Natalie Warren '11 and classmate Ann Raiho '11 were the first women to take the 2,000-mile arduous canoe route from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay. Warren bound in Hudson Bay: Two women, one dog, two thousand miles to the North Pole, the narrative recalls their extraordinary journey.
Camp Menogyn is the famous YMCA canoe camp on the Gunflint Trail in Minnesota. It has been the starting point for many canoe trips for many years, but few are like Natalie Warren’s Hudson Bay Bound: two women, one dog, two thousand miles to The Arctic (University of Minnesota Press, 2021). However, Warren and her trekking partner Ann Reho did not set off from the canoe camp. Instead, they met there in 2007, when the two-cities native Raiho and Floridan Warren, who had just graduated from high school, attended the summer camp inspired by their Miami friends.
After Menoking became good friends and further consolidated their connection in St. Olaf, the students decided to kayak from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay. This trip was inspired by radio reporter Eric · Sevared’s 1935 classic canoe and Cree, about a 2,000-mile canoe trip Sevared took his friend Walter Porter. (After reading this book, Lei Sui opened Warren's dormitory door one day, threw it to her, and said: "Read this. We should do this.")
Therefore, the old friends began to follow in the footsteps of Sevareid and Port-and became the first women to complete the expedition. When they arranged to donate a canoe and equipment and raised enough money to rent a seaplane, the two set off. They left Fort Snelling State Park on June 2, 2011 (despite the Minnesota River flood warning) and decided to reach Hudson Bay before the cold weather arrived.
Along the way, they encountered ecological damage caused by agriculture and development along the Minnesota River, huge waves on Lake Winnipeg, rapids near the Red River Dam, thunderstorms, black bears, and a large number of unbelievers and annoying journalists. But the duo also enjoyed many wonders-sightings of moose and polar bears, northern lights, pearl-pink sunrises, and wild, free-flowing rivers in northern countries. By the end of summer, it felt strange to be back on land. As Warren said, "Water is our true home."
I recently spoke with Warren about her friendship with Raiho, what attracted her to St. Olaf, the inspiration for writing this book, and the fun and challenges of her canoeing adventure.
We met in Menoking last summer, when we all participated in a 50-day trip to Nunavik (Northern Quebec), which is a complete tundra and a beautiful part of the world. We didn't know each other before sharing the canoe, and then we found out that we were all going to St. Olaf. This is especially surprising because I was the first person to register there at Miami Art High School. Then we ended up living in the same dormitory-so there was a lot of force to push us together.
Because I like summer camps, I want to go back to Minnesota to go to college. My camp friend has always been my closest friend; we even share the same tattoo. They all live in Minnesota. I am a serious saxophone player, so I applied to several Midwestern universities and was fortunate enough to receive a St. Olaf's music scholarship.
College is such a difficult time-trying to figure out what you like and how you will succeed after graduation. We always end up in each other's room, planning a trip. This is a coping mechanism for college anxiety, and it ended with us paddling to Hudson Bay. Whenever there is a chance, we will book to the north. And we always try to trick others into camping with us.
This is actually an interesting St. Olaf story. After I gave a speech on the Midwest Mountaineering Team in Minneapolis in 2014, this old guy wearing a St. Olaf hat, pants and sweatshirt came to me. His name is John Sylvester and he graduated 50 years before me. He was very excited to talk about our journey, and then we became pen pals. I started writing to him, one story at a time. He will send back handwritten letters about his own travels. Over the years, our letters have become this great intergenerational friendship. At some point, I realized that I wanted to record our entire journey.
I decided to write it in 2017, but I kept it confidential because everyone said they were writing a book, so no one took you seriously. I sent out a book proposal, but it was rejected quite a bit. When the University of Minnesota contacted me, I felt very lucky. I drove through Michigan to work for Canoe and Kayak magazine, and they called me for a contract. When I signed the contract in 2018, it was a beautiful and terrifying moment. I only wrote 30,000 of the 80,000 words I needed. Writing is a journey in itself. Some days I think I can write for a few hours, and some days I have to force myself. My editor has removed many reflective parts that keep readers away from the canoe, thus helping. Now I want readers to feel as if they are by our side. [Hudson Bay Bound has been printed for the second time. ]
For youth, there is something to say. We feel that we are strong and capable. Our social circle is made up of strong feminist outdoor women from Menogyn, so it seems that there is nothing unusual for us to try. We were worried about the challenge, but we discussed the tricky part in a positive and potential way. We trust each other very much. Our strong relationship makes it much easier to move on.
We used to! We found some groups that have completed it since Sevareid, but there are no records of women completing it. When we needed an angle to help us raise funds, we realized that it was because we were women. This is a major event, but unfortunately, in 2011, it is still a major event.
The journey to Hudson Bay is cool because it includes paddling upstream and downstream, a huge lake and an arctic white water river. Each one faces its own challenges. The flooding of the Minnesota River in 2011 was epic. We set off at the peak, so we rowed 300 miles at 1.5 miles per hour, which is slower than your walking speed. The Minnesota River was heavily polluted-there was no buffer zone, and corn was planted along the river, and huge banks were eroded. Later, we rowed a huge algae bloom on Lake Winnipeg, which was formed by the farming methods followed by the farmers along the Red River. Algae destroys the fishery economy and the livelihoods of many small towns. Digging our oars onto the smelly green carpet had an unforgettable effect on me.
[Editor's note: Raiho insisted on detouring Lake Winnipeg to meet some Menongyn's friends, which angered Warren; later Warren did not put their safety first, which angered Reho. The outbreak of the latter led to a few days when the two women could only communicate through notes. ]
Yes, it is difficult to navigate these sections. I have to tell this story in my voice, it is difficult to stop positioning myself as the right person forever. It is challenging to try to consider how Ann feels in those moments. Being with only one person for 85 days taught me many interpersonal skills that I still use in my marriage.
Since that trip, the river has been the focus of everything I do-leading river trips, environmental education, paddling across the length of the Mississippi, and elementary school students follow us online. My first "real" job was in the protection of land along the St. Croix River. Now I am studying for a PhD. Engaged in communication research at the University of Minnesota, focusing on environmental communication. My ultimate goal is to complete a project of thinking about what it would be like to liberate the Mississippi River.
Ann has a doctorate degree. From the University of Notre Dame Ecology, living in Fort Collins, Colorado, working for NASA, doing statistical modeling for climate change. If I tried it, I can't explain it! She also has Meehan, the dog we picked up during the trip.
I continue to play the saxophone regularly with my husband John Synhavsky '10, who is a drummer and producer. [The couple have a 7-month-old daughter. ] But my biggest musical excitement recently is to sing and play saxophone with The Okee Dokee Brothers in our recorded book promotion song called Roll on River. I have officially reached the top!
Lynette Lamb P'22 is a Twin Cities writer and often writes for St. Olaf's magazine. Her comments on Hudson Bay Bound were first published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 22, 2021.
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