Canoe Expedition Raises Money For Summer Camp
04/11/12 12:44PM By Jane Lindholm, Samantha Fields  Download MP3
Ten young men recently set off from the shores of Lake Dunmore in Salisbury, in canoes they built themselves, to paddle 1,200 miles to James Bay in Ontario, the edge of the Arctic Ocean. The adventure, which they've dubbed "Expedition 2012", is all about raising funds for Camp Keewaydin, on Lake Dunmore, where they met.
VPR's Jane Lindholm was on the shores of Lake Dunmore when they began their journey.
(Lindholm) Sent off on their journey by the cheers of friends and family, ten young men set out from the shores of Lake Dunmore in Salisbury on the adventure of a lifetime this past weekend. Part fundraiser, part adventure film, and part male bonding of the Jack London variety, their trip will take them more than a thousand miles to the edge of the Arctic Ocean in canoes they built themselves.
All in their twenties, the crew of Expedition 2012 met on Lake Dunmore working for the boys' outdoor adventure summer camp known as Keewaydin.
A couple of years ago, several of them, including 26 year-old Johnny Clore from Richmond, Virginia, were hiking in the Adirondacks on a day off from work.
(Johnny Clore) "We were having a great time and we were thinking, I wish we had more time to do things like this, to be outdoors together. And one thing led to another and this was the idea that came to be."
(Lindholm) The idea was an ambitious one: to paddle all the way from the Keewaydin docks on Lake Dunmore, down Otter Creek to Lake Champlain, then down the Richelieu River to the St. Lawrence Seaway, through downtown Montreal and then upstream on rivers and across lakes all the way to James Bay in northern Ontario.
All in all, a 1,200 mile canoe trip that would last 70 days and take them through pristine wilderness with nary a cell phone tower nearby and send them back to shore to portage around hydro dams.
(Clore) "It was that pie in the sky idea to begin with. None of us were really sure if it was going to happen or not people just pulled together to make this happen."
(Lindholm) A couple of them quit jobs or put post-college career plans on hold. This was a year-long endeavor in the making. They spent months hand-building five wood and canvas canoes with a master builder in Connecticut. They lined up sponsorship to get themselves decked out in warm, waterproof gear and provide cameras for filming the Expedition. And, they added a fundraising component to give back to the camp that had brought them together. By departure day they had raised $203,000.
(Clore) "All of it will go to scholarships. Half of that money will be used this year for immediate scholarship needs and the other half will go into an endowed fund that will provide money for a camper to attend Keewaydin every year forever."
(Lindholm) On Sunday,all of their planning and fundraising and mapping and boat building and food-planning came to a stop as they got ready to put their canoes in the water and, finally, set off for adventure. Last minute negotiations ensued - how many spare paddles would they need? Two?
"What's the risk, we drop one in the water and just paddle back down the river and get it..."
(Lindholm) Spare paddles secured, they set to work preparing the canoes for the many miles they'd have to lug them over land, around hydro dams and rapids. Carrying a nearly 90 pound canoe, and all your supplies, over uneven land, is not an easy job.
(Rich Morgan) "My name is Rich Morgan. I'm from Richmond, Virginia, and I'm 22. So right now I'm tying the leather tump on the yoke of the canoe. This is designed to split the weight of the boat between my shoulders and my neck. That way you get a little bit more control and it makes it a little more comfortable, if you can believe it, but it's not exactly luxury canoe portaging."
(Lindholm) Meanwhile Peter Wright and Tom Bloch were trying to figure out whose paddle was whose!
"They're all identical..." "Some are a couple of inches taller than the other." "They should go up to your mouth or your chin." "Nose. I measure it from sitting on my toe to my nose."
(Lindholm) The camaraderie was apparent as they checked supplies, ate one final fast-food meal, and gathered together their car keys to hand over for safe storage.
But with no one actually in charge, the group had tried to forestall any bickering that could creep up on such an arduous journey. Tom Bloch, a 22-year old from New London, New Hampshire, said they'd developed a rotation of five different roles to cycle through.
(Bloch) "Well, it has been a concern because technically this is a leaderless expedition. There's no one point man, no one person to look to, which is why we've devised this role system. This way it spreads things out and reduces friction between people and you're always going to have someone to turn to. One of the roles is going to be a leader, to have the maps and kind of be the point person for that day."
(Lindholm) But beyond campfire maintenance and top notch stove-top baking skills, other kinds of strengths and weaknesses have emerged that the group will be both challenged and inspired by as the trip progresses.
(Kyle Sauer) "I'm Kyle Sauer. I'm from Naperville, Illinois, outside of Chicago. I'm 21. I'm going to try to be a good conversationalist and a good friend to the trip. Other than that I'm a pretty inexperienced person here so I'm kind of along for the ride and going to try to film them doing their things as well."
(Lindholm) Sauer's the youngest person on the trip. He graduated from college early to take part and was anticipating some time away from civilization just to think.
The morning was cold and damp, but that didn't seem to bother the adventurers. Decked out in their matching paddling gear and looking impossibly young, wholesome, and handsome, like an L.L. Bean catalog in the flesh, they moved with cool efficiency. But, as friends and family began trickling down to the shore to see them off, it was hard to keep the anxiety at bay.
(Sauer) The pre-butterflies are big for me right now. And I think that everybody is and they do it in their own different way. But what's good is that the sense of team is very good so we haven't been getting on each others nerves at all. But I think we all have our own personal nerves that we're dealing with."
(Morgan) "Oh definitely. Yeah. I've been on a couple of canoe trips. I guess more than a couple. This is the first time that I've ever been not nervous in the sense that ‘oh, we're gonna forget the cheese or the knife and it'll be inconvenient.' It's the first time that I've ever been flat-out nervous. So, it's interesting. It takes me back to being a camper and going out on a trip and not knowing how it's going to go. So it's nervousness and excitement, which I think is a good mix."
(Lindholm) But getting through those jumbled emotions and learning to survive in the wilderness were exactly the skills these young men learned at Keewaydin through the years. And what they drew upon to prepare themselves for these 70 days on the water.
Giving back to the camp that taught them so much, and helping others to have the same experience is what inspired the members of Expedition 2012 to raise more than $200,000 for scholarships to the camp.
(Bill Souser) "My name's Bill Souser. I'm from York, Pennsylvania but I went to Middlebury College here in Vermont. And I'm 25. This will be my 16th year at Keewaydin. For those of us who are here, it's had a pretty profound impact. It was profoundly important to me and I think it's really influenced the person I've become today. It's given me a better work ethic over the years. I'm more confident, more outgoing, more independent, because I was forced to be. These things come with practice. And we're all about extending that experience to a whole new generation of campers."
(Peter Hare) "Keewaydin's a special place, there's no doubt about it. Kids come back summer after summer, they go on these great challenging canoe trips and backpacking trips."
(Lindholm) Peter Hare is the director of the camp.
(Hare) "After you get over the fact that it's absolutely crazy, what they're doing, it's incredibly inspirational. They're just sort of following the mission of Keewaydin is but doing it at such an extraordinary level. I mean, to be out in the woods for nine weeks and traveling 1200 miles. They've been able to turn that inspiration into being able to raise over $200,000 for scholarships. You know, there are not many people I would entrust to do this kind of thing. But these guys are just extraordinary men. And what they're doing is really remarkable."
(Lindholm) But Peter Wright says it's more than Keewaydin tradition that they'll be following on the trip.
(Wright) "What's nice about the itinerary is that it's tracing a lot of historic routes. Samuel de Champlain paddled all the way up the Ottawa. We're following along in his footsteps. A lot of historic routes for Keewaydin in Ontario. And then a lot of our routes then further north from there are old fur trading routes as they headed towards James Bay. So the itinerary follows a nice historic set of waterways. And it's an honor to have this opportunity. It's very exciting. I'm ready to go!"
(Lindholm) Ready to go they were. Push-off from the shore was scheduled for 10am Sunday morning and they didn't delay.
(Lindholm) After the traditional champagne boat christening, friends and family showered them with hugs and well wishes. Some stoic, others wiping away tears, the men then carried their canoes the few feet to the water and stepped in.
(Lindholm) And with that, they were gone, paddling across Lake Dunmore, into the wild. Sure, they were going to have to portage in less than a mile, but they were off. 1200 miles to go, and unknown adventures yet to unfold.