A good life's journey starts in a fishing boat
MONTEVIDEO -- Parents who want to see their children go a very long ways in life would do better by taking them fishing in Minnesota than to that famous amusement park in Florida.
That's the advice author Dennis Weidemann offered an audience earlier this week at the Chippewa County-Montevideo Library. Weidemann, who emphasized the value of introducing young people to the outdoors and adventure, tells exactly that story in his book: "This Water Goes North."
It was a father-son fishing trip to Beers Lake near Pelican Rapids that eventually launched brothers Hank and Keith Kohler and friends Rich Wiebke and Weidemann on a 1,400 journey by canoe from East Leaf Lake near Fergus Falls to York Factory on Hudson Bay.
As Weidemann tells the story, Kohler's father, Herb wanted to teach a geography lesson and asked his son if he knew which way the water in Beers Lake flowed. Having grown up in Iowa, the young Kohler automatically answered that the water flowed to the Mississippi River and to the Gulf of Mexico.
"Nope. This water goes north, to Hudson Bay.''
That planted the idea that led the four young men to make the trip to Hudson Bay in 1979 while they were students at Iowa State University, Ames.
They started out short of money and experience. "In Iowa, the wilderness is pretty much anywhere you can throw a rock and not hit corn,'' said Weidemann by way of explaining his party's lack of wilderness savvy prior to the trip.
They opted to make the trip on their own terms, rather than to seek out sponsorships and funds for the gear they would have liked. That meant their means of travel consisted of two aging aluminum canoes, a square-back Grumman and an Alumacraft.
They started out in bone-chilling weather on May 8, 1979, and had their first brush with death only two days later. One of the canoes capsized and was pinned against a fallen tree in the fast-flowing Otter Tail River. "By the third day I was really wondering if this was going to be a fun time,'' said Weidemann.
Some of the hardest traveling was till ahead, as they wound their way up the snaking Red River. "You could paddle for one-half hour and be farther south than when you started,'' said Weidemann.
Lake Winnipeg offered 300 miles of open water and the threat that, as happened to them once, mild breezes transformed themselves into 30-mile an hour winds and heart-stopping breakers in a span of three minutes.
There were still dangerous rapids and miles of unpopulated wilderness ahead of them as they followed the Hayes River system north to Hudson Bay.
But mostly, there was lots of fun and adventure and today, stories to tell, according to Weidemann.
He said making the trip in the dark ages before the Internet proved to be an advantage. They had little opportunity to view maps or pictures of the places they would see. Consequently, every day and every bend in the river offered a sense of discovery and surprise.
''There's something special about seeing it for the first time, rather than having all kinds of pictures,'' he said.
It took the four friends 2½ months to make the trip, but they took time to enjoy the scenery. Once they were on the Hayes River system they no longer felt the sense of urgency that had them paddling for as long as 14 hours a day on Lake Winnipeg.
Weidemann lives just outside of Madison, Wis. today and keeps in touch with his former traveling companions.
They remain good friends, but have no plans to repeat their trip. "I think we'd be disappointed,'' he said. "There's something about taking the trip when you're young, dumb and innocent,'' he said, laughing.
There is also something about having made such a trip, and a few years ago it occurred to him that the adventure should be told in a book.
If anything, Weidemann said he hopes the book will help people appreciate the value of introducing young people to outdoor adventure. "You don't have to take them to Disney World,'' he said, referring to his friend's father-son fishing trip on Beers Lake. "You can say something really simple that will change their lives.''
"This Water Goes North'' (Wolf Creek Press- 224 pages) is available at Book World in the Kandi Mall or on the Internet at: ThisWaterGoesNorth.com.