“Do you know what’s a really small number?” trip leader David prompted.
“Eeeeeight,” the group groaned as I stepped into the water, guiding the canoe ashore. I unclipped the packs and hoisted them out of the canoes. Three done, eight more to go. With a “one, two, three,” the canoes were overhead and on their way.
We knew we would be tired and sore; this was a conscious decision. We chose this route. The group was ready to be pushed, to be exhausted. And we were, with days up to 21 miles long and portages more than a mile long filled with beaver swamps and cliffs.
Eight portages later, still hearing the pirate shanties drifting across the water, I pulled my canoe ashore for the final time that day. After we made camp and consumed dinner at twilight, the campers still found time to make a wishful sacrifice to the wind gods and sing “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” before crashing to prepare for another 5:00 am start.
Days later, we lounged around the campsite, enjoying the benefits of a well-earned layover day. Still groggy, I glanced at my watch—9:45. I tried to remember the last time I slept in so late. The hammock swayed gently in one of the rare moments where only one camper occupied it.
David arranged all of the remaining food around the campfire ring while I sized up the stocks of GORP—by itself enough to feed us for the rest of the trip.
“Here’s the story folks- all we need is one dinner and one breakfast. Everything else we can have for brunch or throughout the day.”
“We could feed a small army with all of this,” someone chimed in.
“We are a small army,” another added
“Eat up everyone! Or else we have to carry it!” said a third in the spirit of a true canoer.
With distance comes opportunities—opportunities to see, to experience, to grow. We made our way to three sets of pictographs, a reminder of those who called this land their home for centuries before America had been colonized. Traveling the border route in the footsteps of the voyageurs and the Ojibwe, I pondered the indescribable hardships they encountered. Staring down Basswood Falls from the portage watching the water tumble and churn, I imagined the terror of crashing a boat—how many had lost their lives. I watched the group grow from a point where David and I were betting whether any packs would be out of the canoes by the time we returned from a trip to the “bathroom”, to the end when they assembly-lined our gear over a dozen waist-high tree that had fallen during a storm.
At five o’clock the last morning, campers joked about the technical difficulties cooking earlier in the trip, spouting out operas about Captain Potato Beard—David – “forcing” pirates to eat bean paste as punishment. Packing up the last of the gear, I thought to myself that if that was the biggest complaint of the trip and they are still singing about it, then this was a pretty successful adventure.
story by Anna Nagel
Wolf Ridge Counselor and Assistant Trip Leader
trip photos by Thea Fischer
Quetico trip participant
Anna’s portrait by Kate Young