Ode to Minnesota
With his dog, Cinna, sitting near the front thwart, Steve Schraeder paddled his 15-and-a-half-foot Northstar Northwind Solo, heading east through Gunflint Lake. A few yards ahead, was his traveling companion Eli Nord, who paddled his own solo canoe, and was also accompanied by his dog, Dio.
The wind was at their backs and gentle, one-foot waves rolled beneath their canoes. Eli let a wave take the canoe. He paddled hard to stay on top then let the wave carry him forward. Anytime you can surf, is a perfect day to canoe.
Alongside Eli, Steve tried his skills at surfing. He was getting the hang of it when a seemingly innocent wave lifted his stern. As the wave carried him forward it grew. Water spilled into the hull and quickly turned the boat. More water dumped in around him. Steve threw out a brace and tried to correct the boat. Cinna scrambled to stay up right. In an instant, they were both in the lake. Hull-side up, the canoe bobbed in the water.
Floating in the choppy water, Steve quickly grabbed the loop of his canoe pack, held onto his paddle and managed to hold Cinna under his arm. Eli paddled alongside Steve’s boat and flipped it on his canoe, emptying it of water and setting it right-side up in the lake.
Frustrated, Steve pulled himself into the canoe. Almost midway through their 1,300-mile Ode to Minnesota trip, a multi-stage expedition that involved biking, canoeing and hiking through Minnesota, Steve had just been served a thick slice of humble pie.
The sun was out and it wouldn’t take long for everything to dry out. Frustration and embarrassment aside, the incident was at worse, an inconvenience.
Then Steve realized the maps were gone. The only set of maps he and Eli had. For an hour they paddled in circles and searched the shore, hoping to find the maps. But they were gone.
Now Steve just felt stupid.
Three adventures, one trip
Ode to Minnesota was conceived as a love letter to the state. The journey began last year, on August 6th. With bikes strapped down with gear, Eli and Steve peddled out from Saint Paul. Appropriately enough, they were on the Bruce Vento Trail, named after the long-serving congressman who helped craft legislation to protect the Boundary Waters from logging interests and keep it free of motorboats. For the next five days, they road an average 65 miles a day until they reached International Falls, where they exchanged their bikes for canoes.
The next stage of the journey, paddling the Voyageur Highway through the Boundary Waters to Lake Superior, was the crown jewel of expedition. The rich history of the area, from the indigenous peoples who left pictographs to the French Voyageurs, inspired them as they traveled through the cliffs and forests of this unforgettable wilderness.
So it was, that days after they set out on the canoe portion of the trip, they were without a map. The two had successfully navigated the maze of islands on Lac LaCroix without getting lost, but now they were in a situation where they could easily get lost. They had a choice: Paddle back to Gunflint Lodge and pick up a new set of maps, or keep going forward. Fortunately they were on a river. If they could remember the general outline of the lakes and follow the current, they could navigate their way through this section.
That’s just what they did.
“I had to read the landscape in a way I wouldn’t if I had a map. The whole experience was really eye-opening. I had to look at the landscape more closely. I heard things that I wouldn’t have heard. All my senses felt heightened,” Schraeder said. “I quickly realized that as helpful as maps are, they’re also distracting. Like using a GPS when you drive a car.”
Without anymore incidents, they made the eight-mile haul through Grand Portage. After a celebratory paddle on Lake Superior, it was time to lace up their boots and begin backpacking south on the Superior Hiking Trail, 300 miles of what is widely considered one of the best hiking trails in the country.
Ode to Minnesota was also a celebration of outdoor equipment and products made by Minnesota entrepreneurs. Most of the major equipment these two used was either made in Minnesota or made by companies based in the state. They rode Surly bikes, packed their gear in Frost River panniers, paddled Northstar canoes and portaged with Cooke Custom Sewing canoe packs. They were fueled by Trailtopia food, hiked in Vasque boots, donned Granite Gear backpacking packs, and when the rain came, O2 rainwear kept them dry.
“We wanted to celebrate all things Minnesota, including the outdoor culture and economy in the state. People think you need to go out west or to another country to have an epic adventure. I don’t people realize just how many opportunities there are in Minnesota to do something big like this. To add to it, there are all these great outdoor companies either based here or manufacturing equipment right here,” said Schraeder.
After they hiked along the shore of Lake Superior, the two still had almost a 150 miles to go before they completed the loop back to Saint Paul. They got back on their bikes and back on the asphalt. On September 20, they were home: A little stronger, a little more sore than when they began, and grateful to call such a great state home.
Keep your eye out for the film “Ode to Minnesota,” by Adventure Films Minnesota, that will be out later in 2019.