Polar explorer's next trek: Recreating Roosevelt's rainforest trip by canoe

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A famed Polar explorer has identified his next journey: to the wilds of the jungle in the Southern Hemisphere.

Paul Schurke, 58, of Ely co-led the 1986 Steger International Polar Expedition and has traveled thousands of miles by dog team. The Duluth News Tribune reports that Schurke and fellow Ely adventurer Dave Freeman, a Boundary Waters canoe guide, departed on Friday to begin a jungle journey that will recreate the famed trip down the Amazon that almost cost Theoodore Roosevelt his life a century ago. Roosevelt's expedition, devoted to science, mapping and hunting, cost three members of his 19-person party their lives.

The Minnesota pair, along with five Brazilian paddlers, plan to traverse the famed “River of Doubt” — or Rio Roosevelt — for 400 miles through the Brazilian rainforest this summer. Although Freeman and Schurke’s party will have aluminum canoes and a satellite phone, they expect to encounter many of the challenges that Roosevelt’s party faced in 1913-14— dangerous rapids, poisonous snakes and a generally inhospitable environment.

They're not alone in paying homage to Roosevelt's journey. The San Diego Union Times reports that a scientific expedition from the University of California San Diego will retrace Roosevelt's trip. It will be led by materials engineer Marc Meyers, who is a native of Brazil. The research focus will be on changes in flora and fauna. Meyers is collaborating with an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who specializes in travelogues; they are discussing the use of a small, camera-toting drone to film canopy and terrain.

Minnesota explorer Dave Freeman told the Duluth newspaper that the remote rainforest region remains mysterious a century after Roosevelt's trip.

“There’s very little known about the river,” he said. “We don’t have detailed information about the rapids. We’re using satellite imagery. And it’s going to be difficult just having this team of Brazilians and Americans. Many of them are quite fluent in English, but there will be some language barriers and cultural differences.”

Freeman and his wife Amy recently completed an 11,700-mile kayak, canoe and dogsledding expedition across North America, followed by 85,000 students as they traveled. The two were named among National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year for 2014.

For more information and to follow the progress of the Rio Roosevelt Centennial Expedition, go to wildernessclassroom.com.

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