Dating in the Backcountry

By Tim Brass

The other day I received an email from a good friend, asking for advice on taking a trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), with his girlfriend. My friend “wanted to look like he knew what he was doing.” Being the good humored soul that he is, I recognized his statement was 10 percent joke, 90 percent serious.

Reflecting upon his email, I couldn't help but laugh at the naivety I’d exhibited in my first attempts at dating in the backcountry.  I gave my friend incredible respect for having the forethought to recognize that if done improperly, backcountry dates can test strength of a relationship.

bwca lake troutIt would be hard forget my first date in the Wilderness…it started on Seagull Lake, a large half motorized, half wilderness lake on the edge of the BWCA. Soon after putting-in we fought white caps that nearly crested the bow of the boat across the entirety of the four mile long lake.  Thus we were only make it to the adjacent lake; Alpine, part of the 1999 'Alpine Lake Fire'. While I could go on about trip details, I’ll cut to the chase and focus on the primary purpose for the trip; to fish (though I am not sure we shared this sentiment). After two days of cold weather and only one missed opportunity at landing dinner, I was down on our luck.

Fortunately, we met two canoe guides, camping on their day off, with plenty of whiskey and advice on where to catch fish. The whiskey warmed us with temporary relief and I was overjoyed that fish were biting somewhere. The next morning we woke in pursuit of the fishy lake, formerly known as Jap Lake, but recently renamed for obvious reasons to Paulson Lake. Paulson lies a mere 535 rod portage (8,828 ft) from Seagull. To make the mile and a half long portage a little easier, we took a day trip and packed minimal gear.   Nonetheless, 3+ miles of hiking with a canoe on your back, plus a 5+ miles of paddling is a haul for anyone. This was where my perhaps overzealous desire to catch fish put a damper on the trip. We left the next day (2 days early), but, hey, we caught fish – a bunch of beautiful Lake Trout. Moral of the story; sometimes you have to pay the price to catch fish.

Since then I have learned my lesson and have had subsequent positive dates in the wilderness, with a gal that is now my fiancé (no, not the one I brought to the BWCA). Overtime, here are some of the lessons I learned about dating in the backcountry, which are also relevant to bringing newbies and/or kids into the backcountry:

  • Don’t plan on doing a set loop. Loops are great, but can cause the unnecessary stress of needing to finish.
  • If you want to catch fish or harvest any game for that matter, do your research, but be aware that your date may not share the same level of enthusiasm for this, so be flexible.
  • Make sure he/she has the equipment needed to ensure comfort. If needed, borrow warm sleeping bags/pads from friends. If they’re cold at night, they won’t be happy in the morning.  
  • Be flexible! Don’t be insistent on staying for long periods of time.
About Caitlin Thompson