By Ryan Salm

Border Lines: A Boundary Waters Expedition – Part 2

Continued from Border Lines – Part 1, the first installment from our Boundary Waters SUP expedition.

In the fall of 2015, photographer Ryan Salm, his wife Lauren Bobowski and their friend Dane Shannon set off on an expedition across the Boundary Waters Canoe Area on standups. The BWCA is a famously remote fishing, paddling and boating destination carved by glaciers and covered in thick forest in the northern reaches of Minnesota, along the Canadian border. This is their story, straight from Salm’s travel journal and originally published in our 2016 Gear Guide.

9.1.15 | Day 4

Smooth sailing so far. A loon calls out in the distance as a sunrise campfire crackles at my feet. The steam from the earl grey mixes with the smoke from the fire and the heat of the sun warms my face. Our clothes, tent and sleeping gear hang from various branches and rocks in an attempt to dry them before our departure from yet another magical camp. A waterfall rumbles in the distance amongst an orchestra of birds and chirping insects. I awoke today, took a bath in the lake and washed my trusty shirt. My first sip of tea brings me back to yesterday’s paddle. On the map it was possibly the most intimidating piece of water yet: Saganaga Lake. It separates the US and Canada and is a massive expanse in relation to everything else on our maps. It also marked the resupply point on our trip, Seagull Canoe Outfitters. We’d cached five days worth of food there in advance and yesterday we retrieved it.

We split the lake into multiple sections in order to cross it efficiently. We scoped the map and noticed Clark Island at the mouth of the arm that we needed to take to get to Seagull Lake and our cache.

The morning was unbelievably glassy, almost like paddling on a mirror. We reached Clark Island quickly, found what appeared to be an amazing camp spot, hung all of our food in a tree, stashed our bags and paddled towards our first piece of civilization in a week.

As we got close to shore, we noticed some small cabins, houses, even a couple cars. We stashed our boards in some bushes, packed a small daypack and attempted to hitchhike to the outfitters from a small boat launch on the American side. But there were no cars on the road, so we hoofed it.

After a mile or two, we made it to the outfitters, repacked all of our gear, threw out our trash and learned of a Trail’s End Café. Even though it was a couple miles away, we decided the walk was worth it for a burger, fries, Sunkist orange soda, and ice-cold Killian’s Irish Red. We were right.

We repeated the process and headed back to our bags on Clark Island. On the way a moose squeezed its enormous body through the tight forest off in the distance. We shared a moment with at least five bald eagles clutching to branches of dead trees or floating on the breeze.

After retrieving our bags, glassy waters led us all the way through the giant lake, a blessing. Any real wind could have destroyed us.

9.2.15 | Day 5

Just finished my second beer on tap, had an ice cream sundae with caramel, a prime-rib sandwich, walleye chowder and now I’m laying down in a bunk. You can tell a lot about a man from his handwriting. The previous entries were written in the trees on no surface, only the comforts of the outdoors. This is written in style.

We paddled fiercely today. Lots of miles and a constant headwind made everything a bit more difficult as we made our way through a huge recovering burn zone, zigzagging along the USA/Canada border. We couldn’t tell which country we were in if we wanted to, unless there was a marker. We portaged ten times. I even paddled for half the day in my sneakers when I got sick of changing my footwear.

We were tired. But then we saw a strange thing on the map: Gunflint Lodge. We decided on a quick beer run. The menu was deep and we went big. And just as the food came, so did another surprise. We peered out the window to find the northern lights erupting across the sky.

9.3.15 | Day 6

Unsure what day of the week it is and don’t really care. My arm is tired enough that I feel it when I write. Today was an undertaking. After a night at the random bunkhouse at Gunflint, we embarked knowing there was wind in the forecast. Gunflint Lake is a big boy, seven miles long, east to west. The morning began calm and we were able to traverse the first few miles with ease. As we reached the eastern flanks, the gusts began. Dane made a beeline to the northeast without mentioning it to us. He decided against using a nearby island for shelter. Lauren started crossing earlier than I would have suggested and thus was hung out in the middle of the lake in a strong crosswind. After some classic, one-sided, repetitive paddling, we made it across. All was good but it did lead to a conversation about what might happen if we encounter big winds on some of these grand lakes.

Next up was North Lake, another big one, with winds continuing out of the southeast, just the direction we were heading.

Check back next week for the third and final installment of Border Lines.

Border Lines – Part 1

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