***NOTE*** This is a guest post by our friend Susy Stephens from the adventure racing team, The Golden Girls. She graciously agreed to let us post it here for all of you to enjoy. It’s a fantastic story. Thanks, Susy!
Camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is an incredible wilderness experience, or so we had been told. Our group of five set-off to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Twins, Sandy and myself, and discover what camping away from people, cell phones, television, internet, running water, air conditioning, furnaces, beds, all of the conveniences we take for granted. The chance to see nature in its most pure state, the call of the loon, soaring bald eagles, clear water lakes, huge fish, and maybe a moose were part of our dreams. The lure of an area restricting large groups of people with no noise pollution from motor boats or people was so intriguing we were determined to overcome some obstacles.
The difficulty of the “portage” was something we greatly respected (feared) and almost took the option of a tow to a much easier to reach area. However, we mustered up all the courage we use to tackle other events not commonly done by people of our age group and gender, such as adventure racing, and told our Seagull Outfitters we wanted to go for it. The two day easier trip became a six day stay in the wilderness, with several options on route choice, credit given to our very wise and able outfitter. We pumped ourselves up, disregarded the first option for a base camp not even in the BWCA, and told ourselves we could go deep into the wilderness. We can do it!
Departure morning we got a first glimpse of all the gear in one place, six Duluth bags(monster frameless back packs), a huge bear barrel, a large food pack, our fishing tackle, and Go-Lite packs to carry our rain gear, cameras, and water bottles all looked like enough to sink a large boat, let alone a two person and three person canoe with five women! Chris, our routing engineer, assured us all would be fine and loaded us up in our canoes and pointed the direction to our first portage. You have to wonder if the outfitters hang around to witness the beginners on their first portage for laughs. We could have had them howling with laughter.
We paddled confidently off in the pointed direction until we hit a dead-end. What??? It didn’t have any “No Outlet” signs, now what. We turned around to ask our buddies if they had seen the portage we must have passed and started to retrace our route, paddling back to where we had come. Realizing that wasn’t going to work we went back to our initial first stop and realized the portage was right in front of us, we just didn’t know what to look for. So off we went on our first portage of 150 rods. Rods??? We just figured it was about the length of a canoe and thought “150 canoe lengths” to give us a good idea of the distance. One of the stronger younger women, Angie, was able to hoist the two person canoe over her head and onto her shoulders and away she went down the trail. Wow! Three of us in our lack of wisdom decided to carry the three person canoe. We ended up fighting each other all the way down the trail and had the most miserable canoe carrying experience I will ever have. After three more trips, we had all of our gear ready for the next lake. Whew! It was really only 50 rods, but seemed like 150.
That first portage really put us in our place, so when we cruised into Ham Lake and saw the first Base Camp Option, it was indeed very tempting. However, it was not in the BWCA, so we would have to go further to really be in the BWCA. On we paddled to the next portage; we were considerably more “experienced” at this point after practicing on the previous two portages. This time we were smart enough to let Angie carry both canoes, while we trudged along with all the Duluth Bags and our varied assortment of gear. The next lake, Cross Bay Lake, contained Base Camp Option 2 and by this time we were really hoping that site would be available. All sites are on a first come basis. Once we spotted it with no tell tale signs of campers we sent Missy on shore to check it out. She scurried up the trail and was back in no time…”This is good!” Oh, yes, we were all pleased to have found home for at least the next two nights. After getting everything hauled into the camp site and put up, it was looking like home for more than two nights. We set about the business of preparing to live on this rocky point. Connie and Missy went out in the canoe to filter water, but were being blown around so much, I decided to stabilize the front end of their canoe from my seemingly stable sloping rock so they could continue to filter water at a deeper spot than from shore. Well, it seemed like a good idea. It was the first night out and I was already in my second and last outfit. Thank goodness all the clothes dried quickly including my newly acquired buff, so I could pretend to be like a Survivor contestant.
We settled into life in the wilderness, fishing, paddling out to see if we could catch sight of a moose, relaxing around camp, and enjoying all the fantastic meals Seagull Outfitters had packed for us. We decided pretty early that this camp was home for the next 5 nights and we would day trip from there. We found portaging to be so much easier without our well supplied kitchen, and tents complete with sleeping bags and Thermarest pads. Comfy camp living does not lend itself to multiple moves into the wilderness. We were content and happy to have the option not to do an entire loop, thanks again to our wise outfitter.
We gained in confidence how to live in the wilderness, knowing that waiting to make smores at dark would bring out the mosquitoes. And so it was, one evening, we had finished up dinner early, had the dishes washed and were ready to dive into the tents before the bugs were out. But we heard an unexpected noise at the portage site. Someone was coming through very late for heading anywhere on the lake. So we all popped up to our rocky vantage point to see what braves souls were still traveling late in the evening. Two canoes moved indirectly toward us, piquing our curiousity even more. One wave from them…a reply wave from us…then a very quiet tired voice…”Would you have some room (at the inn) for a tired family?” Four of us mid-westerners were present at the time, we grew up watching our family and neighbors pitch in when another faced tragedy or hardship. We glanced at each other and said, “Sure, we can put you over on the hill.” As they get closer, we can see it is a family with a teenage son and daughter. The father and mother begin to tell their story of getting delayed by rain, not being able to find a portage, and fatigue. We could hear the deep, deep fatigue in their voices. As they approached our landing the Floridian of our group, Connie, joined us to see what was going on. She took one look at the youngest child and asked if they had eaten. All little Emily could do was shake her head…not even a whisper. Proving caring for those in need, is not exclusive to the mid-westerners, Connie bids our weary travelers to set-up their camp while we fix their supper. By that time the sincere, complete, abundant, and deep gratitude radiating from these folks really almost shined. If you have ever heard the song “Does the Light Still Shine?” sang by Ray Boltz you will know what I am talking about. It is about a person that regularly visits an old-timer in the nursing home, and each time the old man wants to know if the light of the cross on the mission he used to run was still shining. Though the mission had long closed, if you take the time to listen to the song, you will find out how the light still shines.
So we all sprang into action…doing what we do around our camp. Missy who has a daughter the age of Emily, the youngest child found out they did not have water filtered for the evening and morning. Most folks do not carry water on the portages, so they had wisely waited. Missy’s motherly instincts kicked in and away she scooted down our hill and up theirs to gather their jug and water bottles for her and Angie to fill, while Connie started rummaging through our food to find something to warm their souls. Sandy and I assisted while Connie put together a Chicken and Rice meal that made Chris the teen-age son proclaim, “I feel so much better now.” Even Emily managed a smile when we ask for their family photo.
But that is not the end of the story…my sister, Sandy, came to me…”You know how we always say what goes around comes around? Well, I think these folks just received a little kindness they give to others all the time. It was their turn.” That was quite a testament to how this family came across to us.
Connie came to me…she had been the main chef of our group and kept track of what our outfitters had planned for us. Having an odd number in our group, we sometimes had extra food, since most was packed for even numbers…not to mention the generous proportions. So Connie looked for that one sack of Chicken And Rice that had been leftover from our previous meal, knowing that would probably feed two of them. “Something happened,” she said. “I knew there was only one sack of Chicken and Rice…but I found TWO. Something happened.” So on our rocky “mount” you tell me…did Connie make a Mistake… or did we have a small Miracle?
Sometimes you are not sure can do something… so you don’t. Not the Shroeders…they never hesitated to tackle the long loop set up by their outfitter…and they did it! “In over their heads?” Not even close. As they paddled off the next morning to complete their trip, I couldn’t help but admire and respect their tremendous accomplishment. They taught us how in giving you really receive so much more. Thanks to the Shroeders for stopping in at our little rocky “mount.”
A couple days later we paddled back to our take-out point. On the way, in the middle of a lake it began to rain. We really didn’t have much of a chance to get our rain gear on. But it was a warm rain, so we kept moving, hoping to avoid a real storm. Seagull Outfitters were fast to meet us, even though we looked like drowned rats and probably smelled worse. The storm blew in with a fierce wind and a heavy down pour, just after we arrived at Seagull. They had warm towels, hot cocoa, hot coffee and amazingly clean showers with warm water. Oh yes…that definitely felt like a miracle! Thanks, Connie, for getting with Seagull Outfitters to make that incredible boundary waters trip of my dreams.