Record-setting canoeist talks about river

NEW ULM – One of two women who were the first women to paddle canoes from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay two years ago, gave a riveting account of the 85-day, 2,000 mile trip from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay at the Minnesota River Banquet Saturday at Lola’s Larkspur Market.

Outdoors enthusiast and musician Natalie Warren, who made the trip with fellow St. Olaf College graduate Ann Raiho, said the women had no job offers after college during the state government shutdown, so they decided to follow journalist Eric Sevareid’s route detailed in his book “Canoeing With the Cree.”

“After months of training, I appreciated every leaf on every tree along the river,” Warren said. “It was nature and the people along the way that brought us cup cakes, took us in their homes and told us life stories.”

Warren said it was the people in shrinking small towns along the way that kept her going at a 1.5 mph pace.

“People told us it used to take many people to run a farm. Now many young people move to lives in big cities,” Warren said.

As they approached Winnipeg, Warren and Raiho paddled all night, covering 100 miles in 28 hours in an effort to get to the city where they met her parents and enjoyed a warm, hotel room and the food they missed for the past few months.

A 12-gauge shotgun carried along for defense against polar bears, kept them from crossing the Canadian border quickly.

“We were advised not to cross Lake Winnipeg, but it was flat until we got to the north end of it,” Warren said.

Windbound for three days, they paddled at night to avoid high winds. A big, bull moose and black bear kept them company on shore.

“At Norway House, a small town on the north end of Lake Winnipeg, where milk cost $10 a gallon, we were told to get a dog to help us finish the trip,” Warren said. “We quickly found a stray female part-wolf dog that finished the trip with us. It was afraid of water, slept during the day and hunted at night, bringing us a beaver head one morning.”

Norway House is a rural community of approximately 5,000-6,000 people 19 miles north of Lake Winnipeg, on the bank of the eastern channel of Nelson River, in the province of Manitoba, Canada. The community shares the name Norway House with the Norway House Cree Nation Indian Reserve (Kinosao Sipi Cree Nation).

The community is located 283 miles by air north of Winnipeg. To drive from Winnipeg it is about 500 miles. Major economic activities include commercial fishing, trapping, logging and government services. Seasonal unemployment varies, with peaks as high as 70%.

Nearing York Factory, at the end of the trip, the women were escorted by black bears and wolf packs staring at them from shore.

“Without fruit and vegetables the last three weeks, we only had processed food to eat, but endurance and longevity were our strengths,” Warren said. “After paddling in 15 hours of sunlight, we built a fire to fight the cold each night before crawling into our sleeping bags and zipping up our tent. On the edge of insanity, you appreciate things like seeing a woodland caribou swimming across a river in this beautiful but desolate land.”

There was no party or trophy for them at the end of the trip. Just some stairs leading from the water to a former boat factory.

“Caretakers there said it was good we got there when we did because they were going to leave for the season the next day,” Warren said. “Had they left before we got there, we would have had to call for help to get our seaplane ride out of there.”

Warren and Raiho founded Wild River Academy after their canoe trip. They organize Minnesota River canoe trips from Montevideo to New Ulm for needy students who interact with environmental groups, community members, Dakota, farmers and State Park Rangers.

Dennis Frederickson, director at the New Ulm regional Department of Natural Resources (DNR) office, said paperwork was recently completed applying for the Minnesota River to become the third river in the country to receive National Blueway designation. The award calls for federal agencies to cooperative with other organizations without adding new regulations or infringing on private property, Frederickson said.

Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River (CCMR) Executive Director Scott Sparlin said the 2013 Riverblast at Riverside Park will feature Mankato and Eau Claire, Wis. blues bands on Friday, Aug. 30. The Bockfest Boys, blues and boogie woogie rock and roll bands will be featured the following day.

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