GRANITE FALLS — Doug Jans looked out the back window of his house on Sunday evening and knew immediately that something unusual was going on.
Six paddlers in three canoes were fighting the rapids of the Minnesota River, slicing their paddles into the churning water faster than a TV-chef dicing onions, and struggling to make their way upstream.
“Most are going down the rapids,’’ said Jans of the paddlers he usually watches from his home on the Minnesota River just one block from the community’s downtown.
Moments later, Jans was inviting the six young men to pitch their tents in his back yard and enjoy warm showers.
And only a couple of hours later, Mayor Dave Smiglewski treated the same crew at Jimmy’s Pizza, only one block upstream.
It’s been that way since they began paddling in the Gulf of Mexico on January 2 to make their way up the Mississippi River. The six men who comprise the “Rediscover North America” expedition cannot say enough about the hospitality they’ve encountered along the length of the Mississippi River and now, the Minnesota River.
Jans was on the mark when he suspected the unusual here: On what was day 107, these paddlers were a little more than one-third of the way on a more than 5,200 mile, nine-month expedition to reach the Arctic Ocean in northwest Canada. They have the Red River of the North, Lake Winnipeg, the Churchill River, and Great Slave Lake among other destinations yet to go.
Strong currents and winds, water that froze the instant it splashed on them, and a snowfall that basically shut down a Missouri town the moment they arrived have been just some of the adversities they’ve faced.
Yes, they’ve had their moments, said Adam Trigg. That’s where the hospitality comes into play and revives their morale. “Every time we are kind of down, we meet some people who are super psyched up about the trip,’’ said Trigg.
He is one of four St. Cloud natives comprising the team. Daniel Flynn, Winchell Delano, and John Keaveny are all graduates of St. Cloud Cathedral. They are joined by two Iowa natives: Luke Kimmes and Jarrad Moore.
Their ages are in the upper 20’s to 30. All of them have years of wilderness experience, ranging from rock climbing to lengthy paddling trips in the arctic. Five of the crew worked together at Second Nature, a wilderness retreat in Utah.
Delano mapped out much of the route. He once joined paddlers on a 2,600-mile canoe trip to cover Canada from west to east.
The others also like to point out that until recently, Delano was the only crew member who knew that their trip ahead includes a 12-mile portage connecting the Churchill and Clearwater River systems in Canada.
“You are going to some of the wildest of the wild,’’ said Tom Kalahar of Olivia, who met up with the group during their stop. He is an uncle to expedition member John Keaveny.
They are ready for what lies ahead. Talk at the pizza restaurant included discussions on how they plan to protect themselves against both bears and bugs.
What makes this trip different from others they’ve made is this: They are paddling portions of rivers with communities along the way, and encountering hospitality they had not expected, they said.
The idea for the route came over a few beverages almost two years ago. They talked about going from the US-Canada border to the arctic. A friend of theirs had much such a trip once. They wanted to better him.
Partly in jest, Trigg suggested they start in the Gulf of Mexico. “And Winchell (Delano) was like ‘dude, that is actually possible.’’’
Now they are on their way to proving it. Cold headwinds bore down on them as they departed Granite Falls on Monday morning with a goal of reaching Montevideo. They cover anywhere from 20 to 30 miles a day.
They’ve spent about $18,000 on the trip so far, with about $7,000 in expenses ahead. Donations from sponsors and contributors to a webpage have helped cover $14,000 of the expenses to date. Family members are serving as support teams.
They met family members during a lay-over and break they enjoyed more than a week ago in New Ulm. Family members will re-supply them at points along the way. The last re-supply near Great Slave Lake will require a one-way, 45-hour drive for the support team.
Their last leg will be to follow the Coppermine River to the Arctic. They hope to make it before freeze-up in October. They’ve arranged for a flight back to civilization once they reach their goal.
To learn about the team members and the expedition, and to track their progress, check out their webpage: http://www.rediscoverna.com/