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 ~ The Call of the Loons (Part 5)

Ahhhh, the call of the loons.  It is a sound that goes hand-in-hand with time spent on the lakes in Minnesota.

Loons on Long Island Lake ~ Boundary Waters, Minnesota

Across the small bay from our island campsite on Long Island Lake, a pair of loons were nesting in the tall grass between the rocks.  They did not wander far, and were never gone for long.  We assumed the nest contained an egg or two.  While we were respectful enough to give the loons their space, and observe them from afar, other residents on the lake were not as considerate.

Loons staying close to nesting grounds ~ Boundary Waters, Minnesota

On the fire-burned island behind the loons’ home, an eagle or raven frequently would perch on a desolate branch, keeping a close eye on the nest below.  The loons would nervously call out as the unwanted visitor hovered and lurked.  Then, with little warning, the raven or eagle would swoop toward the nest and one or both of the loons would make a ruckus, flapping furiously and going after the intruder.  We watched the loons tirelessly and vigorously defend their home and future offspring from repeated attacks.

One cannot not help but admire this handsome bird.

Loon on Long Island Lake, Boundary Waters, Minnesota

When the loons felt safe, we would observe them swimming by as they fished for their next meal, diving and popping up periodically at various locations in the surrounding waters.  And in the evening, as we lay in our sleeping bags drifting off to sleep, the loons called out with a distant response from the next lake over.  The long wailing calls, the more animated or alarmed expressions, and the soft murmurs between the dedicated parents-to-be, weaving into our dreams.

Loons on Long Island Lake, Boundary Waters, Minnesota

I will leave you with a brief example of the call of the loons, particularly for those who may never have had the privilege of sitting out on a summer evening listening to the haunting sounds float across a lake.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Other posts in this series:

Coming soon:  Part 6, A Change of Scenery

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.

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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: Gearing Up (Part 1)

Recently, I introduced you to (or for many of you, reacquainted you with) Minnesota’s cabin culture.  In northern Minnesota, I dare say that Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) trips are woven into the region’s culture just as strongly.

Amazingly, in over 20 years of living “up north” we had yet to make it into the BWCA for a family camping trip.  With our oldest son approaching his senior year of high school, we made the time this summer for a short introduction to the famed pristine beauty.  Because we have always tent-camped while traveling by car, we were not unfamiliar with camping, but we needed a little help equipping us with the gear that is needed for the BWCA “camping by canoe” experience.  Thankfully, there are plenty of folks who make it their business to outfit individuals and families for such trips.   

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Based on a friend’s recommendation, we worked with Hungry Jack Outfitters up the Gunflint Trail to outfit our family with both gear and food, and to suggest route options and entry points which met our needs and interests for the three nights we would be in the BWCA.   We made our reservations months in advance, due to the limited availability of permits allowing entry at each point on each date from May through September.

Image courtesy of Hungry Jack Outfitters, http://www.hjo.com

Upon our late afternoon arrival, we were greeted by owner Dave Seaton, who spent the next hour or so orienting us to our gear, and to the BWCA rules and regulations.  The remainder of our orientation (primarily addressing the canoe and paddles) would take place in the morning.  

Hungry Jack’s full outfitting package includes a night in their bunkhouse.  The furnishings are sparse, but comfortable, just a place to lay your head before hitting the water the next morning.  But, what a treat when you wake the next morning to a basket of muffins still warm from the oven delivered to your door!

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Hungry Jack Outfitters’ bunkhouse

Hungry Jack Outfitters is situated on the shores of pretty Hungry Jack Lake. The sunset through the trees, viewed from the bunkhouse walkway, set the tone for the days that followed — and ended up being the only sunset we fully enjoyed, due to the heavy cloud cover and rain that persisted for most of our trip.

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The view from the bunkhouse toward Hungry Jack Lake

Before we turned in early, we drove back to the Gunflint Trail to enjoy a classic pre-trip meal at the Trail Center Bar & Restaurant.

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Trail Center is the perfect spot for a cold beer with a hearty burger, in surroundings that are wonderfully relaxing and one-of-a-kind — a classic Northwoods establishment.

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WIth the assurance that we had just consumed enough calories to sustain us over our three nights in the wilderness, in the event we lost our food pack along the way, we unrolled our sleeping bags on the bunkhouse beds and rested up for our adventure.

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Sunset on Hungry Jack Lake

Ciao! ~ Kat

Coming soon:  Part 2, Getting Our Paddles Wet