Wilderness Canoe Trip Musings
A wilderness canoe trip is not about resting, though you rest in order to persevere through your adventure.
A wilderness canoe trip is not about fulfilled dreams and expectations, for the wild created world defies all attempts to be put into a box or vacation pamphlet.
A wilderness canoe trip is not about a solitary journey, but rather learning that you are insufficient in yourself and need the strengths of others as much as they need your unique strengths.
A wilderness canoe trip allows you to be the intruder in an animal’s backyard and their reactions can be hilarious.
A wilderness canoe trip demands your best from you and whiners perish.
A wilderness canoe trip is something to recover from, to savor, and to ponder on for many months later.
Wilderness Canoe Trip Details
As we had all come to experience the wild outdoors, the wild weather at the beginning of our journey was not allowed to cancel our quest. Low lying clouds heavy with rain that fell as both mist and sporadic downpours, wind gusts that began to create white capped waves, and plummeting temperatures that began to whip smaller raindrops up into fluffies that I would call snow were all part of the wild world that we usually try to insulate ourselves from. The blessing in the challenging weather was that our trail hardened boss, Bill Sanderson, decided to make our first day’s journeying a little safer by having our canoes towed through some of the white caps to allow us to continue paddling in an area that was more protected from the wind. Little did he know that at least two of us on the trip would probably not have met the physical challenges of the first day if this choice had not been made. (Don’t tell him – it will be our little secret)
Wilderness Canoe Trip Details – Things I learned about surviving
As an older female, I had been worried about over heating on the trip, but my fears were soon relived with the need to avoid freezing to death with hypothermia. I learned that yes, you do need an insulating barrier between you and the ground when sleeping as the cold rock below you will suck suck suck the heat from your body. Now I should not be too hard on the rock, after all, it was just following the laws of the universe that says two bodies of differing temperature will equilibrate to the same temperature. As you know, rocks don’t often bring much heat to share so your warm body is doing all the contributing to the equilibrium situation.
I also learned that wet wool socks are still good for you to wear in wet boots. They will not contribute to your hypothermia. I admit to ignorance of how that works at this time. I only have a week of experimental evidence to prove it.
Wet diaper wipes are wonderful inventions when using outdoor commodes, so don’t be embarrassed about carrying them on you.
Fire starters can be made from dryer lint and cardboard wrapped up in string and soaked in candle wax, so now you know a new thing to save and recycle.
Sleeping bags rated at 20 degrees do not necessarily keep you warm near that temperature so be sure to sleep in five layers of clothes plus a hat and bury yourself into the bag and pull the drawstring tight. You won’t die from suffocation, honest.
There are only two kinds of clothes on a wilderness canoe trip: wet stinky clothes and dry stinky clothes. Wear the dry ones until they get wet. Don’t plan on them drying in the sun and wind, but do go ahead and place them on trees, bushes, rocks and clotheslines in an attempt to get them to the dry stinky category.
Coleman rain pants are your friend. Whether the weather is hot or cold, they will be comfortable even when you step into the water to pull your canoe up onto the shore. I love them.
Gravity water purifiers are just as fast, if not faster than pumps and you don’t have to get tired pumping.
Listening to fellow campers you will learn that there are lots of very expensive gadgets that you can buy to make your camping experience easier. This means you have to stop and remind yourself about your life choices to keep from running home and ordering it all.
You have invaded the home of several outdoor creatures and they will act appropriately. A sparrow angrily chattered at me as I parked my tent near its favorite food bush. A huge dragonfly positioned on its favorite stalk of grass up on a rock refused to move when I was pulling my big canoe up. I was afraid of squashing him with the canoe or my boot so I eventually removed his blade of grass so he would fly off instead of continuing to sit in his precarious location. Rabbits came to visit us one evening and were not afraid of us at all, but eventually got annoyed at us taking pictures of them.
I observed male bonding first hand (just like Jane Goodall). I live with just my daughter and we girls bond by talking and listening. Male bonding sometimes just involves hanging out together and following whoever begins to lead without using any words at all. They do not even seem concerned that they don’t know what the lead person is choosing to do, they are just busy traveling in a herd. I also observed mutual respect and great amounts of teasing. Challenges to authority were almost nonexistent and the guys did not complain about needing to help the ladies out with some tasks that even the best of us was unable to accomplish. The trip was definitely life giving for the guys while still testing them to the point where they ran into their limits.
I learned that everyone in the group, without exception, snores. I almost taped all the snores as part of my data collection. My snore was equated to that of a mama bear. Of course, few admitted to snoring, at least at first.
The exposed rock faces were mostly exfoliating metamorphic rocks, pealing in sharp corned sheets. There were also a large quantity of rocks that had very large crystals in their matrix, which means they cooled slowly. Toppled trees exposed rock of a very different nature. The root balls had rested on gravels made of similar rocks that were not sharp and jagged but rather rounded and smooth and intermixed with a matrix of sand and loam, rusty red in color.
Of course, there were the loons, “fishing all day and laughing all night” as some would say. There were also bald eagles, normally seen one at a time. White throated sparrows sang “O My Canada, Canada, Canada”
Caleb wins kuodos for the most enthusiastic fisherman. Caleb seemed to always be fishing and he was one of the only campers who caught anything. Unfortunately, many of his fish were just a bit too small for us to harvest for dinner. Several of us were sad to not be dining on more fresh fish. Our other prime fishermen were Sam and his brother Philip. The rest of us…. got skunked, but had a great time. Live bait is not allowed in the boundary waters, only lures. I will make that my excuse.
We did make one snapping turtle very very happy. Sam had placed some pike fillets in a bag in the water to keep them “refrigerated” and further down the shore, I had begun casting from shore over and over again. Suddenly there were two very large chunky feet beginning to clamber up the rock I was standing on. Having a great respect for the damage that turtle could do to me, I jumped back away from him and off of my rock. He was not interested at all in disappearing, but rather stayed there and kept lifting his head up out of the water. After alerting my fellow campers, I moved over to where our canoes were beached, only to discover that the turtle was now there also. Someone thought of checking on the fillets and discovered that our snapper had enjoyed the meal of pike fillet, plastic and all as the bag now had a huge hole in it. The very happy snapper also showed up the following morning, though a little further from shore. I think it would be correct to say he was wistfully hoping for a repeat treat.
It was sooo nice to have no background “white noise” except the wind in the pine needles. There were no background sounds of traffic or airplanes, only the laughing and fun filled bickering of friends and the occasional calling of one loon to another. At journey’s end, the return of motorized boats into our environment seemed like such an intrusion, though we welcomed getting closer to home and hot showers.
“We DON’T NEED NO silly gym workouts, we’ve got portages…” Portages have interesting obstacles like uneven ground, large sharp rock jutting up at weird angles daring you to fall on them and puddles of mud to bury your shoes in. But remember, portages are not hikes, they are PORTAGES, from the Latin “porto”, to carry. This is meant to be a workout. Some of us could not put a canoe upside down on our head and shoulders and clamber gracefully up and down the trail, so I APPLAUD the gentlemen, because they could. Then there were the packs. At least one was a ninety pound pack. Of course, everyone carried packs. Kendra could carry two at a time; one on her back and one in front, holding her own with the guys who could do the same. I reserved myself for paddles, Bill’s guitar, seat cushions, rods… and maybe just one bigger pack. At least one person (no names here) got stuck in the mud with a pack on their back and it was only the fear of a photograph being taken that urged them forward instead of leaving themselves on their back with arms and legs sprawling like an overturned turtle.
One portage, monument portage, had periodic posts demarcating the border between the US and Canada.
Our fearless, seasoned leader was also our cook, Bill Sanderson. Sometimes simple, sometimes gourmet, Bill was always on the job keeping us well fed, though it did seem at times that both Sam and Caleb were bottomless stomach pits.
Bill was also our after dinner entertainment and his skillful playing made the carrying his guitar on portages more than worthwhile.
Yes, Canada raises the largest mosquitoes, though they seem to have lunching preferences. Not all of us were equally bitten. The quantity of insect repellant did not seem to be the deciding factor in their choice of blood source. Caleb seemed to be the tastiest morsel.
It was wonderful to enjoy the warm relationship between giant of a 17 year old, Sam and his younger brother Philip. The need for keeping his brother alive and well brought out more of the father in Sam than one might see if any two brothers were simply sitting at home in front of a video game.
Doug and Caleb, father and son, bickered about snoring and paddling techniques and fished like crazy and watched out for each other and both helped everyone else carrying loads.
Barb and Kendra were so funny. Arguing constantly, they were our mother daughter team and a great addition to the group. Kendra came as an already avid outdoors sportswoman and her mom, Barb, a forensic chemist, was always willing to try new things. It did not matter that to Barb the canoe was a boat and the paddle, an oar, she was great in the canoe and they came up with their own special rhythm. Barb was also always watching out for everyone and became the outdoor dishes supervisor.
Sam and Caleb were our main muscle – THANK YOU GUYS!! Bill, Doug and Kendra were not to be outdone in this regard either. Barb did not like portaging, but it did not stop her from carrying huge deluth packs. Then there was me, ha ha. I kind of wished someone would pick me up and carry me at times, but yes, I carried gear – at my own pace.
We got in after midnight yesterday. I am still in recovery mode and my thoughts are slowly coming to a halt. We did have beautiful days where the water was smooth as glass and the canoes slipped quietly through the tall reeds and horsetails. There were some huge fish that got away, but made sure that we remembered them by their somersaulting out of the water. Caleb’s dreams of seeing flying eagles and overflowing forests of pines were fulfilled. Thanks to the adventurous nature of Barb and Kendra, Bill’s desire to see a hidden lake was realized. The young men got to wield axes and cut logs and together, we finished the journey well and left no trace behind us as we were required to do so that the next visitors to the boundary waters could also enjoy the wilds. But the journey did change all of us and some of us, will make that journey again.
Written by Cindy Julius