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The Adventures of Monty

Legendary river trip pulls friends into journey

Dennis McCann

They were mere boys when the idea was posed, and good for that because grown men paled at the challenge.

Paddle a used canoe from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay, 2,250 miles from civilization - at least as civilized as Minneapolis was in 1930 when this story began - to the wilderness of Hudson Bay? It was preposterous on its face, given the lack of radio or motors or even maps for large sections of the route. They were teenagers, unseasoned and unfunded. Didn't they know that no one had ever accomplished the trek?

Ah, youth. When Walter Port approached his pal Eric Sevareid (yes, that Eric Sevareid) at the end of their senior year of high school, any hardships that might lurk in the rapids and wilds ahead were washed away by the enormous prospect of adventure.

"We would paddle a canoe up the Minnesota River from Minneapolis, our home, to Big Stone Lake, on the South Dakota line, into the Red River of the North, down that river into Canada and Lake Winnipeg, up the east short of the lake to Norway House and, at that point, attempt a hazardous wilderness jump of five hundred miles to the bay," Sevareid wrote later in "Canoeing with the Cree," his account of the trip. "It would be the first time an all-water trip had ever been made from Minnesota to the North Atlantic ocean.

"Marvelous! It sounded so simple then."

Classic adventure tale
They hadn't even made it out of Minnesota before grown-ups offered their own assessments.

"Are you the two (deleted) fools from Minneapolis?" a man shouted from a bridge.

Sevareid, who went on to gain fame as a CBS news correspondent, answered in the negative in 1935 when he published "Canoeing with the Cree." It remains a classic adventure story 75 years after that teenage trip it describes.

And still it inspires. In 2003, a Minnesota EMT named Todd Foster picked up a copy, read it and called his friend Scott Miller to say, "You should read this book, and we should do this trip."

Miller, a part-time camp director, was old enough to be scared at the prospect of a 110-day canoe trip, but young enough to set that aside in favor of adventure.

"I mean, let's be honest, your mom and my mom and really no one's mom goes around encouraging such reckless behavior, such wanton disregard for the American dream of 'getting a real job' and living a life of happy security and comfort," he wrote in his online log.

"Fortunately for me, my mother had given up on me a while ago."

Equipment and sponsors

So yes, he was going. For the next year and a half they planned and prepared. Next Sunday, when they begin their 110-day re-creation of that 1930 adventure, Miller and Foster (who is married with children) will be older than those first teenage adventurers, much better equipped and far more aware of the perils and pleasures ahead.

While Port and Sevareid kept in touch with the world through occasional notes or stories they sold to a Twin Cities newspaper, Miller and Foster will have friends, family and strangers following their trek on the Internet and carry a satellite telephone for emergencies. And they have a host of sponsors who have given them money and equipment.

But they are well aware that others may not understand, that someone may shout at them from a bridge along the route and wonder if they are just the latest (deleted) fools from Minneapolis.

Maybe. What of it? As Sevareid also mused in "Canoeing with the Cree": "It was queer that so many people saw only the hardships and discomforts of our trip. No one seemed to realize what great sport it was."

Ready for launch

This isn't to say that Sevareid's book will hypnotize everyone who reads and enjoys it. After a reader alerted me to the upcoming trip, I picked up a special 75th anniversary edition of "Canoeing with the Cree" (Borealis Books, $12.95) and was wrapped up in the challenge - though not so motivated as to trade my armchair for a two-seater canoe. But I appreciate their determination and wish them well.

Their plan is to depart May 1 from Foster's backyard, which abuts the Sauk River in St. Cloud. Their official launch party will come May 7 at Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul, the very place where Port and Sevareid also launched their canoe in 1930. The departure from the original route was due to Foster's wish to literally paddle to Hudson Bay from his backyard, Miller said, "and I couldn't begrudge him that."

After that they will enter the Minnesota River and begin the first of what Miller calls the "four chapters" of the test. From the Minnesota River they will move on to the Red River, to Lake Winnipeg and finally to the Wilderness Rivers (the Echimamish, Gods and Hayes) beyond. Their schedule calls for them to reach York Factory on Hudson Bay about Aug. 16 "barring any unforeseen delays."

They should probably expect some. Port and Sevareid raced to reach York Factory ahead of the early freeze-up of September and barely made it, and Miller acknowledges that even with their better equipment they will be following a route that at its northernmost stretches is sill remote, undeveloped and very isolated.

Coming to blows

Miller and Foster, friends for a decade, have made many canoe trips in northern Minnesota and into Ontario through the years. They have also worked together at various scout camps and, Miller said, can both communicate and work together. Still, I said, Port and Sevareid were also good friends who were so tested by the mental stress and physical difficulty of their trek that they began bickering and, at one point, came to blows.

"We don't expect to come to blows," Miller said by e-mail. "If we do, I'm in trouble, 'cause Todd's a lot bigger and stronger than me. (Though I am faster, which may help if we run into a polar bear)."

They won't be the first to attempt to re-create the Port-Sevareid journey, though not all who have tried to replicate it have succeeded. If they do, their reward will be a feeling of immense satisfaction and, again from

"Canoeing with the Cree," experiences we who sit in armchairs can only read about in books.

"I cannot imagine how a lake can be more thrillingly beautiful than God's Lake," Sevareid wrote about a region south of Hudson Bay. "No wonder that name - God's country, indeed. Such sights as this are reserved for those who will suffer to behold them."

For more on this summer's trip, or to follow their progress as Miller and Foster paddle on, visit www. hudsonbayexpedition.com .

E-mail dmccann@journalsentinel.com.

Send us an email at paddlers@hudsonbayexpedition.com
Hudson Bay Expedition
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