This blog entry was written by Adam Maxwell and edited by me. He and three other young men are paddling from Lake Superior to Hudson Bay this summer.
The most feared experience among people paddling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is the fear of capsizing. There aren't polar bears, grizzly bears, poisonous snakes or other deadly creatures to worry about in the BWCA but capsizing in the canoe country is a real risk, especially to those who paddle early in the spring or late in the fall.
I experienced the fear of capsizing in the Boundary Waters in early May of 2009 while working at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. I started my canoe camping trip the day before fishing opener for an early season, 8- day solo wilderness canoe trip. When I left American point there were still a few ice chunks floating on Saganaga Lake and plenty of snow hidden by the shade of the trees. After months of winter this trip was just what I needed. The solitude of the woods and the lake trout crusing the shallow water were calling my name.
On the fifth day of my Boundary Waters trip things took a turn for the worst. Just after leaving my BWCA campsite on Ogish I made the mistake of looking at my Boundary Waters map instead of the waves that were hitting my canoe. A gust of wind kicked up and the freezing cold water hit me like a brick. I was completely submerged in the water and at least 100 feet from shore. I could hear the last words Mike had said to me before I left, "Be careful, if you tip in this cold water you have about three minutes to get out of the lake."
I realized I needed to leave my canoe and main pack to swim toward shore with the little dry bag I had strapped to the thwart of my canoe. The bag contained a few items of clothing and some matches. When I made it to shore I was completely exhausted and with my first step onto land I stumbled and hit the ground. Struck with fear I retreated to the woods to escape the wind and put on what little dry clothing I had.
About an hour later I saw a group of canoeists, the first I had seen in three days. I yelled to them and in no time they had retrieved both my canoe and my pack. I knew I would make it through my worst moment in the BWCA.
Looking back I’m glad I experienced what I did. Nothing helps a person become a better paddler faster than a life threatening experience. The realization that a great day can turn deadly in a heartbeat has forced me to think through my actions better. It was a lesson that I had to learn the hard way, but a lesson I will never forget. Adam Maxwell
This lesson will help the Hudson Bay Expedition Crew as they make their way from Lake Superior to Hudson Bay this summer.