Thursday, February 5, 2009


When I was a kid, I always looked forward to our annual week long camping trip. When I was very young, it was with relatives and we would always go up into Canada to the Lake of the Woods... I remember it being more about the fishing than the camping.

Into my early elementary years, we switched things up and started going with a family from our church up to Voyager National Park or other northern lakes. There was an island on Lake Kabetogama that quickly became our favorite. We would load two boat-full's of camping gear and haul it out to this island that we called Potato Island. It was less than two acres big and we turned it into our very own "war zone" where we had our survival knives, cameflauge pants, shirts and bandanas. It was awesome!! We would play hide and seek, gi's and commies, cowboys and indians, cut down trees, and other fun stuff we as boys could conjur up.

In sixth grade, I went to a wilderness camp with my brother and two cousins. They took us out on my first trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness. The camp counselor was very courageous to take 10 sixth grade boys out into the wilderness. Crazy guy! This was a great intro into "you mean we have to carry all this stuff!!"

The next year, my brother and I talked my dad into going to the Boundary Waters and it became a tradition. We typically would go up with a group of guys from our church. Our packs would be 50-75 pounds plus the canoes. I remember how much of a man I felt like having to carry such big loads. Little did I know how much more I could enjoy the wilderness having to carry lightweight loads later on in life. But naivity at that stage in life and just not knowing there was another way, we pressed on. Fortunately, the portages were short and the canoes did most of the carrying of the packs.

This BWCA tradition carried on for many years and after college I started leading groups of people whom of which most had never been camping into the boundary waters. This was very rewarding for me to introduce the "real" great outdoors to people. I found much joy in this, and the value of going lighter started to become somewhat of an awareness as I threw these heavy packs on peoples shoulders that hardly ever left the big city... But we all had a lot of fun and most of them have been back, so I didn't completely scare them away.

Somewhere in there, my brother and I did a 7 mile backpacking loop that turned into about 9 miles as we unknowingly wandered off the trail onto another trail that was not on our map. Fortunately, our map and compass skills were fairly good and we were able to bushwack our way through to the right trail. In the meantime, we came out onto a "mountaintop overlook" (minnesota style) and were able to look over miles and miles of the Boundary Waters in their peak fall colors. Unfortunately, I was wearing a duluth style pack that was extremely uncomfortable and fullly loaded with gear. Why we think we needed so much gear for one night, I'll never know. That was all I had for a pack at the time, so I was quite jealous of my brother's internal frame pack which had all the right padding, support, and straps to carry the heavy loads that we were carrying. It still proved to be great memories and I still desired to do more backpacking.

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