By Daniel Ervin
We huddled on the lee side of the island, hunkered below an outcropping of lichen-covered rocks, watching the rain wash the leaves from the rocks just beyond the toes of our boots. The canoe was turned over on the shore with our packs and gear beneath it. A wind blew straight up the lake driving mysterious trails of foam across the surface. We were helpless for the moment, so we leaned back beneath the outcropping and pretended to rest. But we both had one thing on our minds: We had two days to travel back to the outfitter…but we had planned on this leg of the journey taking us four days.
It was mid-September, and I had joined three friends on a canoe trip into the Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario. The park is 1,180,000 acres of wilderness that borders Minnesota’s Boundary Waters to the south. In the Quetico, no motors are allowed, so all travel is done by paddling and portage.
We had spent months planning the trip. We had outlined a route that would allow us to cover a great deal of ground over the 10-day trip, essentially making a large loop through nine different lakes, with enough time to set up camp and fish on nearly every lake.
I had been to the Quetico four times before this trip but never this late in the year. Fall comes early in Ontario, and with two travelers over the age of 60, I had concerns about the potential risks we faced. So at the last minute, I opted to take a SPOT Global Phone. This was the first time I had ever conceded to such a safety net, but the urging of my wife convinced me it would be a good idea. (Okay, I really had no choice in the matter.)
The phone was compact and weighed nearly nothing, which is important when planning long portages. I tried the phone out before I left, just to make sure I understood how to operate it. It was as simple as any cell phone. I charged the phone, packed it in a waterproof case, stuffed it in my backpack, and forgot all about it.
But, 6 days into our trip, after having summer-like weather and calm winds, a change came to the Quetico weather…and it came violently. A storm ripped through our camp on the sixth night, tearing rain flies from tents and drenching our sleeping bags. The wind and rain lasted through the morning with no sign of relenting.
We convened a meeting in the dryer of the two tents and laid out our maps. This morning, we were schedule to break down camp and traverse two lakes in the direction of the outfitter. That was going to leave us three final days to make our way back across the final four lakes to the outfitter. Now the wind made the lakes unsafe, so we hunkered down for the day.
The next morning, the rain came down harder, and the wind picked up even more. Again, travel seemed unsafe. Max and I took one canoe out to check the conditions. The wind shifted, and the rain became a torrent. We navigated the building waves to a cove and hunkered down in the outcropping. No way we were traveling.
“We’re not going to make it out on time, are we?” Max asked me. I thought about the miles of paddling and portaging we had ahead, and it seemed our chances were dwindling.
Then, I remembered the phone.
I scrambled to the canoe and fished out the box. Beneath the rocks, I powered it up and waited for a slight break in the rain. I walked to the top of the outcropping and dialed the outfitter and explained our dilemma.
He picked up on the second ring and his voice was clear and a very welcome sound. The outfitter explained to me that the weather was scheduled to break the next morning. He then walked me through a different route than we were planning, one that would get us to the US border more quickly. He scheduled a motor launch to pick us up at the border and haul us and the canoes back to the outfitter, saving us a day and a half of paddling. I sighed with relief and smiled at the SPOT Global Phone. A little preparation had saved the day.
The weather did clear up, and we had to hustle to make the US border in time to meet the outfitter, but we made it. We didn’t have an outfitter wondering why we weren’t back. We didn’t miss flights. We didn’t have worried families. The SOPT Global Phone worked perfectly. It will be on every hunting, fishing, or wilderness trip I make in the future.