It took Eric Sevareid and Walter Port more than three months to travel 2,250 miles by canoe from Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay in 1930, the journey that led to Sevareid's classic true adventure tale, "Canoeing With the Cree."
Colton Witte and Sean Bloomfield, the Chaska teens who set out April 28 to follow Sevareid's wake, are halfway to Hudson Bay after four weeks.
Everything moves faster today, even kids in canoes.
So far, the boys have paddled about 900 miles -- up the Minnesota River and down the Red River of the North, which they hoped would take them into Canada and to Winnipeg this weekend.
From Winnipeg, it's more than another 1,000 miles to their destination, York Factory, where, at last report, there was still snow on the ground and ice on the bay. It hasn't been much warmer on this side of the border: Wednesday morning, as the boys were paddling toward Grand Forks, the temperature dropped to 27 degrees.
(You can follow them at www.colton-seanhudsonbay.com.)
Colton and Sean paddled around the clock for a few days last week, taking 12-hour shifts in the stern while the other boy slept in the bow. But with ice and snow still ahead, they have throttled back, tenting at night to stay warm in sleeping bags.
"It's too cold to go at night," Colton said when I caught him by phone Friday while he and Sean were eating lunch (hoagies and fries) in Drayton, N.D., "Catfish Capital of the North." "You wake up in the bow and you can't feel your feet."
They've seen dead cows, bones sticking out from river banks and live creatures, too -- pelicans, geese, deer, raccoons. But it is the two-legged ones that have amazed them, greeting them in each town, and posting signs along the river offering hot meals and hot showers. Canoe celebrities who have had their story told by more than a dozen newspapers and TV stations along the journey, Colton and Sean have become voyageurs with famous faces.
"Hey, are you the kids from Minneapolis?" asked a woman in Fargo who was working in her back yard when the boys canoed past, a few feet away.
The woman turned out to be the wife of a friend of a friend of a friend of Colton's dad (there are only "3 degrees of separation" in North Dakota). The boys slept in the Fargo family's home that night after enjoying one of a dozen hot meals they have received through the kindness of strangers.
"This trip is flying by," Colton said. "What we've done and seen, and the people we've met -- last week already seems like forever ago. The paddling part is only half the adventure. The other half is the people."
When the yoke of their canoe broke as they were portaging around a dam on the Minnesota two weeks ago, the boys began walking into Granite Falls to call their dads and have them bring tools to fix the yoke.
They had just set out on the 3-mile walk when a car stopped beside them and the driver offered them a lift.
The man's name was Kevin. They told him of their adventure and he asked if they believed in the Creator. Pray for strength and courage, he said. Then you will accomplish your goal. He gave them a braid of sweet grass when he dropped them off. If the weather turns against you, he told them, burn this sweet grass, and the smoke will carry your prayers to heaven.
The boys learned later that he was Kevin Jensvold, chairman of the Upper Sioux Indian Reservation. The next day, an Indian woman gave them $100. She wouldn't tell them her name.
You start out just hoping to canoe with the Cree, but along the way, you need a lift from the Sioux. I think that is a good sign for our young paddlers, along with all the bald eagles they have seen soaring above their heads.
The Cree are still 400 miles north, at Norway House, a small northern Manitoba native community near the north end of scary Lake Winnipeg.
The 11th largest lake in the world, Lake Winnipeg is 250 miles long, north to south. Its name, derived from the same roots as Minnesota's Lake Winnibigoshish, means muddy water: The turbulent lake, filled with treacherous reefs, develops big, dangerous waves in windy conditions.
"It may as well have been the Atlantic," Sevareid thought as his canoe nosed out into the lake. After some close calls -- 6-foot waves threatening to swamp the canoe -- Sevareid and Port hitched a ride on a steamer the last 150 miles of the lake.
Dan Witte, Colton's dad, has urged the boys to keep their life jackets on.
"I've been trying to talk a little sense into them," Dan Witte said. "My worry is the boys think they are indestructible, and might run into issues on the big lake. The other worry is polar bears. The boys have bear spray with them, but a game warden told me the spray only works when you're 10 feet from a polar bear. And that you don't want to be 10 feet from a polar bear."
On Friday, the boys were hell-bent for a hot tub, planning to meet their parents Saturday for a two-night stay in a Winnipeg hotel before getting back on the Red River Monday morning. Covered with mud, muscles sore and hands chapped, bleeding and blistered, they were ready.
It may be the last time they see a restaurant for a month.
"When we say goodbye in Winnipeg, we won't see them again until they're done," Dan Witte said. "So, it's full speed ahead. Let's get 'er done.
"Hudson Bay or bust."
Let's hope it's the first choice.
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