Okay… so there weren’t any bears… there weren’t even any moose, despite a hike in the snow to see one. It was our last full day in Alaska, and it was pretty much exactly what you would hope a day in Alaska would be!
We woke up to more cold air, but a glowing fireplace took off the chill as we solved the world’s problems. We had a relatively leisurely morning before heading out for a day of activities.
While we were chatting the snow began to fall so we layered ourselves up and took a walk through Earthquake Park in search of some moose and to enjoy the peace of falling snow. There’s nothing like the hushed air of a gently falling snow surrounded by towering trees, boughs bending under the weight of the fluffy flakes. Despite the distinct lack of moose, it was a pleasant trek.
After our walk we headed to downtown Anchorage to visit some tourist trap shops for some trinkets to carry home. I was a little disappointed to find so much of the “Alaskan” trinkets were made in China. I had to hunt to find locally made items.
After our perusal of the trinket shops we headed to the Alaska Fur Exchange. What a treat! The shop is great to visit even if you don’t need to buy any fur. The shopkeepers were knowledgeable and friendly and clearly love Alaska. I bought a bone hairpin. I asked what kind of bone it was and they said it was either moose or cow… I’m going to just go with moose. It’s adorable and I love my reminder of our time in Alaska.
On our way home from our excursions we happened upon a young man with his car stuck in the snow. We hurried home to get some gravel and towels to put under his tires and drove back to help push him out. There’s something immediate and gratifying about helping someone stuck in the snow. You get nothing in return, but the knowledge that you helped someone out.
Back at home I whipped up a tiramisu for dessert while the men took a sledgehammer to a five inch shelf of ice covering half the driveway. Tiramisu is a process so, while the custard was cooling, I ran outside and helped toss chunks of ice. It was hard work, but a lot of fun, and really satisfying.
Dinner consisted of wild caught Alaskan salmon, sweet potatoes, and asparagus. And later we had the tiramisu for dessert. I like fish, but it’s not my typical “go-to” protein, but wild caught Alaskan salmon is a different thing altogether… so delicious.
The next day we left for home. It was a wonderful visit, and hard to say goodbye to our dear friends.
Oh! And we finally saw a moose… on the side of the road on our drive to the airport to head home.
We woke up on Tuesday morning to a frigid Alaskan morning. We dressed in multiple layers and climbed into our host’s four-wheel-drive Toyota Highlander and set out for Seward (pronounced like sewer with a ‘d’ at the end).
The road to Seward snakes along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet before crossing through the heart of the Kenai Peninsula surrounded by the Chugach National Forest. Every turn looks like a postcard, it was hard to decide where to look.
We arrived in Seward with plenty of time before our cruise to head to the grocery store and get some snacks to pack with us. As a side note, grocery prices are fairly commensurate with NYC prices… so expensive.
We took the Spring Wildlife Cruise around Resurrection Bay. We were hoping to see some gray whales, but alas, no luck. We did see bald eagles (fun fact: Alaska has the most paired bald eagles in the world), sea lions, otters, and seals. All of Resurrection Bay is a fjord, and we got to see several glaciers as well as icebergs in the distance.
Gliding along the waters of Resurrection Bay felt like flying; the cold air was brisk and invigorating. For the most part, the ride was smooth and peaceful, but as we crossed the opening of the Bay the waters were choppy and sent the cruise boat bouncing over the waves. I had to stay on the outdoor deck to keep from getting seasick, and it was worth every freezing second. It was such a beautiful day, I wish I could experience it over and over again.
If you get the chance to visit Seward, the Major Marine Tours was awesome!
The first real day of our trip started on Monday. Unfortunately, even though we were on vacation, I still had a days worth of work to accomplish before we were able to go see the sights. This included a 5 a.m. meeting, followed by a 6 a.m. meeting, followed by a 7 a.m. meeting. But I was glad to get my work over with early. We spent the rest of the morning meeting our hosts’ daughter and grandchildren. They were delightful and I’m so glad we got to meet people so important to those that are important to us.
In the afternoon we took off for Chugach State Park. Lewis conducts a live YouTube Bible study every Monday evening (7:30 p.m. Eastern). He loves to head outside to conduct these Bible studies. He’s done them from all over New York City, and when he travels he likes to continue the tradition. So we drove up to Chugach State Park and checked out a few spots before settling on the Upper Huffman Trailhead.
We had a great Bible study with phenomenal views of Anchorage and the surrounding mountains. Then our hosts drove us around to various historic sites around Anchorage before calling it a night a little early in anticipation of an early start the next day.
Lewis and I got to take a dream trip recently! So, let’s back up and explain how this trip was even possible. In January we flew to Seattle for Lew’s dad’s memorial (that’s a longer story and not really mine to tell), and on our way home American Airlines was offering 60,000 miles if you got their credit card, and there was no minimum purchase!
So, we got a new credit card, and bought something I already needed and got 60,000 miles. Which was enough to buy two round-trip tickets to Anchorage. And we just happen to have two dear friends that live in Alaska and they were willing to put up with us for four days.
We were excited to get on a flight that didn’t require us to get to the airport at 4 a.m. for the first time in awhile. So, 1 a.m. the night before our flight we got notification that our flight would be delayed, unfortunately this delay meant we would miss our connecting flight in Seattle. We tried to get put on an earlier flight, to no avail. So we had a six hour layover in Seattle.
Which was probably a good thing. I got terribly air sick and I needed the time to recover. Getting air sick is a new development for me. It has only happened one other time. I’m hoping it doesn’t happen again. I love flying and would hate to have to take Dramamine every time I fly.
We arrived in Alaska around 10:30pm, only 19 hours after we left home.
I’m going on a trip! A work trip. I’ll be leaving the country for the first time in almost two years. I have been hugely privileged/blessed in my adult life to be able to travel. This is the longest I’ve gone without leaving the country since Lewis and I got married.
I’m excited, but I’m also extremely nervous. I’m not particularly worried about getting sick (maybe I should be, but I’m relatively healthy, I’ve been working to build my immune system over the last two years, and I’m vaccinated), but I am worried about possibly being asymptomatic and getting stuck out of the country for quarantine.
But I’m going. Our flight on Friday is at 7:30am out of JFK into Miami for the weekend. We’re staying with Chuck and Mary Smith. Chuck is the Senior Pastor of the Caribbean. He frequently travels to Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada, and the Bahamas; he also pastor’s the Ft. Lauderdale congregation. He’s a busy guy. I’m not quite sure how he does it all… but I do know that Mary does a lot to keep him going. We’ll spend the Sabbath in Ft. Lauderdale.
We fly out of Miami on Sunday morning for Freeport, Grand Bahamas.
Whenever I mention to people that I’m going to the Bahamas I get a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and a “work” in air quotes. But I am legitimately going for work.
In 2019 Hurricane Dorian plowed into the Bahamas and made herself at home for at least 24 hours. It was intense, brutal, and devastating.
I coordinate for the Good Works program. Good Works is a program that United Church of God created to address emergency or unusual circumstances for church members. What it has turned into is the outreach program of United Church of God. We provide emergency relief after natural disasters, help orphanages, international camps, international church buildings, vehicles for pastors in international areas, and education and vocational opportunities for disadvantaged communities.
In 2019, when the hurricane hit, Good Works raised nearly $100,000 for relief. We were able to get emergency supplies (water, generators, tarps, bleach, flashlights, solar radios, water pumps, plugs and wires, and canned and dried foods) within two weeks of the hurricane (it wasn’t really possible to get there sooner since the ports were closed due to damage).
We sent a second shipment about two weeks later with supplies to help people begin to rebuild.
We were able to help all of our members (some in big ways, others in small) and with the remaining funds the members of our Freeport congregation set out to find people to help.
This was three years ago now, so we thought we’d head over to check on the status of recovery. This is the first time we’ve done a check like this. We typically rely on the local leadership to provide updates, but we wanted to create a video to share with all the people that helped make the recovery possible.
I flew to Texas this week. Well, I flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Texas, because clearly that’s the most direct route. I checked my bag, I got through security in record time (Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check is 100% worth it ya’ll) and made it to my gate. Since I had some time before the first leg of my flight I figured I’d get some dinner before taking off. And greasy NY pizza is always a great choice… right? I ate about a 1/3 of the slice before I couldn’t handle anymore, it was so greasy. So I was already feeling a little blech when I finally boarded the plane. I got settled into my middle seat (between a mother and her teen/young adult son) and closed my eyes for take off. It was a rough take-off and for some reason I had been feeling nervous all day, so I took this blech feeling in my gut at take-off to the nerves and the gross pizza.
I’ve never in my life been airsick, so it didn’t even occur to me that it could happen. That feeling kept growing as we climbed higher and higher, each tremble in the plane made my stomach lurch. As soon as the seat belt light went off I went to the bathroom and tried to keep from tossing my cookies… erm… pizza. It took every ounce of will-power I had that first trip to the bathroom. I thought I’d gotten myself together and made my way back to my seat. It lasted about five minutes before I was back up and in the bathroom. I’ve never spent so much time in an airplane bathroom, but there you have it, my first bout of airsickness. I also used one of those little airsickness bags for the first time in my life.
It was terrible and felt unending. I went back to my seat for the second time, and the sweet guy offered me his aisle seat so I could easily run to the bathroom. Which I did, several times. I was miserable, until my wonderful, God-sent seatmate offered me an anti-nausea pill. It took 30 minutes to kick in, so I had about 30 minutes of not trying to keep my guts in check before we landed in Minneapolis. She gave me a second one to take just in case I needed it for the next flight. Looks like I might need to start carrying some Dramamine, or maybe not eat greasy pizza right before take-off?
Any of you ever deal with airsickness? How did/do you deal?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our half cross-country road trip was leading us to an epic adventure. I’m only just now getting around to writing about it because on the adventure we had no access to internet… it was glorious, plus life has been a little hectic since then. Now for the first two days!
On Sunday, 12 July we headed to northern Minnesota. Our first stop was actually the airport so we could pick up another adventurer, flying in from California, but after that our first stop was in Orr, MN.
Orr is called the “Gateway to Voyageur’s National Park,” and has a population of 267 (as of the 2010 census). I’d hazard to guess that most people have never heard of Orr, MN, but the town stands as a bastion of epic proportions in my childhood memories, though I had never stepped foot in it until three years ago. My former church used to own a summer camp in the town, it was a right of passage for thousands of teenagers during its existence. Part of that long ago history is the Kielczewski family; two of the daughters were our primary hostesses for the first two days of our adventure. The Erickson family (one daughter of the Kielczewski family) allowed us to stay in their newly constructed farm house as a base camp for the first night of our adventure. I’m told this new home will be listed on Airbnb, and if it ever is, I will definitely add a link here, it’s a truly beautiful home. And our hosts were wonderful. It was here that all of the participants gathered for the first time. We had a lovely meal, a Bible study, team building activities, and training in the basics of canoeing.
On Monday, 13 July, we headed to Anderson’s Canoe Outfitters. They provided us a place to set up camp for the night and all of the canoes we rented (save one). In the afternoon we all gathered on the shore of Crane Lake and headed out on a brief excursion. This would give us all a chance to practice our paddling and get comfortable on the water before we headed out for the main adventure. On this excursion we headed to the Vermillion Gorge Trail. It’s a fairly easy canoe trip to the Gorge (only one canoe capsized and it was only slightly traumatic for the occupants), and the view of the gorge is lovely. I was the unofficial portraitist as we looked over the gorge.
We made it back to our campsite at Anderson’s just in time for a thunderstorm. We spent the rest of the evening sorting gear, shuffling foodstuffs, trading out tents, and avoiding mosquitoes.
We woke up on Friday morning to a power outage… rather, the power went out the night before, and had not been restored by the time we woke up the next morning. So we skipped taking cold showers (just further training for when we’re on the water next week with no access to showers), and hit the road. And I added another state! Wisconsin, so of course we had to stop for some cheese. We stopped at Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet.
Our selection included portabello mushroom and chive smoked cheddar, smoked cheddar, hickory smoked Parmesan, brie, and chocolate cheese fudge with cherries. Honestly they were all delicious. I was super skeptical of the chocolate cheese, but it was quite good, especially with a nice malbec (as we discovered when we shared our purchase with our host in Minnesota).
We arrived in Anoka, MN around 2:30pm. Dave VenHuizen is a spectacular host and he greeted us warmly.
First, Dave made an appointment to view the garden and art work of a local artist, Nate Otto. His garden is a lovely combination of local flora (with occasional fauna) and steampunk industrial art pieces. Nate’s love of his community is evident. Taking time out of his busy schedule he was welcoming, friendly, and clearly likes to keep busy. Please don’t just show up at his house, but if you can make an appointment to see his creations, you’re in for a wonderful treat, his artwork is phenomenal. Beyond being a great artist, Nate keeps a dying art alive through repair of player pianos. I’ll link his website below.
Later Dave took us to several parks for a little stretch of the legs after our drive. We visited the confluence of the Rum River and the mighty Mississippi River (it was Josh’s first time seeing the latter, the former also, but I guess the latter is more noteworthy), then on to Anoka Riverside Park, which has an interesting history. The park was part of the flood plain plan until 2001 (I think, I didn’t take a picture of the plaque, and now I’m only mostly confident in my memory), then the area was raised by around seven feet, removing it from the flood plain. There are beautiful condos lining the walk on one side, and beautiful trees and the river on the other.
The next day was the Sabbath, which was a lovely respite from our travels. After the Sabbath ended we had dinner with Jean and Ken Cline. Jean is an extremely talented quilt-maker, and she was kind enough to show me some of her quilts. Pictures will be below.
I love visiting places and learning about them through the residents that love their communities, and make their communities more vibrant through their passions. Jean and Nate are wonderful examples of this.