WILDERNESS CLASSROOM

UPDATE: The Freemans are up for National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year Award. Click here to learn more and vote for them. 

This story featured in the 2013 Buyer’s Guide issue.

Photo: Dave Freeman

Team: Dave and Amy Freeman
Mission: Paddle and trek 11,700 miles; send daily updates to students around the world

By Conor Mihell

Illinois-based outdoor educators Dave and Amy Freeman are hard on gear. The couple and their sled dog Fennel have spent the last three years on a nearly 12,000-mile wilderness odyssey from Seattle to the Florida Keys by way of the Arctic Circle. They kayaked to Alaska, hiked and sledged into the Canadian Arctic, and canoed 2,700 miles across the continent. Perhaps most impressively, they’ve shared the adventure with schoolchildren around the world, regularly sending new photos, videos and stories to their Wilderness Classroom website from some of the most remote places on Earth.

Photo: Dave Freeman

The Canoe: The Freemans selected the long and slender Wenonah Itasca for their canoeing leg, which encompassed a rugged network of lakes, rivers, and portages from northern Canada to the western edge of Lake Superior. “We wanted something that was seaworthy and fast on open water and relatively easy to portage,” Dave says. “With a 100-pound dog, up to 42 days worth of supplies and all our electronics, we also needed a canoe that could haul a lot of weight.” Constructed of ultra-light Kevlar, the 19-foot Itasca weighs only 50 pounds.

The Spraydeck: A North Water spraydeck was the Freemans’ secret weapon in navigating wind-whipped lakes and boisterous whitewater. Not only did the one-piece cover keep them dry, it also sheltered the Freemans and Fennel from chilly winds as summer turned to fall. A convenient U-shaped flap in the deck allows access to gear and the portage yoke without removing the entire cover from the canoe.

Photo: Dave Freeman

The Paddles: Bent-shaft Mitchell Leader paddles have propelled the Wilderness Classroom over thousands of watery miles. In fact, the same paddles they used in their two-year paddle across South America provided yeoman service in their Canadian traverse. “They won’t die,” Dave says. “You just wipe them down with a coat of varnish or two and they’re ready for another trip.”

The Electronics: The Freemans rely on a GoPro point-of-view camera for much of their video footage. Also critical are their two Goal Zero solar systems, folding panels that on clear days can charge lithium battery packs in 10 hours. The smaller GoalZero TK system stores 50 watt-hours, and the larger one supplies 127 watt-hours—plenty of power to keep the Freemans’ phones, computers, and camera gear juiced. An Inmarsat satellite communications terminal enables regular updates to the Wilderness Classroom website. Finally, a SPOT messenger paired with a Delorme GPS allows the Freemans to make easy Twitter and Facebook updates while on the move. At press time they were paddling south along the Atlantic seaboard, and planned to reach Key West in April 2013.

Photo: Dave Freeman

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  • Paul Brunson

    WOW! After nearly 12,000 miles by land and sea, canoe, kayak, and dog sled, I can’t imagine anyone accomplishing a more amazing trek! And using it to educate 10′s of thousands of schoolchildren about places they may never see! Noone deserves an award more than David and Amy!

  • Leroy Harmon

    I met Dave and Amy this Spring when they camped for two nights in our small village of Suwannee, at the mouth of the famed Suwannee River in Florida. They were a delightful couple and were doing a impressive job of educating children on plant life, animals, all aquatic life and outdoors in general. I have not heard of anyone working so hard to touch the lives of so many young people.

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Buyer's Guide