Mike Ranta (Outers, 1987-88) has set himself a daunting goal: Paddle solo from Rocky Mountain House to Montreal. And this is the year he will make the attempt.
“I’ve always thought about doing it. I’ve spoken with Don and Joe [Meany], who have both done it, and I was jealous, to be frank. Those guys are going to be in the back of my mind the whole way.”
Atikokan youth will also have a special place on the trip. He will paddle in support of Atikokan Youth Initiatives and the new youth centre. Ranta isn’t really interested in making this a ‘paddle for a cause’, but does want to share something of the spirit of his quest with the youth in his home town.
Sometimes when we come from a small town, we think we’re worth a little less, can’t really expect to accomplish much, he says. But that’s just not true. “Anyone can do anything. There is nothing you can’t do. It does take preparation, confidence, honesty and hard work – nothing worth anything comes easy.” But never believe you can’t do something, is the message he wants the trip to convey.
Late last year he contacted his old boxing club coach, Bob Davidson, about the idea, wondering if the boxing club or another Atikokan youth group would be interested in teaming up with him. Davidson hooked him up with Atikokan Youth Initiatives.
“I’ve contacted Precision Drillings and Husky Oil, and they both expressed interest in sponsoring me,” he said. (Ranta will take six months off from his work in the oil patch to make the trip.) Atikokan Youth Initiatives is also going to help in the search for sponsors. (It has charitable status, so donations to it are tax deductible.)
Ranta wants to support his home town in general, as well as its youth. His canoe, an 18-foot Souris River model, paddles (XY Company, three, including a specially-made extra long paddle) and gear will all be from Atikokan. The canoe will feature a large ‘Paddling for Atikokan Youth’ decal, and he’s willing to include decals from any and all interested Atikokan businesses and organizations. (Time is limited to participate in this – contact firstname.lastname@example.org by noon, Wednesday to be included.)
Youth Initiatives is working now on a website for the paddle marathon, and hopes to reach out to as many former Atikokanites as it can to let them know of the trek.
Ranta expects he will set out in late April.
“I’ve been talking with Victor Maxwell in Rocky Mountain House; he paddled with Don in 1967 [the Centennial Voyageur Canoe Pageant]. He says the ice in the North Saskatchewan River will let go around April 10 to 15, and that I shouldn’t get on it until seven to ten days later. I can’t wait!”
He expects to make good time on the North Saskatchewan – it flows at about 8 to 10 miles per hour, and he plans on paddling 10 to 18 hours a day. Spitzii, his Finnish Spitz dog, will accompany him; he, too, is a veteran canoe marathoner.
Safety will be his prime consideration. “I don’t want my dog to get hurt,” he says. “The rule out there will be: Absolutely no risks. If in doubt at all, I’ll pull over and set up.”
Although he won’t be using a GPS system, he will have a spot locator with an SOS button. “I have all my equipment ready. I’ve put a lot of thought into what to bring, and I’ll only be taking the necessities.”
Among them will be a miniature video recorder. He plans to keep a video blog, and to get back to civilization at least once a week to upload it. That’s where the AYI web site for the trip will fit it. (Once the site is set up, and Ranta has started paddling, we’ll run regular updates.)
“Lake Superior and the Great Lakes will be the toughest part of the trip. There is a stretch on Superior where for 50 kilometres you’ve got solid granite – there is absolutely nowhere to land.”
“I’ve been lucky on all my big trips; the winds have always been with me,” he says. But he is aware of the risks, and will be taking no chances out there. “I’ll definitely be using all of my canoe sense and bush wisdom.”
Although there is no timetable – he will travel as far each day as conditions safely permit – he does hope he can make it to Atikokan in time for Canada Day. He’d like to be part of the celebration here: the XY Paddle Canoe Race, the canoe parade, and (this year) the official opening of the youth centre.
Ranta was the first Atikokanite to complete the Canoe Quest, an event in Quetico Park wherein paddlers earned a crest for visiting each of the Park’s entry stations. He actually did it twice – in 2007 it was just him and Spitzii; in 2008, Deder Kielczski joined them. Ranta treated the Quest as a marathon, and completed his solo Park tour (about 500 km) in a week; he and Kielczski took a more leisurely approach, and spent almost two weeks in the Park.
Ranta has also made quite a few trips to White Otter Castle (his quickest was 23 hours), and even did an extended trip, going all the way to Ignace from Atikokan via the Castle.
He’s a marathon veteran; long stints paddling don’t faze him at all. He’s learned that when conditions are right, he can take a break by standing to paddle (thus the special extra-long paddle), and he’s quite comfortable paddling at night (“That’s often when the winds are best,” he says.)
And while his paddling icons, the Meany brothers, made the Rocky Mountain House to Montreal trek in about 40 days, he has no illusions about being that fast. They had support teams, and shared the paddling load. For this trek, it’ll be just him and Spitzii, and the wilds of Canada.