Ann Raiho had a clever strategy to convince Natalie Warren to join her on a three-month canoe trip from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay.
She didn't ask.
Instead, Raiho sent an e-mail to a friend who had canoed the same route, asking for advice and noting that she and Warren "are planning to do this trip." Then she asked Warren.
Warren, enjoying eggs and coffee Monday at a Seward neighborhood cafe, laughs at the memory, and at what came next. "She threw the book at my face and told me to read it."
The book was Eric Sevareid's "Canoeing With the Cree," written in 1935 by the journalist who inspired legions of amateurs and adventurers to get out in nature. Raiho, 21, and Warren, 22, friends at St. Olaf College, are believed to be the first women to successfully paddle Sevareid and Walter Port's 2,250-mile route from the Minnesota River to the Hayes River in Canada. They began June 2 at Fort Snelling and finished 85 days later, one week ahead of schedule. It was, Warren said, "the perfect timing and the perfect trip."
Raiho and Warren will discuss the trip Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. at the REI store in Bloomington.
Raiho, an only child, grew up in Inver Grove Heights and attended Convent of the Visitation High School. She spent her summers at her family's cabin at the end of the Gunflint Trail, then as a camper, cook and trail guide at YMCA Camp Menogyn.
"Menogyn not only sparked our interest in the natural world," she writes on their website, www.hudsonbaybound.com, "but our experience there taught us how to work with other young people while moving daily and living happily in the wilderness."
(Raiho was called away early for a two-day sailing trip around the Apostle Islands, so was unavailable for our interview. I owe her breakfast.)
Warren grew up in Miami, the youngest of three children. Musical (she plays tenor sax), athletic and restless to escape "hectic urban life," she flew alone to Minnesota at 15 to attend Menogyn, "and I just kept coming up here." Her family was supportive, "but they never fully understood what I'm doing, especially my grandmother," Warren said. "She asked, 'People live in Minnesota?'"
On Warren's first night in the woods, she woke everyone after hearing what she thought were wolves. The sound was loons. "It was motivation," Warren said, "to get to know the area."
She met Raiho when the two were paddling partners on a seven-week canoe trip to northern Canada in 2007. Turns out both would be attending St. Olaf that fall, Warren on a music scholarship. "I already had a really good friend," Warren said of Raiho. "But she is more my sister."
Preparation for the trip was a madhouse. The women, ultimate Frisbee competitors and rock-wall climbers, added weight-lifting and practiced paddling upstream on the Cannon River. They raised more than $4,000, of which half will provide scholarships at Menogyn. Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais, a trip sponsor, donated their Langford canoe.
They scheduled three food drops and packed with safety in mind: Life jackets, a first-aid kit, satellite phone, hatchet and a 12-gauge shotgun "just in case," Warren said. "We were really, really hoping we didn't have to use it." They didn't.
They graduated from college on May 29 and set out four days later. They paddled 10 to 16 hours a day, although their record was a 22-hour, 100-mile paddle from North Dakota to Winnipeg. "It was absolutely gorgeous," Warren said.
They faced rapids, bears and boredom, spending three excruciating days in their tent playing cribbage waiting out a monster storm. And they had one big argument on Lake Winnipeg.
"I was concerned that Ann was too nervous and needed to chill out, and she was concerned that I wasn't nervous enough and needed to chill up," Warren said. "For five or six hours, we didn't speak. The northern lights were out and it was very beautiful. After that, we got along famously."
They learned from one another and were humbled by the generosity of strangers who fed them and took them in when challenges prevented them from advancing. Every night they sent their coordinates out as a text message to their parents. They've had more than 19,000 views on their blog, from as far away as Africa and China.
Warren is pleased that girls and women will celebrate their marvelous accomplishment and, perhaps, venture out, too. But she's equally proud that she gave up her laptop for three months.
"Our generation is really tech-savvy, but ..." She stares at her cellphone on the table, leaning away from it like it might bite her. "I'm kind of mad it's back."
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 email@example.com