Former Grand Forks wife Madison Eklund completes solo kayak ride to York Factory on Hudson’s Bay – Grand Forks Herald


GRAND FORKS — There have been plenty of risky times — floods, storms, tornado watches, heat, isolation and choppy water among them — but Madison Eklund completed a more than 1,600-mile kayak trek from the Twin Cities to York Factory, Manitoba, on Hudson Bay.

In the process, the former Grand Forks woman became the first person – male or female – to complete the expedition alone. Paddling through the mouth of the Hayes River – a river that required navigating or portaging 45 sets of rapids – into Hudson Bay at the end of August 25 culminated a dream that took years in the planning , says Eklund.

“No one has done it solo that I know of — male or female,” Eklund said Wednesday in a virtual chat from his home in Rosamond, Calif. “So I’m the first. And when it comes to kayaks, I don’t think anyone has done it in a kayak.

Eklund, who grew up in upstate New York, lived in Grand Forks from 2018 until late August when her husband, Ryan, was transferred from Grand Forks Air Force Base to Edwards Force Base. in California.

Hiking, fishing, ice climbing and kayaking were a way of life growing up, she says, and paddling to Hudson Bay was a way to stay in touch with the outdoors.

Learning of the route from the Twin Cities to Hudson’s Bay, Eklund met Natalie Warren, who along with Ann Raiho paddled a canoe from Fort Snelling to York Factory for 85 days in 2011. They were the first women to complete the trek made famous by Walter Port and North Dakota native Eric Sevareid, who documented the trip in his 1935 book, “Canoeing with the Cree.”

Warren published “Hudson Bay Bound: Two Women, One Dog, Two Thousand Miles to the Arctic” in 2021, a book about their journey.

“We talked a lot about the trip,” Eklund said, recalling meeting Warren. “We talked about the challenges they faced along the way. I bought his book, read it, and read every other book I could connect with.

Originally scheduled for 2020, Eklund’s kayak trip was delayed by the pandemic and the resulting Canada-US border closure for non-essential travel. Still delayed by spring flooding, she was finally launched on May 7 at Fort Snelling near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.

With the Hudson’s Bay outpost at York Factory in the background, Madison Eklund displays her kayak paddle with the initials “YF” carved into the wood, marking the end of her solo kayaking expedition from Fort Snelling, Minn., to York Factory.

Contributed/Madi Eklund

She funded the trip with her personal savings and some small grants.

Prior to the trip, Eklund had arranged to collect water samples along the US side of the Red River for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.

Test results are pending, Eklund says.

“It was really cool to talk to people about it and raise awareness about the quality of our water,” she said. “I had a lot of great conversations about water quality and environmental conservation.”

Flooding and bad weather presented challenges early on, Eklund says. Paddling upstream on the Minnesota River before reaching the Red River Basin, she lost two weeks to flooding, staying with a family in Le Sueur, Minnesota, before she could resume the journey.

Then came the mud and the monotony of the Red River, and its countless twists and turns. She was able to connect with another group of paddlers during some of her time on Lake Winnipeg, but there were some scary moments on the big lake, which is known for its treacherous waves.

Sailing on Lake Winnipeg lasted from July 17 to August 4, Eklund says, only to be stranded again by a massive thunderstorm.

She spent the next three weeks kayaking wild lakes and rivers like the Nelson, the Echimamish – a cry for “two-way flowing river” – and the Hayes, navigating dozens of rapids that caused many paddlers to fall.

Despite having minimal whitewater experience, Eklund says most portages were obvious.

“Once I got there, honestly, it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it was,” she said. “I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh yeah, I can just get into this – I don’t have to plan’, but it really wasn’t as bad as I thought. Most had a very logical place where there was a portage.

When planning the trip, Eklund had arranged for food and other supplies to be shipped to several locations along the way. She was carrying a Garmin InReach satellite communicator, which also functions as a GPS unit, allowing her to stay in touch with her family through daily text updates when she was out of cellphone range. Although she met and spent time with families in remote communities such as Norway House and Oxford House, the isolation was perhaps the hardest part of the trip, Eklund says.

“I’m really good with the wilderness, it was easy for me,” she said. “My biggest struggle, really, was loneliness.”

The people she met were a highlight, says Eklund.

Madiat York Factory 3.jpg
Madison Eklund in front of the sign that the Hudson’s Bay Outpost at York Factory is a National Historic Site of Canada.

Contributed/Madison Eklund

“It’s the people who make the journey,” she said. “You learn so much more about the area, the history and the environmental impacts that are different for each small community along the way. And you don’t have that context if you always stay on the river and never talk to anyone.

Eklund’s father, Dave Williams, said while he and his wife, Beth, were thrilled to have their daughter making the trip, they were happy to receive daily updates.

“She was always an adventurous spirit, and she was raised outdoors and did things in the woods,” said Williams, a retired upstate New York police officer who now lives in Florida. “Of course, her mother was probably more concerned about her being alone in the woods and on the trip.

“I’m glad she’s home – let’s put it that way.”

Williams says he would have preferred his daughter to carry a shotgun to protect against black bears and – further north – polar bears, but that was not an option.

He did, however, convince her to wear a flare.

“I said, you can use it if need be for self-defense although it’s not really designed for that, but polar bears and rapists also hate hot phosphorus on their face,” Williams said.

Eklund’s arrival at York Factory, a former Hudson’s Bay Company post and now a national historic site, was not as emotional as she expected, she says, given of everything she endured and lived to get there.

“I thought this was going to be, and I had thought all this time, even long before I started my journey, I was like, ‘I’m going to cry when I get to York Factory,'” Eklund said. “I don’t know if it was because I felt rushed or whatever, but it was just before sunset, and as soon as I landed I was like, ‘Well, this there is.

“I haven’t really had time to get emotional about it.”

Coming home was also an adventure, says Eklund. The boat that was supposed to pick her up from York Factory had to cancel due to a mix-up, and she ended up chartering a private helicopter to take her to Gillam, Manitoba, where she caught a train to Thompson, Manitoba. .

She saw her only polar bear of the trip during the helicopter flight and saw no wolves or caribou while paddling.

“It was really quiet as far as animals go, which isn’t a bad thing,” she said.

There were more mix-ups before she got to Winnipeg, and Eklund ended up hiring a freight company to get her kayak home.

She returned to Grand Forks on August 30, just in time to move to California.

“The moving truck had already packed up all of our stuff and was waiting at home for me to arrive with the kayak so I could put the kayak on the truck to go out to California,” she said. “I literally came home, slept in my bed one night, the next morning they came in, broke our furniture, packed everything into the truck and we spent about six days crossing the country and now we are becoming settled here in California.

Although the trip was the adventure of a lifetime, Eklund said once was probably enough.

“I really enjoyed the whole trip,” she said. “I think it was a great experience to have, but I have so many other trips I want to do that I don’t think I’d spend another four months of my life doing this one again.”

For more on Eklund’s journey, check out his Facebook page at @expeditionalpine or on Instagram at

Camped on the river 2.jpg
Madison Eklund camped along the Hayes River on the final leg of her solo kayak trip from Fort Snelling, Minnesota, to York Factory on Hudson Bay.

Contributed/Madison Eklund


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