The first time Mike Ranta paddled across Canada in 2014, the idea was to raise money for a youth centre in his hometown of Atikokan, Ontario.
Now, two years later, the 44-year-old and his dog Spitzi are getting ready to embark on another cross-country voyage to support Canadian veterans.
Ranta spent the weekend in Yellowknife – his first visit to the territory – meeting with veterans and getting them to sign his canoe ahead of an epic 200-day, 8000-kilometer journey.
The plan is to depart from Vancouver, British Columbia on April 1 and arrive at Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia in time for his 45th birthday on September 29.
Ranta will hug the American border for much of his journey, portaging from one waterway to the next en route to Canada’s east coast.
He followed a similar route in 2014 before calling it a trip 150 kilometers shy of Cape Breton because of weather.
While he didn’t reach his final destination, the trip was the longest-ever solo paddle completed in a single season.
“On October 9 of 2014, I was the first person to cross the North American continent solo by canoe in one season,” he told Moose FM.
But that doesn’t mean he didn’t hit any speed bumps along the way. From being tagged by lightning on the Winnipeg River to coming across a dead body, his cross-country journey was anything but ordinary.
“I never got struck directly but it was very, very close,” said Ranta of his close call with lightning. “It was to the point where it took me off my feet.
“It was very scary. I lost my hearing for a day and a half and I lost sight out of one eye for about six hours because of the flash.”
Ranta also endured heavy rain and had several encounters with wildlife over the course of his journey.
Hailing from what he calls the canoe capital of Canada, Ranta says paddling comes naturally to him but that even he needs to spend months preparing for larger trips both mentally and physically.
In 2014, he gained 80 pounds before embarking on his paddle – all of which he shed by the time he reached the east coast.
Asked why he wants to do the trip again, Ranta says it’s to bring attention to a demographic he feels is hurting in Canada.
“We’ve got two things in our country that are probably the most important and that’s our youth and our elderly,” he said.
“A lot of our veterans are hurting right now but they’re the reason we have what we have today.
“I also want to show the kids in my community and across Canada that no matter how big your dream is, always push forward. It’s only a failure if you quit.”
Even though many groups recognize Ranta’s 2014 paddle as the longest-ever by a solo canoeist in a single season, the feat has yet to be recognized by Guinness World Records.
But that doesn’t seem to bother him too much.
“When everything came down to it, they wanted my film and they wanted my original journal that I put everything in as proof and I couldn’t let that go,” he said.
“The people that I care about the most know exactly what I pulled off and that’s what means everything to me.
“Once I was done the trip, it really didn’t matter. I got to paddle across such a great nation and appreciate everything we have here.
“Honestly, the recognition from Guinness or anyone else for that matter finishes in second place compared to the pride I felt going across the country.”
Upon the successful completion of his next trip, Ranta hopes to speak in the House of Commons as a voice for Canada’s veterans.
After that, he says a paddle in some pristine Northern waters might be in the cards.
“I’d really like to branch out and hit some of the waterways and old voyageur routes up here,” he said. “The idea is really intriguing to me and I could definitely see it quenching my curiosity in the future.”