Here is where the journey is
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 9:01am admin
Written by Kari Sundberg, Eagle Editor
“The modern city-world system uses people to get work done. But here – here I’m using the work…to get myself done. What better work is there than that?” ~ Douglas Wood, The Forecast
I’ve been going back and forth with writing this since July and had made up my mind not to. However, I find myself sitting here bringing the story to life, after all, because the mood has struck and the moment is right.
The story is about one of my summer highlights at Laketrails Base Camp up on Lake of the Woods. Laketrails occupies its own island, right next to Oak Island, up at the Angle. Though it’s in Minnesota waters, it’s right by the Canadian border. I had one of the best experiences here this summer; when I left, I just had a feeling I’d be back.
That feeling was right because at this exact moment I’m back on the island sitting in front of a crackling, oversized, stone fireplace that’s awakening all of my senses. I’m so happy to be back at Laketrails, but for completely different reasons this time.
Let’s rewind a bit.
Something I’ve wanted to tackle and accomplish for a while now was a wilderness canoe trip. Some doubted I could and/or would do this, but it’s a layer to me that I knew existed; one that I wanted to peel back and explore. I had no previous experience with a trip like this, no equipment, a ton of hesitations, but a lot of eagerness to give it a go.
Laketrails Base Camp has been a teen wilderness canoe camp since 1952. Just this summer, they organized their first-ever adult “women’s only” canoe trip. Everything was provided: our guides, the canoes, food, tents, packs, etc. It seemed like the perfect opportunity and I was up for the challenge. My mom even signed up to go along with me. That was a whole other concern in itself. Haha. But it turned out to be exactly who I needed with me that week. She’s even back on the island with me right now, so I guess to sum it up: Laketrails is now our thing.
So let’s venture back to mid-July.
Over-packed and unsure, my mom and I anxiously headed up to Young’s Bay at the Northwest Angle. After a 15 minute boat ride, the island came into view. Perched on the edge is a large bell that gets rung every time a boat or canoe approaches or leaves the docks. The bell is iconic here and there’s just something about the way it rings through your ears, traveling right to your heart.
We found out that our trip was made up of five women, along with three other female guides. After we all got acquainted and settled in, it was right to work. The group of us sat down with charts and maps and decided on a route. At various times, I questioned what I had gotten myself into and this was one of those moments. Our route the next morning would lead us into Ontario waters, ultimately bringing us up to Blueberry Inlet. This meant we would be paddling 80 miles in 5 days.
I silently panicked in that moment and thought, “What in the actual hell am I doing…”
Next on the agenda was to plan our menu for the week. What I thought would be a minimum amount of dehydrated food, ended up being completely the opposite. We might have roughed it in most other aspects, but definitely not with our food pack. We ate like kings that week, well, QUEENS, I guess.
Next up, we had to go through our bags. We all quickly found out just how much we had over-packed. The whole idea is to rough it and rid yourself of any “fluff.” This meant leaving behind things like our soap, shampoo, towels, washcloths and most of our clothes. We each brought only two outfits: one that could get wet during the day and one to keep us dry each night. In case you’re wondering, we did bathe every day. It’s just that the lake was our tub, we used leftover coffee grounds as soap and we dried off via the warm, summer air.
Anyway, that first day at base camp was overwhelming. After packing up our tents and supplies, we headed to the water for a short lesson on canoe maneuvers. We’d be venturing to quiet, unoccupied bays and inlets, but to get there, we’d have to paddle some pretty big crossings in open water, which on Lake of the Woods, usually means rolling waves. For those familiar with paddling, basically our night consisted of learning when to do the C, J, Power or Draw strokes. It was a day of learning and trying not to tip the canoe.
As I page back in my journal from that night, I had written before bed, “Go-time at 7am tomorrow. I’m nervous, under-packed and under-prepared. Please God, keep us safe this week.”
The first and last days were spent on the island at base camp. But the five days in between were spent out on trail with each day bringing something new.
Day one was tricky. We had three major crossings to do in some really rough water. It took us hours and I felt like Moana crossing the wide-open sea. But after that, we did a short portage leading us to Johntson’s Passage and I immediately felt like Pocahontas. (The Disney references are weirdly accurate…..) But it was a beautiful, serene and calm channel. All three of our canoes were lined up and we paddled, visited and laughed the evening hours away until we reached Coste Island, which is where we set up camp that night.
Our evenings were pretty routine. We’d set up camp, get supper cooking and wash up before the 9pm invasion of bugs came, forcing us into our tents, sleeping shoulder to shoulder on hard, rocky surfaces. That brought us to the morning hours where we’d pack up and do it all over again…all along creating some of the best memories of my life.
But with the good always comes some bad – the next day was hard for me. Not so much physically, although I was feeling the previous day’s work in my body, but it was emotionally hard. To sum it up, every paddle was taking my farther away from my husband and kids and I didn’t like that feeling. Not only was there no cell service majority of the time, but we didn’t encounter many boats or cabins either. We were truly in the wilderness. Although it was so unique and beautiful to explore these quiet waters (Canada really got the best side of LOW) I couldn’t help but feel really far away from….my life….if that makes sense. It was only the second day on trail and I felt like I had been gone a month. We made our way through the French Portage Narrows and stopped for a rest on Locke Island. Turns out I wasn’t the only one feeling unsure; the idea of paddling so far up, and Friday feeling so far away, was taking the wind out of our sails. After an open discussion and sorting through our feelings, we sat down with the charts and came up with a new route. We all agreed 50 miles seemed more doable than the original 80.
Though I was hesitant to get back in the canoe, we all glided forward. Part of my journal entry this day reads, “I don’t like feeling vulnerable or out of my comfort zone and we’ve got four more days of this.” I know those two feelings are necessary for personal growth, but they never feel good at the time. However, I ended that entry by saying, “I’m going to change my focus to: I get to do this vs. I have to do this.” That was a game changer for me and I decided to stay positive from there on out. It also helped to have my mom with me at a time like that. I hadn’t needed her for a long time, but I needed her then and she felt like home.
That night we camped on an island in Astron Bay. The view here was priceless. The sky was like a watercolor painting with the water reflecting it all back. It’s as if they were one with only the slightest ripple in the water reminding you that they weren’t. At one point, we were all sitting on the rocks by the water and one of our guides, Sarah, read us a poem called The Forecast by Douglas Wood. It sums up this entire experience and I’ve included it below. Anyway, after some reflection, we wiped our eyes and Sarah gave us each a bracelet she had cut from paracord. She explained how, yes, it ties all of our canoes together, but now it’s connecting us to each other, too. She’s a deep thinker, like myself, and reminded us that we were all put together for a reason and were meant to have this experience together. The bracelet was to serve as that reminder.
The next day was also fulfilling. We made a short hike to a secluded water fall where we sat for almost an hour. The water gushed down over the rocks and branches, making its way to a babbling little stream below.
Water so clear; trees so green; air so clean. I loved it.
That night, we headed to a campsite on Redwater Bay, paddling most of the day in a light rain that ended with the most incredible sunset.
Day four brought us some rapidly changing weather. What started out with a quick portage leading us to a calm and sunny day, quickly changed and forced us to seek shelter up on a steep, rocky island covered in the thickest brush ever. We hung a tarp and hid under it from the thunder, lightning, wind and rain. But as quickly as it came, it left and made for an easy, calm paddle across a huge open section of water, which lead us to our final camping site on Falcon Island, near Poacher’s Bay.
We had a sandy beach and a great open campsite here. Being closer to base camp, we were back in a more populated area. A few boats kept trolling by the island and informed us of the hot Muskie hole. This news reached me AFTER I had already swam and taken my “bath” there….
The next morning, after finding fresh berries on the island, and making blueberry pancakes over the fire, we were all geared up to paddle the few hours back to camp. The weather was not in our favor and we paddled for hours making zero progress. Ultimately, we had to hide/secure the canoes and the boat had to come “rescue” us. We were all disappointed that we couldn’t paddle back to camp and hear the bell ring us in, but honestly, it was the safest option.
That last night back at base camp, we sat as a group and just reflected on our week. The ups, the downs, the challenges…we had arrived as strangers but were leaving as friends.
I felt strong, able and accomplished.
When we left the next day, we all said our goodbyes. Sue, the director of the camp, gave my mom and me a quick hug, but didn’t really say goodbye. Instead, “I just have this feeling that I’m going to see you two again,” she said.
We felt the same way.
Fast-forward a couple of months and here we are. Back at Laketrails, but for a totally different reason. After keeping in touch via text and email, Sue told me that Laketrails was hosting an Artists and Writers Retreat on September 5th-8th. She asked if we’d want to come help out for the weekend and we jumped at the chance.
Sure, there was some work to be done and tasks to be tended to, but there was also time to explore, unwind and experience Laketrails in a whole new way. With the staff all gone for the season, the island is quiet. The leaves are slowly turning, the air is cool and crisp…the canoes are all hung until next year.
As I look at my surroundings right now, my eyes fall on a hand-painted sign that reads “Welcome to the Laketrails family.”
I feel thankful.
We’re part of it; it’s part of us.
I’m not only proud of myself, but I’m also reminded how proud I am of my mom. Stepping away from your life for a week and putting yourself in a really challenging, unknown environment (with really heavy, heavy gear!) isn’t for everyone.
We get so busy in our lives; our spouses, kids, work, activities, obligations…the balancing game is just the way it is. Sometimes it can feel selfish to take time for yourself and your own hobbies, interests and goals…but you should do it. We’re here for such a short time in the grand scheme of it all.
Give yourself the same time and attention that you give to others and just watch yourself bloom.