Kayaker prepares for 1,600-mile trip from St. Paul to Hudson’s Bay – Reuters
GRAND FORKS — Shortly after the snow melts, Madison Eklund plans to embark on a 1,600-mile solo journey through raging currents, where she’ll brave the elements and possibly come face-to-face with polar bears.
Eklund, 26, a postal worker, takes four months off to take her 17-foot-long kayak on a trip few others have taken. It will begin on the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling State Park in the Twin Cities. It will follow this to Ortonville, Minnesota, on the South Dakota border, crossing lakes and the Bois De Sioux River to reach the Red River.
It will then travel up the Red River and cross the Canadian border, ending hundreds of miles downstream at York Factory, a remote and historic building once owned by the Hudson Bay Trading Company.
“It looks like it would be a really fun adventure,” she said.
The route follows the historic journey of Eric Sevareid and Walter Port, chronicled in a novel called ‘Canoeing with the Cree’, she said. She estimates that less than 10 people completed the trip, and none of them did it alone.
“I love the outdoors. From a personal perspective, it helps with mental health and keeping depression at bay. For me, it’s all about mental health,” said Eklund, who moved to Grand Forks from upstate New York to be with her husband.
But the trip won’t just be for fun. She also collects water samples along the way for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.
“I contacted them and I have a certain interest in environmental conservation. This will be my first time taking water samples, so they will get someone to come and walk me through how to do it,” Eklund said. “We hope to further promote the conservation of our local waterways and engage the community in the science and history of the area.”
Eklund contacted the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality two years ago, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, said Aaron Larsen, manager of the watershed management program at the division. of water quality.
Decisions on how much water it will collect and from where have yet to be decided, Larsen said.
“(The) overarching goal is an opportunity not only for us to raise awareness about the river, but also an opportunity for us to coordinate with citizen scientists,” Larsen said.
The state Department of Environmental Quality will most likely check nutrient and suspended sediment samples, Larsen said.
Eklund said that even if she went to the gym, there was no way to prepare the body for such a journey.
“I’m still going to hurt; it will be tough the first two weeks,” she said, adding that for the first 340 miles she will be paddling against the tide.
“Here in Grand Forks and Fargo, you have this awesome river, and people are scared of it. They think it’s dirty or dangerous, and sometimes it can be, but it’s a great source of recreation,” she said.
Along with battling the current along the first leg, she’ll face rapids in northern Manitoba and possibly severe thunderstorms on shallow Lake Winnipeg.
“The danger out there is lightning and choppy waves and being windblown where the wind is so aggressive you can’t paddle fast enough,” Eklund said.
The trip should take her three months, but she plans four. If she encounters danger or needs help, an SOS beacon on her GPS satellite phone can alert the relevant authorities, she said.
Eklund’s campsites are being mapped, and due to an autoimmune issue, she will be mailing supplies to herself as she passes through towns.
“There are polar bears in the last section. There are also grizzly bears, but I hear they are extremely rare. I will go very quickly to the end. I’ll have bear spray with me. My dad wants me to bring a gun, but there are a lot of problems with that,” she said, adding that stowing a gun in a kayak is not the best idea.
“Bears can swim, bears can climb trees. You’re supposed to make yourself big, mean, and scary and be loud and scare the black bears away. With grizzlies, you have to defend yourself, but protect your head and neck. Polar bears are a little tougher and I don’t expect to see one.
“But never run away from a bear,” she said.
When she gets to York Factory, she will have to call a plane from her satellite phone to pick her up, she said, which could cost up to $3,000. There are no roads leading into the area.
In addition to the state environmental department, Eklund reached out to other local and outdoor agencies for help. She also hosts a fundraiser through which people can pre-order locally printed t-shirts and sweatshirts.