BY CONOR MIHELL
In 2011, Mike Ranta realized his dream of canoeing the old voyageur highway from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, to Montreal, Quebec. Now, the 42-year-old and his dog, Spitz (whom he found on the 2011 expedition), are back at it again, attempting a 5,000-mile, single-season crossing of Canada, from Vancouver, B.C., to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Ranta's goal: To inspire youth in his hometown of Atikokan, Ontario (the "Canoe Capital of Canada") to dream big—and to etch his name in the Guinness Book of World Records. If successful, Ranta's journey would set a new mark for longest solo canoe trip in a single season.
Ranta launched his Souris River Canoe in the Pacific Ocean on April 1 and headed east, upstream on the Fraser River. By early May, he'd made his way through a series of rivers and streams, often portaging along roads in a grueling ascent of the Rocky Mountains. The weather hasn't been favorable. Out of his 35 days on the water, it has rained 27 days. "That's the west coast in the spring," says the affable Ranta. "It's just Mother Nature watering her garden."
On one particularly arduous day, Ranta and Spitz walked the steep, clay-slicked and snow-covered banks of the Columbia River, tracking the canoe against the current on lines. "Spitzy was pretty tired," laughs Ranta, "but he's a real trooper. We encourage each other. He gets on my case and I get on his case. We have a pretty good father and son relationship."
Currently, Ranta is about to cross off the first province of his trip, set to enter Alberta. "To be honest, I can't say how far I've traveled so far. I haven't looked at the map or anything," says Ranta in a phone interview from Golden, B.C. "I'm not going by distance, I'm going by province."
Ranta says his expedition is inspired by "hardy bushmen" of Canadian history—early wilderness explorers and cartographers like Simon Fraser and David Thompson. "They did it for the love of the country," he says. "And so am I. It's such a beautiful way to see the country."
Recently retired from a career as a rigger in the Alberta oil sands, Ranta says the expedition is a transition to a simpler life. He travels in a birchbark hat—a homemade creation that speaks to his interest for nature and wildlife. When he's done, he plans to open an outfitting business in Atikokan. But mostly, he wants to raise funds for the Atikokan Youth Initiative to inspire the next generation in his small town to "shoot for the sky, and do what you can" through a connection to the outdoors. At the end of the trip he will work with kids to build the "world's largest canoe paddle," engraved with the names of people who contributed along the way.
"Having the Guinness would be cool. I'd love that," says Ranta, who predicts he'll reach the Atlantic coast in late September. "But I think anyone can do this trip given the time and the situation. I hope I don't hold the record for long. C'mon out. I want people to try to beat it."