Boundary Waters, outdoor ‘adventure’ stories never leave us

Photo by Nate Minor

Every year at about this time, my wife and I load up our 70-pound Alumacraft canoe and head to the Boundary Waters for a week or more of camping. Some years, it’s relaxing. Every year, it’s an adventure.

There was the time we portaged over a mile of dried river bed in order to avoid a Canadian portage (the Bottle Portage, for you BWCA aficionados), only to find out years later that you didn’t need your passport or special permit to use it. How we escaped without injury, I’ll never know.

Once, we were halfway done setting up camp on Knife Lake when a bear rumbled through and introduced itself. I don’t think we’ve ever packed up that quickly before (and it’ll be OK with me if we never do again).

We loved getting ready for the trip. In the weeks prior, we’d dehydrate our own meals, buy new maps and pore over potential routes.

That’s the opposite of Mr. NewsCut’s pal Daniel Alvarez, who’s been blogging about his kayak trip from the Northwest Angle to Key West and back again. He writes:

You know what Amundsen said about adventure?” Jay said. “Adventure is just bad planning.”

I laughed. Jay looked a bit terrified. We’d been talking about maps and what lay ahead on the route west. I didn’t have a single map other than what my phone could pull up and knew nothing beyond turning left at the Mattawa River and right at Lake Huron.

“It’s all an adventure,” I’d said.

Then we shared stories from his trip and mine. We talked about the voyageurs, the famous explorers, the First Nation tribes, the Northwest Company, the French, and English and how they all used this route, how your feet touch the same paths, your boat the same water. We talked about the frustration of portaging, the beautiful moments, the interesting people you meet along the way, the near disasters, the difficult decisions, and how it feels to finish the Grand Portage.

We talked and talked, laughing and branching off on a thousand different tales, not like opposites, but like two old friends who reached the same spot from different directions.

I found the maps waiting for me when it was time to leave, stacked in a neat pile by the door. I took them, half for me and half for Jay’s sanity. A map will only get you so far, a guide can only tell you so much, what you really need, what Jay and I both have, is the desire to go.

For me, the canoe is staying at home this year. Instead, I’ll be going overseas soon for two reporting fellowships. They will most certainly be adventures, and I’ve spent a lot of time planning for them. Even so, it still feels odd not to be sorting out fishing tackle and thumbing through guidebooks.

But that’s OK. Because the more I get out and see new places and meet new people, the more I fall in love with home.