Weekly Photo Challenge: On the Way

A trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness in northern Minnesota is all about the journey, not the destination.  It is what you don’t see on the way that makes it so special … no buildings, no power lines, no signs of development … it is a special place that must be preserved.

Paddling through the BWCA

For more photos and blog series on our camping trip to the BWCA, start here:  Unplugged and Off-the-Grid: Gearing Up.

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”On the Way” is this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Unplugged and Off-the-Grid ~ Conclusion: Heading Home

Our last morning on the water dawned misty and gray.  The trees blurred together to create a unified front along the distant shore.  The waters were quiet and calm as we slid the canoes back into the water and loaded them once more.

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Silently, while paddling at an easy pace, I said goodbye to the loons, the eagles, the heavy pine forest landscape, and the pristine waters of the BWCA.

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In a society of constant technological distraction and achingly over-burdened schedules, family time like this is to be treasured, even if only for a few nights.

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The landscape may be familiar to me after 20 years of living in northern Minnesota — the lakes, the pines, the rocky shoreline, even the loons and the eagles — but I was reminded of a quote of Rachel Carson’s from Silent Spring:

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

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Without the distractions of daily life, the BWCA provides visitors an opportunity to ponder the beauty, and truly appreciate it.  Too often, we are multi-tasking even while engaged in recreational pursuits.  Everyone needs some time periodically to escape to the wilderness — no wi-fi, no cell phone, no intrusion from the outside world.  Power lines and cell towers are not part of this landscape, and therein lies the difference from so many other settings where similar pursuits are enjoyed.  These modern-day conveniences change the tone of our engagement with each other.  And as wonderful as technology can be, it is a blessing to unplug and engage in a different way.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Other posts in this series:

Unplugged and Off-the-Grid ~ A Change of Scenery (Part 6)

After two nights of camping on the island, it was time to pack up and begin making our way back to our original entry point.

Leaving Long Island Lake, BWCA

We had hoped to spend our last night at a campsite on Cross Bay Lake, but someone else had beat us to it.  Paddling on, we had our pick of sites on Ham Lake — technically outside of the Boundary Waters area, although virtually indistinguishable in beauty from many of the lakes on the other side of that boundary line. Following the recommendation of our outfitter, we settled into a campsite on a rocky peninsula.

Campsite on Ham Lake, off the Gunflint Trail, Minnesota

We quickly learned that wading in the shallow surrounding waters was not without its minor hazards.  My son insisted I take a photo of this lovely leech — the leeches attached themselves almost the moment your feet hit the water, and water shoes offered little protection.  We kept the salt shaker handy for the rest of our stay at this site!  

Leech from Ham Lake

A healthy sprinkling of salt on the leech prompted it to curl up and loosen its hold.  My husband quickly called “dibs” on the dejected leech carcass as it fell to the ground (with no one putting in a competing bid), as he put it to good use as fish bait.

Fishing on Ham Lake, off the Gunflint Trail, Minnesota

Thankfully, not all camp visitors were so dreadful.  While we did not intentionally feed the chipmunk pair that quickly made their presence known, they were always lurking and quick to take advantage of any untended crumb.

Chipmunk visitor at the campsite

Frankly, these little striped culprits are often more a threat to your food pack than the bears!

Chipmunk in the BWCA

The last night remained gray and cool, but the rain held off to provide some quiet reading and reflection time.

Ham Lake off the Gunflint Trail, Minnesota

We almost had a hint of a sunset through the clouds.  A solitary duck swam across the lake, as if set to a metronome . . . quack . . . quack . . . quack . . . and our last night of being unplugged and off-the-grid drew to a close.

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Ciao! ~ Kat

Other posts in this series:

Coming soon, the final post in the series:  Heading Home

Unplugged and Off-the-Grid ~ Exploring by Canoe (Part 4)

The weather was gray and wet, and often windier than one would like for taking the canoe out for a relaxing exploratory paddle of the surrounding lakes.  And there is something to be said for just enjoying the beautiful spot where you’ve set up camp, and kicking back with that good book or fishing rod in hand.

We did set out one day to explore the nooks and crannies of Long Island Lake.

Long Island Lake map

The boys set off on their own, map and compass in hand.  I thought about the fact that as parents we are so used to having that electronic tether to our children now — the cell phone that provides the ability to send off a quick text to say, “I made it safely” or “We decided to head to the beach and then I’ll be home.”  While it provides much comfort when children begin their solo outings and begin traveling farther afield, it is so important as a parent to have the ability to let your child spread their wings without that leash attached.



My husband and I headed out on the lake later in the day, and had a bit more luck with fishing, landing a northern pike.

Fishing on Long Island Lake, BWCA

Northerns can be tricky to filet and quite bony to eat, so we ultimately decided to throw him back and let him swim to see another day (particularly since the hoped-for shore lunch fish fry was going to be a bit sparse with only one fish to share among the four of us).

Fishing on Long Island Lake, BWCA

We spotted a canoe or two in the distance, and paddled by an occupied campsite, but otherwise had the lake to ourselves.  That is the magic of the Boundary Waters.

Shoreline of Long Island Lake, BWCA

In northern Minnesota, we are fortunate to see American bald eagles on a routine basis. I always feel a sense of awe when I see one perched in a tree, sitting in its enormous nest, or soaring above in the open sky, no matter how often I see this majestic bird.  

A pair of eagles must have been nesting nearby, as the boys saw the two of them perched in this dead tree along the shore, but by the time we paddled close to it, only one remained. Frequently during our stay on Long Island Lake we would see one or both of the eagles perched in one of the burned out trees from a fire several years ago, or flying low over the lake looking for their next meal.

With weather uncertain, we turned back for “home”, paddling at a leisurely pace.  We had the evening ahead, watching the loons and the eagles, enjoying the solitude.   

Long Island Lake island campsite, BWCA

Ciao! ~ Kat

Other posts in this series:

Coming soon:  Part 5, The Call of the Loons

Unplugged and Off-the-Grid ~ Our Island Home (Part 3)

We finished our seventh portage of the day, and finally found ourselves in Long Island Lake, with the goal of setting up camp on the island closest to the portage.  A pair of loons greeted us as we began paddling toward the island.  My sons lifted their paddles and just floated along for a short while, until the loons swam past their canoe.

Loons on Long Island Lake, BWCA

Drawing closer to the island, we could not yet see the entry to the campsite, but could smell a burning campfire.  We made our way around the backside of the island, and sure enough, another group already had beat us to this lovely site.  Fortunately, Long Island Lake has numerous options, so we pulled out our maps, and decided to make our way to another island site.  The campsites are first-come, first-serve, and on popular lakes you do not want to leave campsite selection until late in the day, as you may need time to paddle or portage elsewhere to find an open site.

The second island campsite was open, so we unloaded our gear and settled in for the next two nights.

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The campsite was open enough to provide a cross-breeze which helped keep the mosquitoes at bay, yet provided shelter for our tents and campfire.

Long Island Lake island campsite in the BWCA

The island was not overly large, but a couple of paths led to the opposite side of the island and some interesting rock outcroppings on one side.  And, of course, there was the necessary trail to the latrine!

The path to the latrine

Each designated Boundary Waters (BWCA) campsite has a latrine located far from the lake, consistent with the BWCA’s rules regarding toilet facilities and water quality.  Bring your can of bug spray with you!  The latrine is usually in a wooded spot where the mosquitoes love to congregate — and you are revealing some usually protected parts not typically slathered in insect repellent!

Our island campsite latrine.
Our island campsite latrine.

The sloping rock from the campsite to the water’s edge was a perfect spot for fishing . . .

Fishing from our campsite on Long Island Lake, BWCA

. . . . or getting lost in a good book.

Long Island Lake, BWCA campsite

Perhaps once a day we would see another canoe paddle by in the distance, but otherwise we enjoyed a feeling of solitude on our little island home.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Other posts in this series:

Coming soon:  Part 4, Exploring By Canoe