Episode 2 - Outdoor Adventures and Lake Life with Voyageurs Guide Service's Emily Schwanke
In this episode, Matt Addington is joined by Emily Schwanke of Voyageurs Guided Adventures to discuss her background with Crane Lake and how generations of her family have appreciated what the area has to offer! She talks about her summers growing up and the challenges that come along with living on an island that makes Crane Lake such a great place for adventure. Listen to Emily share her experiences and get excited for the possibilities of your own outdoor adventures in Crane Lake this summer!
You can check out the video version of these great stories below, as well as the audio version and the full text version of the episode.
What You'll Learn In This Episode
- How an escape to a simple life can help you appreciate the broader things.
- What makes Crane Lake an appealing destination even for people from out of state!
- Why Crane Lake is an amazing place to experience outdoor life.
- Crane Lake is the Gateway to Adventure!
Click the play button below to listen to the audio version of this episode.
Don’t miss an episode – catch Crane Lake Stories on YouTube!
Matt Addington: Folks, welcome back to our next episode of Crane Lake stories. We are grateful that many of you chose to watch our first episode. And it's something that we're just going to continue throughout the season. We're really excited about the lineup of folks that we've got. Interested to just talk about Crane Lake and tell the story of their life and their experiences there today. We're super excited to have Emily Schwanke with us, formerly Emily Huggins in her life at Crane Lake. But I'm sure she'll mention that she became a Schwanke and was married, actually, in the area. But really appreciate you coming on today, Emily.
Emily Schwanke: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Matt.
Matt Addington: Yeah. So let's just start from the beginning. Your family is not from Minnesota for that matter, let alone Crane Lake. But you spent just a majority of the summers of your formative years there. Tell us just about your background with Crane Lake.
Emily Schwanke: Yeah. So my first time at Crane Lake, I was three weeks old. And I'm from South Carolina, but my family came here or for my whole life for our summer vacation. We drove up every summer and people from South Carolina thought we were crazy, but it was a home away from home always. My great grandfather built our family cabin in the sixties, finished it in '64. And Crane Lake has just been a special place always. It's felt more like home than any home I ever was as a child. And so it just makes sense that I moved here as soon as I could.
Matt Addington: Mm (affirmative). How about through those years? What were some of the memories that you had? There's obviously these segments of our childhood that we remember, but you can remember some as a young child, some of your memories. And then maybe as you got into your teenage years, I know you worked at Handberg's for a number of years. Talk about how that transition of what family vacations look like for you, coming to such a far away place from home.
Emily Schwanke: Sure. So one of my earlier memories as a kid Crane Lake is that my brother and I found this old piece of dock that floated into our beach at the cabin. And we thought it was the coolest thing, because it was our little raft. And so we got this big oar and we paddled this raft around pretending to be Huckleberry Finn and it was a blast. We did crafts at the cabin. My great grandmother always made blueberry pancakes. And that was her specialty, even when she was old enough that she couldn't pick the blueberries anymore. We picked them her so she could make them. Really good family time there always. And so-
Matt Addington: Your family cabin that you talked about is a boat-in-only cabin. How would you explain that to your friends maybe back in South Carolina? That, "We go to this place that you can't ... You need to drive to the end of the road and then you have to get in a boat and we're just out there." What was that like when you would get home and try to explain it to your friends?
Emily Schwanke: Everything about the Crane Lake experience was so foreign and confusing to my friends at home. And at a certain point, I just had said to say, "You're not going to get it. That's okay. You've got to just come to understand and to get it." But, yeah, just that. I said, "We park literally the end of the road, get in the boat and boat over and to our cabin. And that's the only way to get there."
Matt Addington: Were you able to have some friends? Did some friends come to join you throughout the years and have the experience?
Emily Schwanke: For sure. Yeah. More like entire family friends when we were younger. And then as I got older, as you mentioned, I started to work at Handberg's in the summer. And when I was 17, I started doing that. And so then, I of course, wouldn't shut up about Crane Lake and some of my friends were like, "Well, I want to work there too." And one of my friends that I brought up is still working at Handberg's. So that's pretty cool. Seven years later.
Matt Addington: That's awesome. It does have a way, just the area in general ... It does have a way of capturing you and especially people that have an adventurous spirit. It probably isn't for every young kid. Maybe every young teenager is not probably super keen on, "I'm going to go out to an island and live there with my family for the summer." But for so many people, you get there and you experience just the adventure and the getaway and the beauty that is there and it does truly capture you.
Emily Schwanke: Absolutely. Yeah. And like you said, every day's an adventure, especially when you have a boat-to only place. And we've never had a washer and dryer, so it's hand washing and hanging up clothes and those kinds of things that I think just because it's simple and it's a simpler life, it's so fulfilling.
Matt Addington: For sure. You take all of the things that are the natural, the outdoors, the beauty. All of those things are what you have to find your entertainment in. And with an adventurous spirit like you have, obviously that fits really well. What's the last year or so looked like for your family? I know that obviously COVID has impacted everybody in a lot of different ways. Has your family been able to get up there and get to the cabin? Have they been able to travel? This was probably a pretty atypical year, I would guess for the Huggins family?
Emily Schwanke: Yeah. Definitely COVID impacted everyone. Thankfully, my parents always drive when they come, anyway. And so, driving with COVID was a lot easier than flying. And safer, I suppose. So they still came up, but actually the cool part of COVID for my family was that my dad works from home now anyway. So he was able to be at the cabin longer. And that was really cool, to just spend more time with them up there and live in the same town with them again for a bit.
Matt Addington: For sure. Yeah. The ultimate in social distancing to be able to get up to the Crane Lake area for staying safe. So, you talk about the boat-in cabin and your life starting at 17 as you work there. And obviously you went away to college and did the college thing, but your life is settling into a boat-in life again.
You married Michael up there who is also a kid that was cut from the same cloth of, "We're going to go in and live up there during the summer with our family." And Michael will join us on another episode. Looking forward to it ... who is part of the business you guys are running now. But tell us about the quote, unquote, adult part of your life now, as you settle in to making Crane Lake home.
Emily Schwanke: Yeah. So Michael and I met at Handberg's. We both worked there. Overlapped a couple of years. And when we first met ... He's older than me, so I was a little young and so we were just friends for a while, for about five years. And then, one time I came up there, I was, I guess, a lot older. It seemed to be, and we hit it off and we've been together ever since. So, that was in 2016. And then in 2018, we got married on my island in Namakagon. So for some of you watching, you might know where that is. And yeah, it was great. And he started Voyageurs Guide Service in 2016. He started the fishing guide side of it. He also started the property managing side of it. He managed three rental cabins at the time and it was going really well.
When we started dating, he had just finished year one. And then, once we got married, I came into the business and I settled in the business really well. We figured out some different things to do. I definitely branched out the guide service. So I now do paddling trips in the boundary waters. Overnight and day trips. And then I also do boat tours and Voyageurs National Park and adventures in there. I also do overnights in Voyageurs National Park, too. And hiking trips. And then, last year, so starting in 2020, we launched the Pontoon Float. So this is a night sky pontoon float in the Park. And so that's been really fun to add that to the mix as well.
Matt Addington: Yeah. And Michael's going to be a part of probably a lot of these episodes, doing fishing reports and stuff. And I'd say if you're into just the slimy grime and the grind of fishing, then Michael's your guy. But everything else that's the beautiful part of Crane Lake, Emily is the one to talk to. Right?
Emily Schwanke: Sure. Yeah. So all the stuff that I now enjoy with guests are things that I've grown up just enjoying myself and some of my favorite adventures of my life. And so it's been really cool to share that with other people from all over the country and the world, even.
Matt Addington: Right. You've got such a gift of the knowledge of nature in the area and all of the different things that encompass camping and hiking and just outdoor adventure. But you've also got the experience of, you experienced it as a young child, and you experienced it through your teenage years and into your adult years. And, I think, one of the beautiful things is you know how to meet all of those different guests, whether they come with a young family, you can customize what you do with young kids, versus adults, versus even I know you've done the Women on The Water and some of these paddling things with the sun-setting years.
So you have just a great way of connecting with all those. And I say that personally, too, because you took my young kids on a boundary waters trip and went in and they still talk about all the things that they learned and the things that, "Oh, Emily told us this. And Emily said that." So you've got a great way of just connecting with all ages and finding an adventure that fits all of them.
Emily Schwanke: Thank you.
Matt Addington: And like I said, Michael is the fishing guru and understands that. So it's one of those things you and Mike together have this great team approach between the property and whatever the adventure is that folks that are coming there for the first time, or that have come there for a lifetime ... You guys really have a lot to offer them, which I think is awesome, just moving forward into the future. So we'll definitely put your links and connect some of your social media and website and all that, so that if people are interested in booking a day or booking a trip, or doing something even bigger, or just simply like floating around on a pontoon for a night under the stars, they'll be able to connect with you there, which is awesome.
Emily Schwanke: Absolutely. Thank you, Matt.
Matt Addington: Yeah. You bet. If you can think back to all of your experience ... I know you talked about the time with your brother and finding the raft. Is there one moment, that if you were to tell somebody that wasn't from Crane Lake, or didn't really know the place ... Is there a story that just epitomizes what the experience has been like for you? And maybe it's a series of stories. But is there anything that you look back that just really you feel like, this is what Crane Lake was, or is to me?
Emily Schwanke: Man! Well, of course, there's many stories. And I think when you say that, what comes to me is just the adventure of living up here and working up here and especially that, because Michael and I are a boat or lake access-only. So boat-to or snowmobile-only home, and that's where we live. Every day is an adventure. Sometimes even just getting your groceries to your house is an adventure. The coolest part to me about the area is that there's so many activities, there's so much to do., And even the simplest things are exciting.
So a story that sticks out to me, I guess, is right after Michael and I got married, so the fall of 2018, he has some buddies up on Rainy Lake fishing, and he calls me and says, "I'm on the West side. So for those of you that don't know, that's the farthest side, and about 45 minutes from where I am by boat. And he says, "My boat's not working. Won't start, nothing's working. You've got to come get me." And so I'm like, "Okay, all right." And I say, "Well, where are you?" And he explains, but he's like, "I'm going to try to just float into an island. We're going to build a fire, try to stay warm until I get here." So I said, "All right, I'm coming."
And it was a cool September evening and it was getting dark. And it was almost dark when I left. Filled up the boat with gas, put my snowmobile gear on, it was so cool. And I headed up the Lake and it was also one of the windiest days I can remember. Probably about an 18-mile-an-hour Northwest wind. So the waves were just massive-
Matt Addington: Driving right into them. Yeah.
Emily Schwanke: Right into it. So I head up there and I get on I'm in a tiller boat. So I'm in a 19- and-a-half-foot tiller. So I'm in the back and the waves are coming up from the bow crashing into my face. It was gnarly. So I'm like, "All right, I'm going to do this." I head up there and I don't really know where he is. I sort of know where he is. I'm just looking for a fire, but it's windy and the waves are crashing in my face and I'm like, "Wow! This is living." And so I finally see his fire and I get to him and get it. We pile everybody in the boat and head back. And, as we got back, we were warming up with hot chocolate and getting some food. And I just thought, "These are the adventures that make life worth living. You get your adrenaline rush. It's scary, but it's fun." And so that's why I love living up in Crane Lake. It's just fun.
Matt Addington: Yeah. And really, you could tell a story like that. You used the word "gnarly," which it's like ... That was really gritty and there was some danger and there was some adventure and excitement. At the same time, you probably could have told 100 different stories of, "The night we took the boat out and watched the sunset from this island and we sat by a fire." There's just this crazy wide range of whatever adventure people want. And not that you're going to advertise, "Hey, we'll take you out in a storm when you ... Strand you on an island in the late Fall."
But that's the thing about it, is it is just so full of adventure and I love hearing stories like that. But at the same time, thinking of all of just the incredibly beautiful moments of solitude that you can experience at the same time. And, in a unique way, you can be pretty disconnected, but it's still like ... It's the edge of the world, but there's still ways that Michael was able to call you. And it's not like you've moved into the Bush and you're out of touch with the rest of the world, which ... You can be as out of touch as you choose, which is awesome.
Emily Schwanke: Yeah. When you say that another story that comes to mind is, my peers and I in Crane Lake, we try to have a little end-of-the-year camp out, and reminisce on the year and enjoy each other, celebrate the summer. And it's always in September. And the first year we did it, we were just having a great time. We had a fire, we were dancing and then the Northern Lights come out so strong. So we all hop in the boat and we watched the Northern lights for hours and hours. And we had no idea they were coming. I don't think we even had the Aurora app or any Northern Lights apps at the time. And so, just the surprise of that was so awesome. And, yeah, I guess that's what I'm getting at, is that Crane Lake, it'll surprise you in the most amazing way-
Matt Addington: There's a magic to it-
Emily Schwanke: Yeah, and it is. It's magical. And yeah, just really fun to live here and work here.
Matt Addington: Yeah. We probably should have mentioned it at the beginning. People are probably looking at your background. They're thinking, "That doesn't look like the Marina at Handberg's or Nelson's, or they're in the Voyageur or whatever." But, Emily and Mike are both at a wedding in South Carolina, which ironically, before we started recording, we were talking about this unique, "We left home, but really we can't get back to home until the ice is out." So you're in this state of transition. So that's the explanation of why the background there. And, again, part of the adventure of ... Hopefully when you left home, you brought everything you needed, because you really can't get there until the ice opens up enough to get the boat back. So appreciate you getting on, even from South Carolina.
Emily Schwanke: Absolutely. Yeah.
Matt Addington: So, well, hey, I really thank you just for taking the time on your vacation, and away from home to visit a little more on Crane Lake Stories. And I just really think you and Mike both will be, I think, faces and voices of the future in Crane Lake, obviously as young people that have said, "This is going to be home for us and where we want to make our life happen." And so, I know you'll be a real key piece and a voice and a face that people recognize up there. So thanks again for coming on.
Emily Schwanke: Thank you, Matt.
Matt Addington: All right. Thanks again for joining us this week on the Crane Lake Stories. We appreciate having Emily on to talk about all things adventure in the great north woods of Crane Lake and the area. Be sure to join us next time. If you haven't yet, you want to hit subscribe on the YouTube machine, or the podcast, whichever you're choosing here. We appreciate you stopping by, but we'll see you again next time on Crane Lake Stories.
The Crane Lake Visitor & Tourism Bureau can assist you with ground, water, or air transportation, lodging reservations, group planning, meeting facilities, and any special consideration required to accommodate a unique condition or disability.
If you would like more information about the Crane Lake area or to access our Visitors Guide, please visit our Contact Page. Thank you for your interest in our beautiful area.
Crane Lake Visitor & Tourism Bureau
7511 Gold Coast Road
Crane Lake, MN 55725
800-362-7405 · 218-993-2901