"Adventurous Christians" Canoe Trip
Jimmie took the pictures.
Our guide Craig, eh. His accent sounded like a McKenzie brother.
Me, with moose over my right shoulder. Yes, that's me.
Same moose, now over my left shoulder.
Some kid who left his canoe only to get stuck in the mud.
There was a beautiful mist over the lakes most mornings.
You can barely see a canoe in this one.
Jimmie navigating us through the swamp, east of Swamp Lake, on the last day.
Picture of group.
In the summer of 1984 my friend Jimmie and I (along with several other kids) went on a church youth group sponsored canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (in norther eastern Minnesota, on the border with Canada). We all three attended Vale Street Baptist Church (now Vale Baptist Church) of Bloomington, IL, and the trip was guided by an organization called Adventurous Christians (AC). On this page are some pictures (click for larger versions), journal entries, and other "artifacts" from, and regarding, the trip.
What I Remember
Since it was a two day trip to get to the AC Lodge in the Boundary Waters, we had to stay in a church building one night on the way there and one night on the way back. One of these churches had a bell tower, and several of use tried very hard to find the way into it. We didn't succeed, if I recall, the entrance being either locked, hidden or non-existent.
The AC lodge was a large but inviting log building. Once inside, we discovered that one wall had been carved by the various people who had stayed there. Some carving was simply that of peoples' names, but some of it was very artistically done; we, of course, added our own carvings before we left! (This may likely have been my first exposure to modern log cabin architecture, and I admire such architecture to this day.)
When we arrived we were shown where in the lodge we would sleep that night, and were then broken up into two (or was it three?) traveling groups for the five day canoe trip. Each group was then introduced to their guide. Since the McKenzie brothers ("Take off, ya hoser!") were the big thing at the time, we found endless mirth in the fact that our guide, Craig, had a "Canadian" accent (much to his surprise, actually).
Thereafter, Craig informed us that by morning we would need to unpack all of our belongings and then repack it, along with the food they provided (trail mix, bagels, cheese, hardtack, powdered instant meals and drinks, etc...) into what they called Duluth packs. And, of course, if something didn't fit we would have to leave it behind. So much for our mothers' carefully packed suitcases!
The next morning, lead by our fearless guide, we headed out into the beautiful, nearly unspoiled wilderness that is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We were instructed that during our trip we were to leave no trace of our passing (pick up all trash, etc.) and that we'd be camping only in designated areas. We were also told that we would indeed be leaving civilization behind, as even aircraft were forbidden to fly over the area.
The trip was thereafter a 5 day jaunt through a small portion of the land o' lakes. Each day we travelled by water using the canoes, using a complex system of portages (or trails) to carry (or portage) our canoes and equipment from one lake to the next. We ate trail foods and made sure not to drink the water close to shore (to avoid the dreaded "beaver disease"... otherwise known as the "Hershey squirts"). The mosquitoes were so large that we joked they must be the Minnesota State Bird (at night we could hear them hitting the sides of the tent, as if trying to get in). We wore bandanas around our necks and hats on our heads to ward off the ever present biting horseflies. The fishing tackle box, that I swore to my dad I wouldn't lose, got lost during one of the portages.
The first day, Monday, it rained very hard all day, so that almost everything we owned was soaked. Indeed, by the end of the day, when we stopped to make camp, the tie string of my rain suit pants was so swollen and constricted with water that I had to cut the string to get the pants off. This otherwise mundane issue was made all the worse by the fact that, when we arrived at camp, nature was calling... very persistently!
On another day, Jimmie and I saw a moose eating muck in the lake. We tried to paddle close to it for a good picture, and we actually got quite close. However, while Jimmie got ready to take the picture, I couldn't steer the canoe very well from the front end, and we therefore came too close to it. So unfortunately it got spooked and had ran mostly up on shore before he could take the pictures (see pictures to the right).
On Thursday, the second to last day, we traveled only a short distance and made camp late in the morning (on Caribou lake, I believe). We soon found out why. That afternoon we were taken around to individual locations on the Caribou Lake and, armed only with some food, water and our Bibles, were left alone for four hours. Alone. In the middle of nowhere. The idea of this was that we were to contemplate God, His creation, etc. Very humbling. It worked. For despite my ever evolving (heh) thoughts on religion, I have always continued to believe in a Creator. As they say, to see the Creation is to know there is a Creator.
My experience during those four hours was anything but relaxing, however. I chose as my alone spot a really nicely wooded island. (Looking at the map, the island I was on is the one at the far west end of Caribou Lake.) Craig dropped me off on a large, relatively flat and inviting rock on the eastern shore the island, and I proceeded to get comfortable. I sat for a short time, soaking in the beautiful natural surroundings, reading from my Bible, and otherwise enjoying my time alone. I watched some ants crawling around the rock. Then a few more came. And a few more. Pretty soon, there were enough ants that I started to become annoyed and not a little uncomfortable with the thought of ants all over me. So I gathered my belongings and decided to explore the small island. I soon found that the island was covered not only in trees, but also by a strange, soft, springy, green and red moss of some sort. It was actually quite fun to walk on... until I realized that the red in the moss were thousands and thousands of ants! Definitely disturbed now, I walked briskly around the island, looking for an area free of ants, but found to my horror that the entire island was teaming with the ants - a very disturbing situation indeed. So I headed quickly back to my rock (the only relatively safe place), but I soon found the ants gathering around me again. So I did the only thing I could do. The rock I was on was partially submerged, but there was a small (approximately 4' by 3') outcropping of the big rock that barely jutted an inch back out of the water, a few feet from shore. So I stepped out onto this outcropping, and thus it was that I sat on this small rock in the middle of the water for most of my four hours alone. I sat and watched as the ants seemingly tried to get at me (a few went into the water and drowned), a large leech swam by, and loons flew and swam out over the lake. I still enjoyed my time alone, but I (and my body) was relieved when Craig came to pick me up...
I think it may have been on this same day (Thursday) in the evening that Jimmie and I went fishing, and he caught one or two Walleye. After several days of powdered instant meals and hardtack, I must say that fish tasted quite superb. Indeed, we were so hungry for real food that Jimmie even went swimming under water trying to catch a duck by the foot... and he almost succeeded!
On the last day, we ran into the other group of kids, and we challenged each other to a race back to the lodge. We knew they were faster travelers, and we still had to take down our camp, so we decided to take what looked like a short cut on the map. Indeed, we found out later that no other group with AC had ever taken this short cut. And there was a reason for that! Instead of a shortcut, we soon found ourselves traveling through a murky swamp, so that much of that day was spent not in the canoes paddling but instead portaging in waist deep swamp water, carrying heavy packs, canoes and equipment. I guess we should have known, though, since the lake just next to the shortcut on the map was aptly named, "Swamp Lake". Heh heh heh. And we soon discovered that the two small lakes shown on the map east of Swamp Lake were not lakes at all, but swampy marshes. Note that on the map that the names of these two "lakes" are penciled in; this is because we found signs sticking up out of the middle of the swamp in two places declaring their names. :)
At noon we had a well earned lunch of moldy cheese, bagels and hardtack.
All that day, we wondered both to ourselves and aloud whether we would ever make it back, or whether we would get lost, die of hunger and have the mosquitoes claim our dead bodies. But despite the harsh climate and this rather glum outlook, we actually made fairly good time (all things considered) and even beat the other group to the southern shore of Bow Lake on which the AC lodge was located. However, when we all stopped to rest briefly before loading up the canoes for the last time for the trip across Bow Lake, we realized that there was still one more canoe to portage from where the swamp had ended to where we were resting - and nobody would go to get it! Evidently we all felt we had "done enough" for the group and needn't do anymore (very silly).
Finally, when the other group started passing us by while we were sitting on our lazy butts, Jimmie and I hustled back and carried the canoe to where everyone else continued to sit. Unfortunately, by the time we got back with the canoe, and everyone in our group got the canoes loaded up with our gear, we could see the other group arriving in their canoes at the lodge across Bow Lake. Had we (or any two of us) simply went and grabbed the last canoe earlier, we could have beaten the other group and had bragging rights. But alas, because of our own collective selfishness, it was not to be!
We hadn't had a bath or shower for four days, so that last afternoon we got clean by going into the AC Lodge's sauna, scrubbing up with soap, and then jumping into the cold lake to rinse off - a complete shock to the system, brrrr... but it worked!
When I returned home (Bloomington, IL), my parents took me to Schooners for a Schooner Burger - and after 5 days of trail food it was certainly the best burger I've ever had!!!