Paddle to DC

Working Our Way From the Montreal to the Richelieu River

Oct 24, 2014

Dave and Amy Freeman—2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year— are paddling from Ely, Minnesota to Washington, D.C. to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

On Wednesday afternoon Amy and I took Sig off of our canoe cart, carried everything down a steep bank below a large cement bridge and headed down a narrow river lined with steep banks and large trees. It felt great to be on a small waterway again, but then we fit our first rock. The water was cloudy and we couldn’t see the rocks lurking just under the surface. We quickly realized this little river that looked so inviting on satellite images was way too shallow to navigate—especially in a canoe covered in signatures.

After about 20 minutes of slow progress with lots of rock dodging we saw a man by the edge of the river and decided to get some local intel. He didn’t speak much English, but was happy to try and help. We learned that the river would remain hard to navigate for about 5 miles. He said we were welcome to camp in his yard, so we set up our tent next to the river in his spacious yard.

Studying our maps by headlamp we realized that if we portaged for another 5 and a half miles along the road we could reach the Richelieu River, which we will take to Lake Champlain. With a plan in place we synched up our sleeping bags and switched off our headlamps. The steady drone of traffic on a nearby road made it hard to sleep. Looking out from our tent, nestled along the bank of the river, everything looked wild around us, but I couldn’t shake the thought of the hundreds of cars and trucks that had raced past us as we walked or my hesitation to touch the water in the little river we were camped near. It feels like we are a long ways from home. I miss Northern Minnesota and appreciate our clean water and wild spaces more than ever.

Yesterday morning our gracious hosts seemed a bit confused when declined their repeated offers for a ride to the Richelieu River and walked away with our canoe in tow. The road had a wide paved shoulder and our walk was uneventful. We passed many farms and entered the city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec and wheeled up to a Tim Horton’s near the river. We parked Sig out front, ordered a couple cups of coffee and waited for Olivia to pick us up.

In a matter of minutes Olivia drove us back to Montreal where we are preparing for an event this evening at the MEC store. Last night we stayed in the apartment of a friend we met on the Sturgeon Weir River in northern Canada. We were both paddling across Canada at the time, but we were headed in the opposite directions. We camped together for the night, sharing stories about the places along our routes. Many of the places we had been they would see in the coming months and many of the places they had visited we would be experiencing as well.

It feels good to be in a warm, dry place, but I am sure it will feel equally as good to start paddling again on Saturday, heading south toward Lake Champlain, a lake I have always wanted to paddle.