It was supposed to be a short jaunt on Lake Vermilion. "Pontoons are the mini-vans of the lake," our host said. We would have no problems, he reassured us. So, map in hand, we headed out into the vast, island-dotted Lake Vermilion, small boat on a big lake. And our 20-minute joy ride turned into a hour-long dramatic (and grumpy) comedy. Our novice eyes couldn't tell an island from the mainland; we couldn't judge scale, the map vs. landscape. Finally, we spotted a fisherman on his dock, asked for directions, and puttered back.
When I returned to the office, a colleague who had kayaked another one of Minnesota's stunning and large lakes, Burntside, and found her way back to her rented cabin gave me a sympathetic look. And then she told me her her secret: She carried a Bushnell Backtrack GPS device in her pocket. Click it when you leave the cabin and when you're ready to return, the arrow on its small screen literally points you in the right direction. At $60, it makes a nifty way to find your way home. Or to your car in the parking lot of the Mall of America, for that matter.