You are here

Anticipating the Adventure: Paddling the Inland Sea

May 24, 2016

UMD recent graduates Lexi Bruno ’15 and Erin Denny ’14.

Two UMD female student lying on the beach

UMD grads Lexi Bruno ’15 and Erin Denny ’14 hope to become the first all-women expedition to circumnavigate Lake Superior.

The Launch 

They sit on the rocks on the shore of Lake Superior dressed in kayaking gear. Lexi runs her hand down the fabric of the special shirt she's wearing. “Feel how soft it is,” she says. It better be soft; she’ll be paddling in it several hours a day for 90 to 100 days.

Erin leans against a granite boulder wearing a spray skirt around her waist, over her wetsuit. “You’ve got to stretch these over the cockpit to keep water from getting in,” she explains.

UMD recent graduates, Lexi Bruno ’15 and Erin Denny ’14, think about comfort and dryness a lot. That’s because they are about to embark on the first sea kayak circumnavigation of Lake Superior that is comprised of only females.

On the afternoon of June 4, 2016, at the UMD Canal Park Boat Shed, Lexi and Erin will jump in their kayaks and begin their 1,300 mile journey around the shore of Lake Superior.

They feel prepared. They’ve got a VHF (Very High Frequency) radio that they can use to contact ships on the lake. Their satellite tracking device will allow them to communicate home, Lexi to Duluth and Erin to Chisago City. They've got plenty of safety gear, and yet there are fears.

Their greatest fear is not making it to food drops. “We’ll package up about two weeks of food at a time,” says Erin. They’ll mail some food ahead and pick it up at post offices as they stop for supplies. “We’ll have peanut butter, lots of peanut butter,” laughs Lexi.

Both women pause. “There aren’t a lot of towns we can stop at on the Canadian side,” says Erin. It’s the most remote part of the trip. “We’re working on a plan for that.”

The compass on the front of one kayak

The compass on the front of one kayak will help the them navigate the uneven shoreline.

Tough? We'll Show You Tough

The goal is to be hard-core rugged. They’ll sleep in a tent every night, pouring rain or not.

“We’re going to get smelly and gross. My hair is going to get stringy and matt up, and I can’t wait,” said Erin. Lexi points to her soft yellow shirt. “There’s going to be dirt ground into our clothes,” she says, and they both throw back their heads and laugh.

The trip will be a stretch for both women. As undergrads, the two worked together as sea kayak guides with UMD's Kayak and Canoe Institute. “The longest we’ve been in a kayak was 12 days,” says Lexi. That was co-leading an Apostle Islands trip.

“When it was over, we knew we had to do it again,” says Erin. “We bonded. We decided we wanted to see all of Lake Superior, together.”

Two pair of paddle shoes

Slip-resistant soles on their paddle shoes will help them enter and exit their kayaks.

Inspiring Women to Adventure in the Outdoors

The “mission,” as Erin says, is to “shed light on women as outdoor education professionals.” The field is now dominated by men, but women like Erin and Lexi are working to change the ratio.

Lexi and Erin credit five UMD educators, Randy Carlson, Tim Bates, Danny Frank, Ken Gilbertson, and Pat Kohlin, with inspiring them to take the Lake Superior trip. Lexi tells a story about the confidence Pat and Randy had in her leadership abilities. “They wanted me to be one of the leaders on a kayak trip in the Apostle Islands, even though I only had taken one kayak class... and that was in the UMD pool.”

“That’s why we decided to leave from the UMD boat shed at Canal Park,” said Lexi. “UMD is where it all started for us.”

The Quiet of the Wild

Erin says she's looking forward to unplugging for 90 days. “I’m excited to see all of the natural world of Lake Superior — the birds, the trees, the water, the rocks," Lexi says. “I can’t wait to get away from the constant go, go, go.”

After the trip, Lexi plans to move to Grand Marais to work in nature-based preschool. Erin wants to work as a naturalist but she isn’t sure where. “That’s what I want to figure out on the trip. I know it will be doing something with outdoor environmental education."

Related to this article