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Giving Canoeing Its Due

Posted by Valerie Hein-Hamstra on 5/25/2015 to Canoe
Written by Ethan Scheiwe

Having a passion for the outdoors is one of the greatest attributes that any young adult (or any adult) can possess. In a world of lights, buildings, and instant gratification, I yearn for the natural world. Getting out and spending several nights under the stars is one of the healthiest things you can do mentally and physically. You’ll reset your internal clock, find beauty in the small things, and earn a greater reverence for the world we live in.

Backpacking is the cool thing to do with people my age. I thought so too — until I actually went backpacking. My first solo-backpacking trip was… unsuccessful. That caused me to fall in love with canoe camping. I’ve discovered that you can get all of the joys you would get from backpacking as you do with a canoe or kayak. And as a (young) person living in Wisconsin, the paddling is exceptional and accessible, no matter what your preferences for lakes or rivers are.

With a canoe, you can haul heavier gear, and experience a different — ok, “wetter” — side of the biome. Being able to ‘haul heavier gear’ is what really sold me. With backpacking, you want to go as light as possible. Lightweight camping gear = an empty wallet. Ultralight gear is expensive. When weight isn’t your highest priority, the gear to get you out into the backcountry can be considerably cheaper. Sleeping pads, sleeping bags, tents, cookware, and other random necessities that don’t fall under the ‘ultralight’ category can save you hundreds of dollars. Canoe camping is luxurious compared to backpacking. I often eat better on canoe trips than I do at home: steak, potatoes, veggies, and corn on the cob are pretty much always on the first night’s dinner menu. Bagels, pancakes, eggs (if you don’t crush them), and other bits of food can follow. No need to have freeze-dried food every other meal. You also have the option to eat your bounty on a nice, comfortable chair. After a day of foraging and splitting firewood, a chair is one of life’s greatest luxuries. These comforts give you a certain peace-of-mind. You’re on an island in the middle of a lake. You can’t hear any car. You can gaze at the stars and listen to the howls of wolves in the distance. And you’re comfortable.

Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan have some of the best paddling you can find in the United States. The Wisconsin River is a gorgeous waterway with bluffs, islands, sandbars, eagles, and cranes. It is less than an hour’s drive from Madison. Camp on any sandbar you’d like. The Kickapoo River meanders through canyon-like sandstone, and feeds you beautiful scenery around every cliff face. Up north, the Turtle Flambeau Flowage is one of the easiest lakes to camp on. No permit required — it’s first come first serve and you can go whenever you want. Campsites are laid out with a pit toilet, fire ring (with cooking grate), and often have a nice tent pad. Some sites offer beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The Sylvania Wilderness Area is considered to be the “little Boundary Waters.” This is a good place to paddle before stepping way out into the backcountry of the Minnesota Boundary Waters. It’s smaller, but contains numerous lakes that you must portage between. The Boundary Waters is a famed location that allows paddlers to see scenery you can’t find anywhere else in the world —including ancient petroglyphs — and is some of the wildest country you can paddle in. The further you go, the less likely you’ll find another human on your journey. If you venture into Quetico in Canada, you can easily go weeks without seeing another person. There are so many options. You’d struggle to paddle everywhere you can camp within a nine-hour drive from Madison. There are so many fewer places to go backpacking, compared to those you can paddle here in the Midwest.

Note: Backcountry camping requires certain stepping stones for anyone seeking adventure. I don’t recommend you jump right into it. Camp at state parks first. Hone your skills before you venture into the wild. Practice: cooking on an open fire or camp stove, gathering and splitting wood, building a fire, setting up tarps, and possibly hanging your food pack away from bears. Learn to be comfortable away from the city lights, your electronic devices, and ultimately, being comfortable with yourself and the world around you. From there, you can venture deeper and deeper until you’ve really escaped all signs of humanity.

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Ethan Scheiwe is a floor manager, warehouse manager, photographer, and philosopher. In his spare time he trumps up charges against squirrels who invade “his” warehouse.

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