By: Jamie Cooper
Photography By: Jamie Cooper
When you grow up sleeping in bunk beds, you tend to stay up later than you should fantasizing and telling stories. This was the case for my younger brother Casey and me. This is where our friendship really started. Being from a large Catholic family in the Midwest, we spent most of our summer days playing outside. Our weekends consisted of loading up the family suburban with our two red Coleman canoes and the fleet of family bikes and camping at the nearest state parks. As our family got more involved with sports, school and jobs, the family camp outings started to be less frequent. But for Casey and me, they were just beginning.
While I would come home for breaks over college, it became a tradition for us to load up a canoe and head to one of our favorite rivers for a paddle. Sometimes those would be a quick one-hour paddle, but other times we’d take our time and just enjoy being on the water talking.
A popular topic of conversation for us was dream trips. Oftentimes we’d have these conversations while drifting down a foggy river drinking coffee in the canoe while watching the sunrise. The trip that often came up was wanting to paddle the Mississippi River from source to sea in a canoe that we’d build. The trip did happen, but not as we planned. Casey did the trip solo in a borrowed aluminum canoe, while I was home recovering from back surgery building a cedar-strip canoe.
During my canoe-building process, I would frequent the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), which I had first visited while a young Boy Scout. It didn’t take long for me to feel like a kid in my heart being up there again. The smell of the pine trees, the sounds of the geese flying overhead, the cool lake water and, of course, the mosquitoes. It is easy to fall in love with the natural beauty of the Boundary Waters. After every visit I would already be planning my next trip and I’d call Casey while driving the scenic drive back and tell him we need to do a trip together. But life always had other plans and we never got our BWCA trip.
Casey and I tend to do many things together, even if we don’t ever plan on it. One of the biggest things was we both proposed to our longtime girlfriends last year. So with both of us having upcoming weddings later this year, we found it only fitting that we head up north for a long weekend with some dear friends before we tie our respective knots.
Being the last-minute planners that we are, we were throwing things together last minute to head up after work on a Friday afternoon. With our ragtag group of guys, we took off for the BWCA. And I could not have been more excited. We went up the Gunflint Trail through Grand Marais. We arrived late Friday night and were greeted by the fine folks at the Poplar Haus. These fine folks truly embody Minnesota nice. Here we shared some delightful cocktails and drinks before hitting the trail at first light Saturday morning. Even after being up much later and after a few more drinks than any of us planned, we were able to get to entry point 57 on Magnetic Lake to start the trip. From the first paddle stroke, I could tell this was going to be a trip to remember.
We spent three wonderful nights working our way up the Granite River, through Saganaga Lake, over to Red Rock Lake, into Alpine Lake and finally we took out at Seagull Lake. What a perfect trip! We had a taste of it all — from small river sections to the big open water of Saganaga. The four of us were like boys in summer camp, staying out late the last night of the trip. The Seagull Lake site had everything we could have asked for to finish the trip in the best way possible. We did everything from cliff jumping, to catching lake trout, to watching the sunset on the Palisades, to playing euchre by headlight under the stars.
It was hard to crawl back into the tent that night because I knew that meant we were going to head back to reality in the morning. But as we lay under the night sky watching for shooting stars, all I could think about was how excited I am to be able to start this next chapter of my life. How I can’t wait to bring my own kids up there some day and have them make the same kinds of memories I shared with my family.