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Crystal Lake South grad heads north ... way north

Adam Maxwell has difficulty describing what it’s like to be out in the middle of nowhere.

He thinks for a moment and then begins to paint a word portrait of a place that – at least in his mind – is about as perfect as any place he could possibly find himself.

But when it comes to putting his mental picture into actual words, Maxwell stops.

“Huh,” Maxwell says, still pondering the question. “I don’t know how to describe it. But I know I like it a lot.”

Next month, the 2006 Crystal Lake South graduate will venture out on a 60-day, 900-mile canoe paddling adventure that will take Maxwell and his five fellow team members from northern Saskatchewan to Whale Cove, Nunavut, on Hudson Bay’s western shoreline.

The mission of the 8 Rivers North Expedition is to share stories of traveling through northern Canada’s pristine land and educate people about the wilderness and the importance of preserving it. Crew members will do so through presentations, blog posts and social media.

The trip will be the third of its kind that Maxwell has made after paddling 1,400 miles in 2011 and an additional 1,870 miles in 2012. For someone who grew up living on the Fox River and fishing on Crystal Lake four or five days a week every summer, this year’s journey through the waterways of the arctic tundra may just top them all.

It’s the kind of a trip, Maxwell admits, that isn’t for everyone. The first week out, he said, can still seem like a vacation. But after that, Maxwell and his five fellow paddlers will find a rhythm that

will allow them to paddle as long and as hard as they wish. Most days, they will spend anywhere from eight to 10 hours a day in the boat surrounded by open space.

“It’s just something to be out in this wilderness and you’ll come across moose and bears and maybe a wolf on a regular basis, but not seeing any people,” said Maxwell, who didn’t start paddling seriously until he was 18. “You just kind of feel like you have this giant, beautiful place all to yourself.

“You’re just kind of out there on your own, doing whatever you want to do. It’s kind of the ultimate freedom, I think.”

Maxwell and his team won’t even begin the expedition until after they have driven 47 hours from Duluth, Minn., to the trip’s starting point. Once they depart, the group won’t come across any roads or towns for almost two months, crossing from one waterway to another en route to their final destination.

Along the way, they will navigate a variety of rivers, some of which won’t be much wider than a canoe. The narrow watersheds are in direct contrast to the North Atlantic Ocean, which Maxwell and his friends will paddle on for about 30 miles before reaching Whale Cove.

Of the 60 days he will be gone, Maxwell estimates 52 of them will be spent on the water.

Since beginning to plan this summer’s trip, Maxwell says the group’s exact route has changed close to a dozen times. But once their strategy is set, Maxwell expects that this journey – because of its trek through the tundra – will perhaps be his most memorable.

Within the journey, each day is built around routine. Crew members take turns being the first to rise and make breakfast for the other five people before providing a general wake-up call for the rest of the camp. There are no alarms, as after a while, crew members fall into a rhythm of the day that becomes a regular part of the trip. Outside of a deck of cards and fishing and exploring equipment, Maxwell and his friends will bring few luxuries. Instead, they will take the opportunity to become one with the open expanse of water and wilderness around them.

For Maxwell, who is a student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, this summer’s journey will be the latest in a series of canoeing adventures that has provided him with a vast array of memories. Looking back, he considers all of the wildlife he has encountered on the paddling routes he has covered.

There was the time during his last trip when Maxwell decided to completely change his career path, deciding then and there that he would change his major once he returned to school in the fall. On the 2012 trip, Maxwell and his crew members found themselves surrounded by hundreds of beluga whales, which ushered the canoes six miles into Hudson Bay.

The whales got so close that they rubbed up against the boats themselves, leaving Maxwell with a memory he will never forget.

“It was probably the greatest welcoming party we could have,” Maxwell said. “We were kind of escorted by whales into where we were ending. It was definitely the coolest moment I have had in a canoe.”

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