Reflections from a Wilderness Year

Catching up with adventurer (and new author) Dave Freeman

Amy and Dave Freeman during the Year in the Wilderness Expedition

Following along Dave and Amy Freeman's CanoeKayak.com dispatches from their year in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) wilderness, you couldn't help but see the potential for a much larger creative project. Starting in September 2015, the pair were immersed in the one-million-acre wilderness to raise awareness of the threat of contamination from a proposed mine, just outside the BWCA boundary.

Since their trip ended last September, the pair has acted fast. Working with non-profit environmental publisher Milkweed Editions, they're set to launch A Year in the Wilderness in September. We caught up with Dave Freeman to learn more about the process.

CanoeKayak.com: How did writing help you reflect on your year in the wilderness?

Dave Freeman: The writing process gave us the opportunity to spend a lot of time thinking back on the beautiful moments—like when a pack of wolves ran through our campsite and the challenges like hauling the canoe over thin ice while navigating the lakes during the freeze up and thaw. It also also helped us tackle larger questions about how the experience changed us, and why wilderness is important.

CanoeKayak.com: How long did it take you to put the book together? What was that like?

Freeman: Daniel Slager from Milkweed Editions paddled into the Boundary Waters to meet with us in August 2016, about a month before we paddled out of the wilderness, to discuss publishing our book. We signed the contract with them within days of finishing up on September 23, 2016. The first month after leaving the Wilderness was a real whirlwind. We were traveling around speaking constantly and were a little too overwhelmed to really focus on writing, but by the end of October we were settling into a routine and working on the book almost every day.
It took us nine months to complete the book. It was a lot of work, and a totally new experience for us, but working with a team of amazing editors and designers at Milkweed was really great.

In the beginning I spent a lot of time sifting through more than 20,000 images to select about 350 of the best photos to consider for the book. While I was doing that Amy was starting the writing process by sifting through her journal and pulling out important moments and stories that would form the backbone of the book. In the end, I think Amy and I bring unique skills that really compliment each other. Amy is very detail oriented and able to focus day after day on writing. I am more easily distracted and focused on the larger picture. I think we sort of balanced ourselves out while writing the book, just like we do when we are out on a long journey in the wild.

CanoeKayak.com: What are you most looking forward to about the book's release?

Freeman: The main goal of A Year in the Wilderness was to raise awareness about a series of sulfide-ore copper mines that are being proposed along the southern edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and encourage people from across the country to take action and help protect the Wilderness by stopping the proposed mines. We see the book as a wonderful tool for sharing our journey and this amazing place with more people. Getting the book in people hands with the hopes that they will enjoy it, share it with others, and in doing so be inspired to visit the Boundary Waters, call their elected officials, sign petitions, volunteer, donate, and become advocates for our public lands is what excites me the most.

We are also looking forward to doing a book tour and meeting with more folks in person to share our story. We do a lot of speaking at colleges, libraries, schools, businesses and conferences. The book revealing new speaking opportunities, which is wonderful.

CanoeKayak.com: Did this experience make you itch to get back out there again?

Freeman: I 've been guiding most of the summer, so we are still getting out there! The Wilderness is a part of us and we need it, just like the air we need to breath. We are always drawn to the Wilderness, but realize that sometimes traveling around and share the Wilderness, or sitting at a desk writing is the best way we can help insure that places like the Boundary Waters remain protected. We were not able to spend much time in the Boundary Waters during the first nine months after we left the Wilderness. Writing and sharing our story really helped us relive our experiences.

— Follow Dave and Amy Freeman on Instagram
Read more about the BWCA on CanoeKayak.com
— Pre-order a signed copy of A Year in the Wilderness from Milkweed Editions