Friday, August 23, 2019
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After a tough trip, Minnesota canoeists near their goal
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This map of the 2,200-mile canoe trip is in Eric Sevareid's book, "Canoeing with the Cree." Two Minnesota adventurers hope to complete the same route by the end of August. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
Three months ago, two Minnesota men took off on the summer trip of a lifetime. Their goal was to retrace a 2,200-mile canoe trip to Hudson Bay which was originally made by broadcast journalist Eric Sevareid and friend Walter Port, when they were teenagers. Sevareid later recalled the journey in his book "Canoeing with the Cree." The adventurers have nearly reached the end of their trip. But they say it's been more of a challenge than they imagined.

Collegeville, Minn. — On May 1, 2005, in a spring snowstorm, Todd Foster and Scott Miller launched their canoe from St. Cloud. They planned the trip for two years, ever since Foster read "Canoeing with the Cree."

They set off in good spirits, but that same day they tipped their canoe in the Sauk River. The challenges continued on the Mississippi River. High water made for a tough trip into the Twin Cities. And then fierce current took them by surprise when they turned a corner and headed upstream on the flooding Minnesota River.

"It was tougher than anticipated, and it was getting tougher day by day," Foster said.

The effort started to wear on Foster's wrists. He says his wrists were numb each morning, and after a few hours of paddling, excruciating pain shot up both his arms. When a doctor in Granite Falls said he was developing carpal tunnel syndrome, Foster says he knew he couldn't continue.

"Making that decision to quit was just gut-wrenching. I really didn't want to, but I also didn't want to sacrifice the health of my wrists for the rest of my life," Foster said.

Foster is now the expedition's manager. It's a job he does from a remote location on dry land, while working at a Boy Scout camp in northern Minnesota.

The trip didn't end when Foster left the water. Scott Miller continued paddling, along with a new canoemate. Matt Lutz, a friend of the two, jumped in to fill the empty spot in July. When Lutz first heard about the trip, he told the two he'd be waiting in the wings.

"I would tell these guys, 'You know, if one of you dies, or gets injured, I get your spot,' half-joking and half-serious," Lutz said.

Lutz is interested in the historical aspects of this journey, although he just read "Canoeing with the Cree" a few weeks ago. Lutz and Miller paddle for 10 to 12 hours a day. While the early days were against the current, now they're mostly going downstream, and able to travel 30 to 50 miles a day. It's been exhausting work. But Lutz says that's part of the fun.

"I've never regretted that decision one bit. I'm happy every day I'm here. This is the biggest adventure I've ever been on in my life," Lutz said. Paddling with a new partner has been an adjustment for Scott Miller. Miller is also suffering from wrist pain now, but nothing that will pull him from the canoe.

Miller says the trip started out as just an adventure. But now he sees himself as surveyor of the geology and cultures along the rivers and lakes he's paddling.

"The depth and well-roundedness to the trip has been a pleasant surprise. There's so many different things to engage with every day," said Miller. "Besides the beautiful scenery and the rhythm of paddling, there's also meeting new people and seeing the wildlife and learning about local culture. It's all a lot of fun."

In early August, Miller and Lutz were able to take a one-day break at Norway House, a Cree Indian community in Manitoba, about 1,000 miles north of the Twin Cities.

Their goal is another 400 miles downstream -- York Factory on Hudson Bay. Now they face a tight deadline. They need to finish the trip by the end of August because Matt Lutz needs to get back to college.

Scott Miller says barring equipment problems or injury, they should be able to reach Hudson Bay by Aug. 25, which just happens to be Miller's 30th birthday.