illustration by michael hoeweler
Labor Day, 2013, I spent my last hours at the State Fair anticipating a long-planned trip to the BWCA with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. That day, we learned that Syrian President Assad had tragically used chemical weapons against civilians—the subject of an intense MPR interview I did in front of a live State Fair audience. On the way up north, my Minnesota staff secured a satellite phone so my D.C. staff could contact me if I needed to return to debate the Syrian response. That night, we camped on the edge of the BWCA, knowing that in the morning we had six hours of grueling paddling and portaging to get to the promised “stellar walleye fishing.” I hadn’t been in the BWCA in years, and now, at age 62, I found hours of alternately paddling and carrying a canoe over my head much harder than I remembered. Shortly after we arrived, I got the call I feared: “Come back immediately.” I now had another grueling six hours to get out of the BWCA before nightfall. We gave the steaks we had brought to a honeymooning couple on the next island, cranked ‘er up, and made it back just as night was falling. I was in D.C. by noon.