DULUTH, Minn. -- A Minnesota couple has approached the end of a three-year, 11,700-mile kayak odyssey.
Dave and Amy Freeman started a journey in 2010 that has taken them up the Pacific Coast, across Canada and the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Coast, and down to Florida. They plan to reach Key West around April 6, the Duluth News Tribune reported Monday .
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The Grand Marais couple is using the journey to teach 100,000 students across the country about the outdoors through a website called the Wilderness Classroom. This summer, after the expedition, they plan to bring youths from Chicago to Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and conduct other programs in the Chicago area.
But for now the Freemans are paddling with manatees on Florida's Gulf Coast. They're eager to finish but will miss a lot about being on the water, they told the newspaper during a lunch break north of Tampa last week.
"An hour ago, I had a sea turtle bump into my kayak," said Dave Freeman, 36.
The Freemans' journey began in April 2010 in Seattle. They kayaked up the Pacific Coast then canoed northeast to the Arctic Ocean. They dogsledded through Canada's Northwest Territories and canoed back to Grand Portage at the tip of northeastern Minnesota on Lake Superior in fall 2011.
The Freemans left Grand Portage last May, kayaking east across the Great Lakes, then followed the Atlantic Coast south.
The couple crossed Florida by paddling up the St. Mary's River, then down the Suwannee River to the Gulf Coast. In between the two rivers, they had planned to paddle across Okefenokee Swamp, but the drought made that impossible. So they portaged their two kayaks 40 miles along a paved road on portable wheels. The portage took two days.
"It wasn't as bad as we had anticipated," Dave Freeman said. "It was just long."
They encountered manatees, marine mammals that can weigh up to 1,300 pounds, in the Suwannee River.
"The manatees were in this crystal-clear water," Freeman said. "They come to freshwater springs in the river to stay warm."
Amy Freeman, 30, said she's eager to return home.
"Getting to the Gulf makes it feel like the end is in sight. But once we're off the trail for a couple of weeks, I'll be eager to do the next trip," she said.
The Freemans do online video conferencing with classrooms whenever they can. Over the holidays, they spent time in Midwestern classrooms speaking to kids.
"That really helped us, to see the reaction from the kids and teachers," Amy Freeman said. "The classes gave us a lot of stuff. One class had done journal entries to show us they were excited about what we were doing."
The couple is also looking for other ways to use technology to connect with kids.
"We have this fantasy about being able to have an iPhone on (the kayak's) deck in a waterproof housing, so we could start streaming if we saw something interesting," she said.