BWCA gave her a chance to get reacquainted with her old self

Lucie Amundsen
Lucie Amundsen: By the third day of physical living and belly laughing, my mind was surprisingly quiet.
Submitted photo

Lucie Amundsen, a Duluth writer and graduate student, is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.

If I greet with you hugs and kisses today, blame it on the Boundary Waters.

There's magic in that treasured backcountry which Minnesota shares with Canada. You might know it by its more formal name: the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). To reach its pristine lakes, you must travel by nonmotorized means and carry everything you need to survive. In short, it's more endeavor than vacation.

I nearly didn't make it on the four-day, four-woman trip long penned on the family calendar. At 2 a.m., less than four hours before leaving, I'd convinced myself the real world couldn't spare me. Our start-up business, a child (it turns out misdiagnosed) with lice and a wealth of unfolded laundry all needed me far more than this outing.

And fate seemed to be weighing in, too. I stepped on a hornet while packing. With a swollen foot and a full plate, I clearly couldn't go.

I showed up at our meeting point just before 6 a.m. and laid out my situation. I knew that my fellow mothers in the trenches would understand. The group's leader commiserated, saying "Yeah, that's hard" — and then told me to get in the car. We were all packed, and we were going.

As she would say later, "There's no crying in baseball," and apparently there's no backing out of a Boundary Waters trip.

Driving up the Gunflint, my head was a snow globe of guilty thoughts. The windshield wipers beat time against the rain while I plotted opportunities to talk the group down from four days to three, maybe even fewer if this cool, damp weather kept up.

But the skies cleared, and with our four heavy Duluth-style packs settled into the canoe we glided out on Poplar Lake. I was still distracted; my friend in the stern gently mentioned I was holding my bent-shaft paddle backward. I sighed. It had been 12 years, four moves, a marriage and two children since I'd last escaped to the BWCA. I wasn't sure I belonged here anymore.

Over the next six hours, I felt the burn of our rhythmic strokes against the wind. My legs protested our challenging portages. It wasn't until our first portage, a tough 220-rod affair, that I realized just how large our canoe was. Maybe because it's 23 feet, or a less-seen discontinued model, or powered by four middle-aged women — for whatever reason, our Wenonah Minnesota IV became a bit of a spectacle.

"Is that a Minnesota Four?" we'd hear across the water. And even better, "Hey, are YOU the Minnesota Four?" We delighted as one party tarried at the start of a portage just to watch us flip the 64-pound boat onto the shoulders of one of our group.

By the third day of physical living and belly laughing, my mind was surprisingly quiet. And a part of me ground down by years of surface wiping (nose, counter, highchair, floor, repeat) emerged. This Lu, I remembered, didn't exercise as much as trained for the next bicycle trip or Teton climb. Even if Present Me is slightly more suited to her carpeted cubicle habitat, it's good to know that Backcountry Lu lives on, too.

When I returned home the laundry was still there, as are the everyday problems of business and childrearing. But that's OK. I feel there's more of me to marshal now, which is the very best one can hope for from a vacation.

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