Women with a mission paddle 1,300 miles on Lake Superior

It was a misconception that ultimately led Erin Denny of Center City and Lexi Bruno of St. Joseph to circumnavigate Lake Superior in their kayaks, in 2016.

“We wanted to do this trip to empower and encourage women to chase adventure, defy norms and face their fears,” Bruno said.

Denny and Bruno visited Great River Arts in Little Falls in June and spoke about their adventure.

Bruno, sister of Sam Bruno at Great River Arts, said that despite being outdoor educators, they both have experienced being treated as if they were frail women, who couldn’t even carry their own equipment.

Erin Denny, left and Lexi Bruno paddled their sea kayaks more than 1,300 miles when they circumvented Lake Superior in 2016. Regardless of whatever curve ball the weather threw them, they were determined to finish what they had started.

“By going on this trip, we wanted to help women realize they can do whatever they set their mind to,” Bruno said.

The friends left Park Point in Duluth, June 4, 2016, and headed out on the 1,300-mile journey that would take them 76 days to complete. It was an experience Bruno said she’ll never forget.

“I really fell in love with Lake Superior when I was kayaking. We went really slow, so we were able to really take it all in. It was tranquil,” Bruno said.

By spending as much time as the two did on Lake Superior, Bruno felt she had a chance to get to know the lake. As they traveled through sunshine, rain and fog, it was as if the lake communicated, she said.

“The water was unpredictable, but at the same time, you could tell what would happen, like when the wind picked up. There’s a lot of big water and big weather on Lake Superior,” Bruno said.

Denny and Bruno brought mostly freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, such as protein shakes, dried fruit, granola bars, peanut butter, Nutella, pasta and pita pizza.

Each supply lasted about two weeks. Bruno’s mom, Jill, had arranged locations ahead of time where the girls picked up the next two-week supply, Bruno said.

On one occasion, Denny and Bruno nearly ran out of food. Normally they paddled 20-25 miles per day, but because of some really bad weather that lasted a couple of weeks, some days they were only able to paddle six to 10 miles. It set them back significantly and forced them to ration their food.

“That was scary,” Bruno said.

Since most of their time was spent paddling, showering was not common. During the 76 days the girls were away, Bruno said they showered about six times. Most showers were done with a pocket shower.

“We filled it with lake water and basically just rinsed off the soap,” Bruno said.

They washed their clothes in the lake two or three times, Bruno said.

Since the two wore a wet suit the entire time and a rash guard (synthetic long sleeve) underneath the wet suit, Bruno said the smell was not a pleasant combination.

Many memories were made on that journey. One thing that impacted Bruno was how friendly and welcoming people were despite being as dirty as they were.

“People were so excited about what we were doing. We’d walk into town and people just opened their arms to us. They were very accepting and were willing to give us a ride to wherever we needed to go,” Bruno said.

For the most part, the two just talked while they were paddling. Sometimes they listened to music.

There was only one day when Bruno and Denny were confused about where the location was on the map.

“We didn’t talk much that day, but eventually we both missed talking to each other. It was very silly and pointless, but it was that straw the broke the camel’s back,” Bruno said.

Since both women are very social people by nature, Bruno said it was challenging and mentally exhausting to be away from family and friends for long.

“The Fourth of July was our lowest time. Usually we spend it barbecuing with friends and family. I just wanted to go home and see everybody,” Bruno said.

When the two finally returned to Duluth, Aug. 28, 2016, both women felt they had not only achieved their goal, but the hospitality of people had changed them. It made them more aware of their surroundings in their own communities.

“Even if you’re not on a trip, you should be accepting and helpful toward your fellow community members, because you don’t know what they’ve been through,” Bruno said.