It seems there are no shortages of adventurers coming through Bella Coola these days. On the heels of extreme ski traversers Martina and Tania Halik comes extreme paddler Mike Ranta and his faithful dog, Spitzii.
Ranta spent almost a week at the home of the Boileau’s in Bella Coola exploring the possibility of leaving from Bella Bella and then Alexander Mackenzie’s rock, but after discussions with locals decided that departing from Talleo Cannery was the best option given current weather conditions.
“The Nuxalk people of Bella Coola are an amazing group of people who truly appreciate and understand the importance of the nature that surrounds them! We have decided to leave from Bella Coola and immediately after making that decision I felt as though a weight fell off my shoulders and Spitzii agreed that the weather won’t be favorable,” said Ranta. “After speaking with a few knowledgeable locals and Elders they all agreed that a departure from Alexander MacKenzie Rock could possibly see us windswept for a week or longer and you know us, we like to move eh!”
Ranta spent his time exploring Bella Coola, giving presentations at both the elementary and secondary schools, as well as an interview on Nuxalk Radio.
He was honoured at the Bella Coola wharf on send-off day with a traditional welcome and blessing by Nuxalk Hereditary Chief Noel Pootlass.
Ranta describes himself as a “Modern day Voyageur” from Northwestern Ontario. A professional solo canoeist since 2011, he has recorded over four million strokes and 7500 km of solo paddling in a single season. Mike and his four legged companion (Spitzi) are the recipients of Canoe and Kayak Magazine’s 2015 Expedition of the Year award.
In 2011, Ranta paddled solo with Spitzii from Rocky Mountain House, Alta. to Montreal and, in 2014, he and Spitzii canoed and portaged across the country from Vancouver to Tatamagouche, NS, falling about 150 kilometres shy of reaching his goal of Cape Breton.
This will be his third attempt at a cross-country voyage. His latest, in just 2016, saw Mike and Spitzi completing their second cross continental solo canoe expedition: they arrived at Dominion Beach, Cape Breton after 200 days of paddling, honoring veterans while experiencing wild Canadian adventures.
“I like to say that I’m Half Finn, Half French and half Ojibwa,” says Ranta. “It takes a man and a half to paddle across Canada!”
Ranta, living and training in Lumby, set out April 1 – No Fooling – on this latest cross-Canada canoe portage with his beloved, soon-to-be-nine-year-old Finnish Spitz sidekick, Spitzii. Ranta ran up and down Lumby’s Saddle Mountain twice a day to prepare his legs for the seven-month journey.
“I’m going to mimic Alexander Mackenzie’s routes from Bella Coola to Cape Breton,” said Ranta, 45, originally from Canada’s Canoeing Capital, Atikokan, Ont., about 200 kilometres west of Thunder Bay. “The first portage is 823 kilometres. I have a cart for my canoe and I tow it behind me. Everything I do is by foot and by paddle.”
His last trip raised awareness and funds for Canada’s veterans. This year’s trip, which will take Ranta about 200-plus days to complete (hopes to arrive in Cape Breton Oct. 31), is raising funds and awareness for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as his and Spitzii’s way of celebrating’s Canada’s 150th birthday.
“B.C. is a tough province to go through by canoe,” he said, adding he keeps up his paddling skills by dropping his 18-foot lark carbon fibre canoe into Kalamalka Lake.
Ranta’s portage looks something like this.
Starting at Bella Coola, he traverses over mountains to Kinbasket Lake near Golden. He paddles up the Columbia River and walks from Golden to Lake Louise.
Ranta then takes the Bow River from Lake Louise through Canmore, Calgary and down to where the Bow meets the Oldman River, which is the start of the South Saskatchewan River, and takes that all the way down to Lake Diefenbaker. He continues from there til he gets to the North Saskatchewan River which takes him to Cumberland House. From there, it’s into The Pas, MB., into Cedar Lake which will take him and Spitzii to Lake Winnipeg.
From there, it’s around the shores of Lake Winnipeg to Traverse Bay, up the Winnipeg River to Kenora, Ont. and Lake of the Woods. He’ll follow the old voyageur routes to his old stomping grounds near Atikokan, then it’s into “the big lake,” Lake Superior.
From the big lake, it’s on to Georgian Bay then taking the Trent-Severyn Waterway through Peterborough into Lake Ontario, through Kingston and into the Rideau Canal into Ottawa. Ranta will jump into the Ottawa River, paddling to the St. Lawrence Seaway and into Montreal, hugging the south shore to Riviere-du-Loup. He’ll portage to Lake Temiscouata, then down the Madawaska River in St. John.
For the final part of the journey, Ranta heads north to Cambridge-Narrows, up the Canaan River and portage to Shediac, NB before finishing at Cape Breton and Bras d’Or Lake.
“The toughest part is B.C. through the mountains,” said Ranta. “Lake Superior is really challenging, so is the St. Lawrence Seaway. Really challenging in some areas. It’s pretty brutal.”
On his trips, Ranta has found a body in the North Saskatchewan River; rescued a drowning baby moose in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle River; was nearly hit by lightning; and encountered rain for 170 of his 214 days on the road.
The most spectacular part of the trip, he said, without hesitation: Lake Superior.
“It’s very beautiful. It’s a good energy lake,” said Ranta.
A former labourer, Ranta is not one to “sit in a mill or work in a cubicle.”
“I worked in a mill and on the rigs, and I was not liking what I was doing. It was killing me,” said Ranta, who decided to make a go out of portaging across the country.
He sold off “pretty much everything I owned” and has learned to “live without a lot of money.”
“With great sacrifice comes great reward,” said Ranta. “Canada is a beautiful country to travel through.”
Ranta’s future excursions, he hopes, include spending a year in each province’s paddling seasons, hitting up every waterway and river he can to get a really good understanding of Canada in the back country.
You can get updates on Ranta’s upcoming trip at his website, www.mikeranta.ca.
With files from Roger Knox, Vernon Morning Star