Trip Reports

Up a Lazy River: A solo canoe trip in the Boundary Waters



“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

—Henry D. Thoreau


It’s just getting light and drops of dew drop randomly from oak leaf to oak leaf on the trees around my house. This is the main sound; a faint mist muffles distant dog barking. The tree frogs who were also barking early in the night have fallen silent. This is the day (May 11) I have been working for since mid-February when I decided to go on this trip. Soon I begin the long drive to the Little Indian Sioux River put-in on the Echo Trail (entry point 9) from Sewanee, Tennessee. In a few minutes the preparation of jogging, weight lifting, paddling and hiking with a heavy pack will be behind me and the real journey will be under way.

I set my GPS on the hood of my van while I eat granola and sip coffee and have a last minute conversation with my wife. I want her to at least attempt to notify me if something happens to either of our elderly mothers. She wants me to be careful and call often on the trip up. Breakfast is over; the GPS has queried the satellites for its position. Before I kiss J. goodbye I hit the “goto” button and select “LISR.” Last night I entered the position of the put-in using Delorme Topo USA. The GPS reports an as-the-raven-flies distance of 943 miles and a bearing of 345°. A kiss; I’m in the van and out of the driveway at 5:00 a.m.heading south. How many more miles than 943 will I drive before I start paddling?

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Driving north and northwest through Kentucky and Illinois and on into Wisconsin is traveling back in time. The corn shrinks. In Tennessee it is about a foot high; but it is only two or three inches in northern Illinois. Wisconsin farmers are preparing to plant. The leaves on the trees shrink and become a paler green. I go from fully leafed out trees to the early blooms of fruit trees. I quickly pass over the Cumberland, Tennessee and Ohio rivers. All are dammed, engineered so that no obstacles surprise the mighty barges. I’m heading for smaller rivers and I want surprises.

Fourteen hours later I’m in Chippewa Falls, WI, in a small motel. I ask the man at the desk about a picture of two boys leaning on a structure that only small boys would build. “That’s me and my brother when I was about ten. My mother gave me that when I turned fifty.” In the intervening 40+ years, I learn, he and his brother have built and operated this motel, restaurant and campground. I reflect on knowing your life’s work from an early age; I didn’t. But then I loved camping and canoeing when I was around ten and here I am.

Here’s another advantage of the short Hornbeck canoe–it fits in my van (a full size Ford Econoline). At motels I just lock the doors. No worries about theft and on the road no concerns about loose straps. My long paddle also easily fits inside. The bow comes up between the two front seats; I rest the road map on it and glance at the compass now and then.

In the days leading up to this trip I have been checking web sites: long-range weather reports–how cold will it be? and how high is the water? Will the LISR’s current make going upstream difficult? The water levels are high; on Basswood Lake they are breaking 72 year old records. So, when I arrive in Ely six hours after leaving Chippewa Falls via routes 61 and 2, I drive the 30 miles to the put-in on the LISR. I quickly see that, although the water is higher than when I did part of this route in 1999, it is doable. I head back to Ely and in the process see seven deer, a moose and a fisher. When I pick up my permit at the International Wolf Center, I learn two things: 1) the artic wolf pups are fully grown from last August and 2) my idea of camping up the LISR before the BWCA boundary won’t work because the land along the river is not in the Superior National Forest as I thought. It’s privately owned and if I camped there I would be trespassing.

I get some last minute things in Ely which is very calm. There are plenty of parking places and the shops are mostly empty. In the Piragis bookroom (now upstairs) Steve Pargis introduces himself. It’s a good feeling–most people seem to know each other and, if they don’t, want to find out who you are. I joke with Steve that I’m having two springs this year. I buy the book Three Years in a Twelve-Foot Boat to read on the trip (six days in a 10-foot canoe?).

The campsites at the Lake Jeanette Campground back up the Echo Trial are too close together for my taste so I end up staying in the Fenske Lake Campground which is basically deserted. It’s ironic to stay here. Last August my wife and I rented one of the cabins across the lake for several hundred dollars a week. This night I’m paying only $10 for the night; but no sauna!

Echo Trail to Bootleg Lake – Day One

Side view of Sioux Falls which are bigger than they appear here.  Note foam that fills a pool to the left.
Side view of Sioux Falls which are bigger than they appear here. Note foam that fills a pool to the left.

As I drive to the LISR bridge, vestiges of civilization drop away. Before I got to Fenske Lake Campground telephone poles had stopped following the road. After a few miles, the pavement ends and I continue on a gravel road, which is actually smoother than the pavement. After an hour drive, I park in the little parking lot at the bridge–no other cars. This probably means that I will have Bootleg Lake to myself. Only one group every other day can enter here. It’s possible, but unlikely, that many people will come to Bootleg from either Cummings Lake or Little Trout Lake via the LISR.

I unload my van deliberately; I don’t want to forget anything. All my camping gear and food goes in my dry pack. I have moved the seat and thwart of the Hornbeck forward a few inches to trim the canoe with 52 pounds of gear behind me. The spray skirt is designed with two strips of Velcro so that it can either cover a pack or be kept tight over the empty stern area of the canoe. I close it up using the forward strip. I present a low profile to the wind since I sit on the foam seat in the bottom of the canoe; the spray skirt improves this even more.

The word “perfect” keeps coming into my mind as I begin to paddle upstream. The sky is a bright blue with no clouds. The morning light brightens the spring colors in the leaves. There is no wind. The current is hardly noticeable. I am alone on the river.

Soon I cross the boundary of the BWCA and a light wind from the southeast begins to build. I suspect it will go become stronger and remain in my face all day. I also suspect it will become northerly for my return paddle. I fire up my GPS and am glad to see that the combination of wind and current is not slowing me very much. With my average steady stroke I am doing around 4 mph. I have put in the coordinates of the portage trail to Bootleg Lake using Delorme’s Topo USA. I query the satellites to see how far it is; the answer is meaningless because of all the meanders in the river.

Bootleg to Chad – Day Two

Here's my camp on Bootleg.  Doesn't it look perfect?  Trees just coming out, sunny, warm and, I've forgotten to mention, no bugs!  By the way, I haven't put the fly on my tent yet.
Here's my camp on Bootleg. Doesn't it look perfect? Trees just coming out, sunny, warm and, I've forgotten to mention, no bugs! By the way, I haven't put the fly on my tent yet.

I was vaguely aware of some wind and rain overnight. I awoke to gray skies and noted that the southeast wind was already building. I made Starbucks coffee in my press and sipped it looking out on the dark lake. I saw something making a wake in the middle of the lake and assumed it was a loon, but decided to look at it through my binoculars (Pentax 8 x 32 waterproof–new for this trip!) and was surprised to see that it was a deer. As I sipped coffee, I continued to watch the deer swim for the southern shore. It was impossible to say how long it had been swimming; but I watched it swim about half of the length of the lake–over half a mile. It emerged on the shore and disappeared into the woods. I looked carefully at the opposite shore to see if wolves were chasing it; but didn’t see anything.

I cooked oatmeal in my Whelen tarp which kept the wind away from my stove. I packed up and headed back to the portage to the LISR. There was one problem. I couldn’t find the portage right away. I guess it looked different under the overcast sky. An hour passed before I began to paddle up the river again–still with a steady wind in my face.

In July of 1999 I tried to paddle all the way to Little Trout Lake (LTL) in one day. I missed the portage and didn’t realize it until I got to the rapids further up the river. I had to stop there because the big storm of a few days before had totally blocked the portage with huge pine trees. I went back down the river and found the portage to LTL only to discover that it was totally blocked as well. Trees two feet in diameter were piled on each other to a height well over my head. So I paddeled back up the river and camped in an unofficial spot. I was totally exhausted.

This time I have more energy. I paddle for 1:30 to the LTL portage. In spite of using the GPS I almost miss the portage. The remains of an old dock are the only clue. The coordinates I used are incorrect for some reason. But the trail appears clear and I load up for the longest portage of my route 376 rd., over a mile.

I slog through the marshy beginning of the carry and when I reach solid ground see that incredible work had to be done to clear all the trees from the trail. Sometimes it feels like I’m walking through a narrow valley walled with cut pine logs. The forest on each side of the trail is essentially flattened–most full size trees are gone. New shoots of trees are coming up; but it is strange to see so much open land. With the new openness of the forest, roots of aspens that were toppled are sending up straight shoots. An incredible race is on to see which new trees can monoplize the sunlight and grow huge. The problem for canoeists is that the trails will have to be cleared constantly for years until shade slows the grow of these shoots. The other problem is that trees left standing by the storm have blown down over the winter since they were protected from the wind by the other trees. I quickly come to an aspen that completely blocks the trail and have to unload and saw some limbs to gain enough space to shove my pack under the tree. The canoe goes over the top. Then I have to “saddle up” again.

A couple of canoes were bobbing out in the lake; this was the second day of fishing season. I headed south toward the creek that emptied into Trout Lake. The wind had increased and I tried to dodge behind points of land to escape it. But mostly I just paddled into it. I rounded one point and thought I smelled cigar smoke. There was a group of two aluminum canoes fishing and smoking. I chatted and passed them and headed into the creek. Very quickly I was in Trout Lake, a lake where motors are allowed. A campsite showed the difference from where I spent the night. Large v-hulled aluminum boats were pulled up a large campsite with large dome tents. Here you can bring almost everything. You are limited not by what you can carry but by what can fit in your boat.

The McKenzie map showed several houses (cottages?) near the mouth of Pine Creek. It also showed a trail in black along the rapids. When I arrived there, there were no houses and the trail was a well-used portage. I saw several fish skeletons on the trail and when I came to the head of the rapids, about ten bald eagles flew away from several trees. As I proceeded upstream, more eagles swooped out of trees. Many of them started to soar overhead and for about thirty minutes I had several eagles in sight.

I really enjoyed Pine Creek–the most wildlife I’d seen anywhere. (I haven’t mentioned a deer, various ducks and mergansers and a total of at least 20 eagles). About 1:30 after I entered LTL, I loaded up and started to ascend the tough, steep 260 rd. portage to Chad Lake. Nothing blocked the way but it was hard with a steep descent at the end. I paddled due east to the campsite near the Buck Lake portage. I stayed in the lee of the southern shore and arrived at the campsite 6 Ľ hours after I left Bootleg. I had covered about 13 miles. This is a very nice campsite: grassy tent site, rocky cooking area and plenty of firewood from several dead pines and spruce. It was too cloudy to enjoy the sunset from this west-facing place.

Equipment List

Hornbeck Canoe with canoe cover
Hornbeck Canoe with canoe cover

Paddling Gear

  • Hornbeck Canoe: At 10.5′ and 17 pounds it is easy to portage and a breeze to maneuver on the small winding rivers on this trip. A Cooke’s spray cover increases speed and aids in paddling in high wind and waves–see account of crossing Cummings Lake.
  • Paddle: At the last minute I discovered my Hornbeck paddle, a hexagonal wooden shaft with Kevlar blade, had developed some rot under the Kevlar. I purchased an 8.5′ Grey Owl double bladed Tempest with 24 laminations of various woods. This is longer than the recommended length but I was very happy with it–less drips and plenty of reach in shallow places.
  • Yoke: My portage yoke is built so instead of being straight across it raises the canoe about 6″ above my shoulders. The downside of the spray skirt is that portaging with the usual yoke is like putting your head in a bucket. The skirt can also press on your back making it difficult to tip the canoe up to see where you are going.
  • Miscellaneous: Compass mounted on front thwart, Seal-Line map case (never a leak) tied to the spray skirt, and a Garmin GPS 38 complete the canoe set up.

Camping Gear

  • Wal-Mart Compresson Bag containing: LL Bean down 20° sleeping bag, extra clothes (wool socks, underwear, wool shirt, fleece–vest, jacket and
    pants, knit hat, light weight long underwear, sneakers), Pack Towl and Therm-a-Rest pillow.
  • Cooking bag: Peak 1 stove, extra fuel bottle, pot grabber, waterproof matches, scrubber, 2 nesting pots with lids, plastic cup and plastic coffee press, spoon and fork, PVC collapsible bucket, Pur Pioneer water filter (1 extra filter).
  • Miscellaneous: 2 x 25′ parachute cord bear rope, saw, Pelican VersaBrite flashlight, duct tape, book (3 Years in a 12 Foot Boat), notebook, head net.
  • Tent: Eureka Timberline 2 person.
  • Pad: Therm-a-Rest Ultralight 3/4.
  • Pack: Cabela’s “Vision” Dry Bag with hip belt (large).
  • Belly Bag: bug dope, sunblock lotion, compass, matches, camera, chap stick, Gerber multi-tool. Toilet kit.
  • Raincoat–Mountain Hardware polyurethane coated w/ zip pits & mesh pockets–& pants.
  • What I Wore: REI zip off nylon pants, Columbia nylon shirt, wool socks, Timberline insulated 10″ boots, 17″ Tingley overboots, 50/50 t-shirt, OR “Seattle Sombrero” Gore-tex hat, neoprene paddling gloves.


  • Breakfast: oatmeal and granola.
  • Lunch: Ry-Vita w/ Cheese or Peanut butter.
  • Supper: Dehydrated dishes from homebeans and rice the best.

Very Important: What does it all weigh?

  • Weight–(in pounds)
    • 17–canoe
    • 2–paddle
    • 2–spray cover
    • 5–yoke
    • 52–loaded pack (incl. Food)
  • 78 pounds total.

Chad to Glenmore – Day Three

I was so tired last night that I can’t remember now what I ate for supper. It was hard to get moving this morning there was a deep gray overcast. I ate oatmeal and coffee after a pretty good sleep. As I began to take down the tent, I noticed there were suddenly black flies and mosquitoes. There had been none the evening before and, in fact, the earlier days of the trip.

The campsite on Buck L. was occupied and I was glad that I had stopped on Chad. I would not have enjoyed Western L.; it was mostly ringed with dead spruce. I got a feeling that there was something unhealthy going on there and I was happy (for once!) to get to the portage trail to Glenmore. I wasn’t happy long. This was a terrible portage. It was only 80 rd. but had several blow downs of spruce. Optimistically I had put my folding saw in my pack and had to unload and get it out of my pack. I cut several branches that allowed me to pull my pack and canoe under the trees. I looked around for my hat and couldn’t find it. I needed that hat and so I started to walk back to look for it. Back at Western L. there was no sign of it. When I got back to the canoe, I started to close up the pack and saw that it had somehow fallen in there when I got my saw out. I resolved to carry my saw in my belly bag at all times. The 80 rd. portage that should have taken less than 8 minutes had taken 1 Ľ hours. I also saw that the huge white pine mentioned in Bob Beymer’s book had blown down; its size is maybe more impressive in cross section. It had been cut to clear the trail. I should have counted the rings.

The sun was now out and two mature bald eagles flew as I entered Glenmore L. I paddled down the narrow lake toward the portage. It is a pretty lake surrounded with hills with mixed pines and birch. A lot of work had gone into the entrance to the portage. A U-shaped channel had been dug over a shallow bar and a little “bay” allowed me to step onto land from the side of my canoe. I loaded up and marveled at the number of large birches that beaver had felled. But I became confused about where the trail went. I unloaded (a bad sign) and started following different paths. They all faded out shortly. I saw a line of orange surveying tape tied to several small bushes. It led to a large blow down. It was impossible to get a canoe and pack through.

All of this was exhausting. I decided to camp here and make a plan for tomorrow. One option: go back to Buck L., go through the same blow downs and then do a 480 rd. (1.5 mi.) portage to Cummings L. Wouldn’t that be fun? The Glenmore camp was on a large granite outcropping about 20 feet above the water. The latrine was even higher and had a great view of the lake.

I rested and then decided to look at the portage again. Beymer’s book said that it was a very good trail. A little farther down the lake was the trail. What I took for the trail was the work of beavers, although I don’t think they put up the tape. I scouted the trail and found it had no blow downs and was, indeed, wide and smooth. It has a great view of a bowl shaped swamp as it goes up the hill. I went back to camp and watched an eagle sitting in a big pine on the other side of the lake. The last entry in my journal, “I hear thunder.” Two thunderstorms came through with a good deal of rain. The bugs were now out and drove me into my tent at dusk to read.

Glenmore to Otter – Day Four

After the storms, it was great to awaken to a perfectly clear sky. A wisp of mist rose from the glassy lake. The moon was setting in the south while the sun rose slightly north of east. It had been warm last night; I slept in underwear under my unzipped bag and was hot.

I left confidently for the 210 rd. portage; I knew where it was and its condition. Thirty-five minutes I began to paddle northeast along the length of Schlamn L. There were fairly large patches of blow down from the 1999 storm on the hills above the lake.

The land between Schlamn and Lunetta is very boggy. The 100 rd. portage shown on the McKenzie map actually follows an old road bed on the other side of the creek. I missed the second 60 rd. portage and walked carefully out on the bog plants to reach Lunetta. I followed a trail made either by beavers or people. Walking on floating bog plants is like walking in snow. When you push off with your leg, the plants sink as much as you rise and much energy is wasted. I’d recommend being alert for the “real” portage trail. Breaking through the mat would not be good.

Two hours after I left I headed up Lunetta Creek toward Little Crab L. This is a beautiful lake surrounded with pine-covered hills. The campsite is large and in a grove of large pines. The exit to this lake marked a turn to the north and was the farthest east that I went. The Korb R. was an easy paddle. After an easy 70 rd. portage, I entered Cummings L. about 3 hours after I left Glenmore.

But when I rounded the large point and began to paddle west, I encountered a stiff WSW wind. There were good-sized waves and a few white caps. I tried to dodge behind points and islands; but it was slow going. The wind seemed to find me behind every point and in every little bay. These are the conditions that are hard for the Hornbeck. Its 10-˝ foot length makes it bob in waves of this size. A good deal of paddling energy is lost to vertical motion. A longer boat would ride of top of two or three and make faster progress. But I’m safe and dry under my spray skirt. I don’t bother to fasten it around my waist; but I do buckle and tighten my life vest. I push on because I want to camp at Otter L. which is the last campsite before the long descent of the LISR ending back on Bootleg. A short 5 rd. portage (not on the McKenzie) leads to Otter L., which is thankfully out of the wind.

Otter L. camp is very organized. Someone has lined the trail to the latrine with birch logs. The tent site is a thick mat of pine needles. There is also an interesting bog behind the campsite. Paths indicate it has been explored. I spend some time walking up and down a long piece of granite to get out of the bugs. They are here with a vengeance.

Otter to Bootleg – Day Five

I’m breakfasted, packed and paddling by 8:00 this morning. It’s clear and warm with a little mist on the lake. I leave early because I plan to return to Bootleg about 17 miles and 9 portages away. But the current will boost me today; the wind won’t bother me. The first half of my route will follow a narrow river winding among hills.

I suppose it is correct to say that the headwaters of the LISR are at the exit of Otter L. There are a series of 5 short portages and a rapids followed by a stretch of paddling, then another series of 3 portages and a rapids and finally the long portage to Bootleg.

The high point of the trip occurs just after I exit the first 120 rd. portage and round a bend in the little pond. I suddenly notice something gray moving on the right hand bank. A wolf! I lower my paddle and coast. My binoculars show a light gray wolf working its way through the brush at the edge of the river. I’m struck by how lanky it appears. It’s no dog! It doesn’t see me and swims across the narrowest part of the river. It shakes itself off on the left hand bank. It’s hunting; it checks the shoreline carefully for any prey and pokes around some bushes at various angles. Too soon all I can see are a few bushes moving as it continues into the forest. I was close–maybe 100 feet.

About 1-3/4 hours later I have left the fifth portage which had a small blow down. In addition to the wolf I have gotten very close to a moose (shedding its winter coat and very ugly, almost mangy looking), seen three eagles, an osprey, a deer and two beaver. Beymer’s book talks of his crossing 28 beaver dams in 1998. Luckily the water is high enough for me to go over the ones I encounter. The beavers do not seem to be working on them yet. There are so many I lose count; but I do not think there were 28.

The McKenzie map only shows one portage before LTL after the first series. Beymer reports two more and a rapid. He’s right; three hours into my day’s travels the “mystery” portage appears and then another. (You’ll see in the photo that the 1999 storm destroyed many trees in this area). I run the rapid. Half an hour later I am at the end of the 32 rd. portage. I camped near here in 1999. All the trees that were blocking my way then have been cut. I climb up a small hill on the edge of a huge blow down to my old illegal campsite. I’m sure I left a green plastic coffee press here and hope to find it. No luck. I find the campsite easily even though I have left no trace. I doubt that anyone would leave the trail and climb this hill. I must have dropped it somewhere else. I didn’t have it the next morning and had to filter grinds with my teeth.

Ten minutes later I pass the entrance to LTL portage–the end of new territory. I’m curious to see how much the current speeds me to the Bootleg portage. An hour and ten minutes later I find that I’m five minutes faster. (I stopped for a few minutes to get my raincoat when a storm threatened). I do the Bootleg portage for the third time and decide to stay at the northern campsite but discover that it is occupied. So I end up at the southern one about six hours after I left Otter Lake.

My original plan was to spend the next night in complete solitude at Canthook L. which is a Primitive Management Area (PMA). So after I have rested and eaten some lunch, I paddle across the lake and set out through the woods following a compass heading. The question is whether I can get my canoe through the woods without a trail. It seems easy at first. There is a stand of large pines covering a small hill. But when I descend the hill I end up in an aspen thicket with pools of water. I cross it by balancing on dead trees. I decide I’ll settle for a glimpse of Canthook. It is impossible to carry a canoe through here. Another swamp appears and I give up and start back. I am used to Tennessee woods that have no rocks, few swamps and less undergrowth.

I launch my canoe and head back to camp. As I round a small point and look for my tent, I am surprised to see people walking around in the campsite. I see two men carrying a Kevlar canoe up from the shore. I have a moment of dread–has something happened to my 86 year old mother or my 91 year old mother-in-law? Other family members? Is this some search and rescue volunteers searching for me? (As previouslly mentioned, I told my wife to try to contact me if there was some emergency).

An older man and young woman greet me when I arrive at the camp; two other men stay busy with setting up a tent. They are sorry but are stuck. The other campsite is occupied with 4 people and 2 dogs. But it works out. They are a family of four who used to come here 20 years ago. When the father retired last year they came up for old times sake. They had such a good time that they have returned this year. The father has been to Canthook; there’s a trail somewhere. On his last visit he saw an old wooden boat that had been left. We trade some food. I give them freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream and they make me some hot chocolate. We chat around the fire talking mostly of canoes, wildlife and camping. Soon we all go to bed. During the night, I discover that snoring is a family trait. I have to admit that some company feels good after four days of solitude.

Bootleg to Echo Trail to Sewanee – Day Six

Glassy Bootleg Lake early in the morning--looking south from the campsite.
Glassy Bootleg Lake early in the morning--looking south from the campsite.

The last day. I leave very early. I will do some of the drive home today. Only one of my “neighbors” is up. I think he is worried about the 80 pounds of outfitter-supplied food. I paddle north on a glassy surface to the beginning of the Little Pony R. The sky is clear and I now paddle into a north wind (as I predicted on the first day); but it is another perfect day.

On the next to last portage I see a moose with a very small calf crossing the river. The calf has to swim while the mother walk across rather indifferently. She looks at me but doesn’t alter her course.

I see many ducks and mergansers while I paddle and reach the bridge about 3-1/2 hours after I leave Bootleg. The current is a non-factor–it takes me five minutes longer to go downstream than upstream.

The rest of my trip is quickly told. I eat a tasty lunch (hunger is the best seasoning!) at the Northwoods Café in Ely and unsuccessfully look for a stuffed loon with babies on its back for my wife. Then drive to Tomah, WI.

The next day I miss a turn in Rockford, IL while I listen to Car Talk and suddenly start seeing signs for the “Northwest suburbs.” I think, “Suburbs of what?” Shouldn’t I be seeing cornfields? I’m nearing Chicago. The Sears Tower is on the horizon and O’Hare airport in off to my right. Is this what the whole country will look like in 100 years? Will the BWCA survive this relentless sprawl? I drive south through Indiana instead of Illinois. The driving time would have been the same except that I get stuck in traffic in Nashville and have to use compass readings to get around some construction.

I turn off the engine and hear the tree frogs blasting away. I’m home. Cats, dog and wife greet me in that order.

Last Words

The preceding pages tell mostly the physical aspects of my journey. I wore a watch, I timed segments of my travels, I knew how many miles I had covered, and I attached a small thermometer to my pack and knew that the lows were around 50° in the morning. The trip made demands on my 53-year old body; I had to rest.

But there was another dimension that is hard to speak of and hard to put into words. There is a joy that comes and flows through you at times when your mind is quiet when the internal dialog stops. I remember standing by my canoe at the Echo Trail and visualizing a huge irregular bowl that was releasing water into the Little Indian Sioux River, water that had to squeeze under the little bridge there. For a moment I felt a part of that flow and in my travels I often thought of how the water I paddled through would eventually go under that bridge. The water was almost conscious; it knew what to do just like the budding leaves knew exactly how to become full size. I was an insignificant part of all of this.

I had ideas of opening higher senses but I found myself talking to the unfolding life around me and being healed in the process. At Bootleg some deep undifferentiated sadness welled up and knotted in my throat. I said to myself, “There is nobody here. You can do anything.” I began to dance around and said to all the life around me, “As you flow, take this sadness with you. Take this sadness away.” Very suddenly it was gone and I felt much lighter and I visualized the bowl again and felt that I had sent something downstream while I moved upstream.

At Glemore I talked to the wilderness again. I had brought some cuff links that belonged to my father who died two years ago. The campsite was high above the water and I decided to throw them into the lake. Before I did I spoke to my father. I thanked him for all the good things he had done for me. I forgave him for ways that he had hurt me and ignored me. Waves of memories came out, faster than I could say. I ended by saying that the throwing of the cuff links didn’t mean I was forgetting him. I felt instead a strong commitment to my family and a need to focus on them. So I threw them in and felt a warming and an opening in my heart.

I also felt that most of the animals were omens or answers to questions I had. For example, after a very tiring day, I thought, “Why am I doing this?” Almost immediately a beaver appeared near shore and headed across the lake. The answer was clear to me: it’s what the beaver does. I am also compelled to do this; it’s my nature. When I left Bootleg on my last day a beaver again appeared but this time turned completely away from me and slapped his tail. It meant (I knew this with a deep certainty), “farewell and good riddance.” I’m convinced that beavers have complex personalities.

I am still pondering the meaning of seeing the wolf and having it ignore me.

Visit Shipp Webb’s website to read more about his adventures.

One comment

  • […] Up a Lazy River: A solo canoe trip in the Boundary WatersThis is an account of Shipp Webb’s solo six-day trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a trip that covered 13 lakes, 4 rivers and 28 portages totaling about 72 miles. Thirty-one hours quickly passed paddling and portaging. … This is the day (May 11) I have been working for since mid-February when I decided to go on this trip. […]

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