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A Conversation with Natalie Warren: Author of Hudson Bay Bound for Grit Lit

Author Natalie Warren and The Cairn Project Community Manager Angie Marie discussed the the transformative power of slow travel, particularly through paddling, which allows for deeper contemplation and reflection. Below find a transcript of their conversation and deep dive into the process behind Hudson Bay Bound.

hudson bay bound book cover

Angie

Welcome to the Cairn Project Grit Lit stories of women and adventure. Every quarter, we read a book that elevates the stories of women outside. I’m Angie, a Cairn project ambassador, book lover, fellow Outdoors Woman, I’m interviewing our Grit Lit authors so we can explore the adventure beyond their books. After you get your next great loot box and read the book inside, you can send in your questions for that author will share the conversation with you afterwards to keep the spirit of adventure strong. Could you introduce yourself in your book, and what adventurer means to you?

Natalie Warren

My name is Natalie Warren. And I wrote the book Hudson Bay Bound: Two Women, One Dog, Two-Thousand Miles to the Arctic. Adventure, to me, is a lot of things. I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately. I am a person who’s like very scattered and always doing 1 million things at a time. And adventure for me is space to think and to reflect and to be doing one meditative thing for a long amount of time. That opens up my body and my brain to think about my life and some bigger things there. And adventure to me is connecting to people and to places and a part of that is contemplating our relationships and roles and responsibilities within that landscape and ecosystem that I think you can see a lot more intimately on an adventure, spending time with a place instead of hurrying around your house and working and parenting and all of that.

Angie

Did you go into your Hudson Bay bound adventure with that mindset? Or were you seeking something different than what you got?

Natalie Warren

When I did the Hudson’s Bay bound expedition, I was fresh out of college and I had gone to YMCA Camp Nanogen, which is absolutely fabulous. It’s up in northern Minnesota on the Gunflint Trail. And at camp, we had this mindset of go hard and push yourself. And so early in my adventuring career, that was my mentality, it’s changed a lot. And I think this trip actually was the beginning of that change. Because on the previous trips that I had done, they were very much in a wilderness setting where you’re paddling to get somewhere and you’re like doing a portage as fast as possible. And you’re not really thinking about other people as much. And on a trip like this. And I’ve also paddled the Mississippi River, you’re forced to interact with people and with places and with things that are beyond just scenic landscapes, you’re forced to, you know, you’re paddling through tones, you’re seeing energy plants, you’re like, you’ve got to really slow down because there’s a lot to learn. And there’s a lot to reflect on. Arguably there is, too, in wilderness settings. But I think like you just can’t look away from it in the settings in which you’re paddling through landscapes, with people with a lot of human impact all around you that sort of triggers different thoughts and conversations. And so I’ve learned to slow down and actually try to absorb those things through actually doing more urban adventures.

Angie

What type of urban adventures? What are you up to right now?

Natalie Warren

The trip to Hudson Bay — we were in like Mankato and Winnipeg, and you’re going through urban areas until the second half. And then when I paddled the Mississippi River, that is just how I learned about the American economy, you just see the underbelly of how everything operates. I just started to feel like I was learning more from urban adventures. And they inspired me to actually take actions against the sometimes horrific things that you would see that we’ve done to rivers. So now I live in Minneapolis, and I tried to go paddling as much as possible on the stretch of the Mississippi River north of downtown which is highly industrial, but it’s still just one of my favorite places because it opens you up to consider those aspects of the river like how it’s used, not just necessarily as recreation or a beautiful place to enjoy, but you get to muddle through its complex histories and consider its very different possible futures and things like that.

It’s really interesting how different sports give you different speeds of traveling in nature and those lead to different ways of interpreting the world. I have a friend who always talks about how for her biking is the perfect speed to move through the world because there’s fast enough where you can cover a lot of ground. But it’s slow enough that you can still notice new things. Then you have your thru hikers who are going out a walking pace, and they start to go a little bit not seeing the same exact desert every single day in California on the PCT. And I think you’re right, that paddling is probably one of the slowest ways that we can experience nature.

Angie

Did you notice that? Put any tension on your friendship with your co paddler? Or was that? Was it more relaxing?

Natalie Warren

Yeah, I think it was all the things all the time. It was hard. It was enjoyable. It was relaxing, it was tense — you just have endless time. And in terms of the first part of our trip, it was paddling upstream on the Minnesota River. So we’re going 1.5 miles an hour for 370 miles, it’s about the slowest, you can move. And so it’s a bit of a slog sometimes, but in terms of my relationship and us spending almost 100 days straight together, I appreciated that, that slowness. In retrospect, I really appreciated that slowness. I don’t know. I definitely remember going through my journal, when I wrote the book, too. We had our moments of tension. And we had to sort of sift through the awkwardness of how do we be silent together, we are, repeat, we’re gonna be canoeing for 15 hours today, like you’re talking for an hour, and then you’re singing for an hour, and then you’re quiet for two hours. And then maybe some of that you’re wondering if you should be quiet for two hours. It’s just a lot of time and space that for me, even though it was uncomfortable, sometimes taught me so much about myself and my inner voice and how to be with someone comfortably without feeling social anxiety.

Angie

The inner voice comment is very applicable to my week, I had my cell phone just totally smashed in an airport at the beginning of a 15 hour travel day. And it was the first time in a long time that I just had to sit in silence with my own thoughts. And it can be incredibly uncomfortable when you’re not used to doing that because we have these metal boxes in our pocket that keep us so connected all the time.

Natalie Warren

Yeah, I look back at my trips. I’m like, Oh, my God, I didn’t have technology for a couple months. And I can’t fathom that. It’s very, very different. It’s a different pace.
Definitely.

Angie

Do you have any tips for choosing a co adventurer or co partner? If you’re going out for three months? How do you make sure that you’re a good fit with a friend or a partner that you’re going with? How can you prepare?

Natalie Warren

Oh, gosh, I feel like I just got so lucky. I didn’t say, “I want to do this trip, and I need to find someone to do this trip with.” which is I think how some people approach it. And that, to me sounds really complicated. So you’re almost like interviewing people or seeking people out and trying to convince them to care about something as much as you care about something. And the way things unfolded with me and like we were best friends and wanted to do this trip. And we just hit the ground running. And never thought, are you the person I want to do this trip with there was really no critique, there was only a sort of sharing of excitement and optimism. What I would say is that it helps to have different personalities together. And in our circumstance, I was very, like, we’re here to have fun. And we’re just going to, like, who cares? We’ll just paddle under this crazy tree and it’ll be fine. Or we’ll just camp here and oh, I’m not worried about it. And she and was like no, actually, we should think about the risk components of what we’re doing. And then we would have these really great conversations that balanced each other out. If people have read the book, it definitely reached a point of tension where we had to figure out how to come back to that balance. But I think having two different people who are approaching the expedition with different lenses was actually one of the reasons why we were so successful.

Angie

Did you know that you would write a book about the experience while you were out there or did that idea come later?

Natalie Warren

It came way later, I had no idea. But we were taught to journal every day, which was extremely helpful when years later, I decided to write a book and I could just open my journal and I sort of knew for the most part what we had done except for there were five days on the Red River where we were so tired that we didn’t journal at night and when I was writing the book, I was like there goes a week. I have no idea what happened then. I was giving a talk at a sort of adventure store in Minneapolis. And this guy showed up. And he was wearing a St. Olaf hat and a St. Paul sweatshirt and St. Paul sweatpants. And he was like, I went to St. Olaf too and like, I can tell. And he had graduated 50 years before I did, and was so excited that Anna and I had done this trip. And so I started. And he was in this old folks home, and he since passed away. But I started writing him letters about telling him stories from our expedition. And that was the beginning of me realizing that I wanted to document our trip and to write about it was through these handwritten letters with my elderly pen pal.

Angie

Did you find that writing the letters or writing the book almost changed your memory of the trip? Because I think about these memories from my childhood, and I can’t actually tell, is that a real true memory? Or is it a memory from looking at a photo of my childhood? And the more that you repeat something in your brain, the more it becomes true? Do you think that there are any pieces of the adventure that got skewed in the reflection?

Natalie Warren

Yeah, my husband always jokes that it’s historical fiction. And it’s not because I went off on my journal, and I had been talking about the trip and giving presentations about the trip. First, since we did it, and so it was really still fresh in my mind. But still sometimes Ann and I will get together and I’ll be like, oh, yeah, you remember better? And she’s like, “No, I definitely remember that you don’t.” So you have to sort of check yourself, I think the most important thing for me and something that I stayed true to it in the book, in a part of any reflection process is like you get the big takeaways. And the big takeaways are real. And you can remember, maybe not every detail of what happened or every conversation of what happened, but you remember, feeling a certain way in a certain space and how that has impacted you and how that’s evolved and how that changed how you view, I don’t know, water quality or something like that. It’s a hard thing to do, especially my book came out a decade after we did the trip

Angie

Is this adventure that one in particular, something you think about every single day did going out for three months on the water, changed your life so much that it affects who you are now, every single day of your life?

Natalie Warren

Totally. I think it’s a sort of the combination of all of the trips that I’ve done, but I’ve canoed over 7000 miles. And so this was one of many expeditions that shaped who I am as a woman, how I approach my life, my entire career, everything that I do and who I am, where I live, who I hang out with, everything has been shaped by doing those trips.

Angie

And you’re still living an active life. And you’re also a Mom, how do you balance or juggle both of those identities? Do you get to adventure with your kid?

Natalie Warren

Yeah, honestly, it’s extremely challenging. I had a very hard time transitioning to being a mother, because I just did whatever I wanted to do for so long. And I did things that physically pushed my body and being pregnant and taking care of younger kids, that freedom is really stripped away, that independence is really stripped away, and your body and your like physical ability is stripped away. And so I had a really difficult transition into parenthood. And I have now I have two young kids, and we’re starting to do outdoors things. My oldest is three and a half years old, and she’s really excited about going canoeing this summer, and we booked a bunch of camping trips. And so we’re gonna get out there, and I think it’s gonna be really, really awesome. But it is this phase of making the transition of doing trips for my own education, and doing trips for my own benefit. Or, in some ways the benefits of others too. It’s not totally I don’t think adventuring is necessarily selfish. But I’m in a phase of giving back and fostering other people’s relationships and making the transition has been pretty challenging. It’s a big transition to make.

Angie

Yeah, that’s such a beautiful way to put it up. You’re just in a phase, you go through these phases of epic adventure, my body can do anything. And then we need those phases of actually, I’ll take a step back physically, but now I can share my knowledge, my skills, my experiences with other people, and I bet it’s so magical to see the world through their eyes when you’re outdoors.

Natalie Warren

Absolutely. Just my daughter with a flashlight in the dark is like it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her. It’s really fun to see.

Angie

What will you do when in 15 years your daughter wants to replicate your Hudson Bay adventure?

Natalie Warren

I hope I have the courage to support her. And I think I will. But part of youth is going into things not totally knowing what you’re getting into, and having the freedom to learn from those experiences. And I imagine that as a parent, letting go and letting your child do whatever it is, my mom was totally stressed about me paddling the Hudson Bay. But she didn’t stop me from doing it. I don’t think I gave her the opportunity to stop me from doing it. But yeah, so I imagine it’s stressful. And you have a different perspective. And you maybe like know more about the world. But I hope that I’m when I’m in that situation, I’m able to, yeah, let her go.

Angie

Oh, my gosh, it’s I’m not even a mother. And I’m already nervous about it, and even now, having done what I’ve done, kind of like, Oh, thank God, I didn’t know that before I went, or else I would have thought twice about going. And so you just learn things as you go, and how to be safe and all the things that could possibly go wrong, that it’s helpful to not think too much about when you’re the person who’s about to go do those things.

Natalie Warren

Totally. Same thing with everything in life, right? We can’t plan we can plan to an extent, but we can’t predict adventure or writing a book.

Angie

Can I ask you our five rapid fire questions that we asked all of our Grit Lit authors? Number one? What is one tip that you have for somebody who wants to write a book someday?

Natalie Warren

To do it? The first time you write a book, you’re not a writer yet, you’re not an author, yet, you don’t hold the identity of someone who writes or who has written a book and you can’t have that identity until you write something and then that’s how you get it. But also, it’s hard to believe that you can do something if you don’t already hold the identity. And so it’s just you got to jump in and just do it.

Angie

When you start to feel stuck in the creative process, what’s one thing that helps you get unstuck, or out of a funk?

Natalie Warren

Going canoeing?

Angie

What is one word that describes how you feel outdoors?

Natalie Warren

I feel myself.

Angie

What is a dream adventure that you haven’t done yet, but hope to someday?

Natalie Warren

I want to bike across the country.

Angie

What’s one thing that you want youth girls to know about outdoor adventure?

Natalie Warren

Something I keep telling my daughter is she can walk anywhere, or you can just bike anywhere, this whole concept of land and water is connected. And so if you just move slowly, the sky’s the limit in terms of where you can travel, and that opened my world. And it’s kind of overwhelming sometimes because I live right by the Mississippi River. And when I drive over it, I’m like, “Oh, I could, I can go anywhere from here.” Like I could put my canoe in the water and go north and go across Canada. It totally opens your perspective, when you start to think of these waterways and trails or just connected landscapes as a way to move and to explore instead of just this one sort of contained place. And I think specifically for girls and women how it’s like the there are more barriers. And sometimes you just have to shut out other voices like people are going to tell you you shouldn’t do that. Or people are going to tell you a billion reasons why whatever your dream is actually a bad idea that might be a rooted in more systemic social perceptions of how you should be living your life and to be able to take that with a grain of salt sometimes that comes from people who are really close to us and people that we look up to as mentors and sometimes you just need to be like but if you feel very strongly that you like have this dream and you have this vision, like you’re the only person who can make that decision for yourself. And sometimes that means going against what other people recommend for you and that can be a really hard thing to do.

Angie

Amazing. Well, if anyone has not finished Hudson Bay bound yet I was gripped the whole time.

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