How a Bad Start Turned Into a Great Trip

One of the last things you want to be caught without in the wilderness when it’s cold and rainy is a camp stove.

Sure, folks have made it without one, and my friend and I did too, but it would’ve come in handy when we visited Voyageurs National Park last May.

I made reservations a month or two in advance and watched the weather regularly. It was hard to tell what it was going to be like when it was still a few weeks out, so I figured it would be best to just plan for everything.

As the trip crept up, my buddy and I talked more and more about who was bringing what, and so on. The shares seemed divided, and luckily enough, the sun was high in the sky the day we left for endless pines, pristine waters and a long weekend away. However, there were delays.

However, there were delays.

The Drive In

My friend was supposed to bring enough food for himself, fishing bait, his fishing license, and lastly, bring the camp stove.

The day we left, he looked ready, clad in a thick flannel and hiking boots with his pack swung over his shoulder. All seemed well until we got down the road.

Casually, he told me we would need to stop because he needed to grab food, his license, and bait.

I’m sure I looked at him and said something along the lines of, “What the hell man?” But, I went with it since we looked good on time. A few hours in, we stopped at a gas station to get what we needed, but of course, when you’re crunched for time, things seem to take longer than usual.

We got back on the road at a decent time. Down the road a few miles, my buddy turns to me and says something like: “I’m sorry, but do you mind stopping for a six pack?”

My patience thins. We’re crunched for time at this point. We’ve already taken more time than we had – since you have to check in by no later than 5 p.m. with full arrangements to get to where you need to go.

I caved. We stopped, grabbed the sixer and took off again.

Since this was my first time up there, I wasn’t familiar with the area and cell reception was spotty, so the GPS was out. I had a map in the car, but it was misread, so we got turned around a few times.

I laid on the gas more and more to try and make the check-in deadline. I called ahead to let the rangers know we’d be late, and since it wasn’t done in advance, we were also scrambling to make arrangements for a water taxi when we got there. If I researched better, I would’ve known that.

It was after 6 p.m. by the time we made it to the entrance. We didn’t have a boat. The rangers denied us access to the park and told us about a small campground down the road. We spent the night there, where it rained and rained.

The dock in the lost bay in Voyageurs National Park near Ely, Minn.
This is the dock in the lost bay that we were dropped off after entering the park by water taxi.

Rain Outside, Rain Inside

We had a fire going before the rain came down that evening, though, so I didn’t think to bring out the camp stove. But, after we managed to get into the park the next morning, it would’ve come in real handy.

It rained the better half of the day, and the park was soaked already from the night before. We had a bundle of wet firewood to carry to camp too, which was based on an open lookout on Ek Lake.

The downside was the wind was coming in off the water. Getting a fire started seemed next to impossible, since what we could find for kindling was very little and relatively wet, and the birch we brought in from the visitor center was in the same shape. 

The conversation I had with my friend about the camp stove didn’t last long. I asked. He said he forgot it. Frustrated, I looked at the fire ring that was centered in the wind’s route and carried on with few other options in mind.

We balanced a large, downed log on the fire ring to block the wind. We stripped the bark off of the birch for kindling and kept at it. Eventually, we had a fire going. 

Ek Lake, backpack-in site
We balanced a large, fallen log onto the fire ring.

It was enough to cook over and better than no fire at all.

But, all the same, instead of being frustrated with delays, the lost day, the turnarounds, being hungry, and all else, it would’ve saved us a tremendous amount of time, energy and foul words to have a camp stove ready.

Despite the many bumps in the road, I look forward to heading back this summer. Things happen, and trips don’t always go as planned, or they don’t go so well due to a lack of planning. 

Some of the best trips I’ve been on were made possible because of the amount of research and planning that happened beforehand.

Watch for a post on preparing for a trip to water parks like Voyageurs National Park