When my dad asked if we wanted to go to Boundary Waters last year, my response was instinct; 100%, definitely, absolutely. I took this trip 32 years ago, when I was 8, with my dad and our friend Charlie Gray, and his two sons Cleve and Cabel. I was the little boy my dad never had. It was an easy trip at 8; I threw my clothes (small clothes) into a backpack, he did all the planning, and off we went. Even while canoeing, all I did was sit in the middle while the 4 boys/men (Cleve and Cabel were only a few years older than me) did the paddling. It was a memorable experience then, so I could only imagine how the lens would change having the opportunity to revisit. For those who don’t know, Boundary Waters is as follows:
“A region of wilderness straddling the Canada-United States border between Ontario and Minnesota, just west of Lake Superior. The name is commonly used in the U.S. referring specifically to the U.S. Wilderness Area protecting its southern extent, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is characterized by a vast network of waterways and bogs within a glacially carved landscape covered in thin soils and boreal forests. It is a popular destination for recreationalists pursuing camping, canoeing, fishing and those seeking natural scenery and relaxation.” (Wikipedia)
When we first did this trip in 1986, I don’t recall it being in ‘high demand’ however I believe it has gained in popularity. A lottery system opens up January 16 of each year, and all remaining reservations are made on a first come first serve basis starting January 29. We began planning this trip a year ago. You must get a permit, and the outfitters only allow groups of a max 9 people head out per group. The morning we sent off, there were 5 other groups; we were the last to push off at 10:30am.
Derick and I traveled from Denver to Minneapolis on Sunday, July 15; to meet dad and Will at the airport at 9am. Unfortunately, of the 4 bags we checked (2 camping gear, 2 clothes) 1 of them did not arrive. Fortunately, this was Derick’s clothes and not mine. And fortunately, Southwest was kind to understand we could not wait until 3:30 pm when the bag ‘may arrive’ to then drive our 6 hours north to Gunflint Lodge. This meant Derick could go on a shopping spree at a nearby REI “within reason”. One hour and $875 later, we were on our way north. Derick did sneak a $200 pocket knife in there, as he said “I’ve really been wanting that pocket knife…” which decidedly was not reimbursed. But on the Friday of our return, he was given a $675 check from Southwest, bag returned, and $300 in travel vouchers which became $400 because “he was so pleasant and understanding” (that Southern charm works every time). Makes for a good story and you can’t blame him for trying (with said pocket knife; I’ll admit, it is pretty sweet).
Sunday was spent driving, eating Jimmy Johns, and stopping in Grand Marais (the ‘last real town’ before heading towards Gunflint Lodge) for our fishing licenses and gas. We rolled into picturesque Gunflint about 6pm. Having last been here at 8, I may have been just as excited as William to see the lodge and cabins again after 32 years. They looked just like they did in my distant memory.
We settled into our spot for the night, Cabin #32 (complete with bunks), organized and reorganized our gear, pulled out what we didn’t need; set aside ‘clean’ clothes to await our return Friday; and we were off to our last supper at the Red Paddle Bistro. We enjoyed a few local beers which we savored, as we would not take any beer in with us due to inability to keep it cold (sad fact) and some amazing food; ribs for Will, meatloaf for Derick, pot roast for Dad and pork and salad for me. A quick shower at the bath house an easy walk away and we were tucked in for the night, all anticipating an early morning and much adventuring.