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29 October 2014

Mike Ranta's Paddle across Canada

Thousands of Canada have been following the amazing journey of a Canadian paddler called Mike Ranta (42), from Atikokan, Ontario, attempting a 8,300-kilometre crossing of Canada from Vancouver to Cape Breton. He's travelling in an 18-ft Souris River canoe with his six-year-old dog Spitzii, camping along the way in a small tent, and portaging the canoe and gear on a wheeled rig.

Ranta started April 1 at the Pacific Ocean destined for Dominion Beach, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He had planned to reach the Atlantic by late September, but made the decision to stop October 31 after 7 months and 7,500 kilometres, in near Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, about 300 km short of his goal.  He will make an official application for "longest solo canoe trip in a single season" in the Guinness Book of World Records. (Previous record was 3,200 km.)

Ranta has paddled, portaged and camped in every kind of weather, complicated by record rains across the country and hurricane Gonzalo brought even more rain and wind in New Brunswick. When the conditions were too rough in the Gulf of St Lawrence, he had to move ashore to portage the canoe and all his supplies. He had said that portaging is far harder than paddling, even though the speed was similar. Pulling the canoe and supplies day after day took its toll on both his and Spitzii' feet.

He's quite an interesting character, very unassuming, unpretentious, always cheerful even when wet and tired. How do I know? Over 4,500 people followed his words, photos and progress on his Facebook page "Mike Ranta's Paddle". A satellite communicator tracking map showing his progress across Canada in small dots appearing every 20 minutes. Along the way, he often mentioned the people he met, and those who helped him. His followers said he mentioned drinking Tim Horton's coffee so often, Timmy's should sponsor his voyage. And yet he continued on, day by day, in the simplest fashion, with very little support. His trip was low-cost with no support teams or fan-fare -- just Ranta, a canoe, a tent and a dog.

Just one post to Mike on Facebook: "Mike, I saw you today as you and your dog were heading out of Pugwash {Nova Scotia}. As I was coming back I saw you again and gave you a wave... you waved back. When I got home I thought there is something special about that guy so I Googled 'man canoe dog' and there you were, lol. Google knows a lot."

He was inspired by Canada's early explorers, whose routes he followed.  He seems to thrive on the challenge of the journey as well as travelling through nature in the simplest possible fashion. His trip is also a fundraiser for a youth initiative in Atikokan, Ontario, a small town west of Thunder Bay. He plans to help the young people build a 25-metre paddle, the world's largest. Plus he wants to try again in 2016 to make it all the way to Dominion Beach. He's just the guy to do it.

I only heard about his journey after he passed through Ottawa, and marvelled that an endeavor so amazing would get so little press coverage. There he is attempting the most Canadian of challenges. Ranta did a similar 5000-kilometer  canoe voyage in 2011 from the Rockies to Montreal -  he found his dog Spitzii on that trip! It would also have make a world record then, but he didn't follow Guiness rules. This time there will be no doubts about his achievement.