjoy the chili soaked tortilla, and put away your clean bowl. 

The morning began with a five rod portage, or about 80 feet (16 feet/rod). The Girl Scouts beat us there and one of the mom's nearly went in the drink as she slipped on the rock. If you haven't portaged it goes a little like this. Put on your pack, hoist the canoe above your head, position your shoulders under the pads and start walking. We repeated this maneuver 3 more times throughout the day. It usually involved a 1/3 mile walk with a 70 pound canoe on your shoulders and mosquitoes taking advantage of the opportunity to suck the blood from your undefended shoulders and face.

On July 4th, we skirted the Canadian border in our red, white and blue and celebrated Freedom by jumping off of rocks, enjoying the water, and eating a Shiresque lunch of apples, cheese, peanut butter, bagels and Nutella.  After lunch we canoed around the lake, tracked down a campsite, set up camp and jumped in the water. After dinner we sat around the campfire and listened to loons until the onset of 'Magic Hour'.

Magic Hour is the hour when the mosquitoes come out, they come for blood and your best option is to get in your tent, zip up the fly, track down any tailgating mosquitoes and go to bed. 

We arose early and canoed our way back to civilization. As our bathing consisted of jumping in the lake and scrubbing our hair without soap, we made the next logical move and went directly to lunch at the Ely Steakhouse. The steakhouse is the exact place you want to go after a long trip in the wild. You ask your server how the local beer tastes and he describes it as 'dark', when you ask for further clarification he lets you know that he only drinks 'miller lite, fireball and jaegermeister'. When you are out on a canoe there isn't much that matters if you have a full belly and good company. We should probably take that approach in life. It sure is nice if the beer has hints of espresso, or chocolate, but being with friends and enjoying a filling meal is far more important.

We finished our meal and drove in different directions. Adam and Ryan drove back to Minneapolis. We drove north to Grand Portage and our next adventure, Isle Royale National Park.

Boundary Waters