Friday, August 31, 2012


Most of this week's content has been of the trip recap variety, which might beg the question of whether I have been doing anything at all this week. It turns out that I may have misplaced my marathon training momentum somewhere back in the Boundary Waters, and that's bad timing because 1) it got hotter this week and 2) it's my peak week of mileage for the plan. (Yeep.)

Therefore, I have been buckling down and digging deep and all of those weird cliches to get the miles in. It's no biggie and I'll get my spring in my step back soon - it's just one of those weeks where the gratification from this hobby comes not from jubilant super-speedy workouts or easy runs, but from working hard to keep goals on track.

I have been puttering around in the kitchen and trying some new recipes, including one very significant going-out-on-a-limb project. It involves a very large chunk of meat, percolating in the crockpot as we speak, which will hopefully morph into magnificent pulled pork tacos by dinnertime. (The vegetables are unrelated and from the Santa Fe Summer BBQ Pizza recipe courtesy - of course - of Iowa Girl Eats.)

The sunrises have been orange and beautiful this week. Today the clouds were pink:

This guy has been his usual charming self:

And finally, later on this morning's run, all of a sudden I literally got stopped in my tracks by a particular sight. Whoa.

The leaves, the colors, the sunlight?  That looks like fall to me. Like I said earlier this week - I'm loving the late afternoon warm sun, but bring on the leaf photos!

Another sign of fall: college football started last night, and my Tennessee Volunteers kick off their season tonight!  Rocky Top!

Happy Friday to you, Reader!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

10 Lessons in the BWCA (#6-10)

Okay, earlier I posted the first five lessons the Boundary Waters taught me. Here goes the second half!

6) How to portage
This was the real looming question I had coming into the trip, and I truly had no clue what it would be like. The deal is that the Boundary Waters are tons and tons of little lakes and rivers, linked by small patches of land, and to cut over to the next body of water, you have to lug your gear and boat across that land. The portages are measured in rods, which is the equivalent of 16 feet, and the shortest portages we did were 15-20 rods. The longest was in the mid-200s, I think, which meant it was around 3/4 of a mile.

We'd drop our gear and arrange it based on the length of the portage ahead.

The other trick, besides the magic of hauling your gear across a long, sometimes rocky, sometimes hilly stretch, is that the paths are usually so narrow that you can't have two people carrying a canoe next to them. The canoe gets across each portage upside down, on one person's shoulders. Sometimes one of us could get it the entire way on our own; other times we traded the canoe off to another person and took turns. I took one canoe for a couple of stretches but found that it was more comfortable for me to load myself up with packs and help the group that way; others found that they preferred the canoes to carrying packs. It all worked out. We got used to a couple of portages each day - and as challenging as they could be at their toughest, tromping through the BWCA's woods was actually kind of fun. The highlight, though, is seeing the glittering water poke through the trees at the end of a portage. It seems like an oasis mirage, but it's real, and it means you get to drop your packs (or boat)!

Here we are, approaching a portage:

I definitely left the Boundary Waters with a new understanding of what portaging means.

7) How a group trip works
This was a unique experience for me. I've been on group trips before - the spring break trip in college, the road trip with family - but this was totally different. I knew a few people in this group of women, but many were complete strangers to me when I started the trip.

Your definition of what you find fun, preferable, or challenging is probably different from how someone else defines those things. On a trip like this, people pitch in the best way they can, and the work all gets done: Sara liked portaging canoes better, for example, and I preferred carrying the big packs. Sometimes we'd work together to set up our tent; sometimes we'd trade off tasks and work independently. The beauty of a group like this is how many different skills, interests, and experiences people bring to the table, and the best kind of trip, I imagine, pushes those people to stretch themselves but also honors their strengths.

I think any group works better with strong leaders, too. I really appreciated our guides, felt safe and confident with them in charge, and would do it again in a heartbeat - maybe even without the comfort of a close friend along with me, although I loved traveling with Sara!

8) How to really, really recharge
Sometimes at home recharging means sprawling on the couch and watching mindless TV shows. (And sometimes that's totally okay!) This trip was something very different, though. It meant leaving a cell phone (and the texts, Twitter, Facebook, news sites and email accounts that accompany it) miles and miles away. It meant sitting on a rock and reading or writing...

...or sitting on a rock and doing nothing at all.

It meant getting up to watch the sunrise if that's what nourishes you...

...or sleeping in because that's what your body needs. Recharging is different for everyone (and varies daily for the same person), and this trip struck a balance between challenging us and carving out lots of time to re-energize.

9) How big the sky can be in Minnesota
People in our group talked about states they'd visited where the sky felt more expansive than usual. On this trip, I saw firsthand how enormous the sky can be in my own home state. I wore a baseball hat most of the time to keep the sun off my face. One day, the sun was less intense and I spent the first hour craning my neck to look at every angle of the big, big sky.

I especially like seeing my friend in the bottom photo, her red t-shirt one tiny dot.

10) How it's about the journey, not the destination
You hear this message over and over, in various contexts, but it rarely rang truer to me than when I was in the BWCA. You often start the day without any details about where you'll end it, so without a time deadline or distance requirement, you really do just get to enjoy paddling without thinking about what's coming up later in the day.

And then, like I wrote about earlier, your senses start to open up. You notice a log that looks like it's poking out of the sky...

...or take a closer look at the patch of wild rice through which you're paddling...

...or heck, completely forget to paddle because the reflection is so pretty. (Sorry to my paddling partner at the time!)

A few days later, I am even more grateful for this experience, and I can't wait to go back. Who's with me?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One view

Oops. This isn't the second part of my trip recap, either. Later. Promise.

I guess you can say my mind keeps drifting back to this one particular spot in the Boundary Waters, from our first night in the BWCA. It's on a big, comfy rock (another trip lesson: comfy rocks do exist!) and you get a grand, sweeping view of the sky at both sunrise and sunset. (See why I like it?) The magnificent clouds seemed to hover over a little island, big enough to hold just two trees.

I've had a hankering for a long time to do a sort of time-lapsed photography experiment, where you take a photo of the same spot once every hour in a day and then compare it, or overlap each one a little bit so you get a little vertical strip for each hour. (Did that make sense? I'm not sure.)

Unintentionally, I kind of got into the spirit of that project at this campsite. Can you blame me?  Look how much it changes over the course of less than a day:

Crazy, huh? I would never, ever tire of that view.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Marvelous Monday: Week 35

Let's pause in the middle of my trip recap for a rendition of Marvelous Monday, shall we?

1. We nearly succeeded in getting my entire family (plus significant others and friends) over to our place for dinner last night to celebrate my brother's birthday, but then my dad had to head out of town for work. Rats! Even though we missed him, it was a great celebration.

It also included our cake tradition for my brother: the cupcake caterpillar!

2. A strange summer weather resurgence is back in Minnesota this week, timed perfectly with the State Fair. I will settle back into morning workouts but will definitely bask in the warm sun in the late afternoons.

3. It's college football kickoff week! My Tennessee team will begin its 2012 season on Friday night, and I am super excited. (Also: Josh and I have tickets to a game later this fall. More details on that later, of course!) If you are a new reader and are really confused about this hobby, check out this link and this link for some background on how I became a Tennessee football fan. Go Rocky Top!

4. I did my literal "running errands" thing to the library today: ran five miles, sent three books back and got two new ones. If it were only a little less cumbersome, I think it would be funny to request books at various library branches so I had to run all over town to collect them.

5. I also ordered an enormous amount of photos this evening, thanks to some nice special offers at Shutterfly: some for framing, some for scrappin' (that's scrapbooking, to the uninitiated). I had to go all the way back to the early spring to get all of the pictures I wanted to have as hard copies. (Yes, that means I haven't ordered prints since we got Wish. Yes, there are about 10 million dog photos coming my way shortly.)

Hey, what is marvelous about your day today, Reader?  Do you have cake traditions for different people in your family? (Mine is lemon cake, for example, and my dad's is lemon meringue pie.) If you are in Minnesota, will you go to the State Fair, and are you enjoying this warm weather or hoping for fall instead?

Feel free to share, in the comments section below!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

10 lessons in the BWCA (#1-5)

Reader, I was going to break my trip recap into two posts: what we did, and what I learned from it. Once I figured out what I wanted to include in the "what we did" post, though, it turned into a zillion-photo extravaganza-bonanza that would probably take another four days to read. Not good.

Thus, here we are: a two-part recap, sorted into 10 of the many things I learned in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area last week (in no particular order).

1) How to be on Wild Time
This was one of the biggest lessons I took away from being in the BWCA: how to be more present, more of the time. We were on Wild Time, which meant no wristwatches and no cell phones. Our group's leader, Chris, had a watch (mostly, I think, to make sure we were on track to get to a campsite sometime in the range of 2 to 4 p.m.), but I very rarely knew what time it was and cared even less often. It was marvelous to paddle hard or leisurely, take an extra moment at breakfast to have another cup of coffee and listen to a poem, and swim at lunch if the mood struck. We had a rough idea of the literal route we wanted to cover each day, but the real journey - how we got there - was up to us.

It took me time to adjust, though. On the first day, Chris asked if people were about ready for lunch and my response was asking out loud what time it was. I learned quickly that we ate when we were hungry, relaxed when we needed a break, pushed hard when conditions called for it, and slept when we were tired. In the mornings, I woke up early when the sky was pink, watched the sunrise, read, and sometimes fell back to sleep for a few minutes before breakfast. Sometimes we sat outside our tents until dusk on the rocks overlooking the water; other times we went to sleep earlier. There was no schedule to keep.

My friend Sara demonstrates the relaxing-on-rocks activity.
2) How quiet (and loud) it can be 
in the BWCA, there are no roads, no motorized boats or other vehicles, and no buildings. Think about what this looks like: no docks sticking out from shore, no houses, no rumbling boats. Sometimes we paddled for long stretches without seeing any other people, and we were just on the BWCA's border lakes, not even deep into the park.

But without all of the noises that cars and boats and lots of people generate, Chris told us that our senses would open up, and she was right. You start to listen instead to wind rustling through the treetops and fish flopping around in the water before the sun rises and the loon calls bouncing off rocks and around the channels of water.

(Lots of loons. So many loons.)

3) How to paddle
Should this have been #1? Probably. I had canoed a few times in my life and kayaked with the family last summer, but truthfully, I was a complete novice. On the first morning of our trip, we packed up all of our group's gear and prepared to get onto the water:

We learned the basic strokes and how to maximize efficiency within those strokes: how to paddle for a long time without tiring out our muscles. Chris said within half an hour, those basic paddling strokes would start to feel like second nature, and she was right. We learned how to sit in the canoes most comfortably and how to fit all of our gear into the boats. We learned that the boats had names and stories behind them. No wonder - they carried us all week, after all. They were a big part of our group!

Later on the first day, I started to learn how to steer from the stern (the back of the boat). Seeing the contrast between how Chris had so effortlessly guided the boat in the morning and how choppily I guided it in the afternoon showed the skills it takes to steer. I practiced the J-stroke and the C-stroke and had moments of clarity when it all started to click, but it was a challenging afternoon, mentally and physically. I slept well that night. We all took turns in bow (front) and stern (back).

One day, I paddled in front and Sara was in the back, and we had to traverse what for us was a long section with dark, choppy water and a pretty strong wind. That was one of the toughest paddles for me (again, both physically and mentally) and when we got through it successfully, I was a happy camper:

4) How to read the surroundings
I haven't camped enough to draw cues from the environment around us the way Chris and more experienced campers in our group could, but just by being out there, you start to learn. I was an enthusiastic member of the Cloud Appreciation Society (as Sara and I dubbed it) on this trip, but I also began to learn more about what each type of cloud predicted for the hours ahead. Sometimes clouds said paddle faster or hurry up or get off the water. We were unbelievably fortunate to get nearly perfect weather: temperatures in the 70s with a warm late August breeze, nearly every day. We had to pull our boats off the water for an impromptu weather delay just once, for 15 minutes or so.

We heard thunder, looked back, and saw this:

I think it was the only time we had to pull out our rain jackets, and it barely sprinkled.

Another example: it was fun to see gigantic dragonflies swooping around the campsite, but that was a sure sign that mosquitoes weren't far behind and that we should be ready to head to our tents soon. (We were also fortunate that this time of the year in the BWCA is after peak bug season, so they weren't horrible.) For dragonflies, mosquitoes are tasty snacks.

The dragonflies photobombed the following picture and in the process made themselves look as big as the paddlers:

Another morning, wispy clouds marked the sunrise:

I thought they sure looked pretty, but Chris thought they meant that we should pack up our tents promptly before the rain arrived. An hour later, the entire sky was overcast, and the rain arrived soon after. The world around us can tell us an awful lot of information, if we watch and listen.

5) How to be a happy camper
Sure, it was a canoe trip, but we spent lots of time in camp, so that space was important to the whole experience, too. The goal, as mentioned earlier, is to find a campsite somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, especially during the busy summer season when the sites are in higher demand. (There are many official campsites inside the BWCA, and each one is up for grabs for the first group of paddlers to arrive and set up home. I believe the sites accommodate up to nine people, so there are several areas where campers can set up their tents.) Sometimes we had two options in close proximity, and we'd scout out the two to compare which ones had better sleeping and swimming spots (and scenic views).

The campsites are usually right on the water and thus easy to spot - and that makes for good views from the tents:

Other tents get set up farther back in the woods:

We'd pull up the canoes and tie them down, sort out our packs, set up the tents, and start prepping for dinner.

We got fresh water every day - usually at breakfast and dinner - by funneling the lake and river water through a pump, which filters out the bad stuff, leaves it safe to drink, and makes a funny duck-like noise along the way. Everybody took turns pumping water for the group.

And our leaders would tend to the the all-important fire:

We used the fire primarily for food preparation (and to boil water for tea, coffee and hot cocoa). Our leaders have been guiding these trips for many years, and they have meal preparation down to a beautiful science. Our meals were wonderful, hearty and warm: pasta with tomato sauce, burritos, and salmon and wild rice.

And at breakfast: coffee and hot foods like pancakes!

All of those steps - fresh water, hot meals, cozy campsites, and lots of swimming opportunities - created a refreshing experience off the water. Our time in camp was just as memorable as the miles we paddled.

Coming up: more about our group, the portages, and clouds, clouds, clouds!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wild time

I'm home!  I'm home!

Oh, Reader, it was an amazing week in the Boundary Waters.

In Sara's words: Now I get it.

So, so much more to come in the next couple of days!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brother's birthday

Happy birthday to my wonderful brother!

I hope his day is as good as the year he got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy:

And I definitely hope he doesn't feel like this, even if he does happen to enjoy too much birthday cake:

I am missing one party in his honor but luckily will be back for another. Up north you can bet I'm singing happy birthday at the top of my lungs and hoping that he's having a great day!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here we go!

My friend Sara and I are heading into the wilderness with a bunch of other women (including a guide) for loads of paddling, camping and enjoying nature!

That's a sneak peek at my gear. (Don't fret! Sara has our tent and sleeping bags and stuff.)

I am very excited for this adventure.

  1. Paddle
  2. Swim
  3. Explore a part of Minnesota that's new to me
  4. See the Northern Lights
We should be able to achieve #1-3 without too much trouble, and I'm really crossing my fingers for #4.

Have a great week, Reader! Do you have any advice for me?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Marvelous Monday: Week 34

It is the oh-my-I'm-going-on-a-canoe-trip-this-week edition of Marvelous Monday! Let's go!

1. I finished I Capture the Castle (thanks to M&L readers Steph and Nat for nudging me toward it after my young adult fiction post!) and got a bunch of new reading options, thanks to dawdling on the public library's Kindle database before my long run on Saturday. (I love my long runs, don't get me wrong, but I am able to come up with so many activities to which I must attend before starting a long run.) New books!

2. Sometimes a Google search can lead you astray, and sometimes it's spot on. This weekend, people stumbled across Miles and Laurel by googling "haggard impatiens flowers" and "breakfast grapefruit run miles." I think some combination of those words turn up in, like, 95 percent of my posts. That's pretty good! P.S. Whoever is organizing a grapefruit breakfast run, I'm in!

3. A few Miles and Laurel readers will laugh me out of town for this because I am, like, seven years late to the party in the dorm room where they watched this like crazy, but Josh and I started watching Arrested Development on Hulu last night and that show is funny! We were loving it.

Wish? Not so much.

4. A certain brother of mine is celebrating a birthday this week!  Luckily, I will be back in time for the celebratory festivities later in the week.

5. My family got together over the weekend to watch my sister perform with her drum corps. It was great.

After the show, we stormed the field went to visit her. This was my favorite photo of her. "Please pretend you are drumming!"

srsly, big sister?
No, really, this is my favorite photo from the night. Proud parents with their talented girl:

This wraps up another Marvelous Monday. My posting may be - gasp! - sporadic this week, as I am venturing into the wilderness. But maybe you will have some surprises in the form of scheduled posts! Wait and see!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Today was the kind of day that included coffee, the Sunday paper, reading on the couch, and possibly more than one nap. (Did I just admit that?)

It also included a long walk with the pup to enjoy the streak of gorgeous summer weather I've been telling you about over and over lately.

Also, we saw a turtle and Wish was fascinated.

Tonight I need to get in gear and assemble a packing list for this week's travels. But first: dinner on the grill!

Happy weekend to you!