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The Adventures of Monty

Two men to try to duplicate 1930 canoe trip to Hudson Bay

By Tom Cherveny Staff Writer

ST. CLOUD — In Minnesota, a world-class, outdoor adventure is never farther away than a short portage to the river.

Eric Sevareid and Walter Port proved it in 1930, when they launched their canoe near Fort Snelling and paddled for 14 weeks and 2,250 miles to reach the arctic waters of Hudson Bay.

Exactly 75 years later, Scott Miller, 29, of St. Paul, and Todd Foster, 28, of St. Cloud, are poised to prove the point anew. They intend to live the same sort of adventure that the late Sevareid of CBS News fame told the world about in his 1935 book, “Canoeing with the Cree.’’

On May 1, 2005, Miller and Foster will launch their 18-foot Wenonah Champlain canoe in the Sauk River that runs along Foster’s back yard. They will paddle to Fort Snelling and join a launching party in their honor on May 7 before turning their canoe upstream and beginning their own odyssey to Hudson Bay.

“Adventure is still there to be had,’’ said Miller.

So are polar bears, whitewaters that can snap a canoe like a pretzel, and winds that could pin them down for days at a time.

To reach Hudson Bay, they must churn their way against the current for 335 miles on the Minnesota River. They will ride the flow on the meandering, mud-lined banks of the Red River of the North for another 550 miles to reach Lake Winnipeg.

And then the really tough stuff starts. They must cross over 300 miles of open, wind swept waters along the east shores of Lake Winnipeg to reach its northernmost point. From there, they must navigate a series of foaming white water rivers with rocks waiting to split their canoe like kindling wood.

If they are successful, the God’s River will lead them to York Factory on Hudson Bay and the lands where polar bears roam.

Sevareid and Port are said to have made their trip on sheer determination alone.

“It just amazes me,’’ said Foster.

Foster and Miller will have some advantages over Sevareid and Port. The modern day explorers will carry a satellite telephone and a Global Positioning System device.

They will have the luxuries of modern gear, like Gore-Tech
• raingear, a portable shortwave radio, and a lightweight mountaineering tent. The tent should prove far drier and roomier than the canvas pup tent that Sevareid vowed he would never sleep under again.

They also start their trip with more camping and paddling experience than did Sevareid or Port. Miller and Foster have been friends since they met 10 years ago at Many Points Boy Scouts camp near Detroit Lakes, where they worked. They currently lead Scouts on weekend camping expeditions at North Wind Winter Scout Camp near Annandale.

They’ve enjoyed wilderness camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. Foster is a nationally certified emergency management technician with lots of experience on ambulance duty.

But none of this mattered so much as a book.

Foster proposed this trip about 1½ years ago after coming across a copy of “Canoeing with the Cree’’ by chance at a bookstore. He read Sevareid’s account “cover to cover’’ that very night.

“It sounded like another of Foster’s crazy ideas,’’ said Miller of his first reaction to his friend’s proposal.

“But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea,’’ he said.

The two friends committed themselves to the trip. They would have started it last year except for one thing. They realized that this year would mark the 75th anniversary of the original trip. What better time to do it, they realized, and what better opportunity to pick up sponsorships?

Their proposal has already attracted newspaper attention around the state and some important sponsorships. Sevareid and Port managed to wrangle $100 from the Minneapolis newspaper in exchange for news reports they sent the paper during the trip.

Sponsors have helped Foster and Miller outfit their trip, providing goods like Cache Bay Lake Foods to the Wenonah canoe that will carry them.

Their pursuit has created opportunities they never anticipated. They’ve spoken to students at St. Olaf College and Climax High School along the Red River about their plans. They’ve also had the opportunity to meet descendants of the Sevareid and Port families.

They’ve created their own web page www.hudsonbayexpedition.com about the trip. They will carry a laptop computer on their trip and periodically update the web page so that people can follow their progress. They are planning to report on how the waterways and the lives of the people along the way have changed since Sevareid and Port first made this journey.

Miller and Foster said they hope to use the trip as an opportunity to introduce people to the adventure that comes with exploring the outdoors.

They are eager to promote Minnesota’s rivers as portals to adventure.

And, they are looking forward on their own to discovering the Minnesota River and the waterways that follow.

Of course, they want to know all they can about the challenges they will face. They’ve discovered that there have been many people through the years who have attempted this journey, only to give up on the way.

The last two men believed to have made the route are Judd Hoff, originally of Forada, and Steve Morgan, originally of Brookings, S.D. They made the trip in 1993 after having an opportunity to meet with Walter Port before his death in 1994. (Sevareid died in 1992.)

While reaching the arctic waters of Hudson Bay will be a grueling challenge, Foster and Miller point out that the trip is only part of the sacrifice. They’ve had to arrange their personal lives just for the opportunity.

Foster quit his full time job in St. Cloud. Both he and Miller otherwise work only seasonal jobs in Scouting so they are free to pursue their adventures.

Sponsorships will help lessen the costs of the trip, but they don’t pay the bills back home. Miller is single and has a place to maintain. He said his parents were less than excited when he announced his plans to make the trip, but they have warmed up to it after reading recent news accounts.

Foster is married and a father to two girls, ages seven and three. His wife, Molly, has been supportive. “You’ve got to go, it’s a chance of a lifetime,’’ he said she told him.

They expect it will take them 109 days to reach York Factory on Hudson Bay, which includes some lay over days for rest. Their daily progress will range from 15 to 30 miles of paddling a day.

Once at York Factory, they plan to fly to Churchill before hopping aboard the Polar Express for a train ride home, just like Sevareid and Port did.

And just like the two who led the way, Miller and Foster intend to write a book about their adventure once they return home.

After their 1930 trip, Sevareid became a correspondent for CBS News and won fame as a combat reporter in World War II and later, in television news.

Port made his home in Bemidji, where he operated the photography department at a local drug store and served as a fishing guide.

Foster said he can’t help but believe that completing the trip in 1930 gave Sevareid, a native of Velva, N.D., the confidence to set his goals in life.

“I’ve got to think it had to be a driving influence on the rest of his life,’’ he said.


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