woman paddling a kayak


field notes

Boundary waters

Tofte, MN

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.

–  William Shakespeare

couple around the camp fire

photo: Derek Montgomery

If you’re the type of person who thinks interesting people often have interesting names, then Thor Olson and Poldi Gerard do not disappoint. The Minnesotan couple began as close high school friends who decided to give dating a go.  But at the end of the first date, shyness thwarted courage and Thor was unable to make his move – an inaction that no doubt left his hammer-wielding, mythological namesake shaking his head.

“One of us waited expectantly,” recalled Poldi, “and one us fled back in terror to the car his mother was driving. And so, the one that was not kissed assumed that the other one was not into her.”

The two remained friends but traveled separate paths, marrying and having children, while exchanging the occasional Christmas card. Their stars realigned again at their 40th high school reunion where they learned that they were each in the process of ending their marriages and taking life in new directions. They agreed on a second date and have been together ever since. 

“We found out we enjoyed each other just as much, if not more,” said Thor, who had seemingly grown wiser and developed better moves since high school.

Field Notes Boundary Waters Camping

photo: Thor Olson

One of the many things they share as a couple is their love of the outdoors. Thor, a retired color scientist, has been able to dedicate more of his time to astrophotography, an interest occasioned 25 years ago when he assisted his son on a class assignment identifying constellations in the night sky.

“We saw the moons of Jupiter that evening and it completely captured my interest.  Since then, I have taken pictures of the night sky, both landscaped wide-angle views and through the telescope.” Thor’s trained eye as a colorist and his patience in allowing things to unfold in their own time have allowed him to capture incredible still and time-lapsed images of the heavens.

video: Thor Olson

To create his images Thor needs very specific equipment and locations removed from light pollution. “We usually have to get an hour or two out of the city to get decent pictures. That’s one of the really nice things about the GO trailer,” said Poldi. “We can load up his big, bulky equipment in the trailer and then convert it to our home once we travel to the dark sky areas.”

“Being an engineer myself, I’m really impressed at the thought that went into the GO,” stated Thor. “I know good design comes from people who actually use the thing they are designing. There are other pop-up trailers that open up to something like a tent, but they are heavier, and seem more confining. The GO has an open, non-claustrophobic feeling to it.”

men taking pictures at dusk

photo: Derek Montgomery

Cooking is like love.  It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

– Harriet Van Horne

Couple preparing a meal

photo: Derek Montgomery

Poldi’s father, a WWII veteran, associated sleeping in a tent with his experiences in Europe. “As a result, my family were not campers.”

It was only later, as a Girl Scout, that she developed her love for camping. “Some of the best and most formative experiences of my life were 15-day wilderness canoe trips – all girls, in the Boundary Waters.” Their adventures included hypothermia and flagging down ranger planes. 

“We even portaged our own canoes – one girl per canoe. The Boy Scouts took two per canoe. It made me feel like an Amazon.”

Field Notes Boundary Waters Camping

photo: Thor Olson

These days Poldi combines her love of the outdoors with her passion for cooking. Her influences are diverse and have been shaped by the years she lived in Italy, time spent with family in the Netherlands, and her previous husband’s Vietnamese grandmother, who flew across the country to teach Poldi the proper way to cook family dishes. “I often blend the various cultures – it wouldn’t be unusual to see me at the stove testing pasta with chopsticks.”

couple talking while preparing a meal
men opening a bottle of wine

photos: Derek Montgomery

couple having breakfast outside their GO Camp trailer

Poldi enjoys entertaining, keeps a book of all her menus, and is experienced in the arts of camping cuisine. In 2017, she co-hosted “Thor & Poldi’s Excellent Eclipse Party” at Heise Hot Springs Campground in Idaho. About a dozen people showed up for the weekend and partook of a menu that included pasta with chicken, pine nuts and pesto, wilted spinach salad, Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, and Tasty Beanpot. GOs represented two of their four campsites, proudly towed by a Tesla Model X and a Toyota Prius.

GO Camper with electric and hybrid car

photo:  Poldi Gerard

We aren’t RV people. We are tent people that got old.

– Poldi Gerard

“One of the things I love about the GO is that it’s the perfect fit between a tent and an RV,” said Poldi. “We can pull it with our hybrid Volvo, it’s easy to put up and take down, and I love not having to sleep on the ground.” 

“The first time we took it out we were in a huge Nebraska scale thunderstorm,” remembered Thor. “The wind beat at us and the rain came down, but we stayed intact and dry.” Poldi added, “It was great. We stayed cozy, snug, and safe.”

men setting a camp fire

photo:  Derek Montgomery

For many Americans, this past year’s hardships have led them to seek reprieve in our protected lands and waters. But as a nation we are also traveling less, relying more on local resources and making new discoveries close to home that had been previously overlooked by the allure of destination trips.

Before the pandemic, Thor and Poldi were always outdoors and that has not changed.  But now they are not traveling across the country and have kept camping closer to home. They load up the photography equipment and electric bikes and camp every other week for several nights at a stretch. 

“Being able to pack up the GO and visit Minnesota’s state parks during the middle of the week has been the savior of our sanity during the pandemic,” Poldi said. 

Field Notes Boundary Waters Camping

photo: Thor Olson

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area, located in Superior National Forest, is a designated ‘dark sky sanctuary’.  The BWCA has over 1,200 miles of canoe routes, abundant wildlife, and is well-removed from light and noise pollution.  

Although living in the same state, Thor had never experienced the wonders of the BWCA. “I lived in Minnesota my entire life and am embarrassed to say I had never been to the Boundary Waters until Poldi and her sister guided me there. It’s visually beautiful and remote.”

“Yes,” Poldi agreed. “It’s a vast wilderness of rocky shores and pine forest – a huge protected area that extends across the Canadian border.  They are made up of these hundreds and hundreds of little lakes that were scoured out by the glaciers and time.”

woman looking map

photos: Thor Olson

woman paddling a kayak

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life . . . Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.

– John Muir

couple having breakfast outside their GO Camp trailer

photo: Derek Montgomery

For Thor and Poldi, time isn’t just something to be passed.  Time provides its own gifts, like the opportunity to reconnect with a great love, to capture light in dark skies, and to blend the histories of many into a single dish. Something new is always unfolding, even in places as venerable as the old growth forests and glacial lakes of the Boundary Waters.

Enjoy your time, it belongs to you.