The boys thought they were asking a big favor. But in fact it was a privilege.
I’m not sure where they got this adventure gene. But our sons both inherited it. Five years ago Carl and Erik climbed my great-grandfather’s mountain, Mount Brewer – 150 years after William Henry Brewer’s first ascent. Together they have backpacked in the Porcupine Mountains and the trail above Pictured Rocks. Last year they winter camped in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This year they upped the ante, planning a 40-mile trek following the border route in the BWCAW. And they asked us to be their shuttle service.
Rich drove the boys up to Ely and beyond, to Moose Lake where he deposited them with all their gear. After harnessing up their pulks, they set off across the frozen lake, Erik on backcountry skis and Carl on a new set of Altai Hok skis – a cross between a ski and a snowshoe. Snowshoes were stowed within easy reach for portages and deep snow conditions. The deep blue sky contrasted sharply with the pristine snow and pine woods border under the bright sunshine for a picturesque start.
They allowed themselves three days to make it to the end of the Gunflint Trail. It would have been three days of waiting nervously to find out if they made it had it not been for Rich’s sleepless nights leading up to the trip. To assuage his concerns, he diligently researched satellite tracking units, and ultimately insisted they carry one. Or no deal on the shuttles.
Thanks to the generosity of a friend who lent them a Garmin inReach, they had the means of providing us with updates and more importantly, sending out a call for help if needed. At the end of day 1, we received the following message at dusk, “Camp made on Knife [lake]. Great day.” What followed was a link with their GPS coordinates. With one click we could see exactly where they were. Whew, peace of mind.
While we drove up to a modern warm cabin on the Gunflint Trail overlooking Poplar Lake, the boys made their way along the border from lake to lake, slogging through snow drifts, skiing on hard windblown crust and plowing through waist deep snow on portages. They trekked from sunup to sundown, made camp, ate and slept when darkness fell. Although they saw plenty of open water, they were fortunate not to find slush between the layers of snow and ice. Snowmobiles and dog sleds were allowed on some of the lakes, but alas, none created a packed path for them in the direction they were going. They took turns breaking trail.
Of course, we knew none of this at the time. We pondered the snow conditions, praised the good weather, hoped they were staying warm enough at night. The daily updates were a godsend.
We were in position for pickup on the third day. Mid-day we got word: “At Sag [Saganaga Lake] at American Point may finish late” I settled in with a good book across from the cozy fire. At 4pm we got the text we’d been awaiting. “ETA 1 hourish on snowmobile trail.” When we arrived at the designated boat launch, I couldn’t just stand there and wait. Hiking out the narrow inlet, I searched the distant shore, footstep after footstep. The two tiny figures that materialized on the horizon lifted my heart.
They arrived very sunburned and weather-beaten, but with the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. They had done it! It was a lot harder and slower going than they had anticipated, due to the lack of packed snow, but they made it and were justifiably thrilled. Carl summed it up, “This trip gets a big check on my To Do list. I don’t need to do that again!”
The accomplishment deserved celebrating with dinner at the iconic Trail Center Lodge. Word leaked out about their adventure, and soon everyone around us wanted to know all the details. The staff presented them with medals and even offered to be their food sponsor for the next adventure, with their locally made Camp Chow ! Nothing could top seeing the pure pleasure on the faces of my sons.
I’m not likely to trek with a sled across frozen lakes through the Boundary Waters, go winter camping or even climb my great-grandfather’s mountain. But I’m so glad to be a part of my sons’ lives watching them do it. It fills my heart to know that they choose to pursue these dreams together. Carl and Erik, I’ll be there, at your service, any time you plan another adventure.