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Pals keep paddling -- epic canoe trip to Hudson Bay

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Pals keep paddling -- epic canoe trip to Hudson Bay
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Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte are trying to make history by moonlight.

If the stars align for the friends from Chaska, Minn., they said they could complete their epic canoe trip to Hudson Bay in 50 days - a little more than half the time it took famed journalist Eric Sevareid and friend Walter Port to make their legendary 2,250-mile trip from Fort Snelling, Minn., to York Factory, Man., in 1930.

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Bloomfield and Witte stopped at Fargo's Midtown Dam around noon Monday for burgers and fries under overcast skies and sprinkles.

It was their second day of round-the-clock travel, taking turns sleeping and rowing in 12-hour shifts.

Bloomfield, who paddled the 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift, said the moonlit river "kind of plays with your head a little.

"You'll see animals' shadows, and you'll hear things on the side of the river," he said. "And you'll look and you'll see a tree overhanging and try not to run into that. And sometimes you see things, like bends in the river, that aren't there."

Mind games aside, the 18-year-olds are far from novices on the water. Their fathers have been taking them to Minnesota's Boundary Waters since the fourth grade.

In the seventh grade, they read "Canoeing With the Cree," Sevareid's coming-of-age memoir in which he chronicled his 98-day voyage.

Bloomfield and Witte have since read the book several more times, and after 10th grade they paddled 150 miles down the St. Croix River.

Last summer, they canoed about 400 miles from Lake of the Woods to Lake Superior, "just gradually preparing" for the big trip, Witte said. They completed their required high school courses in late March.

On April 28, their canoe - proclaiming "GO BIG OR GO HOME" in black lettering on the side - hit the Minnesota River in downtown Chaska.

The start didn't go smoothly. Witte got sick and was unable to keep food down for a few days, and a lightning storm forced them to spend an extra day in New Ulm, Minn.

All the while, they paddled against the strong current of the swollen Minnesota River - which made the north-flowing Red River a welcome change.

They're now averaging 4 mph, compared to 2 mph against the current, Witte said.

"It's really nice having the current with us," he said. "On the Minnesota, you fought for every inch. You stopped, you'd go backwards. And if you didn't go hard, you wouldn't go anywhere."

Getting from the Minnesota River to the Bois de Sioux River required carrying the canoe on dry land, or portaging, around about a dozen dams, Witte said.

When it was getting late one night between Big Stone Lake and Lake Traverse, they accepted a ride from a passer-by into Browns Valley, Minn., Witte said - quickly adding that Sevareid and Port also took a truck through the city.

"So, we didn't think it was cheating too much," he said.

Monday was Day 22 of the Bloomitte Expedition, as the teens have dubbed their trek.

Their health has held up for the most part. Witte suffered a swollen tendon in his wrist, but it went away. The skin over their knuckles occasionally cracks and bleeds, dried out by the river mud.

Friends since Witte moved three houses down from Bloomfield in the first grade, they said they aren't sick of each other's company - yet.

"The more trips we do, the longer it takes to actually start arguing," Bloomfield said.

If all goes well, they hope to arrive Saturday night at Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. Their parents will meet them to replenish supplies and switch canoes to a heavier, slower model better suited for the big waves of Lake Winnipeg and the rapids of the Hayes River, which they hope will be ice-free by the time they get there.

"And then, we'll be on our own basically," Witte said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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