I am writing this on the evening before heading out to a wilderness cabin north of Ely with some pals. For a decade and a half we have made an annual pilgrimage to a cabin or yurt several miles from the nearest road or other man-made dwelling. The experience is my equivalent of a Hawaiian vacation. There is no exotic locale on earth I’d rather journey to on this yearly trip. This is as good as it gets, and this year’s destination promises to be the creme de la creme.
The expectation, dreaming, and planning for the journey is nearly as fun as actually going. I, as are most, am busy with family, job, and mortgage. Trips into deep wilderness use to be a weekly occurrence, but now I’m doing pretty well to get out there once a season.
Just knowing so much unspoiled wilderness is out there waiting to be explored is comforting, however. Even if I don’t have time or money to actually be in the wilderness and part of it physically, my mind and spirit are always in kinship through past experiences and memories. This trip, like others that have gone before, promises to shape me in new ways. These events are collected like souvenirs, and serve as valuable mementos to be cherished forever in the deep core of my very being as if they were precious jewels.
The destination this year is more upscale and fantastic than any that have gone before. A four mile journey by ski over and through fresh powdery snow will bring us to our temporary home on a tiny lake right on the very edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Daily we’ll make incursions across frozen lakes, rivers, and portages, into one on of the quietest places on earth (especially mid-week in the winter).
Arriving in the midst of a significant winter storm, as we will, should allow for very little signs of other human life in this very special place that was wisely set aside as wilderness so many years ago.
Fresh snow serves as a reset button on the entire landscape, so tracks that aren’t our own will be few and far between of the two-legged variety. Animal tracks of all kinds, mere hours old following the storm, will zig and zag across our much more direct and straight traveling tendencies. Interesting topography and undulations of the land will display their charms, and all our senses will awaken from their slumber in greater perception as normal daily distractions are left behind.
An all consuming hush will descend upon our normally frenetic minds, which will allow for greater awareness, clarity, wonder, joy, an unfettered primitive delight, and a greater sense of timelessness.
We should be snuggly ensconced in the cabin during the height of the storm, and the lure of a cozy hobbit hole during such an event is as good as it gets for me. Each day we’ll return from day trips on our skis to this abode, and will get the fire lit in the old school Finnish log sauna located right on the edge of our lonely lake. While the sauna slowly builds to the desired temperature we’ll grill steaks and savor them.
Now I’ve been enjoying the sauna down at the YMCA all winter, which has to be one of the finest of the electrically heated variety in town, but nothing beats an old fashioned Finnish sauna with a large barrel wood stove at its heart. The heat is warm and soft, and coaxes its way through your muscle fibers and down into the very marrow of your bones. A good cleansing sweat and rinse in such a place leaves you feeling as clean as the day you were born.
Wearing a smile, you stand impervious to wind and snow at the confluence of deep woods and a pristine lake. Both body and spirit glow and steam emanates as if it was an off-gassing of stress. Feeling the elements breeze over your gradually cooling body under the stars as wolves howl in the distance is a near heavenly experience that makes me thankful to live in northern Minnesota.