August 23, 2022

Not easy, but worth it

This time last week, I was getting eaten by mosquitoes, carrying 50+ lbs of packs and canoes, trying to catch my dinner, and spending all of my time with six other guys — some of whom I’d never met before.

It was awesome.

Quick Context…

I’m not an especially outdoorsy person. I don’t own a tent and I don’t always seek out the most “adventurous” personal vacations. But every year, a small group of guys and I plan a trip that will challenge us and teach us something new. Last year, three of us chose to do a week of intense camping in the Boundary Waters — a place in Northern Minnesota that is accessible primarily by canoe. Its vast wilderness extends 150 miles along the U.S.- Canada border. It was such a special trip that we decided to do it again this year.

This time instead of three friends, we decided to invite others. Fast forward to earlier this summer, the group had grown to seven of us. After only two group Zoom calls we were meeting in Minneapolis for the first time to begin our adventure.

What Does a Boundary Waters Trip Consist Of?

Imagine traveling deep inside a forest with winding rivers and lakes of all sizes.

Your Kevlar canoe, paddle, tent, clothing, food, and all necessary supplies to survive are on your back. And to get where you need to go, all you have is a map and compass to navigate the waters and find the trails (Portages).

No Google Maps, no tech, and no signage. Some trails are easy to find off the shore — some are not. The campsites you’re visiting are first-come-first-serve. So if the ones you were aiming for are full, you’ll need to keep going.

Most of the seven guys who joined this trip had some experience with hiking & camping. But the Boundary Waters are another level. And everyone knew it.

What does it take to prepare?

There is an urge before this type of experience to “gear up.” Nearly all of us admitted to shopping until the very last minute. Camp chairs? First aid kits? Pocket knives? Bug gear? The perfect water/hiking shoe, etc.

Beyond that, the main categories included route planning, scheduling, meal planning, and preparing for the situations where things don’t go smoothly.

How’d it go?

Getting seven relative strangers to do anything well for nine days together is a feat. But our trip leader — one of my dear friends and Ei’s CFO, Zak Tracy — is an amazing human with a nose for good people who’ll connect well. He’s from Minnesota and takes pride in bringing people to this part of the country.

With Zak at the helm of the trip, there was a great deal of trust that things would go well. So even during the poor weather, issues with gear, and (small) injuries, our group rose to the occasion. When there was a downpour, we huddled under a tarp and then eventually constructed a spectacular tent. When fish kept breaking our lines (those feisty Northern Pike), we spent three hours creating an amazing fishing net from a sapling and paracord. And when we needed to share a challenge from back home, there was always a listening ear.

Not Easy, But Worth It

As you head into the final weeks of summer, you might be looking for one more experience to rest, reset, relax, or connect with your family or friends. Before you think about your go-to options, what if you examined a new place to visit? Or what if you tried an experience that would challenge how you think about your life and work today? You don’t need to traverse to the northern edges of the country. There are experiences in much closer reach. Start there, and see where they take you next.

Joey, Will, Zak, Bobby, Dave, Victor, & Joe — holding our favorite tools from the trip.

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