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'The Ladies from the River' are on the homestretch of their canoe trip down the Red River to Manitoba

They’ve paddled about 300 miles since launching at Lake Traverse and had “just a little over 100 miles to go” when they hit the river Thursday morning.

Canoe ladies.jpg
With the Sorlie Bridge in the background, “The Ladies from the River” – Anne Sherve-Ose (from left), Deb Knutson and Deb White – enjoyed the luxury of eating in a restaurant Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after paddling into East Grand Forks. The women were on the homestretch of a canoe trip that began Thursday, June 9, 2022, on Lake Traverse and is taking them down the U.S. portion of the Red River to the Manitoba border at Pembina, North Dakota.
Brad Dokken / Grand Forks Herald
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – They’ve been called “The Ladies from the River” by at least one person who read about their canoe trip down the Red River on the first leg of a three-year excursion that eventually will take them to Hudson Bay. Now, these ladies from the river — all in their late 60s — are on the homestretch of a journey that began Thursday, June 9, on Lake Traverse, the southernmost point in the Hudson Bay drainage.

The plan, they say, is to canoe to the Manitoba border at Pembina, North Dakota, this year, pick up where they left off in Manitoba next year and finish the trek to Hudson Bay in the summer of 2024.

At their current pace, the trio — Ann Sherve-Ose of Williams, Iowa; Deb White of Rosemount, Minnesota; and Deb Knutson of Owatonna, Minnesota — will reach the Manitoba border sometime this weekend.

They’ve been averaging about 30 miles a day, and the farthest they’ve paddled to date was 34 miles, White said.

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They paddled into East Grand Forks on Tuesday afternoon, June 21, a full week ahead of schedule, thanks to lingering high water and fast current from spring and early summer flooding on the Red River.

But the mud — oh, the mud — they say. Trying to find a place to camp along the river that isn’t coated with gooey, sticky Red River mud left behind from receding floodwaters has been nearly impossible.

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“Some days, we just go on because we can’t find any place to stop — it’s just nasty,” White said. “We went swimming the other day, and I couldn’t get out (of the river). I had to crawl up the embankment, and I was covered with mud — my knees, my feet — I almost lost both shoes.

“You can’t get anyplace — it just sucks you down,” she added. “It’s everywhere.”

No wonder, then, that White and Knutson opted to spend Tuesday night in an East Grand Forks motel rather than camp with Sherve-Ose at the Red River State Recreation Area.

Checked in and cleaned up after long showers, the women were completely mud-free late Tuesday afternoon when they gathered for dinner and conversation at Little Bangkok in East Grand Forks.

“You wouldn’t be sitting this close to me if I hadn’t had an hour-long shower,” Knutson joked.

The ladies from the river became friends while attending St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and kept in touch over the years. They canoed the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico over a 13-year stretch beginning in 2004, so canoeing the opposite direction to Hudson Bay seemed like a logical progression.

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So far, they say, the biggest difference between paddling the Mississippi and paddling the Red has been the mud.

“We crawl out of the river up to a campsite and you’re filthy,” Sherve-Ose said. “There’s no way to wash your hands because you’d have to go back in the water.”

And the mud. …

Still, they say, the trip has been enjoyable, despite the extreme heat they encountered Sunday, June 19, that took its toll both physically and emotionally.

Trio of 69- and 70-year-old women, including Jamestown native Anne Sherve-Ose, will paddle as far as the Manitoba border this summer.

“We keep it fun, and in the evening we play cards or something,” White said. “Sometimes we sing. We haven’t done as much singing this year as we have in the past.”

The abundance of wildlife has been the highlight. There’s something new, it seems, around every bend, whether it’s ducks, eagles, swans, pelicans or geese.

The bird life has been spectacular, Knutson says, especially early in the mornings. The women get up early and try to be on the water paddling by 7 a.m.

“It’s just chorus after chorus,” Knutson said of the birds. “We watched swans take off, and their wingspans are huge. They were just so beautiful flying against the blue sky.”

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While canoeing and camaraderie definitely play a part in the women’s motivation for the trip, White also is using the trip as an opportunity to raise funds for the Himalayan Cataract Project, a cause “near and dear” to her heart because she also suffers from poor eyesight.

So far, White says, she’s raised $40,000 for the cause from the canoe trip and “various other means,” and hopes to raise another $10,000.

She has a GoFundMe page called “Canoeing 2,000 Miles to Cure Blindness.”

Wednesday night, the women were camped along the river about 5 miles downstream from Oslo, Minnesota.

“What a mudfest getting a campsite,” White said Wednesday night in a text message.

They’re on the homestretch now, though — at least for this year. They’ve paddled about 300 miles since launching at Lake Traverse and had “just a little over 100 miles to go” when they hit the river Thursday morning.

The women all have different reasons for the adventure. For Sherve-Ose, it’s the accomplishment; for Knutson, it’s the camaraderie; and for White, it’s both the adventure and the cause she supports.

Sherve-Ose also posts daily updates on her website at annesherveose.com.

“We have good camaraderie and good times together,” White said. “We’ve never had like big arguments or fights. I think our long-term friendship has really blossomed being on the river together.

“So it’s really nice that way.”

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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