DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — With 70,000 students tethered to them through the Internet, four northern Minnesota adventurers recently completed a 900-mile dogsled trip in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
Dave and Amy Freeman of Grand Marais, along with Van Conrad and Ellen Root of Ely, traveled from Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake, arriving April 12.
But for the Freemans, that was just the third stage of their 11,647-mile North American Odyssey, a three-year endeavor that began in 2010. Traveling by kayak, canoe, dogsled and backpacking, the couple started in Seattle a year ago and plan to finish in Key West, Fla., in 2013.
Each day along the trail, Dave and Amy send updates, photos and occasional worksheet questions to students in classrooms around North America and the world. They work through a nonprofit company called the Wilderness Classroom that Dave Freeman and Eric Frost of Tofte founded.
“To be honest, if we weren’t doing that, I don’t think we would be doing what we’re doing,” said Freeman, 34. “I’d be questioning myself about what’s the real purpose of this if we weren’t sharing it with a larger audience.”
The Freemans, who have been married for just over a year, finance the expedition three ways. They write and receive grants to fund their nonprofit. They make presentations at schools. And they receive in-kind donations of equipment from outdoor gear-makers.
The dogsledding portion of the trip went well, said Amy Freeman, 28. Traveling with two teams of six dogs, the team encountered wolves, caribou and a wolverine. They endured temperatures down to 50 below zero, sleeping nearly every night in a woodstove-heated tent.
Amy laughs at Dave’s reaction to all of the new country they have explored.
“Every new place we enter,” she said, “Dave looks around and says, `This is beautiful country’ — the coast of British Columbia, Alaska. Everywhere we go, we could see ourselves spending more time.”
Conrad found the expedition life satisfying.
“It’s just so simple,” he said. “So simple and so quiet. … It’s really a privilege to get to travel in such a simple way.”
The Freemans’ North American Odyssey began with a 1,400-mile kayaking segment on the Pacific Ocean from Seattle to Skagway, Alaska. Then the Freemans paddled canoes and hiked 1,747 miles from Skagway to Inuvik, NWT. In February, they were joined by Conrad and Root for the dogsledding portion.
Neither of the Freemans are teachers by training. Amy has a master’s degree in art therapy. Dave has a bachelor’s degree in biology and anthropology. Working with the kids motivates them.
“On this last stage, in a windstorm, we were stuck in camp for three days, the dogs getting blown over with snow,” Amy said. “We were able to read emails from one whole class. We sat down and answered those. It kind of helped me feel encouraged to keep on going.”
Dave Freeman handles the North American Odyssey’s logistics, often working a year ahead to make sure kayaks or canoes are delivered to where they’ll be needed. His zeal for wilderness travel was kindled in the seventh grade, growing up in the Chicago area.
“We came up to the Boundary Waters in the summer after seventh grade,” he said. “We went on a canoe trip to Alton Lake out of Sawbill. It just blew me away. It really sparked my interest in wilderness and this type of travel. It spiraled out of control from there.”
He began working at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at age 17 in 1994 and still guides trips there if he’s home during the summer.
After a month or so at home, the Freemans will drive back to Fort Resolution and begin canoeing — upstream much of the time — back to Grand Portage. Just another 2,700-mile hitch on the trail, bringing the wilderness into the classroom.
From there, it’s on to Key West.
By SAM COOK
Duluth News Tribune
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