Minnesota adventurers Dave Freeman and Paul Schurke, who have been in Brazil since late May canoeing the Amazon’s mythical “River of Doubt,” successfully completed their 400-mile expedition today. During this centennial year, they have retraced President Theodore Roosevelt’s epic 1914 first descent of the river that nearly cost him his life and now bears his name, the Rio Roosevelt.
Despite the challenges that plagued the 1914 trek, Roosevelt commented repeatedly in his diary about the stunning beauty of the jungle. Dave and Paul were pleased to find that although some areas near the river have been cleared for pasture, most of the Rio Roosevelt remains as pristine as it was in 1914. “We saw the same wildlife Roosevelt did – monkeys, caiman alligators, electric eels, cobras, peccaries, tapirs, capybaras, giant otters and even a jaguar. And the jungle supplemented our trail rations as it did his with piranha, catfish, heart of palm and Brazil nuts.” said Dave.
“Roosevelt was our greatest conservation president,” said Paul. “During his terms in office, nearly 250 national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and national monuments were established. It’s a tribute to his incredible public lands legacy that the Rio Roosevelt remains a realm of natural beauty.
Dave and Paul arrived in the south central Amazon one month ago with 6 Brazilian teammates and plans to begin their journey near the river’s headwaters just as Roosevelt did. But their arrival coincided with a violent outbreak of tensions between the Cinta Larga (the native people who control access to the upper Rio Roosevelt) and the Brazilian government. Therefore the team opted to paddle the lower section first. They launched from a downstream access point on May 30.
On the initial 18-day, 300-mile segment they ran many long stretches of rapids and endured a 2-mile portage through the jungle around dangerous water. But they avoided the numerous illnesses and mishaps in the rapids that befell Roosevelt’s team and nearly cost our 26th president his life.
The expedition team camped at four of the same sites that the president did and they found that life along the river among native homesteaders, who tap the wild rubber trees and gather Brazil nuts from the forests, remains almost exactly as described in Roosevelt’s journal. This lower stretch of the river took Dave’ and Paul’s team through the domain of the Zorro native people and they saw signs of their thatched-hut settlements along the shore. They actually paddled through a new reserve now being established on the lower Roosevelt to protect a primitive tribe that has only recently been sighted by aircraft but has had no contact with the outside world.
On Monday, June 16, the team reached the mouth of the Rio Roosevelt and the place where Roosevelt with his Brazilian colleague Colonel Rondon and their team completed their canoe journey 100 years before. Dave and Paul then renewed their contact with Cinta Larga and were granted access approval by a tribal chief. Dave and Paul paddled an additional 100 miles, beginning at the river’s headwaters near the approximate place where Roosevelt began his journey 100 years ago. After negotiating several challenging portages, including one in which this sizable river is funneled through a 5′-wide rock chasm, they recently arrived at the main Cinta Larga village, completing their journey.
Dave and his wife Amy are 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. School children from around the world followed this expedition via Dave and Amy’s website, http://www.WildernessClassroom.org. Paul, who is known for Arctic exploration including the 1986 North Pole expedition with Will Steger, operates Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, MN with his wife Susan.