Sooooo I have two posts ready for you – one about last week and one about the political climate we find ourselves in – and both of them are on my computer. In the Subaru. I, on the other hand, am chilling in the Boundary Waters after canoeing five-odd miles today. So you’ll get a post tomorrow and a post on Saturday; but meanwhile, here’re a few things about canoeing you should know before you go that I definitely didn’t learn the hard way, no way no how.
1. Portaging is a thing
Canoes are large and unwieldy, particularly if you’re not really used to being around watercraft and in a huge way if the watercraft you’re used to are kayaks. In shallow enough or rapid enough water, canoes don’t do too well. Sometimes, you have to pick up the canoe and walk a ways with it upside-down on your shoulders before you can put it back into the water safely. Did I mention canoes are large and unwieldy, and that portaging trails are quite rough in the Boundary Waters? My shoes still aren’t dried out from yesterday.
2. The sun is kind of a jerk
I’ve been wearing glasses for the last month or so, mostly because my eyes hate me – I was getting white flashes while I blinked for a while there and that can be, but is not always, a sign that your retina is trying to detach. Not a thing I’m interested in. But because of that, the nice new shiny sunglasses that came with the gig are kind of useless. It turns out, water has a reflective surface, and afternoon sun gives your eyes no respite. No matter where you look, it’s too goddamn bright, so you’re thankful Spesh is steering so you can close your eyes and give them a rest. At least they get a rest, though – the skin on your face has no such luck. Bring sunglasses. And sunscreen. And a hat.
3. Biodiversity is rad
There are sO MANY BUGS out here. I’ve counted three different species of mosquitoes, of which 70+ were on the tent this morning; bug spray should definitely not be forgotten in the car, for what that’s worth. There are also at least seven different species of beetle and a million different species of spiders.
We also got to see what turned out to be a dragonfly nymph – and caught one emerging into adulthood!
Also there are a ton of fish, and there was a single bald eagle on a tree close to our camp.
4. Dispersed camping is awesome
So you do need a permit to enter the Boundary Waters at a certain point and on a certain day, but other than that it’s a crazy-excellent game of choose your own adventure, where it’s more difficult than usual to mess things up. There are just a ton of campsites in the boundary waters, complete with fire grates and vault toilets, so if one’s empty, just set up and it’s yours. Most of them are within sight of the water, which is usually a Leave No Trace no-no, but since you always want to follow locally rules and regulations, in this case it’s a yes-yes. So we heard the water lapping at the nearby rocks all night last night, which was lovely, once the thunderstorm passed overhead. (Make sure you check the weather before you go.)
5. Canoeing is way more fun than I thought it’d be
As intimated above, I only really had experience with kayaks before this trip, and with reason: my first and only canoe trip, I was a kid at camp and didn’t know what I was doing, and I was paired with someone who likewise didn’t know what they were doing. We spent the entire time freewheeling out of control, slamming into the banks of the lake because we couldn’t keep it in the center. We did not walk away from that day better friends than before. My entire impression of canoeing since then has been “don’t do this with someone whose company you enjoy, as you will not enjoy it afterwards”.
But while yesterday was kind of dicey – Spesh and I brought way too much stuff, and did a fair amount of portaging – today, we left camp left set up while we wandered, and that was the right call. The whole day has been idyllic, between the relaxed morning and the solid amount of paddling and the ink-black water and the very-little portaging and the bald eagle sighting and and and. Canoeing doesn’t have to be stressful, and I’d totally recommend anyone let the Boundary Waters teach them that.
If you’re in the area, and you’re interested in canoeing/are way better at canoeing than this n00b, the Great American Canoe Festival is this weekend in Ely, Minnesota! Stop by, learn things, say hi to Spesh and I at the Leave No Trace booth. Should be a good time. If you feel like you need to learn more about canoeing or kayaking or the Boundary Waters before you go, Voyageur Outward Bound‘s definitely got your back with classes and programs – and backyard access to the Boundary Waters, too.