Canoeists to tackle journalist's 1930 journey
Free Press Staff Writer
By Tim Krohn
Todd Foster and Scott Miller hope their canoe trip past Mankato goes
better than it did for the young Eric Sevareid 75 years ago.
Todd Foster and Scott Miller have been on several long canoe trips, but
nothing like the 2,250-mile journey they are planning for this summer in
an attempt to follow the trip made by Eric Sevareid 75 years ago.
Sevareid, one of Americas best-known journalists, recounted in
his book how he and his friends 2,250-mile river voyage nearly ended
early on as they approached a bridge in Mankato.
The river narrowed to a small channel through which the water poured
with a foaming rush. Recklessly we decided to attempt to pole the canoe
up through the channel ... That was our mistake, wrote Sevareid
in Canoeing with the Cree.
Their canvas and wood canoe was battered by a concrete bridge pier, but
Sevareid and Walter C. Port got past Mankato and arrived months later
at Hudson Bay.
Foster, of St. Cloud, and Miller, of St. Paul, will set their canoe in
the Minnesota River this spring to retrace the trip made by the 17-year-old
Sevareid in 1930. The idea was planted when Foster ran across Sevareids
book last summer.
I read it and said, Wow. I told Scott he should read
it and we should do this trip.
The two will start at Fort Snelling on the Mississippi, canoe up the
Minnesota River, go north down the Red River to Lake Winnipeg, and then
through a series of rivers and lakes in Canada to their final destination
of York Factory, a former fur-trading post on Hudson Bay.
They will leave in early May and hope to finish the trip by late August,
about 110 days later.
Sevareid and Port were the first, and among only a handful of people
since, to make the journey from the Mississippi to Hudson Bay entirely
by water. (See related story.)
Foster and Miller are avid outdoorsmen who know each other through work
at a winter Boy Scout camp in northern Minnesota. Committing to a long
summer of canoeing, and the related loss of income, was not easy.
Were both 28 and should be settling down and have real 9-5
jobs, Foster said.
Miller, who is single, is a substitute teacher and camp director. Foster
is married and an emergency medical technician in St. Cloud.
The trip, coinciding with the anniversary of Sevareids trip, quickly
grew into a bigger endeavor that is drawing media attention. The men created
a Web site www.hudsonbayexpedition.com where they are promoting
the trip and will provide journal and photo updates during the voyage.
Sponsorships have come in to cover some of the costs of equipment and
They will use a 45-pound Weenonah brand canoe made of lightweight Kevlar.
A laptop computer, a solar panel for battery-charging, and a satellite
phone will allow them to update their Web page every few days of the trip.
Although experienced canoeists, theyve never attempted a trip nearly
this long. They took a weeklong class on whitewater canoeing in preparation
for some of the faster rapids on the Canadian end of the trip.
The start of the trip, paddling against the current of the 332-mile-long
Minnesota River, will be slow going. Well average 12 to 17
miles a day going upstream. On the Red River and Lake Winnipeg and the
last dash to the bay, well make anywhere from 25 to 45 miles a day,
Miller said the last half of the trip, in the remote Canadian wilderness,
will be the most dangerous, But the thing with the Minnesota (River)
is well be going upstream. Its a formidable physical challenge.
The two have been conditioning for the trip through weightlifting, running
They expect to spend about 26 days to get up the Minnesota River.
If there is spring flooding that prevents them from making progress up
the Minnesota, they will delay the start a couple of weeks.
Were leaving early in the spring so we have some extra time
built in, Foster said.
They also want to leave earlier than Sevareid and Port did to avoid another
problem. Sevareid left on June 16 and they ran into things freezing
up when they got to Hudson Bay.
The pair hope to spend a day or so in Mankato (mid May), Fargo, and Grand
Forks. They are coordinating with local canoeing groups to line up some
type of public event at the three cities.
Remote and wild
Miller said the trip from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay will be the most
Lake Winnipeg, up to 30 miles wide and 300 miles long, is remote and
whips up storms quickly.
The big problem there is rock jetties that go out a half mile or
more from shore, Miller said. When waves come up, the treacherous
rocks are hard to see.
Thats almost what did Sevareid in. They almost crashed into
the rocks, but a big wave carried them over. It would have been the end
of their trip, or worse.
You have to know when to wait it out on shore, maybe for a few
days, until its calm. But even then, the waves can come up in an
instant, Miller said.
The area from Lake Winnipeg to York Factory is even more remote. Besides
a few Cree Indian villages and fishing camps, there are few people or
Their final destination, York Factory, a Canadian national historic site,
still contains the 171-year-old fur processing building. Its the
largest wooden structure in Canada built on permafrost (permanently frozen
ground). The only way in or out is by canoe or bush plane.
A few Canadian park officials and Cree Indians live around York Factory.
The park rangers cabins are all covered with barbed-wire to
keep the polar bears out, Miller said.
Once they get to York Factory, they will fly to a rail line and take
the train back to Winnipeg.
Miller admits he thinks about all that could go wrong: storms, rapids,
breaking an ankle. But he says he and Foster have no second thoughts.
Its like a Huck Finn adventure. Im completely excited
For more information on their trip, visit www.hudsonbayexpedition.com