Geology students to trek 1,800 miles by canoe

March 17, 2010


Juniors Luke Olson and Lindsey Lee’s journey will stretch from the Boundary Waters to Hudson Bay. (Aaron Hays/TommieMedia)

Two students will hit the road, or the river, when summer arrives, to embark on a 1,800-mile canoe journey northward. In May, juniors Luke Olson and Lindsey Lee will leave from northern Minnesota and end in the Hudson Bay about two months later.


The pair of geology students will test water quality along the way as part of a long-term research project, hoping to contribute data about humans’ impact on the north woods and how global climate change affects the region.

Olson and Lee will travel in a 19-foot canoe through a system of rivers and lakes up to Lake Winnipeg, where they will be driven up to Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, and dropped into the Churchill River System and on into the Hudson Bay. During this time, the pair will collect water samples in tiny vials through a machine that drags behind their canoe.

They hope to provide a complete set of baseline water quality data, which currently doesn’t exist, according to Olson.

“The numbers by themselves won’t really tell us that much, but future people who take measurements up there will be able to base them off the numbers we give,” he said.

Data collected from this trip will provide valuable reference points for future researchers gathering information on water quality and climate change in the region. Olson and Lee will present their findings at a professional Geological Society of America conference in spring 2011. They said they hope these studies can ultimately help protect some of the last stretches of wilderness in North America.

Preparing to fulfill a dream

The trip started as a dream of a classic northern adventure, spurred by the work of famed Northwoods poet, Sigurd Olson. About a year ago, that dream started to shape into reality as the students realized they could combine their love of the outdoors with their passion for knowledge to put this trip together. With some logistical help from their professors and courting of potential sponsors, Olson and Lee are determined to make this dream come true.

“We’re still looking for sponsors,” Lee said.

The only company that has committed so far is YSI, which provided the water sampling system. The students are still looking for help with funding for food and travel expenses.

After that is finished, however, the only things left to do are acquiring gear and the constant training. Olson said as soon as they get the boat, they plan on spending a lot of time paddling the Mississippi River, going up and downstream.

The biggest challenge they anticipate?

“Mental,” said Lee. “It’s going to be a really long time out there. We’ve been meeting with people who have been doing this for a really long time, and they’ve told us there are a lot of people who start to miss a bed, and just decide it’s not really worth it.”

But that won’t stop this duo, and Olson will be especially thrilled to get to Hudson Bay.

“I’ve heard that in the last hundred miles, the river starts to get faster and faster, and you break out of the tree line…and there’s the bay in front of you. It’s supposed to be just a surreal experience.”

Aaron Hays can be contacted at [email protected].

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