Like the voyageurs of yore, Mike Ranta, his dog Spitzii and tag-along photographer David Jackson pack their canoes and slipped into the north end of Lac la Hache on April 20, eager to put the busy Highway 97 behind them.
Ranta agilely spins his canoe around in order to let Spitzii jump into his perch at the tip of boat. Jackson is already paddling into the lake, ready to get photographs and video for a documentary project he is working on.
Ranta is paddling and portaging his way from Bella Coola to Cape Breton in order to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder and the issues faced by first responders in Canada. It’s also his salute to Canada’s 150th anniversary, “recognizing that it is older than 150 years as well.”
Ranta started his journey on April 1. He’ll be on the water until Oct. 31.
“It takes me back to an age that we all yearn for and pine for, we’re so connected with nature, that coexistence with animals, that love for country that is just second to none,” he says.
At Lac la Hache, Ranta was in the middle of the hardest part of his journey. Because of ice and adverse conditions in the Chilcotin, the team had to make an 800 km portage — the longest of the trip. From Lac la Hache, Ranta travelled through 100 Mile House along Highway 24, paddling through Bridge Lake and Sheridan Lake — ice respective — before heading through Clearwater and Valemount to paddle the length of Kinbasket Lake before walking to Lake Louise. From there, the trip is almost all water.
People can follow along with Ranta’s adventure on his website www.mikeranta.ca where Ranta has a GPS tracker that allows people to follow along with Ranta along the route. Jackson posts photography whenever he has internet access, both on his website at davidjacksonphoto.com or on instagram @davidjackson_.
Ranta is no stranger to long voyages. He’s the world record holder for the longest solo canoe trip and won the Canoe and Kayak Magazine 2015 Expedition of the Year award.
This will be Ranta and Spitzii’s third trip across the country.
While the landscape in B.C. is not friendly to people travelling against the water currents, Ranta says he’s enjoying his trip across the province.
“B.C. has always been one of my toughest provinces but also one of my favourites too. The landscapes are as beautiful as the people.”
While he admits it sounds cliche, Ranta says it’s the people that make his trip worth it.
“I just want to invite every Canadian to come out and sign the canoe, show that support.”
If people see him on the road, he encourages them to find a safe spot to pull over and come say hi and sign his canoe.
“It just gives me inspiration, it is a tough trip, physically and emotionally. I miss family a lot. When I look down at the signatures, I draw inspiration that these people are behind me on this journey,” he says.
“A handshake, a smile and a hug goes a long ways.”
While Jackson is along to document the trip, he also takes part in all of the portages and paddles along the route.
“It’s a great story and Mike is a really influential Canadian. My earliest mentors as a photographer were prime minister photographers and war photographers and news photographers and they all knew the importance of documenting people,” he says.
“Mike is just as important to our collective history as the prime minister because he is proving to people that there are no limits to what you can do if you put your mind to it.”
The two also provide each other with moral support.
“We have a pretty good laugh every day and that makes a big difference,” says Ranta.
Ranta hopes to have some immigrants paddle along with him along the trip as well to “give them that Canadian experience and show them we do have that love and welcome in the country that is second to none.”
At the end of the trip, Ranta hopes to put together a film to display Canada and show people what veterans are fighting for.
In many ways, the group takes after the first Europeans to explore Canada, packing all of their gear into a canoe as they take to the rivers and relying on the people they meet along the way, the difference being this time the group is very appreciative of a cup of coffee from the modern Canadian travel necessity: Tim Hortons.
After all, “canoeing is Canada,” says Ranta.