Troop 21 - St Joseph, MO
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Troop 21 - St Joseph, MO

Posted on Thursday, September 1, 2016...

Boundary Waters Adventure with Crew 21

On Monday, August 1st Venture Crew 21 out of Wyatt Park Christian Church set out on their long awaited and eagerly anticipated canoeing trip to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota and Canada. The Crew of 14, consisting of 5 adults and 9 teens excitedly set out in the rented passenger van at 7:30 am. We were all packed in close proximity once we got all our gear in, but we made it work.  There was quiet, chatter, laughter and napping on the 12 hour drive. We arrived relatively on time in Ely(pronounced E-Lee) at our bunk house.  We all took a little time to decompress and scouted out the town and its offerings. Soon it was time for bed as we had to be at breakfast by 5 am.  After a hearty breakfast at a local cafe we got back to our outfitter.  We secured fishing licenses and got our personal floatation devices and paddles, as well as our bear boxes packed with our food and all our personal and group gear. Including the canoes we were pretty loaded down, even though we all were discerning with how much we packed.  In the Boundary Water area what you pack in you must pack out.  There are hefty fines if caught breaking the rules.  This is all in order to keep it pristine.  When you are there you very much appreciate that the rules are enforced, because there is no trace of those who have gone before and the land around is completely wild and unspoiled.

We loaded into the shuttle and were soon on our way.  The shuttle took us to a non-descript spot where before we knew it we were launched and on the water.  2 person per canoe, so a total of 7 canoes broken down into 2 groups is how we mostly traveled.  

The water was not as cold as any of us expected, but the beauty and stillness exceeded our expectations. Clean and clear water and blue skies and tree lined lakes were to be our view for the following days. Though we didn’t see a lot of animals we saw 4 bald eagles.  The most unique thing about the Boundary Waters area is that if you are still and listen you hear absolutely nothing. There’s only complete and utter silence.

We paddled for a good portion of the morning and afternoon.  By mid-afternoon it’s advised to start looking for and securing a campsite as there’s a finite amount of sites.  Once the area was scouted and 2 side by side campsites were secured we unloaded our gear and set up camp.

Each campsite was comprised of a fire pit, logs to sit on around the fire and an outside, in the open latrine. That’s it!  Very primitive!  We set up our tents, had some lunch and then took a swim over to the next campsite to visit. We gathered in the lake laughing and recounting the day’s events. Everyone was happy!  Soon after it was dinner time.  All of our meals, but for lunch and for the first night’s entree, were dehydrated.  Our only source of water for the entire time out on the water was the water.  We had to purify it every time. Some had pumps that purified it immediately and others had iodine tablets that required a 30 minute wait time.  When you are use to just going to get a drink out of the faucet, waiting 30 minutes when you want or need water seems like a long time. It was an adjustment. Surprisingly the filtered lake water wasn’t unpleasant to drink. It was brown from the tannins of the leaves, but tasted fine.

Our first night’s dinner was steak and dehydrated green beans and potatoes.  Using the fire we made and a one burner stove our dinner turned out great.  We ate every bite.  Some time in the hammock, around the campfire and taking in the views and it was time for the first night’s sleep. We were somewhat hurried into our tents to escape the biting flies and mosquitos.  

We all slept quite soundly, as other than an occasional loon the night was completely silent.   

Waking to a gorgeous lake view we all took a little time to take it all in. In the silence and with the dawn, there was a lovely mist and a picturesque fog that held right above the water. It was ideal. However, with camping there’s not a lot of down time. A fire had to be started immediately, water had to be drawn from the lake to purify and to make breakfast.  Getting into the bear boxes, which thankfully no bears got in, we pulled out our dehydrated omelet mixture as well as hashbrowns and were happy to see real bacon.  We fried the bacon to a perfect crisp over the fire and cooked the other ingredients combining it all in a tortilla for breakfast burritos.  It gave us the sustenance we needed for the coming day.  

We again split into two groups.  We canoed and portaged for the better part of the day until we again found 2 campsites within close proximity to one another.  Portaging was a big part of our trip.  To get from one body of water to another or to traverse rapids (which in total we traversed 7 rapids) you have to get all your gear out of your canoes and carry the canoe and gear down paths.   None of us could have been prepared for the portages and what they entailed, though a friend who had gone to Boundary Waters prior to our trip had mentioned it was like “mountain climbing.”  He did not exaggerate!   Each portaged was different. Some portages had all of the obstacles at once or throughout! Many were steep, rock filled, slippery, muddy up to your calves, had fallen trees obscuring the path, had boulders to get across, had steep drop offs or a mixture of all of the above! One of the several we had on this particular day was a mile long.  Remember these obstacles must be crossed with an almost 70 pound canoe on your neck and with all the gear. That particular portage was intense and took us a good amount of time as we had to make multiple trips.  We laugh about it now, as we feel empowered that we did it, but at the time it was none too fun or funny. Most of us fell at least once during our trip. To fall with a 70 pound canoe on your neck is not a nice experience.  At the end of the mile long portage we all took a little time to regroup and had some fresh fruit and lake water. Neither had ever tasted so good!    

Again, as we did the day before, we set up camps.  We had extra time and took a long swim in the lake.  Some fished for Walleye, Bass and Northern Pike. A couple of fish were caught and one was filleted and had for dinner.  Others decided to sleep, some even falling fast asleep on hard rock with feet at the water’s edge. Some took showers in the shower that was set up.  Another thing I personally enjoy about camping is the simple joys.  The shower, though nothing more than lake water coming out of a spigot, provided a mental boost. There’s something so satisfy about washing your hair outside! Dinner was made and enjoyed and talk of the day went into the night.

Several weeks prior to our trip a wicked storm with up to 70 mile an hour winds killed a Scout Master and Boy Scout and did major damage in the area in which we camped.  Cognizant of that tragedy we had our weather radio on. Some bad weather was forecasted.  One group was spared any thing other than a thunderstorm, but the other camp had to make a contingency plan and were awakened at 4 am with threatening weather. The leaders formulated a plan. Be Prepared, the Boy Scout Motto, was actively being lived.  Thankfully there weren’t any further issues as they continually monitored the situation and the dawn brought a brand new day with clearer weather.  We sat off for our 3rd day on the water.  We had no idea what was to come.

Day 3 started like the other 2 days, pleasant enough, though with knowledge that it would be somewhat physically demanding.  There were supposedly hieroglyphs on some of the rocks on a lake some distance further north that we decided would be worth the extra time and energy to go see.  We paddled and paddled and paddled. We arrived to what were 4 hieroglyphs!  Though interesting we were a bit disappointed that it was not what we had envisioned.  We regrouped.  We paddled and paddled and paddled back against the wind and across big water. The wind was so strong that if you didn’t continually paddle and paddle hard it would blow you back several strokes. We dug in and paddled hard against the wind. We owned it!  We broke for lunch and enjoyed yet another piece of fresh fruit.  Do not underestimate the importance of fresh fruit when your diet is mainly dehydrated foods. At one point on a particularly grueling portage we found wild raspberries at the side of the path. It was like striking gold! Not only were they a tasty treat, but they also provided a mental boost and joy of sharing!

From here things become a bit of a blur!  Let’s just say that many obstacles were to soon come our way.  At one point one person was paddling in reverse upstream, against the current on a river a third of the way. Then to come was traversing rapids which meant pulling our boats through them. There were multiple rapids which consisted of sharp rocks, water sometimes waist deep, or climbing the sides of the water dragging the boats through.  Each of these options are physically demanding.  At one point we were in what looked like a marsh at the Bayou where the moss on the bottom was so thick we got stuck in it and had to reverse out pushing and pulling with all our might.  There was the sun, the wind, choppy water and being against the current that all were also obstacles with which we had to contend.

With our first group out in front we finally came to where there would possibly be campsites for both groups. After already a full day of paddling and portaging we were all tired and ready to make camp. Our first choice of campsites were occupied.  As it would become painfully aware, so were many of the following campsites. We paddled on and on and on.  At this point it was about a 10 hour day already.  To make a long story short 10 hours extended to 12 hours. We decided though all tired and worn, to trudge ahead and portage again to yet another lake in hopes of finding appropriate campsites.  Our Scout Master bolstered our spirits by telling us that he was really heartened and impressed with all of us.  He, being a former Army Ranger, told us that what we’d gone through on this day was like a portion of a day at notoriously difficult and demanding Army Ranger school.  We all felt pretty empowered and proud!  We soldiered on.

More rapids, more obstacles and a lot more paddling and we finally saw a beacon of light across the lake signaling us.  We arrived so excited to finally be done for the day! By this time it was dark. We arrived to the beacons of light only to find that it was another group who joined to help us do one more portage.  13 hours in and our journey was not yet over!  The kindness of strangers who offered us water and light to navigate the dark rocky water(at one point some of us were crawling in the pitch black water) was so appreciated, but we were in such a hurry as the night was ever increasingly growing black that we didn’t have time to properly thank them.  We sat out on one last canoe ride on the lake, our only source of light was a few dim head lamps. At this point and well before, actually, something just kicked in and we went into overdrive. Though physically and mentally exhausted we paddled hard and were only focused on making camp.  On the water in the dark is a bit unnerving, but we held together with a lead and a follow up to make sure no man was left behind. Comfort and pride in that knowledge bonded us as we paddled the last of the the long way, at this point clocking in at a 14 ½ hour day. At last we saw lights waving us ashore!  It started to rain a little as we trudged up the rocky hill of the camp site, but no one cared much as our feet were on solid ground and we could at last lay our heads down.  We were safe and secure and able to decompress. Tents were randomly and quickly set up.   Some made dinner, some went directly into their tents not to be seen until a night of recovery was made. Some gathered on the banks before bed to look at the stars and were glad they did as it was spectacularly clear.  We were rewarded with celestial events above and the stars were so bright as there’s absolutely no light pollution. After all,  we were out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, in the true wild! All at last went to their tents and I’m sure we each drifted off to sleep recounting the day’s events of hard paddling and portaging, of navigating rivers and lakes, of fighting the current and the winds and of finding the inner reserve of strength, mental and physical endurance and learning the true definition of teamwork.

Breakfast and talk of having completed the wild and challenging day before gave renewed energy and a feeling of camaraderie.  When you go through days like the one we did before you become bonded. It just happens like that.  Especially when we were all in unanimous agreement of what was needed and all rose to the challenges and worked together to do what we had to do. Out in the wild you quickly realize No one else is going to do for you. You have to do for yourself.  

Without much issue we reached our final portage that ended in yet another non-descript parking lot.  A resounding sigh of relief and then pride emerged as we lifted our canoes one last time.  We were at once relieved it was over, but simultaneously sad.

Soon the shuttle was shuttling us back to the bunk house.  This time the bunk house could have been The Ritz as it was warm and dry and soft and safe from the elements, as well as having clean and purified water, indoor flushing toilets and hot showers!  We celebrated our success with a fine meal at a local establishment, then Dairy Queen and shopping.  Lights out came early as we had an early morning departure with a scheduled stop at Lake Superior before heading back to Missouri.  On the drive home a lot of time was spent napping and talking and laughing as we relived all the moments again and again.  

We all were happy with the trip, impressed with our own and everyone’s will and resolve.  Each person had their own challenges and each person found a way to deal with them.  As a group we all worked together and came together to make our time, even through the challenges, even in spite of the challenges, an experience none of us will ever forget. In total Venture Crew 21 paddled and portaged an impressive total of 50.77 miles in 3 ½ days!  
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