TAMPA — They started as specks of light in the water, flashes of afternoon sunlight reflecting off their paddles, set against the backdrop of freight ships and barges in Hillsborough Bay near the Port of Tampa.
As they got closer, the specks took human form: Dave and Amy Freeman, paddling their kayaks, nearing the end of their three-year, 11,700-mile looping journey through North America.
The Freemans have paddled past humpback whales near Alaska, watched caribou march across a frozen lake in the Northwest Territories, and this week kayaked past dolphins after leaving the Suwannee River for the Gulf of Mexico. But for their official landing Wednesday afternoon in Tampa, the Minnesota couple chose an oddly industrial spot — a boat ramp near Davis Islands Dog Park, with port machinery and smokestacks in the background.
The reason they came here: Trisha Gallagher, 63, a north Tampa retiree and adventure sports enthusiast who met the Freemans in Minnesota last year. Gallagher had signed up for a dogsledding trip; the Freemans were her guides.
The Freemans were taking a break then from their "North American Odyssey," a three-year journey from Seattle to Key West via kayak, canoe and dogsled. Dave, 36 and Amy, 30, run Wilderness Classroom, a nonprofit that uses treks to teach children about nature. They schedule school appearances along the way, and post updates and photos from the wild to their website at wildernessclassroom.com.
Gallagher volunteered to be the Freemans' Tampa connection. She arranged a meeting today with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and scheduled appearances today and Friday at Trinity School for Children.
Gallagher called local kayakers to meet the Freemans and give them a caravan as they paddled into Tampa, where they will spend the weekend before continuing to Key West.
For the Freemans, Wilderness Classroom allows them to combine two things they love: the outdoors and teaching. They finance their trip with sponsorships, grants, donations and appearance fees.
Dave and Amy Freeman both said Wednesday they love Tampa Bay's mix of urban and nature. They paddled past yellow-crowned night herons and ibises; stingrays swam under them as they approached the ramp.
After a chat with Gallagher, the Freemans got back in the water, joined by five other kayakers. They dipped their paddles in the water and headed for downtown Tampa, seagulls cawing and car horns honking in the distance as they paddled.
Will Hobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.