I am a big fan of trip insurance, and its from a personal experience where myself and my employer were out thousands of dollars because we did not have a policy.
Get your trip insurance quote here!
I was paid up and ready to go on a trip to the Galapagos Island. As a conservation biologist, these islands are on the short list of places to visit.
Unfortunately, I had an emergency gall bladder surgery on the eve of the trip and was unable to go.
No big deal, right?
Well….my employer nor I were afforded any sort of refund on the plane tickets, hotels, transportation, visas, food, etc., because we did not have a trip insurance policy to cover an unplanned cancellation.
Since then, I’ve always taken out a policy when I’ve traveled internationally, and, depending on the trip, domestically. I always take one out when I travel in a road-less or remote area where vehicle access is minimal or non-existent, like my recent trips to hike the Kekekabic & Border Route Trails.
An Outfitters Perspective
Owning an outfitting business, we pre-sell many of our programs and services. We plan our staff, vehicles, and equipment based on advance reservations. We even combine groups to help lower the price for those travelling/participating together.
We release our employees schedules to them 2-3 weeks before they are scheduled to work. Our employees are depending on these opportunities to earn income. Their schedules are driven by advance reservations.
We do understand that things happen. Injuries, family emergencies, job changes, etc., may cause you to cancel your trip. Our current policy for outfitting services has been if you notify us 14 or more days in advance, we gladly give you a full refund. Less than 14 days, its been a sliding scale, and, we’ve even offered to credit your account if you cancel up to 48 hours before your program/service.
Our policy for lodging is more restrictive, if you cancel two months before your start date, we offer a full refund. Less than two months, we will only refund your money if we find someone to take your place.
Another circumstance is customers and non-customers alike needing a non-emergency rescue from the trail. We used to sell our own trip insurance for a measly $5 and we would come and get you off the trail “no questions asked”. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day we had someone on call 24/7 to retrieve hikers off the trail.
In the case of cancellation, we have expended funds based on the advance reservations and are depending on the revenue to fund business operations, including paying our employees. By cancelling and us refunding, we are now in a situation where we are losing money on a cancelled reservation.
In the case of a rescue, our “no questions asked” rescues are quite expensive as we are expending labor and gas at the drop of a hat. The cost of rescuing folks with policies far exceeded the revenue we took in.
We have been kicking around the idea of firming up our rescue policies and rates for customers and non-customers.
The way forward
In a world where trip insurance exists, we are no longer going to offer our own trip insurance. We are going to have a fixed rate for rescues and day-of reservations. We will provide information to our customers about trip insurance policies they can take out. If a situation arises, we can complete the rescue, bill them the appropriate amount, and the customer can submit a claim.
As for cancellations, we will either keep our 14 day cancellation policy or bump it out to 21 days.. However, less than 14 days, there are no refunds. Customers with trip cancellation insurance can submit a claim. This is a win-win as the customer will get back most/all of their fees and we still get paid and not be out the funds we’ve already expended preparing for our customers.
What is trip insurance?
For those who are unfamiliar with trip insurance, there are four basic kinds of policies:
Trip Cancellation insurance is insurance that will refund your non-refundable fees if you need to cancel a trip. Plane tickets, hotel rooms, program fees, etc. This would cover your program and shuttle fees. There are “cancel for any resason” policies out there.
Trip Interruption Insurance is insurance that will pay your costs in the case you need to end your vacation and pay for associated costs of getting out of where you are and home. This is what you’d take out to cover a non-emergency rescue.
Medical Evacuation Insurance is insurance that, in the case of a medical emergency, will pay above and beyond what your normal health insurance would to evacauate you off the trail and to a hospital.
Supplemental Medical Insurance is insurance that covers costs not normally covered by your medical insurance due to the nature of your activities. This is usually taken out for high risk activities like white water rafting, mountaineering, etc.
In 2019, we will include with every reservation a link to a preferred provider of Trip Insurance. We will make it clear during the reservation process and in confirmations the importance of trip insurance and our policies about cancellations and rescues, and their costs. You can find quotes by visiting the link below.
Get your trip insurance quote here!
Need for change
Leave no Trace principle #1 is “plan and prepare”. Make your logistics arrangements with us more than a month in advance and we usually offer some sort of discount or reward for doing so. Waiting until the day of you may be learning a hard lesson on why its important to prepare in advance.
Emergencies happen, we understand that. However, we should not be on the financial hook. That is why you take out insurance.
Thomas Funke, Trailspotters
Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.
Tom Funke, Tammy Krembs, Keith Otis, & Mike Otis at the eastern terminus of the Kekekabic Trail
Article by Tom Funke
Photos by Tammy Krembs, Keith Otis, and Mike Otis
Videos by Mike Otis
Having the goal to section hike the entire North Country Trail in my lifetime, two trails that have been on my list for twenty years are the Kekekabic & Border Route Trails. Both cross significant wilderness areas in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Both have been ravaged by storms, forest fires, and minimal maintenance, due to the nature of being in a wilderness and having little or no access to the interior parts of the trail.
The vast majority of the 4600 mile long national scenic trail crosses a road about once every mile or so. Not on the Kekekabic. Number of road crossings? Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch. None. Not even a spur trail, not even an abandoned forest road. You either hike its 40 mile length or you push that SOS button on your Delorme and helicopter it out of there.
The Border Route Trail has a 23 mile segment without a road or spur trail. It crosses one road its entire 60 mile length, and thats on the far eastern end. There are spur trails to the Gunflint Trail (paved road) but some of these are a day’s worth of hiking.
That being said, I constantly read “you need to be an experienced backpacker to hike these trails”. I’d disagree with that statement. What you need to be is BRAVE and SMART about your hiking.
This is the trail. Really. See it?
When I say BRAVE, it is mostly because for 100 miles there isn’t a single trail marking. What you look for, though, is signs of trail maintenance. A cut stump. A tree that has been trimmed back. Cut brush, a bent over branch. When you lose the trail (and we lost it well over 100 times, mostly on the Kekekabic) we looked for these signs. Put someone in the lead who is well versed in tracking animals, as, you’ll be following a faint tread that is mostly obscured by all the tag alder, honeysuckle, and popple growing up around the tread. The Border Route, for the most part, had a “lane” you could follow. The Kekekabic? Not so much, we were staring at the tops of our feet for most of our hike.
Therefore, if you can take a deep breath, and, have yourself and a couple of others on your hike, many eyes make for keeping your feet and eyes on the trail. Hiking the fall, as we did, we had the fortune of others before us who put up the occasional piece of flagging tape to keep us on track and boost our confidence. Everytime we lost the trail, we would flag the “before” and “after” to help the next group find their way.
On the Kek, you will also hike across about 10 beaver dams. The first one was the Hoover Dam of beaver dams. You either fell off into 8 feet of beaver pond, or downslope into a marsh. You just need to come to terms you will post hole at least once.
Oh yeah, boulder fields, too.
When I say SMART, you have to come to terms this isn’t Pictured Rocks, Isle Royale, or any other well traveled trail. Maybe 100 people a year hike the Kekekabic. Probably less than that hike the Border Route. This is a wilderness trail that puts forth conditions you won’t experience on well traveled trails.
Signs of trail maintenance led us to believe we were still on the trail.
We tried a few things on the Kekekabic that we didn’t utilize on the Border Route. First, we assigned whistles to everyone. I had a howler and so did the first person in our party. We decided that we would always remain close to each other. Being the vegetation is so thick, most of the time if someone got more than 100 feet ahead of another, you couldn’t see them. Therefore, we decided that one blow of the whistle from the trailing party told the leading party to stop and wait. A blow from the leading party was to tell the trailing party their location, and it was usually at a place where the trail was easily lost. We blew our whistles countless times each day on the Kekekabic. On the Border Route, we used voice commands and were were always within 50 yards of each other, most of the time much closer. It is smart to stay close and in communication.
Cairns (the good kind) kept us on the trail.
Another smart thing we did was deliberately planned out our day on the Kekekabic. We planned on where we would take breaks, how long they would be, and where our final destination would be. If we arrived early, we could take a longer break, late, a shorter break. We also plotted out potential places to camp in case we didn’t make it. What helped was we programmed into a handheld GPS (we called here Gypsy) stream crossings, beaver dams, vistas, and campsites. That way we could know the distance to each place and let our bodies know how much longer it would be to get to these points.
On the Border Route Trail, we overestimated how many miles we could hike in a day, and, constantly fell behind. On the Kekekabic, we hit our targets every day. It is smart to know that you need to cut your miles per hour at least in half. We barely made one mile an hour. I am a 2.3 mile and hour backpacker under normal conditions.
The trail is very rocky, you typically cannot take more than five steps without kicking, stepping on, glancing, or tripping over a rock. Additionally, the deadfall over the trail was frequent and challenging to go over, under, or around. We had to crawl on our bellies on several occasions. This feat really slows you down and does sap you of energy more than you’d think.
View of Arrow River from Border Route Trail
You’d be very smart NOT to wear trail hikers. We all wore thick soled boots, three of the four of us had leather uppers. Our feet, at the end, looked like someone took a sledge hammer to them. Bruises, blisters, and bloody scabs covered our feet. I cannot imagine what they’d look like if someone wore trail hikers. Ouch….just….ouch.
Oh, it rained on us while hiking the Border Route Trail.
You’ll also hear “you need to be well versed in map & compass, and, bushwhacking”. Map and compass was helpful on the Border Route Trail as there are multiple opportunities a day to triangulate your position. Not so much on the Kekekabic. Bushwhacking? We would constantly look into the woods around us and ask ourselves if we needed to bushwhack, how far we’d make it. The general consensus was “not very far”. The entire Kekekabic goes through second growth that is about 20 years old. We only saw one small patch (less than a couple acres) of pines of any size. The forest was too thick to do any meaningful bushwhacking. If you lose the trail, the best thing to do is keep looking for signs of trail maintenance.
Lots of topography made it easy for us to triangulate our position on the Border Route Trail
We also set the goal of 30 pound packs without water. We were able to share equipment amongst each other and minimize our weight. We had two hammocks, a bivy, and a one person tent between the four of us. I think we all wore the same clothes everyday, and, we all ate dehydrated/freeze dried foods.
I used to tell folks Isle Royale was not a good place for noobs on their very first backpacking trip. I’ve reconsidered this position. Isle Royale is a cakewalk with a few rocks for good measure. The Border Route Trail is Isle Royale on steroids. The Kekekabic is a rocky rabbit track where Isle Royale is a paved highway.
We only saw six humans on the Border Route Trail. All within an hour of each other. We only saw one human in six days on the Kekekabic
So, if you have either of these trails on your bucket list, if you are BRAVE and SMART about your hike, you should accomplish these feats that few others have.
Leaving he BWCA from the Border Route Trail.
Tom Funke has hiked over 2000 miles of the North Country Trail. He is the author of “50 Hikes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula” and “50 Hikes on the North Country Trail”.