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Canoeing ‘comradettes’ launch another adventure – this time to Hudson Bay

Trio of 69- and 70-year-old women, including Jamestown native Anne Sherve-Ose, will paddle as far as the Manitoba border this summer.

Deb K, Deb W and Anne paddling.jpg
Deb Knutson (from left), Deb White and Anne Sherve-Ose paddle toward the Gulf of Mexico in this undated photo from a 13-year canoe adventure that began in 2004. The trio on Thursday, June 9, 2022, was scheduled to depart from Lake Traverse on a trek that eventually will take them to Hudson Bay. They'll paddle down the Red River to Pembina, North Dakota, this summer, pick up the trek across the border in Manitoba next summer and finish the trip to Hudson Bay in the summer of 2024. The trio of 69- and 70-year-old women met in the 1970s as students at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, said Sherve-Ose, a Jamestown, North Dakota native.
Contributed / Anne Sherve-Ose
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GRAND FORKS – By now, they should be somewhere on — or even past — Lake Traverse, the launching point on a journey that will take this trio of 69- and 70-year-old women on the first leg of a three-year canoe trip to Hudson Bay.

Lake Traverse is the southernmost point in the Hudson Bay drainage.

From there, they’ll paddle their 18-foot Alumacraft canoe down the Red River to the Manitoba border this summer — hopefully arriving by the Fourth of July — paddle farther north next summer, and finish the trip to Hudson Bay in 2024, said Anne Sherve-Ose, a Jamestown, North Dakota, native who now lives in Williams, Iowa.

“It’s about 600 miles each of those three years,” she said. “Hopefully, we will reach our goal before any of us succumb to old age.”

Joining Sherve-Ose on this canoe adventure, which was scheduled to get underway Thursday, June 9, are canoeing comradettes Deb Knutson of Owatonna, Minnesota, and Deb White of Rosemount, Minnesota.

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The three women met in the 1970s as students at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and paddled from the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico over 13 years beginning in 2004, says Sherve-Ose, a retired music teacher.

It all started, she recalls, when “one of the Debs” called her up and asked if she’d be interested in canoeing from Lake Itasca to the Twin Cities.

3 on a tree Deb W, Deb. K and Anne.jpg
Three on a tree: Deb White of Rosemount, Minnesota; Deb Knutson of Owatonna, Minnesota; and Anne Sherve-Ose, a Jamestown, North Dakota, native who now lives in Williams, Iowa. The trio of 69- and 70-year-old women have embarked on yet another canoe adventure – this time to Hudson Bay.
Contributed / Anne Sherve-Ose

“I said sure, and then it just kind of snowballed from there,” Sherve-Ose said. “We did a week a year for 12 years, and then the 13th year, we thought we were getting too old so we just said we’re going to finish it. So that took us about 2½ weeks to do the last stretch” to the Gulf of Mexico.

Sherve-Ose had spent her summers while in college working as a canoe guide, camp counselor and fishing guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; there wasn’t a learning curve.

“I was the most experienced, and then one of the Debbies had canoed quite a bit and the other one hadn’t canoed at all,” Sherve-Ose said. “She was our friend, and she said ‘Hey, yeah, I’d like to try that.’

“Of course, after 13 years, we were really experienced.”

This summer, Sherve-Ose has been working as a seasonal employee for the U.S. Forest Service in Cook, Minnesota, where she and her husband have a cabin.

She spends half the year in Minnesota and half the year in Iowa.

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“I really like being in the woods and living in kind of a wilderness situation, so I’m in the prime of my existence right now,” she said.

Logical progression

Paddling north to Hudson Bay seemed like a logical progression for the three women after completing the trek to the Gulf of Mexico and an additional two-year layoff because of the pandemic.

“We took a break because we thought we were too old, and then we kind of missed it, and so now we’re starting again,” Sherve-Ose said.

The original plan, she says, was to paddle all the way to Lake Winnipeg this summer, but flooding on the Red River, coupled with Canada’s restrictions on entering the country remotely, prompted the women to shift gears and only paddle to the border this year.

Anne, Deb W and Deb K paddling La swamps near Gulf.jpg
Anne Sherve-Ose (from left) of Williams, Iowa; Deb White of Rosemount, Minnesota; and Deb Knutson of Owatonna, Minnesota, paddle a Louisiana swamp near the end of their journey to the Gulf of Mexico, which they completed over 13 stages beginning in 2004. The trio of 69- and 70-year-old women now are steering their canoe north to Hudson Bay on a trip they hope to complete over the next three summers. They were scheduled to start the trip Thursday, June 9, 2022, on Lake Traverse and plan to complete this summer's leg of the trip in early July at the U.S.-Canada border near Pembina, North Dakota.
Contributed / Anne Sherve-Ose

Canada suspended its Remote Area Border Crossing Permit program at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it remains out of commission.

“The biggest hassle that we had was trying to get the Canadian customs to cooperate with us,” Sherve-Ose said. “What they said to me at first was, ‘Go to Nova Scotia and check in there.’ ”

From the Red River at Pembina, that would be more than 2,000 miles.

“We’ve read a lot of accounts of people who have paddled the Red across the border, but it was before COVID,” she said. “They have just been uncooperative as far as how we can do this in a logical way.”

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Finally, she says, Canada Border Services Agency authorities suggested the women call a Canadian taxi from Pembina and have it take them across the border into Manitoba with their canoe.

“That just sounded so ridiculous — to have a taxi with our canoe and all our gear — and so we finally said we’re just going to stop at the border and worry about it next year,” Sherve-Ose said.

Expecting the unexpected

Unknowns are part of any canoe trip — that’s part of the adventure, many paddlers might say — but canoeing the Red River could bring even more unknowns, given this year’s extensive flooding.

The hope, she says, is to reach Grand Forks by the end of June.

“If the current is really good, we’ll really zoom, but I don’t know, really, how long it will take us to get where we’re going,” Sherve-Ose said. “I would hope that we could do 30 miles a day, but again, it will depend on current. The Red is so meandering — you go east and west much more than you go north. So if the current is nonexistent, it will take us forever.”

This year, lack of current shouldn’t be a problem.

They’ll carry about two weeks’ worth of provisions, Sherve-Ose says, but will have to replenish their supplies at least once along the way. They have a “communal meal” every evening, each taking turns to supply the main course, and are on their own for breakfast and lunch.

As far as where the women will spend each night, Sherve-Ose says they’ll take the same approach they took to paddling the Mississippi.

In lay terms, it’s called “winging it.”

“When it starts getting late afternoon, we’ll just try to find something that will work” for setting up camp, she said. “We just go by the seat of our pants pretty much.”

A 1971 graduate of Jamestown High School, Sherve-Ose says she no longer has family in Jamestown but she’s looking forward to paddling through Fargo.

“I have family in Fargo and a lot of high school friends have moved there,” she said. “When we get to Fargo, it will be kind of a reunion, I hope.”

  • On the Web:

To follow the travels of this trio of canoeing comradettes, check out their trip blog at annesherveose.com .

Paddling a flooded forest Deb K, Deb W and Anne.jpg
Deb Knutson of Owatonna, Minnesota; Deb White of Rosemount, Minnesota; and Anne Sherve-Ose of Williams, Iowa, paddle through a flooded forest on a leg of their trip to the Gulf of Mexico. Paddling a week a year for 12 years and more than two weeks in year 13, the trio embarked on their Gulf of Mexico adventure in the summer of 2004.
Contributed / Anne Sherve-Ose

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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