Halfway there

SJU alumnus and five others halfway through nine-month canoe expedition

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April 20, 2015

By Annie Dittberner '17

Daniel Flynn '13 (left) paddles the Mississippi River.

Most travelers don't have to put up with alligators, snow storms, falling into a cold river and camping in freezing weather.

Welcome to Daniel Flynn's life the last three months.

Flynn, a 2013 Saint John's University graduate, and five friends are about halfway through a 5,200-mile canoe trip from New Orleans to the Arctic Ocean. The crew began the Rediscover North America expedition Jan. 2 on the Gulf of Mexico. 

"The hours of paddling every day has not been easy," said Flynn, noting that the team has been paddling against the current. "We have to be conscious of when our bodies are telling us to rest."

When the team reached the halfway point of the trip April 12 in New Ulm, Minnesota, they did just that.

The six men were greeted by family and friends for a welcoming party and enjoyed six days of rest and relaxation and supply work.

During the break, Flynn visited his parents in St. Joseph, Minnesota, where he was also able to make time for an interview.

Flynn, a biology major at SJU, said it seems like they've seen it all.

When the voyageurs reached St. Louis, the iced-over Mississippi River forced them to drag the canoes over a span of eight miles.

"The ice was kind of in limbo at that point," Flynn said. "In some spots it was thick enough to walk on. In other areas it was way too thin. And unfortunately that was the area that my weight was on."

That was when Flynn and a few others fell through the ice.

"It was a scary experience," he said. "But we got through it, just like we've pushed through every other obstacle throughout the trip."

Although the 2,000-mile trek along Mississippi River was a struggle, Flynn says it was actually very beautiful.

"I thought the Mississippi was going to be dirty and covered in trash," he said. "I was pleasantly surprised. This trip has really allowed me to appreciate the land we live in. The river is such a beautiful place and so is our great state."

While the men have made lasting memories throughout their journey, the time spent together has sparked few arguments and disagreements.

"I've learned how to live with a very small amount of people every day," Flynn said. "It's important for us to take space from each other, but always come up with a resolution at the end of the day. We've all learned how to work together."

And when the team is faced with such adversity, the larger community has helped alleviate that tension.

"The trip is a lot bigger than us now," he said. "We have been introduced to so many people along the way that have impacted us more than they know."

The crew resumed their trip April 18 from New Ulm.

"It has been great for so many people to help us out along the way," Flynn said. "We've received so much hospitality from unrelated people. I didn't really expect it to be this big of a following, but it makes the trip a lot more meaningful when news affiliates get our story out there and share what we're doing."

Still, the voyageurs have a long journey ahead. They will have to paddle the Minnesota River and Little Minnesota River to Browns Valley, Minnesota. From there, it's on to Lake Traverse and the Red River. As they reach the Canadian border, the crew will travel through the Whitewater Rivers of Canada and Lake Winnipeg, as well as complete a 12-mile portage in some of the most isolated wilderness in North America.

The men are expected to reach the Arctic by early September. After that, though, Flynn is unsure what's in store for his next career expedition.

"I'm probably going to want to sleep for 48 hours straight right afterward," he joked.

Flynn, who has published a photography portfolio, is in charge of the trip's media project. He hopes to make a documentary of the trip.

"So far, I've been doing a lot of filming of the trip," Flynn said. "And at the end of it all, we hope to present and share our experience with other people.

"Strangers have told us that we've inspired them to try new things. It truly is humbling to see how many people around the nation that we're impacting."

You can follow along with their journey at http://www.rediscoverna.com/.