Rita Garcia: 'The boundary waters stole my heart'
Rita Garcia went to the wilderness 57 years ago. In a way, she never has left.
Garcia is 69 today, but a fateful trip at 12 opened her world from the one she knew growing up in Virginia, Minn. Her parents dropped her off at Fall Lake (she waited there alone for a time) near Ely for a trip with a Christian group.
"The boundary waters stole my heart and then captured my soul with its amazing beauty, calm and earthly power," she said.
In the summer of 1969 and trained as a Girl Scout camp counselor and guide, she took six trips into the wilderness, including a backpacking outing. There'd be long weekend trips during college, too, at University of Minnesota Duluth. She and friends would steal away whenever they could.
Garcia left Minnesota in 1985 and didn't return for 15 years. A return to the BWCA happened in the autumn of 2002. It was a chance to introduce her husband, Ron Ibarra, to the water and woods. They entered in 70-degree weather at the Chainsaw Sisters Saloon on Mudro Lake. A "short" five-day trip pivoted to paddles through blinding snow and high winds to get to a campsite. Her husband wondered what they got themselves into as they braced for the weather.
"It was a moment for him to trust his wife — the woods-woman," said Garcia, of Lake Elmo. She embraced the elements — even anticipated them on the second day. Long trips inspired a confidence and intuitiveness, she said.
"You sort of become one with it. I've traveled the Boundary Waters, and I get a strong sense of where I am going. I feel like I have a true sense of magnetic north, and I can find anything. I use my maps in a minimal way. I can read the lakes by the shoreline, or the open bodies of water. I'm just sure of it."
She recalled a trip in ninth grade with one of her best friends, Jane Richards, where she began to absorb the effect of time spent in such quiet. They are hoping to return together.
Garcia hasn't returned to the BWCA for five years — owing to, among other things, back surgery and a hip replacement. They laughingly hope to find someone to maybe carry their gear, Sherpa-style.
"It's you and water and the silence," Garcia said, trying put the feeling to words. "It's just an amazing solitude that you can't find anywhere else."