Robert Frost wrote, "Freedom lies in being bold," but had the David Yost-designed and Ted Bell-built Magic been beneath Frost's porch, Frost might have written, "Freedom lies in being bold and owning a Magic." Mike Hofer, 56, of Maple Grove, MN, leverages his Magic to reach remote Quetico and Boundary Waters lakes. Even though the Magic has little rocker, it also negotiates the twists of meandering streams with aplomb.
Mike Hofer’s Bell Magic Canoe. Photo courtesy Hofer.
"I really enjoy the small, intimate streams that exist in the Quetico such as Lonely Creek or Cutty Creek,” Hofer said. “Such streams can lead to a lake that's off the beaten path with no established portage and requires some bushwhacking to get to."
The Magic is light and short enough for bushwhacking portages and in keeping with its craftsmanship, Hofer built his own thwarts and a portage yoke out of quilted maple and walnut. But it's the speed and tracking of the Magic that frees Hofer. Three years ago, he was sitting on Walter Lake and had a hankering to fish Pickerel Lake the next day before leaving Quetico. It would entail 27 miles of paddling and three portages, one quite long, with a full complement of fishing and camping gear, just to reach the fishing hole and exit the park before dark. The Magic helped him do just that, as he averaged 4 mph, fishing a couple hours for lake trout, and even had time for a shore lunch of fish.
Hofer said, "I pulled up to the Nym Lake dock about ten minutes after sunset, leaving me enough time to unload and carry my gear to the truck before it was completely dark. From periodic checks of my GPS during the day, I saw that I was maintaining my paddling speed without feeling strained at all. That day is one of the most enjoyable days I've ever spent on the water, and I remember feeling totally one with my canoe as I paddled. I may have been able to make that run in one day with another canoe, but I know it wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable."
Mike Hofer on a northern canoe trip. Photo courtesy Hofer.
Hofer is a Director of Operations for Beckman Coulter's medical device business in Chaska, MN, but his cabin near Grand Marais, MN, gives him a good springboard for trips to the BWCA and Quetico. Sometimes he gets the itch to paddle shortly after ice out. Most wilderness paddlers have a harrowing tale or two of high wind and waves, but Hofer has a cautionary tale of just getting to his canoe trip:
"Most of my trips are in early spring, targeting that time period right after ice-out. For me, it's always dicey when you're paddling alone in water temps that are in the 30s. In spring of 2011, I experienced what it's like to have death stare you in the face. I planned a trip to Quetico that began with a tow to Hook Island on Saganaga Lake, which is very large and has an expansive east/west exposure to the wind. The ice had just come off the lake and the forecast was for rain and gusty winds of 30-40 mph. I questioned the wisdom of going out into this maelstrom, but the tow driver insisted that once we were behind the shelter of Hook Island, it would be fine and I could wait for the wind to die down to begin my trip.
“We found ourselves out in the main body of the lake recovering some canoe packs from another tow boat that had completely overturned about 45 minutes earlier in the same area and whose occupants we had just rescued. We were in the same style of tow boat and I questioned why we were here. I argued with the tow driver that we needed to forget the packs and return to the islands, but he either didn't hear me or wasn't listening. We did recover the packs out in the open water, but as we turned around into the east wind to make our way back the 2/3 mile to the shelter of the islands, we began taking on a lot of water directly over the bow of the flat-bottomed boat. With every roller, the bow rode up the wave and then slammed back down into the trough of the next wave and in doing so plowed head-on into the crest of the next one. My life flashed before my eyes, and I was convinced we were going to end up in the water a long way from shore with little chance of rescue. I bailed water as fast as I could while we crawled forward and tried to minimize the water coming in. It seemed like it took forever, but we made it to the islands with several inches of water in the bottom of the boat and literally within an inch or two of submerging. That experience taught me a lesson that's etched in my mind: canoeing in cold water is always dicey. It illustrated for me why discretion is the better part of valor when going solo."
Another time, there seemed the possibility of being submerged by a moose due to Hofer's knack for mimicry.
"I was trolling along slowly about 40 yards from shore and heard a ruckus directly to my right coming straight at me – closer and closer – until I saw two young moose appear right at the shoreline. We looked at each other for a few seconds, one of them making the sound of a young moose in distress. I called back similarly and instantly, they both took to the water, swimming directly at me. Our eyes were locked onto each other's for a few moments until I realized I probably didn't want them to join me in the canoe. As they reached about halfway to my boat, I said ‘No!‘ and they stopped swimming for an instant. Then, they turned around and headed back to shore where they scrambled out of the water and ran into the woods from the direction they had come."
However, such moments are the exception.
"If you haven't experienced the song of a winter wren or veery, the sound of a grouse drumming in the background, and the whisper of a light breeze filling the space in between, you don't know what you're missing."
Such experiences are heightened for Hofer by going alone.
"Solo tripping provides a challenge, a sense of accomplishment, and I am in charge. I fish when I want, paddle when I want, and can slow down and take in the wilderness without distraction. I absolutely love wilderness – it's where I feel whole and connected with creation. It's existing in harmony instead of always consuming, always wanting more. Being instead of doing. I believe in the Thoreau saying: ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world.’ My hero is Richard Proenneke.”
And the Magic not only takes Hofer into the wilderness, but does so in style.
"Mine is the carbon Kevlar layup with wood trim. Aside from some of the practical reasons such as its lightness and efficiency in the water, I really enjoy this canoe for its graceful lines and beauty. It fits in well with the wilderness areas that I paddle. The wood trim offers a nice blend of simplicity to go along with the carbon fiber technology. It feels effortless to paddle, tracks very well, and is really nice to look at."
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