On a rainy day in late August my wife Amy and I climbed into our canoe and paddled away from the Voyageur Outward Bound School in Northern Minnesota. About 50 people came out to paddle the first mile of the Kawishiwi River with us as we followed the path of pollution from the proposed Twin Metals mine into our nation's most popular wilderness, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota. The goal of our journey was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and rally support for the Boundary Waters to protect it from a series of proposed sulfide ore mines on the edge of the Boundary Waters. 101 days later many of the same Minnesotans huddled together in the freezing rain and climbed into canoes to paddle with us for the final stretch of our 2,000 mile journey by water from the Boundary Waters to Washington D.C. Our Wenonah Canoe, Sig, had gained several thousand signatures and a couple of scratches along the way. Through out the journey we did over 50 interviews with a wide range of local, regional and national media outlets, met directly with close to 3,000 people during 40 events along our route, portaged nearly 100 miles and dipped our paddles over 3 million times into dozens of waterways, from pristine Boundary Waters lakes to Superfund Sites along the East Coast.
Several dozen people came out in the pouring rain to welcome us when we paddled into the Washington Canoe Club on December 2nd. We have compiled a few of our favorite images as well as a short video the distills Paddle to DC and the threats the Boundary Waters face into 8 minutes.
Paddle to DC: A Quest for Clean Water from Nate Ptacek on Vimeo.
A photo posted by Save The Boundary Waters (@savethebwca) onOct 10, 2014 at 1:17pm PDT
There were really 4 of us on this journey, Olivia Ridge (our project manager), Sig the canoe, Amy Freeman and me (Dave Freeman).
We followed the path of pollution from the proposed Twin Metals Mines site on Birch Lake down the Kawishiwi River into the Boundary Waters and spent 8 days paddling through the Boundary Waters to reach Lake Superior at Grand Portage.
A photo posted by Nate Ptacek (@arborealis) onSep 9, 2014 at 4:14pm PDT
We spent 3 weeks sailing across Lake Superior and Georgian Bay, stopping in towns in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario to give presentations and share our story.
Edward Abbey said,"The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders." Our goal was to gather more defenders for the Boundary Waters from communities in Northern Minnesota and across the country through events like this one at the Patagonia store in Washington D.C., media coverage, blogging and social media.
A photo posted by Dave and Amy Freeman (@freemanexplore) onSep 9, 2014 at 5:52pm PDT
During the first 80 days we camped most of the time. We usually found beautiful campsites along the waterways we traversed like this one on the French River in Ontario. We left our sailboat near the mouth of the French River in Georgian Bay. We would spend the last 2 months traveling about 1,300 miles by canoe.
We encountered many beautiful places, like the Mattawa River in Ontario, but none were quite like the Boundary Waters, where we still dip our cups in the middle of the lake when we are thirsty.
A photo posted by Dave and Amy Freeman (@freemanexplore) onOct 10, 2014 at 7:36am PDT
There was a lot of portaging, including 3 portages that were 15 to 30 miles long. We used our cart to traverse some pretty urban areas and connect an unusual network of waterways on our way to Washington D.C. The portaging gave us a chance to meet more people; lots of people stopped us ask what we were doing and many of them wanted to sign Sig and our petition to protect the Boundary Waters.
As the weather got colder more people invited us to stay with them as we past through more urban areas between New York City and the Nation's capitol.
A photo posted by Save The Boundary Waters (@savethebwca) onDec 12, 2014 at 2:29pm PST
Sig toured the Capitol and portaged past the White House. Chief Tidwell, the head of the US Forest Service, accepted Sig, our canoe, on behalf of the administration and the Sig is being displayed at the Forest Service Headquarters in DC so that more people will be able to learn about our journey and the Boundary Waters.
40 Minnesotans joined us in D.C. We spent 3 days meeting with elected officials and government agencies to educate them about the sulfide ore mines that are being proposed on the edge of the Boundary Waters and share our concerns. We have hung up our paddles for the moment, but our work to save the Boundary Waters from copper mines in a sulfide ore body has just begun. Please learn more about this important issue, sign the petition and join the movement. The Boundary Waters belongs to all of us and it is up to us to protect it. Dozens of people opened their homes to us, organized events and supported us physically and emotionally along the way. Hundreds more donated time and money through the Save the Boundary Waters Campaign to help make Paddle to DC a success.
Thank you for all of your support. Paddles Up!
Dave and Amy Freeman
We portaged through DC to give Sig, our canoe, a tour. We have had many productive meetings and events and have many more scheduled today and tomorrow morning. It is really inspiring to be working with 40 other Minnesotans who flew to Washington DC and stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we work to protect the Boundary Waters from the sulfide ore mines that are being proposed on the edge of our nations most popular wilderness and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness act and I sure that the Boundary Waters remains pristine for the next 50 years. Pleasesign the petition and join us in protecting this pristine Wilderness.
The sun was shining when we work up Thanksgiving morning, and we were so thankful to see a clear, blue sky. We spent several hours wheeling past farm fields and patches of forest. A flock of tundra swans flew overhead and geese searched for food in the fields.
Around noon we reached the Chester River, which we would paddle to the Chesapeake Bay. As we wheeled towards the river a woman came out to the road and explained that a friend had called her and told her we were walking towards the river. She offered to let us launch our canoe from the yard and shuttled us into her house to meet her family and drink steaming cups of coffee. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay long because strong winds were forecast for Friday so we needed to paddle as far as we could before the winds picked up and trapped us on shore.
The Chester River slowly grew wider as we approached the bay and the cattails marches were full of ducks and geese. As the sun set we continued paddled south, pushed by s gentle tailwind. A sliver of a moon provided just enough light to see the shoreline. At first we were anxious about paddled into the darkness because we didn’t know where we would stop and camp for the night, but after a while we became more relaxed and enjoyed watching the stars and talking about our favorite traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
Around 7 pm we realized if we paddled another 11 or 12 miles we could make it to a small town with a hotel. We have only stayed in a hotel twice on this journey, but the camping options didn’t look promising and it was Thanksgiving, so we decided it was the best option, so we called the hotel.
They were a little surprised when I explained we would arrive by canoe, but had plenty of rooms available, said we could lock our canoe in the parking lot and they would keep an eye on it with their security cameras.
It felt good to know we had a good place to sleep for the night. We could relax and enjoy our last 3 hours on the water. The wind and waves started to build as we approached our take out, but at 11:30 PM we wheeled Sig up to the Sleep Inn and checked into the hotel, flopped into bed.
It was certainly not a typical way to spend Thanksgiving, but it is certainly one that we will remember!
As we paddled away from Philadelphia's sky scrapers the Delaware River began to widen. Industry lined the river, and the chatter on the VHF radio kept us on the lookout for commercial traffic. The winds were calm and the temperature sky rocketed to 50 degrees! After a few hours of fighting the tidal currents the tide began to ebb and push us towards the ocean. We clipped along at 5.5 miles an hour and life was good.
We spotted a huge tanker heading north and moved a safe distance out of the channel. It was moving at a good clip and a minute or two after it passed we bobbed up in down in the 5 foot rollers created by its bow wake. Sig road them well and we didn't ship a drop. Everything calmed down for a minute and then the tanker's rear wake hit us just as the refracting waves from the bow wake that bounced off the shore hit us. Sig bucked and turned like a bull trying to fling a rider off its back. It only lasted a minute but it was a wild ride. Once again Sig didn't ship a drop and we paddle on as the sunset behind the steaming smoke stacks towering above the industrial landscape.
We paddled into the darkness for several hours before meeting up with Olivia and driving to our friends Jay and Lanie's house. Jay paddled with Amy and I on the Amazon River for 5 weeks back in 2008 and we had not seen him since that trip. It has been fun to reconnect with him and meet his wife Lanie. We have connected with so many wonderful people on this journey. It reaffirms the fact that 99.9 % of people are kind and generous. The media often focuses on the .1% and it can be easy to forget about all the good in the world. The million acts of kindness happening all the time that to often go uncelebrated.
The plastic sign posted to a tree in our campsite reads: "ALL FISH MUST BE RETURNED TO THE WATER IMMEDIATELY. FISH CONTAMINATED WITH PCBs DO NOT EAT." Paddling through a superfund site is not typically part of a canoe trip, but on day 73 and 74 of our journey from Ely, Minnesota to Washington D.C., that's where we find ourselves.
My wife Amy and I are about 1,500 miles into a 100-day, 2,000-mile expedition to protect the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the threat of sulfide ore mining. We departed from the Voyageur Outward Bound School on the Kawishiwi River on August 24, 2014 where a flotilla of 20 canoes joined us on the water for the first mile. We paddled right past the proposed mine site of Twin Metals and followed the flow into the pristine Boundary Waters to begin our journey.
74 days later we feel like we are on another planet. Giant machines scoop up black gunk from the bottom of the Hudson River and load it into barges as we canoe past. We have paddled into a $2 billion superfund site that has plagued the Hudson River for the last 40 years.
It's ironic because the place we are paddling to protect is being threatened by a series of proposed sulfide ore mines, which the EPA calls the nation's most polluting industry. Will our home on the edge of the Boundary Waters look like this some day? In the Boundary Waters I just dip my cup into the middle of the lake as we paddle along when I am thirsty. Here on the upper Hudson, I don't even want to touch the water we're gliding across.
Experiences like this make us realize what a truly special place the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness really is. The pristine natural beauty of the Boundary Waters has inspired awe for generations. It is among the United States' most accessible Wilderness areas, and for 50 years has remained America's most visited Wilderness. It is also a crucial driver of the economy in Northeastern Minnesota where tourism supports 18,000 jobs and $800 million in sales annually.
If you are concerned about protecting fresh water and want to stop sulfide-ore mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, please take a moment to sign the petition that Amy and I will be delivering to our federal government when we arrive in Washington, D.C. on December 3rd.
And if you are in the DC area, please join us at Patagonia Washington DC on Tuesday, December 2nd for a free slideshow and film screening. The event kicks off at 7pm. There will be refreshments and live music from Hollertown.
Minnesota guides and environmental educators Amy and Dave Freeman have traveled over 30,000 miles by canoe, kayak and dogsled, but they call Northeastern Minnesota home. Through their non-profit Wilderness Classroom, they connect, inspire and educate over 85,000 students around the globe using an interactive web platform. In 2014, they were named National Geographic Adventurers of the Year.
Nate Ptacek is an avid wilderness paddler, a former BWCA canoe outfitter and a member of the video team here at Patagonia. He directed, shot and edited the film featured in this post, a volunteer effort made possible through Patagonia's Environmental Internship Program for employees. This post was republished from Patagonia's The Cleanest Line blog. For more on this issue, check out Nate's previous post, "A Watershed Moment for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness."
On November 13th we were up at 5 AM so we could be on the water by 6 AM. The last of the outgoing tide swept us down the East River past the southern tip of Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty stood before us and we paddle across New York Harbor towards her. It was a cold, clear morning with little wind, a perfect day to visit the Statue of Liberty by water. The biggest challenge was the wakes left by the ferries and other large commercial traffic. The ferries are really fast and we could never really tell exactly where they were headed. Luckily they saw us and we could hear the boat captains chattering away about the canoe that was crossing the harbor. It felt good to know that they saw us and were alerting the other boats. Floating below the Statue of Liberty felt really good. After 80 days we had reached a major milestone in our 2,000 mile journey from the Boundary Waters to DC.
The last week has been a bit of a whirlwind. I am sorry that we have not posted any blog posts in a while. We also post regularly to Instagram and Facebook, those can be a great way to stay updated as well. We have been off the water for the last 4 days, busy doing presentations at a range of venues, from the Explorers Club in the heart of Manhattan to a small school in Vermont, and we even did a short, impromptu pitch at a Wilderness First Responder recertification course that Amy and I took this weekend. Today we have three more presentations before hitting the water tomorrow morning. The canoe is getting covered in signatures and it feels great to be sharing the Boundary Waters with so many people, but it is getting cold and our arrival in DC is just around the corner, so we are anxious to get back on the water.
Recently named 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the year, Minnesota wilderness guides Amy and Dave Freeman are canoeing and sailing 2,000 miles from Ely, Minnesota to Washington, D.C. on a quest to save the Boundary Waters from the threat of sulfide-ore mining. If built, these mines would leach sulfuric acid and heavy metals that would flow directly into our nation¹s most cherished and iconic wilderness area for centuries into the future.
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