I’ve been married for 32 years. Pretty long by today’s standards, and likely to get much longer. I thought I knew my wife well, since we met in high school during our senior year, then dated for 4 years after that, finally getting married the week after I graduated from college. You think you get to know someone pretty well after knowing them for almost 40 years, but she surprised me last week. Big time.
During college and our early married days, we camped a lot, including a few trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA for short). She was a trooper and indulged my adventurous, outdoor spirit by going along, enduring heat, cold, bugs, storms and strong winds while eating horribly freeze-dried food and lugging heavy packs over long portages. We also did some serious car camping, including a 30-day circuit around the western half of the US and southern Canada back in 1982, camping in a tiny pup tent and living out of the back of a 1978 Toyota Corolla hatchback- with no air conditioning- in June. You haven’t experienced heat until you’ve driven from Ft. Huachuca, AZ, to Phoenix starting at dawn, only to find the temperature when you arrive in Phoenix has already reached 104 degrees. We found that soaking beach towels in water and draping them over ourselves works as a decent evaporative air conditioner, but 104 is still 104.
Anyway, 20 years ago we decided to go on a BWCA trip, in June, for five days. I planned it all out. We’d visit some new lakes, I might catch some fish, we’d have five days to experience the pristine wilderness by canoe and foot. It was going to be great. Except my beloved contracted what she could only describe as claustrophobia at the end of the first day of paddling, after we had found a lovely campsite and set up camp for the night. She couldn’t be talked out of her unnatural fear, giving me that magic look between a wife and husband that means “I’m not kidding. Nothing you can say will change my mind. We have to leave immediately tomorrow or you’ll wish that moose had trampled our campsite instead of what I will do to you if we are not back in civilization within 12 hours!”
I said, “Yes, dear'” and we spent the rest of the week camped on Lake Superior in one of our favorite state parks. So the trip was fine overall, except for the BWCA disappointment.
Fast forward 19 years, and her company sends her and five other women (as an employment perk- all employees are eventually invited) to a luxury fishing resort cabin on the Canadian side of the border, actually in the Quetico Provincial Park, the flip side of Minnesota’s BWCA. Just as rustic, except motors, electricity, float planes and indoor plumbing are all allowed in Quetico. All she had to do was agree to fish all day and clean up the breakfast dishes, along with the other guests. Meals were prepared for them, including shore lunch. The guides baited their hooks, landed the fish, fileted the fish and prepared them for lunch, as well as fixing breakfast. Dinner each night was across the lake at a resort dining room.
Apparently this was all she needed to get the wilderness bug again, because she started talking about accompanying me on a BWCA trip. I had bragged about my recent trips and she seemed interested. Finally, I called her bluff and said, ‘How about coming with me this summer?” and to my surprise, she agreed.
I planned the trip carefully, not wanting it to be too extreme, difficult, or long. I figured three days max in the wilderness, and we decided on a pretrip campground to ease into the wilderness. A teaser in the form of a night in a hotel in Grand Marais after the canoe trip sealed the deal.
Still, I had worries about claustrophobia rearing its ugly head again, or some other excuse coming up as to why she couldn’t do the trip. But she didn’t waver, even as the departure day approached. As late as the morning we left for up north, I was half-expecting her to change her mind and beg off. Even after we got to the pre-trip campground, I thought she might change her mind.
The campground night was successful- not too many bugs, clear, no rain, beautiful campsite, starry night with a near-full moon. We were raring to go the next morning. Paddling was easy as we were going downwind. I had chosen the lakes for their moderate size and attractive topography as well as decent to excellent campsites, based on a previous visit of mine.
At mid-day, we reached our target lake, but the two campsites I hoped might be available were both taken. Plan B was to take one more portage and find a site on the next lake over. After our toughest portage (still relatively short and easy) we were rewarded with one of the most beautiful BWCA lakes I’d seen. The water was crystal clear (Crystal was the lake name, too!). Pine, birch and cedar covered hills soared some two hundred feet above us on the south shore.
We chose the first of the two sites on the lake and it was excellent. A bit steeply sloped, we were elevated above the water about 20 feet and enjoyed a clear view across the lake. Our resident loon serenaded us morning, noon and night. The breeze kept the mosquitos at bay, and it was warm enough and dry enough to sleep with the tent fly peeled back, allowing us to watch the stars through the mosquito mesh before we fell asleep.
The evening and next morning were critical because there was still a possibility she’d change her mind, panic and demand to leave for home. Morning came and went and she gave no hint of wanting to go. We did a great day trip to another nearby lake, enjoyed lunch, and assessed campsites, while watching for eagles and trying to catch a fish or two. She paddled energetically, hauled her packs without complaint or injury, and told me later that she almost considered going skinny-dipping in the lake, except for the fact that the darn fire-spotting plane kept flying right over ‘our lake’.
I was stunned and pleased, merely hoping that she’d survive this trip intact and have no major trauma to freak her out. The rest of the weekend was great, even the short squall that we paddled through on the way out of the wilderness. She said it lasted an hour, the winds were 30 mph and the temperature was 90 degrees. My recollection was about 15 minutes of solid rain, but winds only about 20 mph and temps of around 75. Oh well- potayto, potahto.
The best part is, she wants to go again next year! My lament on my recent solo trips is that she wasn’t there to share the peace, beauty and tranquility of the BWCA with me. Soloing can be nice, but sharing a magic moment with the person you love more than anyone in the world is nice times one hundred. Thanks, gorgeous.