One of the things I enjoy most about living in northern Minnesota is the constant change seasons. The longer days and brilliant wild flowers of spring, boating and fishing in the summer, fall colors and hunting in the fall, and last but not least, winter—my favorite season of all. For me, winter and dogsledding go hand in hand, and most winters Amy and I live and work at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge on White Iron Lake.
Shortly after paddling into Washington D.C. on December 2 after our Paddle to DC adventure, Amy and I were back in Ely prepping dog sleds, helping to train and care for 69 sled dogs, and leading our first dogsled trip of the season. The trips typically last four or five days and each week we get to meet people from different parts of the country—even far corners of the world. They come here to experience the wild beauty of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Superior National Forest, and learn to dogsled.
Most the groups are all adults or families, but our last trip was with 16 seventh and eighth grade students and their two teachers from Illinois. They were here for seven nights and we spent three nights camping out on a remote lake called Crockett. I love working with young people because, like the sled dogs, they are full of energy and excitement. With a little guidance and encouragement they will jump into most any task, from collecting firewood and cutting it into pieces to feeding the camp fire, chopping a hole through several feet of ice to gather water, or caring for and working with the dogs.
Our second night at Crockett Lake was clear and cold. After dinner we left the warmth of the fire and walked through the cold night air onto the frozen lake. The moon would not rise through the scraggly spruce trees across the lake for another hour and the Milky Way shimmered overhead.
I helped the kids find the North Star and pointed out a few of the constellations, which we take for granted, but are hard to see from their urban backyards. More than anything they were taken back by the silence. When they finally quieted down, which a group of kids that age rarely do, there was total silence, no cars, no wind, nothing but the sound of the cold snow shifting under people’s feet as they shifted their weight from side to side to try and stay warm.
The silence was broken by the faint call of wolves in the distance, which elicited a chorus of howls from the 22 sled dogs bedded down back at our campsite. We returned to the warmth of the campfire to fill everyone’s water bottles with boiling water and have a snack before bed. Then each kid ran back into the cold to stick the water bottle into his or her sleeping bag to help warm it up before climbing in for the night. As I headed off to bed I wondered how everyone would sleep. Surely some would sleep well and others would wake up several times and have trouble sleeping, but regardless, they were making memories that will stay with them for a long time.
Helping people experience dogsledding, sleeping on a frozen lake, the silence and beauty of this place, and the skills and confidence gained through wilderness travel reminds me why the Boundary Waters is so special. This thought helps me focus my efforts to help protect the Boundary Waters for future generations. Amy and I will continue to introduce people to the joys of dogsledding and the winter woods for a few more months, but we are also continuing our work with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters to educate people about the threats that mining in a sulfide ore body bring to this region. Last Saturday I gave a presentation about Paddle to DC at the REI in Bloomington, Minnesota, that was hosted by the Minnesota Canoe Association. Save the Boundary Waters Volunteers Ann Cosgrove and Margot Monson were there with a table full of information to share with people—thank you Ann and Margot!
On March 14, Amy and I will be speaking at Canoecopia, which is the world’s largest paddle sports expo, in Madison, Wisconsin, and we will be volunteering at the Save the Boundary Waters booth throughout the weekend. Plus, we will be speaking at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis the weekend of April 24-26. We are also planning events at the Patagonia stores in Chicago and St. Paul in April. I hope you can join us at one of these events—and bring a friend or two with you!
Dave Freeman and Amy Freeman were named National Geographic's 2014 Adventurers of the Year. They lead educational adventures through Wilderness Classroom. Paddle to DC, their 2,000-mile, 101-day paddle (and sail) from Ely to Washington, D.C., last year supported the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
Recently, we posted our top 10 favorite things about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area on Instagram with some great pictures. These 10 are some of the inspiration behind why we are are so passionate about our fight to save the BWCA! Take a look at the full list and pictures below, then share reasons YOU love the BWCA on social media with the hashtag #savethebwca (Make sure you are following us on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).
1. Paddling. It's simply the best part. Drip, Drip, Swing. (Photo: @arborealis)
2. Asking for S’more.
3. Being ourselves. Something about the woods brings out our truest selves, the good, the bad, and the crazy.
4. Snapping pictures. Let's be honest, the BWCA is very photogenic. And you know you look better in a canoe.
5. Floating around on a Thermarest. Does your bed at home also double as a wave rider? These Forest Service Rangers take a “water break” on Lac La Croix.
6. Taking a hike. Although the BWCA offers hundreds of miles of walking trails, it is notoriously best seen by boat. To get from one lake to another, you’ll have to do some crazy portaging. The real purpose: to bring out the desire in all of us to carry an 80 pound food pack or canoe on our shoulders or a mile, uphill.
7. Hearing the crunch of crusty snow beneath your feet. Whether it’s on skis, snowshoes, dogsled,
or foot, the Boundary Waters is at its wildest in winter.
8. Picking wild blueberries. In August these bad boys are at their peak juiciness. The stains on your fingers never let you forget about the trail pancakes you made with them.
9. Cooking over a fire. Everything tastes better when you are hungry. And when there is smoke in your eyes and sparks burning through your polypropylene Patagonia.
10. Fishing for "water wolves" in the deep BWCA. Here, @Jahbeas catches pike on the fly.
With each town we passed through, we met local groups working toward a better environment. Each community was plagued by an environmental fight, to avoid a superfund site, to better their rivers, or even to discuss controversial proposed sulfide-ore mining for copper in their region. Wisconsin and Michigan both have past, or in Michigan's case, recently permitted copper mines. These communities gave us a national perspective on our local issue.
While in the Michigan UP, I took a slight detour to scope out a new Sulfide-mining project in the Yellow Dog Plains. We had heard from our friends at Save the Wild UP that the most surprising and immediate affect from the new mine was the change to their forest. Here in Northern Minnesota, our Superior National Forest could face similar changes as the setting for the proposed Twin Metals mine. I wanted to see for myself what the development looks like.
Image #1 is of a small logging road through the forest of the Yellow Dog plains. Previously, the Yellow Dog Plains was a remote and virtually untouched wilderness, aside from large scale logging operations. Image #2 shows the expansion of the logging roads in the forest for the purpose of the Eagle Mine. Michigan's new Eagle Mine was permitted in 2007. The life of the mine production is estimated to last up to eight years. The necessity of a four-lane highway for the transportation of the ore and heavy machinery during the 8 years of production has lead to the vast expansion of dozens of miles of their roads and clearcutting of the trees. The affect on their forest is indisputable.
As we work toward protecting our clean water, let's not forget about the trees. Our Superior National Forest is a treasure in itself.
Here is what you have all been waiting for. The REAL story from the support crew. Your exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the Paddle to DC.
As the Paddle to DC support team, I traveled with Dave and Amy for the past 100 days. My journey was more like a road trip. A road trip at the pace of a canoe. We passed through wilderness, rural towns, forests, mountain ranges, and beautiful cities. In the context of my road trip, these big cities provided welcome energy and fun. They were the next destination in my mind. The Paddle to DC was, in this same way, a unique and difficult canoe trip. The cities were a bit of an interruption to the trip, both logistically, and mentally. Don't even get me started on the driving.
This was my office for a week in Fort Coulonge, Quebec. A small historic town on the edge of the Ontario /Quebec border. Because I was working on setting up events in Ottawa for the next week, this phone booth made a convenient office. Luckily, public telephones are easy to come by in Canada. Since being back in the United States, I have not found a singe one in operation.
Dave and Amy did 40 presentations in 100 days. Think about that for a moment. They paddled nearly every single day for 100 days and managed to spend nearly half of their time sharing their journey with others. A large part of my work throughout the journey was transportation to and from these events or organizing the events themselves.
Thank you to all of our amazing partners that allowed Dave and Amy to speak to their circles. It is truly amazing to see so many people working to protect their water, get people outside, and defend our environment. I am especially grateful for the students that reached out to us by asking Dave and Amy to speak at their school, writing about the trip, and sharing it with their friends. I know far too well how easy it is to put the blinders on when you are in school and work on what is in front of you. As I think about going back to a University soon, I now have so many examples of how to stay involved in current issues and be a leader.
All of you still reading are waiting for the juicy gossipizzle of working with Dave and Amy. The shocking truth is that they are the most humble, genuine, kind, and hardworking people I have ever met. Dave and Amy would paddle all day and manage to do as much communication as I did. They spoke to over 2,700 people over the course of the journey and even at the end of the day, never let them see how tired they were. But to truly see Amy and Dave in action, is to see them working with kids. We visited many schools over the 100 days where they spoke to loud, energetic school groups. It is amazing that they didn't lose their voice from trying to be heard over the rumble of middle schoolers in an assembly. The excitement of the kids is truly contagious. And there is no doubt that many of them will be our future adventurers thanks to Dave and Amy. It was an honor to work with them and be inspired by their true passion to protect wild places.