Paddlers keep a sprinter's pace on their adventure to Arctic waters

Eric Sevareid and Walter Port were the first to paddle the 2,250 miles from Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay for the sheer adventure of it. Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte aim to be the fastest to do it.

Eric Sevareid and Walter Port were the first to paddle the 2,250 miles from Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay for the sheer adventure of it. Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte aim to be the fastest to do it.

Bloomfield and Witte, two 18-year-olds from Chaska, reached Granite Falls on Saturday after 13 days of paddling against a strong, spring current on the Minnesota River. The two enjoyed their first layover day on Sunday in Granite Falls, where they visited with their families and friends before returning to the river Monday morning.

They expect to cover 45 miles of river and pitch their two-person backpacker's tent on the shores of Lac qui Parle Lake by this evening.

They'd like to make the entire trip to York Factory on Hudson Bay in 70 days, as compared to the 98 days Sevareid chronicled in his 1930 adventure, "Canoeing with the Cree.''

The two finished their studies six weeks early to graduate from Chaska High School and launch their trip amidst snow flurries on April 28.


They knew what they were in for: Their parents had introduced them to wilderness camping and canoeing when they were small. As sixth-graders, they had made their first overnight camping expedition on their own.

It has only taken off from there.

Two years ago they paddled from the headwaters of the St. Croix River to the Mississippi River and arrived five days earlier than anyone expected.

Last year they allowed themselves 17 days to cover the Voyageur's Route along the international border from the Lake of the Woods to Lake Superior. They did not omit the challenge of the nine-mile-long Grande Portage along the Pigeon River either, and did the route in only 12 days.

"Our trips keep getting more extravagant,'' said Witte, laughing.

He's talking about the distance they cover, not their lifestyle on the go. Their diet consists mainly of pancakes smothered with peanut butter, tortillas wrapped around canned chicken or peanut butter, and lots and lots of Rice-a-Roni.

They are on the water by 8 a.m. each morning, stop for lunch, and paddle until around 7 or 8 p.m. to make camp before dark. They've been managing 25 river miles a day against the current.

They hope to pick up the pace when they reach the Red River, which will carry them north to Lake Winnipeg. They are planning to alternate paddling at night so that one can sleep while the other keeps their Bell "North Bay'' canoe on the go.


They remain motivated, despite an early bout with food poisoning and dehydration that brought Witte to the emergency room in St. Peter one night.

They've also battled strong head winds, rising waters and everything from thunderstorms and lightning that delayed them in New Ulm to sleet, hail and hand-numbing cold.

They've been disappointed by the pollution they've found in the Minnesota River, especially its lower reaches. Witte suffered a rash and blisters on one arm from contact with the water.

Everywhere, they've been overwhelmed by the attention and generosity they've been receiving.

Prior to their trip, Bloomfield said they made some initial contacts with media and talked to a national sporting goods chain about the possibility of sponsorship. They were greeted largely by silence.

Then, just two weeks before the trip, "it just exploded,'' said Bloomfield. They've been met by newspaper reporters at virtually every stop of the way. Their Web site has attracted words of encouragement from all over the country and beyond: A seminary student in Rome offered his prayers.

By the time they reached Redwood Falls, the mayor was waiting on the riverbank to give them the keys to the city.

A hard day's paddle later they reached the Minnesota Falls dam just south of Granite Falls, where the yoke on their canoe broke as they made the trip's first portage. They hiked to the nearest road and put out their thumb. Kevin Jensvold, tribal chairman of the Upper Sioux Community, gave them a lift to town and offered them sweet grass to carry on their journey ahead.


It's been that kind of an adventure.

To follow their progress on the Web:

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