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Crisscrossing a Continent

'What if?': A simple question leads to a colossal paddling trip

Every paddler has dreamed about it: Quitting their job, selling the home and simply paddling away. One Canadian couple recently took that leap, dropping everything to canoe across North America for two and a half years, traveling as far south as the Florida Keys and north to the Arctic Ocean, with plenty of detours in between.

Jennifer Gosselin, Pierre Pépin and Jasmine, a Karelian Bear Dog, certainly aren’t newcomers to adventure. Pépin has crossed the Arctic by skis and Canada by bike, has ascended 21 South American peaks over 16,000 feet in 28 days, and has motorcycled from Quebec to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. Gosselin moved to Australia when just 19, ascended the world's highest active volcano in Cotopaxi, Ecuador, and canoed 1,400 miles on the Voyageur Route in 2012. Jasmine has been their constant companion since 2010 and is happily in charge of camp security.

However, this trip's difference isn't just the distance they'll paddle, but that they'll be paddling without the cushions of salaries, jobs, car and home. The couple started their odyssey on June 6, 2014, in Ottawa, Canada, when they began paddling across the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi. The pair just rounded the tip of Florida and are currently moving back north along the eastern seaboard. Eventually they’ll cross back into the Canadian interior as they make their way to the Arctic.

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The tentative North American odyssey canoe route. The yellow line is the planned route for the trip’s first year. Courtesy WildRavenAdventure.com

CanoeKayak.com: Did you have any blowback after walking away from work, home, and modern accouterments?

We got so much blowback you wouldn't believe it. Jennifer had a very, very good job in an accounting software firm. She had her own team. People think about job security these days, but we think about the quality of life and what if?

What if?

What if you have the best job in the world and get run over by a car or get cancer? Job security is second to being able to live. We met a man who'd worked at a bankrupted GM supplier. He lost his pension just a few months before he was supposed to retire. We've seen people with nice, big boats in their backyards, but they're too sick to go out.

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Still, this will take a chunk out of your resumes' time lines.

Since we left our job security, we've never had so many job opportunities, even big companies offering nice jobs in leadership roles. They want the leadership and risk-taking that we embody.

You must have witnessed some amazing things. Share one.

On Lake Michigan, we had a fireball sunset and to the East, a full moon. We paddled through the night because it was too beautiful to stop. By moonlight and because the lake was like a skating rink, we could see our shadows 40 feet down into the water.

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What's been the best thing about your trip so far?

Every time there's an obstacle, there are people there to help. We've stayed in small houses and mansions, on small boats and big boats. Some have given us a key to their car so we can go get groceries. One family invited us to a family reunion and then built a set of wheels for portaging our canoe.

Your world is both huge and small, the size of a continent and the size of a canoe. Speaking of your canoe, what are you paddling?

It's a Sea Clipper 18'8" canoe made by Clipper Canoe in British Columbia. Their service is outstanding. When the first canoe they sent went through customs, a forklift pierced it. Lynn, the co-owner, didn't bother with insurance. She started making a new canoe immediately, rushed the building, and it arrived three weeks later in Mobile, Alabama. They made it to our specs and its handling is unreal. A true sea canoe, it takes big waves and tracks very well. It's high on the bow, so Jennifer stays dry. It's stable and fast and that's a rare combination. Lynn even checks with us every two weeks to see how we and the canoe are doing.

When you finish, whenever that is, you'll have stories to tell.

Our story so far is Little Red Riding Hood, except there's been no wolf. It's just the lovely woods, a picnic basket, and grandma. It's all been good!

Follow the journey at www.wildravenadventure.com.


 

More from C&K

–Read about Keith Lynch, a man from Texas who quit his job to paddle 4,000 miles solo.

–And Mike Ranta who crossed Canada by canoe in a single season with his dog.

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