Mar 9, 2014

A Boundary Waters Adventure - 1, Bacon Cheeseburgers and Kevlar Canoes

How It Began
This brutal winter makes me do a flashback to last August and the blue skies of the Boundary Waters. Departing from the upper tip of Minnesota, we chucked tents, dried beans and 8 days of provisions into three canoes, paddling 16 miles north towards Canada.

We dropped cell phone towers and civilization for this.

It all started when I bought that $149 plastic Menards kayak made from recycled Tide bottles, paddled the Beaver and mentioned in a post, "wish I could do the Boundary Waters."

Three days later, co-worker Chris asked, "do you want to canoe the Boundary Waters with some friends?"

Yep I said, and it was done.

Six of us plus a pooch teamed up to float the wilderness.  Chris and I work together, he sits inches away. 

He specs out software and I code it in java.  Chris' best friend from high school, Tim, drove in from Baltimore.  He's an attorney and brought along three buddies he met when getting schooled at Johns Hopkins U.  Tim and gang were on the JHU wrestling team, so I figured they'd row hard and be adept at partying.

Boundary Waters Briefing
The Boundary Waters reside within Superior National Forest, two clicks west of Lake Superior.  One million acres of wilderness, lakes dredged then filled by glaciers and so named because they slice Canada and the U.S. 

We hung out in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), straddling two countries and accessible only by boat or helicopter.  It would be possible to, in theory, paddle the waterway north of base camp, photo snap some Canadian maple leaves, then head back and pretend like it didn't happen. 

Camping in the wild meant zero signal bars on the Droid and no ability to communicate with other humans.  I liked that.  The last time that happened was six years ago on the Big Horns slog.

Des Moines to Ely
Chris and I stocked his supercharged Pontiac with tents, tackle boxes, a bucket of wetnaps and headed north.  Three hours to Minneapolis, then another three to Duluth. We did a pit stop for unleaded and Wendy's bacon cheeseburgers.  Food the next week would be sketchy if the fish didn't bite.  I wondered if this 1,200 calorie beef patty could be my last meal.

Two more hours north of Duluth and we shut it down at Ely, Minnesota.  The road literally ends there, you can't drive farther north.  But Ely is just the beginning.

Ely Outfitters
Ely is meth to the outdoorsman, a rugged mother able to hook you with fishing gear, snowmobiles, ice augers and a dogsledding team if you desire.  

We met Tim, Reno, Jon, Kenny and Bailey (Tim's pup) at an Ely outfitter.  We needed to rent canoes, secure maps and pack final supplies.  

All business inside, no pretend outdoorsy junk and it made Scheels/Bass Pro look like Neiman Marcus.  Smells of camp stove kerosene, mosquito DEET and epoxy flicked my sinus.  It looked like an army supply bunker, ready to load us with ammo and axes to battle the wilderness.

A long timer guide whipped out a Boundary Waters topography map and helped us form our canoe route.  He had the area memorized and was familiar with the hundreds of lakes forking out from Ely into Ontario.  He lightly tapped his pencil on the map and warned:

"You don't want to take Moose Lake.  The portage is flooded and you'll be wading through knee deep bog for a mile."

He moved his hand and eyebrows up:  "Be sure and stop here at this Pipestone cove.  Lots of wild blueberries and a good spot for lunch.  A black bear was spotted there a couple weeks ago, so make noise if you stop."   Oh great.

Once we had our paddling route roughed out, we racked up Kevlar canoes, doubled down on walleye jigs and stocked a foam cooler with 2 lbs. of live leeches.

Next post we'll load packs, christen our canoes and hit the lakes.  



  1. You might enjoy reading my brother's blog -, he's paddled in the inner passage (or is it outer?) in Alaska a couple of times and is planning another expedition for this summer.

    1. Thanks for link, reading his blog now.

  2. Anonymous3/11/2014

    My son did a boundary waters semester out of Ely's Outward Bound so I was there just a year back. They also took dragon boats out to lake superior - very cool. Brutal winters call for some summer reminiscing - and wow have you guys been pounded. Libradesigneye

    1. Nice up north, did you enjoy your time there?


Thanks for the note, check back for my response!