Boundary Waters


As I sit here at my job staring out the windows, my mind always seems to wander. In prison I always do a lot of thinking about my life and memories prior to being locked up, especially when I don’t have a lot going on.

Today as I sit here in a daze, my mind wanders to the days of my Boundary Waters trips. I have had the privilege of leading five trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Ely, Minnesota. It is just south of the Canadian border. It’s an area surrounded by thousands of lakes with breathtaking views and wildlife everywhere. Each lake varies in size and are connected by walking trails on land that are used for “portaging.” Portaging is carrying your camping gear and supplies, including the canoe and paddles, across the land to the next lake, in order to finish the route you planned. The trails could be anywhere from one hundred feet to just over a mile.

Depending on the amount of people in your group (each of my trips had nine individuals) and the length of the trip, the number of canoes and supplies varied. Each of my groups had four canoes and anywhere between 7-12 giant canvas bags, made into backpacks. From my first trip to my fifth trip, the amount of bags greatly digressed as I became more experienced in how to pack and packing lighter for the entire group. When portaging, the goal was to carry everything in one trip between the two lakes. The first trip, carrying twelve forty to sixty pound bags and four aluminum canoes, was no easy task and quite the scene, as I recollect. But the nine of us somehow managed the 25 or so portages we had to traverse during our journey. And, of course, the last days of each trip, the bags were always much lighter than the first day, as we ate away the weight in food.

Each of the trips was five days and four nights on the water. We had to travel with our supplies the entire trip….from sleeping bags to tents to clothes to food and cooking utensils. And that meant carrying everything in a canoe paddling across the water, a canoe that could easily tip over. Fortunately, through all my trips and the constant getting in and out of canoes, there was not one overturned canoe. That would have made for a very wet experience, especially if a sleeping bag got wet. Yes, it did rain. But we had plenty of plastic bags to cover the appropriate items to prevent soakage.

Each day, the group would paddle between 8-10 miles, and had ample time for rest and relaxation. There were hundreds of make shift camp sites scattered around the thousands of acres of lakes and land. So when we got tired for the day, we would find a pristine campsite and make that home for the night. Most of the time, we tried to find campsites on small islands, beaches or ones with amazing views. The sunsets and sunrises were some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen. Most of the time we would set up camp in the afternoon and have the rest of the day to swim, explore, fish and just relax. The temperatures were usually in the 70’s and 80’s with the water being cool, but not too cool for swimming. And every trip we would stay put and rest from paddling for one day….a whole day to enjoy the beauty and each other’s company. On those days we would try to find a nice cliff or rock face to jump off, which always resulted in some good times. In the evenings we would play cards, games or sit around the campfire until the dreaded mosquitos invaded our camp.To eat, we had packaged dehydrated food, plus burgers, bacon, eggs and plenty of PBJ. We had enough to eat and never went hungry. It seems like we were always eating or munching on something, replenishing our energy from the day. Paddling 8-10 miles a day wasn’t the tiring part. It was the portaging, sometimes up to a mile at a time with either a canoe over one’s head while also carrying  a backpack, or carrying two backpacks, one on your front and one on your back.

Theses Boundary Waters trips I led were part of a youth ministry program, so we always made time for devotionals and talks about God and our faith life. What better place to talk about Him than in the midst of the world He created. These lakes were in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles away from all civilization. We didn’t even have cell phone services. So, thankfully, no one ever got seriously hurt. It was nothing but our group and God during the trip, except for an occasional person we would run across, or a bald eagle, moose or howling wolves in the distance. Each and every trip was a successful trip with lots of memories and moments that no one will never forget. I believe those trips made a difference in the lives of those kids that I took with me. I truly can’t wait to go up there and do it all over again……someday.


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