I wrote about "Canoeing With the Cree" last week when its author, the late newsman Eric Sevareid, was honored with a postage stamp. And I told you his great book about his canoe trip to Hudson Bay inspired generations of Minnesota outdoors lovers.

The newest generation set out on chilly waters Monday morning.

Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte are best bud 18-year-olds who accelerated their studies so they could graduate from Chaska High School six weeks early and embark upon a summer adventure to remember all their lives.

Over the next 10 or 11 weeks, they plan to follow in the wake of Sevareid and Walter Port, who canoed from Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay as teens in 1930. The boys, who grew up near each other on Chaska's Lake Grace, have dreamed of Canoeing with Eric Sevareid ever since they read his book in seventh grade.

They talked about it for five years. And for five years, their parents half-hoped they'd set the dream aside, like you're supposed to do when you grow up.

"I kept thinking they'd change their mind," said Sean's mom, Pat, as the boys and their friends gathered on the banks of the Minnesota River in Chaska's Winkel Park Monday morning. "But they never did."

"We questioned them pretty heavy," said Sean's dad, who is also named Pat. "We resisted their plans pretty hard, until we realized that the more we resisted, the more they were resolved to do this thing. So then we backed off, but that didn't work, either. "

In the end, the two families put their hopes in Nature.

Not the Nature of the rivers and the woods, but the nature of things between boys and girls. Girlfriends, the families hoped, might keep the boys from embarking on months of hardships and hazards.

"We came close," Colton's dad, Dan Witte, said with a laugh, Monday, while Colton's mom, Kathy, took pictures of the preparations. "There have been some tears the last few days."

Sean's girlfriend, Erin Sattervall, and Colton's girlfriend, Courtney Leinen, were on hand to wish the guys bon voyage, looking scared and sad.

The last to show up was Colton, who was in charge of bringing the 18-and-a-half-foot canoe, "The Bloomitte" ( a contraction of Bloomfield and Witte) in the Beast, his 1986 pickup. The Beast had begun the day with a flat tire, so The Bloomitte got to the river just a few minutes before the trip was supposed to start.

"We just always have wanted to get away from the world -- the civilized world, at least," Sean said while Colton loaded the canoe. "Everyone was skeptical that we really were going to do this. But we really were."

"Living day to day outdoors," Colton added. "Being out in nature -- that's the lifestyle we always wanted."

The boys took their first canoe trip with their dads when they were in fourth grade, a weeklong trip to the Boundary Waters. Over the past couple of years, as they prepared for the Sevareid trek, they started pushing themselves, taking long trips through the Boundary Waters and on the St. Croix, and along the Minnesota River bottoms, in heat and cold and wind and rain.

At the river, Paul Holmes, a counselor at Chaska High, offered tobacco to the four directions so the boys would have good spirits on the journey through the homelands of the Dakota and the Cree.

"I'm not worried about them," Holmes said. "They've got the youthful exuberance, and they've got the skills."

The boys also have the advantage of maps far better than the ones Sevareid had. But they are traveling without most modern conveniences, except for a satellite messenger -- a device that can send a signal telling friends their map coordinates. It also has an emergency signal to call for help in case of illness or mishap.

The time had come: 7:30 on the last Monday morning in April, 30 degrees and snowflakes falling as Sean and Colton kissed their girlfriends goodbye. It was a long farewell. The Chaska High prom had been Saturday night, and the boys and their dates had been among a group of friends who went to the dance in a cozy limo.

Prom was officially over. Now, it was just two teens and a canoe, like it seems it always has been. Sean and Colton played the little hand game they always do before getting into a canoe, an impromptu contest like rock-paper-scissors, to see who got the stern seat, the captain's position. Colton won, Sean grimaced in jest.

They got in, took up their paddles, and pushed off, heading against the flow, up the Minnesota 300 miles to Ortonville and Big Stone Lake. That should take two weeks, they figure. After that, it's down the north-flowing Red River, across Lake Winnipeg the long way, and then to the Hayes River and 16 sets of rapids down to Hudson Bay, carrying bear spray against the chance of polar bears.

Just a jaunt of 2,250 miles or so. Then back to Chaska in time for the State Fair and a chance to rekindle a high school romance or two. Sean will attend Minnesota State, Mankato, in the fall. Colton hasn't picked a college yet.

They pushed out into the swollen, brown river.

"Take a right!," yelled Colton's dad, Dan.

Right was the right way -- up stream, up the continent, up to Hudson Bay.

Right she went. A sign on the port side of the canoe said: "Go Big or Go Home."

Colton's dad walked over to The Beast to drive the old pickup truck home.

Colton had taken the keys with him.


Nick Coleman • ncoleman@startribune.com