If you were to hop into a canoe in Lake of Two Mountains at the western tip of Montreal, point northwest and start paddling, you could eventually find yourself in Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.
The six Quebeckers who set out to canoe the route — which passes along the Ottawa River into Lake Nipissing, down the French River, through the north end of Georgian Bay, past Sault Ste. Marie into Lake Superior and on and on, moving ever northwest — dubbed it Les chemins de l’or bleu (the blue gold paths), and gave themselves six months to complete it. The expedition, undertaken by individuals ranging in age from 19 to 45, was funded in part by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
Their progress is a tantalizing lightning-shaped streak across Canada, a dream route for any paddler who’s pined for a serious undertaking. But of course no 7,000-kilometre canoe trip (200 kilometers of which is portages) is easy.
We spoke with trip member Annick Shamlian via satellite phone, just after the group had reached the Churchill River.
“The hardest part is going to be the next 20 days or so,” Shamlian said. “The final push into Inuvik, with the weather getting more winter-like, is going to be very hard.”
The team already lost Pénélope Germain, when she to pull out due to back trouble in June (she was eventually replaced by Frederec Dufresne). Otherwise the group has done well, Shamlian said.
“You take six alpha-type people who didn’t know each other at the start of the trip and there will always be talks,” she said, referencing differences of opinion within the group. “But we’re faring pretty well for five months in.”
Reading through the group’s blogs and some of their interviews with media along the way, it seems as though the common challenge has been more corporeal: dreams of sweet, greasy and deliciously bad food have haunted them.
In May, when they reached Sault Ste. Marie. A reporter for Sootoday.com wrote, “The group looks much different than they did on day one due to weight loss. It is a challenge to carry enough food to sustain the amount of calories the group are expending every day.”
In August, Annick Shamlian blogged about how the group had planned to eat healthily, but, despite her promise never to eat McDonalds again after watching Super Size Me, even she cracked and indulged in “McDo.” In September, Frederec Dufresne wrote “Le bonheur est dans le sucre” (roughly: “happiness is found in sugar”).
“We miss family most of all, but eating oatmeal every morning gets boring,” Shamlian said laughing.
Though food is easy to dream about, it’s unlikely to be the most-remembered thing when the six return home. Shamlian said the best part of the trip without a doubt has been the people, and the team has their share of stories about the kindness of strangers.
“I never thought I’d discover this much about my country by canoe,” Shamlian said. “The vistas change every three days and they’re beautiful, but everyone agrees that the people we’ve met have been extraordinary. Sure there are politics in Canada, but when you get to the raw bottom of Canadians…well, we are just so lucky. People here are incroyable.”