Pals keep paddling

    Mike Nowatzki

    The Forum - 05/20/2008

    Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte are trying to make history by moonlight.

    If the stars align for the friends from Chaska, Minn., they said they could complete their epic
    canoe trip to Hudson Bay in 50 days – a little more than half the time it took famed journalist Eric
    Sevareid and friend Walter Port to make their legendary 2,250-mile trip from Fort Snelling, Minn.,
    to York Factory, Man., in 1930.

    Bloomfield and Witte stopped at Fargo’s Midtown Dam around noon Monday for burgers and
    fries under overcast skies and sprinkles.

    It was their second day of round-the-clock travel, taking turns sleeping and rowing in 12-hour

    Bloomfield, who paddled the 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift, said the moonlit river “kind of plays with your
    head a little.

    “You’ll see animals’ shadows, and you’ll hear things on the side of the river,” he said. “And you’ll
    look and you’ll see a tree overhanging and try not to run into that. And sometimes you see
    things, like bends in the river, that aren’t there.”

    Mind games aside, the 18-year-olds are far from novices on the water. Their fathers have been
    taking them to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters since the fourth grade.

    In the seventh grade, they read “Canoeing With the Cree,” Sevareid’s coming-of-age memoir in
    which he chronicled his 98-day voyage.

    Bloomfield and Witte have since read the book several more times, and after 10th grade they
    paddled 150 miles down the St. Croix River.

    Last summer, they canoed about 400 miles from Lake of the Woods to Lake Superior, “just
    gradually preparing” for the big trip, Witte said. They completed their required high school
    courses in late March.

    On April 28, their canoe – proclaiming “GO BIG OR GO HOME” in black lettering on the side – hit
    the Minnesota River in downtown Chaska.

    The start didn’t go smoothly. Witte got sick and was unable to keep food down for a few days,
    and a lightning storm forced them to spend an extra day in New Ulm, Minn.

    All the while, they paddled against the strong current of the swollen Minnesota River – which
    made the north-flowing Red River a welcome change.

    They’re now averaging 4 mph, compared to 2 mph against the current, Witte said.

    “It’s really nice having the current with us,” he said. “On the Minnesota, you fought for every inch.
    You stopped, you’d go backwards. And if you didn’t go hard, you wouldn’t go anywhere.”

    Getting from the Minnesota River to the Bois de Sioux River required carrying the canoe on dry
    land, or portaging, around about a dozen dams, Witte said.

    When it was getting late one night between Big Stone Lake and Lake Traverse, they accepted a
    ride from a passer-by into Browns Valley, Minn., Witte said – quickly adding that Sevareid and
    Port also took a truck through the city.

    “So, we didn’t think it was cheating too much,” he said.

    Monday was Day 22 of the Bloomitte Expedition, as the teens have dubbed their trek.

    Their health has held up for the most part. Witte suffered a swollen tendon in his wrist, but it went
    away. The skin over their knuckles occasionally cracks and bleeds, dried out by the river mud.

    Friends since Witte moved three houses down from Bloomfield in the first grade, they said they
    aren’t sick of each other’s company – yet.

    “The more trips we do, the longer it takes to actually start arguing,” Bloomfield said.

    If all goes well, they hope to arrive Saturday night at Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. Their parents
    will meet them to replenish supplies and switch canoes to a heavier, slower model better suited
    for the big waves of Lake Winnipeg and the rapids of the Hayes River, which they hope will be ice-
    free by the time they get there.

    “And then, we’ll be on our own basically,” Witte said.

    Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528
Eighteen year olds Colton Witte, front, and Sean Bloomfield, both of Chaska,
Minn., arrive Monday at the mid-town dam between Fargo and Moorhead on their
journey from Chaska to Hudson Bay by canoe. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo