Unlike some love stories, this one didn’t exactly start in the BWCA. Stephen and I had been seeing each other a few months when we decided to spend a week in northern paradise–just the two of us. I’d guided a few trips with large groups before, but he had never been. I saw our trip together as an opportunity to determine his worthiness and see if he could survive a week a) paddling, b) paddling with me, and c) in the real wilderness that the BWCA offers.
Little did I know that he’d prove his worth early on in our journey.
“I thought this guy was someone I can count on if a bear really does come after our food pack.”
After a nasty encounter on day one at Lake Saganaga with a nasty red squirrel who compromised some of our provisions, day two promised to be more relaxing with fishing and paddling on the agenda. I sterned, of course! Nothing so progressive like letting a woman steer the way. After making camp at a new island, Stephen, not a regular fisherman, landed a sizeable pike and needed my “expert” help bringing it in. After much thrashing by the pike, it became extremely tangled in a hand net– the hook too. In trying to detangle the lure from the net for him with an unhappy fish in tow, I soon found a treble hook lodged…. deeply in my ring finger! With a fish still attached! Unable to push the barb through for easy removal, my wilderness doctor rushed into action. He grabbed a multi tool to snap the lure (still attached to an angry pike) from the hook in my hand, which reassuringly caused the tool to break…. Gently, without disturbing the fish, he was able to free the hook from the lure, leaving only me attached, or hooked, rather, to a little wooden bait. With a shot of whiskey for each of us and a pocket knife, he calmly looked me in the eye and performed some trail surgery to cut the hook from my finger. Soon, I was freed!
It was hilarious, embarrassing, and terrifying. Still, in that moment, I had a feeling he was someone I could be with forever. Maybe it was the pulse in the new hook-gouged mark on my itchy ring finger, maybe it was the whiskey. I could have been lightheaded from the miniscule loss of blood, or the euphoria of being out in our wonderful wild place. Whatever it was, I suddenly looked at him in a whole new light. Misty sunset light. I thought this guy was someone I can count on if a bear really does come after our food pack. I’m sure I teared up at the revelation.
A year later, we’re still together for the long haul. Though he may have to work on his catch and release skills, when it comes to the right way to approach some BWCA first aid, he is definitely a keeper. So was the pike, by the way. We ate it for dinner, in the rain. With a few more rounds of whiskey.