The West Coast and the Canadian wilderness are behind them. The next leg of Dave and Amy Freeman’s North American Odyssey will be more civilized.

The Grand Marais couple leaves Wednesday from Grand Portage on a

4,900-mile sea-kayak trip to the East Coast and down to Key West, Fla.

“We’ll be going through more towns and stuff,” Amy Freeman said. “Going through some of those urban areas, we’re wondering how it’ll work as far as camping and stuff.”

The expedition, nearly 12,000 miles in all, began at Seattle in April 2010. The couple kayaked up the West Coast, paddled a canoe to the Arctic Ocean, dogsledded through the Northwest Territories and canoed back to Grand Portage last fall. The remainder of their trip will be in sea kayaks.

Along the way, they send text, photos and videos about three days a week to 70,000 students and teachers across the United States and Canada who are following the expedition. The students learn about the outdoors through the expedition’s Wilderness Classroom website.

“That helps with motivation,” said Amy, 30. “We’re doing this for them. When the going is tough, we have to remember that, and it helps.”

On the next leg of the journey, the Freemans will paddle along Lake Superior’s North Shore, then on to Ottawa, northern Maine, reaching New York City by the end of October, said Dave Freeman, 35. They’ll continue down the East Coast, with plans to reach Key West by the end of April 2013. That will be a challenge, Dave said.

“One is just the distance,” he said. “We’re pretty much traveling continuously for a year. We’ll take off about three weeks in New York City to do school presentations. One of the things we’re a little worried about is the wear and tear of paddling almost every day, the challenge of staying fit and healthy.”

Last summer, the Freemans paddled by canoe with their lead sled dog, Fennel, who is half black Lab, half polar husky. He weighs 104 pounds. Now 13, Fennel is slowing down, and he doesn’t fit in a kayak, so he won’t be making the last 4,900 miles of the trip.

The couple plans to average about 20 miles a day, paddling five days a week. That allows them days for rough weather and time to stop in towns for presentations.

“When we do the school assemblies, we see how excited the kids are and how much they’ve learned about the animals of an area we’ve traveled through,” Amy said. “Or how it broadens their perspective as far as climate change or geography. It’s really encouraging, and it’s the main reason why we do it.”

©2012 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)

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