Mike Ranta, 43, lives in Atikokan, Ontario, aka "Canoeing Capital of Canada,” and he has tried help the town live up to the title. He paddles a canoe made there, his Souris River Wilderness 18, is building an 80-foot paddle for the town and has set records for his impressive expeditions across the Canadian wilderness on trips as oversized as his Paul Bunyan-esque paddle. In 2011, he paddled from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, to Montreal, Quebec, in 130 days. That was just the warmup for his 2014 transcontinental journey from Vancouver, British Columbia to Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, which totaled 4,750 miles of paddling and portaging and set the record the longest solo canoe expedition in a single season to date. How did his Souris River Wilderness 18 fare through all of this? "Not a problem!" he says.
CanoeKayak.com: Whatever canoe you chose to paddle, you knew it would have to endure everything a continental crossing would throw at you. So, why the Souris River Wilderness 18?
Keith and Arlene Robinson are the owners of Souris River, and it's a fine establishment. They put their pride in every canoe built. My canoe is light, tough, and looks great! There’s no place I can't take it and it's awesome on all rivers and lakes.
You sound smitten. Do you remember when you first fell for your canoe?
I was doing a maiden voyage in Quetico Park for a couple weeks in some really rough conditions. After paddling and portaging for a few days, I fell in love with the stability, the ease of paddling, and the room we had for gear. It was just an all-around great ride that tracked nice and was nice and light to portage with. I also ran some rather rough whitewater and after hitting a few rocks, I thought for sure I was in for a leak. After stopping and checking out the damage, there was none. The flex rib system that they put in the canoe allowed the shock of rocks to be absorbed with no damage at all. Awesome!
Well, isn’t the true test of love whether your canoe will be there for you in the truly terrible times too? Has that been the case?
Absolutely. In 2011, on Cedar Lake in northern Manitoba, I got into a bad storm while crossing the lake but the canoe handled the unexpected swells before it was put hard into the shore. We got stuck in a spruce swamp but the boat was large enough for me and my pup, Spitzii, to stay for more than 30 hours. I built a shelter over the canoe with a tarp and waited out the storm. We couldn't get out of the canoe because we were surrounded by near freezing water; the ice just left the lake about a week before, and we simply couldn’t make it to shore. We toughed it out and actually got some sleep, believe it or not.
Spitzii is your paddling partner, but do you resent having a partner who doesn't paddle?
He won't even dog paddle. But the only thing he really doesn't do well is help move the canoe. He's a 6-year old Finnish Spitz, the national dog of Finland, and quite possibly the greatest dog in Canada. (And maybe even the world, although we haven't been out of the country to prove it yet.) I got him at six weeks old and had him in the canoe the next day. He’s awesome to paddle with, great company, and a great alarm dog. When we’re paddling fast rivers, he's on constant watch for logs, rocks, and his mortal enemy, the beaver. There was a couple times he mistook foam on the water for land and had a rude awakening when he jumped for "shore.” He also knows how to cheer me up when things get tough and can be a real ham when he gets in a goofy mood, but hey, I do at times too. Also he's probably the best dog to have for bears. We had more than a dozen come into our camp on this last trip and he took care of them. We rely on each other emotionally and mentally, and have an unconditional love for each other. [Read Ranta’s tips for paddling with your pooch.]
I'm guessing the two of you are not ready for a rocking chair and dog bed.
I’m currently planning a trip across the country again in 2016 and my dream is to circumnavigate Canada. There's something to be said about paddling alone with a friend like Spitzii. Also, I'd like to get to know my country at every level, and I feel as though canoeing is a great way to do that.
Canoeing is key for you, eh?
Well, I've been in a canoe ever since I can remember and feel at home in that ancient water vessel. There is no greener and more efficient way to travel, even today. Also, being Finnish with French and Ojibway blood in me, I feel at home in the bush and get my best sleeps there. Floating down a river and drifting with a light warm wind on a lake makes all the world's problems leave and it’s just good to be alive. Paddling up on wildlife and fishing on calm waters is a great way to reflect on life and all its glory. We really appreciate the simple life in the bush and can't get enough of it!
–See more PHOTOS of Mike Ranta and Spitzii.
–See a VIDEO of Mike Ranta and Spitzii on their trans-continental expedition.