Rediscover North America: A Gulf-to-Arctic Canoe Expedition

Winchell Delano on his upcoming 5,200-mile cross-continental paddle

The Rediscover North America canoe route.
The 5,200-mile Rediscover North America canoe route.

Last year, our readers were so impressed by the Trans-Territorial Canoe Expedition–a four-month, 2,600-mile canoe journey across Canada’s Northern Territories–that they voted it the Expedition of the Year at the 2013 C&K Awards. But for expedition-member Winchell Delano, crossing Canada’s far north from the Pacific Ocean to the Hudson Bay wasn’t enough. He is planning to go even bigger in 2015.

Starting in January, Delano and five other paddlers (John Keaveny, Dan Flynn, Jarrad Moore, Adam Trigg, and Luke Kimmes) will canoe from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean over a period of nine months and cover a distance of approximately 5,200 miles. We caught up with Delano to get the details of the Rediscover North America expedition.

C&K: Just the map of your expedition route is mind-boggling. Where did this idea come from?

Winchell Delano: Part of your Expedition of the Year award included a $2,500 grant towards a future expedition. That is probably where everything started; that is, the incentive to plan something.

Once the drive to plan the trip was in place, our goal was to try and surpass the previous undertaking in both distance and duration. In order to do so, we decided to orient the trip south to north to maximize distance and utilize the seasons, but struggled to find exactly what we were looking for beginning at the U.S.-Canadian border. Honestly, we were kinda stuck. Until (yes, that proverbial ‘until’), the idea to start in the Gulf of Mexico was thrown into the mix, and we finally had a place to start. From there, we wove in popular route after popular route and connected the dots until we had our plan.

Rediscover North America (left to right) is Dan Flynn, Adam Trigg, Luke Kimmes, Winchell Delano, John Keaveny, and Jarrad Moore
The crew of the Redisover North America expedition (from left) Dan Flynn, Adam Trigg, Luke Kimmes, Winchell Delano, John Keaveny, and Jarrad Moore

But up the Mississippi? For many paddlers, a source to sea down the Big Muddy is a serious achievement. You’re basically planning to paddle from sea to source, but when you get to end of the river, your trip will just be getting started.

Upstream paddling is obviously a different story from floating. To be honest, this answer varies; not only person to person, but, we’ve found, over time as well. In the beginning, it was like, why not? Although a Gulf-to-Arctic paddle is definitely not an unprecedented feat, completing a route that has never been stitched together exactly like ours was very appealing. We thought of it like a paddling mosaic, taking so many little parts to make a unique whole. We also liked the idea that we’d encounter a very delayed transition from dense urban and agricultural lands to more remote areas–to find the remaining wilderness (to the extent that’s even possible these days).

We also liked the prospect of an adventure, of course. A trip like this is a serious challenge. There is the personal challenge to find motivation every day, meet expectations laid out by the group, and keep yourself healthy and fit. And then the group challenge; being able to get along, settle disputes, communicate, and meet agreed-upon goals as a unit. And finally, the challenge presented by the elements, which leads to its own difficulties and hardships.

Tell us a little more about your route.

We’re going to start in the in Gulf of Mexico and paddle up the Atchafalaya River until it meets the Mississippi River, then continue north all the way to Saint Paul, Minnesota, near where we’ll turn east and paddle up the Minnesota River and make our way to Lake Winnipeg. Then it’s the Saskatchewan, Sturgeon-Weir, and Churchill rivers. By the time we cross overland from the Churchill River to the Clearwater River, we will be near Fort McMurray, Alberta, but thankfully heading downstream; the Clearwater travels straight west until it flows into the Athabasca River. By way of the Athabasca and Slave rivers, we’ll reach Great Slave Lake. Then it’s home stretch, upstream on the Marian and Emile rivers, downstream on the Coppermine River, and finally reaching Kugluktuk, a hamlet on the Arctic Ocean.

That’s quite a geography lesson. In case some of us aren’t quite ready to attempt this trip ourselves, what’s the best way for us to join you vicariously?

We have a website up and running (www.rediscoverna.com) with a Google map showing our most recent location. We also have a blog that we’ll update twice a month. Folks will have an opportunity to message us through the website with questions, which we’ll answer via the blog. We want to communicate what life is like on trail.

rediscover north america
Winchell Delano poses with a fundraising sign in Duchesne, Utah.

Anything else?

We also have to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported us thus far, either through monetary contributions or those who have donated their time and effort (in some cases, almost daily). The amount of support we’ve already received is overwhelming, and the prospect of how much more we’re likely to encounter along the way is super exciting. Again, our deepest thanks.

We hope you’ll come along and rediscover North America with us over the next nine months!

Check back for monthly expedition updates and exclusive media releases on CanoeKayak.com.

Check out videos, photos and blog posts from Delano’s last mission, the Trans-Territorial Canoe Expedition.

Visit the Rediscover North America blog here: www.rediscoverna.com


Meet the expedition crew and see their pre-trip training regimen.