As my brother and I lowered my father’s aluminum canoe onto the surface of Sawbill Lake, I felt my heart begin to beat in rhythm with the gentle lapping waves. Standing at the launch on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, our daydreams of the paddle strokes ahead were tempered by the three bulging Duluth packs waiting to fill the canoe.
It’s All Good—A Canoe Country Sojourn
Our hope was for a campsite after a quick portage, but just we crossed over the invisible wilderness line we eyed a rocky point with an empty site. And so with the sun teasing the treetops, we guided our craft onto dry land.
It was months prior to this day while sitting beneath the glow of a lamp with winter’s cold, dark grip lingering out the window that the idea of this trip first came to light. As our entry date came near we started drooling over the menu and tracing out potential routes on our maps.
Waking up the next morning to unblemished skies, we refined our loading method and shoved off across a smooth bay. We toured the Lady Chain of lakes that day, and nearing Phoebe Lake we caught word of a neighborly black bear from the passing canoes.
Later, on Hazel Lake with the canoe overhead, we stumbled upon a cow moose and her calf. My dog Tischer stood frozen behind me, curiously watching with no intention of being brave. It didn’t take long before the moose ambled into the brush leaving us with a treasured close encounter.
In the following days we explored the shoreline contours, crossing open water only for a portage or to dip our mugs into the cold and clear water for a sip.
At night we rested our sore backs by a campfire and absorbed the written words of Sigurd Olson while sitting on the very soil that gave him inspiration.
After outpaddling a menacing thunderhead, I left canoe country in a slight blur of dehydration but with the beautiful impressions of this region and those I shared it with clearly imprinted in my memory.
From the sweaty struggles through calf deep mud while bearing the weight of our rations and battling mosquitoes to lying awake next to my brother listening to the storytelling from a gathering of loons, tall the memories are vivid and satisfying.
I’ll take the few disappointing moments (like getting skunked on the fly rod) with all the joyous ones because after a trip like this, there really wasn’t one negative minute in the whole bunch.
The best thing about the Boundary Waters is just being there. | Photo by Zach Will