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  • Colin Mclain

Get to Know B2B 2021 Keynote Speaker - Dave Freeman

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

What's the longest you've been away from your home? Imagine you were away from home and also had to paddle, hike, portage, or dogsled just to get somewhere. Now, imagine you had to carry everything you needed, from your food, clothing, and all the equipment for survival. That's what B2B Keynote speaker, David Freeman, along with his wife Amy, did for over a year as they lived in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for over a year!

In their year-long journey to the BWCA, they used their time to help bring awareness to the delicate wilderness area and also to educate on the importance of outdoor exploration. The Freemans have been all over the world, raising awareness to these causes, including a 3 year trip all across North America and paddling expeditions through Amazon jungle.

David Freeman was a sport and during an email exchange, was willing to answer my questions, even the silly ones. This blog is an edited version of those exchanges.

Colin - You've made yourself available through digital avenues, even when in extremely remote locations. From what I've read, your availability through video chat and other remote communications methods have been key in promoting your message of love for the outdoors. For many people, using these methods is something foreign to them and have only just been introduced to them. What would you say to someone who is now being exposed to something beyond their usual, something they're just not familiar with?

David - These are certainly troubling times that we are living through and most of our lives have been changed in many ways, large and small. I would suggest trying to focus on the things that we can control rather than dwelling on things that we have little or no control over.

I try to get outside and exercise every day, whether it is going for a walk or cross country skiing or on a multi-day dogsledding or canoeing trip. Being active and outside is so important for our mental and physical well-being and I think especially right now.

Colin - It is something else, isn't it, the world we're being asked to live in? How do you make that change while keeping those important connections.

Cirrus and Jasper in lead position, pulling 3 weeks worth of supplies across Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories. Photo by Ellen Root.

David - It is important to remember that while we may need to remain physically distant from many of the people we care about most right now, it is critical that we stay emotionally connected. Some of the many technologies like Zoom and Facetime can help us connect with friends and family who we are not able to gather with. Wilderness journeys have taken me away from the people I care about most for long periods of time. That separation is by far the hardest part, but I have learned to stay connected in other ways like a phone call or Zoom, to making my grandfather's pancakes and remembering him through their familiar taste. There are many ways we can stay connected.

Colin - Putting aside the pandemic causing quarantine, there was already an increase in screen-time, contributing to increased levels of unhappiness and mental health issues. Gotta stay busy. Gotta stay moving. How do you guys balance the worlds insistence on constant motion without burning out?

David - It's clear that too much screen time and continuous use of phones and computers and screens has major negative impacts on our well-being. Like most people, I think my wife and I struggle with balancing the many positive things that technology affords, along with its darker aspects. However, we see technology as a tool that we use on journeys. We use it to help us share the wild places we are exploring and encourage others to spend time in nature and protect the only planet that we call home.

It's like a tent or a slepping bag. Our satellite terminal and solar panels serve a purpose (when out on our journeys). In many ways it is easier to balance technology when we are in the Wilderness because we typically only are connected to the internet for five minutes a day to send and receive photos, emails, blog posts, etc.

I think, like anything, technology is a balancing act. I try to be sure to have time every day where I am unplugged, with my phone silenced, outside in nature. Taking that time every day to exercise without screens or outside distractions, I find, help me be more productive and generally more happier.

Colin - It's a tremendous thing to be able to venture outdoors for months at a time while still being able to maintain a presence online. Could you discuss how you use tech to reach the world, even when, at times, you are so isolated?

Amy and Dave Freeman during the Year in the Wilderness Expedition (Photo by Nate Ptacek)

David - Technology can open a whole wide range of possibilities. Today I did five virtual school assemblies and worked with over 1,000 k-8th grade students from four different schools in four different states using Zoom and similar video conferencing platforms. (*Check out the many outdoor lessons they offer through their website.)

We introduce students to one of our sled dogs, showed them a dogsled and taught them all about dogsledding in a couple assemblies. We took the other students on a virtual journey to the Amazon Rainforest to learn about slots, howler monkeys, anacondas, and more. But, as soon as I finish this interview, I'm heading outside for a ski. We have to find that balance and use technology and screen time with purpose and try to avoid doom scrolling and binge watching, just like we avoid eating a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting.

Colin - I love that you have teachers that are exploring how to get kids more and more involved in the outdoors. That message of conservation and the importance of outdoor spaces is so needed by the youth, it must have brought you many different places. I mean, you've chatted with leaders, students, and politicians to help them understand that message. It must have brought you to a variety of different places. What's one place you would love to return to and conversely, where would you never go again?

Amy and David Freeman Photo by Bryan Hansel

David - There are so many places that I would love to return to! I love the Amazon because it is so biodiverse and you are always seeing new plants and animals and hearing and smelling things you have never experienced before. That said, it's just too hard to pick a single place.

As far as where I would like to not visit again, we paddled through a superfund site in upstate New York where you were not supposed to touch the water. There were huge machines dredging up toxic waste from the river bottom. I really do not want to return to that stretch of river.

Colin - On to something extremely important and totally necessary for the blog article: What was the showering situation like on your extended journeys? How bad did it get and what was the longest you went between showers?

David - Honestly, not showering is really not that big a deal. During the year that Amy and I spent in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we didn't cross a road, enter a building, or take a shower for the whole year, and at the end of that year, we really had no desire to leave.

Your body adjusts and you stop producing as much oil if you don't shower and use soap as often. We typically take a sponge with a washcloth and a cup of water or a wet wipe once a week or so, but never really feel exceptionally dirty on extended wilderness journeys. Humans are very adaptable and after a few weeks, thoughts of showers are long gone and after a few months, taking a shower feels foreign. Showers have only been available for a fraction of time that humans have walked the earth. We quickly learn what our ancestors understood, which is that showers are overrated.

Colin - Are there any workshops at this year's virtual Back to Basics that you're looking forward to participating in?

David - Well, there are a few that caught my eye. My grandfather raised bees for many years and so "Introduction to Beekeeping" sounds fascinating. Our nomadic life isn't super well suited for animal husbandry, but I would love to learn a bit more about bees and see if we might be able to give it a try. I am also curious about "Super Foods" but it is really hard to choose because there are so many interesting workshops and presenters to choose from.

You can catch David's keynote address Saturday, February 27 at 1pm on our Facebook page. OR, you can catch every workshop, presentation, vendor fair booth, and keynote address if you sign up before it all starts. Sign up here!


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