Trip Reports

Interview With a Solo Canoeist: Part Two

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During a 9 day, 200-mile solo canoe trip, solo canoeist, Bryan Hansel, interviewed himself. His mid-September trip started in Voyager National park and ended on Lake Superior. Since Bryan didn’t get enough out of himself, he decided to interview himself again. Here is the follow up interview.

The Interview

Panoramic picture of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Panoramic picture of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

BH: Bryan, now that you’ve finished your trip do you mind a follow up interview?

ME: Not at all.

BH: So, first question, did you find any trade beads?

ME: No, but I found a lot of trash that I picked up and carried out. I also found a house key.

BH: Why didn’t you leave the key? Maybe they’d come back for it?

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ME: Ya, and it still could be there next year.

BH: Well, you could do this trip again next year and pick it up then.

ME: Wouldn’t that be a bit redundant. Can’t we move on to another question? It’s always seems like people are trying to take home a piece of the experience – or find a jewel – instead of enjoying life on the trip.

BH: Seems like you’re suggesting that while on a trip people are thinking about remembering the trip in the future.

ME: Instead of enjoying the now.

BH: So, you enjoy the now on your trips?

ME: I try to. It’s actually pretty hard to live in the present now all the time, but trips take me out of my reality, so living in the present without looking towards the future or back to the past becomes easier.

BH: Is that easier to do solo?

ME: I don’t think so. You have lots of time to think while soloing. Often though I count the paddle strokes in my head and that stops thought other than what number of stroke I’m on.

What Kind of Wildlife Does a Solo Canoeist See?

Wolf in the Boundary Waters on the Granite River
Wolf in the Boundary Waters on the Granite River

BH: Hmmmm… Ya, that sounds real exciting. See any wildlife since we last spoke?

Me: Oh ya, beavers, river otters, a swimming wolf, a wolf pack of four, loons, ducks, a long tailed weasel, a deer, bald eagles, and my favorite sighting was that of a wolverine.

BH: A wolverine. Pretty far south.

ME: Looked like a little bear with big paws. Very cool.

BH: Worst experience?

ME: Not sure. Maybe the day of non-stop rain. Soaked me through to the bone. I mean everything was wet – the same day I got stuck in a swamp, crossed a very bade mile long portage with so many blow downs in it, it took two hours, and then running rapids in the almost dark until I found a campsite just big enough for my canoe, tarp and me. Still, that day was pretty fun.

BH: Stuck in a swamp?

ME: Low calories, not enough water, too much rain on the brain, and I made a bad decision, but made my way across the swamp. It ended by pulling my canoe across a floating bog. Each step and the surface would ripple like a waterbed.

BH: Good place to sleep.

ME: If you like the smell.

BH: Ha. That’s a good one.

ME: That swamp had plenty of wild rice. You could probably get 200 to 300 pounds out of it.

BH: Huge.

ME: I know. I waded, pulled, paddled, and walked across it.

What’s A Solo Canoeists Best Experience?

Solo canoeist Bryan Hansel on monument portage
Solo canoeist Bryan Hansel on monument portage

BH: Best experience?

ME: All of it. Even the last 8 and 1/2 mile portage to Lake Superior. I do have to say that putting my feet in the cold water of Lake Superior was pretty satisfying.

BH: Would you do it again?

ME: Why do you keep on asking that?

BH: Okay, then, see any pictographs?

ME: Two sets. One with lots of hand prints and a moose drawing and the other just as cool. There was some sort of dragon creature with a tail swung over its head.

BH: Favorite Lakes?

ME: By far the day spent on Knife Lake from the start until I hit the Sag. The lake is like a knife cut across the Boundary Waters with large cliffs or bluffs along each side. The water was so clear you wouldn’t believe it didn’t come from the tap. So nice that at lunch I stopped on a rock in the middle of the lake and ate then took a skinny dip. So refreshing.

BH: Least favorite lakes?

ME: It’s too bad they allow motorized traffic on some of the big lakes – I say just paddle it.

BH: Doesn’t it allow people to get further in by taking a powerboat shuttle?

ME: Sure, but why not just take a few more days off of work?

BH: Limited vacation days.

ME: There’s any easy way to fix that.

What Can a Solo Trip Teach

A pictograph of a moose in the Boundary Waters
A pictograph of a moose in the Boundary Waters

BH: Learn anything?

ME: Do not try to paddle a swamp.

BH: No, really?

ME: Really.

BH: Anything else?

ME: NOLS food rationing system works, is easy, and doesn’t require a huge amount of preplanning. You can plan on their system in about six hours of work for twelve days.

BH: Twelve day, but it didn’t take you that long.

ME: No, I went much quicker and finished in 9.

BH: Pretty good clip if you include the portages. Do you know how many miles you portaged?

ME: Probably not more than 20 miles total.

BH: That’s very few portages for the total distance. Over 250 miles?

ME: Close, but I haven’t figured exact mileage yet. Remember that I double portaged many of the portages, because two pack balance a solo canoe much better than just one. So double portages mean triple miles.

BH: Phew. Lots of walking.

A solo canoe heading into the sunrise in the Boundary Waters
A solo canoe heading into the sunrise in the Boundary Waters

ME: Actually a relief from the leg cramping all day paddling. I started to look forward to the hiking.

BH: Look forward. Any changes in looking forward come from this trip?

ME: You mean did the trip change my life?

BH: Yes.

ME: No.

BH: Oh.

ME: I did feel slightly different. Maybe culture shock for the evening I got home. Still adjusting slightly. I haven’t felt this way since hiking the AT.

BH: How did the food taste after you got out of the woods?

ME: I never thought a convenience store hamburger could taste so good. I had one at the Grand Portage Convenience store while waiting for my ride home. I hiked there from the fort.

Solo Tripping Can Make You Dream Big

Solo canoeist Bryan Hansel towards the end of his 9 day trip across the Boundary Waters
Solo canoeist Bryan Hansel towards the end of his 9 day trip across the Boundary Waters

BH: So, what’s your next big trip?

ME: I’m not sure. Don’t have one on the radar screen. Maybe the PCT or bike across the U.S.

BH: Wow. Big plans.

ME: No, just ideas and misty dreams. Like watching the Northern Lights unfold. Nothing concrete until the sun rises.

BH: It’s good to dream.

ME: Without it, our lives would be so dull and we’d never get anywhere. It’s just determining which dream to follow that is the hard part of life.

BH: That’s the trick, huh?

ME: But, of course, as Lewis Carol wrote, “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.”

BH: Or enjoy the now.

ME: And now I’m going to sleep. Good luck publishing this dribble.

BH: I don’t need luck, I have my own website.

ME: Good one.

BH: One last question, if I may.

ME: Sure.

BH: So, once you’re on the road what happens?

ME: You follow it to its conclusion and then it ends, and you dream again.

BH: Dream again.

ME: Good night.

BH: Good night.

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