Ten-day-old pizza may not sound appetizing, especially if it's moldy. But Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte, the two 18-year-olds who set out six weeks ago to canoe 2,250 miles from Chaska to Hudson Bay, are grateful for little things.
Like cold, moldy pizza. Or, as they call it, "breakfast."
Bloomfield and Witte set out April 28 to follow in the wake of Eric Sevareid, who made the trip with his friend, Walt Port, in 1930, and whose exciting book about the adventure, "Canoeing With the Cree," has inspired generations of Minnesota canoeists.
Bloomfield and Witte's trip began on a windy day with snow falling, and the weather hasn't improved a whole lot since then. Last week, while navigating 250 treacherous miles of Lake Winnipeg, the boys encountered man-size waves, near-freezing weather, brutal head winds and long, boring stretches of paddling.
"It gets a little old," Bloomfield said Thursday, when I reached the boys by phone while they were checking in at a Royal Canadian Mounted Police station. "Bobbing up and down, hours at a time, without much to look at. You just stare and you feel like you're going crazy. I told Colton I felt that way and he said he did, too. We talked about it. That helped a little."
Despite the monotony, or maybe because of it, the boys are on a pace that could get them to Hudson Bay -- still locked in sea ice -- in half of the 14 weeks it took Sevareid. Traveling light and driven by cold and a desire to get home in time to enjoy some summer -- if it ever arrives -- our paddlers have been making 40 miles a day.
(Check their website to follow their journey: www.colton-seanhudsonbay.com).
"It's not that we're going fast," says Witte, who, along with Bloomfield, is a more experienced canoeist than Sevareid was. "It's just that we paddle all day, 13 or 14 hours a day."
Along the way, they have been saluted as paddling heroes.
The mayor of one small town shook their hands and said, "You probably won't remember meeting me, but I will remember you the rest of my life." One man put a lantern on a river bank to guide them to a safe night portage. Another gave them jerky and an 1892 book about travel through the wilderness by canoe and dog train. And two others who met them on the Red River told them about a brother battling cancer and gave them a bumper sticker for their canoe:
"Failure Is Not An Option."
Maybe not. But success isn't easy, either.
Cruising north across scary Lake Winnipeg, whose shore was still covered with snow (they stopped for a snowball fight), the boys dodged reefs and waves and camped on islands to avoid bears. Stranded for a day by a roaring north wind that sent 8-foot waves onto the island, the boys were wind-bound until 5 p.m. When the wind finally calmed, they got in their 17-foot Bell Alaskan and made a 24-mile open water crossing, paddling through the night and navigating by the stars, using Polaris to keep the canoe pointed north.
'We can't rely on anyone'
"The stars are just amazing," Bloomfield said. "We are out of civilization, paddling through wilderness, and we can't rely on anyone for help. We have to rely on the old ways."
One night, bogged down in a swamp, they slept in the canoe. At dawn, in stinking muck up to their waists, they pulled the canoe a half-mile to open water.
There has been no skinnydipping. Walt Port tried it on Lake Winnipeg in 1930, and it almost killed him, even though it was August. This year, still just June, the boys have paddled while wearing almost all the clothes they brought along, plus gloves. To pass the time, they remember scenes and dialog from movies such as "Dumb and Dumber" or sing songs by Jack Johnson or Sublime. But there are long hours of paddling without any talking. And lots of daydreams about food.
Not much on the menu
When you hear about their grub, you understand why:
Breakfast is a pizza slice (they bought four pizzas in Winnipeg). Then there's a granola snack at 11 a.m., a cup of rice and six crackers at 2 p.m., (that's lunch), a power bar at 7 p.m. and finally, when they stop for the night at 11, a bit of packaged chicken in a tortilla wrap, plus crumbled brownie bits for a taste of dessert.
"You learn to appreciate the things your parents say to appreciate," Witte said. "Like, 'Just be happy you have a warm place to sleep and a meal. Not everyone has that.'
"It turns out they are right."
Said Bloomfield: "It's hard work, but at the end of each day, after you see the sunset, it's cool to think where you are, and that you got here by paddling, when most people only get here by airplane. It's a feeling of accomplishment, especially after people didn't think we could do it."
Thursday, while in Norway House, a Cree reservation town, the boys ate a restaurant breakfast of ham, French toast and eggs, washed down by malts and finished off with Doritos and candy bars. Then, after checking with the Mounties, they started the most perilous part of their journey -- 500 miles of rivers, rapids and, maybe, polar bears.
"Should be a piece of cake," said Witte, who called his girlfriend, Courtney, back in Chaska. The seniors at Chaska High had graduation ceremonies Friday. By that time, Bloomfield and Witte, who accelerated their studies in order to graduate early, were 1,700 miles ahead, on day 40 of an adventure, near a foaming rapids called Sea Falls, beginning a long descent to a historic fur post on the permafrost shores of an inland sea: Hudson Bay.
"School seems like ages ago," Witte said. "We're way beyond that."
Failure, according to the bumper sticker on their canoe, was not an option.
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