They kayaked with whales off the coast of Alaska and with sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. They dogsledded through Canada’s Northwest Territories. They dodged Hurricane Sandy while kayaking the New Jersey shoreline.
Last week, Dave and Amy Freeman of Grand Marais, Minn., took the final paddle strokes in their 11,700 mile North American Odyssey expedition. They nosed their kayaks onto a beach in Key West, Fla., three years after starting the expedition in Seattle, Wash.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Amy Freeman said in a telephone interview Friday. “I enjoyed a shower and a good meal. But now it’s like, ‘When do we get back out there?’”
The couple paddled kayaks up the West Coast, paddled a canoe to the Arctic Ocean, dogsledded the Northwest Territories, paddled a canoe back to Minnesota, then kayaked to the Atlantic and down to Key West.
Almost daily during the kayak, canoe and dogsled expedition, the couple posted updates and posed questions for some 100,000 students across the continent, trying to bring the outdoor experience alive for them through a website called the Wilderness Classroom.
Now, they’ll return to Grand Marais, where plans include writing a book about the expedition and guiding wilderness trips for young people.
The trip presented periods of sublime beauty and days of grueling physical labor.
“Up the Athabasca River, up the Taltson River, up the Mackenzie River — it was very slow-going working our way against the current for hundreds of miles,” said Dave Freeman, 36.
“On the Fond du Lac River (in Canada), I had a moment thinking, ‘I kind of want to pull the plug here,’” said Amy, 30.
They had numerous encounters with wildlife along the way.
“The first one that comes to mind is the whale encounter along Alaska’s coast,” Amy said.
Two humpback whales joined them as they floated in the ocean. Amy was able to get a photo of one as it submerged near Dave.
More recently, they paddled alongside sea turtles and hammerhead sharks off the Florida coast.
The Freemans spent days and weeks in some of the continent’s most expansive wilderness areas.
“We were amazed by the …vastness of some of the wild places, especially in the North,” Dave said. “And also the smaller pockets of nature that we found throughout the East Coast. I wasn’t really expecting to find these little gems of wild places in places like New Jersey or the coast of Georgia.”
The couple has several speaking engagements scheduled on their return trip where they’ll meet students who followed their journey.
“It feels very important to be able to share this with kids,” Amy said. “I don’t know if I could do a normal trip where we’d go out without computers. We want to teach and share what we know. We’re building on their curiosity and want to get them into the outdoors, have them grow into adults and understand the importance of wild places and preserving them.”
All of the information from this expedition will be archived on the Wilderness Classroom website ( wildernessclassroom.com), and other expeditions will be invited to share details of their trips with students.
The Freemans say they might write a book for adults or one for children about this expedition. They plan to work on the book or books this summer. Next winter, they might guide dogsledding trips for Wintergreen Dogsledding Lodge in Ely, where both have worked in the past.
Wintergreen owner Paul Schurke has closely tracked the Freemans’ expedition.
“A few years ago, when Dave and Amy shared their wedding with us in the winter woods where guests arrived by dogteam, we figured their honeymoon would be something very special,” Schurke said. “But the success of their three-year paddle and sled trek around the continent is stunning. We join the school kids who followed their adventures online in applauding the inspiration they’ve provided all of us to be get engaged in the great outdoors.”
Meanwhile, the Freemans are planning their next adventure.
“We may go back to the Amazon,” Dave said. “There’s been a lot of interest among teachers about that. We’re planning to do one or two shorter projects in the next school year, from four to eight weeks long. We haven’t decided exactly what to do.”
They’ll have time to figure that out. For now, they’re trying to get used to not getting in the kayaks and knocking off another 30 miles.
“It feels a little bit surreal,” Dave said. “It will take awhile for us to come to the conclusion that we aren’t going to keep going.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services