“What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other travel. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.” —Pierre Elliott Trudeau
One of the best ways to explore Canada is by canoe. No other vessel has shaped our nation’s history more completely—no other mode of transport, except perhaps the kayak, seems more central to our ethos as a northern nation. The canoe is elegant in its simplicity, a craft that is as at home in the world of modern travel as it was essential to the lives of Canadians centuries ago. At Adventure Canada, we’re always concerned with looking backward as much as we look forward, and carrying a reverence for tradition into the new ways we explore our great country (and beyond). With that in mind, we’re proud to present a brand new expedition for 2018: Keele River by Canoe. Set against the rugged backdrop of the Northwest Territories, Keele River offers an iconic Canadian wilderness canoeing experience through the rugged Mackenzie Mountains; turquoise water flow from high in the divide between the Yukon and Northwest Territories through towering mountain scenery and broad valleys full of rugged black spruce with inviting vistas on every curve.
Adventure Specialist Sheryl Saint recently travelled alongside expert guides and excited guests to try out this fifteen-day trip of a lifetime for herself! When she got back to the office, we sat down for a chat—because she had a lot to say about the experience!
Mike Strizic: Hi Sheryl! How many trips have you done with Adventure Canada?
Sheryl Saint: I’m gonna say eighteen or more? I should count!
MS: What is your canoe tripping experience?
SS: Zero! When I was thirteen I did a canoe trip through a camp I went to. It was in Algonquin Park. We got initiated by rain, the entire week. We looked like drowned rats. And of course the canoe I was in got tipped. By me.
MS: What was most exciting aspect for you in preparing for this canoe trip?
SS: I was just blown away by where I was going. I was so excited to get up to the NWT and see some of the pictures I’ve seen in real life. The mountain ranges, the rivers.
MS: What were you most worried about? How did that play out?
SS: [laughs] lots! I was a nervous wreck! The biggest thing was having not canoed for twenty-some-odd years … or even camping! I haven’t done that in at least twenty-five years. Or at least, in a tent. I also have a moderate fear of water … at least, water that I can’t see through! But I persevered through those fears and after my first day on the trip they had been completely assuaged.
MS: What was the most useful piece of kit you had with you?
SS: Quick-dry clothing, and a good Thermarest [air matress]. It makes all the difference being able to stay warm and dry, and having that one-inch cushion to keep you off the ground is hugely important. People may not be aware that an air matress actually keeps you warm—because you’re not losing body heat into the ground. So that was huge for me.
MS: What was the most spectacular moment of the trip for you?
SS: Our first wildlife viewing. We saw a caribou swimming in the water. AT first it looked like a log, and then it started to move onshore directly opposite our camp. As it emerged out of the water, it was so dramatic and magnificent. It stared at us for a good three minutes before moving on. It made me feel that we were really with mother nature … it was the first day. One of those moments of being welcomed to the wilderness.
MS: What other kind of wildlife did you see on this trip?
SS: We saw a big black wolf! Also, two types of foxes. We saw lots of evidence of bears, and saw a few moose. Porcupines were around, ground squirrels, and tons of birds—eagles, hawks, whooping cranes, a variety of duck species. We had a birder along for the ride who was pointing out the never-ending bird calls.
MS: Who would you recommend this trip for?
SS: Anyone who is active! You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to know how to hold a paddle! One of our team was seventy-nine years old, which was incredible. As long as you know that you’ll be paddling six to eight hours a day—with lots of breaks—you can handle this. If you want to get close to nature, and really see the land by travelling through it, this is the trip for you.
MS: How was the food?
SS: The food was beyond exceptional! We had bacon, eggs, pork loin, pancakes, French toast, all cooked on a fire or on propane as the situation warranted. There were two guides who assisted with the food prep and obviously did all the shopping and packing—but we were assigned to teams that helped out in the campsite kitchen on any given night. It was actually a ton of fun to work with each other like that, as a team. It really gave us a sense of ownership over our experience and adventure. And food tastes so good after a day of paddling. Which was probably a good thing whenever I was on duty [laughs]. There’s also great fishing for those interested—both fly fishing and traditional.
MS: What was campsite life like?
SS: It was great. Every night we’d gather to get to know each other and tell stories, or reflect on the day. One day, we were trying to wait out some rain to pitch tents—and instead, ended up holding tarps up for each other while people pitched their tents underneath! It was amazing how quickly we shifted from being strangers to being friends, partners, and teammates. We were a well-oiled machine by the end of the trip.
MS: What surprised you about this trip?
SS: A few things. I found everyone came back feeling more self-confident. Everyone gained new nuances about themselves that they didn’t know they had. For me, it was strengths that popped out that I had been afraid of, previously. One woman confessed at the onset that she was out of her element and feared that the trip would break spirit. Instead, she found herself rising to and surpassing the challenges before her, and just loved every second of it. I guess that’s the transformative power of the wilderness … and doing things under your own steam. It’s such a great opportunity for Adventure Canada types—you know who you are—to experience the vastness of the north from the ground up. This type of intimate setting—fourteen people maximum—really lays it all out for you. We didn’t see another soul the entire time. It was utterly unlike anything I have ever done. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Click here to learn more about Keele River by Canoe 2018!
“Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.” —Henry David Thoreau