It was a dark and stormy night. Black clouds hung ominously in the sky. The wind howled like a pack of wolves moving in for the kill. Thunder rumbled through the night in great rolling waves. A great flash of lightning split the sky in twain… and my flight was delayed another hour. It was 10 o’clock and I had been stuck in the damn airport for seven freakin’ hours waiting to board my plane. My stomach was sick from Twizzlers and Skittles, I forgot to pack deodorant and I felt absolutely gross, and I had already listened to my in flight playlist twice, thus rendering it useless. I thought to myself, “They should use the airport to interrogate terrorists. Heck, I’d tell you anything to get out of here. How on earth can a lake and some trees be worth this torment?”
To be honest I had no clue how “worth it” the Boundary waters would be. No idea how this wilderness I had committed to exploring and defending would make the stress of studying for the ACT, applying for college, a break up, the torment of the airport, and the death of Shireen Baratheon all melt away – but I would soon learn that it could.
My journey began as all great journeys do, with Joseph. He’s my best friend, though more akin to a brother. And though I am older in age than he, he has taken the mature route of life in which work and order are paramount. Conversely, I have taken the route of life through which the annoying of, the amusing of, and creating of general chaos around said mature person is paramount.
Needless to say, we make a great couple.
Ely Outfitting Company was our first stop. Joseph began compiling an assortment of gear to bring on our trip, each piece complimented by its own joke, complaint, or snide remark from yours truly.
Joseph: Here, take your paddle.
Tommy: My paddle is longer, that means I can fend off a bigger bear than you!
Joseph: Here, take your fishing pole.
Tommy: My fishing pole is longer, that means that I can catch a bigger bear than you!
Joseph: Here, take your life preserver.
Tommy: Excellent! Mine is red, that means I’ll be easier to see in the event of an angry bear and I’ll get saved first!
Joseph: Or it means the bear will kill you first and I’ll have at least 10 seconds of a peaceful vacation before I die.
Ah, the times we shared.
So, after a pleasant drive to the launch point, we packed up the canoe, and set sail – (wait, would it be set paddle? Do you canoe folks say that? I don’t know how you would word that for a canoe. I mean, speed boat people don’t say “we set propellor” do they? Is there a propulsion neutral term for the beginning of a nautical journey? Like shove off? YEAH! Shove off! That’s the one!) – *Ahem* We “shoved off” and began our journey, across Burntside, towards Crab Lake. And a great journey it was. The water was cool, the trees were spectacular, and those boat garage things really piqued my interest, I mean, a parking garage for a boat! Neat!
It was around this time that an amused Joseph took the liberty to explain that we were not yet in the Boundary Waters, merely on the edge. Hence, the garages. I was taken aback by this, for, if the Not-Quite-Boundary-Waters were this nice, How special must the For-Real-Boundary-Waters be? I would have to wait for my answer. Still on we paddled, and my singing kept us entertained, for my voice is tender and soft, as if silk could sing.
IMPORTANT NOTE – So for everybody who launches near Crab Lake, there’s a small island and an even smaller rock about halfway between the launch and the portage. The island is named Tommaso Island and the rock Tommaso Rock. Don’t you forget it.
Needless to say paddling is boring, and I took interest in everything around us to keep me occupied. Joseph knew all the bird calls, so I took great pleasure in pestering him every time a squak could be heard — he claims it was the same bird, over and over again but I’m certain each cry was unique. It was about this time that I began to be thankful that Joseph’s paddle was too short to reach me.
We finally came upon the portage. “How hard can this be?” I thought. Yeah. I’ll bet that’s what Frodo was thinking when Elrond told him he needed to take the Ring to Mount Doom. I mean, the pack was like 100 lbs, and I had a canoe on my head, and the farther I walked the more I suspected this was all part of an insane plot Joseph had concocted to return years of abuse I had heaped upon him.
“Go on without me!” I said
“Suck it up,” said Joseph.
And so, through the winding, rocky, muddy, buggy, humid portage I trudged, with each turn hoping against hope that the trail would end and I could put the canoe down. Yes, Mr. Frodo carried a heavy burden, but Mr. Tommaso carried a frickin’ canoe. At least Frodo got to have Sam carry the Ring for a while. My honor (read: Joseph) would not permit me to set the canoe down as the minutes turned to hours, hours turned to days, and although the map said 1 mile, and although my watch said 15 minutes, truly we trudged for an eternity.
At last, we broke for lunch. Pitas, hummus, and cheese.
“We must be close.” I said close to exhaustion.
“We’re about halfway there.” Said Joseph.
“Well, I guess it can’t be worse than the wet rocks.” I said
Spoiler – It got worse.
The misshapen rocks and winding trail had transformed into a muddy swamp. Onward we trudged, through the marsh, towards Crab Lake and the For-Real-Boundary-Waters. “How?” I asked myself “How can a lake and some trees be worth this misery?”
We turned a corner and there was light at the end of the trail. Slowly we approached the finish. 100 feet, 75 feet, 50 feet, 25 feet, 10 feet, and we were there.
And it was perfect.
Though I am a athlete, you may have already surmised that I am not a great outdoorsman, I struggle often to see the beauty in nature, and to me most wildlife is frightening. I slip on wet rocks, I’d never caught a fish, I hate bugs, and I am, per Joseph, a terrible paddler.
Yet here, here was a lake, and some trees, that were worth it. Here was a place that was worth all the misery a man could endure.
Here was a place that was perfect.
“You have to go back and get the other pack!”
To be continued…