Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BWCA-A Stranger in Our Midst

Because our point of entry was Missing Link Lake (which has two portages totaling a mile and a half of muddy labor, right off the bat) and because the opportunity presented itself, we borrowed a friend’s Kevlar canoe on our recent visit to the BWCA Wilderness. The canoe weighs 25 pounds less than the aluminum Grumman I’ve been hoisting for thirty years, and that’s nice. I could envision a time when we’d want to get one ourselves, and thought it would be a good idea to try one out.

The portaging is easier with a Kevlar canoe, that’s for sure. But I found out in the course of our four-day trip that this canoe (made by the Winona company) also has its drawbacks. As everyone knows, you can’t bang a Kevlar canoe on the rocks every time you arrive at a portage. Well, that’s no big deal, though during the course of the trip I was made aware of something I’d never noticed before. The landings at portages are sometimes nothing more than a row of boulders on the edge of fairly deep water. With a Grumman, you merely drag the canoe up over the rocks before hoisting it. With a Kevlar, that would be a serious no-no.

The seats of our borrowed canoe were a more serious problem. Unlike the roomy aluminum bench of a Grumman, the seats on this canoe were butt-shaped like the seat on an old-fashioned tractor. That may sound nice, but what it means is that you’re stuck in a single position. And the fact that the seat is much closer to the bottom of the canoe means that you have no room to tuck your legs under it, and are forced to assume a sort of kayak slouch with legs extended, which is far less comfortable than the proud, erect, Voyageur-esque posture and its many variants that the roomier Grumman accommodates.

Another drawback to the butt-shaped seats is that you can’t sit in them backwards, which makes it very difficult to paddle a Kevlar canoe by yourself. (With a Grumman, if you sit in the bow seat backwards, your body weight is quite close to the center of the canoe, which makes it easy to paddle out alone to fetch a bucket of water, for example.)

I noticed how tippy the Kevlar canoe was on our first night out, when I had a little trouble during a solo mission to fetch the water, though the lake was perfectly calm. At our second campsite, I invited Hilary to accompany me out on that essential chore, but before she could climb into the bow seat, I’d fallen out of the stern!

It happens fast. And suddenly you’re scrambling to keep the canoe itself from coming over with you, then struggling to regain your balance on the slimy rocks without immersing yourself entirely.

The water was extremely cold—that is to say, refreshing. And I only fell in up to my armpits. As I was looking for a cord to hang up my wet clothes, I discovered that our utility bag was missing. That little rubber zippered bag, which once belonged to Hilary’s great uncle, contained not only our scraps of rope, but also all of our eating utensils, matches, and flashlights.

But that’s another story.

If you'd care to see more photos of the trip, click here.

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