Kris Simonson ’82 completes 125-mile Moose Lake Border Route Challenge

It’s just before sunrise in the northeast corner of the Minnesota wilderness, and it’s pouring rain. Portaging her canoe and carrying nearly 70 pounds of gear, Lower School Math Specialist and FLL Robotics Coach Kris Simonson ’82 sets out on the final leg of her week-long 125-mile Moose Lake Border Route Challenge. Her final Grand Portage is eight and a half miles, and, although it’s only early September, the narrow wooded path feels like ice. 

“I had never been on the Grand Portage before, and I was traveling totally by myself,” says Simonson. “Portaging is 90% mental. If you think you can’t do it, you can’t. If you think you can, you can.”

After five hours, Simonson made it to Grand Portage National Monument, where her fellow challengers waited to congratulate her with cheers, kind words, and a special necklace (pictured in the photo above) symbolizing the completion of the arduous journey. “I wanted to test what I was capable of,” says Simonson of her adventure. “No matter how tiny my steps were or how tired I was, I knew I could just keep putting one foot in front of the other and get to the end.”

Kris Simonson, Breck Lower School Teacher, is portaging her canoe in the Boundary Waters

Simonson’s trek had begun a week earlier at Moose Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. She then traveled through the lakes along the border of Canada and the United States east to the Pigeon River, down the Pigeon River to old Fort Charlotte, then, finally, the nearly nine mile portage to Grand Portage National Monument. 

The route has a rich and honored history, traveled by the Ojibwe people for hundreds of years and, more recently, by the French voyageur fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries. On such cherished and sacred ground, Simonson experienced nature in a way she never had before: a loon swam directly under her canoe, otters popped up alongside her, and trumpet swans didn’t hold back in fully trumpeting. Reflecting on the 21-22 Breck faculty summer reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Simonson felt an even deeper connection to the natural world and the many who had come before her on the same path.  

“[Braiding Sweetgrass] was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read in terms of really connecting me to what was around. It completely changed my perspective while I was traveling through this area,” she says. “If I was fighting wind on a windy day, I would think, ‘This is not just wind that’s an obstacle to me. This is wind being wind, and I need to be part of what that is.’” 

An incredible feat accomplished, Simonson is already thinking about her next challenge: a 235- mile route in the same area—and in the same short amount of time. But for now, to the Breck community she offers these words of wisdom: “Don't be afraid to try something new, even if it seems a little bit crazy. Even if you can’t finish it, you’ll learn something about yourself, and you’ll learn something about the world. You don’t know what you can accomplish until you just try.”

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