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Working Our Way From the Montreal to the Richelieu River

Friday, October 24, 2014
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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.

City Life

Thursday, October 23, 2014
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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.

The weather is getting colder and the days are noticeably shorter than when we left the Voyageur Outward Bound School on August 24th and paddled down the Kawishiwi River in shorts and t-shirts. Crawling out of our warm sleeping bags and packing the tent takes a little more willpower on chilly mornings! We have come a long way, over 1,000 miles, moving ever so slowly across the landscape from one watershed to the next, towards Washington DC.

As we approached Montreal two days ago, we were blown off the water by winds gusting to 25 miles an hour and building waves. We spent a good portion of the day walking along a road to make slow, but steady progress with Sig. At one point we had to cross a highway overpass that was under construction. The walkway was just wide enough for Sig and our wheeled car. It took some tricky maneuvering, but we were able to speak through! We are entering more urban areas now, which will allow us to reach more people, but will also complicate things a bit and provide us with some new challenges. Today we did another long portage from Montreal to the Richelieu Canal, which will take us to Lake Champlain.

The ends of our portage wheel were worn down by scrapping the barriers. Much different kind of portage for us.

We have left the wilds of the BWCA behind and now the sound of traffic is always apparent and city lights are always on the horizon. It makes me appreciate the Boundary Waters more than ever. Now we have been told we shouldn’t even cook with the water in the Ottawa River and that we should carry all of our water with us for drinking, cooking and washing dishes. That is a long way from dipping my cup into the middle of Basswood Lake and taking a drink. I did a quick calculation in my head today while we paddled and I would guess that combined, Amy and I have taken approximately 1.5 million paddle strokes so far during Paddle to DC and we will take over 3 million before we reach DC. Like our paddle strokes, your signatures and numerous actions to protect the Boundary Waters are adding up. Please sign the petition.

Paddles Up!

Dave Freeman

To Houghton After The Gale

Thursday, September 18, 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.

Sig traveled by land to Houghton, MI and so did I. A gale churned up 40+ knot winds and 15 foot waves on Lake Superior on Wednesday. (See Dave’s video clip of the gale.) No way were we going to sail to the Portage Lake District Library in time. Our team discussed the options and we came up a practical solution: Olivia, Sig and I would drive to Houghton while Dave, John and Yemaya would sail once the waves died down.

At the presentation in Houghton I was taken aback by the passionate people who filled the room. There were so many thoughtful questions and words of encouragement. We gathered many petition signatures that night. Chris, the librarian gave us local honey and box full of vegetables—her share from the CSA. Connie, who we just met that evening, took us in for several nights. Thank you to the Portage Lake District Library and FOLK for making the event possible. Thank you to Chris, Connie, Larry, Don and Lynn for making our stay in Houghton a memorable one.

As Olivia and I waited for Dave and John to arrive, we caught up on office work and managed to have a little fun too. On Friday Connie took us hiking at Canyon Falls on the Sturgeon River so we could marvel at just how much water was deposited from the recent storm.

The day got even better when Connie told us that Arun Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) happened to be speaking at Michigan Tech that evening. Did we want to go? What an honor to have the chance to hear him speak! He shared his grandfather’s lessons of peace and nonviolence. Perhaps the statement that resonates most with the expedition at hand is his explanation that wasting resources is violence against nature.