Where the Canoe River meets Kinbasket Lake, amidst howling winds, surrounded by towering peaks, and fighting doggedly through frigid waters, Mike Ranta went overboard. His canoe stayed upright, his faithful canine, Spitzii, remained in the bow, but Ranta risked hypothermia to keep his fragile vessel from tipping as a gale force wind pinned him to a tree jammed in the rivers bank. As his Mustang Survival vest inflated at his meeting with the water, his body became framed by yellow buoyancy.
It might seem crazy, but in 2014, Ranta and his pup canoed from the Pacific Ocean at Fisherman’s Wharf in Vancouver, British Columbia, across Canada to Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, where he reached the Atlantic Ocean. It took them 214 days. The enormity of their endeavour was staggering, until you learn that he found a faster way, and in 2016 embarked once again and canoed all the way to Dominion Beach, Nova Scotia, this time in 200 days.
It takes a second for their accomplishments to sink in. But, like a cold wind on wet skin, you will be woken up immediately to the enormity of this feat the first time you look at a map of their travels. Perhaps the best part is that Ranta isn’t an endurance athlete, nor is he a retired Olympian, or veteran of the long trail—he simply had the willingness to dream. What he lacked in experience he far made up with sheer will and steely grit. What lessons he would learn in safety came in the watchful embrace of his second most trusted companion (second only to Spitzii) on all his long forays: his Mustang Survival Inflatable.
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Fast forward to 2017, when Ranta decided to attempt a new and bold journey; one that would see him start in the remote village of Bella Coola, BC, and try for another cross Canada journey spanning hundreds of days. What he didn’t know as he set out was everything that the land held in store for the Finnish-Metis man who proclaims himself the ‘modern voyageur’.
What he met was a journey rife with pitiless winds, looming wildfires, and excruciating heat—all on the heels of a portage Ranta didn’t realize would be so vast. When they left Bella Coola, Ranta and Spitzii walked 880 mountainous kilometres with canoe in tow to reach Kinbasket Lake; a large reservoir of the Columbia River behind the Mica Dam. He was on route to Lake Louise and the Bow River, but this first paddling obstacle proved to have other plans: days of unrelenting mountain gales.
When Ranta grew impatient, the passing of precious time weighing on his mind, he braved the winds and found himself wading through frigid waters, PFD deployed, to reach shore where he could light a fire and dry out. This particular PFD had adorned his chest since 2014, and it would accompany him until Lake Of Woods, in Ontario, where an old friend bought him a new Mustang Survival PFD as a gift. The newness and fresh colours of the jacket looked out of place on the trail worn traveler, but he would never touch the waters without this key piece of safety.
Ranta’s 2017 trip was thwarted by an unpredictably tough year. The prairies produced tornadoes, Lake Winnipeg took him thirty stormy days to traverse, and by the time he reached the world’s largest fresh body of water, Lake Superior, he was months behind schedule at the foot of fall time winds. Famously coined the Gales of November, these gusts have the ability to sink 700ft ships.
As luck had it, he was too late. In early October, and after two weeks on the lake, Ranta called his trip off—a few thousand kilometres short of his goal, and the terminus of his previous accomplishments.
Ranta would later come to realize the trip that transpired was the trip of a lifetime. His canoe hull was scribbled with thousands of signatures from people he met along the way. Ranta shared his enormous story with everyone he met through his larger than life personality. On wind bound days he whittled little wooden canoes that he handed off to people he met.
Ranta was reminded that weather and timing are the rule makers on the big land which encompasses Canada’s wildest reaches, and we are but visitors in its sprawling networks of water, forest, and mountains.
If there’s a lesson we can all take from his accomplishments, it’s that we all have the ability to dream up our wildest adventures then see them through. As you embark on yours, just remember: for all the perils that might arise, wear your Mustang Survival PFD...because Mike always does.
Words and photos by David Jackson - Canadian Photo Journalist and avid winter explorer and ice fisherman, based out of Thunder Bay, Ontario.