This has been my first week back in civilization after my Boundary Waters trip. Many of you that know me were aware of this long anticipated outing. I have been up near Ely, MN quite a few times, but this was my first trip that was away from modern conveniences for any length of time.
Most of us have camped at some point. We all know of the little irritations that are associated with camping: shower houses, keeping coolers full of ice, being without air conditioning, the list goes on-and-on. Now try camping without the before mentioned items.
Experienced Boundary Waters folks refer to this as primitive camping. What makes it primitive? First off, you are not running to the store in your car if you forgot something. There is no store. You also need to pack extremely light. Everything that you think you might need has to be carried in on your back across water and portages.
At first, that doesn’t seem so bad. I’ll tell you though; it is really hard to cut down what you would take on a normal camping trip. Just as an example, you usually wear one set of clothes in and pack one more. That’s it.
It is also quite a task to figure out and pack the food container. Remember, there is no way to keep anything cool. Most of what we had was freeze-dried meals that just needed water added to them. That brings up another interesting subject-water.
It is impossible to pack in enough drinking and cooking water. You must use the water from the pristine lakes. Some folks will drink the water without any filtration or boiling, but we didn’t. We spent a fair amount of time each day retrieving water from the center of the lakes and boiling it to kill any microorganisms.
I had heard other experienced primitive campers from the Boundary Waters tell me how much they craved a cold drink while out there. I heard them but I didn’t really understand what they meant until I tried it myself. They are right!
Four days in a row the three of us adventurers sipped from plastic water bottles that held warm, if not sometimes hot, water. As unappealing as that sounds, believe me, it was still refreshing. I did however relish the ice cubes at the first restaurant when we returned.
The most troublesome part of primitive camping definitely came from bugs and the lack of any easy ability to clean off. The constant rains in the area created the perfect breeding grounds for trillions of mosquitoes. Most of those trillion landed on me and drilled me at some point in time. In the early mornings before we hit the water, my arms were almost black with these little pesks.
Between the constant applications of bug spray and sunscreen it appeared as though I had been coated in varnish.
This heavy, sticky, sheen was responsible for also attracting dirt and making it nearly impossible to wash off while in the woods. I tried, I smelled, and I just got used to it.
After a long day of catching hordes of fish, battling bugs, drinking hot water and trying to not ruin our meals over a campfire it was refreshing to lay down on solid rock and try to sleep.
As the trip progressed, it became more apparent that my dreams of getting the entire family out here for a few days might be just that. I’m sure that my boys would jump at the opportunity, but I doubt my wife would have this primitive camping stuff on her bucket list no matter how deep into it I dug.
I tried to explain to her when I got back how cool it was to watch the mosquito larva curl up and perish as we boiled our drinking water. I guess those weren’t the right words because she made a face and left. Oh well, I tried.
One would think that by reading this account that I am complaining about the primitive camping conditions. In fact, the opposite is true. After this trip I have a better understanding of what life might have been for those first fur trappers, frontiersmen, pioneers and explorers. It helps me to understand what Lewis and Clark meant when they said in their journals that the, “mosquitoes and ticks were intolerable.” It was awesome!
To be away from it all and see the sun rise and set as it might have a thousand years ago is breathtaking. No cars, no traffic, no cell phones, no noise from humans, no giant wind turbines tampering with the natural skyline; it is truly one of the few places where time stands still and the days melt into oblivion.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a national treasure that everyone needs to experience at least once in his or her lifetime. I am already dreaming about the next trip.