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Amy and Dave Freeman use their canoe as a battering ram to bust through 3/4 of an inch of ice on Knife Lake.

A Year in the Wilderness: Thanksgiving in the Boundary Waters – Week 9, Post #4

Our 65th day in the Boundary Waters gave us an excuse to celebrate on two accounts. We mused over breakfast that we will be in the Wilderness for 300 more days. More importantly, we were celebrating Thanksgiving in the Wilderness. We have been looking forward to Thanksgiving for several weeks and the stuff sack full of special treats at the bottom of our food pack reserved for today’s festivities.

The smaller lakes are covered in an inch or two of ice and many of the medium sized lakes are half frozen. This is a time of limbo in the Wilderness. We have been out paddling several times in the last few days, each time taking advantage of what may be our last chance to silently glide across the water before all the lakes freeze for good. Each time we have encountered patches of ice, some we could break through and some too thick to break through, but too thin to walk on, halting our progress.

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The Freemans used every, pot, pan, and vessel they have to organize and prepare their Thanksgiving feast. Photo by Dave Freeman

With our ability to travel limited until the lakes are safely frozen, we eagerly threw ourselves into preparing a feast. After breakfast we split wood, hauled water, and attended to our normal camp chores before settling into the tent to cook our multi-course meal. We only have two small pots and a frying pan, so we had to prepare everything in stages.

First we baked the cornbread in our Fry-Bake under the wood stove. A Fry-Bake is like a frying pan with a tight fitting lid that allows us to bake just about anything you can bake in a conventional oven. While the cornbread baked we soaked the wild rice, dried potatoes, butternut squash, cranberries, and apples. After several hours, every vessel we could imagine was filled with delicious treats. The weather was relatively warm so we decided to eat outside. We piled our overturned canoe with stuffing, wild rice with bison and cranberries, smoked salmon, gouda cheese, seasoned potato slices, butternut squash, cornbread, cinnamon apple slices for desert, and hot apple cider to wash it all down.

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Dave and Amy Freeman prepare a giant meal for Thanksgiving inside their tipi tent. Photo: Dave Freeman

As we gorged ourselves we talked about family and friend, wondering what they are up to and hoping they are well. We also reflected on all of the people that have helped us during our adventures– the countless small acts of kindness from people all over the world. One of the best gifts we have received from our many adventures is the ability to be vulnerable and, in doing so, connect with total strangers in simple but meaningful ways.

During a 3,000-mile, 6-month canoeing expedition across the Amazon we spent more than 50 nights in the homes of total strangers. Often the forest was flooded and people’s tiny palm thatched homes built on stilts were the only dry refuge available. Sometimes we camped deep in the rainforest, but we would often paddle up to tiny farm houses, small villages, or floating shacks on the edge of large cities, looking for a place to set up our tent for the night. We usually hadn’t bathed or washed our clothes in weeks, could barely speak the language– literally looking like we had arrived from another planet. Only once were we told there was no place for us to stay.

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The Freemans sit down for a Thanksgiving feast on Knife Lake in the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Photo by: Dave Freeman

From the Amazon to the Arctic, from run down trappers cabins to ocean side mansions, from tiny native villages a hundred miles from the nearest road to New York City, people of all walks of life have opened their hearts and their homes to a ragtag couple who stumbled into their lives, usually with a canoe, kayak, or dog team in tow.

Opening up to a stranger in a foreign land requires a level of vulnerability; we were trusting them and they were trusting us. But the reward often goes far beyond a place to pitch our tent, or sharing a warm meal with someone. For those seeking refuge and those providing shelter, these encounters reaffirmed that despite our different languages, cultures, religions, and outward appearances, people are good and we share far more similarities than differences. Our adventures have taught us that we must act out of love and compassion, not out of fear of people or things we do not know or fully understand.

This Thanksgiving we are thankful for our friends and family near and far and all of the acts of love and kindness we have received from strangers. Your generosity has shown us that as global citizens and we must care for each other and our planet– not for our sake, but for the sake of the world we collectively leave for others.


Amy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave Freeman, 2014 Adventurers of the Year, are spending 365 days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to call attention to the threats that a series of proposed sulfide-ore copper mines pose to our nation’s most popular wilderness. They are sharing their Wilderness Adventures through regular blog posts throughout their Year in the Wilderness right here on the Beyond the Edge blog. Learn more about protecting the Boundary Waters, follow them@freemanexplore, and connect kids with the adventure through the Wilderness Classroom.