Adventures / Paddling / This Couple Lived in the Wilderness for a Year

Outdoor educators Amy and Dave Freeman spent 366 days living in the Boundary Waters’ maze of pristine lakes and rivers. Their goal was to share what’s at stake if sulfide-ore copper mining is allowed in the watershed. The pair spent a year exploring 500 lakes, rivers, and streams, and camping at 120 sites—even when temperatures dropped to -30 degrees. They went through 120 chocolate bars, 135 pounds of pasta, 750 tortillas, 110 pounds of cheese, and were supported by 300 volunteers. “Living outside for a year taught us to slow down and appreciate what we really need to be happy—food, water, shelter, companionship, and purpose,” says Dave. Their book, A Year in the Wilderness, on the adventure hit the shelves this month. See more at https://milkweed.org

See incredible facts about Amy and Dave’s adventure, then read an interview with Dave.


• We did not go inside, flip a light switch, flush a toilet, cross a road, ride in car, or turn a faucet for 366 days.

• We only used cash once to pay for some burgers that were paddled in to us.

• We didn’t take showers. We took a monthly plunge in the lake (no soap), we used wet wipes and sponge baths to stay clean, and honestly our bodies adapted and we didn’t feel dirty or have cravings to shower or bath.

• We used a special drybag, called a Scrubba, to wash our clothes. Basically we put a few liters of water and biodegradable soap in the bag with a few pieces of clothing. Agitate the the bag and the dump dirty water back in the woods, rinse clothes once or twice in Scrubba and then hang out to dry.

• We went to bed when it got dark and awoke when the sun rose. We were more active on nice days and would lay low and drink tea when the weather was nasty. Our lives revolved around the weather and nature’s rhythm.

• Living outside for a year taught us to slow down and appreciate what we really need to be happy; food, water, shelter, companionship, and purpose.

• The Boundary Waters has a pit toilet at each designated campsite so that is mostly were we went to the bathroom. It’s not enclosed, basically a pit dug in the ground with a fiberglass toilet that looks like a tree stump over the hole.

What were the coldest temps you experienced? How did they affect you or your gear?

Dave Freeman: The coldest was -30F. It was hard to keep our camera batteries warm and we had to spend about 90 minutes a day gathering and cutting firewood when it when it was -20F or colder. The cold snow is like sandpaper, so we had to put booties on the dogs’ feet to protect them from the abrasive snow.

What were the greatest challenges and hazards?

Dave Freeman: The biggest challenge was traveling over thin ice as the lakes were freezing in the fall and melting in the spring. This was also our favorite time because we were physically cut off from the outside world and pushing ourselves.

What were some of the greatest joys?

Dave Freeman: The silence, time to slow down and experience the season changing, smelling wild rice ripening, watching wolf packs run across frozen lakes. Seeing the last loons fly south in late November, and greeting them when they returned in late April. Having time to watch the sun rise and set each day. Knowing that our actions were helping to protect a wilderness we love. Gathering water from a wilderness lake each day. Bearing witness to the wilderness. Watching the sun slowly burn fog off the lake while drinking coffee. The immediate reward that the radiant heat of the wood stove provides after spending hours out in the cold hauling, cutting, and splitting firewood. Skiing across untracked lakes for hours with the dogs and watching them run.

What creature comforts did you have?

Dave Freeman: We had a SeekOutside Tipi Tent and wood stove, which kept us warm and dry even in the nastiest weather. We really enjoyed or Helinox chairs—they were certainly a luxury. We had Sea to Summit inflatable pillows, a tiny radio which we listened to during breakfast and dinner most days, three-inch-thick down-filled sleeping pads. We also read lots of books, both paper and on a Kindle.

How did you handle food? Did you get restocked?

Dave Freeman: We had food brought in approximately every two weeks, except during the freeze-up and break-up of the lakes, where we had five weeks of food brought in to see us through until the lakes froze/thawed.

We had over 300 volunteers bring in supplies.

We each ate one Clif bar and two Patagonia Provisions bars each day. We also went through 120 chocolate bars, 135 pounds of pasta, 750 tortillas, 110 pounds of cheese.

Did you wear out any of your gear? About how many pounds were you carrying around on average?

Dave Freeman: We wore out two pairs of ski boots, two saw blades, and one axe handle, three dozen dog booties.

On average, we had about 175 pounds of food and gear during the summer and 225 pounds of food and gear during the winter so maybe 200 averaged out over the whole year.

What’s at stake right now for the Boundary Waters?

Dave Freeman: A lot! Several congressmen have added a bill to the Omnibus Budget Bill that de-funds a two-year scientific review of the effects copper mining would have on the region. This has all been going on over the last ten days while we have been sailing so I am going to reach out and try to get a concise summary and suggested action item people could take. More soon.

What was the first thing you did after exiting the wilderness?

Dave Freeman: We met a floatilla of boats at the edge of the wilderness and attended a huge welcome home party with 200 people, food, beer, and music. It was like a wedding; it was a wonderful celebration. A few hours later we took showers and tried to sleep in a bed, but it was really hard to sleep inside.


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