Summer Grumman

Minnesota brothers crush classic voyageur route

This story was originally featured in the May 2011 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine, available on newsstands now.

WHAT DID YOU DO ON YOUR SUMMER VACATION?
Two summers ago when he was 15, Sam Levar and his older brother Caleb, then 21, grabbed their dad’s 1972 Grumman aluminum canoe to paddle the 270-mile La Verendrye fur-trading route. The brothers from Duluth, Minn., finished the historic trail along the Canadian border to Grand Portage, on Lake Superiror, in just nine days, paddling and portaging the 75-pound canoe through the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at a pace of nearly 35 miles a day. – Dave Costello

Sam: We’d done a lot of canoe trips in the past, especially when we were little kids with our parents. When we decided to do it, Caleb told me, ‘We’re going to be doing a big trip this summer.’

Caleb: Our dad dropped us off at International Falls (Minn.). We had two packs. One had all of our gear, a change of clothes, and an extra pair of socks for each of us. The other had food.

Sam: We call the canoe the ‘lead sled.’ We both grew up using it with our parents. I didn’t mind too much, because I didn’t have to carry it.

Caleb: I would toss the food pack out the back of the canoe at portages and Sam would run ahead with it. I would follow him with the boat and gear bag, so we could do it in one trip. There were times, though, especially halfway through the Grand Portage, I was wishing we had a lighter canoe.

Sam: The first day we made it over 20 miles and we were pretty satisfied with it. That was the farthest I had ever paddled in a single day.

Caleb: The next morning the waves came up mad. We just had to hunker down. The weather was miserable. Big rollers. That was the only day we were wind-bound, but it scared us enough to where we just wanted to paddle as far as we could every day. The next morning that we woke up at 3:30 a.m. and wound up doing 47 miles in 12 hours.

Sam: We were on the water at 6 a.m. every day after that. We kept pushing and ended up making a lot better progress than we thought we would. We didn’t fish, even though we brought our rods along. It’s not like we didn’t have time to relax, but I think we were just too tired to fish.

Caleb: Our dad met us at Wood Lake for a resupply. He was going to bring us food, but we actually ended up dropping off a lot of food and our fishing rods with him. At that point we were thinking, ‘This is just extra weight. We don’t need it.’

Sam: There is nothing I would change about that trip. It was a great life experience.

Caleb: You grow up thinking about the big trip you want to do. And then you get done with it and you realize it wasn’t so big. There’s always more trips. Nothing on the horizon for this summer just yet, but the ice is still thick on the lakes, so that can obviously change.

Other canoe expeditions on the C&K radar:

* Starting in April, Darrin Kimbler plans to canoe 5,200 miles for eight months across the U.S. from the mouth of the Columbia River to Key West, Fla., to spread obesity awareness (canoeacrossamerica.com).

* In mid-April, Mike Schnitzka and Dan Hoffman will attempt to break the seven-day, 10-hour speed record on the 814-mile Rhine River from Switzerland to Holland (conquertherhine.com).

* After their May graduation from St. Olaf College, Natalie Warren and Ann Raiho aim to be the first women to paddle 2,250 miles from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay
(hudsonbaybound.com).

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