There is one thing Mike Ranta’s 2017 paddle reinforces: That is just how amazing his 2011, 2014, and 2016 achievements really are.
This year, Ranta had a tough young paddling partner (“I learned a lot about canoeing and paddling from David,” he said), and was probably more prepared than ever for his marathon. But it ended well short of their cross-country goal, due mostly to unsettled weather conditions nearly every stroke of the way.
“Thirty days on Lake Winnipeg… I knew we were in trouble [for reaching the east coast],” said Ranta earlier this month.
But they were already almost thirty days behind their planned schedule when they reached the big Manitoba lake, and things never got any better after they crossed it. That was compounded by a leg injury he sustained on the Height of Land portage heading into Thunder Bay, an injury he is still dealing with two months later.
Then there was Superior…
“I got a couple of really bad scares on Lake Superior. That was eye-opening, and very humbling at the same time.”
He was hesitant about a fall crossing to begin with, and ran into serious trouble early on: a harrowing seventy-minute crossing from Sleeping Giant to Edwards Island on September 13. They were about halfway when the winds whipped up. He made light of it on his blog (“OK wow! What a crazy crossing, lol… I thought the winds shut off at night around here! We made it by it was a little sketchy! Spitzii wasn’t happy!!”), but made it clear later that he felt lucky to have come out of it in one piece.
But worse was to come.
After five days windbound on Edwards Island, they set off again, hugging the shore as much as possible; often though, the bare cliff faces offered little in the way of reassurance should a storm blow up suddenly. Exactly that finally did happen on the twenty-second as they rounded Agate Point and headed for Spar Island.
“We had waited for some high winds to ease off, and when they did we made a run for it. But pretty soon these swells started getting kind of crazy, and we could see a big squall was coming in… low fast clouds headed right at us. There were cliff faces on both sides, and the swells had us going up and down so much we couldn’t see each other, or just about anything else.”
They finally did make it to a small island behind Spar Island, out of the worst of the swells. A few days later – “after thirteen fitful days of near gale on the big lake,” as he put it – David Jackson packed it in. Ranta followed suit two weeks later, just in time to miss swells over 8.5 metres high – more than two storeys.
Ranta ended his trip settling in Killarney, a small town (2016 population: 386) on Georgian Bay surrounded by parks (Killarney Provincial Park, La Cloche PP, French River PP, Grundy Lake PP). It’s about 120 km. south of Sudbury.
He sees all kinds of opportunity there.
“It’s a major canoe centre – there is even talk of it becoming the paddling capital of Canada,” he said. The area was a French trading post as far back as 1820; it faces George Island, which creates a 1.5 km channel that protects paddlers from the depredations of the big waters of Georgian Bay, and makes for an ideal harbourage. From 1949 to 1961 it was operated as a fishing camp by a Detroit-based company.
Today the town is one of wilderness lodges, campgrounds, and retail services geared toward campers and other parks visitors. It is undergoing something of a revival, thanks to a multi-million investment by an Ontario businessman, who has purchased and is modernizing two of the town’s anchors, Killarney Mountain Lodge and Sportsman’s Inn Resort and Marina.
“It’s a very comfortable, tight-knit community, where everybody works together,” said Ranta. “I have a lot of irons in the fire there; it’s just awesome to be part of that. We may yet see the world’s largest canoe paddle!”
Ranta said he could not find enough support here to build the paddle.
He continues to work with David Jackson, who took over 50,000 photos and lots of video of the trip just completed, and expects that will lead to a documentary and more. He’ll be closer to the Ottawa-based Jackson from Killarney.
But he won’t forget his roots – Mike Ranta will always be an Atikokanut and Outer.
“When I get my new bug [a VW Volkswagen] painted up, I’ll be around to show that off…”
David Jackson on the end of the ’17 trip
Photographer and writer David Jackson accompanied Ranta this year. Here, from his FaceBook blog, is his take on the end of the journey.
When Mike Ranta called his trip on October 8, 2017, it would be the first time in four great journeys across Canada that he would admit defeat.
After 191 days spent at the mercy of relentless winds, unbridled heat, snow squalls, lightning, fires, and frequent ferocious storms, Ranta realized the dangers that lie ahead on his already stricken journey. He had nothing to prove, having twice successfully crossed the Canadian continent from Pacific to Atlantic Ocean in a single season. Just last year, Ranta completed the seemingly impossible journey in 200 days.
The question asked most often of his obsession with suffering is simply ‘why?’
He leaves little wonder in observers – his love of country and canoeing beam through in every smile he exudes. The truth, however, hints on the ephemeral and spawns of the unknown…
For hundreds of days each year, Ranta and Spitzii find adventure behind every corner, over every portage, and inside every moment met with unrelenting acceptance. Ranta’s passion is a cliché, but when you’ve walked a thousand kilometres and paddled six thousand in a single season before quitting, it must be that the journey really is the adventure.
For Canada’s modern voyageur and his trusted canine, the thrill is only gone when neither choose to look beyond the next barrier.