In 2010, we took our first trip into the Boundary Waters with kids in tow. Two years prior, we ventured in for our honeymoon, and resolved to somehow figure a way to get all the kids into the wilderness with us.
Spoiler Alert: Careful readers will note that the Annual Boundary Waters trip is the hub on which the rest of our life rotates, and might infer that our efforts were successful. They would not be wrong. Every now and again a plan comes together.
THIS is a daunting task, taking seven children into the middle of nowhere by canoe.
First of all, SEVEN CHILDREN? In the WILDERNESS? Where DEATH and MAYHEM reign? Who even considers such a thing?
We do, actually.
Secondly, it is Mighty Pricey to consider outfitting such a crew, even when you think you might have what it takes to keep them alive once there.
For the uninitiated, camping out of a canoe requires slightly more technical gear than the average car camper totes around. You will be lugging all of this gear not only in your boat, but also on your back as you portage from lake to lake; weight is of the essence. Also for those who don’t compose their Christmas list strictly out of the REI catalog, lightweight gear is Expensive. Hence the existence of a myriad of outfitters on the edge of the wilderness–such as the one Rachel worked for in 2017–just waiting to help you out with their gear rental and outfitting packages. For the record, without the wedding discount our outfitter offered us, it would have cost Scott and I well over $1,000 for the full outfitting of our five-day honeymoon.
For two of us.
Math, math, math, mathity, math, math…
What we needed was a plan…
Plan Part A: Logistics
We would start small. We would take two kids with us that first year–the oldest from Scott’s first marriage and the oldest from mine–and then we would slowly add bodies (and cost) each year until Ottinger Party of 9 was paddling off into the sunset.
Courtney and Rachel were the lucky guinea pigs. They’re still here to talk about it, so we chalk that one up as a win.
Plan Part B: Questions of Finance
Rather than paying an outfitter to rent all that lightweight gear–year after soul-destroying year–we decided to commandeer every penny of our tax returns and make the largest monetary investment in our family since the house. (Jah, even above the cars. You could sink a ship buying camping gear. Also, our cars are worth nothing.)
We pulled together a lot of essentials those first two tax years, but come August, we still only had one aluminum canoe, and four people counting on a trip.
Enter good friends, a critical component of every successful venture
Our new friends, Daphne and Charlie,* came to our rescue with the offer of their beautiful lightweight green kevlar canoe. How we deserved such people in our lives, I’ll never know, but as the last piece of the puzzle clicked into place, we set off for our first Boundary Waters expedition con kiddos.
* Names have been changed to protect the innocent (victims).
Saving the details of that whole glorious adventure for another day, I’ll leave you with just one piece of pertinent information:
We came home with everything that we left with, but not everything was entirely–intact. On our fifth day out–through forces of nature still not fully understood–we put an impressively large hole in Daph and Chuck’s spotless boat.
Yes, yes we did.
Thanks to one of our party insisting on bringing a full roll of duct tape, despite another member of our party’s objections (I’ll allow you to fill in the blanks), we were able to paddle the crippled vessel the remaining twelve miles to safety, and return her scarred body to her owners. But let me tell you, we felt really bad.
I mean, preparing-to-explain-to-your-father-how-you-‘borrowed’-his-Porsche-and-then-drove-it-into-a-lake bad. My stomach was tied up in some knots, it was.
And Daphne’s response?
“No problem. I was going to refinish it anyway. I’ll just patch it right up.”
We weren’t even flogged.
What does any of this have to do with that adorable puppy?
I tell you this tale of woe because today I write to you from the first full day of my writers’ retreat…
…and this year my writers and I are retreating in someone’s fantastic home while those someones visit family in a warm state…
…and those someones happen to be Daphne and Charlie.
Somehow, a decade later, we’re not only still friends, but they’ve entrusted me–and an unknown-to-them and almost-certainly-drunken-and-delinquent group of writers (please imagine a blood-dripping slasher font, one which WordPress still hasn’t seen fit to provide**)–with the care and keeping of their gorgeous home, their frozen chickens, their jungle of plants, and their geriatric black lab, Nabby.
** See here and here for further tirades on the lack of a vampire font.
Some folks never learn.
For your first question… yes, Nabby is adorable. She hobbles at all times in a way that reminds me of myself after whiplash, or too much screen time, but she gets around. She needs an escort to take care of the ‘important business’ outside, she gets a little caught up in the furniture when it attacks, and she has an undying need to be near us, even if it means lying in wait in the doorway, but she’s otherwise a buoyant and loving companion for we the writers.
For your second question… Yes, I’m actually writing something. Even something bigger than this blog post. Things are going swimmingly, thank you.
And for your final inquiry… No, we don’t all glue our butts in chairs for the entirety of retreating days (SIX this year!). There is a good balance of writing and resting, writing and walking, writing and sharing, writing and eating, writing and petting Nabby.
In fact today, the Princling Ash has joined us (with his writerly mama), so for the next two days, we can add writing and playing with Ash to our rigorous regimen.
And today, here in the midwest, is the first day in a while that hasn’t dipped to 34 below zero, so I could walk and enjoy it.
It’s almost been audible, the seizing up of my hips these past days in the tundra. I could’ve gotten my arse out the door despite the blistering cold, but my motivation only runs so deep, and my skin is only so resilient. I’ve been quite content to stay in by the fire. Which was great.
Tell my hips how great it was.
Nevertheless, the spell has broken, and Wisconsin plunges into a rollercoaster weather pattern that will allow for slightly safer excursions out-of-doors.
And I am walking.
Writing and walking and writing and…
…and counting my blessings, thankful for great friends, no matter how cloudy their judgment, who share of their lives and their homes with the likes of me. Sending love from home to the Lone Star State.
If you need me, I’m busy…
KJ you write so fabulously well, I always enjoy your tales of life in the Woods of Wisconsin and beyond. I hope your writing Retreat is productive. You have wonderful friends in Daphne and Charlie despite everything!
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Thank you so much! Your words are very generous! And so far, so good. It is a beautiful thing to have a group of friends with which you can comfortably run away from life and write!
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