Sabbath Storms and Sunday Surprises

Sabbath Storms and Sunday Surprises

The Sabbath started off beautifully, and restfully. We woke up at our leisure, and sat around drinking coffee or, in my case, hot chocolate while we talked about God, and faith, and life. It was really lovely.

For services we had lots of hymns to sing, and six different sermonettes from the young men on the adventure with us. I sat in my hammock, swaying in the breeze and listened to God’s word. I’m not sure there is much better than that.

After our church services some people napped, others waded out into the clear waters of Lake Makooda for a soak, a couple of folks grabbed their fishing poles and dropped a line into the water. I had fished the evening before and caught two fish, both were too small to eat, but it was fun. I think fishing is a little like gambling, you know the next fish is just around the corner. I can see why people get addicted to fishing, you just want to catch that next fish.

In the evening we all gathered by the water so we could get some group photos and watch as a pretty heavy storm blew in. It was a beautiful storm, and we got some great photos.

We woke up early on Sunday to a brilliantly clear morning and beautiful blue skies. We packed our belongings, had a quick breakfast and headed back to our canoes for one last day on the water. It was windy. We thought for sure that the wind would equal rough waters, but the alcove on Sandy Point Lake was smooth and easy to navigate. From Sandy Point Lake we proceeded through a narrows into Crane Lake. Again, smoothly paddling the whole way… until we got into Crane Lake.

I wasn’t expecting a repeat of Wednesday, but that is what we got. Except this time, instead of just Lewis and me in a canoe, we also had Kevin Kenady (a super wonderful man who did a wonderful job guiding our canoe). The only problem with adding Kevin to our canoe is that our canoe was very heavy, and therefore sat very low in the water. It made every wave a little more treacherous for us. There were a number of times where I thought we were going to capsize. I was even more concerned than I was before because I had made the mistake of leaving my Frogg Togg on when I got into the boat. For those of you that don’t know, a Frogg Togg is a waterproof rain suit that you wear over your clothes. I had put it on in the morning to protect my arms and legs from mosquitoes while we were loading the boats. Since the water was pretty calm when we put in, I wasn’t particularly worried about taking my suit off. It wasn’t until I started imagining capsizing and my suit filling with water and dragging me down did I start to have serious conversations with myself on how I would survive that.

Clearly I survived. But that is not a mistake I will make again.

I love canoeing. There’s something very special about being on the water, about camping under the stars, about sitting around a camp fire. I am, in no way, shape, or form, an adrenaline junkie. I very much prefer the calm waters; hearing my oar dip rhythmically in and out of the water, taking deep breaths of fresh air, watching birds swoop down to the water. The intense conditions we encountered on this adventure were unexpected (for me, at least), and challenging, and while I wouldn’t wish to encounter them again; I am grateful for the opportunity to grow, to challenge myself, and to learn what I am capable of.

Sabbath storm
Sabbath group photo
Seems about right
The ladies
L to R: Faith, Audra, Kathryn, Sophie, Kim
The men:
R L to R: Matthew, Chad, Tim, Josh
F L to R: Bryan, Kurtis, Benjamin, Kraig
Lewis and Aaron are very serious men
That’s more like it
Lewis and me
Aaron is, without a doubt, the best adventure guy to have on a trip
The very serious staff
This is a much more accurate portrayal
Staff photo. I LOVE working with these guys!
We survived!
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven

I’m generally not a big fan of “self-help” style books. I typically find them simple “common sense,” repetitive, and syrupy. This is not one of those books. Don’t get me wrong, his points are simple, but they’re not syrupy, and he’s not repetitive… which is why this book is so short, just over 125 pages, just ten chapters. You can read it quickly, but his life lessons are applicable to many situations in life.

This would be a great book for a new graduate.

Thursday, Friday, and Food

Thursday, Friday, and Food

Thursday was another early start for us, but it probably wasn’t necessary. We started off from Loon Lake and followed Loon River to Little Vermillion Lake. We only had one portage, and it was pretty easy. Just filled with mosquitoes, like everywhere else in the Boundary Waters.

Compared to Wednesday’s challenges, the Loon River was a breeze. A meandering river separating the United States from Canada. We had a hard time finding a beach to stop and have lunch at, so we pulled off to the side and held each other’s canoes while we ate. We were technically in Canada, even if we didn’t get out of the canoes.

Further on, we saw a bald eagle hunting! It was amazing and beautiful. I don’t think any of us got pictures of it, but we were all very present in the moment, and I love that.

We made it to Little Vermillion Lake just in time for the rain to start pouring down. We quickly got off the water and huddled in the woods, attempting to stay dry. We weren’t planning on staying at the first campsite, but the rain took long enough to stop, that we decided to set up camp. Everything was damp, but we managed to get a fire going. We had a lovely chat around the fire. It was really nice to get a chance to know each other and bond.

I also got to set up my hammock tent. Yeah, you read that right, a hammock that is also a tent. It was wonderful! I loved swinging in the breeze while being protected from the bloodsucking mosquitoes.

Since we had a short trip planned on Friday morning we slept in just a bit. It was nice to take it easy for the morning. We canoed from Little Vermillion Lake to Sand Point Lake. We arrived at our camp site on Friday right around noon. It was so wonderful to have a nice peaceful place to spend the Sabbath. The camp site is on a small strip of land between Sand Point Lake and Lake Makooda; we camped on the Makooda side.

Besides having access to running water, an inside toilet (basically an outhouse), and bear boxes (no floating our food out on the lake for two whole nights!), we also had a lovely visit from Ms. Marlette Kielczewski. She brought us a really beautiful salad, hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and cookies. You can’t understand the joy of freshly prepared food until you’ve subsisted on freeze dried meals for a week.

Which is the perfect segue for talking about food. If you’re considering taking this trip, or one like it, there are some tips I can recommend.

First, you want your food to be as light and as nutritious as possible. Second, know yourself. I know this seems silly, but sometimes you bring food because it’s convenient and it’s something that has been recommended, but if it’s not something that you like to eat, you’re going to end up carrying extra weight for no reason. Also, the less clean up the better. For example, I expected that I would eat oatmeal for breakfast each morning. It’s easy, and will stick with you for awhile. I didn’t eat oatmeal until the Sabbath. It just wasn’t worth the time and effort to have to wash dishes after breakfast. So I would eat an applesauce pouch and some beef jerky. Quick and easy.

We had planned to eat peanut butter on tortillas for lunch, but again, it was a pain to pull out the utensils and things needed to make them. We ate nuts, applesauce, and beef jerky for lunch. Lewis would have a peanut butter tortilla as a snack while we set up camp, so it wasn’t a total waste of space and weight. Tuna or chicken packets are another great choice.

For dinner Lewis and I would share a Mountain House meal (I’ll link their website at the bottom). These meals are great, just make sure you follow the directions and use enough water, and let it sit long enough, otherwise you’re going to have crunchy chicken. If you need a little boost, instant cheesy mashed potatoes are always a good option.

One of the other participants carried little sandwich bags of pre-portioned lunches in her fanny pack. It was perfect, she had cheese, nuts, and dried fruit. I would highly recommend doing something similar. It makes eating lunch on the water much easier. I was a little weirded out by the unrefrigerated cheese, but she lived, so I’m assuming it was fine.

I highly recommend having Gatorade powder to mix in with your water. It helps with the lake flavor, and it replaces electrolytes. If you drink coffee or hot chocolate, bring enough packets of both. I hate coffee, and love hot chocolate, and I found even the coffee drinkers would ask if they could have some of my hot chocolate packets.

The tent I bought:

WintMing Patent Camping Hammock with Mosquito Net and Rainfly Cover

Mountain House freeze dried meals:



I know that this isn’t a particularly attention-grabbing title, but for those of us that were on this adventure, Wednesday will live in infamy. Not to be dramatic, but Wednesday was brutal.

The day started out fine enough. We got a pretty early start and had breakfast (apple sauce pouch and hot chocolate for me) before we headed out on the water. Wednesday was mapped out to be the longest day of the trip, but we were confident we would have plenty of time to make camp before sunset. It was also the day where we would have the most portages, and we would swap a portion of our group with the other group on our adventure. We lost four young men, and gained four young men. They were all phenomenal.

We started out on East Loon Bay and paddled through Little Loon Lake. It was at the top of Little Loon Lake that we encountered our first portage of the day. Last year the adventurers we took out on the water “affectionately” called this portage “Portage from hell.” This year, one of our more punny participants renamed it “stroll through Sheol.” I’m not kidding when I say this portage was terrible. It was long, muddy, rocky, hilly, and filled with mosquitoes. I’m also convinced I heard a bear or wild boar in the woods behind me. At the end of this portage there was a decent amount of mud which led to my first encounter with a leech on this trip, and actually in my whole life. It was disgusting. I didn’t find the thing until it fell off my leg full of my blood. Lewis saw it swim away when I threw it in the water. It was huge. And it makes me a little queasy just thinking about it.

Anyway, we left “sheol” and paddled part way through Slim Lake, half way up we had to abandon the lake to portage again because the water was low and rocks and reeds were high. It was short, but muddy and gross. And we were off again to finish paddling Slim Lake, which emptied into Section 8 Pond. At the top of Section 8 Pond we had our next portage. Thankfully it wasn’t as long as our stroll through Sheol, but the mosquitoes were terrible and the end of the trail was a mud flat.

You might not know this, but you can’t load a canoe with gear and people while on land, you have to go part way into the water. The same is true for mud, you can’t push off on mud, you have to be in the water. In this particular part the mud was deep and the area was wide, there was no way to avoid it. I almost lost my shoe. Lewis had to grab my shoe from two feet of mud. This is where I got my second leech. Again, gross. This is where we switched out groups.

This portage landed us into South Lake, which we took to North Lake, between the two we had to exit our canoes to traverse a beaver dam. After the beaver dam we still had pretty calm waters, but the wind started to pick up and it started to rain, so when we exited North Lake into Snow Bay we stopped at a little beach to eat some lunch. The waves weren’t terrible, but they were definitely picking up at this point. The thunder and lightening storm passed us by and we headed out. It wasn’t until we went around the peninsula from Snow Bay into Lac La Croix that things got intense. The wind was beating into our faces, and the waves were a couple of feet high. I was in the front of the canoe, so I felt every wave as we crashed up and down. up and down.

One of the challenges of canoeing in waves is making sure that you stay at a 45-90 degree angle to the waves. If you get parallel to them they will capsize you. So you have to paddle to keep moving, but you also have to paddle to keep from capsizing.

Before we went on this trip we read a book, “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World.” One of the chapters is “Never, Ever Quit!” With a subtitle, “Don’t Ever, Ever Ring the Bell!” The backstory is that in Navy Seal training they have a bell you can ring if you want to quit. The author admonishes you to never quit. Something we didn’t consider when we read this book in mental preparation for our trip, is that there is no bell. Meaning, when you’re out on the water you have no choice, you can’t quit, you just have to keep going.

And it was hard, and it was scary, and there were some serious moments where I didn’t think we would make it off that lake. And I wasn’t alone in that fear. As we made progress away from the peninsula we kept looking back for one of our canoes, and we couldn’t see them. We thought for sure they had capsized, so we signaled the other canoes and made our way to the only “beach” area we could find: it was mostly rocks, but there were a couple of places where we could get out of the canoes without crashing into the rocks. We got out and were getting ready to pray before sending a canoe out with two of the strong guys to search for the canoe when they rounded the corner. We thought they might make their way to us, but they had momentum, and they didn’t want to lose it, so we jumped into our canoes and headed back into the wind and the waves. We didn’t find relief until we paddled to a cove protected by a small island. It was such a relief to have some still waters.

While we were paddling I was reminded that God can command the wind and the waves with just a word. And, much like life, He could have calmed those waters for us, but sometimes He allows us to go through the waves. He’s still there, He’s walking with us, and we’re getting stronger with each stroke of that paddle.

At the south end of Lac La Croix the wind and the waves finally calmed and we were able to stop for some cliff jumping before we had our last portage of the day. This one wasn’t terribly long, but muddy and rocky.

This dropped us into Loon Lake. The waters were calm and we were just cruising after our ordeal in Lac La Croix. That is, until I glanced back and noticed that we were being stalked by a tower of thunder clouds. We hollered at the other three canoes and started paddling with renewed vigor. We were tired, but sometimes you don’t have an option. It started raining while we were still on the water, and it was raining hard. We found a campsite where we could take cover until the rain passed and we could set up camp.

I know this has been a ridiculously long post, but, like I said, Wednesday was brutal.

Mosquitoes and Dehydration

Mosquitoes and Dehydration

We woke up early on Tuesday morning, excited to get started on our adventure. We piled into vans and cars with all of our gear and seven lightweight Kevlar canoes (and one plastic canoe). We were dropped off at the Little Indian Sioux River, off of Echo Trail, and we had our first portage (where you carry your canoe and gear over land to get to the next body of water). I’ll include screen shots of the route we took, along with the maps that we used to navigate the waters.

The Boundary Waters Wilderness area is pristine, and the rules for entering the waterways are designed to keep it that way. Only nine people are allowed in a group, and only a certain amount of groups are given permits per day. This meant that we had to divide into two different groups. We had an odd number, so we had eight in our group.

On this first day the weather was pretty good, the waters were calm, and we made it to our first portage in good time, our first portage was from Upper Pauness Lake to Lower Pauness Lake; it was a short paddle to our second (and last for the day) portage, Devil’s Cascade. The terrain is not terrible and there’s a beautiful overlook of the gorge, but the mosquitoes (like most of the boundary waters area) were a nightmare.

If you’re considering making this journey I have several mosquito deterrent recommendations; these bad boys are huge and they can (and will) bite through clothing, but every layer is helpful. If you do nothing else, wear quick dry pants and a long sleeved shirt; it won’t stop the buggers, but it might slow them down a smidge. And if you have time beforehand, douse those things in permethrin. You definitely want a hat of some sort, those dorky dad fishing hats are probably the best option. Then you want to put a mosquito net over the hat. This will protect your face and neck from getting bit while you’re carrying your gear over portages. I wore work out gloves to protect against blisters while paddling, but they were pretty good at protecting my hands from getting bit as well.

Back to the trip. At the end of devil’s cascade I attempted to make our peanut butter/tortillas for lunch whilst fighting off the mosquitoes. There was peanut butter everywhere. It’s a great, lightweight option for food, but you need to plan ahead and have them made up before you get in the canoe. I’ll talk more about food recommendations in an upcoming blog.

We made it to our camp site and got our tents set up. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get dehydrated and I spent the rest of the evening sipping gatorade and trying not to vomit. This left the set up of camp to everyone else; Lewis has a lot of really great attributes, but organization isn’t one of them. Things ended up being a bit chaotic and we didn’t get as much accomplished as we would have hoped (we have planned discussions each evening to help us focus on leadership and God, this was cut short due to mosquitoes and poor planning). But the main physical things got accomplished.

These are the things you need to do to set up camp. First, get your tents set up, if you’re going to have bad weather you want to have cover until it’s passed, and it will keep you from getting soaked. Second you need to secure water. It’s not really safe to drink water directly from the lakes, especially on the shore, so you take a canoe out at least 200 feet and fill containers (we had collapsible jugs) to filter water from. Lewis and Kim took this duty and in the midst of filling containers they capsized. Both were fine, they just had to swim the canoe back to shore. In the meantime we were going to start a fire, but all of the wood we could find was wet and we discovered that no matches were put in our mess kit. Fun.

We did have a fire starter… somewhere, but we couldn’t find that either. Thankfully the other group was at the campsite on the other side of our island, so Lewis took off through the woods to find them, and hopefully matches. After eating (which I did not do, see nausea above) and cleaning up our dinner dishes, to protect ourselves and our food from bears, we either had to string your bags off the ground in the trees, or float it out in a canoe; we chose the latter. So two people had to canoe out at least 200 feet, towing another canoe with all the food and trash; we anchored the food boat and then left it in the water, to be retrieved in the morning.