Reflections from Deacon Brad on the 2021 canoe trip:
In January 2021 I (Deacon Brad) bought permits to enter into the Boundary Waters through Ely, MN at entry point #16 called “Nina Moose River.” This is a favorite site for many in the Boundary Waters as it contains the ancient native cliff paintings called “Pictographs”.
Well, as many things in life go, things happened and about 10 days before we were all set to pack up and go the fires just north of Ely in Ontario (Quetico is the Candian side of the BWCA to be more specific) spread south and caused the area to be evacuated and all future permits to be cancelled. Pastor Ryan gave me an idea to call Wilderness Canoe Base which is located about 75 miles as the crow flies East of Ely, Mn (thankfully nowhere near the fires) and is a ELCA camp owned by our partner Camp Wapogasset. Calling Wilderness Canoe Base gave me some good ideas, they recommended that we call a nearby outfitter “Seagull Outfitters” on the same lake (Seagull Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail) and see if we could secure some canoes and packed food in barrels. They informed me that all around the Boundary Waters there exists just along the edges “US Forest Service campsites” that are non-reservable, free, and first come first serve. Wilderness Canoe Base staff even sent me a nice map marked out with a really neat campsite, only accessible by canoe on Seagull Lake that they call “Lucky Penny” that is about 100 feet from the legal Boundary Waters map edge and just across the bay from Grandpa Lake (and a nice 230 rod portage which is about 1 mile).
We then took advantage of “Day Permits” in the Boundary Waters and could paddle anywhere in the BWCA as long as we were back in our US Forest Service campsite out of the BWCA each night. Our group had planned to sleep on a church basement floor in Ely the first night, but again the Canoe Base recommended that I contact an ELCA church in Grand Marais called Bethlehem Lutheran and see if we could do the same thing there the night before we headed out on trail. A big thanks to Bethlehem Lutheran in Grand Marais for letting us do this! It worked perfectly and our group of 10 was thankful to not have to set up tents at 11pm in the dark! We were able to take all of the camp suggestions, even though they didn’t provide us with anything but some good advice and tips and contacts. We were all really grateful for the information and were able to execute on all of their suggestions! Ben and Brad stopped over to the camp and even said thanks to the director in person.
We had a great trip after we re-adjusted our entire plans too! Fish were caught, stories were told (around propane stoves because of the fire ban), fireflies and shooting stars seen, 12 or more miles paddled in one day, disconnection from civilization and noise, and reconnection with God’s spirit in the wild. I (Deacon Brad) used the book “Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness” by Nick Repatrazone and wrote a guided reflection and bible study with discussion questions for each night centered around our faith and reflections of God in the wilderness. Each morning we woke up we practiced the sacred ritual of “First Word” in which we used quotes from the poet and BWCA enthusiast Sigurd Olson and also readings from the Psalms as the first spoken word of the day (we all rose in silence and didn’t speak at all until the first word was read).
It was a really good trip especially considering we had to completely re-adjust all of our plans at the last minute! We even got to stop on the way home and have some delicious Sammy’s Pizza buffet in West Duluth to clean our pallet from all the re-hydrated food made from boiling lake water that we just had so many times over!
– Deacon Brad on the 2021 Canoe Trip to Seagull Lake and the Boundary Water Canoe Area (BWCA) from July 27-August 1st 2021