I am a Voyageur!
Updated: Jul 20, 2018
We'll I really don't know exactly where to start, or how to put words to a indescribable experience. So much happened in 24 days and it is really hard to process it all in just a few days after getting back. So I'll do my best to compress my journey to save you some reading and so my head doesn't spin so much.
Separating from the guys was really hard. I needed to figure something out and this idea came to me in a flash. This trip was very spontaneous and very little planing went into it. I needed a canoe, a couple permits and some maps. There I stood in a place I have never been, near water I have never paddled, with a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity to embark on the journey ahead.
Voyageurs National Park. Rainy and Namakan Lake. My first day was actually the first time I paddled my canoe. So the few couple strokes were fun and adjusting to getting comfortable of course. Boy those first few days were hot. No Wind. Dead calm water. Lots of chapstick, sunscreen and soaking my shirt constantly. The first days I got to really peer into what would lie ahead. The loons eagles, and beavers began to make appearences. The lake was flat. The suns rays reflected onto the black, lichen covered rock. Oranges and greens I have never quite seen before. Storms would build in the afternoon and then die off, I wondered if it was ever going to rain and I was praying for some.
After 5 days I entered the Boundary Waters, time seemed to slow. I didn't have designated campsites, and was out of the humming of motor boats and into canoe only waters. It began to get quiet. The stillness of the landscape began to slowly merge into my being. Only the sound of paddle strokes and the wilderness around me. As I paddled through the thirty lakes on this route, every portage brought me to a new waterway with the unknown awaiting around every point. These lakes were all unique with their own character and biome. And they all have their own story.
Paddling. I paddled every day rain or shine for 23 days. I was able to do about 12 or more miles each day with usually at least two portages if not more. My longest paddling day was 18 miles. That day it rained, and it rained, and it rained. I told myself I would stop paddling when the rain did. It never did. So many things came as a surprise to me in the boundary waters, the wildlife, the thunderstorms, the rocks, the water and the wind. I did not truly understand "where the winds hit heavy at the borderline" -Bob Dylan, until I was paddling through the labyrinth of lakes of his home state. Stands of pines flattened by gusts of wind. Nearly taking my paddle right out of my hand a few times. If I could make forward progress I would, no matter how hard the paddling. I loved paddling through the storms in the rain and the wind. It had me howling at every strong gust, the stronger the gust the louder I howled. Beautiful sunny days bathing in the suns rays, with the wind at my back. On those days I would stand in my canoe and let the wind take me. Thunderstorms with lighting, wind and rain in my face. And everything in between. The sunny windless days really had the black flies biting. Because of being solo I was quiet, I was able to sneak up on wildlife. Catching us both by surprise. I had so many interactions with the wildlife there.
Portaging. Well lets just say that was quite the adventure all in itself. I had never portaged a canoe before. My canoe weighed 60 lbs and my pack about 60 lbs. I had a canoe with no portage yolk. Yikes. A small but significant detail I had missed on the planing of my trip. I had found out very quickly that I was going to have to grunt each and every one of these portages and my neck and shoulders were going to ache...alot. It was a posture thing. I had built up my seat with my crazy creek, my PFD, water bladder, and sponge to aid in the cushioning, and dampen the compression of my c7 vertebrae. I fumbled around with a few different rigs until the last week. I was told of a temp-line from a fellow paddler. A temp-line is a strap that the voyageurs used on their portages. It runs from the stern up and around your forehead. It helps with balancing the weight of your canoe to aid in posture. It worked. It was no modern day yolk but it definitely helped. Some portages were short, and some over a mile. The portage trails were gnarly. You had to watch every step. My head was cranked forward anyway so that helped. Rocks and roots, up and down, flat and muddy... or both. One Portage I actually was belly button deep in mud crossing a swamp dragging my canoe across the top. Because of not having a portage yolk, I could not portage with my pack on my back and the canoe on my shoulders. They would get in the way of each other. So I had to double portage. Walk my canoe or pack first, then go back to huff the other one along. This made every portage 3 times longer than otherwise. So there I was on the last day of my trip, after 23 days of training, I had one more challenge before me. The Grand Portage. A 8.5 mile Portage by-passing sets of cascades on the last section of the Pigeon River. I knew this was going to be one long day. I started the day with a healthy helping of oatmeal with wild blueberries that had been in abundance in the last section of my trip. I had two granola bars and a small bag of trail mix to sustain me for the day. And lots of water. I would walk 2 miles with my canoe or pack on my back and a mile back to get the other. I did this all. day. long. It actually took me nine hours non-stop. 25 miles in total with 17 miles of those miles weighted down. Boy did I hit a wall by mile 20. Thats when the self motivational speaking started. I didn't really take any breaks I was scared of cramping up. My breaks were walking back with no weight on my shoulders. I was getting close, I could smell the lake in the cool breeze. I pushed really hard through my last mile. And I had made it! I couldn't be more happy to see the lake. It was a beautiful evening. I put my canoe in the water went for a little paddle... and a little skinny dip. To celebrate the day, the journey, ice my muscles, and take in the medicine of Mother Superior. I was home.
All and all I paddled 321 miles through 30 lakes and conquered 42 portages. I spent 24 days in a magical place. Could not be more grateful for each and every moment I had there.