Since moving abroad, almost all of my travel in the US has been to see friends and family or for work trips. When we plan a fun trip just to go somewhere, it’s almost always to a new or favorite part of Europe. But a couple summers ago, I was on sabbatical from work and my sibling was planning a camping trip in the Boundary Waters. Fly all the way to the US to go camping? Sure!¹
We got ourselves organized and then drove up to Ely, Minnesota. We had 7 people, so we planned for 3 canoes (2-2-3), 4 tents (2-2-2-1), and a slew of supplies. Our idea was to canoe one or two lakes in, set up camp, and use that as a base for day-trip adventures. (When my sibling and I were younger, we did a trip that was more of a lake-to-lake journey, moving camp. That’s exciting, but having a home base feels easier for a larger group where not everyone is looking for the same level of activity.)
The day we headed into the lakes was probably the worst weather of the whole trip. As we prepared our canoes and gear it was pouring, which at least removed any preciousness we might have had about getting our things wet. 😀 It decided to embrace it and stood on the pier enjoying the surroundings.
The rain didn’t last long, though, so after a short wait we were able to launch our canoes without getting even more wet. As the sky opened up I enjoyed staring at the patterns in the clouds above me. (It also helped that, as the middle person in the 3-person canoe, I didn’t have to paddle constantly.)
When we got to the lake where we wanted to camp, my sibling and their wife shot out ahead of us. They had decided to try for a camping site on an island in the middle of the lake. Knowing that this could be a popular spot, we wanted the best chance possible to get it. And we did! It was a large enough island to have space to explore, but small enough to claim it as our own.
As the sun went down that evening, I enjoyed the view from our little island, watching the light hit the trees across the water. And then I looked up and was blown away by the way the light was playing on the trees right above me:
It’s amazing to me what you can notice when you put away all the distractions. No phone, no laptop, no recorded music … just the sight of the world around you and the sounds of everyone welcoming the night. Settling in to my tent for the evening, I was especially aware of the many birds around us.
The next day brought us a clear blue sky and perfect weather for relaxing. Honestly, as I start to put together a timeline of the things we did on the trip I have to give up — I have many clear, enjoyable memories but trying to put them back into some semblance of order seems unnecessary. Each individual activity feels mundane, a standard camping experience; the joy comes from stringing them all together.
There were trips back out onto the water, fishing, a hike abandoned partway through due to an unclear trail and heavy mosquito attacks, swimming breaks, a butterfly alighting on my hand (!), gorgeous sunsets, making and tending fires, cooking and sharing meals, watching the stars come out at night as we tried to create a cocoon and smoke screen to protect against the swarms of mosquitos so we could keep identifying constellations, lazy afternoons filtering water by hand after our hanging filter broke down, bird identification attempts with varying degrees of accuracy. There were stories, jokes, laughs, debates, questions, and shared silences. There were even more sunsets, and more canoeing, and more of just being. Just being a person, outdoors, with loved ones.
Will I ever do a camping trip quite like this again? I’m not sure, but I’m so glad I did this one.
1. This did feel funny at the time, and over time I’ve felt myself less and less inclined to take flights like this. I am well aware of the impact flying has on the environment and would prefer to travel shorter distances or via other methods to reduce the impact on the climate. That said, it was really exciting to have this option to spend a week in the wilderness, especially since I don’t often get to have trips like this with my sibling. It’s hard to strike the right balance when there’s an ocean between me and my family. ↩︎