Redwood Falls Gazette
May 17, 2008
Sean Bloomfield (left) and Colton Witte paddle the Minnesota River north of Delhi.
An upstream battle
High school seniors making way to Hudson Bay
BY KEVIN KOTZ
Colton Witte’s cell phone voice mail message
says it all.
“Hey, I’m paddling right now – I’ll call you back
when I get a chance.”
The 18-year-old Chaska High School graduate
and best friend, Sean Bloomfield, are on the
adventure of their lives.
The two are attempting to canoe from Minneapolis to
the arctic waters of Hudson Bay.
Witte and Bloomfield began their journey up the
Minnesota River in the early morning hours of April 28
as snowflakes pelted their faces.
“They called about noon, said they were cold and
wanted to be picked up,” joked Colton’s mother, Kathy.
The young men passed through Redwood County this
They paused near the granite outcroppings of the
river near Delhi to reflect on the first 220 miles of their
Redwood Falls Mayor Gary Revier presented both
sunburned paddlers with “keys to the city.”
“What a pleasure it was to meet and chat with you
two,” Revier said before their trip resumed. “You are an
inspiration to people young and old alike.”
Inspiration for the trip evolved from the book
“Canoeing with the Cree,” which was written by the late
Minnesota newsman Eric Sevareid.
Sevareid wrote the story after he and fellow teenager
Walter Port made the trek in 1930.
Both Bloomfield and Witte read the book when they
were in seventh grade.
“The book really got us started thinking about how neat
it would be to do the same thing,” Bloomfield said. “This
has been our dream forever.
“It just started coming together over the last couple of
The journey did not start well for Witte.
He stopped by a fast-food restaurant for a breakfast
sandwich prior to going to the launch site.
“I didn’t feel well for about a week after that,” he said. “I
threw up after the first bite of dinner – the very first dinner
of the trip – and about 25 times after that. I think it was food
“I got dehydrated and ended up in the hospital in St.
Peter, hooked up to an IV and everything for two days.
They pumped fluids into me and all that fun stuff.”
The photo gallery on their Web site (www.colton-seanhudsonbay.com) proclaims Go Big or Go Home!
There were early thoughts of turning around and paddling down river back home.
“When I was sick, I was starting to doubt a little bit,” Witte
said. “Just that it was already so early and things were
going wrong. But, things are looking up.”
The two are using Department of Natural Resources
paddle route maps, something Sevareid and Port never
had available. They also have Witte’s cell phone – service
was spotty on the Minnesota River – and a Global
Positioning System, so relatives can track their progress.
The two are averaging 20 miles per day. They have
planned three more layover days in their goal to reach
Hudson Bay by the end of June.
“We go to bed about dark and wake up at 7 (a.m.), so
we get a lot of sleep,” Bloomfield said. “It has been kind of
demoralizing when you think (traveling) 20 miles is considered to have been a good day. You look at the
see things moving faster downstream than we’re moving
upstream – we’re literally just crawling – and you’re working your tails off 10, 11 hours a day… Flat water
Both Bloomfield and Witte were introduced to canoeing
as children by their fathers. They practiced for this trip last
year by canoeing the 400 miles from Lake of the Woods to
“We had lunch with the (Canadian) Mounties one day,”
Witte said. “That was pretty cool.
“One of the best parts of the trips we have taken is all the
people you meet and the cultures you see.”
Witte and Bloomfield have been welcomed in nearly
every community they have stopped. While in New Ulm,
they were invited to have a meal and a warm place to stay.
“We were just standing along side of the road, when
someone stopped and asked if we wanted to go any
where,” Bloomfield said. “They took us to Turner Hall.
“They treated us like family there – they let us walk
around in our socks.”
The teens were employed to do filing at the club to pay
for their meals and stayed in New Ulm during the stormy
weather of early last week.
“We paddle through rain, but it’s not too smart to be on
the water when it is lightning out,” Witte said. “And it’s no
fun to be in a tent when there’s hail (in the forecast).”
Added Bloomfield: “Normally we don’t take too many
bathroom breaks, but yesterday (Thursday) I had to stop
quite a few times after all that food in New Ulm.”
The two switch positions in the canoe at lunch every day.
“One person does afternoon in the back and then does
the same the next morning,” Bloomfield said. “You’re never
doing a whole day in one position.”
Added Witte: “On occasion, on my forward stroke, I
spray water, so I’ve gotten Sean wet a couple of times.
Nothing too serious, though.
“And we’ll run into a tree once in a while trying to cut a
“I like to cut corners, especially with the water being so
Continued Bloomfield: “We don’t really do things too professionally, but we get the job done.
“We’ve been friends since first grade, so we know each
other pretty well. You have to be friends with someone to
be able to spend weeks in a canoe with them.”
There is no doubt Witte and Bloomfield are determined
– they both took accelerated classes so they could gradu
ate six weeks early to begin their adventure.
They also have a mischievous side.
On their final day of high school, they dropped 500 crickets from a balcony into the school’s commons area.
“There are about 1,000 kids who stand under there, so
we dropped the crickets off the balcony as kind of our final
senior prank,” Witte said. “There were people screaming
and stepping on crickets everywhere.
“The school didn’t really think too much of it. We were
taken into the office. Oddly enough, the officer said he was
going to stop us from getting publicity as our punishment.”
Bloomfield is planning to attend the University of
Minnesota-Mankato in the fall. He wants to become either
a psychology teacher or writer.
“A publisher actually contacted me two days before we
left,” he said. “He actually called me during prom. He’s connected with publishers around Minnesota and
would be interested in talking to us at the end of the trip.
“No matter how tired I am at the end of the day, I still
keep track of everything in my journal.”
Witte is looking at the University of Iowa for pre-med.
The “Bloomitte Expedition” reached Granite Falls
Saturday. They were paddling across Lac qui Parle Lake
“We really appreciate all the support the boys have
received,” said Colton’s father, Dan. “A complete stranger
came up to them in Granite Falls and handed them each
“The wind was blowing so hard on Lac qui Parle, they
weren’t making much progress. About halfway across the
lake, they saw a sign that said, ‘Sean and Colton, if you are
hungry stop in.’
“So, they pulled into the resort, ate and had a place to
pitch their tent.”
The goal is to reach Big Stone Lake by this weekend,
and then the adventure heads up the Red River of the
North, which flows into Lake Winnipeg.
“Once they get past Winnipeg, it gets pretty sparse,”
Dan Witte said. “Norway House is the last major settlement.
“After that, it’s about a 500-mile jaunt through the wilderness.
“I spoke with a female Mountie yesterday and she said
they are having a late spring.
“I guess there is still a foot of snow on the ground and
three feet of ice on the river north of Winnipeg.
“And there’s still bears around. On good years, the bears
head north, but there’s still some stragglers. The boys have
bear spray, but the Mountie said she would check into getting them something to defend themselves.”
The final destination is York Factory, Manitoba, where
the parents are trying to arrange transportation for the trip
back to Chaska.
“Early on, it felt like we bit off a big chunk, but we’re starting to get over that,” Colton said Friday before
Vicksburg Park in Renville County. “It’s not really an option
for us to quit now.”