Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

Wife's First Trip

By eagle98mn Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:August 17-20, 2016
Entry Point:47 - Lizz & Swamp Lakes (BWCA)
Lakes:Caribou, Clearwater, Horseshoe, Lizz, Poplar

Day 0

Since my first trip into the wilderness in 2013, I have become obsessed with the Boundary Waters, much to my wife's dismay. Jennifer often reminds me that she thought this was sort of a "check it off the bucket-list" item when she gave her blessing to go that year. She didn't foresee my trips becoming an annual event. She certainly didn't foresee the hours I would spend browsing maps, trips reports, books, etc for ideas on future trips. To be fair, I viewed it as a bucket list item too; that is, until the first trip to Adams Lake through EP 37. After those 4 days, I knew I had to get back often. I made it back in 2014, 2015 and then made plans for three trips in 2016 as I sought to make up for "lost time" - all the years I haven't been tripping. This year I expanded my potential tripping partners by introducing my brother and some extended family to the BWCA while still planning a "regular" trip with my first tripping buddy. However, the Holy Grail for me was to get Jennifer to join me. With two little boys at home, I realized it will be a lot easier to introduce them to canoe country at a young age if I have her along with me. Most importantly, it means I can take a trip without leaving the family behind, a win-win!

Over the winter, I mentioned to Jennifer that I would like to take our oldest son on a BWCA trip this year. He is nearly 4 and has been potty-trained since he turned 3. Since I didn't want to pack in, and reallydidn't want to pack out diapers, that meant this was the first year I considered bringing him. Jennifer's reply was something like "absolutely not." She was concerned for his safety, despite my assurances that I wasn't planning on taking him on a 40 mile loop. Then came her fateful last words, "absolutely not, you aren't bringing him if I haven't been there" (emphasis added).

Seizing my opportunity I exclaimed "Done! I'll make plans for us to go this summer!"

"Wait...that isn't...that's not what I meant..." She knew she had slipped up!

So after a bit more negotiating and bribery (guarantees of a shower when we get out at our outfitter, a blizzard at the DQ in Grand Marais, a couples massage at a spa to check an item offherbucket list) it was settled. We would bring most of our own gear, but get our canoe from Clearwater Historic Lodge. We would overnight in one of their bunkhouses the night before entry and we would make a quick and safe duck into the wilderness at EP 47 with a goal of staying on Horseshoe Lake.

Then the wilderness smiled deeply on me and gave me one final ace to play. A couple months before leaving, Jennifer was talking to her childhood best friend, Molly, on the phone. Molly has visted the wilderness regularly with her husband for many years. So when Jennifer told her she is going to the Boundary Waters, I could hear Molly from across the room "You're going to the Boundary Waters??"On a whim, I told Jennifer to invite Molly and her husband, Brian, along. We already had the permit and bunkhouse. It would be easy to add them. By the time the girls hung up, Molly and Brian were 94% in. They later confirmed they were coming and my victory was complete before it started! How could Jennifer not have a great time with me when she also got to have her best friend with too? Feeling confident, I made the final arrangements with Molly and Brian, bought a few pieces of gear for Jennifer, and counted down the days.

Day 1 - August 17, 2016

Jennifer and I got the boys up and ready to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house. I loaded up the car with our gear, a pack and play, and countless other items and we hit the road by 8:00 AM. We were heading north! Sort of. We actually were headed due south along the Mississippi River, following Hwy 61 from the Twin Cities to La Crosse, WI where we would drop off the kids at Grandma and Grandpa's. Conveniently, Molly and Brian only live 10 minutes away from Jennifer's parents, so after dropping the boys off, picking Molly and Brian up, and grabbing a quick bite at a nearby McDonald's, we were finally, truly, heading north! We made it to Grand Marais in time for dinner at Sven and Ole's. From there we headed to the Gunflint Trail, a first for me. I previously always went in through the Sawbill Trail, so I was surprised to find the Gunflint paved. While that helped speed travel along, I kind of missed the feeling of driving into the middle of nowhere on the Sawbill Trail. We made it to Clearwater Historic Lodge just before sundown. Having never stayed in a bunkhouse (usually opting to camp the night before), I felt totally spoiled as we checked out Bunkhouse #3. Jennifer was happy with our accomodations, being every bit as comfortable as some of the hostels we used to stay at in Europe, but with the knotty pine charm of the north woods. The real winner was the lodge itself. Inside, we found games to play and comfortable woodsy furniture to relax in before our grand adventure. We enjoyed playing the simple, yet appropriateCampboard game. Jennifer, Molly and Brian then relived their your withGuess Who?We then laughed through many of the cards in theThe Worst Case Scenario Survival Game.Maybe we were tired, but it seemed hysterical at the time. We hit the sack at a reasonable hour so that we could be up in time for breakfast at 7:00 AM.

Day 2 - August 18, 2016

We got up and enjoyed a hot breakfast of pancakes and eggs in Clearwater Lodge. Then the rental canoe was loaded on too of our car and off we went to the EP. At the public landing on Poplar, Molly and Brian assembled their packable canoe and Jennifer and I loaded up our rented Kevlar. After a few quick pictures, we took off. The day was sunny with only a light breeze. This was only my second time sitting in the stearn since I'm usually in the bow with my primary tripping buddy. Feeling out my J-stroke, we worked our way across Poplar to the first portage. As I was helping unload the canoe, I made the grievous mistake of turning my back on our unloaded, floating, canoe. In that moment a wind gust took it rapidly away from the landing and I found myself chasing it into waste-deep water. I'm a wet-footer, but this was a bit more than I expected! Nonetheless, the weather was warm and sunny and I quickly began to dry out as we paddle across Lizz. Jennifer seemed to do well on the first portage into Lizz, but she wasn't a fan of the mudhole we encountered on the Lizz side heading to Caribou. The paddle on Caribou was short as we picked our way around the lake - with Jennifer asking why we couldn't just take the empty campsite directly across from the Lizz-Caribou portage. I assured her that the experience would be better at a campsite with more seclusion, and Horseshoe is supposed to be very nice. After the short portage to Horseshoe, Jennifer was happy the portages were behind us. We quickly found an empty campsite on the NE corner, but hoping for a bit better we decided to keep checking out more. The island nearby was taken but the next campsite south appeared open. I hopped out to check it out, only to find a tent setup out of sight. Oops! Nobody appeared home so we quickly paddled away. The 2 campsites on either side of the point at the south end were both taken and we found ourselves paddling west down the arm toward Gaskin. We found the last campsite but were bummed to discover it had no lake view. The decision was made to return to the NE campsite we saw with all haste. Jennifer was not thrilled about retreading the path we had already passed by. Fortunately, the campsite was still open when we got there so we made it our home. The tent was setup, the bear bag hung, and a hammock was strung for Jennifer to read in. Then Brian and I went fishing - he loves to fish and is quite skilled at it. He quickly got a smallmouth and put me in a position to bring in a nice-sized eater northern. He added another northern of his own to our stringer on the way back to camp for dinner. While we were out, the girls were hanging out in the hammock, exploring the campsite, taking pictures, and making friendship bracelets. Back at camp, Brian and I posed for picture with our fish, only to have his unexectedly thrash out of his hands. Instinctively reaching to grab it, Brian instead found a couple of his fingers in the pike's mouth. After some first aid attention from Molly, he was all good and we filleted the fish for dinner. S'mores, stars, and good conversation all helped to put a bow on a pleasant evening.

Day 3 - August 19, 2016

Today, Brian and I went fishing and exploring down the southern arm of Horseshoe toward Vista, and then all the way to where the Brule River exits the lake. Catching bass along the way among the lilypads, we eventually decided to push into the Brule and explore that a bit. Pushing through deadfall, we were able to again float the canoe and meandered a ways down the river before running into additional deadfall. It would have been possible to continue, but we agreed it was best to return to camp and see what the ladies were up to. They had been relaxing again under blue skies. As we relaxed and lounged about camp, Brian and Molly took a paddle together while Jennifer and I stayed back in the hammock. She was enjoying herself. It still wasn't "her thing", but it was a positive experience. When the others returned to camp, Molly made a makeshift broom and swept the firegrate area clean of woodland debris. She later made a candle out of the wax from one of my babybel cheeses - that had never occured to me on my previous trips!

Day 4 - August 20, 2016

It was time to go home. The trip had been a positive experience for Jennifer and it was time to claim that success and move on. We packed up camp and headed out the way we came. Jennifer took a turn carrying the canoe on the Lizz-Poplar portage out, but preferred to leave that to me. The trip out wasn't difficult. We returned to Clearwater and enjoyed cleaning up at their showers and some cookies from the bakery. Then it was time to head back to La Crosse and our boys.

Jennifer considered the trip a good experience to have done once. She doesn't feel the need to go back regularly, which dissapoints me a bit. The upside is that she agreed to go again when the boys are a bit older so I can show them what it is like. After that, I'll likely be on my own with them. I'm thrilled to have been able to share the wilderness with Jennifer and that she was fortunate to see it at its best - calm, sunny days with ample relaxation.

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