PEMBINA, N.D. - Ann Raiho and Natalie Warren are halfway through a historic 2,200-mile journey from Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay in an effort to inspire young people to get outdoors and to raise money for the camp they credit with providing the skills to make such a trek.
Divided into four distinct segments -- the Minnesota River, the Red River of the North, Lake Winnipeg and the Hayes River -- their route is the same one traveled by Eric Sevareid and Walter Port in 1930. Sevareid wrote a book about the trip titled "Canoeing with the Cree" that is still popular today.
The trip has been duplicated at least once in the past eight decades, but Raiho, 21, and Warren, 22, are believed to be the first women to attempt the entire journey.
Preparations were well under way when they learned of that fact. "We're glad we are the first women -- we don't feel like we had to be -- but it's drawn a lot of attention allowing us to spread the word about Camp Menogyn, which is something we really care about," said Raiho.
Camp Menogyn is a YMCA-run camp headquartered in northeastern Minnesota specializing in guiding young people on extended trips into the wilderness.
"There is a profound magic that occurs when you send a small group of young people into the wild. It's an incredible confidence-, morale- and character-building experience," said Doug Nethercut, the camp's executive director.
Nethercut said Menogyn raises money every year to provide scholarships for campers, but that more is always needed.
"It's important that today's technology-driven young people have that connection to the outdoors," he said.
A native of Inver Grove Heights, Raiho first attended Menogyn as a 13-year-old. She went on to work there for three years as a cook and trail guide.
"It was a life-changing experience," she said.
Warren grew up in Miami, first attending Camp Menogyn in 2005. She returned in 2007 for a seven-week trip through Nunavut, Canada, where she met and became friends with Raiho.
Their friendship continued at St. Olaf College in Northfield, and as graduation neared, they decided to go on the adventure of a lifetime.
"It's not easy to have the time for a trip like this, and it seemed like the right time in our lives for it," Raiho said.
On Tuesday, Raiho and Warren paddled 28 hours straight from Pembina, N.D., to Winnipeg, stopping only to register with Canadian Customs. This gave them Wednesday and Thursday to rest in Winnipeg and visit with Ann's parents, who delivered a six-week food drop.
"We'll start crossing Lake Winnipeg on Saturday and watching the wind conditions to make it across safely," Raiho said.
The massive 9,500-square-mile lake is the 11th-largest freshwater lake on Earth.
"Napping during the day and doing a lot of paddling at night is something we might have to do. Or paddle for long stretches at a time during low winds," Raiho added.
Originally, Raiho and Warren hoped to be in Winnipeg by the end of July, but their arrival there Wednesday puts them about two weeks ahead of schedule. The goal is to reach York Factory along the southwest shore of Hudson Bay by Sept. 1, where they will get picked up to fly back to the Twin Cities.
A special GPS unit allows them to report their progress each day, and people can follow them online at www.hudsonbaybound.com. The website also has a link for individuals interested in contributing to their effort.
"Canoeing with the Cree" was published in 1935 by the trip's only sponsor, the Minneapolis Star newspaper. Both women have read it several times and used it as a guidepost.
"People say that Eric and Walt were crazy to make the trip, and maybe people think we are crazy girls to paddle and do this," Raiho said. "But we're just looking to go back to our roots and do something that people usually only read about."