Post Birkie Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Adventure

By: CXC Team athlete, Andy Brown 

Over the past couple of years my friends and I have been increasingly involved with winter camping. Working around the racing calendar and finding a time to go can be problematic, but having missed a trip last season I was determined go this year no matter what. My partners in crime were the usual suspects and elite skiers Blake Hillerson and Bjorn Batdorf. The only time we could all go was the day after Birkie. We were all a little worried about jumping into a winter excursion the day after a ski marathon, but we decided that we needed to suck the marrow out of life and go for it.

After we had all finished the race we drove to Duluth and packed everything up while carbo loading on pizza and beer. After a good night’s sleep, we hit the road and drove up to the trailhead.

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Loading up all our worldly possessions on the toboggans

Starting out I could feel that my hip flexors were trashed from slipping on hills during the Birkie the day before. I popped three ibuprofen and called it good, telling myself that I’d take two days off when I got home. Thankfully Bjorn was breaking most of the trail and I could follow behind without killing myself. Bjorn is a naturally gifted skier, but I’m convinced his true genetic gifts are canoe carrying and toboggan hauling. The lakes we traveled on had decent crust and we were able to fly across them, but the portages were brutal. Three feet of powder and plenty of steep hills made pulling the toboggans very difficult. Some colorful language was used, but the sleds got over the hills eventually.

As we neared the lake we were staying at, my toboggan ran away on a downhill and plowed over one of my skis. I heard a sickening crack as the ski broke in half behind the tip. The ski was toast, but the base was holding it together enough to be somewhat useful. I switched to snowshoes and walked the last mile to our campsite.

Bjorn had sprinted and had already dropped a line in the water. Within minutes he had reeled in a nice lake trout, and we were halfway to dinner.

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Bjorn: the only ice fisherman to catch fish while wearing Xium boots and skis

We had chosen our campsite on a lake trout honey hole and soon after I had a fish on the ice as well. Blake not wanting to be left out, reeled in the last fish before we had to start collecting firewood and setting up the tent.

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Catching fish in the secret spot

Our friend Emily Johnson was nice enough to loan us her canvas winter hot tent for the trip. A wood stove and some dry cedar firewood gave us a nice refuge as the temperatures outside dropped below zero.

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Drying everything out inside the hot tent

Bjorn’s cooked us german beer fish for dinner and made probably the best mojitos that Blake and I have ever had (the half frozen club soda worked some kind of magic). With our stomachs full, we crawled into our mummy bags and fell asleep.

The next morning Bjorn went for a snowshoe hike up one of the surrounding hills to warm up and get a view of the area. The winter snowscape of the area is incredible and I wished that I had hiked up there with him.

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In the meantime Blake started ice fishing the honey hole again and quickly realized the fish were on a feeding frenzy. It was the most automatic fishing I had ever seen with the fish striking before the lure even reached bottom. Blake reeled in fish after fish, barely having time to put a new minnow on the lure each time.

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Blake: the trout whisperer

With all of us at our possession limit for fish. We packed up and started skiing back to the trailhead. Rightaway the base of my broken ski pulled away from the core and what had been a broken, yet still usable ski, became a floppy useless noodle.

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Packing everything up

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Wonder if I can fix it?

With some five miles back to the trailhead and not many options I started running behind Bjorn and Blake while they skied. The trail had firmed up enough that I was okay most of the time not using snowshoes since it was faster, but my feet post holed through the snow into lake slush enough times to completely soak my boots. With wet feet and a broken ski I stopped caring about a lot of things. Being unencumbered by the thought process, I was able to pound through the last couple portages and finish the run back to the truck before I got cold.

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Hauling the toboggan back up broken ski hill

I am now sitting back at home enjoying the great indoors, the invention of hot water heaters, and foam rollers. My taste for the outdoors has been satisfied for now, at least til the ice melts off the lakes and the trout start feeding again.

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