January–February 2024


Superior Voyage

Outdoorsman Zane Brosowske shares insights from a 63-day circumnavigation of Lake Superior by sea kayak.

Carolyn Howell

During the summer of 2023, Zane Brosowske, a recent graduate of University of Minnesota Duluth, set out to tackle the wind, waves, and weather of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. From June 3 to August 4, Brosowske paddled nearly 1,100 miles clockwise from Duluth, navigating the shoreline with printed nautical maps and a GPS device.

Spending nearly every night tucked among the rocks on shore, Brosowske stayed in a hotel only nine times during his two-month trip. Paddling 15- to 30-mile days in rain or shine, he experienced life on this Great Lake as not many do, save for the handful of paddlers who attempt a circumnavigation each summer. 

While studying at UMD, where he earned degrees in environmental education and communication, Brosowske had volunteered and interned at Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center. During his kayak journey, he shared regular expedition updates on the center’s Facebook page. His charismatic posts captured the imagination of followers across the state and enabled them to encounter the remotest corners of Lake Superior in a uniquely accessible way.

We chatted with Brosowske soon after his return.

Q | What inspired you to kayak Lake Superior? 
My whole life I wanted to do some sort of adventure, and I had been studying all these outdoor survival skills in Boy Scouts and at UMD but never got to practice them how I wanted to. Then I heard that people had paddled around Lake Superior so I thought I could try. At first I felt reckless saying it was something I was going to do, because I’d never done anything like it in my life. But I figured I could learn how to kayak in a year, so I just started doing the research and practicing. 

Q | Did you have any specific goals?
Starting off, the trip was for my own personal growth. But I also was looking to understand peoples’ ideas around sustainable natural resource management around Lake Superior and to see the perspectives, from big to small, on how we can manage this shared resource. To that end, I got around six interviews and had great conversations.

Q | What did you learn from those interviews?
One of my biggest takeaways is that no matter cultural or regional differences, we have so much in common in wanting to do good for the environment. Around Lake Superior, we all want to do everything we can to protect clean water. I also learned that recreation can be used to spark interest in the outdoors, which in turn creates an appreciation for nature and leads to the exploration of conservation and sustainability.

Q | How did you prepare for this trip?
I just started researching and talking to a bunch of people about what I wanted to do. I introduced myself into the whitewater community and started learning about paddling sports. Attending the largest paddling conference in the Midwest, called Canoecopia, was an important choice since they had workshops I could go to. I got some hands-on experience there and then spent the winter practicing my paddling techniques.

Q | What were the best parts of your expedition experience?
I was never bored. Even though there were lulls, the repetitive motion of paddling was like a meditation. And I was lucky—worst-case scenarios didn’t happen, and I was always near a town or hotel when I needed one. My favorite part was finding campsites because the landscape never repeats itself. Sometimes I had to get creative with where I slept, but I loved waking up each morning in a unique place and looking at the water and then getting to head out and do it all over again. My dream career would be to take people on adventures like this.

Q | Would you do anything differently?
I’m really satisfied with what I achieved and how it turned out. I’ve come to appreciate everything in my life twice as much as I did before. I didn’t plan any points of interest to hit along the way, so I just discovered things as I went along. By chance I would come across some amazing things, and that made for a fantastic adventure. The thing I would change is do a better job documenting it, knowing now how much people valued seeing me complete this trip.

Q | What advice would you give to someone who wants to try an expedition like this?
Mindset is key, and above all, be safe. Understand yourself and your headspace. Practice! Know that you’re never going to be fully prepared. When picking gear, break it down into essential categories to simplify the process. And if an expedition is what you really want to do, you can work hard enough and make it happen. It’s simple—adventure in the outdoors is surprisingly accessible. There are resources and people who want to help; you just have to get started!