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Grand Forks woman reaches Lake Winnipeg on 1,600-mile kayak trek to Hudson Bay

The weather throughout her journey has been a struggle, Madison Williams says, including seven tornado watches – one of which escalated into a warning – “tons” of thunderstorms, a week of excessive heat and high winds.

Lake Winnipeg.jpg
Madison Williams was waiting out a bad weather day Tuesday, July 19, 2022, on Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, Manitoba, where she was catching up on social media posts. Williams began a 1,600-plus-mile kayak trek from the Twin Cities to Hudson Bay in early May and says she hopes to reach York Factory, Manitoba, in mid-August.
Contributed / Madison Williams
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GIMLI, Manitoba – She has battled stormy weather, flooding and more mud than most people probably ever encounter in a lifetime, but a Grand Forks woman kayaking from the Twin Cities to Hudson Bay says she expects to reach York Factory, Manitoba, by mid-August.

Madison Williams, who set out from Fort Snelling on May 7 for the 1,600-plus-mile solo kayak trip to Hudson Bay, was waiting out yet another storm Tuesday morning, July 19, on Lake Winnipeg, where she is staying with hosts in Gimli, Manitoba.

“Today is a down day to get social media posts scheduled,” Williams said in a Messenger chat. Lake Winnipeg, she says, is “definitely choppy, even on the good days.”

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The weather throughout her journey has been a struggle, Williams says, including seven tornado watches – one of which escalated into a warning – “tons” of thunderstorms, a week of excessive heat and high winds.

Madison Williams.jpg
Madison Williams paddles a kayak in this undated photo. Williams, who lives in Grand Forks but will be moving later this summer, began a 1,600-plus-mile paddling trek from the Twin Cities to Hudson Bay in early May and was on Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, Manitoba, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.
Contributed / Madison Williams

While paddling upstream on the Minnesota River before reaching the Red River Basin, Williams says she lost two weeks in Le Sueur, Minnesota, because of flooding. Despite the setbacks, Williams paddled through Grand Forks about a week ago and spent a few days preparing for an imminent move.

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The Red River, she says, has been her least favorite stretch of the trip so far.

“I honestly enjoyed fighting the current on the Minnesota better,” Williams said Tuesday from Gimli. “At least I could get out, and there were things to see.

“The Red was treacherously muddy with identical monotonous oxbows. Launches were far apart – I think the biggest stretch was 80 miles – and it was a pain to land anywhere without a launch. There really weren't any monuments or things to see along the way unless you were in a major city.”

And the mud … oh, the mud. Williams says she paddled from Fargo to Grand Forks in three days, including two days when she paddled about 60 miles and 55 miles.

“I was so ready to be done and be home” in Grand Forks and out of the mud for a few days, she said. “Current was moving fast, which was great. I did some long days just because I couldn’t get out, and it wasn’t enjoyable.”

After continuing down the river and passing through the St. Andrews Lock and Dam in Lockport, Manitoba, north of Winnipeg, Williams said she almost cried at the sight of sand on the banks of the river instead of mud. The Red River undergoes some pronounced changes closer to Lake Winnipeg.

“I was so tired of the Red River mud,” she said.

To date, Williams says it’s hard to pick a highlight of her trip. Catching a “massive” catfish while fishing on the Minnesota River near Vicksburg County Park stands out, as does a week she spent while staying with a farm family during the flooding. The family had several kids, a variety of farm animals and they foraged for morels, Williams says, picking about 4½ pounds of the delectable fungi.

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She’s currently in cell phone range but has a Garmin InReach satellite communicator to keep in touch with family in remote areas.

“I really have enjoyed Manitoba so far,” Williams said. “It’s been good for morale, for sure.”

To follow Williams’ journey, check out the Expedition Alpine Facebook page at @expeditionalpine or on Instagram at http://www.instagram.com/expedition_alpine .

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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