By Conor Mihell
Flexibility is the key to any canoe journey—especially when it's an 8,800-mile, cross-continent epic spanning multiple seasons. French Canadian adventurers Pierre Pepin and Jennifer Gosselin, aka Wild Raven Adventure, know what it means to have a fluid itinerary. In 2014, the Québécois couple sold all their possessions and embarked on a 15-month canoe expedition around eastern North America. Ever since, they've continued to embrace the nomadic life.
Last spring, Pepin and Gosselin started the second phase of their NorAm Odyssey. They began by hauling their canoe across the frozen surface of Lake Winnipeg and paddling west along the fur trade route of northern Saskatchewan and Alberta. They wrapped up 2016 when winter caught up with them in October in northern British Columbia. Earlier this year they attempted to get a head start on the season, only to encounter massive snowfall in the Pacific Northwest.
In a phone interview, Pepin says winter paddling on the Inside Passage was thrilling—and an exercise in extreme patience. "For the first time in my life, I saw an avalanche from my canoe," he laughs. "There was so much rain and so much snow. Locals told us it was the toughest winter in 100 years. At one point, we pulled into a community to refill our water jugs. Eight days later we were still there, buried under four feet of snow!"
Ultimately, Pepin and Gosselin made it to Vancouver, paddling some legs and accepting rides on others. Pepin doesn't believe these adjustments left them short-changed—in fact, one ride aboard a coastal tugboat proved to be a major highlight. "All my life I've wanted to ride on a tugboat," Pepin says. "We met a captain in [the village of] Shearwater who offered to transport us to Port Hardy [on Vancouver Island]." On the Wild Raven Adventure blog, Gosselin wrote, "Pierre was so, so looking forward to being on the tugboat. It seemed like he was 5 years old, and it was Christmas Eve!"
Their canoe was loaded on a barge, along with semi-trailers and millions of dollars worth of farmed salmon. From inside the wheelhouse of the tug Regent, Pepin and Gosselin experienced 12-foot seas at Cape Caution. Back in more sheltered waters, Pepin says paddling the scenic channels of British Columbia's Sunshine Coast were another highlight. However, with all the precipitation it became obvious that ascending the powerful Fraser River wasn't in the cards. So the coupled rented a moving van and made their way to Alberta, where they set off again in mid-April on the Old Man River.
Now, Pepin is looking forward to another summer on the water. He notes that the bucolic rivers of southern Alberta have been particularly good for wildlife. "It's a place I would never associate with canoe tripping but the scenery is unreal," he says. The journey across the Canadian prairies continues on the South Saskatchewan River to Lake Winnipeg, where the couple will tie into the ancient canoe route along the Canada-U.S. border to Grand Portage and Lake Superior. Their ultimate destination is New Brunswick—a goal Pepin anticipates reaching by the end of the summer. "We have a lot to look forward to," he says.