PRESS RELEASE May 8, 2014
Ely Adventurers to Descend Amazon’s “River of Doubt”
What’s the best way to celebrate 2014 as the 50th anniversary year of the National Wilderness Act and the founding of the Boundary Waters, America’s most popular & heavily-visited wilderness? With an epic wilderness adventure! For Ely-area guides Dave Freeman & Paul Schurke, that adventure will involve a Centennial Year retracing of the greatest adventure in the life of our greatest conservation president, Theodore President. In 1909, Roosevelt set the stage for the Boundary Waters by establishing Superior National Forest, one of the largest of nearly 250 National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks and National Monuments instituted during his 1901-1909 White House tenure.
“He had the vision to realize how precious America’s wildlands would be for future generations,” said Dave. “And because he championed what he called the ‘strenuous life,’ he realized how important wild places are for kindling the human spirit and for exercising his own spirit of adventure.” One hundred years ago in 1914, Roosevelt, America’s ‘Rough Rider’ & ‘Wild West” adventure president, undertook his biggest adventure — the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon, the legendary “River of Doubt.” During the two-month trek, Roosevelt’s crew faced unbelievable hardships. They lost their boats and supplies to punishing whitewater. They endured starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning and a murder within their own ranks. The ordeal brought Roosevelt to the brink of suicide and left his health debilitated. But he later said he wouldn’t have traded this epic experience for anything. It added the Rio Roosevelt, as it’s now called, to the map of the Western Hemisphere and prompted several books, including his own and the 2005 national bestseller “The River of Doubt,” by Candice Millard.
As Roosevelt did, Dave & Paul are teaming up with native Brazilians for their trek, including Brazil’s top canoe builder, Antonio Carlos Osse. Unlike Roosevelt, this centennial trip will employ lightweight Kevlar and backpackable folding canoes. In contrast, Roosevelt’s crew relied on 1-ton dugouts they crafted along the way and that they found nearly impossible to portage around the miles of whitewater rapids through dense jungle that define the river’s upper end. That portion of the river remains unchanged, surrounded by impenetrable jungle that’s protected from development of any kind. And it remains the realm of the Cinta Larga, an Amazon tribe whose first significant contact with the outside world didn’t occur until the 1970s. Dave’s and Paul’s Brazilian team members were recently able to secure permission from Cinta Larga chieftains to enter the area. Their plans call for a 6-week, 400-mile descent, from late May through the end of June, starting near the headwaters and finishing where the Trans-Amazonian Highway crosses the Rio Roosevelt’s lower reaches.
“We’re dedicating this journey to the conservation legacy of President Roosevelt,” said Paul Schurke, who operates Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge near Ely. “Without his vision, we wouldn’t have Superior National Forest and the protected lakeland vacation region that’s now considered the ‘Soul of Minnesota’ and a global wildlands treasure.” Dave & Paul plan to share stories from the “River of Doubt” journey and Roosevelt’s public land legacy at 50th anniversary events for the National Wilderness Act set for this September in Duluth and Ely.
Roosevelt’s great grandson, Ted Roosevelt IV, has advised them on their plans. A long-standing board member of The Wilderness Society, Roosevelt IV’s tireless crusade for wilderness protection was prompted during high school summers as a Camp Keewaydin canoe guide “My great grandfather was a passionate wilderness advocate and a passionate wilderness adventurer,” said Ted Roosevelt IV. “Dave’s and Paul’s Rio Roosevelt expedition and their dedication to wilderness protection is testimony that these passions live on.” The September anniversary events will coincide with the launch of yet another big canoe adventure for Dave.
This fall he and his wife Amy, who are 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, will paddle from the Boundary Waters to the White House. They hope this 100-day “Paddle to DC” trek will culminate in delivery to President Obama of a petition canoe signed by thousands of people calling for national action on the threat that proposals for sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota pose to Superior National Forest. “As Minnesotans may recall,” said Dave, “President Obama sent a personal letter to Ely in September 2012 that was featured in the NBC Today’s coverage of Obama’s 2nd inauguration festivities. In that letter, Obama expressed his hope that the ‘wilderness surrounding Ely remains spectacular.’
We’ll include a copy of that letter with the canoe in hopes that President Obama will build upon President Roosevelt’s vision for Superior National Forest by ensuring that this precious vacationland is not threatened by the nation’s most polluting industry.” Ted Roosevelt IV plans to paddle the Potomac with Dave & Amy on the last leg of their 2,000-mile “Paddle to DC.” Daily updates on this spring’s “River of Doubt” Expedition and next fall’s “Paddle to D.C.” can be followed on WildernessClassroom.org, Dave and Amy Freeman’s geography and wilderness education website that has served over 600 schools involving 85,000 students. Paddle to D.C. is sponsored by Sustainable Ely, an advocacy center focused on the threat of sulfide mining to the Boundary Waters and surrounding communities.
Dave’s & Amy’s expeditions have taken them over 30,000 miles by canoe, kayak, and dogsled through some of the world’s wildest places, from the Amazon to the Arctic. Paul Schurke is an arctic adventurer & author who has received the Explorers Award and presidential commendations for the 1986 dogsled expedition he led to the North Pole with Will Steger and for his 1990 Bering Bridge Expedition that helped thaw Soviet-American relations in the Bering Strait region. Dave & Paul depart for the Amazon on Friday, May 16, 2014, & return to Minnesota in early July.