A Year in the Wilderness

Dave and Amy Freeman set off on a dream trip

It took the threat of pollution from proposed mines on the doorstep of their beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to convince outdoor educators Dave and Amy Freeman to act on a dream. Starting Wednesday (Sept. 23), the Freemans will spend a year in the BWCA backcountry, relaying their experiences to the world in hopes of raising awareness of the risks sulfide mining imposes on the North Woods. A Year in the Wilderness is a follow-up to the Freemans' 2014 Paddle to D.C., and supports the Ely, Minn.-based conservation group Save the Boundary Waters.

Watch CanoeKayak.com for regular dispatches from the Freemans. We caught up with Dave in the midst of last-minute planning and send-off events to learn more about the project.

Photo Courtesy of Dave Freeman
Check out the Freemans’ 2014 Paddle to D.C. project delivering a petition canoe from the Boundary Waters to the Capitol. Photo Courtesy of Dave Freeman

CanoeKayak.com: Where did you get this idea?
Dave Freeman: It's something I've been thinking about for well over 10 years. Amy shared the dream, and we've always been talking about doing it. The more we've gotten involved with the issues surrounding sulfide ore mining on the perimeter of the Boundary Waters, the more we realized this is the time to do it. The idea is to use our journey as a way to tell people about this place and the threats the mines would bring to the area.

What's your plan while you're out there?
One of our goals is to travel to all the lakes in the Boundary Waters. Basically, we want to see the whole wilderness. We plan to travel in the way people typically do; we're not looking at setting up a base camp for a month. We'll usually carry two to three weeks of supplies at a time and arrange for people to meet us at different entry points for resupplies. That way we'll be able to do two trips on the portages.

We'll do a larger resupply around mid- to late November, when things start to freeze up. We'll then haul our canoe out to the edge and swap it for toboggans and sled dogs. We'll travel by ski, snowshoe and toboggan for the winter.

What are you most looking forward to?
Slowing down. I find that after you've been out for a few days, you start seeing things differently. I'm looking forward to experiencing all the small things we don't necessary notice in our daily lives. We've spent so much time in the BWCA but it's usually guiding dogsled trips in the dead of winter or leading canoe trips in the height of summer. We are looking forward to being there in the fall and the early spring, watching the seasons change and seeing how the animals react. I think we'll develop a whole new appreciation for a place that we're already in love with.

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How will you share your experiences with the outside world?
We have a small satellite terminal and solar panels to keep batteries charged. We'll use an iPad to send emails and photos, blogs and social media updates. We've fine-tuned our skills with this sort of technology over the last 15 years. This time we're trying to step it up. I'm really excited about this aspect. It's a huge focus for us.

Ultimately, what are you hoping to achieve?
We want to gain permanent protection for the BWCA watershed from the copper mines in sulfide ore bodies that have been proposed. This journey is another vehicle to help people understand just how amazing this place is. The goal is to amplify our voice now — at a time when we can have an impact on the decision of whether mining development for this area is right.

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— Read the final 2014 dispatch from the Freemans’ 2,000-mile Paddle to D.C. canoe odyssey. Follow the Freemans on Twitter @FreemanExplore.