When this blog uploads automatically Monday morning, I’ll be in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve visited the BWCA about fifteen times. I’ve been there in all seasons except ice-in and ice-out, but my last trip was thirty-five years ago. With more mobility and more discretionary income, my more recent backcountry trips have been to more distant places. It’s time to return to the wilderness that is, compared to Ontario, Montana, and Taiwan, practically in my backyard. 

In theory, a designated wilderness should not change much in just a few decades, but with the Boundary Waters, visitor use has increased and large forest fires have changed the landscape. Also there has been discussion about opening adjacent areas to mining, so mining interests probably have been in there conducting whatever tests it is that they do. Still the main difference won’t be in the Boundary Waters. It will be in me. Three and a half decades (a third of a century) takes a bigger toll on humans than on relatively undisturbed nature. At age 65, the portages and long paddles don’t concern me; I dread more the thought of crawling out of my warm sleeping bag at three in the morning to pee. Among the four men going on the trip, one has had both hips replaced, another’s been dealing with gout, and I have one arm working at half strength because of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow). I don’t know the fourth guy very well, but there’s probably something wrong with him, too. 

I recently read that the average age of Boundary Waters visitors is getting progressively older. People who went there in the 1970s and 80s are still going, but young people are not as much. This does not surprise me. Part of it is due to Boundary Waters policy. With a limit of three canoes per party, Scouts and other organized youth groups hardly go at all. Part of it is that flatwater paddling is the best mode of wilderness travel for seniors. Speaking for myself, the days of lugging a sixty-pound pack on a backpacking trip are over, but I probably will be able to paddle a canoe right up to the end. The only question I have is why I and others like me went to the Boundary Waters when we were in our 20s and 30s, but the current batch of young adults tend to stay away. Actually that’s a really good question. 

Steven Simpson