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Boundary Waters on my Mind

There’s a yearly tradition my family cherishes. When it approaches the kids count down the days like they’re counting down to Christmas. It’s a time of fish fries, challenging our abilities against weather and the wilderness, and relaxing while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. I am speaking about our annual trip to the Boundary Waters.

This year we went out of Ely to Little Indian Sioux after purchasing a used Wenonah Minnesota III canoe. The night before putting in we stayed at Way-To-Go Outfitters, owned by Jeff Hway and his family. (They also own Chilly Dogs, a sled dog touring business.) Jeff and his wife, Donna, were happy to show the children the eighty-five sled dogs. It really was quite a sight!

After the kids went to sleep my friend Josh and I repacked all the gear, trying to distribute the weight evenly for each individual kid on the trip. Finally at 1:30 am we went to bed.

We rose early the next morning, had breakfast with Jeff and Donna, and hit the road. Our forty-five minute trip up the Echo Trail to the entry point at Little Indian Sioux was punctuated by cries of “Are we there yet?” every five minutes after the first ten. 

Our goal was to one-trip the portages: no small feat when you have three youngsters, a twelve- and thirteen-year-old, and only two adults. We did a good job of securing and packing our gear, though, and were able to pull it off. 

My oldest sons, Nathan and Isaiah, were amazing. Isaiah handled both the canoe and a good-sized pack, while Nathan carried a pack on the front and a pack on the back. Josh and I each carried a monster pack and a canoe—though it made for an arduous journey across each portage, it was much better than having to retrace our steps.

Although we didn’t get our desired campsite on Shell Lake we made do with a reasonably good site that afforded us some good fishing and made for a great base camp. We mixed in hiking and lounging with fishing and cliff jumping. Kaylie and Jeremiah each caught their first fish, Josh caught his best, and I caught the most. (Ha!) Our kids also overcame some fears and learned to trust their parents as we jumped off the cliffs. I was also able to spend some time doing my photography.

We truly had an amazing time as we focused on each other and the wilderness around us. We brought no electronic gadgetry other than cameras to capture memories and the natural beauty. This allowed our children to explore the natural world and come up with creative ways to catch bait (and they caught a lot of it). The kids are already talking about next year, and so am I. 

We are fortunate because we live in the country on a lake. Years ago we bought part of an old Boy Scout camp because as much as we love the BWCAW we don’t own it, and we wanted something that we could be at more often as a family. We started out spending weeks or weekends at the property: hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, and so on. We kept a camper there and cleanup was a breeze when we left. 

Eventually we made it our year-round home. It was a big adjustment, and there have been many hurdles, but it has been worth it. As you look into the process of vacation property ownership it is our hope that we can assist you in achieving your dream.

Neil Johnson