Adventure trips are seductive, but they need a planned approach

MINNEAPOLIS — Since its founding in 1932, the Northwest Sportshow has been a dreamer’s fantasyland, where shiny new boats, cutting-edge outdoor gear and a fish tank full of whoppers summon attendees to “live, travel, adventure … and don’t be sorry,” as the late novelist Jack Kerouac once said.

Especially seductive at the show were exhibitors who didn’t peddle things so much as experiences. Arnesen’s Rocky Point Resort on Lake of the Woods. Bayside Resort on Leech Lake. Foster’s Alaska Cabins of Soldotna, Alaska.

These and seemingly countless other sportshow resort owners and outfitters beckon attendees to stop imagining what it’s like to awaken to a loon’s tremulous call while camped alongside a pristine North Woods lake. Or to ride a horse into the Rockies, hunting elk. Or to journey to Alaska for king salmon.

Instead, find out for yourself, firsthand.

Kerouac wasn’t kidding, after all, when he said, “Houses are full of things that gather dust.”

Get moving, or one of those things could be you.

OK, you say. But how best to plan an outdoor adventure? By their nature, these aren’t souvenir junkets led by carnival-barking motor-coach drivers. Fellow travelers must be recruited, weather vagaries weighed and distant fish and game populations assessed.

Fear not. Let the following adventure-planning tips be a jumping off point to your new, action-packed (and dust-free) life.

— Timing 

Timing is everything in outdoor travel, whether the purpose is to hunt, fish, paddle, sail, hike or bike. Other considerations are important, and destination and budget are key considerations.

But when you go is most important.

Example: Minnesota’s best walleye fishing usually occurs during the first two weeks of June. That’s not uniformly the case, statewide, but on average, it’s true. Panfish and bass angling, meanwhile, follow somewhat more generous summer action cycles, while the state’s best muskie fishing doesn’t begin until August. So if you’re primary travel goal is to catch one or more of these species in Minnesota, or on a border river or lake, trip-date selection is important.

Bugs are another issue. I prefer to paddle the boundary waters during the last two weeks of May, when mosquitoes usually are not a factor. Plus, walleye fishing is outstanding then, especially near swift, moving water, such as at the tails of rapids and waterfalls.

Timing is especially critical when planning a hunting trip. Ducks now migrate south later in autumn than they historically have. So visiting North Dakota in mid-October for mallards probably won’t be as productive as it once was. Similarly, mule deer bucks in western states often rut at different times than whitetails do in Minnesota. And if you choose to hunt pheasants in South Dakota on opening weekend, expect crowds.

Consider also timing as it relates to weather. If a proposed trip is more family- or sightseeing-oriented, or if the intent is to stroll along the Superior Hiking Trail, troll for lake trout on (a hopefully calm) Lake Superior, or bike the Paul Bunyan Trail while camping near Brainerd, choosing travel months in which consistently pleasant Minnesota weather (example: July 15-Sept. 1) usually prevails is important.

— Who’s going? 

Someone once said “travel is the only thing that makes you richer.” Which is true. Kind of. But it’s also true, as Mark Twain famously muttered, that “there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”

Expanding on that, consider that four or five women or men might get along well while visiting one another casually once a month for dinner or coffee. But put them together in a cabin for a week, and (a) each will have more — or less — money to spend than the others on trip necessities and extras, (b) some will think the outing is an opportunity to drink and play cards all night, while (c) others want to go to bed early, intent as they are to accomplish what they thought the trip’s purpose was — whether to hike, hunt, bike or whatever.

Upshot: Not understanding who you’re traveling with, what their personal habits and trip expectations are, is a recipe for trouble.

— Bare-bones or deluxe? 

Budgets often decide accommodation types for outdoors travelers. But not always. Many excursionists simply prefer to camp in tents or recreational vehicles, especially in Minnesota’s superb state parks, rather than stay in a cabin, whether plain or fancy.

When not camping, my ideal is to stay in a cabin in which family or friends and I fix our own meals. This allows us to fish, eat, and sleep on our own schedules.

Staying at a resort where meals are provided can be worthwhile, also — and more convenient. But in addition to being more expensive, these operations usually feature meal schedules that dictate when visiting anglers can be on a lake, and when they must be back in camp for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

— To cross the border, or not 

Deer, ducks, walleyes, and other fish and game are plentiful in Canada, which is why its provinces are popular destinations for hunters and anglers, among other adventure-seekers.

But crossing into Ontario or Manitoba (both provinces border Minnesota) can be a hassle. If, for example, you’ve been convicted of an alcohol-related driving offense, or have another serious criminal conviction, you might be denied entrance to Canada (planning ahead can in some instances resolve this problem.)

Costs also are higher the farther north you travel. Even fairly short floatplane rides for a group of four can add $500 or more per person to a trip. Fishing licenses can cost $100 (more for hunting). Bait importation is restricted, and on many lakes, fish harvesting is prohibited except for shore lunches. Recall also that bringing a rifle or shotgun into Canada requires a fee paid at the border (or, if you plan ahead, a fee paid in advance). And gas, beer and almost everything else costs more in Canada, too.

For these reasons, among others, many Minnesotans choose to vacation in their home state. Walleyes and other fish aren’t as plentiful here as they are farther north, and ducks and some other game surely aren’t. Nor are there as many pristine lakes in Minnesota as there are in Ontario or Manitoba. But — assuming a certain amount of trip-planning diligence — they can be plentiful enough.

Most important, in the end, is that you plan an adventure — any adventure — and actually undertake it, reaching the point, as Kerouac once put it, that “there was nothing to talk about anymore. The only thing to do was go.”

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