Mike Ranta will soon follow in Alexander Mackenzie’s footsteps and canoe wakes.
Ranta, living and training in Lumby, will set out April 1 – No Fooling – on his third cross-Canada canoe portage with his beloved, soon-to-be-nine-year-old Finnish Spitz sidekick, Spitzii.
“I’m going to mimic Alexander Mackenzie’s routes from Bella Coola to Cape Breton,” said Ranta, 45, originally from Canada’s Canoeing Capital, Atikokan, Ont., about 200 kilometres west of Thunder Bay. “The first portage is 823 kilometres. I have a cart for my canoe and I tow it behind me. Everything I do is by foot and by paddle.”
In 2011, Ranta paddled solo with Spitzii from Rocky Mountain House, Alta. to Montreal and, in 2014, he and Spitzii canoed and portaged across the country from Vancouver to Tatamagouche, NS, falling about 150 kilometres shy of reaching his goal of Cape Breton.
(Both trips are the subject of Ranta’s book, Mike and Spitzii Great Canadian Adventure. He’ll be signing copies of the book Saturday at Bookland in Vernon from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Set in a canoe by his mom and dad at a young age, Ranta is rarely without a paddle. His cross-country trips have been inspired by a pair of brothers from his hometown, Don and Joe Meaney, and by a group of six women and two men he encountered who were in the midst of their own across Canada portage.
“I always wanted to do it, thanks to Don and Joe Meaney, they were cool guys,” said Ranta. “Then I met up with these young girls who were paddling from Vancouver to St. John, NB. That sparked my interest. I wondered if it was possible to do solo and starting looking into it. Nobody had gone coast-to-coast.”
Ranta says he’s the only solo canoeist to cross the North American continent. A successful trip this year will be his third such excursion, accompanied this time by David Jackson of Canoe and Kayak Magazine, who will record the entire trip to produce a photographic journal.
His last trip raised awareness and funds for Canada’s veterans. This year’s trip, which will take Ranta about 200-plus days to complete (hopes to arrive in Cape Breton Oct. 31), is raising funds and awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as his and Spitzii’s way of celebrating’s Canada’s 150th birthday.
A self-proclaimed “modern day voyageur and explorer,” Ranta runs up and down Lumby’s Saddle Mountain twice a day to prepare his legs for the seven-month journey.
“B.C. is a tough province to go through by canoe,” he said, adding he keeps up his paddling skills by dropping his 18-foot lark carbon fibre canoe into Kalamalka Lake.
Ranta’s portage looks something like this.
Starting at Bella Coola, he traverses over mountains to Kinbasket Lake near Golden. He paddles up the Columbia River and walks from Golden to Lake Louise.
Ranta then takes the Bow River from Lake Louise through Canmore, Calgary and down to where the Bow meets the Oldman River, which is the start of the South Saskatchewan River, and takes that all the way down to Lake Diefenbaker. He continues from there til he gets to the North Saskatchewan River which takes him to Cumberland House. From there, it’s into The Pas, MB., into Cedar Lake which will take him and Spitzii to Lake Winnipeg.
From there, it’s around the shores of Lake Winnipeg to Traverse Bay, up the Winnipeg River to Kenora, Ont. and Lake of the Woods. He’ll follow the old voyageur routes to his old stomping grounds near Atikokan, then it’s into “the big lake,” Lake Superior.
From the big lake, it’s on to Georgian Bay then taking the Trent-Severyn Waterway through Peterborough into Lake Ontario, through Kingston and into the Rideau Canal into Ottawa. Ranta will jump into the Ottawa River, paddling to the St. Lawrence Seaway and into Montreal, hugging the south shore to Riviere-du-Loup. He’ll portage to Lake Temiscouata, then down the Madawaska River in St. John.
For the final part of the journey, Ranta heads north to Cambridge-Narrows, up the Canaan River and portage to Shediac, NB before finishing at Cape Breton and Bras d’Or Lake.
“The toughest part is B.C. through the mountains,” said Ranta. “Lake Superior is really challenging, so is the St. Lawrence Seaway. Really challenging in some areas. It’s pretty brutal.”
On his trips, Ranta has found a body in the North Saskatchewan River; rescued a drowning baby moose in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle River; was nearly hit by lightning; and encountered rain for 170 of his 214 days on the road.
The most spectacular part of the trip, he said, without hesitation: Lake Superior.
“It’s very beautiful. It’s a good energy lake,” said Ranta.
A former labourer, Ranta is not one to “sit in a mill or work in a cubicle.”
“I worked in a mill and on the rigs, and I was not liking what I was doing. It was killing me,” said Ranta, who decided to make a go out of portaging across the country.
He sold off “pretty much everything I owned” and has learned to “live without a lot of money.”
“With great sacrifice comes great reward,” said Ranta. “Canada is a beautiful country to travel through.”
Ranta’s future excursions, he hopes, include spending a year in each province’s paddling seasons, hitting up every waterway and river he can to get a really good understanding of Canada in the back country.
You can get updates on Ranta’s upcoming trip at his website, www.mikeranta.ca.