It was one of those rare nights. I made BBQ Beef Ribs and Steak Fries for dinner, did the dishes, blah blah. Glen had already asked if I wanted to go out, so we got dressed up small town style. That means your jeans are clean and you took a shower. Not really true, but it’s funny to say. We went to a few bars that were, well, lackluster. We made our way to one of our favorite places a small drive further.
The Gandy Dancer is a wonderful place. Their crowd is varied depending on when you go, but it’s always a fun crowd. Depending on the day and time, you can walk into a crowd filled with hunters or bachelorette parties, or you can catch the locals, which tend to be some of the liveliest retired seniors you will ever meet! Some can outrun you, some can out drink you, and some can do both! The crowd is also seasonal, so depending on the amount of snow, it can bring out absolutely everyone! If you ever go there, look at the ceiling at the bar; there is a small ceramic version of a wooden shoe that we gave them from our first trip to Amsterdam from around the year 2000.
Well this was one of those nights! There was an ice fishing contest on Webb Lake (darn, we missed this one) and the area was filled with younger and older, all together laughing and having a great time. We walked in and were greeted by some of the many friends we have made there. We don’t get out a lot in the summer; due to our jobs, but winter gives us an opportunity to see many of our friends. We sat down and chatter abounded as we soaked up the Northwoods Love. People came over, asked us to come and meet their friends and the night went into second gear.
There was a gentleman that we were introduced to that had been a couple of seats away. He was a smallish guy with kind eyes and a soft personality. A person left and he decided to “scoot down” next to us. We did our usual niceties, continuing casual conversation. We mentioned the cold we had a few days back and he seemed to be unmoved by it. He went on to tell us that for eight years, he would spend the winter months in the Boundary Waters area all alone, except for his trusty dog. Our ears perked up like a coyote in the woods.
He truly loved the winter. For eight years, he would winter camp and work in the town for the spring and summer. You’re thinking the same thing… why not camp when it’s warm? He said “because I hated the bugs.” Good answer!!! This guy was not some lucky shmuck, he researched winter survival for two years, and everyone told him he was crazy! When he made his way north, the locals even told him he was crazy. I am sure he even questioned his own faculties, but, ya gotta do what ya gotta do! This was his mission. I stared with wonder.
He went on to tell us about every night going to bed warm, knowing he would wake up freezing. He spoke of snowstorms that would easily overtake a standard tent; due to the severe cold, and wind in the area. He casually mentioned that this was also a time that rescue was not a variable. My eyes were wide open with wonder! This was a true 21st century pioneer; a man willing to face the worst nature could throw at him. He actually preferred to camp where he woke up freezing, not knowing what the day held; generally facing God knows what!
Being the pansy that I am, my first question was “what about wild animals?” His replay was “Yep, met a pack of wolves one night.” I shivered as if I was there. He told how they circled his tent from not too far away, how the Alpha Wolf and he locked eyes and how he growled to make them wonder, and how they eventually left. Our questions was, didn’t you have a gun? He smiled and said “I had a shotgun for backup; I’m not a total fool!” He told stories about frozen clothes and using meager resources to keep him warm, fed and more. We learned the wonders of Mayonnaise! The more he talked, the colder I got.
This was an amazing person that with only his trusty dog (a Lab), weathered the cold by choice each winter for eight years and lived to tell about it. There was so much more he told us and we want to meet this man again to hear more of his life. We feel honored to have met him and moreover for the generous sharing of his life that he gave us.His path in life was one not many choose, but it is still a necessary path. We will look for him anytime we are in the area. His survival in the Boundary Waters is something you can take with you, whether in the Boundary waters or in the cities. Gotta go, I need to get a blanket!