Ever since I began canoeing, at age 16, my head has been filled with paddling routes. Dream trips and bucket lists with the names of classic Canadian rivers. Above all, I liked to think up long routes that connected multiple watersheds. The best canoe trips always cross a height of land.
I developed a habit of looking at maps like people look at puzzles. The challenge is to get from point A to point B. To do this I have a few clues, such as well-known rivers and waterways — then it’s up to my imagination to do the rest of the work.
One day I was working on one of these puzzles. I was curious if one could canoe from the Alaskan coast, across Canada’s northern territories, to the Hudson Bay. I pieced together rivers, wrote emails, looked at maps. The major obstacle would no doubt be traveling up the Rocky Mountains in a canoe. I looked into some waterways and convinced myself it was possible. In a matter of hours I had traced a route that spanned ocean to ocean and crossed the Rockies. It was the grandest canoe route I’d ever devised.
But it was a dream of a dream. I had no idea when I would be able to do this trip, or if I would ever do it. It might not even possible. When I told my sometimes paddling buddy Winchell Delano of the route, his reply was that we had to do it. The thought of actually setting out on this immense dream seemed absurd. But Winchell pushed it into reality. We got to planning, recruited two more friends and fellow paddlers, sorted out logistics, and on May 8th, 2012, Winchell Delano, Steve Keaveny, Matt Harren, and I set off on our 2,600-mile, 130-day expedition.