Installment one in telling tales from our great trip north to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area in MN. This little ramble shall feature one burly canoe-man by the name of Ryan and a feat of most extraordinary might (at least in my humble opinion).

To set the stage requires a little backdrop description, although it feels like describing canoeing in the Boundary Waters can be full of contradictions. It is an area of nature, thousands of finger lakes that share a border with our northern neighbors the Canadians resplendent with wild and plant life, in which you can easily imagine yourself to be an early explorer. It is also an area of recreation with well cared for portages (trails linking the various lakes over which you have to carry your canoe due to limiting features like rapids/shallow water/land), designated campsites which may/not have been treated to LNT (leave no trace) principles and in certain hubs you will certainly see other people. In our limited experiences all said people though were quite friendly or at least not rude. Had we more time or had we not been packing along a most rambunctious and awesome two+ year old we might have been able to push further into the area and experienced a bit more isolation but as we were already a group of 5 that point is rather mute and as we all know that I am not not a people person, seeing other people was certainly not a mark against our outdoor adventure.

Onto the feat!

Portages are measured in “rods” with a rod equaling approximately the length of a canoe or 16.5 ft or 1/320th of a mile. As said already portages are trails that must be walked in order to continue a canoe adventure. We had portages a little at 2 rods and some as long as 150 rods. Here’s a picture of Ryan and Jeff carrying gear on one of said portages:

The trails were sometimes firmly packed, level, beautiful jaunts through wooded areas.  Others would still be through breathtakingly beautiful areas but sometimes you’d dared not take a breath for fear of inhaling a mosquito or other flying insect.  Sometimes you’d keep your eyes looking up and around simply for fear of looking down.  It’s okay to not really want to know exactly what you were walking through (water/ mud/ gunk/ leeches?) until you had gotten to the other end.  And sometimes, if you were lucky, there could be good sized hills or old trail forks to trick you into swampy areas if you didn’t guess right.

Portages are fun!  (And I really do mean that in the nicest of ways.  They provide a different sense of adventure, work a different set of muscles and are an integral part of a BWCWA experience.)

It’s all well and good to make multiple trips back and forth for gear when a portage is only 2 rods but when you start to hit up to triple digits you are looking a half-a-mile hikes and leaving your gear and food unattended.  Distance plus the fact that some trails are quite narrow makes a 2-person canoe carry inefficient and awkward.  This then leaves one person to shoulder the canoe (and maybe a light gear pack) and trek it over the trail.  And easy way to get the canoe onto the person’s shoulders requires a second person who serves to hold one end of the canoe in the air (to bridge a canoe) so the other may get positioned with the shoulder pads and hike away. (Sort of like the rod under the hood of a car everyone uses to hold the hood up so one can look safely at the engine and not have a heavy huge piece of metal crashing into their noggin.)  I exaggerate about needing two people for such a feat, we did see one guy do the whole process by himself but to massage our bruised egos his canoe reportedly only weighed 40 lbs whereas ours was closer to 85 lbs.  To be really cool though, one person can alioop the canoe onto their shoulders directly from the water.  It sounds very simple to describe it but executing it is another story.

Step one, stand next to your canoe near the shoulder handles.

Step two, bend slightly at the knees and work the canoe onto your thighs with one arm cradling the side of the boat closest to your belly and the other holding the opposite edge.

Step three, rock the canoe.

Step four, at the appropriate rock outward use the momentum to help heft the canoe toward the sky, pivoting slightly at the waist and hopefully land the canoe onto your shoulders.  Ryan informs me that it is as though you are throwing the canoe with your hip and arm closest to your belly as you are pulling with the arm across the way.  The key is that you use momentum as your friend and don’t bully the canoe onto your shoulders lest you really like to have your forearms rubbed raw.

Step five, hike away.

Slowly reverse Steps four to one to set the canoe back into the water.

Jiminy Cricket does that take some steady feet but Ryan was able to consistently hoist his canoe and trek it.  Amazing and not too bad for a land lover.

That’s it for story time today.  I don’t know what the next installment will be but hopefully it’ll be pretty darn entertaining.
And one last picture…at the other end or the beginning of a portage…surprisingly they can look awfully similar.  FYI, I’m a great supervisor.