3 Musts in the BWCA

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Canoeing into the BWCA

Oftentimes the best advice is the shortest. Keep these 3 useful sayings in mind during your next canoe-camping adventure and you will be surprised how much better they will make your life!

1. “Step Deliberately”

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Now, this one was told to me casually by Charlie Erdmann the first time we were on the trail. I had been to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and around the Camp Voyageur area about a dozen times by then but Charlie had spent lifetimes in the BWCA by comparison. We ran the numbers recently and, conservatively speaking, Charlie has spent over 1500 nights in and around his family’s Boundary Waters summer camp. So, it was extremely easy to take directions from him without much of a thought when we were hiking or paddling. The whole novice/expert relationship suited us just fine on the trail.

It rained the first part of the day as we were hiking in to Little Gabbro just outside of Ely, MN setting off for a quick three-night wilderness escape, so when we came to a steep area with a number of tree roots, Charlie said over his shoulder to “step deliberately” and he just kept on going. I, being one with a tendency to overthink word choice, immediately started to step deliberately. It is a truly fantastic way to say “watch your step” or “it could be slippery here” or a myriad of other choices but “step deliberately” takes care of all the options and told me exactly what I needed to know.

Now every time I come across terrain that is less manageable - rocky, snowy, or just some wet tree root (easily the most dangerous thing on a trail in my opinion) - I immediately think to myself “step deliberately.” I love it when a terse expression tells you everything you need to know.

2. “Dry Your Feet”

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Without a doubt, trying to keep your feet dry in the BWCA is a wise choice - an exercise in futility, yes, but it is always wise to try. Trying to keep your feet dry is always good, but there will inevitably be times when you will have to step out of your canoe and into the water; it just happens. And, that is not even considering that it will likely rain on you at least at some point and there will be puddles, accidents, and generally mishaps that just happen.

The key is to be sure to try to dry out your shoes if possible. A long paddle across a lake is always a good time to go shoeless and let the wind be your friend in getting some of the moisture out, but more important than just about anything is to always, always, and - one more time - always have dry socks available. Yes, clean drinking water is the most important thing and always will be; but dry socks are a not too distant second place. Your feet are very resilient so you can put them through a long and wet day in and out of the water and they will bounce back, as long as you give them a chance. Get out of your wet shoes and socks and into some dry socks as soon as you can at the end of the day. I promise your feet will thank you!

3. “Feed the Machine”

This one seems the most obvious, but it is easy to not prioritize your calories when you are the trail. Your meals are likely planned out and are enough in terms of calories, but there are little times that you should have a snack handy to just “feed the machine.”

Charlie and I were in Glacier National Park a couple of years back and one of the last things we grabbed before we hit the trail were two peaches. As he grabbed them and proceeded to stuff them into the top of my pack I jokingly said, “Sure you get your peaches and I have to carry them, I see how it is.” To which Charlie responded, “Gotta feed the machine. Trust me, you’ll thank me in a few hours.”

About three hours later, and in the middle of an arduous climb that took us from approximately 2000 ft to 7000 ft in elevation over a six-mile hike, we found an overlook that was breathtaking and stopped, pulling out the peaches. I am sure it was more in my mind than anything else, but I swear when I was still chewing my first bite, I could already feel the energy start to course through me. It was easily the greatest peach of my life and with a smile, I said to Charlie, “Feed the machine, indeed.”

Erdmann Wisdom.

“Step Deliberately”, “Dry Your Feet”, and “Feed the Machine”; wise words that have been passed down amongst the Erdmann family and have influenced 1000s of campers at Camp Voyageur over the past half century. Do these three things consistently and your time in the BWCA - or anywhere else you choose to go - will be better for it.

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