Kinder, Gentler Wilderness by
I read in a leading paddling magazine, some years ago, an article by
the editor that has remained with me all these years. Interestingly,
considering our recent national tragedy, it was about patience and
acceptance and friendliness; in the wilderness.
The gist of the story was that, in years past, it was common to meet
people and make new friends while on a canoe trip. This was done by
stopping to chat on the portages, and at the landings, and by inviting
strangers to share a cup of coffee at your campsite should they happen
by. It was considered common courtesy not too many years back.
The editor, then in mid-life, lamented the fact, as I do, that this
has changed dramatically in recent times. Now we bitch and moan if we
see someone on ''our'' lake or, heaven forbid, actually on ''our''
despite the fact that our world is considerably more populated, and our
wilderness areas more visited, we think that we can now travel these
areas and not see anyone. This is just plain silly; especially when you
consider the fact that even the most challenging mountain peaks now have
traffic problems in narrow places along their routes.
Instead, what we do is bring our road rage to the woods with us. We
race to the put-in point, we race across the lakes, we race across the
portages, and we race to claim the ''best'' campsite. All the while
passing other people who, by definition, share many of our same values
and recreational interests.
What the editor of that magazine said was that we should learn to
accept the changes that have come to our world and embrace them. Even
during these new, harried times there is certainly room for new
friendships to be made. And what better place to do so than in the
Boundary Waters region.
A Good Place To Start
Carry someone's gear across the portage as you walk back empty
handed. Sure, they'll protest, but not for long. And, voila', the ice is
broken and you're soon talking about fishing, the weather, or finding
out how small the world really is as you share your backgrounds.
Next, ask someone in for a cup of coffee when they paddle by your
camp early in the morning or late in the evening. If it's raining, and
you're snug under your tarp with the java press at your side, so much
the better. Take a chance. It could change your life forever.
If you're in the woods during our peak season then you'll have ample
opportunities for helping others and making new friends. Invite someone
to share your campsite for the night if they are having trouble finding
a spot. It will be a little odd, at first, but soon you'll be sharing
secrets 'round the campfire and learning something you never knew
before. Most likely about yourself.
Now, on the flip side of the coin, it's imperative that you act in a
manner that will get you invited into someone's camp. And as someone
whom the hosts will want to remember down the line. Loud, boisterous,
and opinionated folks make for poor companions so try to be pleasant,
positive, and humble. You might be sitting next to a Rhodes scholar, or
someone with many more years of experience in the wilderness, so try to
keep your foot from getting too close to your mouth. They are hard to
get out once you get them jammed in there!
If you don't know proper wilderness camping techniques then it's time
you learn. Poor travel habits, and poor wilderness conduct, will earn
you the disdain of fellow travelers in a short time. And the folks you
meet will likely be watching you, especially if they are new to the BWCA
region, so be sure your behavior is one that merits watching and
Pass The GORP
Food is always a good way to socialize so be sure to pack a little
extra, for guests, and to have some snacks at hand in case you meet
someone on the portage trail who looks like they could use a boost. A
bit of a chocolate bar makes friends anywhere in the world. Folks will
be reticent, at first, but will quickly realize the friendly gesture is
just that; the opening volley in a game of communication.
Perhaps you can suggest a smorgasbord get-together at your campsite.
Nothing is more funny than trying strange, new combinations of those
items left in the food pack towards the end of a trip. You'll forge a
bond with your new friends that will be further cemented by the laughter
surrounding these outrageous meals.
A large number of folks paddling in the BWCA are there to fish. And a
large number of them wish they could catch more fish. So, if your party
is doing well, be generous and share your secrets with your new friends.
You don't have to tell them your secret spot but they'll certainly
appreciate knowing the structure you found your fish in and and what
techniques and tackle worked for you. Remember, fish you can buy, but
friends must be made.
Ask someone to take a picture of your group. And offer to do the same
for them. If their camera isn't handy offer to send them a photo from
yours. Take a minute to make someone else's canoe trip just a little bit
better. You'll likely get even more in return.
Folks have been trading in the Canoe Country for a long time. Are you
short on peanut butter or cooking oil? Ask around. I'll bet you can find
somebody who is willing to barter their peanut butter for your sugar? Or
coffee. Especially coffee and toilet paper. You'll share a laugh and a
common memory. And don't forget to share your phone numbers, or email
addresses, so you can stay in touch at home. Or exchange pictures over a
cold beer back in civilization.
The Best Part
Bring a new attitude on your next trip. Remember how lucky you are to
be in the wilderness and put on your best smile. Your fellow travelers
will quickly warm to it as they pass you on the portage trail. It costs
you nothing. And, interestingly, your own trip will be so much better as
you make friends and make their trip a little brighter as well.
Look folks in the eye and ask, sincerely, how they are. And, when
they ask you, tell them you are great. Fantastic, in fact. After all,
you're in the wilderness. And happy to be there.