So when I was an interpreter ( canoe guide ) for Northern Tier High Adventure Canoe Base for three years. Most of the crews were very respectful and listened to me and my advice. You see, the interpreter is supposed to help the crew with the basics of how to canoe, how to portage, how to set up and tear down camp, how to use the equipment, and how to navigate. The Boundary Waters crew is supposed to be able to handle doing everything independently. I was only there as support and to reinforce the policies.
An Unprepared Crew
However, every once in a while, you’ll get an utterly incompetent crew that relies on you to hold their hand throughout the entire trip. This is bad enough, but it can be a recipe for a very rough journey when they are rude and self-entitled.
I got this crew from hell. First, the advisor lied on his documents and weighed more than what was acceptable to go on a trip. But because they were already there and paid for it already, they were accepted anyways. So now, before crews come to us, they are told what kind of clothes and gear to bring.
This crew was one of the most ill-prepared crews I’ve ever had. Cotton shirts and socks. No sleeping pads and tennis shoes instead of waterproof boots. But they did bring too many tackle boxes, camp seats, and other inappropriate and unnecessary gear. I explained how It was not acceptable to have tennis shoes as trail boots. It was unsafe. It was against the rules that the entire crew had to agree on. Funny enough, the kid with the tennis shoes was the scoutmaster’s son. The scoutmaster, who lied about his weight, refused to buy him the proper trail boots that we supplied. He asked for the manager, and the manager told him precisely what I said.
Lacking Proper Gear
He ended up buying the boots for his son, but I knew he resented me for it and was determined to make my life hell on the trip. The trip was seven days, but the crew didn’t want to paddle far, didn’t want to portage at all, and only wanted to fish. So I gave them an itinerary for one of the smallest distances I’ve ever taken. Not even a 50-mile trip. But I told them how it was impossible not to use portages, to which the crew complained about at length.
Now let me remind you that most crews take a mock canoe trip before coming to Northern Tier just to learn the basics on how to paddle, get in and out of the canoe, and other lessons that would prepare them for the actual trip. This crew didn’t do that. They didn’t look at the list of things to bring and what not to bring. For a Boy Scout troop, they were not prepared for anything.
I learned how clueless they were about canoeing the first two minutes into their trip. They didn’t listen to how to paddle and were just paddling in circles. It took us over half an hour to leave next to the landing site. We were going slow and had to wait for the other canoes to correct their directions.
I tried to show the crews how to navigate with the map. To which, they all collectively gave up and insisted that I just do it. A terrible attitude, to say the least.
We got to camp, and I was taught how to set up the dining fly, the cooking area properly, and cook. I told them that we have to make sure that everyone eats their first portion before getting seconds. I had one taco and went to get a second only to find that the crew ate the rest already, again, not listening to me.
Portage Yields Tears
The second day was probably the longest. We had to portage. The whole crew was pissed. None of them wanted to portage a canoe and instead moved one pack at a time. I would try to get a kid to portage the canoe, and they would either go so slow it was taking up three times longer than usual or cry and tell someone to take the canoe off their shoulders. It was the third portage that I realized that if we continued the pace that we would have a hard time getting a camp by the time we got to our lake destination.
I sucked up my pride and portaged the canoes across myself.
Food and the Bear Bag – Yikes!
Once at the camp, they wouldn’t even set up camp. They would just all go straight to fishing. I would just set up my tent and read my book. But by the time it hit dinner, I had to show them how to start the camp stove. After dinner, the crew would only use cold water to wash their plates and pots. There would still be food on everything. I told them that the food on the pots would attract bears and make sure to throw away all uneaten food and put it in the bear bag at night.
I had to set up the bear bag every night with some assistance from some crew members. It was only day two, and I couldn’t wait for the trip to be over.
The third day was like the second day. Slow and full of complaining adults and children. At this point, the scoutmaster would only take the lightest bag we have. He refused to portage a canoe. But it was on this day I tried to show his son how to portage a canoe. After multiple attempts to teach him how to lift the canoe onto his shoulders properly, I gave up and did the two-person technique. He may be made 50 feet and then threw the canoe off his shoulders and into the rocks without saying anything. He began bawling and saying how he’d never do that again. Instead of getting mad at his son for possibly breaking a canoe to the point that someone would have to be sent out to get us another canoe, he began yelling at me for “making” him portage.
Where Are We?
Mind you, and I did not raise my voice, and I did not cuss or show any sign of attitude the entire time. I was just going to my happy place, just counting down the seconds till I never had to see them all ever again. The portaging was over, and we were canoeing to one of my favorite campsites, which were about a mile away at this point. I told the crew it wasn’t much farther. But because they refused how to navigate, they grew impatient with me.
Finally, the scoutmaster’s kid whined, “How much farther until we get to camp?” I started explaining that it was just out of view past an island. While I was explaining exactly how far it was, the scoutmaster interrupted me and yelled rather aggressively. “HE ASKED HOW FAR IT WAS!” to which I looked at the nearest camp and said, “right here.” We pulled in; I went in with my equipment, set up my tent, and went inside.
Chief Cook and Bottlewasher
Not only did they not appreciate me for doing more than what was expected of me, but they dared make me out as the bad guy in this situation. Finally, I was done trying to help them. I gave up on trying to teach them anything. If they didn’t want me there, then I was going just to mind my own business. By this point, I had already finished my book and was just writing in my journal. The irony is that they had trouble again with the camp stove. They said it was broken. But when I did the steps that I explained over three times already, it started working with no problem. They couldn’t put up the bear bag, so I did it for them.
The following day I went to get breakfast which was the first time they had to use the stove. Not to cook anything in the pot, but to just boil water for oatmeal. But the closer I got, I realized that they didn’t even boil water. They were either eating the oatmeal with cold water or just dry and straight from the pouch. This was a new level of laziness that I’d never seen before. Finally, they said it was too hard to get the stove to turn on, so we just decided to eat it like this. It blew my mind, and these people aren’t even capable enough to boil water.
At this point, I just clocked out; there was no helping this crew. They were determined not to learn anything and were doing things just to spite me. It was the last full day of the trip. We got to camp, and the first thing I said was to get a dining fly set up because I saw a storm showing. However, instead of putting the dining fly up for our dining area, the scoutmaster decided to just use the dining fly as a personal dining fly for his hammock, which was redundant because he already had his individual fly over the hammock anyway.
Without saying anything, I started to tear it down, so we could make food that night. As I was tearing it down, the scoutmaster said, “Hey, I was using that for my hammock.” He was like a child having a temper tantrum. I told him, without even looking at him. “We need this dining fly so that we can cook, even if it starts raining. A storm is coming, and there is nothing over all of the fragile cooking equipment. The needs of the crew outweigh the needs of ourselves.”
He then huffed to himself and walked away. Not even five minutes after setting up the dining fly, it began pouring rain. I cooked the last meal because I didn’t trust anyone else at this point. It was the last night with this crew, and I was beyond excited to never see these people again.
The Final Day With the Crew From Hell
On the last day, we paddled into the base. Once we turned in all the canoes, and gear I took off to the staff area and began to unwind finally. I said to the other interpreters who had gotten off the water that day that I got the crew from hell. I cathartically went on a rant, explaining everything that the crew did. I got a collective sympathetic response as most of us have had at least one problematic unit.
The crew said their goodbyes, except the scoutmaster that said nothing to me the last two days. I waved them goodbye and prayed that my next crew was going to be nothing like them. I felt so used and abused. I helped that crew from going hungry every day.
So what did I get for my efforts? The Scoutmaster gave me an abysmal post-trip evaluation and the kids didn’t even bother to fill it out for me. When I had to explain why I had such a poor review, I explained everything. That they were not adequately prepared or equipped to handle the trip. How the scoutmaster was trying to allow his son only to have tennis shoes as trail boots. How when they made him by the required boots that he resented me for it. After hearing my whole story, he said that I did the right thing. He even apologized that I had to deal with such a deplorable crew that was abusive and dangerous.
Final Thought on the Bounday Waters Crew From Hell
Thankfully I never had another crew like that ever again. But the reality was that crew set a bar for me as a new low, the likes that were very hard to make. I gained so much patience from that crew. It showed me how to conduct myself even in the worst circumstances. I also considered myself lucky. As bad as this crew was, It still was not the worst crew that I’ve heard about. I learned a lot, and it made me gain a new perspective. Even if a crew had its set of problems, at least it wasn’t as bad as that crew.