Photos courtesy of Wild Raven Adventure, the Historic Frog Portage to Churchill River, pictured above.
Last time we caught up with Pierre Pépin and Jennifer Gosselin, the French Canadian couple were preparing to launch the second phase of their NorAm Odyssey, a multi-part paddling epic across the continent. In April, the crew of Pépin, Gosselin and their dog, Jasmine (aka Team Wild Raven) were getting a head-start on an 8,800-mile, 200-portage expedition by dragging their canoe across the frozen of expanse of Lake Winnipeg. Now, Wild Raven has made it past the historic Churchill River, a historic crossroads to the Canadian hinterlands. During a rare moment of internet connectivity, the couple managed to tackle a handful of questions.
CanoeKayak.com: What was it like to start out on the ice?
Pierre Pépin: When we pulled out canoe on the ice the first day, it was a strange feeling. The ice was thick enough and as slippery as a skating rink. We used spikes to help us pull the canoe. It was a totally new trip. Camping on the ice was awesome. We just picked a place and anchored down everything (it is very windy on the Lake Winnipeg). Listening to the ice cracking near the pressure ridge at night was something we never thought we would experience in a canoe trip! Conditions went from bright and sunny to heavy snow and strong winds. With 12 inches of fresh snow there was no way we could pull the canoe on the lake. So we went to shore and put it on wheels, and walked the road to Matheson Island, Manitoba. From there we were able to get back on the ice.
Did you enjoy the feeling of "paddling into spring"?
Yes we did! We saw birds migrating, ice melting and tiny icebergs drifting on the lake. The days got longer and the leaves came out and the flowers started to bloom. Everything was coming back to life. Our winter sleeping bags were exchange for summer ones (as well as some equipment) and we had no more need for ice spikes. There were new sounds and smells everyday. I feel like our brains still don’t realize that it is summer now. Everything is so much easier when it's warm!
What have been some challenges?
Jennifer Gosselin: I don't do well in the cold, so Lake Winnipeg was tough. I was happy for the warmer weather! We also experienced an epidemic of ticks in Manitoba. One day, we had to remove 150 ticks from Jasmine. We had a few on ourselves too. Good thing there were only wood ticks.
What have been some highlights?
Gosselin: I would say unbelievable scenery and wildlife, the kindness and generosity of the people we meet along the way, and retracing the fur trade route.
Any comments on the gear you've been using?
Pépin: We wore our Kokatat Radius drysuits on the ice and early in the season. I would say our drysuits actually saved our life as we went through ice a few time at the end of April. They kept us warm and dry. Coming into spring—bug season—we have been happy have Original BugShirts. Once again, our Hilleberg tent has been great. This year we're using the Saivo model. Finally, we really like Happy Yak food products. We special-ordered bulk freeze dried food of our choice.
We've heard lots of reports of wildfires in northern Canada. Have you had any problems?
Pépin: Nothing so far and we hope it will stay that way. We had smoke for a couple of days on Lake Winnipeg. In Saskatchewan, we have seen a lot of regenerating forests. We know once we will get closer to Fort McMurray we will see a big change. We don’t know what to expect right now.
Any surprises with the route?
Pépin: We thought this all-Canadian part of our NorAm Odyssey would be more in the wilderness. We expected to meet few people. But we were wrong! We have done many long legs without seeing anyone, but in rural areas of Manitoba and Saskatchewan we've met so many friendly people. We have also had many unique encounters with First Nations people. We have learned so much. Now that we're on the Churchill, we've decided this is a bucket-list river. The wildlife, fishing and birdwatching are great and it is such a historic river system.
- Read about how Pierre Pépin and Jennifer Gosselin sold all their possessions and took off on the first leg of their NorAm Odyssey.
- Follow Wild Raven Adventure on Facebook.