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Exploring the Amazon’s “River of Doubt” and the life of Theodore Roosevelt

Exploring the Amazon’s “River of Doubt” and the Life of America’s Greatest Public Lands President

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1914 canoe descent of the Amazon’s mythical River of Doubt ranks among history’s most remarkable adventures and was undertaken by one of America’s most remarkable presidents. During this past centennial summer of that epic trek, Minnesota adventurers Dave Freeman and Paul Schurke retraced Roosevelt’s route by canoe and dug deeply into the life of this amazing man. His passion for wild places & adventure led him to protect more public lands than any president before or since, and his towering political career didn't thwart his personal commitment to spend at least 30 days annually sleeping under the stars - even during his White House years!

Though born frail, Roosevelt became a rugged outdoorsman in the ‘wild west’ of the 1880s, hunting game, driving cattle & breaking up barroom brawls with gunslingers. Three decades later, following his seven years in the White House, he embarked on one of the more challenging expeditions in history. The rigors of that Amazon trek – illness, insects, starvation—nearly cost Roosevelt his life. Why had he in his ‘golden years’ undertaken such a rigorous journey? “Because,” he said, “it was my last chance to be a boy.”

Dave & Paul dodged the jungle pitfalls Roosevelt and his team encountered. But the river, now called the Rio Roosevelt, held many surprises for them as well. They encountered a key element of the region that Roosevelt “felt” but never saw: the Cinta Larga Indians, the Amazonian natives who fiercely control access to this region. Cinta Larga had silently stalked Roosevelt’s team with poison arrows, but let them pass unharmed and did not make contact with the outside world until 1970.

While planning their trip, Dave & Paul were repeatedly warned that the Cinta Larga remain hostile to outsiders. But to the contrary, the tribe embraced Paul’s & Dave’s arrival in their settlement. And they shared with Dave & Paul the compelling story of their abrupt transition from Stone Age to Digital Age. They also shared their hopes for the destiny of their tribe and the river that is not only the centerpiece of their ancestral lands but, following its first descent by Roosevelt & his Brazilian colleague Candido Rondon, the last great river to be added to the map of the western hemisphere.

Roosevelt’s public lands legacy – nearly 230 million acres- comprises an area greater than all the states on the eastern seaboard, from Maine to Florida. It now includes many of the public land treasures protected under the 1964 National Wilderness Act whose 50th anniversary is being celebrated this fall. Among those is Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, our nation’s most popular wilderness and the place where Paul & Dave gained their own passion for adventure & public land protection.

Join us at the Explorers Club, Trophy Room, 7 p.m. Thursday, November 13, when Dave & Paul will share stories & images from their 2014 “River of Doubt” trek and from the 1914 Roosevelt-Rondon first descent. They’ll also share anecdotes from a presidential life story that, as highlighted in this fall’s epic PBS series by Ken Burns, has been deemed utterly irresistible. The president’s great grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, with whom Dave & Paul consulted regarding their trip plans, will introduce them at this Explorers Club presentation.

Dave and his wife Amy Freeman are 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year and operate through which their many expeditions bring geography and environmental education into hundreds of schools. On their recent 3-year North American Odyssey, the couple paddled, dogsledded, and hiked 11,647 miles around the North American continent -- north from Seattle, across the Arctic and down to Key West. Through a satellite web connection, 85,000 students at 600 schools across America shared the adventure and helped shape their course.

Paul and his wife Susan operate Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge & Wintergreen Northern Wear in Ely, Minnesota. He is an author and outdoor educator who, with Will Steger, received the Explorers Club Merit Citation for their 1986 unsupported dogsled expedition to the North Pole on which they carried Explorers Club flag #74. In 2011, that expedition, the subject of a National Geographic cover story, was honored at the Explorers Club again at its archival showing of a “Time Capsule” left by Schurke & Steger at the Pole in 1986 and recovered off the north coast of Ireland three years later.

In 1990 Paul also carried Explorers Club flag #124 on his 1990 Bering Bridge Expedition with Russian explorer Dmitry Shparo. This exercise in “adventure diplomacy” from Siberia to Alaska received commendations from President George Bush and President Mikhail Gorbachev and was documented by National Geographic. Paul also received the “Adventurer of the Year” award from Outside Magazine and the Environmental Hero award from the Wilderness Society.

Dave & Amy are currently engaged in the expedition, canoeing from Minnesota to Washington and gathering signatures on a petition canoe that celebrates America’s wilderness, the 50th anniversary of the National Wilderness Act and calls for additional federal protection of the Boundary Waters. They anticipate arriving in New York City by canoe on November 12th.

Date: 11/13/2014

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Presentation

Location: The Trophy Room, Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, New York, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $20

Guest Ticket Price: $20

Reservation Notes:


To inquire on the status of the wait list, please call us at 212.628.8383 or email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste