BELTRAMI COUNTY, Minn. — Several years ago, Puposky resident Cate Belleveau set out to fulfill a goal — one that would satisfy her adventurous spirit yet also develop her appreciation for her own northern Minnesota backyard.
Belleveau, afflicted with a self-proclaimed case of perpetual wanderlust, challenged herself to kayak every lake in Beltrami County — the fourth-largest county in Minnesota, made up of 18% water.
While she was inspired by Mary Shideler — also known as the Kayak Lady, who paddled Itasca County’s 1,007 lakes — Belleveau also felt compelled by her husband to find an adventure close to home.
“He always said to me, ‘Cate, you love to travel internationally, but do you really know your own backyard as well as you should?’” Belleveau said.
His question sparked a motivation in her to explore Beltrami’s many lakes, so she set out with her Dagger kayak — fittingly named Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues — over a four-year long period that began April 2015 and concluded last November.
However, before fully jumping into the task at hand, Belleveau knew she needed to do her research and map out each lake she would explore.
“I had to initially call the DNR and chat with them, and they have a very technical means of deciding what a lake is, based literally on the vegetation,” Belleveau said. “I talked to Beltrami County Soil and Water Conservation, and they said that if I chose lakes that were 20 acres or more, that would be really legitimate.”
She then acquired a Beltrami County plat map and determined that there were 294 lakes in Beltrami County that would fit the bill. However, she found that not all lakes were public access and set out to gain permission from property owners.
While most were more than willing to allow her on their lakes, she said others were more reluctant and declined to give their consent.
In the end — after paddling an average of 65 lakes per year — Belleveau succeeded in kayaking 284 of them.
“The last 10 were simply a case where I never was going to trespass, of course,” Belleveau said. “I’m not that kind of person. I respect people’s land ownership.”
Over the course of those four years, Belleveau said she often found herself taking four to five kayak trips per week, often squeezing them in after her job at Leech Lake Tribal College.
On occasion, a friend or her husband would join her, but Belleveau said she was solo about 90% of the time.
“Poets and writers have always known the power of nature for its healing, but now science is catching up with them,” Belleveau said. “I could go from the cubicle, stressed beyond comparison… and by the time I was done kayaking, it’s a physiological truth that I was de-stressed.”
Now, months after completion of her goal, Belleveau continues to kayak Beltrami’s lakes, insisting she knows “all the best spots.”
But her time is also occupied with the task of writing and publishing a travel memoir, which will take readers on a literary journey to the many places she has adventured, including Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand, Mount Everest Base Camp and, of course, Beltrami County lakes.
“I wanted to broaden it out and not just be about the lakes, although that gets the preponderance of the book,” Belleveau said. “So it’s also about making goals for ourselves to choose the life we want to have and then making it happen.”
Belleveau said local readers of her book — which she hopes will be released in about a year — can expect to learn how “we have gorgeous, wild and world-class lakes, where there’s not a single person on them.”
“Within a span of an hour, you’re going to see great blue herons, loons, otters, beavers, every imaginable songbird; and you’re going to see beautiful flora, you’re going to see irises,” Belleveau said.
However, she admitted that picking a favorite lake would be like “picking a favorite child.”
“People ask, ‘Don’t you get bored? Doesn’t it at all become the same?’ And I tell them no because the sky is different. This season is different. The weather is different. You’re different. There’s all kinds of variables that make it never the same,” Belleveau said. “The beauty and the differences make it never boring, just like our kids are never boring because they’re distinctly unique.”
Once her book is released, Belleveau — who has a Master’s degree in environmental education — said she hopes to use both her academic training and personal experience on Beltrami lakes to spread awareness about caring for the environment.
“I’d love to do presentations for school kids and talk about the importance of protecting our waters,” Belleveau said.
Yet while the next big adventure on her list might just be exploring the Patagonia region of Chile or trekking across Britain, Belleveau said she’s looking to propose a challenge of her own to other women in the Northwoods.
“My challenge is to females in Clearwater, Cass and Hubbard Counties to take up the cause and kayak all of your lakes. We’re gonna start a movement here,” Belleveau said. “I’m 63-years old, but you can’t give up on your goals — even with wimpy knees and all. You just do it. Use it or lose it.”
To stay up-to-date with the release of Belleveau’s book, visit kayakcate.com