Boundary Waters Part II: Rain Rain Go Away, Little Canoers Want To Play

Well, the weather report wasn’t kidding. Rainy and windy it is. We have no idea what we are in for. When I wake up on our first morning here on the banks of Gabbro Lake in the Boundary Waters of northern minnesota, I unzip my tent to discover that my NEMO Bugout shelter is about ready to fly away. The wind is putting it to test, that’s for sure. We have no choice but to take it down and move it a little farther into the woods where the wind is a little less strong.

There’s nothing quite like camping in the wilderness in the rain. It’s not the most comfortable experience in the world. Apparently today it is 90 degrees and sunny in Minneapolis, some 250 miles to the south, but here we are freezing to death on the Canadian border in the rain. Misery. Whose idea was it to come here in the first place? I feel trapped. 

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I pull out the map again. My initial plan for this canoe trip had been to move campsites each day as we explored this vast wilderness, but since it’s raining and windy there is no way we are moving anywhere. My goal of heading up to Clear Lake isn’t happening.

Before we move the NEMO shelter into a less windy location we check to make sure the bears didn’t come eat our food during the night. Our food pack is still safely hoisted up in the trees.

Oh wait…..  you gotta use the loo in the mornin’….. each campsite here in the Boundary Waters has a lovely outdoor potty like this. This one has a lid intact. Now, as you can well imagine, when you use this potty the mosquitoes go haywire. And I am not joking. Do you have any idea what 100 mosquito bites on your butt feel like? It’s not cool! You have to do your duty very quickly! Of course just the scariness of the whole situation makes my body panic and I begin to imagine I am getting a urinary tract infection. I need to visit this throne more often than I care to remember, until I get wise and make myself 2 litres of Gatorade, which successfully flushes out my kidneys and bladder. TMI – but just remember it works.

We look across the waterway at my sister’s campsite. It looks like they are still asleep over there. The current is strong this morning. I don’t think I even dare to go over to visit them today for fear of getting blown downstream and yonder.

No sooner do I have these thoughts than a family goes paddling past. What the heck! The wind is just howling, and these guys are canoeing away!

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This father is canoeing with his two young daughters. The kids have life jackets on, but the dad doesn’t, which to me seems really foolhardy. Plus he is wearing just a t-shirt and its freezing out here! The temperature is in the 50’s and the wind is strong! Let me guess…. he is a Minnesotan….. but really dude….. put on a life jacket! If you capsize you won’t be of much help for your kids!

The water is so choppy that there are little piles of foam along the shoreline.

Well, I suppose it could be worse….. it could be 40 degrees and a total downpour and lightening with funnel clouds in the distance! At least the rain is not super heavy. Furthermore, I have to remind myself that when I was planning this trip my biggest fear was that it would be hot and muggy. It would be sheer misery to be out here in 95 degree weather, because it’s so humid  and the bugs would be crazy!! I actually asked for weather in the 50-60 range.

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It’s kind of hard to start a fire with wet wood. We should have left dry wood under a tarp or something for the night. David comes up with an ultra intelligent strategy for lighting the fire…. don’t try this at home, kids!

It’s kind of boring. No electronics. No books. No games. Nothing to do, but maybe take a nap. The crazy thing is that a person is so used to always doing something, or having a cell phone, or computer, or other electronic gadgets, or just things to do. It is extremely challenging just to do nothing. It’s even hard to find things just to talk about. To me is seems like this is actually an incredibly good exercise…. learning how to just hang out together with nothing to do. Really what we should be doing is hopping into our canoes and going for a paddle in the windy and choppy lake, but I am super scared of capsizing.

I think David is actually a little depressed here. He just checked the weather report again. Initially it was supposed to only rain for one day, but now the rain is supposed to last clear through this evening. Actually the report changes again. It’s supposed to rain clear through tomorrow!

As for me I busy myself making breakfast inside my NEMO Bugout shelter that I am eternally glad I brought along – even if it added 6 extra pounds to our portages! The roof on this thing is completely waterproof, and the mesh keeps out bugs. You can’t ask for more.

Eggs, anyone?

Before long my sister and her company brave the trip over to our campsite. Unfortunately it is so cold and damp, and they don’t have enough warm clothes along. David and I have good rain jackets and rain pants, but even so we are cold. Without rain pants its a lot less comfortable around here, especially when you have no dry clothes to change into. We bought these awesome, albeit expensive REÍ rain pants for our Iceland trip. Needless to say I didn’t think I would ever have a use for them again since we live in Arizona.

Well, despite the hardships my sister seems to be enjoying her time here in the wilderness….. or not. She is still smiling and being a good sport all around. You may remember that I dragged my sister and her family out here into the wilderness, and she is NOT an outdoorsy person. Her idea of camping is a Minnesota lake house, which to me is sheer luxury. So here I foolhardily dragged her into this miserable wet and cold place!

I am loving my new MSR Reactor stove setup. It literally takes less than two minutes to boil 1.5 liters of water – the best on the market. I am making some oatmeal for my fellow travelers. You can see in the background that we have set up a tarp against one wall of our NEMO Bugout shelter. It helps keep the wind down and stops rain from blowing in through the mesh wall.

In case you are wondering I have all my clothes on that I took along on this trip. Maybe that’s why I look so puffy…… or maybe it is all the fat that I am lugging around with me.

Man, my MSR Reactor gets red hot!!

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The wind is blowing hard from the lake. I come up with an idea to place a canoe on its side to prevent the wind from blowing on our fire. I spend a lot of time chopping little bits of wood for the fire. That seems like a nice mind numbing task that is useful.

Soon we have marshmallows roasting. You really can’t be in the Boundary Waters without marshmallows!

After all this roasting marshmallows and tending to the fire, someone gets a little dirty!

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The girls don’t care if its cold, they are going swimming anyway. This time they are wearing their life jackets. I suppose the choppy water and wind is intimidating. Jeff Hway from our outfitter company told us that whenever we are swimming we should use life jackets because of the potential hazards in this water. Who knows about various undertows and dangerous currents that could drag you under. I have heard of too many crazy drowning stories recently. The water here is incredibly and surprisingly warm.

After their swim the girls huddle by the fire to warm up. We make a big mistake in having the girls’ tent too close to the fire. When we got home I have to air out the tent for weeks to get the smoke smell out of it. Plus I sprayed about a gallon of febreeze on it.

It there’s one advantage to cold, windy and rainy weather, it is the fact that there are very few bugs out. The mosquitoes are in hiding, which makes me happy.

The day seems to last for a very long time. Finally it is bedtime. Well, it’s not really bedtime, but we are making it our bedtime. It’s only about 8:30 pm. Time to hoist our food bag back up into the tree so the bears don’t get our goodies. We are in bed by 9 pm.

July 13

The wind has died down and we sleep much better on this second night in the woods. Come on David, it’s time to get up, rain or no rain!

In the morning David hunts for some firewood. The rain has not let up. The latest forecast is for rain until about 7 pm tonight. I guess there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

The girls paddle across the gray waterway to my sister’s camp. When they come back they tell us the news that my sister and her crew are leaving. They have a satellite phone along, and have called the outfitter to come pick them up from Entry Point 33. I don’t blame them, because they don’t have enough warm clothing and weren’t prepared well enough for the weather conditions. I am bummed that it didn’t turn out better for them. They really should wait it out, because it’s supposed to stop raining this evening.

David gets busy trying his fishing luck again. He spent $300 on various fishing supplies, bait and licenses. So far he has caught one walleye. We need him to catch more fish to bring down the price per fish.


While David is busy fishing I tend to the fire some more.

Holy smokes! David caught a walleye right off our dock – I mean rock! That brings the price of fish down to a meager $150 each!

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I set about cooking the walleye right away. It must be delicious, because by the time I get to it there is not much left over!

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I have never seen people fuss with their hair as much in the woods as these 13 year old cousins.

I brought my Fiskars axe along with me from Arizona. It’s the perfect size. No, I didn’t bring it on the plane.

There’s one way to find a hole in your sleeping pad, and it involves dipping it in the lake off our natural dock.

Since there is nothing better to do, and since I decide a person better find some beauty despite the rain, I grab my camera and find some pretty things to take photos of.

Who knew what raindrops look like on blades of grass?


Like I said in the beginning of this post, we have no idea what we are in for. About three hours after my sister’s entourage leaves the weather begins to clear up. I am really sorry that they left, for now they will surely miss out on the true beauty of the Boundary Waters! The evening is truly beautiful in every possible way. It erases away every regret that I had about coming out here into the elements. The peace and calm and intense beauty cannot be described with words. It’s just us here in our own little perfect nature paradise. I savor every moment. 

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David left the fish head and guts on our rocky shore. All of a sudden a lone seagull comes in for dinner.


We scare her off. We are not supposed to feed the wildlife! That’s one of the rules! I can’t remember what we’re supposed to do with the fish leftovers.

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No sooner do we scare off the seagull than a magnificent bald eagle comes in for the prize! I’m not about to fight with an eagle!


This magnificent bird perches itself on the top of a tree across the lake to wait its chance.


The beauty of this moment on the shores of Gabbro Lake in the Boundary Waters Wilderness is unparalleled. Truly it’s a paradise! The ability to canoe through the waterways, lakes and rivers, the well maintained trails at the portage locations, the gorgeous campsites….. the magnificent beauty of nature….. it’s breathtaking in its own right. I know in my heart at this very moment that someday soon I am coming back here.

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Pocahontas tests the water.

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Before we head off to bed for our third and final night in the Boundary Waters we decide to take a dip to wash up. It feels so amazing.

After we are done bathing we still have the task of putting our food bag high up in the tree with our pulley system. This time the task ends up being disastrous, because David, in his infinite wisdom, decides that he is going to do this task with just a towel wrapped around himself. After our bath he decides he is not going to put on his dirty clothes for this task, nor does he want to put on his sleepwear just to come back outside again.

Now, you can only imagine what happens. Since the wind has stopped blowing, and the rain has stopped coming down, and the sun is setting…. the mosquitoes come out in a massive force. David is frantically trying to get the food bag up in the tree with just a towel wrapped around his waist, and the mosquitoes are biting him like crazy! He hops up and down and swats and swings and yelps, and is generally freaking out pretty good. The mozzies are going under his towel and having a hay day! Of course the stupid food bag doesn’t want to go up high enough, which adds to the frustration. It’s actually pretty comical, but I don’t dare to laugh or even to stop to take a photo of him and his folly. I will laugh at him later!

We dive into our tent for cover not a moment too soon. Almost instantly the outside of our tent is buzzing with hundreds of blood thirsty mosquitoes. David is whimpering next to me, practically scratching himself raw. I am busy trying to calm him down, while furiously slapping and swatting at the stray mosquitoes that made it inside our tent when we entered. Next time I will have to spray permethrin on our tent!

I don’t know how I am going to be able to get out of this tent in the morning without getting eaten alive. David is busy scratching his feet relentlessly. I reach down to pull his hands away and order him to stop. He tries to blame me for taking too long getting the food put away into the bag. I counter back that he should have been helping me, and for goodness sake…… don’t stand in the middle of the forest in northern Minnesota with just a towel draped around your waist!! On the inside I am laughing. On the outside I maintain my composure.

“Good night, sweetheart!”

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