Note: On May 1st, 2005 Todd Foster and Scott Miller will
put their canoe into the Sauk River in St. Cloud, in Todd's backyard,
4 miles from the Sauk's confluence with the Mississippi. They intend to
paddle down to Fort Snelling, turn west (upstream) and continue paddling
until they reach York Factory on Hudson Bay-some 2000 miles north. This
summer they were interviewed by an aspiring young journalist form Bismarck,
North Dakota. Alex Sakariassen hopes to publish some articles about them
and thier expedition in various North Dakota newspapers, but thought HUT!
Magazine might be a good place too.
Chasing the Spirit of Sevareid
Alex Sakariassen-freelance journalist
They're half an hour late and I'm on my third glass of water. Maybe they
left their compass at home? Suddenly, framed in the window of a Chili's
Restaurant in Fargo, North Dakota, a dark SUV pulls into the parking lot.
Strapped to its roof is a yellow Kevlar canoe, longing for the frigid
waters of Hudson Bay. The vehicle stops. Two men step into the humid August
Todd Foster is short, stocky, his glasses reflecting the harsh sunlight.
Scott Miller is tall and lean. Both look confident and experienced in
wilderness travel. They share a spirit of adventure, the same spirit that
spurred a young Eric Sevareid (later famous as a CBS newscaster) and his
friend Walter Port to pursue a long and perilous canoe trip from Minneapolis
to Hudson Bay in 1930.
Foster and Miller grew up in the Boy Scouts. For Foster, Scouting was
a family legacy. His two older brothers were Scouts, his father, a Scout
leader. Foster was introduced early to a world of camping, backpacking,
hunting, and canoeing. At age 15, he joined a High Adventure Explorers
program aimed at introducing kids to the outdoors. Here, Foster first
experienced wilderness canoeing on a nine-day trip into Canada's Quetico
Provincial Park. It left an indelible mark. Foster stayed in the program
another five years.
In 1994, Foster hired on at Many Point Scout Camp as an Assistant Commissioner
to Scott Miller. It was the first time the two had met.
Miller's story is eerily similar to Foster's. Growing up in Scouting,
Miller, too, enjoyed camping and the outdoors. His father took him canoeing
on Minnehaha Creek.
Although he loved canoeing, Miller's summer job at Many Point prevented
him from pursuing it in depth. Still, he introduced countless young campers
to the joys of canoeing by teaching the Canoeing Merit Badge
When Miller's boss at Many Point approached him in the summer of 2000,
offering a position as Camp Director at the new North Wind Winter Scout
Camp, Miller asked Foster to work as his assistant.
Foster and Miller's status as a canoeing duo was launched in the frozen
depths of January when Foster suggested a canoe trip together that Spring.
Despite his love of the activity, Miller had never been on an extended
wilderness canoe trip. Fortunately, Foster was a veteran. They made lists,
purchased gear, and bought necessary foodstuffs. Miller's fears were put
to rest, and they had a blast. Over the next year and a half, Foster and
Miller ventured twice more into the North Woods by canoe.
The duo's next big trip came about by pure chance. While Foster was researching
Arctic explorers for the North Wind program, he stumbled across an old
book entitled "Canoeing with the Cree" by Eric Sevareid. Intrigued,
he finished the book in one night.
It all began in 1930. After years gazing at maps of North America in high
school, Walter Port must have noticed a thin blue line zigzagging from
their hometown of Minneapolis to the western coast of Hudson Bay. The
spirit of youth fused with a desire for adventure, and a plan was born.
Neither Sevareid nor Port knew the first thing about wilderness canoeing.
They acquired sponsorship from the Minneapolis Star and began amassing
supplies they thought they'd need. Wilderness canoeing was much different
in 1930. The expedition lacked modern conveniences, such as lightweight
tents and freeze-dried food. Piling their crude outfit into an old wood
and canvas canoe, Sevareid and Port put their paddles in the water on
June 17th: "The trail stretched ahead, a twisting stream of gleaming
green water. As we began to paddle against the stiff current, we could
hear a bugle playing and the guns firing at Fort Snelling. Overhead several
planes were circling-not in our honor, for our start was very inauspicious,
but the unintentional salutations were timely."
Sevareid and Port proceeded up the Red River, across Lake Winnipeg, and
through the Canadian wilderness. They encountered innumerable hardships,
both physical and mental, and forged friendships with traders and natives
along the way. "Canoeing with the Cree" relates numerous adventures-some
of which were nearly lethal. Were it not for the Cree Indians in northern
Manitoba, the two would have been hopelessly lost. Tired, ragged, and
hungry, the duo finally paddled onto the waters of Hudson Bay at York
Foster, inspired by the tale, called Miller the next day. He told his
friend of his discovery, and suggested they retrace the trip.
At first, Miller thought this was just another of Foster's crazy ideas,
but soon realized his friend was serious. So Miller postponed his job
hunt, signed up for another summer at Many Point, and began trip preparations.
While researching trip history, it occurred to Foster that the summer
of 2005 would mark the 75th anniversary of the original journey. They
began a hunt for sponsors, and Kevin Carr of Chosen Valley Canoe Accessories
contacted them after seeing an article in The St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The We-no-nah Canoe Company followed, donating an 18-foot kevlar Champlain.
Bending Branches Canoe Paddles and Cooke Custom Sewing are amongst the
others who have contributed..
Miller did additional research on each of the "chapters" of
their journey: the Minnesota River, the Red River, Lake Winnipeg, and
the sub-arctic wilderness rivers. His research included current environmental
issues, geological history, and the history of Native Americans and European
settlers in those areas. Part of their objective is to stop and talk about
the people and the land through which their expedition will travel.
Foster, weighing the factors of each chapter, is certain that the last
will be their strongest. The Minnesota will be an up-river battle; the
Red will be a long and tedious excursion; and Lake Winnipeg, by far the
biggest challenge, may prove to be a wind and wave-filled nightmare. The
fourth chapter is the 400 miles of wilderness rivers from Lake Winnipeg
to the bay. Besides the remoteness, the biggest challenge is the many
rapids. To prepare for these Miller and Foster took the MCA's 7 day whitewater
The two say the skills they learned there were fantastic not just for
rapids but for their paddling in general.
Foster and Miller have garnered the support of many, including the families
of both Sevareid and Port. And, while the expedition doesn't dip its paddles
until May 2005, the duo still has months of planning to do. The two have
a website full of information on their trip and trip planning, and they
expect to post journal accounts of the trip as they go along. The website
is www.hudsonbayexpedition.com As the three of us finish our meal, I take
a moment to observe these two. Their close friendship is made obvious
by the way each elaborates on the other's stories, and by the exchange
of looks over the lunch check. Chance couldn't have chosen a better duo
to undertake this expedition. For a second I almost forget I'm not sitting
across the booth from Sevareid and Port themselves. But then I correct
myself. These are Todd Foster and Scott Miller, about to continue a legacy
75 years in the making.