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The Wilderness Classroom paddles on

By CONOR MIHELL

As Dave and Amy Freeman’s three-year, 11,700-mile North American Odyssey enters the home stretch, the Illinois-based outdoor educators have issued themselves a challenge that could amount to the expedition’s crux: to visit 50 schools as they sea kayak the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Key West. Developing environmental awareness in youths is one of the objectives of the Wilderness Classroom, the Freemans’ nonprofit that seeks to share outdoor adventure with students through blogs, podcasts, online photos and videos, and in-person presentations to school groups.

Since launching the third year of their North American Odyssey at the west end of Lake Superior, the Freemans have sea kayaked the historic voyageur route along the Canadian shores of lakes Superior and Huron, and then headed inland on the French, Mattawa and Ottawa rivers. Then they traced the St. Lawrence River before completing a 25-mile portage from the St. Lawrence’s south shore to the headwaters of the St. John River, which they floated to the Bay of Fundy. It’s all part of a pan-continental epic that’s seen them sea kayaking the Inside Passage from Seattle to Alaska, hiking across the continental divide and dog-sledding in the Canadian Arctic, and canoeing 2,700 miles across central Canada.

Students have much to learn about the natural and cultural heritage from the Freemans’ adventures. On the massive 25-foot tides of the Bay of Fundy, “it felt like we were having lunch on the ocean floor,” says Dave. Since hitting tidewater the Freemans have encountered a wide range of marine mammals, including whales, seals and porpoises. Meanwhile, experiencing friendly French Canadian culture in the province of Quebec was also a highlight. “That was really remarkable,” says Dave. “We’ve traveled a lot in Canada but when you go into Quebec it feels like a different country.”

The Freemans expect to take the entire fall and winter to reach Key West, where they hope to finish in April. They travel slowly, updating their website three to four times per week with education material that reaches 70,000 elementary- and middle-school students worldwide and stopping in schools for in-person presentations. “Our idea is that you can’t necessarily take a plane-load of kids to the Arctic or the Amazon, but you can do it in a virtual setting,” Dave says. “They get to follow our trip and help us make decisions along the way. Then we go and meet them in school presentations to form a relationship so they get to know us and can ask us questions. We’re hoping to spark their interest and that they’ll take the next step and get outside.”

Teachers and students along the Freemans’ route can follow their adventures, download lesson plans and book them into their classroom by visiting them HERE.

— Click HERE to read more about Dave and Amy.

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