The North American Odyssey in the Wilderness Classroom came to an end last week, and what an incredible journey.
The distance: 11,700 miles.
The duration: three years.
The transportation: kayaks, canoes, and dog sleds.
The route: Seattle to the Northwest Territories to the Great Lakes to the East Coast to Key West, Florida.
The participants: Dave and Amy Freeman of Grand Marais, Minnesota, and more than 105,000 elementary and middle school students.
The Freemans embarked on the North American Odyssey for the Wilderness Classroom, a nonprofit organization designed to increase school children's appreciation for the environment "while improving core academic skills by introducing students to the wonders of exploration and wilderness travel through live, web-based expeditions and school assemblies."
Dave, 36, and Amy, 30, met personally with more than 25,000 students during their journey over the past three years, and another 80,000 students from around the world participated in the expedition virtually.
"It feels very important to be able to share this with kids," Amy told the Duluth News Tribune. "I don't know if I could do a normal trip where we'd go out without computers. We want to teach and share what we know. We're building on their curiosity and want to get them into the outdoors, have them grow into adults and understand the importance of wild places and preserving them."
Classrooms across the country and in other parts of the world kept track of the North American Odyssey as the Freemans updated their journey daily.
They began in Seattle, paddling kayaks up the West Coast and canoes to the Arctic Ocean. They traveled 900 miles by dog sled across the Northwest Territories. They paddled a canoe down to Minnesota, then kayaked to the Atlantic Ocean and down to Florida.
They weren't alone. The adventurers experienced close encounters with humpback whales, grizzly bears, caribou, sea turtles, crocodiles, and hammerhead sharks. They also survived temperatures of -50, witnessed a forest fire in the Northwest Territories, and dodged Superstorm Sandy.
And every step–or stroke, as it were—of the way, Dave and Amy were sharing their experiences, hoping to highlight North America's wildest places and inspire kids to get outdoors.
"We were amazed by the … vastness of some of the wild places, especially in the north," Dave told the Duluth News Tribune. "And also the smaller pockets of nature that we found throughout the East Coast. I wasn't really expecting to find these little gems of wild places in places like New Jersey or the coast of Georgia."
Of course, now comes the obvious question that arises after every expedition: What's next?
"We may go back to the Amazon," Dave said. "There's been a lot of interest among teachers about that. We're planning to do one or two shorter projects in the next school year, from four to eight weeks long. We haven't decided exactly what to do."
For now, there are speaking engagements and educating more students. Well, that and resting their tired bodies.
Photos courtesy of the Wilderness Classroom.