Men's Journal

Hailstorms, Snowstorms, and Lightning Strikes: Exploring Canada by Canoe

Watching a storm approach on the border of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, June 19. Ranta has experienced every kind of weather imaginable during his three trips, each of which has its own theme. The rst one raised money for a youth program in Ranta’s hometown, and his 2016 crossing honored Canadian veterans. This trip is dedicated to the country’s 150th anniversary, which is why his canoe is painted like an 18-foot Canadian ag. “Mike’s story is so Canadian,” says Jackson. “Someone needed to take on the burden of documenting it.” Photos by David Jackson

It should go without saying that you’re bound to face some dicey situations while paddling and portaging a canoe 4,750 miles across Canada. Do it twice, as former oil-rig worker Mike Ranta has, and you’ve probably experienced it all: hailstorms, snowstorms, lightning strikes next to the boat, 20-foot waves on Lake Superior, a herd of elk crossing — and blocking — the river you’re floating down.

Today, Ranta is paddling across Canada for an unprecedented third time (he’s the only person ever to do it alone in a season), and the reason is simple: “I just love to paddle,” says the 46-year-old from Atikokan, Ontario. 

This time he is being accompanied by photographer David Jackson, who follows in his own canoe and a pair of beat-up Canon 5D cameras, dropping back or running ahead to capture Ranta’s seemingly endless journey down rivers and across lakes, and marching over roadways.

“It’s a wild trip” says Jackson, who originally met and shot Ranta in 2014, midway through Ranta’s first cross-Canada journey. “Sometimes I can’t believe Mike survived the last two times he did it alone.”

The two started on April 1 in Bella Coola, British Columbia, dragging their boats 625 miles on carts made from old bicycle parts up the Rocky Mountains, then putting in on the Bow River, which runs through Calgary. So far, they’ve been out more than 130 days, stopping to resupply in towns whenever they can. The duo hopes to reach Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, by November, but they often find themselves at a standstill for a day or two, waiting out bad weather. On July 1, Canada Day, the wind was so high that the two holed up in a swamp. “I couldn’t think of a more Canadian way to spend Canada Day,” says Ranta, who takes to the water in knee-high rubber boots, a traditional métis sash, and a birchbark hat, “you know, in a canoe, windswept in a little spruce swamp.”

“We had one beer each,” says Jackson, “and they were warm.” Here are a few of their other, um, highlights.