Paddlers keep a sprinter’s pace on their adventure to Arctic

    By Tom Cherveny, West Central Tribune

    Published Tuesday, May 13, 2008

    Eric Sevareid and Walter Port were the first to paddle the 2,250 miles from Fort Snelling to
    Hudson Bay for the sheer adventure of it. Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte aim to be the
    fastest to do it.

    Bloomfield and Witte, two 18-year-olds from Chaska, reached Granite Falls on Saturday after 13
    days of paddling against a strong, spring current on the Minnesota River. The two enjoyed their
    first layover day on Sunday in Granite Falls, where they visited with their families and friends
    before returning to the river Monday morning.

    They expect to cover 45 miles of river and pitch their two-person backpacker’s tent on the
    shores of Lac qui Parle Lake by this evening.

    Colton Witte, left, and Sean Bloomfield are hoping to make the 2,250-mile paddle from Fort Snelling on the
    Minnesota River to York Factory on Hudson Bay in 70 days. They left Granite Falls on Monday morning after a
    one-day layover and chance to visit with family and friends. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

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    They’d like to make the entire trip to York Factory on Hudson Bay in 70 days, as compared to
    the 98 days Sevareid chronicled in his 1930 adventure, “Canoeing with the Cree.’’

    The two finished their studies six weeks early to graduate from Chaska High School and launch
    their trip amidst snow flurries on April 28.

    They knew what they were in for: Their parents had introduced them to wilderness camping and
    canoeing when they were small. As sixth-graders, they had made their first overnight camping
    expedition on their own.

    It has only taken off from there.

    Two years ago they paddled from the headwaters of the St. Croix River to the Mississippi River
    and arrived five days earlier than anyone expected.

    Last year they allowed themselves 17 days to cover the Voyageur’s Route along the
    international border from the Lake of the Woods to Lake Superior. They did not omit the
    challenge of the nine-mile-long Grande Portage along the Pigeon River either, and did the route
    in only 12 days.

    “Our trips keep getting more extravagant,’’ said Witte, laughing.

    He’s talking about the distance they cover, not their lifestyle on the go. Their diet consists mainly
    of pancakes smothered with peanut butter, tortillas wrapped around canned chicken or peanut
    butter, and lots and lots of Rice-a-Roni.

    They are on the water by 8 a.m. each morning, stop for lunch, and paddle until around 7 or 8 p.
    m. to make camp before dark. They’ve been managing 25 river miles a day against the current.

    They hope to pick up the pace when they reach the Red River, which will carry them north to
    Lake Winnipeg. They are planning to alternate paddling at night so that one can sleep while the
    other keeps their Bell “North Bay’’ canoe on the go.

    They remain motivated, despite an early bout with food poisoning and dehydration that brought
    Witte to the emergency room in St. Peter one night.

    They’ve also battled strong head winds, rising waters and everything from thunderstorms and
    lightning that delayed them in New Ulm to sleet, hail and hand-numbing cold.

    They’ve been disappointed by the pollution they’ve found in the Minnesota River, especially its
    lower reaches. Witte suffered a rash and blisters on one arm from contact with the water.

    Everywhere, they’ve been overwhelmed by the attention and generosity they’ve been receiving.

    Prior to their trip, Bloomfield said they made some initial contacts with media and talked to a
    national sporting goods chain about the possibility of sponsorship. They were greeted largely by

    Then, just two weeks before the trip, “it just exploded,’’ said Bloomfield. They’ve been met by
    newspaper reporters at virtually every stop of the way. Their Web site has attracted words of
    encouragement from all over the country and beyond: A seminary student in Rome offered his

    By the time they reached Redwood Falls, the mayor was waiting on the riverbank to give them
    the keys to the city.

    A hard day’s paddle later they reached the Minnesota Falls dam just south of Granite Falls,
    where the yoke on their canoe broke as they made the trip’s first portage. They hiked to the
    nearest road and put out their thumb. Kevin Jensvold, tribal chairman of the Upper Sioux
    Community, gave them a lift to town and offered them sweet grass to carry on their journey

    It’s been that kind of an adventure.

    To follow their progress on the Web: