The idea for the expedition came one evening when Daniel told Nick that he was feeling restless because he didn’t have a big swimming trip to train for. Nick said (off-handedly), “Why don’t you swim across the Boundary Waters? I don’t think anyone has done that before.” The next few days the two kept talking about the idea, and it started to come together piece by piece. The expedition is a combination of Nick's passion for canoeing and the outdoors, and Daniel’s passion for adventure and open water swimming.
How does the proposed Twin Metals mine fit into the expedition?
Our opposition to the Twin Metals mine came a little later in the planning process. We were familiar with the risk it poses to the BWCA, and as a team we decided that it was a facet to the expedition that we couldn’t ignore. We tried to position our expedition as a means to raise awareness of the proposed mine and showcase how bringing a new form of recreation, such as open water swimming, to the BWCA could create more sustainable economic alternative to resource extraction.
Mining doesn't last forever, only mines do. The Twin Metals mine is projected to be operational for about 30 years. The BWCA has been a protected place for recreation and adventure for 117 years. If we protect it, the BWCA will be there for our grandchildren. Twin Metals will not. The benefit of mine-related economic development is simply not worth the risk of contamination to the BWCA. We're not "anti-mining." We're "anti-this-mine-in-this-area."
What were some of the deciding factors for the route?
The route was chosen to maximize open water swimming yardage and minimize portages. The route along the BWCAW/Canada border is sometimes called "The Voyageurs' Highway" because it was the preferred route for the Voyageurs making their way to and from Lake Superior and the wilderness to the west.
Originally, we only planned on doing the Middle Leg. The Western and Eastern Legs were added later, after we'd successfully completed the Middle Leg in July of 2019. It only made sense to turn the swim in to a multi-year expedition and complete the full BWCAW/Canada water border. We've already begun talking about eventually finishing the entire Minnesota/Canada water border, which would take us even further east to Voyageur's National Park, Rainy River, Lake of the Woods, and The Northwest Angle.
The psychological aspects were probably the toughest. For the swimmers, the need to get in the water everyday for 10 days and grind out 5-7 miles over and over is exhausting. By the end of the trip the mental determination to just keep swimming was what really sustained them.
For the canoeists, it was difficult to watch the swimmers become more and more exhausted day after day. Add to that the fact that they’re paddling just 30 feet from the swimmers, but conversation is impossible. There's literally no way to offer encouragement to the swimmers while they're swimming. This developed into a non-verbal relationship between each swimmer and canoeist that was pretty amazing.
We hope that our trip brings awareness to the risk of the proposed Twin Metals mine, and adds to that conversation in the form of recognizing adventure and recreational tourism as a sustainable industry. We also hope to inspire people to get out and go on adventures. It doesn’t have to be 90 miles in the wilderness, but some form of adventure is possible for everyone. We’d love to share more details on our planning and execution of the expedition with others at outdoor expos and other speaking events.