Sunday, August 2, 2015


Yesterday's trip up the Gunflint Trail got me as close to the Boundary Waters as I've ever been. The pencil sketch ads for the Gunflint Lodge ran in Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield -- the adventure porn of my youth. Drop a postcard to the Chamber at Ely and your mailbox would be filled with the most glorious colored brochures from outfitters providing canoe adventures in the Quetico-Superior Boundary Waters. Long hours of study....

But I, then WE, then The four of Us never made the trip...

Watching young families, and seasoned veterans launching and recovering at the edge of the BW yesterday rekindled the Dream. Surely we were too old and stiff and soft to even think about such a trip at our ages... but I guess we could read a few webpages...

There we found that Sawbill Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail offered a half day sampler: three lakes of dramatically different character, three short portages, a little stream, 4-6 hours of "lesiurely" paddling IN A SUPER SEXY 42# KEVLAR TOURING CANOE....

We talked about it over breakfast, packed 25# of totally unnecessary supplies and headed out into the sunshine. The Dream Lives....

The folks at Sawbill Outfitters are pleasant and efficient. Al learned to shoulder the featherlight Kevlar canoe with its custom carrying yoke; Patty schlepped paddles, vests, the 25# of unnecessaries and a smile to the launch which was mercifully downhill on a graded path. There the Dream met reality. It was windy.


A West wind on three North-South lakes..? The featherlight Kevlar threatened to windmill around Al's head. Kids, and couples and whole families far less experienced than we were heading out with coolers and fishing rods, gripping poorly sized paddles inexpertly and weaving about.

We launched, Patty adjusting herself into the excruciatingly narrow bow of the Super Sleek Kevlar while Al found that Super Sleek Kevlar touring boats have seats about 4" off the deck forcing aged legs accustomed to upright seating to extend painfully in a position reminiscent of Physical Therapy.




Some relief from the swirling, gusty wind could be found in the wind shadow of the lee shore, but some bays were just full on "whitecappy."









The portages were the novelty to us as downriver canoeists. We were a mixed bag of experienced folks returning from multi-day adventures and those of us on the "four hour tour." Things slowed down a little, but that was good.







Al LOVED THE PORTAGES. The whisper lite $3000 Kevlar, the evergreens brushing the canoe and not him, AND his legs could flex somewhat naturally.


Patty schlepped along good-naturedly EXCEPT when Al reprised his "it's always the bowperson's fault" refrain ... I believe a swim was suggested...













Young couple, two kids under seven, 5 days ...AH, YOUTH!












Yes, she looks happy here, but I'm pretty sure the voyageur dream is dead. I know my legs are.







  1. This post is quite meaningful to me. My father who just turned 75 has always glorified the Boundary Waters. He went as a child and has always wanted to take me up there. We have travelled all over the world together but this is one trip I have never made the time to make. I just might take him on a quick trip this year (and scope it out for an family Airstream trip next summer) just to fulfill that dream for him. He is still in great shape and may not be up for the portages but a day trip might be nice.

  2. Hi Doug. Don't let this ole man's whining keep you from going. We explored campsites at the end of both Gunflint and Sawbill Trails. Reserve the right site early.
    One crew member at Sawbill Outfitters told us she took out a party of 70+ year old women (who had been doing this for 40 years). They had a great time, just needed a little assist with the heavy lifting.

  3. What a great adventure--sure to become ever more rigorous and more glorious as time passes, I'm sure. Kevin had the Boundary Waters experience right after high school [his parents were MUCH cooler than ours] and loved every minute of it. As you said, "Ah, youth!"