Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Last Memories of Our Trip

After 72 days, our adventure culminated in 13 days on the Hayes River. While at Oxford House, Ron ghost-blogged for us, so I'll start this entry on day 78. The day we left Oxford House.

The segment between Oxford Lake and Knee Lake is called Knife Rapids. We made it over the rapids pretty quickly and thought we had done a great job, but when we brought the canoe up on shore at our campsite that evening we discovered a large scratch and puncture on the stern.
The leak is right there by the skid plate. It only leaked about a 1/2 cup per hour.
 The hole wasn't too big, but we decided to take advantage of North Star Resort, a five star fishing lodge on Knee Lake. We stayed for one day and one night repairing our stern with a fiberglass kit provided by Stone Harbor. It was actually really easy to fix. It also helped that we were in a lodge... We were playing it safe by fixing the crack and were glad later that we made the stop.
This is Mark the caretaker of the North Star Resort.
We camped one more night on Knee Lake reaching the last stretch of our journey. The rapids after Knee Lake are successional. At every corner, there were different white water challenges. We went along carefully and had so much fun running mostly fast CI and CII sets. The guidebook we followed is called "Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba" by Hap Wilson. He draws each set by hand and tells you what route he followed for each set as well. It's a very useful book, but he couldn't have possibly checked out all of these sets unless he would have stayed in this small area for a month. Anyway, eventually we strayed from his meticulously mapped out sets to the uncharted Wetiko Rapids. We were stuck in small channels that led to waterfalls that led to more small channels and more waterfalls. We did about twenty 10 foot portages and were losing steam fast! The sun was setting, so we decided to camp. Our campsite was on an island and was surrounded by five waterfalls. We thought we were lost, but it was the most beautiful campsite of the trip. So, beautiful we forgot to take a picture and I offered an entire granola bar to the Sasssquatch (I know not very L.N.T., but I was just so appreciative).

The next day we found our way back to the main channel right away! Off we went for a day full of portaging around big waterfalls and running fast rapid sets. We did really well, but all day we were thinking about the last three rapid sets. They are all CIIIs and aren't discussed in much detail by Hap, and they are the last sets before the calm descent to Hudson Bay. We'd been searching for camping until 9PM when we finally reached the first of these final rapid sets. We just had to stop, so we ended up camping in a very small area.

The next day we got up at the crack of dawn to get over the sets and have the rest of the day to float the Hayes. We thought we'd be alright without the spray skirt on the first set because we were planning on getting out of the wave train and not taking on any water. I wasn't paying attention to the water we were taking on in the bow while I was sterning. When we finished the set Natalie said in her calmest voice, "bail as fast as you can." I said, "what?" and looked down in horror at our completely filled boat.  We had about 3 inches left, or we would have been under water. It took us about fifteen minutes to get all the water out. The next CIIIs gave us no trouble, and we arrived happily at Whitemud Falls.
Whitemud Falls!
This marks 200 km to York Factory. We were so pumped! After some portrait pictures at the falls, we hopped in the boat and started the float to the bay. This part of the river was by far my favorite. You could see all the way to the bottom, move fast and feel the presence of the steep banks that were covered in spruce trees or falling away. It was sunny and 80 all day. We made it to just before the junction of the Hayes River and God's River. Just 110 km away from York Factory! We had a brilliant idea: to stay up all night by a big fire and leave as soon as we could see the water. About 30 minutes after dinner, we both fell asleep... We agreed it was some of the best sleep either of us had had on the trip! We did wake up early and without breakfast started on our break for the bay. We knew we could move 10 km per hour, so we had 11 hours until York Factory if the weather didn't change. All of the stories we had heard about the last length of the Hayes were scary. Fog, rain, headwinds, polar bears. But, we had a perfect day! It was 70 something and sunny...too nice. We were both on edge all day and getting more anxious by the minute to just make it there already! Around mid day we were given encouragement from nature. The only cloud in the sky shook with thunder, and on the shore there were 5 wolves! Five minutes later there was a herd of caribou. We were ready to go! We saw seals and more caribou too!

Mud cliffs line the last flush of the Hayes.


Wolves. Notice how dark it got all of the sudden.

Hudson Bay in the distance and a seal in the foreground.
 We arrived at York Factory sometime in the afternoon. We had forgotten to eat all day, so our thoughts were not on our accomplishment or the completion of the trip but our stomachs. We made about 3 pounds of hashbrowns, eggs and black beans under the watch of Lenny the maintence guy because there was a young polar bear in the area. They were nice enough to let us stay with them in a bunkhouse. They cooked us sausages and told us stories from the summer. Teagan and Jason were the caretakers. They are a young couple and this was their first summer at York Factory. Lenny had spent three summers there. That evening we branded our paddles and introduced our dog to Lenny's huge, friendly German Shepherd, Jake. It was a beautiful night and we had a wonderful rest with full bellies in anticipation of getting home. In the morning, we woke to gunshots and Jake barking. We opened the door and about 100 meters away there was a polar bear walking on the boardwalk. Wow! I'm sorry I didn't Gopro it for you. That day, after a great tour of York Factory, we left on the float plane with Teagan and Jason.
Natalie and Lenny getting ready to brand some paddles. There's a polar bear siting right next to York Factory that you can't see in this picture.

Woo! We did it!

After the Menogyn Femmes Du Nord (a 50 day canoeing adventure), you brand your paddles with an "M" for Menogyn.
I can't really tell you how I feel about the trip right now. All I know is that it was fun and I learned a lot! I wouldn't trade this experience for anything, and I can't wait to reflect on all of our adventures over the next couple of months by talking to people and writing. For now, we're taking some time off from HBB. I will be living in Steamboat Springs for the next two months working at a luxury dog resort (yes Myhan will be coming with Lucky Dog!), skiing and waiting to start grad school in Fort Collins. Natalie is traveling the east coast visiting family and friends. She is still looking for a job and wants to do more speaking about our trip. Call her! 305 972 6564.

Here are some of our GoPro videos from the last stretch:

Natalie and I want to thank you all so much for all of your support. We will keep you involved in our presentation schedule and progress with writing a book.

Goodbye for now! Ann Raiho

PS. We raised $3000 for Menogyn! $1500 from the canoe auction and $1500 from your generous donations!! 

AND sorry we don't have a song... We would have sung you this one...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Our Norway House Experience

Once we got on the Nelson the only thing standing in between us and Norway House was the infamous maze of water known as Playgreen Lake. This is where Eric Sevareid and Walter Port missed the direct channel leading to Norway House, forcing them to paddle the long way into town. The journal we had from the Hudson Bay Expedition trip in 2005 also got lost on this lake and took several hours to find the right channel. We camped at an old fishing co-op building in the middle of Playgreen Lake and took off early the next morning to catch the end of York Boat Days that afternoon. We had a rough headwind as a looming death cloud sat over Norway House, mocking our efforts. We decided to wait said death cloud out until the skies cleared and rainbows appeared with leprechauns to escort us to the right channel. One of our mottos was “Good Decisions 2011: Never try too hard." After our morning coffee and a lovely game of ‘name the three people you would want to/never want to be stuck in a room with for 24 hours’ (you were probably mentioned at some point during this discussion…all good things, I’m sure!), we set off with clear skies. Rainbows and Leprechauns did not magically appear to lead us on our way like they will in my upcoming book Hudson Bay Bound: The Search for the Real Robot Unicorn. However, a motorboat appeared from the Northeast shore as a beacon of light streaming from the channel to Norway House. We followed the channel until houses started popping up along the shore. We were on the lookout for Mike Muswagon’s house with the red porch, which happened to be right across from ‘that other house with the red porch’, which no one told us about. After a comical series of downstream/upstream and this house/that house debates, during which a motorboat of tourists took pictures of us paddling in circles, Mike’s daughters eventually flagged us down. So began the Days of York Boat!

York Boat Days were awesome. Mike and Janice Muswagon have wonderful, down to earth kids (older than us) and grandkids (younger than us); the whole family was genuinely fun to hang out with. We sat around with Krystal (who is now pregnant – Congratulations!), watched movies and ate food. It was perfectly relaxing. Then we went to the shore to watch the York Boat races and to satisfy our ever-growing metabolisms with Moose Soup and bannock. That night Ann and I stayed up with Mike and Janice until 1:00am learning about the political and social issues present at Norway House and in many aboriginal communities in Manitoba. I was especially interested in food-access in the community. The local convenience store is called Northern Store and the prices are very high for healthy foods (ex: soda is cheaper than water, and a gallon of milk is $10+). Therefore, people ideally buy the cheaper, more processed foods that can cause diseases such as diabetes. This is just one of the many problems they face. Another hope of the Muswagon family is that the unemployment rate –currently at 85%-- improves within the community. We don’t know a lot about the specifics, only what we took away from conversations, but 85% unemployment is absolutely ridiculous and reflects an obvious injustice. It is our responsibility as educated citizens (which often involves sifting through some lies and stereotypes) to make political decisions out of understanding and not ignorance.

The night before we left, we enjoyed a delicious BBQ dinner with the Muswagon family. They decided that we needed a dog to protect us from the polar bears that had been checking our gps location online every night, anxiously awaiting our arrival to the Hayes River (In the soon-to-be hit novel, Hudson Bay Bound: The Search for the Real Robot Unicorn, these tech-savvy polar bears will aid me in my search and, extremely turned off by my dance moves, agree not to eat me). Anyway, Krystal shows up at the BBQ with a small, sad looking puppy. It was light grey with one blue eye and a limp that says, “I’m cute but useless." The jokes ensued; we had to get a different dog. This dog was given to a grandchild. Nothing I write now will effectively describe how hilarious the search for our dog was, but here is the story anyway.
We hopped in the car with Krystal and two of her friends to go dog shopping. Everyone knows that the best time to shop for stray dogs is late at night while driving slowly through neighborhoods in the reservation, calling for applicants out of the car window. One time while we were rolling along I actually saw a woman in the house we were passing look worriedly out her window then shut the blinds. We looked sketchy, and it was awesome. We cracked jokes at the dogs we saw that ‘weren’t good enough’ and jokes about stealing dogs from houses (all in good fun, nothing serious). After rolling around for a while we decided to check back at the multiplex where there was a high school dance going on. We figured that the smell of sweaty hormones protruding from the building must have attracted the stray dogs lingering in the parking lot. And there we saw her, the silhouette of a good-sized puppy with the sexiest lack-of-a-limp I’ve ever seen. She was licking old ketchup packets off of the parking lot floor like it was her job, and I admired her determination with the task at hand; this was the one. Ann hopped out of the car and chased her down while everyone was yelling as if we were carrying out some sort of military mission. I ran outside, picked her butt-dreaded self up from the concrete and threw her in the back seat of the car. We zoomed off as if we had just done something illegal (which we hadn’t – the puppy may have starved to death during the winter). We named her Myhan, which means wolf in Cree.  Ironically, she kind of looks like a fox. Whatever the name, the broad has character. She sleeps and sleeps and sleeps and “Ann do you think it’s weird that all she does is sleep?” We soon discovered that she was sleeping so much because she was underfed and very tired from the res-dog life. After about 2 days of eating real food (she still had a special place for ketchup packets in her heart) she finally perked up and started acting like a puppy. “mmmmm Chacos are delicious” and “if I eat a little bit of the tent every night then Ann and Natalie will have to sleep outside with meeeee!” But really, she slept in the canoe most of the day and hunted at night. We once found a beaver hand in front of our tent in the morning. Good job, Myhan, you badass.

We paddled away from Mike’s House on an overcast afternoon… stay tuned for the blog about the last section of our trip!

Norway House is a wonderful place with very kind people and we hope to return someday soon to visit the awesome Muswagon family.

This is the Fisherman's CO-OP on Playgreen Lake that we camped next to after exiting Lake Winnipeg

Flour packing at York Boat Days. We should have entered...

Some of the beautiful Muswagons. From left to right Ann Raiho, Wally Muswagon, Janice Muswagon, Mike Muswagon, Krystal Muswagon, Natalie Warren.

Myhan's first five minutes with us

Friday, September 9, 2011

Presentation Information and a Video from the Big Lake!

We're here in Grand Marais today preparing for our first presentation. If you are in town, join us at Stone Harbor tonight at 7:00 PM. We will be showing pictures/video and telling some good stories. If you aren't in town or can't make it tonight, listen to The Roadhouse on WTIP tonight (September 9th) around 5:00 PM. We'll be over there chatting with Buck and Bob about our adventure. Above is a montage from our experience on Lake Winnipeg! We will be blogging about the Hayes and the return to MN in the coming days.

Minneapolis Presentation!
Save the date: Thursday September 22nd
Place: REI Bloomington, MN
Time: 7:00 PM

Besides telling stories and showing sick GoPro videos from the Hayes River, we will also be auctioning off a brand new Langford Canoe with all proceeds going to YMCA Camp Menogyn. Our dog, Myhan, will also be present and available for petting and treats.

Bring anyone and everyone you know who is interested! We really would like to share our story with as many people as possible.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hudson Bay Found


After paddling 200 km in two days, we arrived at York Factory at around 4pm on August 25th. There was a young polar bear frequenting the estate, so we slept inside after branding our paddles and eating sausages. Yesterday we flew out in the afternoon with Teagan and Jason the York Factory caretakers. Good thing we got there when we did because after September 4th everyone will leave for the winter. Now, we are in Gillam, Manitoba waiting for the train which will take us to Winnipeg where we will be picked up by our friends, Megan McClanahan and Austin Danicic.

The end of the Hayes was a magical experience, and we will make sure to give you all the play by play with lots of pictures and video when we get back to the states. Thanks for all of your support!! We are so happy that we accomplished our goal and can't wait to tell everyone all about our adventures!!!!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 76: Calling from Oxford House, Manitoba

Meet the newest member of our crew--Myhan the puppy!

We are calling in from Oxford House at the home of Chief Irvine St. Clair and from our best estimates, there are about eight to 12 days left in our journey. It’s Ann’s trail birthday tomorrow and Natalie’s was on the 11th. We celebrated and made brownies for no reason other than to celebrate our trail birthday.

At the end of this blog entry, we’ll give details on what’s still to come for us. We are estimating about two weeks or less left of the trip but it’s the most dangerous. Thanks for the donations that have been coming in and we hope to get more. We also would like to invite all of you to our after parties in Grand Marais and then in Minneapolis where we’ll auction off our canoe. If you are in Grand Marais this Friday we’ll be calling in on our satellite phone to the Road House on WTIP. That will be at 5:25 p.m. central standard time.

So the last time we posted was at the York Boat Days in Norway House, which was a lot of fun. We hung out there for a bit and before we left, we managed to get a dog.  Mike Muswagon is a Councillor with the Norway House Cree Nation and was our host during our time in Norway House. We were talking one night and they told us that we should have a dog for protection once we got into polar bear country. There are a lot of stray dogs around Norway House so his daughter Crystal took us out driving that night with the windows down in search of a dog. We found one licking up old ketchup packets so we ran over, picked it up and put it in the truck. We named it Myhan, similar to the Cree word for wolf. She’s part German Shepherd we think and a few other things. We made a little leash out of rope for her and she’s still a puppy so she just loves us.

After our dog catching adventure, we waited out a rainy morning and left Norway House. That first night as we were setting up camp we realized we left our lunch bag back in Norway House. It has cheese, salami and tortillas in it but it would be over 10 hours to go back and get it so we decided to live without it. That means we are eating lots of granola now.

We camped on the Nelson River that night and it was very relaxing. This stretch of our trip is like our spring break. It’s after the tough paddling on Lake Winnipeg and before polar bear country where the river also flows very fast. In the past week, we’ve taken two layover days and have spent some time enjoying the end of our trip. We have fishing poles that we obtained in Norway House and we’ve caught some nice fish.

We paddled the Nelson into the Echimamish River which is really cool. The name means a river that flows two ways and it’s very appropriately named. We started out paddling upstream where it meets the Nelson. Oh, this is a really cool place because where the Nelson and Echimamish meet the water has a neat transition zone. The Nelson is a muddier river that flows brown while the Echimamish is very clear and it runs almost black because of the dark rocks underneath.

After going upstream on the Echimamish we dragged our canoe over a big epic beaver dam that was two or three feet up. We’re getting good at avoiding portages and this was no exception. We stayed on the Echimamish for two days.

Our next area of interest was the Painted Stone Portage which is where a lot of native people hang out. Apparently, white settlers blew it up to keep the natives out of there long ago but it didn’t work. This is a place where the river dives 27 meters over this rock and the river just stops and flows downstream. On the downstream side the river is very narrow. It’s so cool in some parts because the river is about the same width as the canoe.

From there we paddled into the Hayes River which is quite a bit larger and really beautiful. The Hayes River baptized us back into the world of whitewater and that first set on the Hayes was the largest set we’ve run ever. This was at the Oskatukaw Rapids and it’s a Class II run. We looked at it and talked about doing this and that through the run but when we got started we set the angle a little off and ended up getting sucked into a recycler current. We shot right out of that and got a little broadside before we got out of it. After going over that rapid set we figure we can go over anything without thinking about it. Thanks to all that and the adrenaline rush, all the other rapids since then we maneuvered really good.

So after that, the river narrowed and huge granite canyons surrounded us. It is so beautiful as you twist and turn through small rapid sets. When Natalie called her dad earlier today, she told him that if Disney were to make a fantastic river ride they would model it after the Hayes.

Our next landmark was known as Hell’s Gate and we went through a few rapids but it wasn’t as big of a thing as it was supposed to be. It’s very beautiful and it’s a continuation of the granite canyon. The gorge runs narrow and fast and the area around it is covered with soft mosses and trees. In another part of it there were big rocks and blueberries. We saw two moose around here and some small waterfalls trickling down—it was a very magical place.

We paddled a little further past Hell’s Gate and it was nine or 10 when we got to Opiminegoka Lake. The moonrise was high that night and the sunset was beautiful as we found a cabin on the end of the lake that used to be an outpost site. We checked it out and stayed in it for the night. Most cabins up there are so remote that they are kept unlocked because otherwise they’d get broken into. Staying in the cabin was nice because we had a table to play cribbage on, we could cook standing up and there was some shore lunch left there so we caught some fish and enjoyed that. It was so nice we decided to have a layover day to continue our spring break. We set up the hammock, fished, played cribbage, played with the dog, tried to train her a little and just relax.

Our dog is so great, by the way. During the day she sleeps under the stern seat or on the packs. Sometimes she crawls back and forth on the packs but she’s really chill. At night she sleeps in the vestibule of the tent or goes out and hunts. One morning she brought back the hand of a beaver or something that she’d found scavenging around.

We left Opiminegoka the next morning and headed into Oxford Lake. There were more rapids in the middle but they were easy compared to that first set. When we got to Oxford Lake we camped. The sun was going down and we found the perfect campground with five-star parking for our canoe. The little bay worked with the wind just right to hold our canoe in place while the waves blew around everything else around us. The island featured soft, spongy mosses between big trees and it was pretty comfortable. 

Then, yesterday, we paddled Oxford Lake and became a little turned around. We lost our compass near Lake Winnipeg but it’s usually fine. We went into a bay on the southeast side of Oxford Lake instead of the bay on the northeast side of the lake. It took us 15 kilometers out of our way but found a cool island with a beach with colorful pebbles and sand. We ate lots of gorp that day. Eventually, we made it to Oxford House last night where we met up with Chief Irvine St. Clair who we met at York Boat days. We called him and he picked us up. Chief Irvine St. Clair is a great guy and we’re staying with his family tonight.

He took us to meet his council tonight and hang out with them. We went to the conservation house and they showed us cool maps and pictures. They also gave us mugs with the Hayes River engraved on it and surveyed us about our use of the river. The scenery around here is very beautiful and very different from the area around Lake Winnipeg.

Something we noticed about Oxford House is that as we approached the town, there were a lot of people on the river. They were practicing York Boat racing, fishing and there were people along the river bank barbecuing and hanging out. It was a stark contrast to the total lack of people along the rivers of Minnesota and North Dakota. It was nice to see that the people up here in Manitoba are still spending time alongside these historic trade routes.

What’s next?
We will be leaving tomorrow morning and our spring break is over. Now we are entering some really difficult rapids, about 26 left to go, and we are also getting into polar bear country. We talked to somebody who was at Churchill the other day and there were 57 polar bear sightings in one day alone. We are really excited but also really nervous.

We’ve practiced shooting the gun and using the flares. We also have the dog. Everything we’ve read said that once you make this stretch of river, it’s normally so foggy you wouldn’t know if a polar bear was near anyways.

From here, we go into Knee Lake which can be difficult during windy conditions. The lake is 65 kilometers long and will take us three days to get across. From there, we go all the way to the White Blood Falls and then after that it’s a straight shot to York Factory. That stretch of river is really moving and can get you going 10 miles an hour in some stretches.

Another concern we have is that we won’t know what the tide will be like once we get near Hudson Bay so we could still get wind bound near our endpoint. It’s going to be interesting for sure.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Windy Daze on Lake Winnipeg

Hey everyone!

We finally made it to Norway House after 18 days on Lake Winnipeg. We decided to give you a day-by-day run down of the latest section of our adventure. Thanks to Ron Hustvedt for updating our blog from Gull Harbor. A lot has happened since then:

July 22
Ann and I woke up early to beat the wind. We figured it should have calmed down by now because the wind and waves had been raging for days. We looked out at the harbor in dismay -- the waves were huge and the wind was still howling. We loaded the boat and set off anyway. After about 5 minutes of paddling in the Harbor we turned back around and decided it was careless of us to try to cross back to the East shore in such weather. We pulled the canoe up and walked to the northern-most point on Hecla Island. The waves were crashing in, even larger than the ones in the harbor. Alas, we were stuck for our third day in Gull Harbor. We returned to our boat to find that the waves had increased and water was crashing in through the spray skirt. We quickly took everything out and pulled the canoe on shore. It was around 6 am by this point and we sulked back to sleep. We woke up around 9 and hung around the harbor while we dried our things out. An elderly German couple, Jens and Barbara, were taking their motorboat out to a bay on the South side of Black Island, where we had been days before. We told them our situation and they said they could take us back to the East shore. Huzzah! We loaded their boat and set off in the rough weather. Once we got over to Black Island we ate dinner on their boat and set off once again. They were very loving and hospitable! That night we camped on the Kasakeemeemisekak Islands, North of Black Island. We were ecstatic to paddle after several days of sitting and waiting. We were beginning to learn a thing or two about patience on this big lake.

July 23
Paddling today was really beautiful! Once we passed Loon Straights the shore changed from beaches to large granite outcroppings and islands. We stopped at a granite quarry and explored for a bit but set off in a frenzy due to a looming dark cloud.

July 24
We spent most of the day crossing Bloodvein Bay. We had a West wind and so we quartered the waves for the crossing. The waves picked up once we passed one of the islands blocking the wind; and we were forced to go into the bay with the flow. These were some of the largest waves we had paddled yet and Ann and I were both tense as we paddled hard to an island for protection. I was in the stern and when I looked back I saw huge crashing waves chasing us from the open water. We finally got to an island and pulled in to escape the conditions. We lounged and made biscuits until things calmed down. It was later in the evening when we departed the island for Princess Harbor, the point after Bloodvein Bay. A storm rolled in when we were almost there and the thick rain temporarily hid the shore from sight. Cold and wet, we finally pulled into the harbor as the sun slid beneath the horizon. There were several buildings dispersed along the shore and we split up to see if it was okay if we camped there for the night. The lady I talked to said we could camp anywhere and by the time Ann talked to a couple on the other side of town they already knew of our arrival. Word sure travels fast in small communities! We set up camp by the dock, put on dry clothes, and went to sleep to the sound of water hitting the dock.

July 25
Today we got up to a rough wind and a curious dog sniffing at our tent. We got up and walked to the point to see if the waves were as rough as bad as the winds. They were. Just as we were beginning to feel hopeless about the weather conditions an ATV pulled up with an elderly man named Frank on board. He informed us that breakfast was ready whenever we wanted it and drove off. Awesome. We walked up to Frank and Myrtle's house where we indulged in eggs, bacon, and fresh bread. Our weather worries faded when we realized that we get to spend the day with warm and interesting people. We basically ate the day away with Frank, Myrtle, Cindy (a new resident at Princess Harbor), Myrtle's brother ED and his wife Brenda. We played cribbage, music, and had lively conversation. The younger generation at Princess Harbor was out of town but we explored their beautiful vegetable gardens and new homes. It truly is a magical place. After dinner we noticed that the lake had calmed we knew we had to take advantage of the window of good weather. We left Princess Harbor just before the sunset to attempt another night paddle.

The Night Paddle
The water was glass. The sunset reflected pink and yellow on the surface of the lake, only disturbed by the ripples from our canoe trail. It was gorgeous. It got later and later until we realized that the moon had not come out; we were in the dark. The stars and planets shone just enough for us to see the black wall of the shoreline, which we followed Northwest. Soon the northern lights began to flicker in the sky as we paddled our way up the East shore. At one point Ann turned her headlamp on to see how far away we were from the shoreline and we saw two large green eyes watching us from the trees -- our first moose sighting! It was very eerie and we paddled on in awe. Around 3 am some storm clouds blew in from the West, blocking out the starry sky. It was time to camp. We found a beach and set up camp in the dark after a whimsical night of paddling.

July 26
We woke up early to get a head start but the wind was howling from the SW. We went back to sleep to see if things would calm down by the early afternoon. They didn't. The weather sparked anxious questions: Will we ever get off this lake? Will we get wind bound for several days just like Eric and Walt did in the 30s? Are we just not trying hard enough? We decided to try anyway to see if we could brave the waves. We paddled for about an hour until we both voiced our concern. We felt unsafe in the boat as we battled the side wind and so we turned into a bay and waited. And waited. I felt young and impatient so I decided to embrace the weather and the power of the wind over the lake. Like I mentioned before, we learned to be patient on the lake and to work around the weather rather than curse it. We set up camp, ate food, played cribbage (this happened a lot on Lake Winnipeg). That night a storm brought strong winds, rain, and lightning. We woke up because the lightning lit up our whole tent as if someone had flipped on and off a light switch. We stayed up admiring the storm as it blew over us and finally went to sleep so we could get rest before our early morning start.

July 27
We awoke to find the wind was even stronger than the day before so we slept in and made a leisurely breakfast. During breakfast Ann let out a yell and I turned around to see a snake slithering our way. We scared it off and then sat back down to laugh at our reaction to the snake encounter. Just then a different snake slithered up and this time Ann threw a stick at it to scare it off. Instead of scaring it off, the stick trapped the snake. It clearly didn't like that because it turned and hissed unhappily in our direction. We set it free and it, too, slithered off. Then we saw the third snake by our canoe. We took it as a sign from Mother Nature to try harder to paddle the waves so we packed up quickly and loaded the boat (we later discovered that there are several snake nests in this area). We looked out at the crashing waves at an on-coming storm and decided it would be foolish to try to paddle today. We set up camp again and waited for the storm to pass. A little later we decided to try. We pushed off and when I hopped into the bow two huge waves crashed into our boat. We pulled out and ate lunch and tried again an hour later. This time we entered slightly broadside and we made it passed the crashing waves! We paddled hard to get around the next point but the bow was dipping below the water and the spray skirt, though comforting, was getting drenched. We pulled into the next beach and gladly set up camp knowing that we were truly wind bound and snake free.

July 28
WIND BOUND?! The morning looked worse than the day before. It is truly amazing how the wind can blow consistently for days at a time. Before this part of the trip I didn't take notice to the strength of the wind or even what direction it was blowing from but on the lake those are the factors that can make or break your day. We waited. And played cribbage. I started whittling a recorder from the driftwood and Ann started picking up trash along the shore. While we were immersed in our different projects the wind simmered and we looked up to find that the waves were just low enough for us to take off. HUZZAH! We made it all the way to Patterson Bay, just outside of the Berens. I basically expected to be wind bound every other day with all the luck we'd been having...

July 29
We are officially pros at packing up camp. It only took 25 minutes to pack everything up and load the boat this morning. We had a pseudo tailwind and traveled 50k in 12 hours. It felt good to really get out there again!

July 30th
WIND BOUND. Um Ya Ya for cribbage, reading, and nutella pancakes.

July 31st
The wind was so strong that the tent was dancing through all hours of the night. We were afraid that the poles were getting bent so we moved the tent behind a bush for shelter. We awoke to find that the storms had blown through, leaving the ever-calming waves behind to flicker in the sun. As we looked out at the beautiful sight we saw an intense flickering in the distance. It was a canoe! Coming this way! We were pumped to see someone so we waved the man down and he paddled toward us. Once he came ashore we realized that he was Bear from Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. He was on a solo trip from the Poplar River to the Berens. It turns out he only camped around the bend, too bad we didn't meet up the day before! We left for Poplar River and camped right outside. We needed to refill on water so we camped and waited until the morning to go into the reserve.

August 1
We went into the reserve this morning. I walked around and didn't see anyone. It was an unfamiliar ghost town. I knocked on the door of Richard, the Northern Store Manager and he let me refill water there and generously lent us his water filter (we managed to forget the filter for ours). This was the strangest day of paddling we've ever had. The wind was FINALLY from the SE, which was awesome but it also brought over smoke from the Ontario fires. Visibility was about 5k at best. We were cruising around clusters of islands that appeared out of nowhere, out of the clouds. We thought we were further than we were; In fact, we even believed we were at the mouth of the Nelson at one point. Despite our disillusionment, we sang, laughed, and had a glorious day. At the end of the day, after 14 hours of paddling, we realized that we were still about 30k away from the mouth of the Nelson.

August 2

August 3
WE DID IT!!!!!!!! We made it to Playgreen Lake today. When we saw the opening to the Nelson tears came to our eyes. Celebrations galore! Raw cookie dough for dessert!

August 4
We were warned about the confusing maze of islands that is Playgreen Lake, but we lucked out. We found the Jack River (that goes into Norway House) without any trouble. Too easy! We had a warm welcome at Mike Muswagon's house. We are here just in time for the York Boat Days Festival. Let the fun begin!

We are in a hurry to get to sleep and back out on the river tomorrow morning. We will dedicate a whole block to the York Boat and Norway House adventures when we get off trail, probably in 3 weeks. Thanks for following our blog!

Let the white water adventure begin.

Sorry this blog doesn't have pictures or videos... We have really great images of Lake Winnipeg that we'll post when we get back!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting on Winnipeg for wind and weather to clear

Transcribed by phone on Wednesday, July 20 at 3 p.m.

It’s Day 49 of our trip and we are waiting out the weather in Gull Harbour on the west side of Lake Winnipeg. This is a big body of water (10th or 11th largest in the world) and there is still a lot of lake to go. We have four maps for Lake Winnipeg and we are on the first quarter of the second map. The north basin is still ahead of us and that’s where it’s the most dangerous because of so much big water.

View from Gull Harbour on Wednesday evening. Gale warnings are still posted on the lake
What’s the weather? It’s very windy right now. There was a thunderstorm watch for all of Lake Winnipeg this morning and we had a big thunderstorm go through that actually struck a tree only 20 feet from our tent was staked out. The lightning split through the tree and sent pieces of wood flying all over. None of the big boats that are normally on the lake are out there today so we aren’t going out either. The forecast calls for more of the same tomorrow but maybe it will be a little better and then maybe we’ll go.

The red dot is Gull Harbour

Here’s how we got this far.

After we left the city of Winnipeg, it took a day paddling down the river to get to Breezy Point at the Netley marsh near the beginning of Lake Winnipeg. The next day it was perfectly calm and the sky blended with the water it was so perfectly calm. We paddled all the way to the Beaconia and there we met a woman named Penny Johnston and her husband Brian. They are outdoors enthusiasts and have a cool house on the lake. They e-mailed us earlier and invited us to stop by when we were in the area. We went to their house and hung out with them and their neighbors. Then we napped in preparation for a night paddle. At 10 p.m. we left and paddled up to Grand Beach on the east side of the lake.

As we took the turn around the peninsula that is Grand Beach, the wind picked up and it became very rocky. We had the bright moonlight to guide us so we avoided the rocks and landed at the beach. Two security officers allowed us to sleep on the beach which we did, hoping to wake up at 3 a.m. and continue paddling.

Wind conditions became calm again so we paddled up to Victoria Beach. The sky was smoky from the wildfires in Ontario and visibility was super low. It took two hours to paddle across Traverse Bay and it was really spooky because we couldn’t see any land.  As we paddled north, we ran into a kayker named Terry Bolland who is a world famous paddler and runs a website called He was in his kayak paddling from Saskatchewan to Montreal when we ran across him.

For our second night on Lake Winnipeg we camped on the eastern side just north of the Little Black River. We got a call from a Menogyn group saying that they were going to be on Lake Winnipeg and so we wanted to connect with them and see them. The plan was to paddle through the night to meet them but we paddled along and waited until sunset. Around midnight, the wind picked up again and the moon wasn’t out so it was completely dark. We went to this beach and as we got closer, we saw hordes of fish flies.  They were swarming above the trees making a black cloud. We pitched the tent anyways and went inside to get away from them. The wind continued to build through the night and we got up to reposition the canoe away from the water.

An hour later, something hit the top of our tent. Natalie woke up right away and yelled, “Get the bear spray.” Sure enough, all our commotion caused it to run off into the woods. We figured it was just checking us out, but it pawed at our tent and we found some scat nearby later on confirming our suspicions. We put fuel cans on our food so that it would make noise if it returned. Just to be safe, we whistled, banged pots and pans and blew an air horn to create enough noise to drive it further away. We went back to sleep only to be woken up a little while later at 5 a.m. by this huge storm that blew up.

The beach that we were camping on was right next to the lake and across the lake it was covered in lightning. We could see a gale force wind and waves coming right at us so we went into the woods to get into lightning position. The wind blew over the tent and so we brought the poles into the woods with us and stayed in lightning position until the storm blew over. Thirty minutes later it was over so we set up the tent again. A few hours later, another storm came in from the north and we witnessed a total shift in conditions. Within 30 seconds, the winds shifted from southwest to northwest and it was the coolest thing to see. That second storm only lasted a few minutes but it stayed windy afterwards and made us windbound so we stomped out a spot in the woods and camped there.

After lunch that day, the conditions improved again and went to flat water. We packed up and got into the canoe. Our location was just south of Observation Point and near the point by Black Island and Hecla Island. As we paddled closer to Black Island point, we picked up a current and a west wind making the water conditions change rapidly. It was choppy in the channel and the wind then shifted straight south bringing four-foot waves with it. The wind and current was pushing it into Hecla Island and we ended up not being able to cross so we pulled up on it and ended up portaging in the harbor rather than going back on the water around the peninsula.

We spent two hours in the area looking for our friends and found out they were wind bound at the Berens River and were flying out. While we were in the area, we chatted with David Square from the Winnipeg Free Press and then went to the restaurant in the area. The people in the restaurant said there were big ships out on the water where we were and that they were spooked by the same waves as we dealt with. The big boats felt like they were close to capsizing and came in.

Today, we went into the restaurant and talked with the owner who is also a sailor on the lake. He said nobody is going out today and said probably not tomorrow either. We’re just going to lay low in town and hope that this wind and weather system gives us a break and allows us to continue. Watch for another blog update to post as soon as we are able to call another one in.

Here's an excerpt of an interview we did with Ron Hustvedt for the Outdoor News and Star Tribune. He has more of this interview and will publish it soon.

Friday, July 15, 2011

100 Miles in 28 Hours

                        Sunrise on the Red River with motivational quotes we love so dearly...

We love Canada! We're in Winnipeg, Manitoba hanging out at Starbucks writing this blog and preparing to launch into the Canadian wilderness. Lake Winnipeg awaits. Hopefully with gentle south winds and blue skies.

Out to eat with Christine, Nick
and my parents in Fargo!
The night after our last blog was one for the books. We went out with Riverkeepers, Christine and Nick. We had some good discussions about Riverkeepers role in involving the people of Fargo in watershed protection. They have tons of cool programs and love helping people get out on the water. Check them out!

The Menogyn group headed to the Coppermine River
and Hudson Bay Bound.
After dinner, we were so lucky to meet up with a Menogyn group headed to the Coopermine River in the Northwest Territories. It was so great to see another group of people excited about getting out into the wilderness.

Then, we had a six day break!
Natalie did a great job as her sister's maid of honor. Here's her favorite story:

I was the maid of honor for my sister Leslie's wedding in Philadelphia on July 2nd. I was immediately thrown into a salon for a manicure and pedicure, which I received while sitting on a massage chair and drinking a mimosa. My life makes little sense these days! Anyway, during the wedding I was crying because I'm a huge sap (I cried more than my mom. ouch.) and because I was so happy that my sister and Brian were getting married. During the service I was trying to keep my nose from running but when I bent over to fix the train on my sister's dress all of the snot flew out of my nose and onto her beautiful white gown! I tried my best not to laugh but it was hard when I saw some of the faces of the other bridesmaids and groomsmen. I managed to keep my cool. It was great hanging out with family again!
Natalie and her brother Tim and Leslie's wedding reception!
  I was busy at home in Inver Grove Heights getting the rest of our food and maps together.
Here's all the maps of the Hayes River.
We can't wait!

St. Olaf friend, Sara Galbraith, helped me paint our canoe with its name Kawena Kinomatea (no worries in Cree) and with Hudson Bay Bound spray painted on the right side. Reminder! Our canoe is coming back from York Factory and will be auctioned off at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais, Minnesota with all proceeds going to YMCA Camp Menogyn. 

We got back on the Red River on July 5th. Here's a photo journey of our last week or so on the Red.

A sunken car in the Red River. The annual flooding takes in a lot of debris.

Here's an eagle's nest! Both parents were home. We see eagles everyday. God Bless America. 
The Historical Society of Climax, MN had a Barbecue for us at this rebuilt cabin. They also let us stay in their "artist's apartment" in town for the night. The next day, Asher (far right) and Wayne (right behind Natalie), went paddling with us in the morning! It was so great to have companions. They are in charge of a program called River Watch that teaches high schools along the Red River about water quality. Check out their really awesome program at:

The stretch of river from Grand Forks to Pembina has a slumped barn around every corner. We were told there used to be a thriving farming community, but in the last decade the flooding has caused people to abandon their farms and homestead along the Red River. 

I went swimming for the first time all trip! It felt really good and the water seemed plenty clean. 
A beautiful sunset from our tent on the Red River.
Story of our longest day yet: We arrived in Pembina on July 11th. Ron Hustvedt from the Star Tribune/Outdoors News had driven 5 hours to meet us for dinner and an interview. Look for an article in this Sunday's Star Tribune! The next day we crossed into Canada! The Canadian Border Patrol were waiting for us at the top of the hill in two HUGE SUVs. Once they saw us they drove down to the boat launch to meet us (we had called to arrange this a couple of weeks before). We should have filmed it because when we rounded the bend their SUVs had its emergency lights on and four six foot Canadian's dressed all in black got out to talk with us. They didn't want to come near the boat because of the mud, so we brought them the shotgun and our passports. I went with two of them to fill out the gun permit and pay $25 while Natalie flirted with the other young and cute border patrol agents. When I got back, we joked around and took off around noon. The wind was calm and we paddled easily St. Jean Baptiste. We were really craving donuts, so we went to look for them. But, when we got out of our boat we were immediately stopped by a man named Richard with a thick french accent and told we had to go get Manitoba's best poutine at Yahooz. It was free pool night too! What a great stop! We had Canadian beer and talked it up with everyone in the bar. They were excited about our trip and are hopefully following the blog now. We were back on the river by 7PM. We had a nice sunset paddle to Morris, but we decided we didn't want to camp we wanted to go keep going to Winnipeg. After a couple of rounds of coffee we were back in the river. We paddled all night and until 10AM the next day when we arrived at the Best Western in Southern Winnipeg. We were finally in bed at 12:45PM. Paddling at night was perfect. There was an almost full moon and no wind. We could clearly see the river banks and hear farm dogs announcing our arrival. I hope we didn't freak anyone out when we sang to keep awake. We could have been mistaken for ghost-like river sirens. We approached the border of Winnipeg around 7AM greeted with a flashing orange sign saying DANGER NO BOAT TRAFFIC. We had no idea what it meant, so we spent the next hour trying to figure it out. The authorities of Winnipeg weren't sure either, so we carefully kept going. Turns out there's a dam that was being closed to put water into the diversion channel that goes around Winnipeg to protect the city from flooding. We portaged up some rocks and recommended to a worker that they add more to their sign. Here are some pictures from our first night paddle. It was really good practice for what we will probably be doing regularly on Lake Winnipeg.

We stopped in St. Jean Baptiste home of Manitoba's best poutine (french fries covered in gravy).  YUM!

Sunset before our night paddle to Winnipeg captured with the GoPro.

1:30 AM. The best picture of the moon we could get. The night was much more beautiful than our cameras could capture.

1:30 AM. Natalie says, "blai!"
3:45 AM. The sun started to illuminate the sky at 3AM.

4:30 AM. Natalie's silhouette in the sunrise on July 13th.

7 AM. The sign before the diversion gate near Winnipeg.
A special thanks to the wonderful people who have housed us and taken the time to swap stories along the Red! And now for our latest video blog...we'll update again at Norway House. But for now, we're off to ADVENTURE!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Livin' the Dream: Downstream

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Hudson Bay Bound
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Hello HBB Followers!

We're in the Fargo/Moorhead area waiting for Natalie's flight to Philadelphia tomorrow where she'll be the Maid of Honor for her sister's wedding on July 2nd. She flies back on July 5th and we'll be departing at around 2pm from Lindenwood Park in downtown Fargo.

Downstream has been like floating on a cloud compared to upstream! We think we can average about 45 miles a day and travel at around 5 mph. That's 300% better than upstream on the Minnesota River. We had some big winds on the lakes we paddled to get to the downstream section. The lakes we passed through were Lac Qui Parle, Marsh Lake, Big Stone Lake, Traverse Lake and Mud Lake. We paddled the 41 mile Bois de Souix and have come 92 miles on the Red River of the North -- All in 11 days since we left Montevideo!

A panorama of Lac Qui Parle. We had a 12 hour 30 mile day on Lac Qui Parle and Marsh Lake because of a huge tail wind. What a day!
We portaged the last four miles of the Minnesota into Ortonville because of dead fall but look at that nice bike trail!

An aerial photo of us battling the winds on Big Stone Lake taken by Heidi Pilot of Graceville, MN. The headwind was so big that day we had to put 9 big rocks in our canoe. We'll gain some weight before we get to Lake Winnipeg.
The headwaters of the Minnesota. We did it! 335 miles upstream in 20 some days.
A night paddle on Big Stone Lake
The White Rock Dam at the beginning of the Bois de Sioux
The headwaters of the Red River of the North in Breckenridge/Wapheton
People along the border have been very hospitable and a lot of fun to meet.
Before we paddled Lac Qui Parle we stayed in the coolest retrofitted grain elevator that was refurnished by Dennis Larsen in to a hunting shack. Just think, if every abandoned grain elevator was a place to stay then paddling these rivers would be way more accessible!

Dennis Larsen the creator of the refurbished 4-season hunting shack
Natalie on top of the grain elevator refurbished to be a hunting shack that we stayed in just south of Lac Qui Parle
This is Mike and his boulders that he ships around the United States. He let us stay in his fish house when a big storm hit in Appleton, MN.
 We also got to spend a few days in Ortonville, Clinton and Graceville Minnesota meeting and potlucking with participants of Big Stone County Farmer's Market's.

We had a potluck with some people who are involved with the Big Stone County Farmer's Markets

Heidi and Elaine are farmer's of Graceville, MN. They met us at our height of land in Browns Valley with their dogs Sasha and Sam, a newfoundland and a great pyrenees.

Oles helping Oles! Johanna '09 on the left let us crash in her apartment for the night. She is new to Clinton working as a community organizer for the Land Stewardship Project. Duane '74? is a CURE member who also lives in Clinton and told us great stories about St. Olaf in the 70s.
Um ya ya!
Previous groups that paddled this route also experienced hospitality to the extreme. We have loved talking to folks along the river, hearing their stories, and learning about small town life in the Midwest. We have learned that small towns are disappearing. Their populations are steadily decreasing as people move to the cities or the suburbs for their occupations. Along with this exodus, family farms are being abandoned. We always talked about this phenomena in environmental studies classes at St. Olaf, but I always thought it was a bunch of hippie hooie until this trip. Every night, we pullover to ask the owners of the river banks if we can camp on their land and several times we've come upon completely empty houses and barns. It's spooky! We usually move way down river away from the farm land and camp in the wilderness instead. When we were in Montevideo and in Clinton we spent a lot of time discussing farming issues about corn production, pollution, and the missing farm generation. Groups like CURE and the Land Stewardship Project are trying to work with communities to make farmer's markets more popular and to get young people into small towns. It was really great to meet people doing these things, but we can't help but feel there is a void to be filled. What's going to happen to our food system when all of the farmers are gone and the small towns are empty? Will there be a new era of agricultural revival? or a takeover by big business?

Family Farm Portrait. This statue we came across on a portage symbolizes the disappearing family farm.
One of the many purposes of our trip is to encourage young people to get out into nature. We think it's important for everyone to get out there, especially our generation in this age of technology; we can't forget that we are a part of nature and should experience it. At Menogyn, Natalie and I were able to connect with nature through wilderness adventures. I remember on my 14-day with Menogyn, sleeping outside without a tent for the first time, hearing wolves howl and watching the moon move across the sky. Menogyn not only sparked our interest in the natural world, but our experience there taught us how to work with other young people while moving daily and living happily in the wilderness. As we progressed through Menogyn trips we built life-long friendships and everlasting bonds with the Canadian arctic. Even if we never go back, we both agree that we will always have a special place for the arctic in our hearts because of the seven week canoe trip that Menogyn facilitated. We are raising money for Menogyn because we believe in its mission to help adolescents grow fully in a wilderness setting connecting teenagers to themselves, others and nature. We are so thankful to everyone who has donated because they made this trip possible for us, but if you have not donated please consider doing so because your contribution will help other young people experience the wilderness like we have. It is camps like these that help build communities and mindful people. See our "How to Help" page for more information about how to donate

A family we met in Montevideo who take lots of trips in the BWCA and have been regularly following our trip!

As always, thanks for following our trip and supporting us along the way. If you are getting stir crazy or stressed out over the summer just remember the river is there waiting for you -- go paddle it!

Here is the second installment of our music video blog: Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain by Willie Nelson. Enjoy!

Also, here are a few clips of things we've recorded on the GoPro...

We had to paddle over a few dams that didn't seem to serve much of a purpose, but maybe that is just because the river is so flooded right now. There is a lot of 'confused water' over these dams that pose a threat to paddlers like ourselves. The camera is kind of tilted but check it out. If you know of a dam like this near you, start a conversation within your community about whether or not it is necessary and if there is a way you can work to get it removed so that more people can safely use the river for recreation.

The water level has been exceptionally high this summer. Here is a quick montage of the down fall and flooding (we got lost a few times...) due to high waters.

But hey! We've had our fair share of great days too...

That's it for now. We'll blog again in about three weeks when we get to Winnipeg. Enjoy the summer!