Most of them met as Girl Scout moms more than a decade ago and remain close today, gathering monthly in a book club and traveling together occasionally to hang out in cabins Up North.
Now the women, six in all, each from the west metro, are ready to paddle canoes into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wildernes, an undertaking that will be entirely new to some in the group and vaguely familiar to others. But they’ll figure it out.
“It’s a trip I put on my bucket list a couple of years ago,” said Lynn Allar, 62, of Greenwood. “The other women and I were sitting around one night, and someone started talking about getting a knee fixed or a hip fixed, and I thought, ‘I better move this up on my list, or I won’t have anyone to go with.’ ”
Minnesota has long been home to strong and accomplished women, native as well as those living here since settlement.
Karen Nyberg of Vining, Minn., for example, and Heidemarie Stafanyshyn-Piper of St. Paul were NASA astronauts and space travelers. Ann Bancroft of Marine on St. Croix was the first woman to reach the North and South poles, and Amy Freeman of Grand Marais paddled and dogsledded with her husband, Dave, 11,700 miles from Seattle to the Yukon and east to the Atlantic Ocean.
So the journey that Allar, along with Jane Stark, 61, and Donna Pickard, 56, both of Excelsior; Mary Benson, 60, and Patrice Aubrecht, 59,of Shorewood; and Kathryn Erickson, 57, of Wayzata will take is not in itself gender noteworthy.
Instead, in many ways, the adventure simply reflects the interest many Minnesotans, male and female, have in outdoor activities.
“I’ve always wanted to visit the Boundary Waters, but I never have,” Benson said. “For me, it’s less the ‘adventure’ of the trip that is appealing than the opportunity. I’m doing this trip because I still can, and might not have the chance again.”
Said Erickson, a sailor and skier: “I’ve only been to the Boundary Waters once before. That was years ago and we didn’t go in very far. I’m looking forward to seeing the area.”
By their nature, wilderness trips include surprises. Rain falls. Wind blows. Mosquitoes bite. Firewood gets wet.
All of which this bunch has taken into account.
“I’m never really alarmed by the weather,” Pickard said. “In fact, I like being outside when it’s chilly. For me, the attraction of this trip is sleeping in a tent, listening to loons. There’s something about not being in a house for a while that I’m really looking forward to.”
While planning possible trip routes, Allar sought advice from co-workers who had paddled the BWCA previously.
“I originally thought we would be on the Minnesota side, but was told about the Quetico, specifically about entering that park from Lac La Croix,” she said. “That’s what we decided to do.”
Zup’s Fishing Resort and Canoe Outfitters on Lac La Croix consulted on a trip route and secured the necessary Quetico permits.
A jet-powered towboat will transport the women, their gear and canoes from their jumping-off point at Crane Lake up the Loon River to Lac La Croix, crossing two mechanical portages en route.
Said Kathy Zup, who with her husband, Mark, owns Zup’s camp: “The women have asked good questions in preparation for their trip. They’ll be ready.”
Though none of the women is an experienced angler, each will try to catch enough walleyes, lake trout and/or smallmouth bass to supplement a planned menu that features main courses such as wild rice soup with smoked turkey, burritos and beef stroganoff, as well as wine and cheesecake.
“I haven’t been on a fishing trip since my high school days, and do not consider myself a fisherperson,” Aubrecht said. “However, as the camp cook, I hope to catch fish to eat every day.”
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Women make up only about a quarter of overnight visitors to the BWCA, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That percentage has fluctuated little during the past 40 years, and is similar to visitor numbers at other wilderness areas.
“The stability of the gender ratio in the BWCA may be potentially understood if female constraints and barriers to participation and inclusion are considered,” the study said.
Other research suggests that “socio-cultural stereotypes” that depict adventure and wilderness experiences as “not appropriate for women due to their lack of strength, skill and experience” explain why relatively few women venture into wilderness areas.
“Unfortunately, such stereotypes have created perceptions in some women that they are not competent or lack the technical skills for wilderness activities,” the forest service said.
Wilderness paddlers also are older than in the past, according to the service, and better educated. The average age of BWCA visitors was 26 in 1969, 36 in 1991 and 45 in 2007. And almost three-quarters of visitors in the 2007 survey had at least an undergraduate college degree, with a third having completed a graduate degree.
So in some ways the six women reflect current boundary waters visitor trends.
If measured by their enthusiasm, however, this group would set a high benchmark.
“I’m not a real adventuresome person, but I want to stretch myself a bit,” Stark said. “I am ready for cold, mosquitoes and rain, if that’s what comes. I look forward to the beauty of the area, with all the seclusion.”
Said Allar, whose “bucket list” inspired the trip: “Also on my list was the Grand Canyon, which I hiked, and a trip to Scandinavia with my kids. Now I’m looking forward to this canoe trip.”