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Norman Hande, from left, Carsten Bjornstad and Ed Huseby look at a map detailing the route of their one-day canoe relay marathon across Kandiyohi County. The adventure is planned for Monday. The three men, along with John Hanson, will canoe and portage from the western border of the county to the eastern border. (Tribune photos by Carolyn Lange)

Four men, a canoe and a county

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extra Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

At 5 a.m. on Monday, Carsten Bjornstad and Norman Hande will ease a canoe into the waters of Sunburg Lake, on the western border of Kandiyohi County.

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Their instructions are to canoe the approximate one-mile distance across the lake to County Road 7.

At that point, they'll get out of the canoe and Ed Huseby and John Hanson will get in.

Those two men will canoe across East Sunburg Lake and then portage the 48-pound Winona canoe over to 125th Street.

Bjornstad and Hande, deposited at 125th Street in a vehicle driven by Marc Reece, will be waiting there to begin the third leg of an unusual journey across lakes, over roads and down a river in northern Kandiyohi County.

By the end of the day -- hopefully before the dark of night gets too thick -- the men will have reached the eastern border of Kandiyohi County by canoeing or portaging the canoe 30 miles.

"We'll just leap frog across the county," said Huseby.

The route will take them over sizable bodies of water, like Norway, Games, Nest and Green lakes.

It will also take them down the Middle Fork of the Crow River, which can provide a nice current in some sections -- as well as areas barricaded by downed trees the men will have to drag the canoe over.

About one-third of the route will involve carrying the canoe on their shoulders down gravel township roads and county highways.

While this sounds like the perfect Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer kind of adventure for a group of teens, this trip will be undertaken by "mature" men.

"We're four old men trying to relive their youth," Huseby said with a laugh.

The 65-year-old Sunburg man said the group of friends, who all live in the rural New London and Sunburg area and are members of the same church, the Norway Lake Lutheran Parish, are eager to try and accomplish the trip in one day.

"Oh my, just for the adventure of it. For the challenge," said Huseby, when asked why he organized the trip.

"I'm 65 years old and if I'm going to do something crazy, I've got to do it," said Huseby.

Bjornstad, who is 71, has hiked many miles on the Appalachian Trail over the last 10 years and will be undertaking a grueling hike in western North Dakota in June. He said he likes doing things that are a little extra-ordinary.

The one-day canoe marathon is "unique enough -- crazy enough to be attractive to me," Bjornstad said.

The physical challenge the four men will face is a vital part of the trip.

"I think it'll be a test of our endurance. That's important to me as an older guy," said Bjornstad. "It will be a very long day, but I think we're going to be tough enough to do it."

Last summer Huseby and Bjornstad did the same route over a course of five to six days. They canoed in the morning and portaged the canoe by pulling it on a dolly, and then a few days later they did another section of the route.

"We didn't push ourselves too hard," said Huseby.

During the winter he tried to think of a way to make the trip "even more fun" and came up with the one-day relay across the county with a team of four friends.

"It's really interesting how willing these guys are to take on the challenge. It's refreshing actually," said Huseby.

The men have agreed that the trip will take place on Monday, no matter what the weather is.

A strong wind could slow down progress on the big lakes and rain could make portaging a slippery experience, but they're determined to take on the one-day, 30-mile challenge.

"We don't know if we can do it," said Huseby. "But who cares. We're trying."

The trip will also give the men the opportunity to see a different side of Kandiyohi County.

"It's just beautiful, beautiful country looking at it from the water," said Huseby. On Sunburg Lake there are areas without any sign of development and parts of the Crow River that feel like the "wilderness."

And then there's the friendship.

"I just enjoy being with the guys and doing something as a team with them. We laugh a lot," said Bjornstad. "I just want to praise God for friends and a wonderful world out there. I just celebrate this."

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