My father’s love for the BWCA area is apparent by the frequent stories he tells of adventures in the northern wilderness. I can repeat these tales word-for-word.
My father took me on my first Boundary Waters trip during the summer I turned 16. I remember the trip as being hard work, yet simple and relaxing. Spending our days setting up camp, fishing, gathering firewood, exploring, sitting around evening bonfires and sharing stories was a stark contrast from life in a small house in the big city with 5 siblings. This first trip with my father was exhausting at times and it rained a ton, but after a week immersed in this beautiful place I had fallen in love.
My father and I returned to the Boundary Waters together again after almost 15 years, when he excitedly decided to come for a visit this summer. The trip was all he could talk about for a few weeks before his arrival. This would be my father’s first trip without my brothers and he expressed how different it would be having to rely on Matthew and me for support.
Matthew and I planned our trip from East Bearskin, through Moon, to Deer and to either Caribou or Little Caribou Lake, then back to East Bearskin in four days. We thought we would have plenty of time to fish, explore Johnson Falls, and possibly add a day trip to Clearwater.
Little did we know that our trip would not go as planned. With Matthew and my father in a tandem and me in a solo canoe, this would be my first solo paddle trip. We set a goal to make it to at least Caribou.
After paddling East Bearskin and Moon we were loading our canoes at the end of the Moon portage to Deer, when we heard a large crash through the woods and into the water. We looked up, surprised to see a mama moose and her two calves. Mama moose waded into the water, then dove down to eat water vegetation off the bottom of the lake while her babes stayed nervously on the edge of the lake. After silently watching her for quite some time we eventually paddled slowly around mama and listened as she and the calves communicated about our presence.
We paddled on, passing our destination on Caribou and Little Caribou due to campsite shortages. Exhausted and ready to be done paddling for the day, we forced ourselves to keep going. We were relieved when we discovered the first campsite on Pine Lake was open. It was an elevated campsite with what seemed like a short uphill portage just to get to the fire ring. We set up camp and cooked dinner in the dark.
The next morning we woke up to high winds and sore bodies. We had planned on a day trip to Johnson falls, but after assessing the wind conditions we decided it would be a lot of work due to the white caps on the water, or as Matthew says “we have sheep in the pasture.” We spent the day reading, fishing and relaxing. On day three my wise father suggested that we break camp and paddle half way back to East Bearskin to a site on Caribou so we would not spend our last day paddling so far. On our way to Caribou we stopped for a quick trip to Johnson Falls and hiked to the end of the trail that overlooked a beautiful lake.
After Johnson Falls we continued on. We paddled into strong headwinds and again, due to campsite shortages, we had to paddle through Caribou and Deer and end on Moon. Again we were exhausted, but happy with our campsite. Our campsite had a lovely view with a homemade picnic table. That evening we heard owls hooting and active beavers in the water right next to our tents.
On the fourth day we took our time before we broke camp and slowly made our way back to Bearskin. Although our trip did not go as planned, it was wonderful. Being away from our daily routines, the stress of life, as well as being surrounded by nothing but beauty and good company does something special to those experiencing the BWCA. Our trip allowed us to have time to slow down, have meaningful conversation, lots of laughter and overall much needed time to connect as father-daughter, as family, and as friends. It also allowed for my father to have another story to share over and over again.