There comes a moment when you’re with a group in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. You’re canoeing in your first or second lake, and you’re with a first-timer. They give you that look of, “Okay, if you say so, but if I have fluids coming out of both ends in an hour I’m going to blame you.”
Then our rookie canoeist uncaps her Nalgene, scoops it full of lake water, and takes a drink.
If you ask me, there’s nothing like it. There can’t be many other places, if any, in the continental United States where a person can drink unfiltered water from a lake or stream and not get violently ill. And that’s just one of the myriad aspects to the BWCAW that keep me coming back.
Last month I led a small group of intrepid canoeists into what may be the most pristine wilderness area in the Lower 48. We left the Twin Cities on Monday morning, stopped at Tobies (of course), lunched in Duluth, and made our way to Grand Marais. We called our guide, Brad Shannon of Adventurous Christians, to let him know we were close. Then we lost cell coverage for a week.
About halfway up the Gunflint Trail, we pulled into the AC road and met Brad. He set us up in their half-completed bunk house and showed us down the the lodge. Later, we ate dinner and planned our route. Then it was off to bed.
In the morning, we loaded gear and drove up the Gunflint, put in, and started paddling.
It would be fair neither to my fellow paddlers nor to the wilderness that surrounded us to betray the conversations that we shared on the water and around the fire. But converse we did—half-a-dozen strangers came together and shared life, opened ourselves to one another, talked about our dilemmas and our dreams. And by the end we were a unit, forged in friendship over 40-odd miles of paddling, portages with ankle-deep mud, sore shoulders from canoes and Duluth Packs, sharing too-little coffee and more lake trout than we could eat. And pancakes. And pizza.
We had a pastor, a horticulturalist, a businessman, and a military vet/D.Min. student. We worried about the environment and debated theology and talked politics and laughed about each other’s quirks. We didn’t check our phones for nearly a week. Neither did we shower or sleep in a bed. And it was grand.
I loved it, and I can’t wait to go back next year. Maybe you’ll join me?