- by Benjamin Matzke - York Factory, Manitoba: July 12th, 9 p.m. It is a torrential downpour outside. With cold winds, rough waves beating them down, two young adventurers spot the Canadian flag through the fog and paddle up to their destination after a 2,000-mile, 50-day journey across Minnesota and Canadian waters.
“Such sights as these are reserved for those who suffer to behold them.” - Eric Severeid 570 N, 920 W
What you are about to read should not only be understood as the story of two adventurers but as a challenge to those who believe the world has been so totally civilized that there are no great adventures to be had, and also an encouragement to anyone who has dreamed of lacing up their boots and setting out on a journey only partially knowing where they are going and what to expect.
This all began in the small town of Gibbon, Minnesota, not earlier this summer, but several years ago. It starts with two childhood friends, Sam Gatton and Jesse Rider, and a passion for exploring the outdoors. During high school they embarked on their first canoe trip together; a two-night trip to the Boundary Waters to explore the beautiful fall forest near Ely. “The Boundary waters gave us the love for paddling. Seeing pristine sights cleanses the soul, and acts as its own therapy,” Jesse said. At the end of that school year, the two both got maintenance jobs at Camp Birchwood for Boys, a wilderness camp located on the edge of the Boundary Waters. It was here that Sam and Jesse were introduced to Minnesotan Eric Severeid’s book, Canoeing with the Cree (if you have not read it, pick up a copy to enjoy). The book chronicled the journey of two novice paddlers, Eric Severeid and Walter Port, who launched a second-hand 18ft canoe into the Minnesota River in 1930. This original trip extended over 2,250 miles from Minneapolis to the Hudson, and was done both without the support of family and friends or proper gear.
It was this story that inspired the adventure of a lifetime. Sam and Jesse found themselves talking and dreaming of making the journey themselves.
Three years after igniting the dream and 86 years after the summer Eric and Walter made the expedition, Sam and Jesse decided to make the trip themselves. “Jesse and I were talking this past March and the topic came up of what we were doing this summer. With both of us not having anything planned, I jokingly suggested we should paddle up to the Hudson Bay. It went from a joke to, ‘we could really do this.’” The idea hatched and with little time to get things rolling Jesse reflects, “I bounced the idea off my family and they were all super supportive. A few weeks later I asked my sister about getting us a website to promote and fundraise for the trip. It went live a few days later (voyagetohudsonbay.com) and at that point I said to Sam, ‘well, we have a website and people know about it, now we have to do it!’”
Jesse and Sam left on May 24th, 2016 at 9:00 am. Wanting to make the adventure their own, they decided to embark from their hometown, Gibbon MN, at a creek about 3 miles west of town. Sam remembers him and Jesse saying, “What a fine idea to start at the creek! We left in high spirits and the song “Paddle On Through” my sister and her husband, Kristoffer and Abby Jo Robin wrote for us and played at the waters edge.” Starting at the creek ended up not being such a fine idea, however. They encountered fallen tree after fallen tree in the muddy creek, and after miles of dragging a heavy canoe though impassible waters, the men did what had to be done. “I called my mom,” Jesse laughs. “We were discouraged and exhausted and my leg was bleeding.” Jesse’s mom, Linda, came and picked them up at a country road and delivered them safely a few miles down the road to the Minnesota River near the historic Fort Ridgley, Minnesota.
From here the friends had a much smoother paddle, though they were going against the current until reaching Lake Traverse, from which a downstream paddle began on the Red River all the way to Lake Winnipeg. Once across the monstrous lake Winnipeg, a paddle through Canadian wilderness begins and the Hayes River was the final leg to reach York Factory on the Hudson Bay.
Their trip was made especially memorable by the people they met along the way. In Redwood Falls, MN, the local Pizza Ranch came down to the river and delivered the hungry paddlers to their pizza buffet. At the north end of Fargo, ND, six kids playing basketball sang out to them “row row row your boat.” Jesse and Sam pulled to shore and challenged them to a two on six friendly game of basketball to stretch their legs. At one point on the Red River, a nice old lady brought them rhubarb cake and a pop.
“Everywhere we went people were helpful and very interested in our trip,” Sam noted. “Everyone loved us,” Jesse added. “We did not expect such continued support.” When they crossed over into Canada the hospitality continued. “On the edge of the Winnipeg, we met some people who said we had perfect timing because they had just ordered pizza! We stopped for a couple slices, and were offered a bed, a shower, along with good company and advice.”
The morning before Sam and Jesse left to take on the massive and potentially lethal Lake Winnipeg, a local named Edgar asked them when they thought they’d finish the lake. “Jesse said seven days and Edgar said he didn’t think we’d make it that fast. And yet, we finished it in four,” remembers Sam. Favorable southern winds and long days of paddling helped them complete such a feat. “Had we not pushed so hard on the North Basin of the lake and got off when we did, we could of been stuck for a while with the storms we got Saturday night and strong winds all day Sunday.” Sam said. The two literally made it off the big lake 10 minutes before a massive storm came crashing down after them. Once the weather cleared the pair started the last leg of the journey on the Hayes River.
Half way down the Hayes they were met with an unexpected adventure. “The conservation office in Oxford House (a small village along the Hayes that can only be accessed by water or air) had a forest fire fighter crew, and a few of the guys came and asked us if we could help them with something,” Jesse said. “Next thing we knew they invited us up into their helicopter for one of the routine air inspections scouting out any fires. We saw a fire from the air that hadn’t been there the last time they had flown over as well as a moose.”
It was also at Oxford House that Jesse and Sam made friends they sadly had to leave behind. “Simone was a stray dog we met while in Oxford House. She was so sweet. Kind of like our entire visit in Oxford House. I will never forget all of the hospitality and interest in us from the locals as we pulled up to the sandy beach at the center of town with our canoe. Kids would ask for rides, elders would tell us tales of when they use to paddle, and others would let us know how much they enjoy getting visitors by way of watercraft,” a nostalgic Sam recalls.
York Factory, Manitoba: July 12th, 9 p.m. It is a torrential downpour outside. With cold winds, rough waves beating them down, two young adventurers spot the Canadian flag through the fog and paddle up to their destination after a 2,000-mile, 50-day journey across Minnesota and Canadian waters.
After the stormy and swift final leg of the Hayes River, Sam and Jesse reached their destination. “We gave each other a hug and smiled saying, ‘we did it.’ The last day was the worst weather we had all trip; I was cold and miserable yet happy and content at the same time to be paddling this final leg on such an amazing journey,” Sam emotionally recalled. Jesse echoed the sentiment, adding, “Seeing the Canadian flag as we rolled into York Factory after 55 miles of paddling through waves, rain, fog, and the cold was exhilarating.”
Now safely home, Sam and Jesse reiterated how glad they were to have made the trip and encourage others with a dream to do the same.
“I think the time commitment is what holds most people back on a trip like this. You have to put your life on hold and say goodbye for a while to those you love back home. Also the physical and mental discipline you need to make it through. But if you plan it out, know why you want to do it, and decide it will benefit you as a person afterwards, I would say just do it!”
“This has been one of the best decisions of my life to take on this trip,” Sam concludes. Author’s note I find it necessary to note that this story is but a glimpse of the adventure these two extraordinary men embarked on, we simply do not have the pages available to tell it all and I sincerely hope that one day Sam and Jesse will make the full telling of their story available for the public.
Also, I would like to add my personal encouragement to all who sit on the edge, deciding on whether or not to walk out their door and look for an adventure. There are so many adventures to be had, both great and small, and we often let fear dictate whether or not we take the first step. Fear is a healthy thing; it keeps us alert and keeps us safe, but it often keeps us stationary, with preparation and forethought, fear can be returned to its proper place, as a reminder to use care rather than a chain that holds us back. To see a list of the types of equipment that were necessary for Sam and Jesse to have a successful and safe journey visit www.voyagetohudsonbay.com