“Read this,” said Ann Raiho after she tossed a copy of Eric Sevareid’s 1935 classic book “Canoeing with the Cree” across a dorm room to her friend, Natalie Warren.
Sevareid’s account of his and Walter Port’s 1930 paddle from Fort Snelling to Hudson inspired the two friends to become the first women to recreate the 2,200-mile paddle.
Warren’s account of their 2011 adventure, “Hudson Bay Bound” has now been released by the University of Minnesota Press. It too should inspire other young Minnesotans: Outdoor adventure awaits right at the doorstep, and it is there for anyone.
It follows the 2016 publication of “Adventure North. ” It's Sean Bloomfield's account of his and Colton Witte’s trip from Chaska to Hudson Bay. Bloomfield writes that they too were inspired by reading “Canoeing with the Cree.” The two friends finished their high school studies early to start their adventure on April 28, 2008. They reached an ice-covered Hudson Bay 49 days later, making their paddle the fastest ever to this destination.
Bolton and Witte were childhood friends who had grown up exploring the outdoors and enjoying trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Hudson Bay Bound
Warren, a native of Miami, Florida, and Raiho, a Minnesota native, became friends when they paddled a canoe together at Camp Menogyn on the edge of the BWCAW. They discovered that each was headed to St. Olaf College in Northfield. Their friendship grew as they continued to pursue outdoor adventures on their own and with Camp Menogyn.
Warren and Raiho launched their trip to Hudson Bay right after their college graduation on June 2. That’s despite a phone call from someone with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources advising them not to paddle because of flood conditions on the Minnesota River. “The river resisted like molasses,” wrote Warren of their upstream paddle of 330 miles.
It was just one of many challenges that would test their friendship and commitment.
“Stamina and endurance are our strengths,” Warren writes as they near their destination in polar bear country. They are soaked, cold and hungry but paddle 15 hours straight to reach York Factory on Hudson Bay.
Warren and Raiho committed 85 days to their trip. Her account tells of the many challenges, everything from battling ocean-like waves on the vast expanse of Lake Winnipeg to running treacherous rapids while hundreds of miles from any possible help should things go wrong.
Their adventure also is very much a story about the world today, including the many people they encountered on their way. The owner of a campground on Lake Winnipeg made known his opinion that the two women could not reach their destination.
Yet they also enjoyed the hospitality of a leader in the Cree community at Norway House, on the northern end of Lake Winnipeg. He put them up in his home. During their time at Norway House they learned about the many injustices Indigenous people have faced. And, they picked up a traveling partner, Myhan, a stray dog who became their constant companion.
Warren also tells about the kindness of the many strangers they met along the way. Many offered the paddlers meals and places to stay. And just about everywhere they went, reporters were waiting, eager to tell their story.
Bloomfield and Witte were no less surprised by the attention their adventure received on the way, from reporters as well as others. The Mayor of Redwood Falls was waiting on the river bank when they reached the community.
They too overcame many challenges, and right from the start. Witte suffered dehydration from a stomach flu that sent him to a medical clinic and the start of tendonitis on the very first leg of the Minnesota River.
To make this trip in record time, they took turns paddling and sleeping as they made their way north on the ever-winding Red River. They caught up with the retreating winter when they reached the northern basin of Lake Winnipeg in early June. Snowbanks lined the shore. Cold, sleet and freezing rain brought them dangerously close to succumbing to hypothermia at one point on the final leg of their journey.
Cold and shivering and utterly exhausted as headwinds and sleet battered them, the two took cover under their canoe. They could have pushed the button on a satellite transmitter to summon help, but also knew what the Royal Mounted Police had advised them when they last left civilization. It could be days before help could actually reach them in the remote area they traveled.
As Bloomfield shivered under the canoe, he thought of how his friend had persisted all this way and saved his life on more than one occasion. “He hadn’t quit on me then, and I wasn’t going to quit on him now. Okay, I said, let’s do it,” wrote Bloomfield of how they returned to the water to paddle the final miles.
Ice still covered Hudson Bay when they arrived. The staff to maintain the historic York Factory site had not yet arrived to start the season.
After returning home and telling about the adversities of their adventure to an audience in Bloomington, they were asked: Why did you do it? “To prove that we could,” said Colton. “And not just that we could. But that anybody could. We wanted to prove that adventure isn’t lost in today’s world. You just really need to want it.”
Wrote Bloomfield in his book’s final pages: "It’s not so much where you go, but it’s that you do go. Never be afraid to follow your dreams.”
“Adventure North” is available through 10,000 Lakes Publishing founded by Bloomfield and Witte, and “Hudson Bay Bound” is available through the University of Minnesota Press. Warren is hosting a virtual book launch on Tuesday. Pre-registration on Eventbrite is required.