Trip Reports

Interview With a Solo Canoeist

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.

The Interview


BH: So, Bryan, I’m going to interview you on the forth night of your trip across the Boundary Waters. Sound good?

ME: Sure why not. I’m game. After all, it’s just me on this sandy beach right now, and I have nothing better to do except drink spiked hot chocolate and watch the northern lights.

BH: Good. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to rough you up. Anyway, why did you decide to do this trip?

ME: Well, I should say, because it’s there, but I won’t. Since two years ago, I wanted to do this solo trip, and I wanted to do it in the fall. I actually started it two years ago . . . sort of . . . and then turned around early.

BH: You mean on the trip where you saw the wolf, and it snowed, and . . .

ME: Yes, and the one where I decided to change my life from a corporate climber working 50 to 60 hours a week to one enjoying what I love to do.

BH: How’s that going for you?

ME: I haven’t had as much fun as this since I took a year off to hike the Appalachian Trail and recover.

BH: You mean that this isn’t your first long distance trip?

ME: Right. My first long distance trip was a thru-hike of the AT in 1996. That’s 2169 miles, so this 200-mile trip is pretty small comparatively.

BH: So what, did that take you 6 month or what?

ME: Just under.

BH: Other long trips?

ME: Only one more of any length, but lots of 100 mile trips ranging from backpacking to solo paddling trips, and many many more under 50 miles long.

BH: What was the other long distance trip?

ME: 560 miles down the Mississippi River by kayak in 15 days.

BH: Wow! You were flying.

ME: Do the math.

BH: So last year you paddled 560 miles in a kayak, took a 100 plus mile trip in the BWCAW, and an other 70-mile trip there also.

ME: Plus day trips.

BH: You paddled a lot last year.

ME: I did. I make less money now, but the trade off has been worth it. I enjoy life day to day instead of looking for enjoyment in the future. Too me it was worth it. I mean look at the number of trip I take.

Do Solo Canoeists Need a Sponsor?

BH: Speaking of, who is sponsoring you?

ME: No one.

BH: No one?

ME: Nope. It seem like everyone is always out to get a sponsorship or doing some trip for some purpose. I’ve never been sponsored and am not looking to be. I do the trips for fun and for myself.

BH: But if someone offered?

ME: Sure, why not.

BH So, unsponsored you’ve headed out into the woods. Like on this trip, by yourself.

ME: Yep.

What Beautiful Things Does a Solo Canoeist See?

A solo canoeist sees the northern lights in the Boundary Waters.
A solo canoeist sees the northern lights in the Boundary Waters.

BH: See anything beautiful yet?

ME: Well, it’s pretty early on the trip and I’ve seen more beauty than I can relate in this short interview.

BH: Short? Why do you say that? We have a whole new notebook and all night.

ME: True, but I need to sleep if I’m going to make it from United States Point to the Knife with the Big Knife Portage ahead.

BH: Okay, three beautiful things.

ME: Easy. One, last night at 3:00 in the morning, I woke and watched the northern lights dance for an hour and saw three shooting stars.

BH: Wow. Stunning. Two?

ME: The sunset on Lac La Croix turned the sky red and filled the horizon with God beams.

BH: Northern lights. God beams. What else?

ME: The lakes are so gorgeous. They’re big and mostly protected and beautiful. I can’t even imagine what they’d look like if private land developers got into here. You’d have a house on every island. Or two or three.

BH: But that’s not like the northern lights or God beams.

ME: To me seeing undeveloped country, barely touched, is beautiful. It’s worth saving places just for that sole reason.

BH: Strong convictions.

ME: Yep.

BH: Since you’re not being more forthcoming, I’ll pose a question. The route you’re on has been used for hundreds of years, so how can you say it’s undeveloped?

ME: Well, it’s not like the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

BH: That won’t be that way for long . . . When they start drilling.

ME: It will be ruined.

Solo Canoeists are known to get a little crazy after day four.  Picture taken after skinny dipping on Knife Lake at the end of a long day.  The cold water felt great.
Solo Canoeists are known to get a little crazy after day four. Picture taken after skinny dipping on Knife Lake at the end of a long day. The cold water felt great.

Finding Trade Beads

BH: So it goes. So, I heard that early this year someone did the same trip you’re doing and they found a trade bead on the portage.

ME: That’s the big news around town. I’m torn about it. I’d love to find a trade bead, but I’d have a hard time keeping it. I’d probably photograph it and set it off the trail.

BH: A string of beads?

ME: I don’t know. If you think about it, they’re litter, so I’d carry them out and give them to the Grand Portage National Monument. On a side note, I did find a button, a piece of plastic something and a wrapper for candy. I’m carrying them out.

BH: So those guys beat you to it?

ME: What do you mean, the route?

BH: Yes.

ME: So. People used to do this for a living, and here we are doing it for recreation and it’s supposed to be a big deal and make the paper and everything. Come on. It’s just for fun.

BH: For fun.

ME: For fun.

BH: How fun is going solo?

ME: Well, I wish I had Ilena here, but she wouldn’t like the huge mileage days. It’s actually refreshing to go solo. Puts everything in perspective. I’m pretty small compared to this landscape and one mess up and I could get myself killed.

BH: Afraid?

ME: Concerned maybe. I find that when solo, I have to make strongly conservative judgments. Although on this trip, rock hopping, I’ve thought, what are you going to do if you break a leg?

BH: Carry a cell phone?

ME: Actually this trip I did to arrange a ride when I finished, and to test and see if there is any cell service in the BWCA. I’m writing an article on it. It hasn’t picked up a signal so far. Not much use for it.

BH: I’ve always thought that cell phones were an excuse to not be lonely. You?

ME: Oh ya! Do I have a story about cell phones.

BH: Seems to me that cell phones take away the very reason to go into the woods – to get out of contact and be unreachable.

ME: and perhaps, that’s a reason to go solo. That and have fun.

One Last Question with a Solo Canoeist

BH: True. Before I wrap this interview up for the night let me ask one last question.

ME: One last question.

BH: What advice do you have for new soloist adventurers?

ME: Sometimes you have to learn it on your own, but, I guess, I would let them know to develop a good sense of judgment based on their skills. When you develop that judgment, trust it and don’t push it. A solo wilderness trip requires a conservative approach to risk management to make sure you never push your skills to the edge of your limits. Also, learn to improvise, make do with whatever you have, and enjoy life and enjoy yourself.

BH: So you’ve enjoyed this interview with yourself then?

ME: You already asked your last question.

BH: True. I did. This was an enjoyable interview. Thank you for letting me conduct it and good luck on the rest of your trip.

ME: Thank you.

BH: Bye now.

ME: Bye.

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