The International Falls Newspaper wrote a great article about the guys and their Voyage in today's edition.
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The trip of a lifetime, By EMILY GEDDE, Staff Writer
The longest trip Will Tanner has ever been on lasted five days. This summer, he will exceed that trip by 75 days.
Along with three others who call themselves the Voyageur Hudson Bay Expedition Crew, Tanner is embarking on an 80-day, 1,400-mile canoe and portage trip from Lake Superior to Hudson Bay in what the foursome call “a trip of a lifetime.”
“I made a list of pros and cons and then I was like, ‘heck yeah,’” Tanner said of his decision to go on the journey.
Tanner, Andrew Spaeth, Adam Maxwell, and Mike Swenson, all 23 years old, are now leaving their cell phones and the life they knew behind for almost three months to take on the wilderness and develop a true appreciation for nature and everything that comes with it. The mission of the Voyageurs Hudson Bay Expedition is to promote the continued protection of the scenic waterways of Minnesota and Canada through experience, education, and outreach.
Planning the journey
The idea for the trip that brought the crew through Voyageurs National Park, International Falls, and Baudette this week, started last fall when Maxwell came up with a plan to spend his summer in the wilderness.
“I wanted a big adventure,” he said.
Maxwell approached Swenson, his friend and co-worker, to see if he’d be interested in planning a canoe trip that would take them around Minnesota and Canada and into the unexpected. The two wilderness buffs had previously worked together during the summers at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters north of Grand Marais, Minn., at the end of the Gunflint Trail. They decided this summer would be the perfect opportunity for the adventure since the outfitting store was celebrating its 50 year anniversary.
Mike and Sue Prom, who own the business, offered their full support for the crew and their journey.
“They are part of our family,” Sue said of the Voyageur crew. “Any dreams of our crew are our dreams, too. Anything we can do to help any of them along the way in life we want to do, especially if it involves a wilderness adventure we would love to be a part of.”
With the stage set, Maxwell and Swenson brought Spaeth and Tanner on board to complete the crew they would spend 80 days with.
Sponsors were lined up and donations were made and the crew launched their canoes in the waters of Lake Superior at Grand Portage May 23.
A rough start
After almost eight months of planning, setting sail came as a relief for the Voyageur crew.
“After planning so long, it is such a relief to finally be out here,” Tanner told The Journal Tuesday.
However, the group agreed, the first two days tested their physical abilities.
“We took Grand Portage, which is an 8.5 mile portage that is basically all up hill,” Spaeth said. “We had to carry our canoes and packs the entire way. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done.”
Spaeth added that while paddling the Pigeon River, which is located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the crew had to wade waist-deep through the cold water steering their canoes and gear.
“The water (in the river) flows towards Lake Superior and we were going against the current,” he said. “In the first two days, we kind of got thrown into the trip head first.”
Maxwell agreed. “Those first few days were interesting.”
Developing a routine
After spending almost three weeks on the water, the four young men agree a routine has noticeably set in.
“This is starting to feel very natural,” Tanner said with a laugh.
“This is becoming more of a lifestyle than a vacation,” Swenson added.
Each morning, according to Maxwell, morning light gets the crew moving and if the weather will allow them, they will spend about 10 hours paddling each day.
They experienced their first thunderstorm while paddling Rainy River Tuesday morning and have had several days of rain so far.
“We just don’t want wind,” Maxwell said. “Wind is way worse than rain for what we are doing.”
During the day, the voyageurs eat oatmeal, granola cereal, and pancakes for breakfast; trail mix and candy bars in the afternoon; and freeze dried foods for dinner.
“I think 60 out of the 80 nights we have freeze dried foods that Richmoor Foods donated to us,” Maxwell said laughing. “They actually aren’t too bad, but our favorite is the Hudson Bay Bar. It is basically as many calories as you can stuff in a little bar.”
They also fish several nights out of the week to fill their plates.
While paddling, Spaeth, Maxwell, Tanner, and Swenson rotate partners every day.
“It helps us get to know each other better every third day,” said Tanner who came into the crew not knowing his three counterparts as well as they knew each other.
Tanner added that while daily entertainment mostly consists of conversation between canoes, singing fills the air every now and then, too.
“You find out who can sing, who can’t sing, if it doesn’t matter,” he joked. “I’m a song singer — good or bad.”
Each night, the group sets up camp, sometimes in the backyards of people who live along their route.
“People in International Falls and along Rainy River have been super hospitable,” Spaeth said. “One night the people whose yard we stayed in came down and had s’mores and a beer with us.”
Evenings and windy days also bring out a running cribbage tournament between tent mates.
Tanner said that as of Tuesday, he and Spaeth were beating Swenson and Maxwell 11 games to 10.
Keeping in contact
The Voyageurs Hudson Bay Expedition crew have equipped themselves with a SPOT locator device that sends a satellite signal to the Voyageur Hudson Bay Expedition website every 10 minutes updating those who are following their journey.
“It’s super exciting to watch their progress and wonder what the scenery they are seeing is like,” said Prom of keeping tabs on the group.
“It makes the trip really cool for us and for everyone we meet along the way,” Spaeth noted.
The crew say they spot each other if they’re not paddling side by side by the pink paddles they are using.
“We’re paddling with pink paddles to raise awareness for breast cancer,” Spaeth explained. “We’re really proud to do that.”
The men have also had two planned stops, including one in Baudette, to pick up food and supplies and make a phone call or two.
Their last stop to refurbish their supply will be in Pinawa, Manitoba. The food collected on that stop is expected to last the final 43 days of the expedition.
“The last leg our journey won’t be very populated,” Swenson said. “I think it’ll be kind of nice.”
A life changing experience
Each crew member shared similar feelings that this trip would change their lives forever.
“I already have more of respect for the wilderness,” Spaeth said.
“Oh man, it is so great to be on the trip,” Tanner added.
Swenson said that in the modern world, people are constantly bombarded by so many things, but for him to be able to leave that and go into the wilderness is such a rare opportunity — especially for this amount of time.
“I think it’ll be hard to adjust back to normal life when this is said and done,” he said.
The trip is scheduled to conclude around Aug. 10 when the crew reaches York Factory, a former settlement and trading post located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay in northeastern Manitoba. From there, the four men will board a float plane and then a train to Winnipeg where friends will transport them back to Voyageur Canoe Outfitters where a celebration will await.
“It’ll be a big one,” Swenson said of the party.
The four have no doubt in their minds that their bond will be as close as ever once the trip is over.
“I kinda went on this trip with three strangers, but I already have made three of my best friends,” Tanner said.
“I love that every day I wake up and I’m in a new place,” Swenson said. “This is just awesome.”
Spaeth said once he returns home he will “figure out my life, I guess.”
And Maxwell calls the experience “as good as it gets.”
The four voyageurs together encourage anyone who is thinking about a trip like the one they’re on to take advantage of the opportunity because it may only come around once.
“This kind of trip is possible if you want to make it possible,” Tanner concluded. “Find the people who know how to do it — or think they know how to do it, and buddy up with them. You can become the person you want to be.”
Meet the members of the Voyageur Hudson Bay Expedition Crew:
Although Tanner has not been a part of the Voyageur Canoe Outfitters crew, he has lived and worked on the Gunflint Trail just three miles away at Wilderness Canoe Base as a canoe trip guide and stayed through the winter. He graduated from New London-Spicer high school and from St. Olaf College in Northfield in 2010. Tanner said he is ready to experience a sense of timelessness on the canoe trip — free from the scheduled hours of the day and is looking forward to discovering the state of mind an 80-day expedition produces.
Spaeth has been a part of the Voyageur Canoe Outfitters crew since he graduated from high school in 2007. He’s been a key employee who most guests know by name. He is originally from Montevideo and graduated from Bemidji State University in 2010. Spaeth says he is looking forward to the pure adventure, amazing fishing, and being away from his cell phone and e-mail while on this canoe journey.
Swenson was a crew member at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters for the summers of 2006 and 2007 and then went to work as a canoe guide at Sommers Boy Scout Base in 2008 and Wilderness Canoe Base in 2010. He is from Plymouth and graduated high school from Maple Grove. In 2010, he graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College and is currently working as a chemist. While he is on this journey this summer, he said he wants to find a place that is truly wild.
Maxwell started working for Voyageur Canoe Outfitters in the fall of 2007 and has worked every summer since. He’s contributed to the success of Voyageur over the years through his dedication and hard work. He was a frequent guest who came up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for canoe trips with his uncle. He’s originally from Crystal Lake, Ill., and is attending Lake Superior College in Duluth. Maxwell says he is most looking forward to the sense of true adventure, where paddling and camping will become a way of life.
For more information or to track the journey, visit http://blog.canoeit .
com/blog/voyageur-canoe-outfitters, www.voyageurhudsonbayexpedition.com  or search Voyageurs Hudson Bay Expedition on Facebook.