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WEEKEND ADVENTURES: Best intentions for Boundary Waters trip

Alessia, 10, waterlogged in the BWCA on a family and friends trip in early June. (Mark Harmon/Enterprise)

Months ago I made reservations to take a group to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) through Ely and enjoy a nice weekend of exploring the wilderness via hiking and canoe.

Our group ranged from a pair of parents and five youth ranging from ages 9 to 14. Four people in our group had never been to the BWCA before, and my intentions were for us to have experiences of a couple short manageable portages and include a scenic paddle through the wilderness.

In February, there was no question about how nice this weekend would be. Ah, the thought of blue skies, glass-calm lakes surrounded by dense forest filled my mind's eye. Kids swimming and fish of abundance will fill our days interrupting smiles and great memories.

I have completed 35 or more trips through the BWCA, and even guided my first trip through the wilderness when I was 16, which is an early age for a kid that lived in northern Illinois. Self-outfitting our trip, I had prepared our route, meal plan, and worked on a plan to make sure that our families had our bases covered to be prepared. Days before the voyage began; I watched the forecast in denial. The weekend forecast had turned from clear and sunny to cloudy, cool and rain.

Day one: We left Ely late and set course to head to Lake Three through the Kawishiwi River system. We knew the rain was going to come and we needed to set up camp before dark, and get some firewood under cover for the next couple days to come. We did choose to cook all of our meals over a campfire, which can be challenging when things are wet.

Day two and three: It rained. Morale was challenged by a few in our camp. A few in our camp played cards and charades in their tent that was filled with laughter and joy. Soon, day three came to a close as we made dinner when it was "not so rainy."

The forecast looked sunny for day four, and when we woke, there was sunshine. We broke camp, had a light breakfast and began to carry our gear down to the waterfront to load our canoes and head back.

We began our voyage and paddled our canoes around a point entering a long, open western stretch. Behold, our journey was far from over. Thirty to 35 mph winds greeted us with white-capped rollers. After a quick pep talk about how "yelling is not to be taken personally, but as a way to communicate through what will be a very hard paddle," we gripped down on our paddles and focused straight into the wind.

I estimated our return trip back across Lake Three, Two and One was about eight miles, but took us an extra four hours than what we should have conservatively traveled. We experienced canoes being spun off course because of high winds, intercommunication frustrations, group dynamics and even a mission to rescue a canoe that did not have a team with enough strength to cross the powerful headwinds.

The trip was hard. There were times where we were beaten by the elements and our emotions. This was, for some in our group, a pretty awful first time experience of the BWCA.

Wednesday, in Park Rapids, I found myself waiting on my very quiet 10-year-old daughter to finish her conversation with a friend, who was traveling to Ely in a couple weeks. I asked her what they were talking about; she was sharing her story of her adventures of the BWCA. Intentions are funny. All of the ideas I had of the trip did not quite play out, but the best part did. Everyone on that trip has a bunch of stories to share, and for that...mission accomplished.

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