by Dianne Lohmann
The Rev. Phil Rudd has been taking youth to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota for more than 30 years.
"I just love it because it instills a respect for creation," he said.
There are inspiring sunrises and sunsets, beautiful trees, plenty of water and wildlife. A pastor at First English Lutheran Church in Cannon Falls, he also has a passion for fishing.
"Fishing makes you slow down a little bit," Rudd said.
He knows some good spots to go fishing in the BWCA and each year the groups take time to fish. Their catches include walleye, large and small mouth bass, and northerns. They only keep what they eat and this summer they had four meals of fish. Otherwise they practice catch and release.
During this year’s trip he recalled waking up at 4:30 a.m. one morning and was ready to go fishing. He waited until 5 a.m. to wake the others.
"You can’t catch a fish if you’re not fishing," he said. "We caught 20 fish that morning."
His trips to the BWCA started in 1979 when he was a pastor in Chatfield, Minn. A group of high school kids wanted to go. He had worked as a lifeguard and enjoyed camping so off they went. He hadn’t been to the BWCA before but that experience led to an almost yearly tradition.
"We couldn’t go one year because of a fire up there," he said.
The group went to a Bible wilderness camp for the BWCA. They spent a night at the camp for orientation and then left with a guide for five days.
"I remember it was a lot of work, and it was cold, wet and rainy," Rudd said.
Now good rain gear is essential as even in July it can be 60 degrees and rainy. They have had good weather most of the time but there have been severe thunderstorms during the trips. He recalled one year when they were playing cards under a tarp and they heard a loud noise. A tree fell on one of the canoes, tossed it into the air and broke the rib on the canoe. A plastic bag and duct tape got them through the rest of the trip. Another year they went right around the Fourth of July after a big storm. Crews had gone through the portages to clear a path.
"It was frightening to look at campsites we had used for years that were buried in trees," Rudd said. "It made an impression."
He kept the BWCA tradition going when he worked in Blooming Prairie, Minn., and Mabel, Minn. The trips fit right in with a tradition of canoeing at First English Lutheran Church in Cannon Falls where he now serves as one of the pastors. He has been going for about 20 years with the local church. This year they had good weather even though they left when it was raining and had a thunderstorm the last night.
"We can’t control the weather," he said. "We always pray."
He has enjoyed spending time with the kids outside of the church setting. The kids are fun and have lots of energy. His own three children, Charlie, Kristin and Allison, also participated in the trips during their junior high years and have continued to go as adults. He and his wife babysat while Charlie and his wife went this year. Kristin also recently returned from a trip. Other chaperones have gone with their own children too.
"You learn an attitude of caring," Rudd said.
A BWCA motto is to leave no trace and those who go tend not to litter. He appreciates the gifts of others during the trips as some like to cook, navigate, read maps or fix things. The youth learn teamwork and develop self-confidence.
"They (the youth) come back saying it was a lot of work but they did it," Rudd explained. "That’s how life is. There are times of our lives that are easy and times that are rough."
Injuries during the trips have been minimal but they do happen. The chaperones stress being careful and fish hooks have probably caused the most trouble. The water is cold and a canoe can capsize unexpectedly. Their packs only float for a short while. Life jackets are used when the water is rough and before going swimming, they check for hidden logs and other dangers.
"We use common sense," he said.
Planning for the trips often begins in January when the outfitter applies for the permit. BWCA permits are required and there are rules on how many people can be in a specific area at a time. Different paths have been taken over the years and sometimes are determined by the weather.
The trip costs approximately $300 per person. The outfitter fee is approximately $250 each and includes the permit, food for five days, and the use of the gear and equipment. There also are transportation costs.
"I always get some blueberries and have been picking them since I was little," Rudd said. "I am thankful we have this playground nearby."