My trip to the Boundary Waters took place in 1974, when I was 19. I went with my (then) boyfriend, who I later discovered, couldn't swim. He'd been there years before with his boy scout troop. So there we were, one 6'5" man who only knew how to paddle front, and one 5'7" woman who'd never paddled anything, in back. I still have the paddle I bought, after all these years and all these moves around the country. I rationalize that if it got me through three weeks on that trip, I don't want to be up any crick without it. The "J" stroke is still burned on my brain.

A few highlights that I will never, ever forget, as long as I live:

  • The time my lifevest fell in the water while we were unloading for the night and I tried to capture it by casting for it. I didn't snag the jacket (had to swim out after it) but I did land a Northern pike.
  • Blueberry pancakes over an open fire, with fresh wild blueberries. Incredibly delicious.
  • Northern lights. Never seen them before or since. Lost approximately three pints of blood to mosquitoes from being outside the tent after dark, but it was worth it.
  • We didn't see another human being for days on end. No one to ask for directions, and as you say, no trail markers. My boyfriend got us lost several times. I thought about killing him, but I needed his help on the portages.
  • We could dip water out of the lake for a drink at any time.
  • Deer flies.
  • The cry of loons like insane laughter across the lake at dusk. Eerie and hauntingly beautiful.
  • The Big Bear Scare: on the last night but one, we shared an island with another group of campers. They told us there'd been a bear reported nearby. Everyone hung their food (we didn't have that much left) and we lay awake a long time, listening for the bear. Then something landed on the tent in the darkness. I still don't know what it was, but we practically jumped out of our skins. The bear, of course, never showed.

All in all, an unforgettable experience - and only more so because it was a mix of hard work, danger, scenery, wilderness, and beauty.