By Jack Hawkins
On a cold October afternoon in the small village of Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, Mike Ranta dragged his canoe out of the water after an epic voyage across Canada. The journey allowed Mike and his ever-faithful best friend, a Finnish Spitz named Spitzii, to see Canada the best way he knew how–on the water.
Mike was born and raised in Atikokan, Ontario, a small community in the northwest of the province, which prides itself on being the "Canoeing Capital of Canada." Fitting then, that a man born and raised in such a place, would seek to live a life full of adventures by canoe.
"I've been a paddler my whole life in Atikokan and explored the area around me ever since I can remember," says Mike, who won the 2015 C&K Expedition of the Year Award for his epic journey. Mike says that his love for the outdoors was drilled into him by his father, who is an avid bushman. Ranta grew up on the water, and it is the water which would take him to new heights.
“I’m the first person in history to cross our continent solo by canoe in one season, so that’s a good thing to pull off. And, Spitzii is the first dog too!"
This wasn't the first time Mike Ranta had undertaken a gargantuan voyage by canoe. In 2011, in preparation for his 2014 trip, he paddled from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta to Montreal. Ranta was following the paddle strokes of men who inspired him, including Don Meany, and Geoff and William Peruniak (coincidentally also from Atikokan), who paddled from Alberta to Quebec as part of the Centennial Canoe Race of 1967.
"They're legendary paddlers in my hometown," Ranta remarks. "There are a lot of people who inspired me to do this trip, and I can't say enough about them. Among them are my old boxing coach, Bobby Davidson, and of course, my father."
Ranta's journey across the country wasn't just for the personal challenge. Initially, he had hoped to break the Guinness World Record for the Longest Solo Canoe Paddle in a Single Season, by paddling more than 5200 km (3,200 miles), from Vancouver, BC to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Ranta learned that in order to enter his claim for the record, he would have to submit all of his GPS data, pictures and videos to Guinness, so they could verify and validate his record. He decided against doing so. Though perhaps not a Guinness World Record Holder, Ranta is immensely proud of his achievements.
"I feel great about what I’ve accomplished but I’m not going to get the Guinness record for several reasons. A lack of evidence is one and I don’t want to lose the evidence, like the rights to the trip just to get my name in a book. There’s lack of video that they require and getting the signatures also would be an issue. No biggie, eh? All the people know what we’ve accomplished and that's all that matters. I believe I’m the first person in history to cross our continent solo by canoe in one season, so that’s a good thing to pull off. And, Spitzii is the first dog too!"
Mike's final reason for canoeing across Canada is one close to his heart: he was paddling not only for himself, and an attempt at a World Record, but also to raise money for Atikokan Youth Initiatives, an organization which promotes and encourages young people to engage in active, outdoor pursuits.
"I did this trip to inspire the youth of our town to follow their dreams and go for the gold so to speak. Believe in yourself and don’t worry about making mistakes as long as you learn from them and always look forward and stay positive in life," Ranta told me during an interview in November of last year.
According to a January interview given to a local Atikokan newspaper, Ranta's trip raised over $10,000 for the youth center.
Mike Ranta returned home to a hero's welcome after his trip ended. He's now something of a hometown legend. Susan Johnson, an Atikokan resident and long-time friend of Ranta, had this to say:
"I'm glad to know that what he is doing has impacted a lot of people all over Canada. We need more people like Mike. I followed Mike, and lots of his days made me weep. Knowing the weather was not co-operating with him. I have known Mike for a very long time. He has the heart of an angel. I am on disability, and know that dreams can get shattered. Things happen out of our control. Most of us are living our own little dreams, and think of no one but our own survival. Mike made me smile knowing someone out there is concerned with what happens to our youth. His courage, and desire to finish what he started made me proud to be an Atikokanite. Or as some of us are called Atikokanuts!"
Ranta's homecoming was well-received, not only by the older residents of Atikokan, but also by the children of the community.
"The kids in our town were cool with what I’ve done! I’ve had a chance to speak with a lot of them at the teen center in the last while and it’s nice to know I’ve inspired some of them. I volunteer time when I can and show them how to cook or give advice on things if asked. They’re at an interesting age and they know about electronics and help me if I got trouble. Currently we’re working on the big paddle together and we got the mock up done and are talking with our local mill about sponsoring the wood for it. Exciting stuff happening in our little town and I’m getting ready for my next trip in 2016!"
When asked if there was anything he'd change, or do differently, Ranta replied, "There’s not anything I’d change! I never had so much as a sniffle, I never got injured, and I met some of the greatest people in the country. I crossed a continent and followed what some thought was an impossible dream. All this time I had my best friend beside me! I wouldn’t change a moment, not for anything."
And so, to Mike's future plans. He has a number of new and exciting projects on-the-go. Not only is he preparing for another cross-country voyage in 2016 ("I found a shorter route across Canada!" he says). He’s attempting to build the world's largest bent-shaft paddle (80 feet) with help from the local mill, and the Atikokan community as a whole. He is also writing a book about his journey.
As one journey ends, another begins for Atikokan's hometown hero, and now a Canadian canoeing legend.
–Watch Mike Ranta’s acceptance video for the 2015 C&K Awards EXPEDITION OF THE YEAR.
–See our INSIDE LINE VIDEO interview with Mike Ranta.
–Check out a PHOTO ESSAY from Mike Ranta’s Paddle