A night spent camping in the Boundary Waters can’t be beat. The time and effort put into hauling all of your gear and canoes multiple portages and lakes deep into the wilderness is made up for by the time spent next to a crackling fire at the end of the day enjoying good food and even better company. Nothing will come close to the deep satisfying sleep that comes from all that hard work in the hammock and rising with the sun and birds the next morning refreshed. In the woods, living each day as it comes by the light of the day and by the mercy of the weather forms a connection with nature that is impossible to replicate synthetically, or in just a couple of hours. The feeling of accomplishment and better understanding that comes at the end of a multiple day trip can almost be euphoric and leads seamlessly into the planning of your next big adventure. These are some of the irreplaceable aspects that draw people repeatedly to camping out overnight in the BWCA, but its not all sunshine, tail winds, and fresh walleye fillets. There are two sides to every coin and sometimes a day spent foot loose and fancy free with little to no gear travelling about the wilderness can be a refreshing change from lugging gear over multiple portages just to find the campsite you had your eyes on the map all day occupied.
I love the woods and waters of the Superior-Quetico Wilderness and still wake up with a child like giddiness on the morning of any trip, no matter the length. Upon waking in preparation for a day trip into the park though my excitement borders on that of an orphan boy from the movies experiencing his first Christmas morning with his new family (that may be a little over the top, lets just say I’m excited okay). Even before I am on the water the day lays out ahead of me in ways that no overnight trip ever does; open to interpretation, devoid of any serious planning, and most importantly, timeless. The carefree morning of a day trip allows me to really live in the excitement as there isn’t the constant whirring in my mind going over the same packing lists like some kind of broken slot machine only to unpack and repack to triple check for the existence of toilet paper. The canoe is on the car and paddles, PFD’s and a day pack which consists of lunch, water filter and bottle, bug spray, sunscreen and maybe(yeah right) a bag of wine are packed. With just two bodies, Kevlar canoe and a pack to get across portages the length and number of options on the map look almost endless and with campsite location a non-factor anything is possible. I think the main reason I love heading out on a long day in the park though is that I know I won’t have to worry about all of the little things that can make for a frustrating time on the water, especially in July and August.
Overnight trips into the Boundary Waters and beyond during the spring and fall are my favorite, with the latter being something I look forward to all year long and the memories from these trips are some of the fondest and most vivid of my life. One of the reasons why I love the shoulder season is the same reason I love day trips in the summer; people, or lack thereof. The stress associated with planning out a day on the water in July and August to accommodate for the abundance of other paddlers and my chances of acquiring a campsite takes away from why I love being out there. The combination of knowing that I have to find a campsite at the end of the day and that all but the most far flung entry permits have been filled for weeks in advance creates a dull nagging concern that inevitably interrupts my full enjoyment of where I am at throughout the day. This concern starts even before I reserve a permit and while on the water builds with every passing paddler to a point of legitimate stress. The stress isn’t based on the potential that I won’t be able to find a campsite it comes from many experiences of struggling to find an open campsite in the dying light of the day. Waiting in line to use portages turns the dull concern into a sharp realization that I didn’t come out into the Boundary Waters to be stressed out. This may just be a personal issue that I need to work on and I expect many people may not be able to relate with at all. I mean in the grand scheme of things is it really the end of the world if I get delayed at a portage by a group of 27 boy scouts or if I don’t get the 5-star campsite I wanted. It definitely isn’t, but it still affects my experience and I prefer to avoid feeling stressed in places I love. My feelings when I see people in July and August while out for just the day are the opposite of those felt when vying for a precious campsite on overnight trips. I actually enjoy seeing fellow paddlers on day trips when they do not pose a threat to my eventual evening around the campfire. I like seeing how other people are getting through the park, how they are portaging and how they set up camp in the chance that I may pick up a new trick or two.
Regardless of the time of year though it is always a relief on day trips to only have to worry about getting yourself, a canoe and a pack across portages. I don’t really mind portaging with gear on overnight trips, but I don’t really like it either, especially after the 7th one in a day. It isn’t so much the physical effort involved in carrying weight over slick rocks and roots along with trying to guess the depth of an endless number of wildcard mud puddles. Once the pack and canoe are on my back I can trudge for days, it is mostly the unloading and loading of canoes multiple times that saps the energy over the course of a day. Hefting, twisting, and wrenching are all appropriate verbs I would use to describe the back shredding movements required to move packs to and from the canoe at a portage landing. To be free of the multiple monstrous Duluth packs that are dense as a dying sun needed for overnight trips is incredible and portaging actually goes unnoticed and can become somewhat enjoyable. The speed at which you can cross portages without gear adds to the distance you can cover on day trips as well; simply jump out and hand the day pack and paddles to your partner and flip the canoe on your shoulders and you’re on your way, forever and ever.
No worries on entry permit or campsite availability, swift and easy portaging, and a carefree attitude towards the time of day will have you truly living within the moment and appreciating your surroundings on your next day trip into the park. I mean that’s why we’re all here to begin with, right?