Two Canoe Adventures Across Canada

I’ve recently read about two separate canoe adventures across Canada. The first was chronicled in the book Canoe for Change: A Journey Across Canada by Glenn Green and Carol VandenEngel, a married couple who do their trip both to celebrate retirement and to raise money for the charity Loving Spoonful (which provides healthy food for people in need of it).

They split their voyage over two seasons. In the first, they covered the eastern half of Canada, from Ontario down the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic, This involved a lot of paddling and also portaging around obstacles like dams. For portaging, they were often able to use a canoe cart on adjacent paths, providing interest and amusement to pedestrians and bicyclists they encountered. In year two they started on the West Coast and headed east. Starting on the wrong side of the Continental divide involved challenging upstream paddling. They quickly found this too daunting on the Frasier river in British Columbia, and went with plan B: they had the Canoe transported to Alberta and rode bikes to the other side of the divide. They were then able to paddle on more favorable currents heading east. This was quite an adventure covering thousands of kilometers. There were many heartwarming stories of encounters with kind strangers who provided “trail magic”. The writing style is enjoyable, and there are often individual comments by George or Carol. My favorite was Carol’s answer to the question of how did they stand spending so much time with each other. She said they treat each other kindly, like best friends. And if that doesn’t work, “He’s got his end of the canoe and I’ve got mine”.

The second account was further north and upped the difficulty level. Adam Shoalts wanted to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation in 2017, and decided to paddle across the Arctic in commemoration. This is recounted in Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic.

This journey started near Dawson in the Yukon territories, and ended in Baker lake, a branch of Hudson’s Bay in Nunavut. He had to first hike hundreds of kilometers of the Dempster Highway before starting out with his canoe on the Mackenzie river. He traveled much of the way upstream on several different rivers, the most challenging being the Mackenzie and later the Coppermine. Often the current was too strong to paddle against, and he had to resort to other options such as poling, lining (hiking along next to the river and pulling the canoe with a rope), or portaging. He optimistically brought a canoe cart for portaging but it saw little use because the terrain was too difficult. So crossing a land section required seven trips back and forth to shuttle his baggage and the canoe. He showed indomitable spirit in overcoming these challenges.

from Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic

The trip also involved crossing large bodies of water like Great Bear lake (where he had to cope with a good amount of ice) and dealing with high winds and waves. Unlike George and Carol, he did not have a lot of encounters with other people because he was in such a remote area. He did, however, encounter a remarkable variety of wildlife. Adam completed this journey in one season, starting in late spring and finishing just in time before winter.

I thoroughly enjoyed and was inspired by both these books. I may not run off on a multi-week paddling and camping trip any time soon, but I would like to spend more time in nature and challenge my comfort zone.

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