Gendreau-Benoit Berthiaume, Magali Moffatt, and their son, Mali Berthiaume, are nearing the end of their long paddle across Canada. They began in Edmonton, Alberta, on May 2nd and will finish in Montreal, Ontario, on September 26th, a journey of nearly 3,000 miles. It's a trip that included huge, blustery lakes in Manitoba, the 8-mile Grand Portage to Lake Superior, and freezing water. Some doubted the prudence of taking a four-year-old on such an odyssey.
Berthiaume said, "It's been a pretty, mellow trip overall. It's summer and there's not much to be scared of in Canada. Ticks were our worst fear. Some people thought we were taking stupid risks, but you shouldn't be afraid of going outside."
Mali was raised to thrive outside and was of his first words was "out."
Their greatest challenge was crossing Manitoba's large lakes.
"Cedar Lake in Manitoba was our first really big lake. We'd heard horror stories about it. We awoke at five each morning to beat the wind, but the winds were still strong. However, at noon, it became as calm as a mirror. We'd felt so vulnerable because we were paddling to such a small shore on the other side, but then we felt so lucky."
However, making it to that distant shore didn't put them beyond the reach of the wind.
"Once the tent blew away and our son was in it. We were pitched on sand, and we went outside to better anchor it. The wind blew the tent with Mali still inside. We had to chaotically reassemble it and some gear was blown away. Beaches are beautiful campsites, but we learned to camp far back in the forest on those lakes."
They also had the great fortune of meeting kind folks.
"The highlight has been the kindness and generosity of the people we met along the way."
What’s more, they got to know each other…and liked what they learned.
"We knew each other pretty well, but we definitely know our strengths and weaknesses now. We've gotten to learn about each other, but especially our son and how resilient he is and how he's easily delighted by something in nature. Let children be themselves outside and they will find joy. He hasn't gotten bored. Children are entertained by little things that we might miss."
But the big trip has required some small sacrifices.
"We miss cheese! We crave that. Any type of good cheese. Every time we go through a grocery store, we buy good cheese and bread."
If they were to do the trip again, they’d bring along some extra equipment.
"We had water shoes and the water was freezing cold and muddy when we started. We met some other paddlers with rubber boots and we immediately wanted those."
And there’s other gear they were glad they had. For example, their sail helped ease the paddling.
"Our Wind Paddle Sail gave us so many days of taking a break and it really helped us make good time."
"We can't believe our North Water spraydeck is still in one piece. It's super tough. It's gone through awful bush. Our son even steps on it, but it has shown no signs of tearing. And we weren’t careful with our Goal Zero solar panels either. They get pushed around and they get dropped into the water, but they’ve never failed us. We're able to charge all our electronics with them."
They had to be as sturdy as their gear on the Grand Portage.
"We were told we could use our canoe cart, but the trail isn't that canoe cart friendly. A lot of wooden bridges are too narrow for the cart to fit, so there was a lot of unpacking and going back and forth. We started about 8:30 a.m. and finished around 10:30 at night. Even then, the canoe was still two kilometers from the end of the trail, an hour each way. It spent the night there and my lovely wife and son were sleeping the next morning when I awoke at five to get it. I was too excited to finish the portage to continue sleeping."
And there'll be some excitement to finish their trip.
"It might feel a bit strange, but we'll also enjoy it. We'll arrive in Montreal [at the end of September] when snow is just around the corner, so we'll be happy to have a roof and walls around us. We'll want to keep our active lifestyle and keep going outside. We won't want to be stuck inside. I might have the hardest trouble adapting, but our son always says, 'Yay, we're in a town! I can have the iPad?'"