Marriage is one of the best adventures of a lifetime...but it's an art and a constant work in progress. As unrealistic as it is to think that every day of your new life together will be a fairytale, is it absolutely possible to navigate the highs, lows and in-betweens and grow your relationship stronger than you'd ever have imagined. Dave and Amy Freeman are a great testament to the power of strong communication and aligned goals and ambitions. Named Explorers of the Year in 2014 by National Geographic, the Freemans set out out on a year in the wilderness...alone with one another. We catch up with them to reflect on that year together.
Describe your upbringing. Where? And were you always enamored with the outdoors?
Amy: I grew up in St. Paul, MN, so most vacations with my family involved a trip up to the North Shore of Lake Superior and eventually up the Gunflint Trail and into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I was always enamored with the outdoors - as a kid I spent as much time outside as possible. After going on my first overnight Boundary Waters trip with my parents, I was hooked.
Dave: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, but my family did a lot of car camping and I was always drawn to the outdoors. When I was in junior high I went on my first canoe trip to the Boundary Waters with my dad and I have been hooked on wilderness travel ever since.
Q: What's been your favorite passion project throughout your adventures?
Amy: Spending an entire year in the Boundary Waters is my favorite passion project in terms of both the personal experience as well as the work we did to raise awareness about the threat of copper mining proposed just upstream. We enjoyed ourselves and were challenged, but more importantly we tapped into something really powerful through sharing our photos, blog posts, and podcasts - that got a lot of people engaged inthe Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and working to protect the Boundary Waters watershed.
Dave: It's really hard to choose a favorite project because all of our ad-ventures have had their own unique challenges and rewards, but I think there are two that really stand out. A month after our wedding we set off on a three year, 11,700 mile journey across North America by canoe, kayak, and dogsled, which took us from Bellingham, WA up to the Arctic, and then across the continent to Key West, FL. It was an extremely challenging project, which brought us through vast stretches of wilderness in Alaska and northern Canada, as well as big cities like Boston and New York City.
The other adventure that really stands out is the 366 days we spent in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Not crossing a road, entering a building, or flipping a light switch for a whole year was a transformative experience, which really helped bring us closer together and see clearly that food, water, shelter, companionship, and a sense of purpose are the basic things that really matter to us.
Q: There must be a great start to your love story and behind all of your adventures. Do tell!
Dave: We met in Grand Marais, MN in the summer of 2005. Amy was working as a kayaking guide and I was renting office space on the top floor of the kayak shop. We started paddling after work and Amy confided in me that she wanted to kayak around Lake Superior. I tried to convince her that she should find a paddling partner and over the course of the summer I convinced her that partner should be me. We set off from Grand Marais in the fall of 2006 and we would later learn that our friends were betting that we would either break up as soon as we got back, or be together for the long haul. Luckily for me the latter turned out to be true.
We were in love when we set off from Grand Marais, but I think the challenges that we overcame during that two month journey filled with storms, cold, and long days really cemented our bond.
Q: When did you first know you wanted to get married? Why her? Why him?
Amy: Honestly, I pretty much knew Dave was a keeper after kayaking around Lake Superior. We were in love. We enjoyed each other's company. We challenged each other. I felt like I was completely myself around Dave, especially when we were paddling together in some remote, wild place.
Dave: I think my mom said it best when she told me. "You know Dave, when you find a girl that will paddle across the Amazon with you, you probably should marry her." We were both passionate about wilderness travel and teaching others about the importance of wilderness. I think it was clear to me fairly early on that Amy's skills and personality really complemented my strengths and weaknesses and that we not only loved each other, but we craved a similar life of adventure. While traveling to far flung places sounds romantic, it has involved living a very nomadic life that forgoes much of the security and comforts that most people seek. I feel very lucky to have found someone who shares those same interests and is willing to follow a somewhat unconventional path.
Q: Your wedding seemed so authentically you. Can you tell us about it?
Dave: We decided that we wanted to have a wedding on the edge of the Boundary Waters and use it as a way to get our friends and family to come to northern Minnesota and help them understand why we were so enamored with the Boundary Waters and wilderness as a whole. We had worked as dogsledding guides for Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge on White Iron Lake, outside Ely, MN for many years and we thought it would be fun to involve dogsledding in our wedding. In the end we had about 100 people ranging from infants to my grandmother, who was in her 80s, join us on a remote bay on White Iron Lake for the ceremony. Most of the guests rode dogsleds to the ceremony and others skied, ice skated, or walked to the wedding site. My grandmother was transported on a snowmobile because it was hard for her to walk long distances.
I remember the night before the wedding wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. It seemed a little crazy to bring all these people through forests and across frozen lakes to a pine studded point on the lake. Luckily all of our amazing friends and fellow dogsled guides took over and seamlessly hooked up all the dog teams and led everyone safely on a mini wilderness adventure on a sunny, 50 degree day in the spring of 2010 to observe our wedding vows.
Q: Spending a year in the wilderness, one on one and in mother nature's fierce elements has got to be trying on any individual... but what about your marriage?
Dave: There were certainly challenges that came with spending a year in the wilderness, but we face challenges in life no matter where we are. I think in general our relationship is better when we are in the wilderness because we rely on each other on such a basic level and we cannot afford to let small disagreements or tensions build, we have to deal with conflict right away and we can easily see the fruits of working together because we are focused on very basic things like food, water, and shelter.
Q: Any advice for newlyweds?
Amy: Spending time outside in some fashion is a great way to really get to know your spouse, yourself, and how you interact. Whether you're paddling a canoe together, hiking, or even car camping, you'll learn a lot. Keep in mind that it won't always involve romantic sunsets and calm, glassy lakes. Marriage, like a wilderness trip, involves a lot of hard work. It's those challenging times - dealing with hordes of mosquitoes or an insanely muddy trail - that provide opportunities for growth and bonding. Those times might not be enjoyable in the moment, but eventually they'll become fond memories.
Dave: Marriage isn't easy and it takes a lot of work, but you can live a more fulfilling life together when you work together and communicate effectively. Plus, chocolates and kisses never hurt.
Photography: Stephan Hoglund Photography