Mysteries of Maps

Not too long ago I had a flat tire and therefore went to the Tire Store to get it fixed. Leaving it safely in the hands of the Tire Guys, I turned around to leave and was stopped in my tracks when a middle-aged guy said, “You’re Hurricane Bob! From the magazine.”   Although not news to me, he went on to tell me, “It’s like God is telling me to ask you something. I’m going camping with my son this weekend, and we’re going to Tuscarora.  Do you know that area?” Of course I did-why else would God be involved?-and I told him to call me later that evening. His question, though, came as a surprise. It turns out he is well versed in the mechanics of winter camping; I’d go on one of his trips anytime. His question concerned routes. “Where,” he asked, “can I go winter camping in the Boundary Waters?” The answer is as useless as it is obvious: you can go anywhere. We then took a look at the map and I pointed out some possibilities. What he really needed was someone to show him how to look at maps. Unlike the canoeist, the winter camper truly can go anywhere-at least anywhere there is water-including the thinnest blue lines that normally scream “danger!” to the summertime route planner. In fact, these are the most interesting places to go-the thin bodies of water that have no portages, often separated by swamps. The winter camper, unlike her summer counterpart, can go into places accessible only by snowshoe.   You will go places seldom, if ever, visited by anyone. This is the essence of wilderness travel-to be a visitor in a genuinely wild environment. That we have such a large area to explore right in our own backyard is nothing short of miraculous. The summer BWCA traveler can similarly find untrammeled places, but it takes a different kind of effort, and sometimes leads to hardships in the form of bugs and swamps. A close look at any Boundary Waters map, however, will reveal lakes that are often just off a primary route, but completely untraveled. One cannot but wonder what it would be like to fish these small lakes. What one cannot do in Minnesota, for the most part, is off-trail hiking (except in winter, and even then it can be extremely difficult). Our foliage is too dense to allow for much cross-country travel. It should be noted the state does have a large number of state and national forest lands and these lands are open to travel, and in some cases camping. It should go without saying that Leave No Trace standards apply to this kind of camping. Leave only footprints, pack everything out, and use a stove rather than a fire.   Looking at maps, plotting routes and remembering past trips are some of the small pleasures of wilderness travel.  Next issue we’ll explore some ways to find the maps and the places they reveal. Bob never met a map he couldn’t keep.


United States
89° 11' 40.7112" S, 170° 9' 22.5" W


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