This post is part of a series, click here for the full story.

[typography font=”Copse” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#8c0510″]Day 4[/typography]

Breaking camp the last day of a trip is always bittersweet. We are always relieved to be safe and done and heading home, but we already miss the peace and quiet and adventure of the wilderness.

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Our last morning in the Boundary Waters the water was eerily still and quiet. I took this photo from our campsite as we made breakfast (Another shamalama omelet! We were hooked!) and packed the canoe.

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Click on it for a better look. The way the clouds were reflected into the lake, all the way up to my feet at the edge of the water. It was incredible. I just stood and stared.

We were on the water by 9am, headed south to Nina Moose Lake (map below), and had two fairly long portages on the schedule, a few shorter ones, plus our longest one of the trip. And after three days of portaging we actually started doing the math. Each portage was measured on the map by a certain number, but we were actually doing each distance three times: once across with half the gear, twice as we doubled back, then a third time with the other half of the gear. So a quarter mile portage doesn’t SOUND like much, but that’s only a third of the story! Nonetheless, the glassy water between the portages meant easy paddling and we were able to soak up every minute of the peacefulness.

BWCA and the Quetico

It’s amazing how pure the water is in the Boundary Waters area. A few times the first day, we scooped water right out of the lake to drink, but — following advice from our outfitters — we purified the rest of our drinking water with this handy dandy little guy — the SteriPen. It emits a UV light that sterilizes anything in the water. No boiling, no tablets – pretty convenient.

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Good shot of a portage (to the left) alongside a “reason for portaging” (the rapids to the right). Not all of them were this clear, but this gives a good idea of the portage situation.

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Once we crossed Nina Moose Lake we were in the home stretch, but what appeared on the map like a short stretch of river with two short-ish portages was really about twice that long with all the winding back and forth. We were turning the canoe left or right around narrow corners nearly the entire way between Nina Moose and the final portage.

The Final Portage. This was it. A half mile of portaging stood between us and the end of our trip.  This final trail would end at a parking lot where we would meet our ride back to Ely. We loaded up — one last time — and headed out. Farewell, Boundary Waters!

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The car in the background kinda gives it away — but this was at the pick-up point.
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With John, of North Country Canoe Outfitters.

John was there to meet us though he admitted he thought we might have taken one look at the weather that day and changed our minds about coming in a day early. We loaded our gear and after a short stop through US Customs to hear “welcome home”, drove 30 winding, gravel miles back to Ely and the promise of a hot shower. During the drive, John caught us up on the big headlines we missed while in the woods — Baby Cambridge being born and the latest updates on the Zimmerman trial and the baseball doping scandal. Back at North Country, we checked in our gear, had that shower, and got a few recommendations for ways to spend our extra day between Ely and the airport in Minneapolis.

After saying our goodbyes we headed out of Ely bound for dinner at an adorable-sounding place called Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors, but at some point one of us mentioned cheese fries… and with one simple request to Siri for the nearest Outback Steakhouse we recalibrated the GPS and headed for Duluth. Next thing I knew, there we were — enjoying cheese fries and clinking glasses in a toast to another successful adventure. What can I say — we take re-entry into civilization very seriously. Later we chose a hotel based solely on its convenient location across the parking lot from Outback and dragged ourselves down to the hot tub for a few minutes before utterly collapsing into bed.

[typography font=”Copse” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#8c0510″]Day 5[/typography]

After sleeping like the dead — bellies full of cheese fries, steak, and Wallaby Darned — we attacked the make-your-own-waffle station at the hotel the next morning as if we hadn’t eaten in days. Welcome back, Hoods!

Our extra day was spent “vacationing” inside the Mall of America in Minneapolis where Jeff convinced me $16 for the photo of us on this roller-coaster was a bad investment. What a party pooper.

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[typography font=”Copse” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#8c0510″]Final Thoughts[/typography]

Since we returned I’ve been asked repeatedly how this trip compares to others we’ve taken. And the truth is, it really doesn’t. Like all of them, this trip was unique and special. That’s why we went in the first place. I once explained to a friend who called me a “thrill-seeker” that it’s never really been about that. For me — for us — it’s about finding those unique experiences and living them. If that means a “thrill” here or a physically challenging adventure there, then so be it.

This trip, though. We learned more than we ever have. I haven’t looked it up, but I can’t imagine we’re not within spitting distance of a canoeing merit badge, and with no guide to handle it we did all of the cooking and camp maintenance all week. We navigated the map and I’ve never been so keenly aware of (or cared so much about!) the clouds and the wind direction and the temperature and the water current.

While backpacking abuses mostly your legs, feet and back — this trip was nothing short of a full body workout. We paddled roughly 20 hours and 25 miles but also portaged nearly 7 total miles, and sacrificed an immeasurable amount of blood to the thirsty mosquitoes affectionately referred to as the Minnesota state bird.

Yes, this trip was extraordinary. Though this was my first trip to Minnesota, I’m betting it won’t be my last. But we are always ready to get back to the adventure of everyday life.

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This post is part of a series, click here for the full story.

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One thought on “Scenery and Solitude in the BWCA | Part 5

  1. I am interested in printing one of your pictures. Is that possible?

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