Bold or Crazy? Chaska to Hudson Bay in a Canoe

Sean Bloomfield discusses his book detailing his 2,200-mile canoe trip with his high school buddy.

When Chaska Middle School West teacher Sean Bloomfield was a seventh grader, his grandfather passed away. One of the items that Bloomfield’s father inherited was a copy of Canoeing with the Cree, written in 1935 by newsman and writer Eric Sevareid. The book details Sevareid’s journey with his friend Walter Port from Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay. Bloomfield was fascinated by the story. After he read it, he passed it on to his best friend, Colton Witte. The book made a powerful impression on both of them, and the two boys began to formulate a plan—a canoe trip from Chaska to Hudson Bay.

Their families often vacationed together in the summers on the Boundary Waters, so Bloomfield and Witte began using those trips to make short practice runs to prove to themselves—and their parents—that they could make the trip. As the boys became increasingly focused on progressively longer practice trips, their parents began to realize that they weren’t going to outgrow the idea of canoeing to Hudson Bay.

“They had concerns,” Bloomfield says. “But, eventually, they understood we really planned to do it. Rather than fight us, they decided to make sure we were really preparing and make us safe.” In addition to giving them confidence in their ability to cover long distances and camp out in difficult conditions, the practice trips showed Bloomfield and Witte how many miles they could cover in a day and highlighted what types of supplies were needed. When they made a 400-mile trip, the duo truly began to believe they could handle 2,200 miles.

Bloomfield and Witte accelerated their coursework at Chaska High School and graduated early, so they could embark on the journey that spring. On April 28, 2008, they set off from Chaska's Winkel Park to paddle against the current up the Minnesota River until they reached the north-flowing Red River. Bloomfield and Witte crossed Lake Winnipeg and eventually reached their destination at York Factory on Hudson Bay in Manitoba on June 15—49 days later. Local media followed their progress, and, at one point, a TV news helicopter located them to update viewers on their progress.

Bloomfield and Witte kept journals during the trip. When the idea of a book came up, there was a written record from which to draw. The trip, after all, was inspired by a book, so it made perfect sense. “It took a couple of years before we started thinking in those terms,” Bloomfield says. “I did a lot of the writing while going to college. When I was a senior, I started looking for an agent.” The book wasn’t finished, and he was busy trying to graduate and completing student teaching.

“Colton and I were doing some speaking engagements,” he says. “We’d speak to Boys Clubs and scout troops, and we did some local TV shows.” One event included speakers who’d completed outdoor adventures. One of the men had written and self-published his own book. Bloomfield began to consider that self-publishing was the perfect way to get his book released. Eventually, he created 10,000 Lakes Publishing. His book, Adventure North, is the only title 10,000 Lakes has published, but Bloomfield hopes to add to the catalog in the future.

For now, Bloomfield is a teacher, coach, husband and father to two young children. Finding time to promote Adventure North isn’t easy. “It’s time-consuming,” he says. “But I hope it can continue to grow.” He hopes to write another title—maybe a history book for the young adult market. While he’s researched for an anticipated book, his family and teaching career are his primary focuses.

Bloomfield teaches global studies, which emphasizes the cultures and history of native populations in this region. The firsthand knowledge he brings to the classroom, as someone who has traveled the waterways and camped out on the land, gives an immediacy to his teaching of those parts of the curriculum.

Bloomfield also says he’s a better teacher because of his experiences and the lessons he learned about himself on that trip. “The biggest thing I learned was that you have to take responsibility for your own actions,” he says. “When you’re out in the wilderness in a canoe and you make a mistake, the consequences are obvious right away. If you make a mistake, you have to admit it. If your partner or teammate makes a mistake, you have to forgive them, and then you have to move on and work together. You are constantly making decisions—some of them will be wrong.” The trip was “95 percent silence,” and that helped Bloomfield learn to be comfortable with thinking things through. “I learned how to be with my own thoughts. I think I am a much more reflective person,” he says.

Even though the Hudson Bay canoe trip is the only adventure Bloomfield has written about, it isn’t the only one he’s undertaken. In the summer of 2011, he and three college friends lived off the land in the Absaroka-Beartooth Region of Montana for one month. Being in nature with his own skills to rely on is something he clearly relishes.

As he looks back on the canoe trip, Bloomfield recalls the feeling of helplessness as they entered Lake Winnipeg. “In some ways, the whole trip seems like a dream to me now,” Bloomfield says. “Seeing Lake Winnipeg for the first time was just a helpless feeling—in spite of our preparation. I didn’t feel like we were in control on Lake Winnipeg.”

Bloomfield’s adventures might have been the perfect prelude to teaching middle schoolers, who are just beginning to think about the world—outside of their homes and schools—as a place they inhabit, and still experimenting with how they will navigate it.

Bloomfield’s helpless feeling, as he stared out across the huge expanse of Lake Winnipeg,  wondering if he was prepared to paddle out, might be a metaphor for the life of a middle schooler. How extraordinarily valuable it must be to have a teacher, who can remember what that feels like.

Adventure North by Sean Bloomfield (forward by Colton Witte) is available at amazon.com and hudsonbaybook.com.