Those of us lucky enough to spend time in the wilderness know the feeling of coming back after a trip; the high of coming off trail, the camaraderie you feel with your trip-mates, and the feeling of having just experienced something that feels so special and unique. Yet, you can’t seem to find the right words to explain it.
A few months pass and the high is gone, you’re back at your job or at school, and the memories have faded. I’ve been met with this a multitude of times, and I’ve wrestled with trying to find a way to make those trips last in my memory just a little bit longer. What are some ways to make a trip stand out in the months after getting off trail?
How can we keep that trail high around just a little bit longer?
With this in mind, I grabbed five friends and set out to the Boundary Waters to find out. This is what I discovered.
1. Mix up the nature of your Nature.
As someone whose outdoor experiences have consisted almost entirely of hiking and exploring the mountains of the Northeast, I was so excited to get to explore another mode of adventure travel in a brand new place. While I’ve done some canoeing in the past, I’ve never canoe camped or lived out of a boat ... ever.
Luckily, my friends with whom I was traveling, had enough experience to make up for my unfamiliarity. It was humbling to feel discomfort in a wilderness setting, where I usually feel at ease and comforted by my familiar hiking boots and mountainous terrain. There’s something really great about mixing things up and feeling uncomfortable once and awhile.
The trip started on a colder than normal day in the small quintessential Northwoods town of Ely, Minnesota. Paddles in hand, we started out across Moose Lake, misty rain dampening the still tranquility around us. It took me a little while to get my lake-legs under me, but it didn’t take long to feel comfortable gliding through the water.
Because of our mid-day start, we took it pretty easy on day one, making it to camp early enough to set up before dusk and the onslaught of mosquitoes.
2. Eat like royalty.
There’s been one too many trips where I’ve lived off of Ramen Noodles, Pop Tarts, and Snickers Bars. Granted, hiking and canoeing are different beasts when it comes to weight considerations, but eating on trail doesn’t have to be a sacrifice for your taste buds.
Our group did a solid amount of food-prep the day before we left, which paid off big time and made our meals a definite highlight of our trip. The second night in offered one of my favorite meals that we had on our entire adventure. It turned out to be a beautiful day, a much needed improvement from the drizzly, cold day before. After swimming and soaking up some vitamin D, we broke out our spice kit, sauteed some veggies, and assembled some Falafel pockets. We used a pre-made falafel mix and fried them over our Whisperlite in some veggie oil. We served the falafels on pita bread with sautéed peppers and onions, and topped it off with hummus. Note on the hummus – I had no idea that dehydrated hummus existed. Apparently it does, and my mind was and still is totally blown.
We personalized our meal with our trusty spice kit, which we curated before the trip — salt, pepper, chili flakes, cumin, paprika, and curry powder all packaged in small containers for easy access. Spice kits are a must have for any trip!
The rest of the trip included no shortage of other amazing meals. Breakfast consisted of either homemade granola that my friend Julia and I made the night before the trip, loaded oatmeal with nuts and peanut butter, or pancakes!
We toned things down for lunch, settling for a more classic trail meal of meat & cheese or pb&j wraps. We did make sure to bring along some condiments like barbecue sauce and mustard to keep things interesting. For the rest of our dinners, we delighted in pesto pasta, burritos using dehydrated refried beans and rice, and loaded Annie's mac and cheese.
Here’s a recipe worth sharing for the trail:
Julia’s Homemade Peanut Butter-Coconut Granola recipe:
- 6 cups of oats
- 1 cup of pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup of walnuts
- 2 cups of texturized vegetable protein
- ⅔ cups of peanut butter
- ½ cup of honey
- 6 T canola oil
- 1.5 t salt
- ½ t cinnamon
- ½-1C of coconut for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350° and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat to combine peanut butter, honey, and oil. In a large bowl add oats, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, vegetable protein, salt, and cinnamon. Add peanut butter mixture to dry ingredients. Mix to combine. Spread on baking sheet, packing lightly. The layer of granola should not exceed ¼ inch thick as to allow for easy baking. Bake for 25 minutes, checking halfway to turn and stir. Sprinkle coconut on top for the last 5 minutes of baking. Enjoy at camp with powdered milk!
3. Get creative with downtime.
On day three of our trip, after some clouds set in, we found ourselves at camp getting restless. It was too late to continue on to another campsite and we had already exhausted our normal activities of pumping water, and setting up camp, so we decided to use our resources and play some lake yard games.
We didn’t have much besides some camp chairs, water bottles, and shoes, but it turns out that’s all we needed to get an exciting game of Kubb going. And thus, the great Boundary Waters Kubb Championship of 2018 commenced. The game lasted for a good hour, our teams devising the best way to throw a stick in a full rotation towards water bottles and chairs. It was a great way to spend the afternoon!
4. It’s in the little things.
The sky was pink, with gold brush strokes making the sky sparkle. We had just finished our dinner of pesto pasta, and the “bug hour” had finally come. Mosquitoes are inevitable on wilderness trips, but let me tell you, these were mosquitoes like I had never experienced. We quickly weighed our options and made a break for it into our canoes, seeking solace in the middle of Knife Lake.
We paddled for a little while as the sky started to change, breaking out in soft pinks and sparkly gold flecks. As we floated with our canoes gunneled up, eating frosting out of jar with graham crackers, we realized how truly lucky we were to be sitting in this place, with these people, and with mother nature putting on a gorgeous sky show.
A jar of canned frosting never tasted so good.
5. Throw yourself a Shindig.
The final night, after spending a glorious afternoon sun bathing, reading books, and swatting an unnatural amount of flies, the thoughts of showers and hamburgers flooding our minds. So, we commemorated our time together by throwing ourselves a party.
Hollis and Leslie were the only ones who had come prepared with their lake best — flowy floral pants and a floral dress, so the rest of us got creative. Julia and I made skirts with our towels and accented with our Buff headbands. Katie and Claire won creativity points by making dresses out of their flannels.
We lounged in style that night, passing around a bottle of whiskey, recounting funny moments from the past week, and soaking in every last moment we could until we had to head back to our busy lives.
It started like trips often do, but it ended differently. We gave up control to the experience — allowing ourselves the time to explore the island in the distance, to finish that chapter in our book, to play silly games in the woods, to eat frosting from a can with our fingers, and to fully experience a week in the woods with good friends and food.
It’s been about a month, and I can’t remember the smell of the trees early in the morning, or the sounds of the loon family as they played nearby. But I can remember the moments that my friends and I shared together, through a truly new adventure experience.
Cleo™ 30° Regular - The plush down in this super-packable bag kept me warm and comfy for a week of chilly nights near the cold water.
Losi™ 3P & Galaxi™ 3P- This combination of tents provided plenty of room for our party of 6 ladies, and easily provided plenty of storage for our gear in the vestibules.
Cosmo™ 25L One of the most comfortable pads I've ever slept on, Cosmo™ cradled my body and kept me warm through the night. My trip mates were definitely jealous when they felt the curved baffles.
Bugout™ 9x9 - It really was amazing to eat our amazing meals in a bug-free zone each evening after a day on the water.
Buff - A versatile go-to on all of my adventures, perfect for warmth, sun screen, and bug protection.
Chacos - These were great on the water and dried almost instantly..
- Sunglasses - Allowing your eyes to relax during hours of being on the water is very important, and polarized lenses offer that and enhanced clarity above and below the water.
Afterbite - A. Must. In the Boundary Waters.
- Spice Kit
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Emily Balch is the voice of Customer Service, a prolific hiker, and baker of fancy breads.