Friday, June 3, 2011

Back From the Wilderness

This is my first full day back. I took a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. If you've never been there I would encourage you to take a trip. It is not for the physically unfit. I prepared for it by exercising for three weeks.

It is a well preserved wilderness that offers the real deal experience of being in the untouched wild. There is no communication while in the park. You are truly cut off from the world for the duration.

This was my second visit and turned out to be a real adventure. We decided to break camp Wednesday morning and head for home. In the Boundary Waters the weather can change in a matter of minutes so it was not a real concern that a storm was blowing in. The wind had been blowing through the night on Tuesday and continued Wednesday morning but in the wilderness you can't tell how or if the wind is blowing on other lakes in the park. We found out the hard way it was blowing over the entire park and before we were to make the entire twelve mile paddle out it was gusting up to 50 mile per hour.

For six and a half hours we paddled for twelve miles and crossed 5 portages (it would normally take 4 1/2 hours.) The wind was gusting, driving rain and in places the whitecaps washed into the canoe. At one point, in the middle of Knife Lake, while we were about a quarter mile from shore a gust of wind hit us broad side at 40-50 mph. It nearly capsized us in the middle of the lake. My friend and I paddled endlessly with everything we had directly into the wind. We finally made it to shore on a rocky outcropping and bailed out the canoe. At one point we were paddling nosed into the wind to take the waves head-on creeping along shore at a 45 degree angle. I've never move forward at a 45 degree angle before in a canoe. At its worst we struggled to stay upright with every wave.

Several times we discussed stopping to set up camp and wait out the wind. Each time we optimistically thought it would be getting better. Not. It was a harrowing experience to say the least. We had set up a pick-up time with the outfitters before hand to pick us up at noon on Wednesday. One of the canoes in our group arrived at the pick-up point just as the outfitter arrived. It was then that we learned of the 50 mph winds. The boat driver said he was amazed but thankful to see us. He was afraid we would not make it back to the lodge without our weight in the boat. He then went looking for his life jacket. "Where is da ting," he said with northern exposure accent. "I've never worn it before." You should have seen everyone in our group grabbing their life jackets.

For the last 2 days in my warm, dry home I have been living on that "I'm glad to be alive" feeling. I wouldn't have missed it for the world but I never want to do it again.

It's good to be home.

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