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Cross-state portage raises awareness

Above: Evan Hansen is pictured with his canoe outside of the Fairmont Municipal Airport on Monday afternoon. Hansen is portaging across the state to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention.

FAIRMONT– People across Southern Minnesota might see a man carrying a bright yellow canoe on his back. Twenty-six-year-old Evan Hansen of Rochester is portaging across the state to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention. Hansen traveled through Fairmont on Monday.

An outdoor enthusiast, Hansen said he had hiked the Appalachian Trail after college and that he’d led trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Duluth.

He said he had a friend who had never hiked the Boundary Waters, so Hansen went with him and some other friends over a weekend. He said they used the heavy 80-pound Alumacraft canoes because they’re more durable.

“I brought them to the outfitters in town and they showed me what a lightweight canoe felt like. One of my friends put it on and said he felt like he could walk forever with this thing on. For some reason I thought, I wonder if someone set a goal, how far could they walk?” Hansen said.

The first trail he thought but not having a good reason other than his own curiosity, Hansen said he put the idea on the back burner.

But then in a short period of time, Hansen had four people from different areas of his life die by suicide.

“It sparked the idea that I could do this and make it about something bigger,” Hansen said.

As he began planning, Hansen said the COVID-19 pandemic hit and like so many other plans, his were stalled until he finally got to the point where he could do it.

His original plan was to hike the Superior Hiking Trail in Northern Minnesota, but recent wildfires shut down the Boundary Waters and overnight camping. He said the resources up there were stretched thin with first responders dealing with the fires.

Hansen again adapted his plans and on September 1, he started his journey at the MN/SD border. He’s portaging 313 miles across southern MN and will end in Winona, MN.

Hansen said he’s measuring his portage in rods and that a rod is the length of a standard canoe, which is 16.5 feet. His canoe is 10 feet long.

“I chose 313 miles because the Superior Hiking Trail is about 310 miles. If you work out the math, there’s 320 rods in a mile, so 313 miles is 100,00 rods. That was the number to hit,” Hansen explained.

He’s traveling about 10 miles a day in order to keep himself healthy and if his body and the weather cooperate, Hansen plans to be done sometime between Oct. 5-10.

Hansen shared that the two main goals of his journey are to raise awareness and raise funds.

“If I was going to do this for the sake of doing it, it’s a nice sentiment but it doesn’t really do much at the end of the day. But when we raise funds it goes toward grief counseling, hotlines and helps fund a bunch of things to provide mental health services,” Hansen said.

Hansen has a QR code on his phone which will take people to the donation page on 4giving.com. One hundred-percent of the proceeds goes to NAMI Southeast Minnesota. So far more than $15,000 has been raised.

“The goal is $100,000, which I know is a lot. But I did that because it’s 100,00 rods, $100,000 dollars. It’s kind of fun to see who can get there first,” Hansen said.

He said a lot of people have been donating as they’ve seen him walking by.

“People have handed me money, which is incredibly trusting of them. I have it in a plastic bag with me,” Hansen said.

He’s making the journey with only a backpack containing some food, water and emergency supplies. Hansen carries his canoe, which is covered in the names of people who have died by suicide. Right now there are 318 names on his canoe.

“We have an online submission and people will pull over if they know what I’m doing and they’ll add names on. We had eight names added today,” Hansen said.

He said if he finds a name is being faded by the sun, he’ll retrace over it to make sure that it can be seen and remembered.

While Hansen’s journey isn’t taking place on his originally planned route, he’s grateful for the people he’s met along the way, and the awareness that has been raised for suicide prevention.

“I was originally really bummed about having to go this way, but the more people I’ve met, the more people we’ve made aware of this, the happier I’ve been that I couldn’t go up there (Superior Hiking Trail),” Hansen said.

Hansen’s journey can be followed on his Facebook page, Portage for a Purpose. The link to donate to his cause can also be found there.

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