Paddle Partners

One canoe.  Two people.

Their mission: to embark upon a week long journey into one of the most exquisite wild places in Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Hoping to get a glimpse of the raw desolate beauty found in the land of water, rock and trees. PaddlePartner3 Home to the black bear, the moose the wolf, and the loon.  Where the waters are teeming with fish, the lands are scattered with blueberries, and the sky can turn from sun to storm in an instant.

Quiet determination.  Passionate appreciation.  Tentative excitement.  Words to describe the man looking for a rugged, wilderness adventure experience.

Detailed. Dedicated.  Knowledgeable.  Words to describe the woman charged to deliver the experience.

He looks to her as the seasoned outdoorswoman.  She looks to him as the formidable adventurer.  Their journey will pull them together, working as a team.

There are no roads.  There are no plugs.  There is no power other than the power of their steady paddling.  There is no sound other than the sound of their labored breath as they portage their gear from one body of water to the next.

They have abandoned convenience.  They have embraced simplicity.  They have committed to a rugged course forged on trust, skill, and survival.

“Ok, where are you taking me?” He asks, as he stares blankly at the topo map.

She leans over his shoulder and begins to drag her pointer finger across the sheet. “Right….there, approximately”. She responds.

“Wow. And how far is that?” He asks.

“A couple days paddle.  And back.  The loop will take too long.”

They begin unloading the vehicle.

He has never done this before.  She can’t even remember how many trips she’s brought people on.

He wonders how wise it is to have blind faith in this woman.  She wonders if he will be able to get in and out of the vessel without incident.

The gear is unloaded.

She drives off to park the vehicle, contemplating what will constitute initiating plan B or C.  Always have another plan if things don’t seem to be working out.  Upon returning to the canoe launch, he has strategically placed all the gear into the canoe.

Not bad.

“Front or back?” He asks with a jovial grin.

“How do you feel about steering the canoe?  With the current weight distribution, it would be better for you to be in the back.” She responds, hoping he will feel comfortable choosing the back.  He carefully steps into the back of the canoe.  She gets in the front and they push off into chilly waters, bucking a fair breeze.  They have perhaps 4 hours until dark.

“This is amazing!” He calls out from behind.PaddlePartners4

She smiles.

“Yes.  Yes it is!”

They are finding their rhythm across the black wavy water. She is gathering intel through light conversation, and making an assessment on how they are doing.  Age, agility, prior experience and more all come into play.  “We’re going to pitch camp at the first site we find, and then go on a day paddle to see what else is available.”

Sounds good to him.

Within an hour they arrive at the first site, and it is empty.  They paddle up to the rock shore, looking up the steep rocky bank, surveying the effort it will take to unload up that hill.

“Ok, I’ll get out first, then help you out.”  She says, and steps out of the boat onto shore, guiding the canoe to a somewhat stable position for him to make a clean exit.  The canoe teeters as he strains to find his balance.  “Stay low and centered, that will help.” She advises as he makes his way to dry land with success.

They make a quick trip to the top and examine their new space.  Perfect.  PaddlePartners5Lots of flat area for tents, perfectly spaced trees for the food sack, it’s a fine choice.

Home sweet home on the hill!

After several trips with gear up the rocks to their campsite, she has tents up, tarps up and all that is left is the food bag.  He graciously volunteers to scale the tree with the rope, twice, so they can hoist their food high enough to be safe from bears.

“I’m going to go arrange my quarters, now.” he says, and heads off to his tent.  It’s going to rain.  She can feel it.  She sturdies the rain canopy over her tent and gear.  Suddenly he appears with a worried look on his face.

“I don’t have my drugs.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.  I’ve looked everywhere.”

There is no positive outcome by venturing into the wilderness without ones prescribed medication.

There are only a couple hours of daylight left.

“Let’s go!” she says, and she scurries down the rock hill to the canoe.  He follows closely behind, climbs into the back, then she hops in front with a gentle push away from shore. They begin the journey back.

“You’ve got one strong paddle stroke!” he calls out from behind.

She knows.  They make it to the truck and back in less than two hours.

He shyly expresses his appreciation for the extra effort.

She compliments him on a great paddle there and back.

PaddlePartner2It will be dark soon. She begins preparing their dinner.

“What are we having? How can I help?”  he asks.  She quickly produces a plastic wine goblet and sack of wine.

“Relax, I got this.” She says, stirring something bubbly and aromatic over the tiny backpacking stove.

Within minutes she serves up a pasta and vegetable mix with fresh pan seared chicken breasts.

“Wow, I was expecting a dehydrated gumbo of sorts!” he exclaims.

She chuckles.  “Ha! Well, trust me, this dinner is the exception, not the rule.  Here’s to a great start to a fantastic adventure week!”  They toast.  The clouds unleash a light mist.  They turn in to their tents for the night.

You can tell a lot about a person in the first few hours of an experience like this one.  They discovered quickly that they made a good team.  They spent the next 5 days exploring the vast waters of   lakes

They fished, picked blueberries, paddled, portaged and explored, fished,PaddlePartner1 told stories, fished some more, solved a few of the world’s problems, survived a storm while 3 lakes away from camp, counted how many other people they saw, fished some more, and then there were those couple of mosquitos to deal with.  Evenings were spent fireside, reflecting on life, de-cluttering the mind, and looking at new ways to think about old issues.  She learned about the super-secret “man rules”.  He learned what it really felt like to be a strong, independent woman.   Perhaps there was a bit of sipping on Wild Turkey Honey in there too.

“Why aren’t the mosquitos bothering you?!”

“They always go for the new guy.”

“How did you come to be so adventurous?”

“What holds you back?”

“Aren’t you ever lonely?”

“Life is full, with new inspiration every day.”

They crawled into their sleeping tents each night, tired and content from the days paddle, and arose each morning to enjoy hot coffee and hot breakfast.  Every day was a great adventure.  He was amazed at how organized and completely “covered” she had things arranged the entire time.  She was amazed at his ability to adapt and participate with such ease.  Finally the day came to pack up and depart from their wilderness camp.

“PR, I’m not sure I’m ready to go home.”PaddlePartners6

“Yeah, I get that all the time.” I smiled.  “We can make it about another week on our current food supply if you want to stay.”

“Really?” I could see him doing calculations in his mind. It was a tough decision, but we knew he had to get back home.  The clouds were rolling in, and the sky was becoming grey.

“It’s starting to rain.”

“This is why I hung a tarp over base camp.” I pointed out, and began packing up underneath it.  “Here’s your rain gear.”

“Is there anything you didn’t think of?”  He asks in awe.

“I sure hope not.” I smile.

The rain stopped just as we got the canoe loaded.

“We should keep our rain gear on just in case.” I advised.

He stepped into the back of the canoe, I pushed us off while hopping in front, and away we paddled.

“How is it that with all this exercise all week I feel like I’ve gained weight?” he calls from behind.

“I don’t know!”

“Must be your good cooking!” he continues.

“You flatter me!”

“You deserve it, Miss Outdoorswoman.”

“Back at ya, Mr. Outdoorsman.”

As we headed back across the big wavy dark waters, there was no sound other than the sound of our labored breath as we paddled, and portaged our gear from one body of water to the next.  Light rain began to fall again.

“You’ve got one powerful paddle stroke!”  He called from behind.

I stopped and set my paddle across my lap, realizing how fast I was going. What’s the hurry to the roads, and the plugs, and convenience of our busy world?

“Let’s do this again, Miss Brady.”

“Any time, sir!”

And so it was with one canoe, two people, now paddle partners.

 

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