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Dave and Amy Freeman portage Sig, their signature canoe, around rapids on the Kawishiwi River in Northern Minnesota during the first few miles of their 2,000 mile journey from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to Washington D.C. Photo by: Nate Ptacek

Paddle to DC: A 2,000-Mile Journey by Water to Celebrate and Protect the Boundary Waters

Dave Freeman and his wife Amy are two of our Adventurers of the Year. Read their profile here.

Wilderness and adventure go hand in hand; they are part of our national heritage reaching back to Lewis and Clark, Alexander McKenzie, and others who explored and mapped the vast expanses of North American wilderness. Fifty years ago this month, on September 3, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, beginning a new era of American conservation. Today the National Wilderness Preservation System protects more than 109 million acres and provides us with an amazing array of snow-capped peaks, rushing rivers and pristine lakes to explore.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, nestled between Lake Superior and the Canadian border in northern Minnesota, is the nation’s most popular wilderness and holds a special place in my heart. The Boundary Waters encompasses roughly a million acres and protects hundreds of interconnected lakes and rivers. Approximately 250,000 people visit the Boundary Waters each year and it is the largest wilderness east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades.

My wife and I live on the edge of the wilderness, leading canoeing and kayaking trips in the summer and dogsledding treks over the snow-covered wilderness waterways in the winter. I can still remember my first introduction to wilderness and early Boundary Waters canoe trips with my family 25 years ago. Growing up in suburban Chicago, the Boundary Waters opened my eyes to a whole new world—the silent, star-filled night sky, the sheer vastness and untrammeled beauty of its lakes and rivers gripped my soul and drew me back over and over again.

As a teenager I convinced my older brother, Todd, to make the ten-hour drive from Chicago for a long weekend of fishing and canoeing. I remember listening to the lonely cry of the loons as the sun set over Alton Lake and small mouth bass swirled the water’s mirror-like surface on our last night and thinking I never wanted to leave. A few years ago Todd and I returned to Alton Lake with my nephew Devin for his first wilderness trip. Watching people experience wild places for the first time helps me remember how important wild places are and is one of the most rewarding parts of being a wilderness guide.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and ensure the continued protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, my wife, Amy Freeman, and I are paddling to Washington D.C. to focus attention on one of the most amazing natural places on earth–the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. We want to make sure that as many people as possible know how special the Boundary Waters are, so we’ll be talking with people all along our route from Minnesota through the Great Lakes and Canada and down to Washington D.C. We’re also gathering signatures on “Sig”, our 20 ft Wenonah Canoe. People who love wild places and want to help ensure that the Boundary Waters remains protected for future generations can sign Sig, as well as our online petition and help us save the Boundary Waters from sulfide ore mining pollution and other threats.

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Dave and Amy Freeman sail along the North Shore of Lake Superior with their 20 ft signature canoe lashed to the deck of their sailboat. Photo by: Nate Ptacek

We look forward to sharing blog entries with you throughout our 2,000-mile, 100-day journey by water from the Boundary Waters to Washington, DC. We will explore a lot of country, both wild and urban. So far we have paddled 160 miles through the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and sailed for 200 miles across Lake Superior with Sig strapped to the deck of our 27-foot sailboat. We look forward to sharing stories from the first part of our journey and many more adventures as they unfold in the coming months. It will probably be quite cold by the time we reach Washington D.C. on December 3, so please think warm thoughts!