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.
Please, help grow our campaign by making your Give To The Max donation.
“By day 76 we have fallen into a routine to the point where loading the canoe is almost a reflex like shivering or breathing. Soon it will raise the temperature above freezing and our Goal Zero solar panel will be begin charging our battery pack. We are only a few days away from New York City and less than 25 days from Washington DC, paddling south towards the sun, new people, and new adventures. Here’s to the sun, nothing feels better than the first rays of sun hitting your face on a cold morning. The Hudson River has transitioned from a industrial, superfund site into a beautiful river valley with large tracts of open space and hiking trails. When we paddled past West Point yesterday there were stretches where the mountains shot straight out of the water. I never know the Hudson River contained such beautiful vistas, what a difference a few days, and 80 miles can make. We have even seen Eagles perched along the river and flying over head. Several locals have commented that the Bald Eagles have returned and the river is much cleaner than it used to be.”
5 to 8 pm: Broadway Stages Boatyard (get directions)
Dave and Amy will be landing that afternoon, so come give them a warm welcome and hear a brief presentation about their trip thus far and importance of protecting wild areas. We will have fire and food on hand and folks will have an opportunity to sign their petition, which happens to be their 20 foot canoe in which they are paddling to D.C. Dress warm! The event will take place outside. The event is free and open to the public – bring your friends and family!
100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt’s 1914 canoe descent of the Amazon’s mythical River of Doubt made history. It is now considered one of history’s most remarkable adventures. During this past centennial summer of that epic trek, Minnesota adventurers Dave Freeman and Paul Schurke retraced Roosevelt’s route by canoe and dug deeply into the life of this amazing man. Join Explorers Dave Freeman and Paul Schurke at the Explorers Club Trophy Room at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 13. Dave and Paul will share stories & images from their 2014 “River of Doubt” trek and from the 1914 Roosevelt-Rondon first descent. They’ll also share anecdotes from a presidential life story that, as highlighted in this fall’s epic PBS series by Ken Burns, has been deemed utterly irresistible. The president’s great grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, with whom Dave and Paul consulted regarding their trip plans, will introduce them at this Explorers Club presentation. There is a cost to this event and a required RSVP.
8:00 pm: Hamilton Hall – 1130 Amsterdam Avenue
Hear the tale of their North American Odyssey. . .
What’s your idea of a perfect honeymoon? How about spending 3 years kayaking, canoeing and dogsledding 11,700 miles across North America?
. . . and their paddle to Washington DC.
Dave and Amy live near our nation’s most popular protected wilderness: the Boundary Waters. Learn about their current 100-day, 2,000 mile journey of activism and adventure to protect their home and way of life. So come down and sign the petition canoe! How can YOU use what you do best to work toward environmental justice?
FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
It was still raining when the alarm went off at so we went back to sleep. At it was still raining, so we decided to get up and start packing. The rain stopped shortly after we started paddling and by blue sky appeared. The sun never felt so good. We have been pushing ourselves hard to get to New York City on time. Too many days in a row of waking before dawn and setting up camp in the dark have taken their toll. Last night we paddled into the night while being soaked by a cold rain. Setting up camp was a cold affair.
The outgoing tide carried us towards New York until 10:30 AM. From we paddled against the incoming tide, hugging shore to stay out of the 2 knot current flowing up river. We hopped from eddy to eddy and slowly made our way South. We found a secluded park with picnic tables just in time for lunch. Nate Ptacek sent us a link to a draft of the video he has been working on about Paddle to DC. We decided to watch it during our lunch break and we both had tears streaming down our cheeks. Seeing the smiling faces of all the people who paddled the first mile with us on the Kawishiwi River, or came out to sign Sig and show their support for the Boundary Waters along the way was overwhelming. It reminded us that we are not alone on this journey, or in our quest to celebrate and protect the Boundary Waters, our nation’s most popular wilderness. We can't wait to show you Nate’s video, it is beautiful.
We paddled into the night again tonight and pulled to shore after paddling 40 miles in 12 hours. A huge moon lit up the sky and we were dry and warm, a stark contrast to last night. The alarm is set for so we can catch the outgoing tide. Only 100 miles to go to New York City. Please sign the petition and share www.SavetheBoundaryWaters.org with your friends.
Lake Champlain was mirror smooth when we began loading Sig this morning, but conditions can change quickly on a vast body of water. Within two hours the wind had picked up and the waves were building. A half our later the larger sets were splashing over our spray deck, signaling that it was time for a new plan.
We found a protected beach and surfed into shore on smaller waves, doing out best to protect Sig from the rocky beach. We carried everything up to the country road, and wheeled our way through farm country, up and down a few hills which made for slow, hard work on the way up and a rapid descent on the other side. It is a challenge keeping Sig under control on the down hills, he really want to fly! After about an hour and a half we reach a more shelter place where we could return to the water and paddle for the rest of the day. It was a pleasure paddling on Lake Champlain today., and even the walking wasn’t bad. We surprised a father and his two-year old daughter who had walked out to their mailbox to get their mail. We hope that the winds will cooperate as we head South from Burlington. It offered a good chance to tell another person about the Boundary Waters and what a special place it is. We gave him a card before saying goodbye and were please to have an email waiting for us from him at the end of the day, encouraging us on our journey.
We are on the outskirts of Burlington and are looking forward to tomorrow’s events.
Sig has been gathering a lot of signatures, but there is still room for your! We hope you can join us for one of our many events between Burlington and Washington DC.
Around 5 pm we paddle out of Quebec and entered New York. We scanned the shore for a US flag, or some sign of a US border crossing station, but we couldn’t find anything so we pulled into a marina just past the border to ask. The marina opperator was a little surprised to see us, but called the border patrol for us and told us to wait by our boat. An hour past and it started to get dark. We munched on peanutbutter and honey sandwiches and did our best to stay warm. Around 6 PM two border patrol guards came and explained that the water crossing had closed several weeks ago because the railroad swing bridge and the locks just north of the border were all closed, so the waterway closed for the season.
We explained that we had crossed the border by water in Sault Saint Marie 5 weeks ago and that we were just trying to follow the law and check into customs the only way we knew how. Luckily they quickly warmed up to us when they realized that we didn’t have a car and couldn’t drive across the border. They worked through the process of checking us in and by 6:30 we were officially back in the USA and paddling south down Lake Champlain.
The lake was like glass, so we decided to paddle into the night to make some miles. In the morning a strong south wind was predicted and we wanted to make the best of the calm weather. The border guards explained that snow is expected on Friday, which caused us to quicken our pase. We passed a string of cormarants roosting on an delapidated railroad tressel as the last of the sun’s glow disappeared below the horizon.
We paddled on into the darkness, until a little after midnight having paddled an addtional 20 miles after dark. We quickly pitched our tent under a stand of cedar trees and fell asleep. With sound with of 15 to 25 miles an hour for today we decided to spend the day resting and catching up on emails. We have lots of events in the works over the next month, so we are busy making all of the final arrangements. We have about 20 more miles to go to get to Burlington, where people will welcome is into town around 4:30 PM and then we will present at UVM ay 6:00 PM.
It feels good to be back in the US!
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.