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Hudson Bay bound: A long adventure to shrink the gender gap

Natalie Warren, in stern, and Ann Raiho paddle the Cannon River. The two are preparing for their upstream slog on the flood-swollen Minnesota River by paddling against the current on the Cannon River. (Photo courtesy of Shane Kitzman, Northfield News)

If Ann Bancroft hasn't settled the matter once and for all, Natalie Warren and Ann Raiho certainly will.

The two -- soon-to-be St. Olaf graduates -- are about to launch their canoe and re-create Eric Sevareid and Walter Port's epic, 2,250 mile canoe trip from Minneapolis to York Factory on Hudson Bay.

Sevareid's book about the 1930 adventure, "Canoeing with the Cree'' has inspired many other paddling duos to re-create the trip.

Yet Warren said the two friends were surprised to learn: "No two women have ever done this route.''

Women have climbed every mountain and sailed across every ocean that put men in the history books. They should paddle every river as well, said Warren.

"There still is a gender gap,'' she said.

They hope their trip will be one more swing of the axe -- no different than Bancroft's polar treks -- in chipping away at this gap.

They also hope their trip will inspire others -- women and men alike -- to take advantage of the adventure waiting outside their front door. "It's very rare to be in a metropolis like Minneapolis, put a canoe in the river and a couple of months later end up in the Arctic,'' she said.

Warren is no stranger to Arctic waters, even though she grew up in Miami, Fla. She and Raiho -- who grew up in Inver Grove Heights -- met as whitewater paddling partners. They served as leaders for wilderness canoe trips in northern Minnesota and Canada for the YMCA's Camp Menogyn in Grand Marais.

They've more than proven their mettle in the wilderness: Among their accomplishments is leading a seven-person, 50-day adventure in northern Canada that covered more than 600 miles of wilderness waterways.

Warren said they both always had the idea of making their own long adventure. After Raiho read "Canoeing with the Cree'' the choice of where became obvious.

Warren will be graduating with a degree in environmental studies, and will be looking for a career as a naturalist. She served as a naturalist last summer on Catalina Island, Calif.

Raiho will graduate with a degree in math, and has a strong interest in ecological work. She participated in a research project on willows in Yellowstone National Park last summer.

There was some apprehension about putting off the job search while taking on this adventure, but it disappeared quickly. Warren said the work they are doing to raise funds, find sponsors and promote their upcoming adventure can only bolster their resumes.

They're training daily for the trip, well aware that the 330-mile paddle against the current on the swollen Minnesota River represents a rigorous physical and mental challenge right from the get-go.

They intend to depart from Fort Snelling on June 2, right after graduation. They hope to reach the saltwater by Sept. 1.

They are keeping a blog about their adventure and welcome donations. They hope to raise $20,000 through their trip to make possible similar adventures for others through the YMCA's Camp Menogyn.

To learn more, visit their blog at:

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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